Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How to Make an Italian Espresso at Home

I know that buying the espresso machines is a hip thing to do in the US, but you don't need to spend 50, 60 bucks for a good espresso. The only place you see those machines in Italy is in a cafe, bar, or restaurant. At home, the Italians use what is called a "Mokka". They come in all different sizes, from a one cup on up. I have a two cup Mokka that cost about 10 bucks (it was a gift) and it makes some damn good coffee:

So how does it work? It's very easy. It's comprised of three parts and unscrews in the middle:

You put the water in the bottom part (on the right), put the middle piece (the screen) inside the bottom piece and fill it with as much coffee as you want. I like it strong so I usually use less water and more coffee:

After that, screw the top part back on and place it on the stove on very low heat. As the water gradually heats up, it flows upward through the middle part that holds the coffee and then through the metal tube that connects it with the top part:

You'll know it's done when you hear the air start hissing a bit, letting you know that all the water has gone up through. It's important to cook it on low heat as cooking it too high and fast will make the coffee taste burnt.

Another thing I've learned from my Italian friends is that the more you use it, the better the coffee will taste. For example, last weekend I went upstairs for a coffee and my neighbors were explaining that it wouldn't taste quite as good because they'd been away on vacation for a few weeks and it hadn't been used. In fact, the Italians will tell you that the more coffee-stained the Mokka, the better the coffee will taste when you use it.

Lastly, if you ever buy a Mokka in the Us, remember that you need to use either espresso or very, very finely ground coffee. None of that "Maxwell House" crap...


Monday, August 29, 2005

Weekend Highlights - Venice

Well, there really were no highlights this weekend. That's not to say that the weekend sucked, just that it was a bit uneventful. I got to Venice Friday afternoon, dropped my stuff at the Bovolo apartment, and then met Theresa, Denise, and Denise's mom Judy for a cafe and to catch up since we hadn't seen each other in a while. After that, I went to the Devil's Forest to get a pint of Kilkenny Cream Ale. For some reason, the KCA tasted off. In fact, it tasted nothing like a KCA. So I went to the Fiddler's Elbow and ordered another pint there. Same thing. So I switched to the old standby - Guinness. The Fiddler's Elbow was not happening for me so after a couple more pints I headed to the Bacaro Jazz where I knew Mary would not disappoint me. Sure enough, the rest of the night was enjoyable and not without it's comical and strange moments. The funniest moment came when I started chit-chatting with an Irish guy who had come in with his girlfriend. He was at the bar ordering and we started talking about Ireland, then about soccer. After about 5 minutes, his girlfriend slams her hand down on the table, gets up, and walks out the door in a huff. Me, the Irish guy, and Mary all kind of looked at each other. After a tense moment or two, the Irish guy goes after her and they proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes arguing in the streets. After they came in, I didn't say a word to either of them so as not to risk another episode. When the girl went into the bathroom, the Irish guy came plopped down next to me at the bar and told us that his girlfriend was Croatian and very jealous of anyone else taking his time when he was with her.

Anyway, the rest of the night was spent chatting with just about every person who walked through the door, since 95% of them were Americans. I also met an Italian guy who lived upstairs and who was originally from the Piedmont region, which touched off a lengthy discussion about wine. In short, I'd have to say that Bacaro Jazz is becoming the place in Venice to go for a fun night of meeting people from all over. And of course if you ever go, be sure to bring an extra bra.

Anyway, I spent Saturday at the Devil's Forest again watching the Tottenham-Chelsea match (sorry Wayne). It poured almost all weekend so I got pretty wet. This also prevented me from walking around the city as I always do when I'm in Venice. But, as usual, I managed to pick up a few new tidbits about the city I love so well. Among them:

* Venice is becoming more and more Chinese. Seems like everytime I go, I notice one or two more bars and cafes run by Chinese people.

* The African guys selling knockoff bags are no more. Apparently the city decided to get serious with the problem and impose a 10,000 euro fine on anyone caught buying counterfeit bags. It's working too, I didn't see a single person selling any. Refreshing.

* I found a new favorite little out of the way wine bar to go to for some cicchetti and to sample a glass or two of wine. Wanna know where? Then you'll have to come visit. I refuse to publicize it. Rick Steves be damned.

* While known to me for its draught beer, the Devil's Forest is actually a decent lunch option. I had a plate of penne pasta with calamari, shrimp and mushroom for about 8 euro - cheaper than most restaurants and absolutely delicious.

