Friday, 19 September 2014

Flipping for the Napoletana

Ever wonder about those funky upside-down coffee pots that you see in movies and rustic restaurants around the Campania region?  It's called the Napoletana, in homage to the city where its popularity peaked and has remained a household icon.

The Napoletana is often affectionately referred to simply as "la macchinetta" (the little machine).  It has a hazy history but was purportedly invented in 1819 by a French tinsmith, then brought to Naples, where it really caught on.  Coffee culture has remained an important ritual in Napoli.  So beloved was the macchinetta that many departing Neapolitans toted it along with them to the New World when they emigrated.

It enjoyed more than a hundred years of unabated reign until the faster and more practical Moka pot emerged on the scene, but adherents swear that the Napoletana makes a more aromatic and flavorful caffe' than other home brew methods.

So how does it work?  Unlike the moka which uses pressure to "express" the coffee up into the pot, the Napoletana is a drip machine.  The bottom reservoir is filled with water, the metal filter is placed inside and filled with fine-ground coffee, then the top is screwed on.  The pot looks upside-down on the stove.  When the water boils, the contraption is inverted (right-side up) and the water filters through the coffee grounds.  Sugar is stirred in and a decorative lid is placed on it for finesse.

High pressure espresso machines in coffee bars helped make Naples the caffe' capital of Italy - it's undisputed that the best coffee is found  here - but the Napoletana is still found in most kitchens around Campania, if only for nostalgic decoration.

The Colors of Confetti

In Italy, colorful confetti is used to celebrate important occasions.  But here confetti doesn't come in the form of bits of paper; they are much more delectable.  They're are candy-coated almonds and they make an appearance at every marriage, graduation and baptism that we celebrate.  It just wouldn't be a party with confetti!

The tradition is a couple of millennia old, dating back to the Romans when they served pieces of candied fruit and nuts at celebration banquets.  During the Middle Ages, alchemists cooked almonds with sugar syrups mixed with tinctures and herbs to aid digestion after a big meal.  The custom became more elaborate in the Renaissance with the introduction of sugarcane, when the coating could be cooked to a hard, colorful shell.

During the 1500s, the lovely town of Sulmona in Abruzzo turned into the unwitting center of confetti manufacturing when a convent started producing and selling the tinted treats.  In the 1780s the Pelino family introduced the first "factory" production of the sweets using only almonds and pure sugar, though the 4-day long process can never be fully industrialized.  The Pelino family still operates their confetteria in Sulmona.

Nowadays, you can find them made from hazelnuts, pistachio and chocolate, and they're made in cities around the country, especially in Naples and Milan, but Sulmona is still the capital of confetti.  They are formed into flowers and bundled into bouquets or wrapped into whimsical shapes, perfect for the party favors that decorate the place settings at the table.

The rainbow of colors have a purpose - white for weddings, pink or blue for baptisms, red for graduations or birthdays, and green for engagements.  But at most events, a big jar of various colored confetti decorates the lobby like an edible kaleidoscope.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Happy Fall !

The city is abuzz as New Yorkers are emerging from summer, ready to check out the events and activities popping up all over town.  As weekends away become weekends at home, here are just a few ideas of how to spend your September in the city.

Weekend Plans

Governor's Island

This month marks your last chance to board the free ferry and sail over to Governor’s Island before it closes on September 28th for the year.  Pack a picnic and spend the day exploring the former U.S. Army military base and U.S. Coast Guard station.  Whatever you end up doing, make sure to kick your feet up in the newly installed hammock grove before heading back to the city.

Railroad Landscapes at The New York Transit Museum

Here’s an exhibit any New Yorker can appreciate.  Photographer John Sanderson captured the Metro North and Long Island Railroad tracks over the changing seasons, illustrating the beauty present in the everyday.  Open now through February 1st, this exhibit may change the way you think about your commute.

Madison Square Eats

Come all and come hungry!  This semi-annual pop-up market, presented by UrbanSpace and the Madison Square Park Conservancy, serves up dishes from some of the city’s most popular restaurants.  Choose from an intimidatingly large selection of delicacies featuring New Orleans-style Gumbo,  wood-fired pizza, frozen sangria, and so much more. 

