Tag Archives: Italy

Superstitions Around the World

At Halloween, it’s fun to explore the things we don’t understand and examine the steps we take to control the things that just can’t be controlled. For example:

When you spill salt, do you throw a pinch over your left shoulder for good luck?

Do you believe black cats are unlucky?

Do you think that if you break a mirror, you’ll have bad luck for seven years?

Do you avoid the number 13?

These are all superstitions with which most Americans are familiar.

Even if we don’t believe in them, we pass this information on to our children because it’s part of our collective cultural heritage. We feel they should be aware of these beliefs.

But what other superstitions do people believe around the world? How are they different? Here’s a brief look at superstitions around the world to help you understand other cultures.

The Spooky Numbers 4 and 17

In Japan, it’s the number 4, not 13, that makes hearts race. In Italy, it’s the number 17. In these cultures, many hotels and hospitals avoid using these numbers to prevent their guests and patients from unnecessary pessimism. Of course, these buildings still have fourth and seventeenth floors, they just aren’t listed as such.

The Broken Dish

In the Netherlands, a broken dish is believed to bring bad luck in much the same way a broken mirror does.

More About Cats

In the Netherlands, private matters should not be discussed when a cat is in the room. People believe that cats are untrustworthy and spread gossip.

Tuesday

Tuesdays hold a special place in superstition. Tuesday the 13th is considered a particularly bad-luck day in many cultures in much the same way that Friday the 13th is bad luck to many Americans. In India, you cannot get a hair cut on Tuesdays because it’s believed to bring bad luck.

Bad Dreams

In Romania, if you dream about dark water or that you are carrying a newborn baby in your arms, you can expect bad luck. In China, dreaming about teeth or snow means that your parents have died.

More About Mirrors

If you thought breaking a mirror was bad, then you definitely do not want to place a mirror anywhere near the foot of your bed. If you do, Italians believe it permits the devil to watch you sleep. And if you wake up in the night and catch a glimpse of your reflection in that mirror, it means that evil owns you.

Watch Out For the Evil Eye

Many cultures believe in the evil eye which brings big-time bad luck. In Guatemala, parents can protect their children from the evil eye by dressing the kids in red; even a red bracelet will help.

Don’t Get Swept Away

In Venezuela, some people believe that if someone pushes a broom over your feet while they are sweeping, they also sweep away your chances of ever getting married. In many parts of Africa, you are never supposed to sweep your house at night. It is believed that you will sweep your good luck away.

Respect the Moon

In China, if you point to the moon with your finger the tips of your ears will fall off.

Whether or not you’re superstitious, it’s good to be aware – and respectful – of other people’s beliefs. When you visit people in their homes or travel to different countries, you need to respect these beliefs in order to be a considerate guest.

 

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Pasta and Marco Polo

Marco PoloAs children, we learned the theory that Marco Polo, the famous Italian explorer who spent 17 years in China before returning to his native land, introduced pasta to Italy.

But the truth is Italians – and all lovers of Italian food – might actually have Arabs to thank for helping to make pasta an Italian culinary staple.

Although the Chinese have been cooking pasta for more than 4,000 years, Italians are more likely to have learned pasta-making techniques from Arabs who settled in the Mediterranean area in the 9th century, more than 300 years before Marco Polo left for his adventure.

Although they may not have invented pasta, no other culture has been as enthusiastic about it. Italians consumer between nearly 77 pounds of pasta per person on average in a single year!

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A Cookie By Any Other Name

palmiers

Photo: Real Simple

Known as palmiers in France, palmeritas in Spanish, ventaglio in Italian, and elephant ears in English, these little cookies have a devoted, global following.

It is believed that they are French in origin, where their name translates to “palm leaves.”

They are widely available in bakeries and from companies such as Goya, but they are also easy to make – so long as you don’t try to make your own puff pastry!

Here’s a recipe from Ina Garten that was posted on www.foodnetwork.com. Try it and let me know what you think.

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What Kids Should Know About Libya

Libya has been in the news recently as the United States and other nations enforce a “no fly zone” to help protect Libyan citizens who do not agree with their current government.