I only took a handful of pictures since it was raining all weekend. I put them on my Venice picture page HERE. They're on the last row of color photos.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Venice, Here I Come...

As you know, the wife and kid are in the US for the next couple weeks. And while I'll never be able to match the run I had during my last parole, there was no way I was going to just sit on my couch and watch TV for two weeks when all of Europe is outside my door.

While trying to decide whether to go somewhere this weekend or to just spend it relaxing on the river, my decision was suddenly made very easy. My friend in Venice emailed me and informed me that they had an open apartment this weekend that was free to use if I wanted to. And so, after work tomorrow, I shall be jumping in Old Triple 7 and heading for La Serrenissima, Bella Venezia. As of this moment there are no pub crawl plans since it's just me. If Wayne and Nikki are available, they may join me of course. About the only thing I know I'll be doing for sure is watching some football (soccer) in the Fiddler's Elbow. And I definitely foresee a kebab or two in my future...


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Trip to the Airport, a Good Deed.

This morning I brought the wife and kid to the Venice Airport. While we were waiting in line to check their bags, there was a young girl of maybe 21 standing at the customer service window off to the side with a 2-3 year old boy who was screaming bloody murder. She was obviously an American spouse from the base and seemed to be dealing with some kind of problem and the screaming child was just exasperating her even further. You could tell that everyone in line felt for the poor girl. I looked down at the X Man and thought to myself "I'm glad you're not like that".

So I get the wife and kid checked in, get them through the gate, say my goodbyes and head to the ATM to get some money for parking and a panini. The ATM near the Brek cafe would not take my card. I knew there was another ATM but it was downstairs and allllll the way at the end of the terminal. I debated forgoing the panini for a minute and just leaving but my love of Italian sandwiches got the best of me and I headed to the other ATM. When I got there, I saw the poor girl from the check in line with the little boy standing there with an airline employee. She was obviously having some kind of problem and was getting frantic because the ATM would not take her card. She called someone on her cell phone as the airline employee kept telling her he was sorry, there was nothing he could do. As I completed my ATM transaction, I overheard her talking on the phone getting more frantic and desperate by the second. Before long she was openly weeping. Apparently her husband had deployed the day before and was in Kuwait. She and the baby were supposed to fly home to her family but nobody told her she would need 160 euros (about $200) to pick up her ticket at the airport and she only had about 100 bucks with her. So she couldn't get on the plane and she had no way to get back to Vicenza.

There are times in your life when you are put in certain situations. How you react to them is up to you - you can choose not to get involved and go on with your life or you can step up to the plate.. At that moment, it was clear to me what I had to do. When she hung up the phone I asked her what the problem was. She frantically explained it to me and I told her not to worry, I would pay the 160 euros for her. The airline employee was going on about how sorry he was but there was nothing he could do and I just told him to tell me what he needed, I would take care of it. He took us up to the counter, I gave the guy my credit card, he charged the 160 euros and the poor girl and her baby made the plane with little time to spare. She of course insisted on getting my name and address so she could pay me back. I told her not to worry but she continued to insist so I gave it to her. I may or may not ever hear from her again, but it doesn't matter. To be able to help a deployed soldier's wife and baby get home is worth the 160 euros it cost me.

God bless our troops...and their families.


Monday, August 22, 2005

I'm Back Baby

The hiatus is over. Regular posting should commence this week. Virginia and the X Man leave tomorrow morning for two weeks at my mom's so I shall once again be solo. I'm still stuggling with how to spend my parole however. Not sure I'll do any major trips this time. Might do a weekend in Venice or Rome again. Might even do a trip to the mountains or somewhere in Germany. Or I might just stay local and hit the river in either Bassano dal Grappa or Valstagna. One dark horse destination is Salzburg, Austria. Either way be sure to check in for updates and a full report...


Monday, August 15, 2005


The blog will be on temporary hiatus for the next week or two due to time constraints...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Limoncello Anyone?

This is limoncello. For those who have never heard of it, limoncello is an Italian liquor made out of lemons and vodka that is usually drunk after a meal as a digestive. In fact, it's rare to go to a ristorante and not see people drink a limoncello after their meal.

True to their nature, every region in Italy claims to be the home of the best or most authentic limoncello. For my money, the best is found down in the Cinque Terra. Many Italians also make their own limoncello as it's an easy process. We always keep a bottle in the house and I enjoy a shot every now and then. Especially on a hot day - limoncello should be kept in the freezer and served ice cold.

