Bringing Italy Home

By on September 1, 2011

By Palma Hansen –

Our house is in California, but our hearts are in Italy. Though we enjoy our daily life in the southern California desert eleven months a year, it is where we live until we can go “home” to bella Italia!

Over the past ten years of our marriage, my husband and I have taken 14 trips to Italy. When we are not physically there, we try to live as close to an Italian lifestyle as is possible in the United States. Yes, we have jobs, and a “normal” life with daily responsibilities and the usual ups and downs, but we have tried to create “La Dolce Vita” Italian style.

We have discovered that life in Italy is more simple. It focuses, especially in the small towns, on family, friends, food and wine, and sharing these blessings generously with others. The scenery is stunning, laughter is abundant, and traditions are as important as change. The people are warm, kind, and welcoming.

Green Kitchen Hutch

My love affair with Italy began as a child, as I grew up in an Italian-American family. My grandparents arrived from southern Italy just after the turn of the century. My mother was the youngest of ten siblings. Her five brothers remained on the east coast, and the five sisters all came to California in the 1940s. My four aunts and uncles all lived within a couple blocks with Italian neighbors on each side. Everyone had a vegetable garden and a couple of fruit trees, and every Sunday of my first 20 years was spent at one of these homes for Sunday pranzo (lunch). The women all spoke their childhood dialect and cooked the communal meals, the men played cards in the evenings. By the time I was five, if asked where my family was from, I would rattle off, “Gioia del Colle, Provinci di Bari in southern Italy” with perfect pronunciation.

Courtyard Fountain

Life in what was almost a tiny Italian village of our own revolved around the food. The women were either cooking, talking about the last meal, planning the next meal or eating. All of my aunts and my mother were wonderful cooks. They shopped in quantity and split up the 20 pounds of pasta, or the cases of olive oil or wine they purchased from friends who were local producers. The double yolk eggs came from the farm, and the fruits, vegetables and nuts came from their (or their neighbors’ ) gardens. Friends came to share in these multi-course feasts, and every Saturday there was a huge new pot of ragu on their stoves.

They each had specialties: Mom was the best baker, turning out huge coffee cakes, breads and pizzas, Aunt Anna made millions of hand cut cavatelli pasta with her arthritic fingers, Aunt Mary was the “lasagna queen”, and Aunt Jenny made fabulous desserts. Each aunt, and my mom converted their garage into a “summer kitchen”, complete with air conditioning, all kitchen appliances and a huge table for meals and parties. They made gallons of canned fruit, preserves, and jars of fresh tomatoes to use in the winter months. My mother taught me to ALWAYS have sauce in the freezer, and maybe a torta or two. You never know when friends might stop by for lunch or dinner!

I was fortunate to marry a man who shares my passion for all things Italian. Since we are now over 50, all of my family members are gone, except for a couple of cousins. We have created our own “Italian lifestyle”.  So how DO you bring Italy home?

Lemon Table

During our first few trips to Italy, we shipped home lots of colorful ceramics, sets of dishes, linens, and even a patio table top. We purchased a new home seven years ago in a small community (called “Venezia”) that gave us even more opportunities to decorate and landscape our own tiny “villa”. We have niches for artwork of Italian country scenes. We have a courtyard complete with a stone fireplace, a small fountain and an olive tree. Our back yard has a “Roman” pool, several olive and lemon trees, pots of geraniums and fresh herbs, and a grapevine-covered pergola for the dining table.

Life at our home centers around the cucina, with stone surrounding the cooktop and an island that is perfect for rolling out and cutting fresh pasta. The dining room table changes its look monthly according to the season with lemons, olive branches, fall pumpkins or spring flowers. We also love to dine al fresco at outdoor tables, with 2 to 46 friends!

Dining Room Wall

We cook Italian, and that means fresh, seasonal produce and simple ingredients. We always try to involve our dinner guests in part of the process. We’ve had olive oil and balsamic blind tastings, and had friends who rarely cook in their own homes hand rolling pans full of freshly-made garganelli pasta, or designing their own pizza for the grill. I’ve had neighborhood cooking classes where friends learned to make perfect polenta or a simple risotto. It doesn’t matter what the menu is, it is about simple, tasty food, some good Italian wine, and the friendships that grow around the table. Impromptu meals are often the best, so keep some good cheese, salami, olives and fresh veggies and fruit on hand!

Pergola Tabletop

Now what I bring home from our Italy visits usually comes from the supermarket! I bring an empty piece of luggage to fill with 00 flour for pasta (a finer grind), Cannaroli rice, Italian tuna in olive oil, jars of honey, condiments, balsamico, my favorite coffee from Rome, and maybe a bottle or two of fabulous wine. I bring home cheeses on every visit, and of course small gifts for friends!

The internet has allowed us to expand our Italian “family”. Because of a wonderful website, http://www.slowtrav.com/, we have found a community of like-minded Italophiles who are as passionate about Italy as we are. They “get it” why we return to Italy each year and explore new regions, cities and villages. They share information about house or apartment rentals, transportation, and restaurants that we would never have found on our own. We have made many good friends all over Italy and North America, who also gather all over the country for get-togethers to share meals, friendship, and travel stories.

Bringing Italy to your home is simple: all you need are a bowl of lemons, a handful of sunflowers, candles on the patio, a simple meal with good seasonal ingredients, Italian wine, and some friends or family to share it with!

Palma’s passions are Italian travel, cooking, and living an Italian lifestyle in the southern California desert. She is in private practice as a licensed Marriage Family Therapist. Palma and her husband love sharing their knowledge of Italy with others during their small group tours to bella Italia. http://www.palmabellasitaly.com/.

Palma Hansen

About Palma Hansen

Palma's passions are Italian travel, cooking, and living an Italian lifestyle in the southern California desert. She is in private practice as a licensed Marriage Family Therapist. Palma and her husband love sharing their knowledge of Italy with others during their small group tours to bella Italia. http://www.palmabellasitaly.com

5 Comments

  1. Rhonda Daniels

    September 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Fabulous article! What a wonderful way to live. I love the style and your photos are great- thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Barb Cabot

    September 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Brava! Wonderful article.

  3. Carole Longo

    September 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Wonderful article! I know exactly how you feel since I have had a similar childhood as yours. It was great having all my Italian relatives around me when when I was growing up and like you, I am in my fifties and I love all things Italian. Thanks for a great read.

  4. Lisa Keys

    December 5, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Great read! Now I’m craving Italian food! I love your creativity and I envy your stone fireplace!

  5. Jessica Brooks

    December 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for sharing your story! I hope to read more stories like this from you in the future! And next time you go to Italy, take me with you!!

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Bringing Italy Home