Without going too deeply into the situation in Libya, which may be overwhelming for children, it is an opportunity to teach kids about Libya and its place in the world.

Libya – whose official name is Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – is located in North Africa. It is the fourth-largest country in Africa and the 17th largest in the world.

The country is mostly covered by the Libyan Desert, which is one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

Some parts of the desert have not had rain for more than 13 years. The highest temerpature that has been recorded in the desert is 136 degrees Fahrenheit!

The majority of people live in cities and are primarily concentrated close to the coastline with the Mediterranean Sea.

Islam is the major religion in Libya. While most people practice Sunni Islam, there are also Coptic Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Libya but there are many people from other countries living in Libya, including people from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Italy. Italian and English is sometimes spoken in the larger cities.

Libya is a very young country – half of the people there are 15 years old or younger.

Fortunately, every child in Libya has access to a free education through secondary (high) school.

In fact, Libya has the highest literacy rate in Africa. More than 82 percent of the people can read and write.

Family is very important to Libyans and they are accustomed to living close to each other. There are more than 140 tribes or clans and people strongly associate with their tribe.

Libyan food is very similar to the rest of North Africa. Staples of a Libyan diet include: couscous, olives, soups, dates, grains, and milk. Following the meal, most people consume several glasses of black tea.

Libya is a beautiful, historic country facing many challenges but hopefully the Libyan people will soon be living in peace.

Libyan Desert

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Zuppa di Zucchini

Zuppa di ZucchiniThis soup is just fun to say!

And because it uses zucchini – which is usually readily available in either fresh or frozen form at the supermarket – it’s an easy recipe to fall in love with.

You won’t have to worry about losing access to the main ingredient!

This recipe is from the Mediterranean Cookbook. The photo is from www.letschow.net.

Zuppa di Zucchini

¼ c. butter

¼ lb. onion, peeled and sliced

1 ½ lb. zucchini, thinly sliced

3 pints chicken stock

2 eggs

3 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil, 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Salt

Black pepper

Serve with freshly toasted bread

Grated parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes. Add the sliced courgettes (zucchini), stir well to mix with the butter and cook over low heat for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock and bring to boil. Then cover and simmer gently until soft, about 20 minutes. Puree the soup in an electric blender or pass through a sieve, then return to pan.

Bring the soup back to a boil. Beat the eggs, cheese and herbs together thoroughly in a bowl and beat in a few tablespoons of the hot soup. Pour all into the saucepan and stir continuously over low heat for 2-3 minutes, until the soup thickens slightly; do not allow to boil or it may curdle. Check the seasoning. Put a slice of toast in each soup plate, pour the soup over it and serve immediately. Hand the cheese separately.

 

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Cookies 15: Macaroons

macaroonsThis famous French pastry actually originated in an Italian monastery where – it is believed – their shape was modeled on the monks’ belly buttons!

Macaroons came to France in the 16th century when Catherine de Medici married Henri II.

Try this royal – and religious – treat via Martha Stewart’s recipe.

Macaroons

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground sliced, blanched almonds

6 tablespoons fresh egg whites (from about 3 extra-large eggs)

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions

To make the macaroons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar and ground almonds. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioners’ sugar mixture until completely incorporated.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter. Pipe 1-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little. Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macaroons and the shiny surface turns dull, about 15 minutes.

Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar, until the surface of the macaroons is completely dry, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macaroons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macaroons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

To fill the macaroons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macaroons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macaroons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Variations: To make coffee-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops brown food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, blend 1/2 cup macaroon filling with 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon warm water for the filling. To make cassis-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops purple food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, use 1/3 cup good-quality cassis jam for the filling. To make pistachio-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops green food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, combine 1/2 cup macaroon filling with 1 tablespoon pistachio paste for the filling.

Macaroon Filling

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and sugar. Set mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat mixture, whisking often, until it feels warm to the touch and sugar is dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer bowl to the mixer, and fit with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until mixture is stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing until butter is thoroughly incorporated. The filling can be kept, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before stirring.
  3. Variations: To make hazelnut-honey filling: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of macaroon filling with 1/3 cup finely ground hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons good-quality honey.