Here's a pretty good site for more info, including recipes if you'd like to make your own:



Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why I love Italy, Reason #356

This is Bresaola. Bresaola is an Italian specialty of thinly sliced, cured meat (beef). It is usually served topped with shaved grana padano or parmeggiano cheese, rucola, and olive oil. The meat is so thin and delicious that it almost melts in your mouth. It's usually served as an antipasto (appetizer). Bresaola has become my favorite Italian dish.

Click here to read the Wikipedia description of bresaola


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What I'm listening to right now...

In the past day or two I've added two CDs to my collection that, while certainly eclectic, are both fantastic. The first is M.I.A.'s CD called "Arular". M.I.A. is a rather offbeat artist from the UK who is originally from Sri Lanka. Her music is hard to describe but it's sort of a mix of dance grooves, hip hop beats, samples and catchy rhymes and hooks. The best song is "Bucky Dun Gun". It really sticks in your head.

The second CD is Loretta Lynn's critically acclaimed "Van Lear Rose". what makes this CD different is that it was produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. I like the White Stripes' music and this CD comes across as kind of a honky-tonk-meets-White Stripes sort of sound. If you listen closely, the lyrics and some of the sounds will remind you of Johnny Cash. I think my favorite track so far is "Portland, Oregon", which Loretta Lynn and White team up for a duet. I wouldn't recommend either of these CDs to everyone as neither one would probably appeal to a real broad audience. So if you don't like them, don't say you weren't warned...



Remember a couple posts back when I said that Italy sucks in August? I think I've changed my mind. For the past week or so, my daily commute - which is routinely the worst part of my day - has been much, much smoother. Normally the drive home from work in the evening is like an obstacle course. It is a journey frought with peril and danger. Every single night I manage to avoid at least one accident. In fact, eventually I'm going to dedicate an entire week to nothing but the previous night's drive home.

However, it's so much better now that nobody is on the road. I'm absolutely loving this. Then again, perhaps this repreive from the normal gridlock is making me complacent. I hope I'm not jinxing myself...


Monday, August 08, 2005

Weekend Wrapup - Birthday Party and a BIG Fish

My fourth excursion to the Brenta River turned out to be the money trip. After a few enjoyable yet fruitless trips, I finally struck gold this past weekend. While fishing the "zona trofeo" (trophy zone) Saturday morning I nailed the biggest fish I've ever caught on a fly rod - a gorgeous fat rainbow trout that came in at 43cm (17 inches) exactly. He put up a fantastic fight, struggling for almost 20 minutes before finally succumbing to my net, making several deep runs and even jumping a couple times. The euphoric feeling of having that monster at the end of my line will stay with me forever. Here's a couple pictures:

Saturday night was spent at the birthday party of Alessandro, the one year old son of our friends Susan and Matteo:

The X Man had a ball as there were a lot of other kids and plenty of toys to play with. His favorite was this bike that he was determined to ride despite the fact that his legs couldn't reach the peddles:

The rest of the weekend was spent running errands and then lounging around the house:

Overall, an enjoyable, relaxing weekend. It would normally rate about a 6 but catching the big 'bow bumps it up to a nine and a half...


Friday, August 05, 2005

Geno Martin, This One Is For You...

Eugene "Geno" Martin is a retired Army Captain that I used to work with here and have remained very good friends with. He's currently living on a farm outside Philadelphia with his lovely wife Lisa and his 4 kids (actually 3 - Leah, the oldest is in college). He also checks in here at the blog periodically.

As you may know, one of the more common summer fashions here for men are capri pants. One of the funniest things Geno ever said was one morning when he said "I don't trust any guy who wears capri pants!"

So Geno Martin, this one is for you:


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Leave it to the Dutch...

I've been through Schipol Airport in Amsterdam a few times and have seen this. I always thought it was just a creative little joke, but now I can see the method behind the Dutch madness:

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In Italy, August Sucks.

Don't ever come to Italy during the month of August. In Italy, the month of August is reserved for what is known as "ferie". Seemingly the entire population of Italy takes anywhere from two weeks to a full month off for holiday and heads for either the mountains or the beach. Almost every single store, hotel, bar and ristorante closes, sometimes for the entire month of August. Walking around some cities is almost like being in a ghost town. It almost has to be seen to be believed.

