Posts Tagged With: Blogging

Discovering chillies at the San Salvador Hotel…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone?

Well, I had a busy weekend up in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Emilia-Romagna coastline (on the calf of Italy’s boot) where the San Salvador Hotel had teamed up with Alba Peperoncino to introduce me and some wonderful fellow bloggers to the world of chillies.

Alba Peperoncino

Alba Peperoncino are a small agricultural company specialising in chilli plants, using dozens of different types to make oils, seeds, jams, condiments, dried peppers, chilli powder…and more recently and somewhat unrelated, hemp! (See here for the full product list). I was struck by their passion and knowledge of their industry. We went to visit their farm and greenhouses to see them in action.  You can see from their farm and talking to them that they’re a very ethical company; having a “bio” certificate to prove it, meaning their processes and products are all natural and organic. There’s an emphasis on sustainable, high quality produce and the majority of their products are suitable for vegans and are gluten-free.

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Chilli plants as far as the eye can see! The top right picture which you might think looks a bit suspicious is hemp. This is a new area for them and it’s become quite the top seller on Amazon. We actually tried the hemp in the form of tea one evening – it’s renowned for is relaxing properties. Despite being a bit bitter, I think it’s fair to say we all slept very well after!

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend going to visit them at their base and organise a tasting session. We tried many of their products over the course of the weekend and I have to say, all of them were absolutely delicious. I bought quite a bit: 3 jams (savoury and sweet with a mix of different peppers combined with figs, onions or strawberries), some diced chillies in oil and a massive jar of ginger and pepper jam. The chillies in oil go amazingly with cheese and pasta and the jams are great with bread or again, with cheese.

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My haul!

You can buy their products online through amazon.it.

A bit about Chilli Peppers

I have never before delved into the world of chillies. I was vaguely aware there were different sorts (long red ones, fat red ones, short red ones…) and varying heat levels (ow, ow-ow, ow-ow-ow) but I had never imagined there were thousands of them and the categorisation is a bit more advanced than the number of “ow’s”.

We had a talk from Claudio Dal Zovo from the Pepperfriends Association who’s literally written the book on chillies (or at least one of them!). The book is an 80 page delve into the world of chillies called Peperoncino: Dalla semina al consuma (loosely translated as “Chilli: from seed to plate”)! He was one of the first to discover some of the super-hot chillies. He gave an excellent introduction, focusing primarily on the chilli flowers which are as varied in terms of size, shape and colour as the chillies themselves.

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Claudio in action…

I learnt a lot this weekend! Here are ten things about chillies that you might not know:

  1. There are thousands of different types of chilli plant – the plants themselves can vary between 15cm and 7 meters and grow in all manner of climates.
  2. Chillies aren’t physically hot of course (unless you heat them!). They feel hot because they latch onto the pain receptors that are responsible for feeling heat. Odd that we would eat something that causes us pain isn’t it? But the brain’s reaction to this process is to send out endorphins, an internal pain-killer and a natural high. That’s presumably why we keep eating them!
  3. Chillies have an anti-bacterial quality, killing 75% of bacteria. In pre-refrigeration days adding chillies to your food was a way of keeping it relatively germ free.
  4. The general consensus is that chillies evolved their heat to protect them from getting eaten by animals. This seemed odd to me – surely it’s advantageous to have animals eat them and spread their seeds? Well only specific animals it turns out. Seeds ingested by mammals tend to be chewed up and damaged and thus not as fertile as a result. Seeds ingested by birds however are not damaged at all by their intestinal tracts. It’s emerged birds can’t detect capsaicin, the ‘hot’ chemical in chilli so the clever chilli plant, by protecting itself with capsaicin ensures mammals don’t ruin the seeds whilst maintaining a convenient seed flight-delivery system.
  5. They have the most beautiful flowers…

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    …Like this one from the Rocoto chilli plant taken by Claudio Dal Zovo

  6. It seems relatively easy to interbreed chilli plants – you can just have them next to each other and they seem to cross fertilize. I’m sure there must be something more to it than that but occasionally that’s how it works!
  7. A chilli’s heat can be measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – that’s the degree of dilution required of the chilli extract before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters.  The higher the rating, the hotter the pepper. It’s not a precise science as people vary greatly in their perceptions of capsaicin.
  8. The “hottest” pepper is the Carolina Reaper from the US at 2,200,000 SHU. To put that into perspective, Tabasco sauce is about 5000 SHU. The Scotch Bonnet (which before this trip I thought was the hottest) is a measly 100,000 – 400,000 SHU! It made me wonder if eating enough hot chillies could kill you. It turns out it could, but you’d require so many of them that it would be nigh impossible. Our bodies have a way of rejecting things that are bad for them (here is an excellent example by some nutcases).
  9. There’s also a whole host of health benefits. Chillies are packed with vitamin c and other goodness. There’s a multitude of websites (this one is very complementary of the chilli) reporting how it can help with dieting, digestion, reduce the likelihood of heart-attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, migraines…  I’m not entirely sure all of these are backed up with scientific fact but certainly adding a bit of additional spice to your diet seems like it can only be a good thing.
  10. Having a passion for chilli peppers is an excellent hobby. You have an excuse to go all around the world in the search for rare chillies (trekking Bolivian forests in the search for rare or undiscovered chillies sounds like a very cool thing to do!). You can spend your free time growing them. You can experiment with lots of different recipes and preserves. You can hang out with other chilli aficionados at fairs and talk about them online in various forums. So all in all, it fulfills everything that a good hobby should! I’m going to start my budding chilli hobby career by buying a plant I think.