In Festival News...

88th Annual Feast of San Gennaro (Sept 11 - 21)

Once a year, the already-lively neighborhood of Little Italy is transformed into the site of a celebration, with Italian treats, free musical entertainment, and even a cannoli eating contest.  Revelers fill the streets, keeping alive the spirit of the early Italian immigrants.

Dumbo Arts Festival (Sept 26 - 28)

For three days beginning September 26th, incredible art installations will take over the Dumbo, Brooklyn waterfront.  Kids and adults alike can enjoy street murals, poets, oversized sculptures, live music and dance, and some hands-on crafting.  This artist-heavy neighborhood won’t disappoint.

12th Annual NY Burlesque Festival (Sept 25 - 28)

Leave the kids at home before checking this one out.  At this four day event, over 100 burlesque performers from around the world put on quite the show at venues around Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Feeling adventurous?  Get out your glitter and participate in one of the workshops hosted by The New York School of Burlesque.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Best Cars for a Summer Road Trip

Everyone dreams about one day setting off into wilderness in a sleek and shiny sports car, with the roof rolled back and nothing but the open road ahead of them. The allure of a cross-country summer road trip need not be just a fantasy however; all it takes is a little organisation, a map, good company and away you go.

Perhaps you want to country hop, or just explore your own country in more detail. Either way, with the help of a satnav or an old school A-Z, a road trip promises to be an unforgettable summer experience, whether you take to the road alone or gather a group of friends for the backseats.

The most important thing to think about before you set off is your choice of car. For the more money-struck, it might not be a case of choice so much as a scrabble for the cheapest piece of metal on the market, but it still helps to consider your options. Are you going to be driving along gritty, country roads, or do you need something that’s going to zip you down those winding mountain lanes in style? Or perhaps you’re thinking about the environment and want the most atmosphere-friendly ride on the road.

Here’s a little peak at which cars are the most suitable for your trip category by category:

Great for long distances

Volvo S40 1.9D S

For those planning seriously long journeys, it’s important to check if your car is capable of covering the miles. The Volvo S40 1.9D S has been voted one of the best long distance and commuter cars by owners. With air con, leather seats and built in CD player, you definitely won’t be in for an uncomfortable ride. And at less than £2000 for a second hand model, this car shouldn’t break the bank.

The most economic

Peugeot 308 1.6 HDi 

With all eyes on the environment, especially with this summer’s heatwave well underway, it’s crucial to think about which car is going to be the kindest on the fuel gage. Make sure you don’t have to face the additional stress of hunting down petrol stations every couple of miles by taking a look at more fuel (and wallet) friendly vehicles. The Peugeot 308 1.6 HDi has consistently been voted one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road, sipping lightly at the tank and emitting just 120kg of CO2 per km. As an added bonus, it has a huge boot and under floor storage bins for those needing extra space.  

Ideal for the budget conscious

Volvo 740

Great for cash-strapped students or those on a budget. It’s never going to win the car catwalk, but the Volvo 740 is certainly one of the most reputed cars in terms of reliability, and price. You can pick up a pre-owned version for under £1000, and with enough space for a small family or group of four, if times get really tough it can also double-up as temporary accommodation. No matter what mileage is listed on the clock, it’s not going to break down half way down the road.

Comfiest ride

Land Rover Range Rover

A little more on the pricy side, if you’ve got money to spare this car certainly comes up trumps in terms of comfort. Which? users rated this car at 98.6% for satisfaction, making it one of the most highly praised cars on the block. It may not be the most practical urban vehicle, but if you’re hitting the country hills, or plan to enter snowier climates, this car won’t disappoint. And the best bit? It’s got gadgets galore, with 11 speakers, a 7-inch touch screen TV, parking sensors, and rear view cameras.

Best for off and on road

Land Rover Discovery

Depending on where you plan on heading, you might need a car which can tackle the dirt lanes without signs of discomfort and displeasure. The 7-seater Land Rover Discovery is not only the best on and off road car, but it’s also perfect for big families or those who like a little extra wiggle room. The car comes with a top sound system, intuitive satnav, four wheel drive and even the option of a 360 degree camera operation system to navigate you through those extra tight spots.