For us it's not a disaster because we get most of what we need on the base, but for people who live and like to do things on the economy, it can be very frustrating and inconvenient sometimes. Two nights ago the wife was too tired to cook so the X Man and I headed out to pick up a couple pizzas. We went to Antonio's. It was closed. We went to another one down the street, it was closed. We went to a third one, closed as well. I ended up driving for almost a half hour before I found a pizzeria that was open.

On the bright side, the drive home from work is not quite as bad because there are a lot less cars on the road. And I've noticed a subtle change over the five years that I've been here in that each year there seems to be one or two more places staying open in August. As long as there's one bar and one pizza place in town open, I'm happy.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Day I Almost Got Lynched in Tennessee

The year was 1995. My friend Randy, his wife Kelly and I were on a cross country road trip from Boston to Las Vegas. We had planned several stops along the way to see different parts of our great country and experience different aspects of American culture. One such stop was about an hour outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Randy had a friend from the Air Force who lived there and insisted that we stop and stay with him and his family on their farm for a night or two. The highlight was to be our attendance at a University of Tennessee football game that weekend against the Georgia Bulldogs.

It is a strange thing, this fascination the people in the south have with college football. It's like a religion. In New England, college football is not real popular. I've always followed it - I'm a huge Notre Dame fan - but not to the extent that the people down south do. We arrived in Knoxville (the home of the University of Tennessee)the morning of the game and literally every other car was adorned in some sort of UT decoration. Many had UT flags flying out of the windows. Some even had huge UT decals on the side doors. I'd never seen anything like it.

Since there are NO Dunkin Donuts anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line, we were forced to conduct all of our coffee refill stops at...wait for it...the Waffle House. We still had an hour or so until we had to meet Randy's friend so we decided to stop and have breakfast at a Waffle House in downtown Knoxville. For a Yankee, going into a Waffle House is like stepping into another world - a world full of rednecks and truckers. We sat in one of the booths and perused the menu. When the waitress finally came over to take our order, she looked at me with disgust. Before I knew what was going on, she yelled out, in a thick southern drawl, "Hey y'all, we got us a Bulldog fan over here!". Upon hearing this, every employee in the place came charging over to our table and started giving me the business. After a minute of examination, I realized what the problem was. Being an ardent fan of international soccer, I was wearing a Manchester United soccer t-shirt. Man United's colors are red and black. UT was playing the Georgia Bulldogs that day and their colors just happened to be...you guessed it.

So there we are in the Waffle House in downtown Knoxville surrounded by angry employees and every customer in the place is staring over at us giving us dirty looks. It actually got pretty tense for a few moments when I really did think I might be subjected to bodily harm. The funniest guy was the cook, an older gentleman with gray hair, greased and slicked back, clad in a dirty white t-shirt and matching apron with a lit cigarette dangling from his lower lip. I tried to explain that we weren't Bulldog fans. I said "No, no, it's a British soccer team! I'm not even from the south, I'm from New England!". At this the old cook replied, in such a thick accent that I almost couldn't understand him, "New England huh? He's prob'ly a gawd-damned Notre Dame fan". All I could do was look away and try not to laugh, which surely would have meant my demise.

Eventually I went out to the car and changed into a plain white Adidas shirt. We ate our breakfast with many angry, suspecting eyes glued to us. It was very disconcerting. We paid our bill and got the hell outta Dodge as fast as we could. When we met up with Randy's friend Shaun and told him what happened, he laughed and said "Rik, what are you doing, trying to get yourself killed?"

That night we watched sophomore wonder Peyton Manning and the University of Tennessee Volunteers beat the Georgia Bulldogs in overtime. To this day, It remains the only college football game I've ever been to.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Weekend Highlights in Pictures

Here's a recap of what we did this weekend:

As usual, I get up early and went to the bar to get my coffee and read the Gazetto dello Sport. Soon after returning home, the X Man awoke:

We started the day with a little game of hallway soccer. The X Man cheated and used his hands. Maybe he's going to be a goalie?:

Around lunchtime we headed for the mountains. We had lunch in a little ristorante in Valstagna where the X Man ate most of mama's seafood and spaghetti:

After lunch we hit the river. I headed for the water:

While mama took the X Man for a popsicle (his favorite treat) and to play in the nearby playground:

Alas, no fish were caught so we decided to call it a day and prepared to leave. At least I didn't fall in the river again:

We headed home and I relaxed with a nice bottle of St. Anselmi 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Friuli region. The Cabernet Franc was a microcosm of the weekend itself - not very eventful and busy, yet satisfying with just enough to keep you from getting bored:

Hope everyone else had a good weekend too...