insights on art, culture, lifestyle, spirituality, travel, music, society and much much more from a jet-setter currently on "furlough"…

Archive for the tag “italian”

O La Befana! La Befana…?

I know, I know. It’s now January (almost) 3rd and I have yet to finish my “12 Days of Christmas in Italy” feature. The last couple of weeks in 2011 got so busy with last minute holiday excitement, photography gigs and deadlines that I simply did not have the physical energy to sit down and do ANYTHING creative, let alone blog&reflect. But now, it’s a brand new year (Buon Anno a tutti!) and since the holidays don’t officially end until after January 6th (Ephiphany), that will be my new deadline. It’s the first week back from the holidays, so I’m going to go easy on myself… and others!

Now, here’s a short entry I’ll pen for this feature (with hopes that I can wake up at the regular time and make it to my day job tomorrow – our first day back). 


Growing up, I was always envious of the kids who celebrated Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. I always understood it to be a Catholic holiday and something that Protestants (the faith tradition in which I was raised) did not participate in. I didn’t know that much about Epiphany and why it was celebrated until I studied abroad in Italy in the spring of 2004.

According to Italian folklore (and many legends that one can believe), Befana (who probably originated from Central Italy and gets her name from Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina) was an old lady who spent her day cleaning and sweeping her house. One day, three travelers stopped by her house. It turns out that these three travelers were the Three Wise Men who were on their way to see the Baby Jesus in the Manger. They invited La Befana to come along. At first. she refused their invitation and considered it a waste of time. However, when she realized what she was missing out on, she grabbed her broom and ran out of the door, still wearing her apron. She tried to find the Three Wise Men, but they were long gone. To this day, La Befana is still running around in search of the Three Wise Men. Befana also brings gifts to children (small toys and sweets for the good children; onions, garlic and coal for the bad children) in hopes that she might find the Christ Child. Her role is similar to that of Santa Claus (o Babbo Natale), and many children eagerly anticipate her visit.


Writer’s Note: To the left, you can see a picture of La Befana standing outside of a toy/stationery store in Orvieto, Italy. To me, this representation of La Befana looks more like the evil, old peddler who gave a poisonous apple to Snow White than the “Epiphany Witch” who flies around the chimneys of Italy giving gifts to obedient children. January 6th is the official end of the Advent Season in Europe and is also a major religious holiday for those who observe it as such.

For those who are not religious? Well, it’s simply another day to give gifts…


Holiday Lights (Less is More)

My favorite part about the holidays is definitely the winter lights showcase. In fact, I am someone that keeps holiday lights and Christmas decorations up until well into February; simply because they make me happy and it’s hard to survive winter without some LIGHT. Winter (or l’inverno, in Italiano) can be a hard month for many people, so what better way to kick off those assiduous {winter} blues than to hang some festive lights around town to induce festive joy and tranquility?

Those of us who live in the United States know that we Americans tend to go overboard with the lights (and everything else!) during the holiday season: parks decked out in colorful holiday lights, parades with inflatable Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman figures, giant gingerbread houses and ornate wreaths decorating famous mansions (just to name a few). These lights can be a spectacle for locals and tourists alike, but can also create an uncomfortable sense of visual overload. Many times, displays can be kitschy — check out this house I have driven by many times in Burtonsville, MD — and down right expensive. Is there a way out?

I spent 7 of the 9 days of my trip in Rome, the capital of Catholicism and home of the best display of holiday lights (according to most of my Italian friends). During those days, I saw my fair share of Italian holiday lights and displays while walking around the center of town (Piazza di Popolo, Trastevere, Piazza di Spagna) In contrast to the gaudy, flashing red, gold and green lights that we are familiar with, the Romans chose a simpler way of decorating their streets: still equally festive, soothing and oh so beautiful.

Instead of a kaleidoscope of tacky Christmas colors, the Romans fared well with their simple blue, yellow and white lights. These lights were draped on the branches of trees, dangling from the top of churches and also strung in between the buildings (cobble stone beneath). Popular designs included snowflakes, vertical strings, the occasional pine tree (or maybe it’s a cypress tree in this case) and, of course, stars. The Italians LOVE their stars (a reoccurring symbol that appears everywhere), as well as song titles such as Quante stelle in cielo con la luna. Some lights dazzled while others remained still…

All in all, the lights brightened up each pedestrian street with never-ending holiday spirit. The holidays can get so stressful sometimes that surely seeing these simple, bright and beautiful lights will bring people peace instead of insanity. Indeed, less is more and the way it should be.