 

Cooking with Chilli Peppers

During the weekend we made all manner of things with chilli. We made biscuits with chilli, a cake with chilli and er, more chilli not to mention having various chilli sauces and spreads on piadinas and bread, chilli jams with cheese…  In summary, you can add it to basically anything. Why would you want to? Well despite the tasty kick, the health benefits I mentioned above seem to make it worthwhile.

The cooking extravaganza kicked off with biscuits. We made several different types with bloggers bringing their own favourite biscuit recipes to the table and adding a hint of chilli powder.

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All the biscuits were delicious and not overly “hot”. My favourite of the biscuits were these Spicy Ciambelline, courtesy of my friend Elisa…

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Ciambelline means donuts in English. The Italians have a very loose idea about what constitutes a donut. These are clearly not donuts at all – they’re knots! However, it’s an Italian recipe so I guess we should stick with the name!

Spicy Ciambelline

125g sugar + roughly 100g for coating the “ciambelline”
125g wine
100g sunflower oil
400g plain flour                                                                                                                                       8g of chilli powder (roughly half a teaspoon)
8g of baking powder (roughly half a teaspoon)

Mix it all together. To make the “ciambelline”, make little rolls, coat them with sugar and then make a knot with them. Put them on a baking tray, bake at 200°C for 15/20 minutes until they’re golden. Delicious!

Next up was a cooking demo with our fellow blogger, Bettina, who’s blog BettinaInCucina is a great success over here with tons of great recipes. She showed us how to make:

 

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Top: Pineapple and Artichoke Salad. Bottom left: Gazpacho soup. Bottom right: Houmous with peas and thyme. Of course all the recipes had a spicy twist and we used Alba Peperoncino’s chilli powder for all the recipes.

 

 

 

Naturopathy

We also had a talk from Naturopath, Francesca Rifici who spoke about how we can take care of our bodies naturally using some key principles of Chinese medicine. We just touched on the surface of this alternative medicine but essentially, we humans can be split up into 5 types (or we can consist of a couple of types): Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal and Water. Our characteristics respond to our type. We have different nutritional requirements depending on which type we are. This is further complicated by the time of year as each type corresponds to a season (with earth representing the beginning and end of each season). The theory is that illness comes from a disequilibrium within our systems and we need to make sure what we’re putting into our bodies is what it needs at the right time.

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I’m intrigued by the idea of naturopathy. I’m apparently a mix between wood and earth and I’d love to hear more about what that means in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. The key aspects I took away from the session were that sugar is the root of all evil and I should occasionally try to fast. I’m factoring them into my diet as we speak!

The session finished with Francesca showing us a recipe for a cake using coconut sugar as a replacement to regular sugar. It’s inspired me to look at more nutritional and healthier alternative flours and sugar to use in my baking.

Hotel San Salavador & the blogging team!

We were hosted by San Salvador Hotel who I was fortunate enough to stay with last year on another blog tour. Read about it here. San Salvador is one of my favourite hotels and I’m not the only person to think that either – it’s got 5 stars on Tripadvisor with many rave reviews.  The hotel is run by the Poggi Family, specifically Federico and Stefano. Their father who started the hotel is still a familiar face in the building along with Sabrina on reception.

Apart from being made to feel so welcome, the hotel stands out for me because of their values – everything is carefully thought through in terms of the impact on the environment. They’ve got a whizzy little electric car, the produce for the breakfast, lunch and dinner is organic and picked from their own fields. The wheat is their own and ground in-house for use in bread making in the hotel. Though they provide meat dishes, they’re very vegetarian and vegan friendly, something close to my heart.

They are just a few meters from the beach and right next to a big park, which is great for children.

So all in all it was an excellent weekend shared with some great bloggers. Check out their blogs here to see what they’ve had to say about the weekend…

21Grammi: Alessandra who has a passion for all things Romagna focussing on art, culture, food and drink.

Forchetta & Valigia: Headed up by Tonia and Valeria both of whom have a love of food and travel. In particular thanks to Tonia who was our ringleader for this blog tour!