Doing it in style

Ferrari California

Winner of the style awards, the Ferrari California is one of those racy, red rides that most people can only dream of. Enjoy the envious stares from onlookers as you glide luxuriously through the streets in this flash sports car. Brand new, this will set you back £120,000, or around the £80,000 - £90,000 mark for one that’s been pre-loved.

Reliable old banger or glamourous, celebrity-style motor – which one are you going to choose for your summer road trip? Whichever vehicle makes the cut, don’t forget to get your shades on, wind the windows down and enjoy life on the road. Oh, and stock up on oil, a spare tyre and water.

Hollie Mantle is a blogger writing in association with car dealership JT Hughes.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Good Memories

A good vacation makes lasting memories, and a keepsake from a special place can spark smiles and help keep those good times close at heart.  For many, the flavors and ambiance of a great meal in Italy is especially memorable - and those culinary experiences are now transportable in the form of a Buon Ricordo plate.

Buon ricordo means "happy memory" and also explains the goal of this unique program.  Buon Ricordo is a non-profit association of restaurants founded to promote and publicize the diversity and value of local cuisine.  In Italy, regionalism still abounds; the dishes you enjoy in Tuscany are different from the traditional fare of Puglia, for example, and local products vary as well.  The program bands together a group of individuals who treasure their traditions and want to share them with others through carefully prepared meals that are served up with a heaping helping of hospitality - the kind of dining experience that is memorable.  The Buon Ricordo goes home with the guests who keep a decorative dish from that eatery.

There are more than 120 members whose restaurants proudly prepare their regions' recipes using local products and serve them on hand-painted Vietri ceramic plates bearing the name of the restaurant along with a design that highlights their specialty.  They are collectable, colorful souvenirs, and some plan their vacation destinations around Buon Ricordo restaurants' locations.

The house specialties may change from time to time to highlight a different regional dish, as well as a new accompanying plate.  The program helps keep local traditions alive but also draws people to visit some out-of-the-way towns in the search of a guaranteed good meal.  It's also a good way to find a friendly, authentic restaurant in the midst of a busy tourist-oriented city.  The plate you take home beats a t-shirt or a snow globe!  It's sure to be a buon ricordo of your Italian vacation experience.

Say It With a Kiss

The sweet little treats known as Baci by Perugina Chocolates are a "kiss" of chocolate-hazelnut, but they started out with a less than romantic name.  Concocted in 1907 by Luisa Spagnoli, one of the founders of Perugina, as a way to utilize bits of hazelnuts that were left over from other candies, she mixed up a 'dough' of chocolate hazelnut paste, pressed in a whole hazelnut and covered it all in dark chocolate.  She displayed them in the shop window of the famed chocolatier in via Vannucci, in the heart of  Perugia and called them "cazzotti" (punches) because the irregular blobby shape looked like a boxing glove.

Despite the odd moniker they sold well, but Giovanni Buitoni, the other partner in the business, was a man made for marketing and knew it needed a name change:  something short and sweet and endearing.  Bacio.  Kiss.  It sparked his creativity.  Grasping on the theme of affection, he decided to include a love note in each chocolate, a quote by famous literary figures on the theme of amore, like a message in a bottle (or in chocolate, as the case may be.)  He tweaked the shape to be more appealing while retaining the original recipe of Luisa, which was becoming more and more popular, then wrapped them up in the now-distinctive silver foil adorned with blue stars.

The Bacio became a symbol, a way to express affection and send a secret love note to someone.  Recipients started collecting the love notes as keepsakes.

Through the years new packaging options were introduced - ethereal-themed boxes and blue star-shaped tins, for example, and the little treat went national.  Since then, Perugina has constantly introduced new Baci-themed gadgets and fanciful packaging - a blue and silver Vespa model with the Baci logo; hollow chocolate Christmas balls filled with the candies; lockets and Easter eggs and Baci bouquets, among them.  But the candy itself remains an unchanged icon.

Baci by Perugina remains a way to express affection.  If you want to say it with sweetness and chocolate, say it with a kiss!