For more information about Christmas traditions in Italy, check out Rick Steves’ Christmas in Europe: Italy series here.

if food critics could mislead…


La Pupatella *Neopolitan* Food Cart - Arlington, VAActually, they did! Is it just me, or is it exceptionally hard to find inexpensive, quality food in the Washington, DC Area?

Now, before you start shaking your fists and start a heated debate, allow me to explain myself. Back in the day, the quality of food was not important to me at all. Eating freshly prepared foods was a foreign concept, especially during the time I was in college. I had no idea how much I was missing out until I spent 4 months studying abroad in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy in 2004, and had the privilege to dine on freshly prepared, authentic Italian cuisine from a variety of regions and secret recipes. Simply put, food is serious business in Italy and the rest of the world. Since then, I’ve been more picky about not only Italian food, but other cuisine in general. It wasn’t hard to see which foods were carefully prepared and which ones were simply thrown together. In fact, I’ve been overseas (to Asia and Europe) almost every year since then and every time I venture back from my travels (I just ate my way through Spain in June), the more I realize how bad the food really is in this area. 

Which brings me to last Friday… my fellow foodie friend (and even harsher critic) G wanted to try out this food cart in the Ballston area of Arlington, VA.We have heard and read rave reviews about this place, so the next right thing to do was to try it for ourselves. Pupatella, which is Italian slang for “doll”, is a diminutive fire engine red food cart that is parked in front of the Ballston Metro. It is owned by 20-something CIA graduates Anastasiya Laufenberg, who works inside the cart and does most of the cooking and Enzo Algarme, who comes at lunchtime to grill. Their main specialty is Neopolitan pizza (Margherita – $6/with Mozarella di Buffala – $9) and on Fridays only, arancini (stuffed, fried rice balls). Just reading the descriptions made my heart leap with joy and took my taste buds on a trip down memory lane. Perhaps this will be just as good as the food carts I use to frequent while living in Bella Italia…

The best pizza you've ever eaten?!

Unfortunately, that was NOT the case. We had to wait over 20 minutes in the hot sun for our food (the Friday lunch crowd was out and about, however) and when we took the pizza and arancini back home to eat, it was a major disappointment. The pizza had BLACK PEPPER on it, which is something un-Italian and simply unheard of. Plus, the crust was hard and it tasted like a propane tank had leaked on it. The arancini was over-fried and flavorless, plus way too small and overpriced to be considered a “meal”.

Arancini that should have tasted better...

On a positive note, however, the owners were exceptionally friendly and good-natured, and their lunch cart seemed to draw locals and tourists alike. Perhaps we caught them on an off-day, but still… let’s hope that in the future, when they open their first restaurant, things such as careful food preparation and authenticity will be taken into consideration. 

As for dining from the cart again?! Che ne so…

Ballston Metro Station
Stuart St and 9th St

ArlingtonVA 22203

(571) 243-2952

A Hearty Italian Meal for the Holidays

the most beautiful food picture

the most beautiful food picture

 Last Saturday evening, we celebrated Thanksgiving a second time with a hearty Italian meal. The courses were selected and carefully executed by my friend Gina, whose family is from Southern Italy and knows how to cook authentic Italian cibo. After living in Italy for 7 months combined, I have become the ultimate pasta/Italian food snob and cannot eat anything that is “Italian”-American. That is why I pushed myself to learn how to cook authentic Italian pasta and sauce, with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Last weekend, I learned how to make a practical Italian meal for the winter months. Though we made enough food for about 20 people, the 10 of us there devoured practically everything. For those of you looking for holiday dinner ideas, I highly recommend the following menu:


Antipasti: roasted red peppers, calamata olives, roasted mushrooms and carrots (drench all of these in evoo and season lightly with salt and pepper); cheeses: goat, jarlesburg, robusto; meat: rolled proscuitto slices

Primo: pomarola pasta (ripe vine tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, basil) topped with romano cheese

Secondo: grilled italian sausages drenched in pomarola sauce, both spicy and non-spicy, served separately

Insalata: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and small cucumber slices
Dressing: roasted garlic drenched overnight in evoo, then add ample amount of red wine vinegar to shake the flavor up
Vino: orvieto classico – rosso (main course) and moscato (dessert)
Dolci: fruit tart, italian cheesecake and fruit salad: cantaloupe/red + green grapes
Caffe’: decaf illy espresso or caffe’ latte

Each course should be served separately on its own plate. Do not try and mix the sausages with the pasta -it will NOT taste right. Most of these ingredients can be found in gourmet food stores, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. If you are in the DC Area, places like Litteri’s and Rodman’s are ideal places to shop for ingredients.

Buone Feste e Buon Appetito!

Please check out some of my other Holiday articles at!

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