Bettina in Cucina: Bettina who shares her passion for food and travels on her blog.

Big Shade: Stefania who has a ton of great recipes on her website and enjoys discovering new recipes from around Italy too.

Finally a big thanks to Federico, Stefano and Sabrina at San Salvador Hotel; Roberta, Sara, Angelo and Marco at Alba Peperoncino; Claudio dal Zovo and Francesca Rifici for making my venture into the world of chilli’s not only interesting but great fun too 🙂

A presto…

Sue x

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Forlì

Buongiorno a tutti!

I hope you’re all well and have been waiting with baited breath for the fourth part in the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy! We went far and wide during our week away in the search to discover why the region of Emilia-Romagna has come to be known as the region of “good-living”. We went on bike rides, boat trips, art tours and explored Forli, Ravenna and Cesena so all in all, it was a packed schedule! In this post I’ll write about some of the hidden gems we discovered in Forlì.

Waterworks of Forli

Forli is a comune and city in Emilia-Romagna and is the capital of the province of Forlì-Cesena. It comes from the Latin name for the town “Forum Livii”. I suspect in the UK, not many of you will have heard of Forlì but it played an important role in Italy’s history and has been the home to some of their more famous and forward-thinking people. In fact, the squares and roads are dedicated to one of the citizens they’re most proud of, Aurelio Saffi, a Politian active during the unification of Italy in the 19th century. More on him later…

The theme of the Settimana del Buon Vivere this year was ‘Water’ so with that in mind we had an ‘urban trek’ organised in partnership with the Municipality of Forlì to discover ‘Forlì, the city of water`. Now to be honest, when you walk around Forlì the first thing you think is not “wow, look at all this water” so I was intrigued. However, it really is a city of water; it’s just that you can hardly see any of it!

We started off at the Rocca di Ravaldino (also known as Rocca di Caterina Sforza) where our excellent tour guide, Gabriele Zelli, gave us an insight into how important water was for Forlì in the past.

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Rocca means ‘stronghold’. Here’s the Rocca…

Gabriele told us about the past lives of the castle which was a defensive home of Caterina Sforza (the Countess of Forlì – have a look at her Wiki page, she was quite a character!) and its subsequent takeover by Ravaldino and then eventually its use as a prison. A moat ran around the castle which is now filled in and canals ran very close to it, and in fact still do, underneath roads and houses.

The canals were essential for farming and industry. A number of mills and tanning factories were set up along the canals.  Forlì also has a long history of making sugar from a type of beetroot (sugar beet) which needs a lot of water which was why the canals were so important to the city. Along the canals there were also public wash-houses (lavatoio) where people washed their clothes. However it wasn’t always an easy relationship Forlì had with water; poor quality drinking water led to thousands falling ill each year from typhoid and dysentery etc.

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Today, after further development of the city the canals are almost totally covered, apart from this part in the main city. They are still in use though by the farming industry.

Forlì has a diverse range of architecture, demonstrated perfectly in Piazza Saffi, the main piazza. Here you can see buildings from both the renaissance period, the fascist period and the 1960’s (what were those architects thinking?!)

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A romantic scene snapped under the arches of the Post Office, in Piazza Saffi, constructed during the Fascist era!

This is Piazza Saffi with its eclectic architecture…

And these were some snaps taken during our tour. I loved this beautiful image painted on the side of a building near the San Giacomo church.

 

The Risorgimento at Villa Saffi

Villa Saffi is on the outskirts of the main town of Forlì and was the home of Aurelio Saffi, the Italian Politician that the Forlivese (residents of Forlì) are very proud of. He was an active protagonist in Forlì’s ‘Risorgimento’ (the fight for the liberation and unification of Italy between 1750–1870) and was a good friend of Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini led the movement. The Risorgimento was unsuccessful and they were exiled to the UK where Aurelio met his wife, Giorgina Craufurd (the least sounding English name ever – I assume she got fed up of Italian’s trying to pronounce Georgina Crawford and changed it!)  Years later they moved back to Forlì and lived there until their deaths. It is possible to take a tour around their house and see where secret political meetings were conducted, the ice-house, a lovely wall mural in the “table tennis room” and some of the niftiest furniture I’ve ever seen. In fact, there’s barely an item of furniture in the house it seems that doesn’t have some secret compartment, trick to using it or can turn into something else entirely.

Look at these signatures below. My photos are a bit blurred unfortunately but aren’t they beautiful?! There is a remembrance book full of them for those that came to the funeral of Giorgina. It’s made me realise just how awful my signature and general handwriting is. Even the recipe below, an original from the kitchen, looks elegant!

 

Restoring books at the Laboratorio del Restauro Libri

We also went to the Laboratorio del restauro libri in Forli to see how books are restored. This isn’t a tour open to the general public but for those interested in how the process works, tours can be arranged (see contacts in the link above). This was definitely one of the most fascinating parts of our week. I am just absolutely gobsmacked by the work they do here. If you saw the state of the books they restore, it’s amazing the team aren’t rocking back and forth in the corner of the room having gone completely mad! I don’t know of any other job where you would need as much patience.

