How lucky am I to have friends in all the best places in Rome?  Daniela Del Balzo is a chef and cooking teacher whose  classes encompass all the diverse cuisines of the 20 regions of Italy, but some of her most seductive dishes are those from her native Naples. This cake is one of those dishes, a traditional cake from the Costiera Amalfitana (the Amalfi Coast) where the ingredients are the exquisite Peninsula Sorrentina pears—alas! sweeter than anything else on earth. But, don’t despair! The sensational combination of chocolate and pears ensures that no matter where you live this cake will be delicious.

I converted Daniela’s recipe to our measurement system for you and also used Bartlett pears and a good quality at least 64% baking dark chocolate.

Please visit Daniela’s Cooking School for more wonderful recipes and, when in Rome, do as I do

Book Imitates Life: The Lady of the Wheel

Books can amuse, entertain, educate…and, at times, they can open a door.  Retired engineer and professor, Angelo Coniglio, wrote The Lady of the Wheel, a book based on his research into the genealogy of his own Sicilian family. What he discovered reveals not only the extreme hardships that led to the great influx of Sicilians and Southern Italians into the United States in the early 1900s, but to an arcane practice born from a culture still very much linked to feudalistic customs. The wheel was a device by which abandoned babies were “saved” from death without baptism, given a name and a wet nurse, and then handed over to the whims of fate.

Many of these foundlings who did survive emigrated to the US and elsewhere; they became our grandparents and our great-grandparents who never spoke of their birth or early life,


Capo D’Anno, top of the year in Italy, encompassing both December 31 and January 1, a celebration both sacred and profane.

Scratch the surface of any holiday in Italy and you’ll find traces of ancient Rome and early Christianity at the base. New Year’s Eve belongs to Saint Sylvester, and New Year’s Day and the month of January honor the Roman god Janus who, with his two faces, could see both the past and the coming years.

But what really counts is the food. (This is Italy, after all.) To insure a prosperous and healthy year, throughout most of Italy, you must eat a bowl of lentil soup at midnight. For good reason: lentils are shaped like miniature Roman coins. So there you go!

Of course, this meal is no sacrifice since lentil soup is most delicious, especially when the lentils themselves are the soft-skinned and richly nutritious La Valletta Lenticchie from Gustiamo. Entering the code “FOR” gets you a discount, and since they’re from Roman territory, your chances for a financially rewarding 2017 is almost guaranteed.

I miss spending those long months in Italy no matter what time of year, but I have to admit to feeling safer here in Florida on New Year’s Eve. Harkening back to pagan superstitions

LA FOCE: The Tuscany Less Traveled


I’ve been writing and re-writing drafts for this post for a few weeks now. Wanting it to be lyrical, beautiful prose, worthy of the subject— you know, like I’m going for a Pulitzer. I’m giving up on that and sending it out to the world as the lovely place in Southern Tuscany I was  inspired by a book to visit.

War in Val D’Orcia

You before you go to La Foce,  you should read the book.

I did, about eight years ago, and the story (written in diary form by Iris Origo, an American/British woman married to an Italian) took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. In the crossroads of Italy’s switch from Axis to Allies, the Origos found themselves in constant peril—harboring soldiers, displaced children, and protecting their workers and their own families with extraordinary courage and grit. They survived as did La Foce, to become a destination of breathtaking beauty, as I discovered when I finally made it there this past spring.

Going to Italy? Who’s Your Trip Advisor?

With any journey,  it’s who meets you along the way.

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My immigrant grandparents called it the Old Country. After coming through Ellis Island, they never went back to Italy—they never wanted to. Why go back to dusty unpaved roads when they could set up promising lives along the golden streets in America? (Well, maybe those streets weren’t so shiny, but they did well anyway.)

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Padrone Nicola Mecca (my great-grandfather)

Upon arrival, they were greeted by the padrone, the most important person in the life of a stranger in the strange New World, a fellow Italian who had been in the US for a while, knew the language and the customs, found employment and housing, and knew where the best tomatoes grew—sort of like a trustworthy tour guide in the days  before the internet .

The role of the padrone disappeared along with mass immigration but the need for a trusted guide in a distant land has not. But who or what can you trust? TripAdvisor?—well, to a point. Your travel agent ?—in some cases. Internet sites offering the trip of a lifetime?—not always. (Setting up an impressive website is a different skill set from that of being an outstanding professional tour guide.)

So why should you know Linda and Daniela, Fulvio, Lorenzo, Marlene, Katie, Susan, and Gioia?