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Cookies 14: Cannoli

cannoliThe cannoli, which means “little tube” in Italian, originates in Sicily and was created as a treat before Lent began.

Today, cannoli are prepared – and enjoyed – year round, but the holiday season is a prime time to share this treat with family and friends.

This cannoli recipe is from AllRecipes.com. Why not make a batch to share with your “Godfather.”

Cannoli

Ingredients

  • Shells:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 quart oil for frying, or as needed

 

  • Filling:
  • 1 (32 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup chopped candied citron
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (optional)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the shortening until it is in pieces no larger than peas. Make a well in the center, and pour in the egg, egg yolk, Marsala wine, vinegar and water. Mix with a fork until the dough becomes stiff, then finish it by hand, kneading on a clean surface. Add a bit more water if needed to incorporate all of the dry ingredients. Knead for about 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Divide the cannoli dough into thirds, and flatten each one just enough to get through the pasta machine. Roll the dough through successively thinner settings until you have reached the thinnest setting. Dust lightly with flour if necessary. Place the sheet of dough on a lightly floured surface. Using a form or large glass or bowl, cut out 4 to 5 inch circles. Dust the circles with a light coating of flour. This will help you later in removing the shells from the tubes. Roll dough around cannoli tubes, sealing the edge with a bit of egg white.
  3. Heat the oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) in a deep-fryer or deep heavy skillet. Fry shells on the tubes a few at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden. Use tongs to turn as needed. Carefully remove using the tongs, and place on a cooling rack set over paper towels. Cool just long enough that you can handle the tubes, then carefully twist the tube to remove the shell. Using a tea towel may help you get a better grip. Wash or wipe off the tubes, and use them for more shells. Cooled shells can be placed in an airtight container and kept for up to 2 months. You should only fill them immediately or up to 1 hours before serving.
  4. To make the filling, stir together the ricotta cheese and confectioners’ sugar using a spoon. Fold in the chopped citron and chocolate. Use a pastry bag to pipe into shells, filling from the center to one end, then doing the same from the other side. Dust with additional confectioners’ sugar and grated chocolate for garnish when serving.

 

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Cookies 3: Pizzelles

Pizzelles are one of my favorite cookies and a staple at my family cookie swap. But we don’t just eat them around the holidays. Every year at my family reunion one relative would never fail to bring them along, thus ensuring her status as the “favorite aunt”!

Pizzelles are a traditional Italian cookie. The name means “round” or “flat” and is believed to have originated in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The distinct shape of the cookie is made by using a press which resembles a waffle iron.

Once the cookie is finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar it tastes like an almond-flavored snowflake.

This pizzelle recipe was posted by BETORKAR on AllRecipes.com. I could share my family recipe, but there are just some things I won’t give up without a fight.

Pizzelles

Ingredients

6 eggs

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup margarine, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons anise extract

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

Directions

Beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in the melted margarine and anise extract. Combine the flour and baking powder; stir in gradually. Dough will be sticky.

Preheat your pizzelle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto the iron. Close and cook for about 90 seconds, or until steam stops coming out of the iron. Carefully remove and cool. Store in an airtight tin at room temperature.

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Italian Dinner

For the last 30 years, one of my best friends has been a nice Italian girl named Cara. Through her family, I got to experience different food, family culture, and history without even thinking about it.

One of the best things about kids is how open-minded they can be. They’re often more willing to embrace new things and share their own family cultures. Laying a foundation of curiosity about other people early in life – and through friendships – helps children appreciate how our differences are nothing to fear.

Even as an adult, I’m still learning – and loving it. Recently, Cara’s family hosted their 2nd Annual Italian Dinner – an extravaganza of food, music, wine, and laughter that brought together family and friends from near and far. We enjoyed dishes from their family’s native Calabria in Italy, told stories, and even danced the tarantella. In fact, there was a fair number of medagon (non-Italians; it’s kind of like being a Muggle) enjoying the feast. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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