They carefully number the pages which is a challenge in itself because often the pages are all stuck together. Then they wash each page in a large sink and carefully dab away any mould in the corner and then they reassemble it using traditional bookbinding techniques. When parts of the pages become separated and they don’t know where they’re from, they collect the pieces together and it becomes like a sort of mammoth jigsaw puzzle to work out which one of the hundreds of pages the missing part came from!

The amount of work and dedication involved is enough to make your eyes water. The restoration work for one book can take weeks, if not months. Books come in from private collectors or libraries around Italy and the team provide a quote for the clean-up operation. (Forlì is lucky that I’m not managing this team – I like books and I think it’s great to preserve our history but my patience is such that I would have written back to the library or private collector to suggest they just preserve it in its current state as a hunk of mould!) So, in summary, I’m full of admiration for this team and if you fancy doing something a bit ‘off the beaten track’, an organised tour here is absolutely fascinating.

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Check out the Biblioteca Saffi

Continuing with the book theme, Biblioteca Saffi is also definitely worth a visit (visits should be organised in advance – contact details in the link). Biblioteca means library (confusingly “Libreria” means bookshop!) and this one is located a short walk from Piazza Saffi. It houses the most amazing collection of books, paintings and other objects donated by Carlo Piancastelli, a collector with a passion for……..well, everything! The collection includes old letters, books, score music, maps, portraits and sculptures and spreads across a number of rooms. To me a “collector” implies someone that collects for a hobby but I think it was akin to a full-time job for Carlo. It’s certainly an impressive legacy to leave.

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If you want to read more about Forli, have a look at my previous blog post Touring Forlì and tune in for the next blog post about other things you can do in the area!

A presto,

x

 

 

 

 

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Natale, Competition Update and Blog Rebirth!

Ciao a tutti!

Has everyone had a good Christmas? I’ve had (and I’m still having for that matter) a lovely break back in the UK. It’s a shame I’ve missed Christmas in Italy particularly when I’ve heard such odd sounding things about it from the Italian kids at school. I had a very long conversation with the infants about what name we call our Good Witch in the UK. I can think of a few potential witch candidates. However, on further discussion it’s nobody I know 😉 On the 6th January, the Good Witch known as La Befana pops around to the houses to fill the children’s stockings (as in Christmas stockings rather than those of the tights variety). TWO present giving days within the space of 12 days! I’m still in the UK on the morning of the 6th. I intend to leave my stocking out (probably the tights variety because my Christmas one is in the loft. They stretch so I think it’s a better strategy anyway) and hope she makes it to the UK.

Competition

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments on the Expats Blog website article and the blog (to see the lovely comments, click here) – I was really touched by the number of them and the thoughtful things you said 🙂 Alas, I didn’t win. There were some great articles and Greg who won “Italy”, wrote a spot-on and very amusing article on “Top 10 Signs that confirm you’ve gone full Italian”.

But it’s OK because we had our Family Christmas Photography Competition and I submitted these, quite frankly, WINNING photos taken around Italy (click on the photos to see them in their full size STUNNING glory).

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The kid version of the Big Tray Race back in the Summer

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Pretty Poppies in Spring

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Summer in Abruzzo

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“Autumn” in Macerata (quotes due to the fact it was I think technically Winter)

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Winter in Camerano

And lost that too! Competitions schmompetitions 😉

Blogging

I love writing this blog. It’s an excellent way of venting! I got a couple of books on how to make money from blogging for Christmas (thank you SD and GD!) and so I’ve been reading up on those. I’ve decided to keep this blog going but set up a more serious “Le Marche” blog (Le Marche – for those that haven’t been paying attention, is the region of Italy where I live 😉 ).  I suspect the people following this blog aren’t waiting with baited breath to find out about how to buy train tickets over here or the best restaurants to go to so I might focus here just on the column aspect and use the other blog for Le Marche specific news.

For this other “Le Marche” blog – I think there’s a niche in the market. I’ve by no means travelled to all the regions in Italy (this year though I hope!), but I really think you couldn’t get a much better area. There’s great transport links between here and London, fabulous coastline, national parks, mountains for walking and skiing, quaint little hill top villages, architecture, history… But hardly anyone’s heard of the place back in the UK and there’s a distinct lack of information about the area. I’d like to promote the area a bit to the English-speaking folk (and the Italian’s to be honest but my language skills aren’t quite up to that yet!).

I’d like your thoughts and advice though! Bloggers make money from adverts primarily – who would want to advertise on either of the blogs? Any thoughts on what I should include or not? How could I improve this current blog? All comments welcome!

Happy New Year all!

x

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