July 2011

Alessandro- Today I Celebrate You.

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

I met you eight years ago, at night,  on a patio perched above the boats in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Me: tipsy, wrinkled black dress, unbrushed hair, too many freckles from too much Tuscan sun; discussing life, love, hits and misses with my friend Kerrie.

You: too tanned, too tipsy, too bold and too interested in what was going on at my table; arguing Italian politics with your friend with the same name, Alessandro.

Who knows what cards you get dealt in this life; looks like I got dealt a stunning hand.

Together we have sailed through fantastically thunderous storms and tranquil calm seas. We learned each others language. We rushed an Italian wedding. We conquered Italian and Canadian immigration.  We balanced new jobs and friends in two countries. We’ve swung between elation and frustration. We’ve waited lots. We’ve cried  lots. We’ve laughed more. We bought our home- tried to make it ours, patching walls and roof and filling days that were already too full. We were blessed with the best gift the universe could conjure for us- our daughter.

Tanti auguri Alessandro! Buon Compleanno. Happy 35th Birthday.

You are beyond brave, beyond kind, beyond my best friend. You are always authentically you.

Thank you for the last eight years. Ti amo.


Parks In Milan: Green Space Roundup

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

Guest post by Jessica Spiegel of WhyGo Italy.

While Milan may not be on everyone’s list of must-see cities in Italy, it’s a common entry or exit point – finding cheap airfare to Milan is sometimes easier than finding cheap flights to Rome, for whatever reason – so many travelers find themselves with a day or two in Milan and no idea what to do there (other than see The Last Supper).

Milan is famous for many things – fashion, banking, and opera among them – but this busy city isn’t known for its green spaces. They do exist, however, and they can be a welcome break in between visits to museums and churches – especially since they’re free.

Parks & Gardens in Central Milan

The green spaces listed here are all either within Milan’s city center or easily reachable from the center via public transportation. The larger parks are often used for carnival-like festivals during the summer months, when residents spend as much time as possible in the parks instead of their stuffy apartments, so be on the lookout and join in the fun.

The map shows the approximate location of each park on the list with its accompanying number; the red star indicates the Duomo and the blue star indicates the main train station.

  1. Parco Sempione – The Parco Sempione is the most popular with visitors, primarily because it’s adjacent to one of Milan’s attractions – the Castello Sforzesco. The park covers more than 385,000 square meters and (in addition to the trees, ponds, meadows, and walkways) includes a playground, a civic arena (rugby games and track events are held here) and the city’s tiny aquarium. As a bonus, the whole park is covered by free WiFi!
  2. Giardini Pubblici – The next-largest park in the city center is the Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens. If you’re shopping along Corso Buenos Aires or staying in Milan hotels near Centrale station, the Giardini Pubblici isn’t far away. It’s more than 170,000 square meters of parkland, and was Milan’s first communal park. Near the gardens there’s a Museum of Natural History (Museo Civico di Storia Naturale) and a Planetarium, so it’s not just about the greenery.
  3. Parco delle Basiliche – In the southern part of the city center in the Navigli neighborhood, there’s a small park that has two churches in it, hence the name “Park of the Basilicas.” Poke your nose into both the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio and the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, located at opposite ends of the park, and connect the two visits with a stroll through the green space.
  4. Giardino della Guastalla – Milan’s oldest park is Giardino della Guastalla, created as a private garden in 1555. It opened as a public park in 1939, and covers about 12,000 square meters. The highlight of this small garden is its Baroque fish pond, but there are also walking paths set up through the garden so you can see the variety of plants and trees grown there.
  5. Parco Solari – Southwest of the Duomo, just outside the imaginary inner ring encircling Milan’s city center, lies Parco Solari. At only 60,000 square meters it’s a far cry from the city’s major parks, but it’s still relatively popular because of its covered swimming pool. This is another park with free WiFi throughout the grounds.
  6. Parco Baravalle – In the southern part of the city, just inside the ring road surrounding Milan, is the 42,000 square meter Parco Baravalle. The park is close to the Bocconi university.
  7. Parco Ravizza – Just a short walk from the Parco Baravalle is the 35,000 square meter Parco Ravizza. These two parks are too small to truly escape the noises and smells of the city (especially as they’re so close to a major road running around Milan), but they’re a nice bit of green space – especially for residents in the area.
  8. Parco Formentano – Another park just inside the ring road is Parco Formentano, in the eastern part of Milan. It covers a bit more than 72,000 square meters and includes a large fountain, playgrounds, places to play basketball and volleyball, enclosed dog runs, and covered bocce courts.
  9. Parco Guido Vergani & Giardino Valentino Bompiani – Between the Parco Sempione and the old Fiera grounds in the northwest corner of Milan’c city center lies a narrow stretch of green space that is actually two small parks that are more or less connected. Taken together, they cover nearly 88,000 square meters, and include walking/jogging pathways, a fountain, a playground, an area for dogs to run, and even a “mobile kiosk” selling snacks and drinks.

Parks & Gardens a Bit Further from Central Milan

If you’re up for a bit of a longer excursion from Milan’s city center, there are several other parks (including some quite sizable ones) not far away. These include:

  • Parco Forlanini
  • Parco Lambro
  • Parco Nord
  • Monte Stella
  • Parco La Spezia
  • Parco Agricolo

Visitor’s Information

Although it’s in Italian, you’ll find information about every single park in Milan on the city’s “Parchi e Giardini” page – use Google translate to get a rough approximation of what’s being said.

About the Author: Jessica Spiegel is Portland-based travel writer with BootsnAll Travel Network, for whom she writes the WhyGo Italy travel guide. She didn’t expect to fall in love with Milan when she first visited, but fall in love she did. Milan is a compact, walkable city with a fantastic public transportation network and a grand sense of style. It’s not for everyone, but if you have to be there for even a short time here are some things you need to know about Milan before you arrive.



I’m a mom that loves to cook. Sometimes. What I should say is, I’m a mom who loves to eat great food and have my family eat great food. Having a personal raw foods chef  just isn’t in the cards this year so I am left to my own devices in the kitchen. I gravitate to recipes with amazing results that are easy to prepare. I cook lots of Italian. I also cook hippy; seasonal, local and healthy.

When I lived in Italy the thing I noticed most of all was the simplicity of the food. Just a few ingredients used at a time. Not every ingredient in your fridge at the same time. Which was new to me.  Minimalism in the kitchen just may be what your palette desires but you don’t know it yet.

My husband, being a little homesick for his food at times, had a hankering for spaghetti allo scoglio. Which sounds really complicated but it’s just shellfish pasta. You can make it in under thirty minutes. That includes setting the table and having a glass of wine mid project. It’s that simple. This is  a dish found on most seaside restaurant menus in Italy. Make it and save 20 euros.

You may have never cooked mussels or clams before. Don’t be scared, mussels especially, are a snap to cook. I read a couple recipes in Italian before I made this at our house and the big debate seemed to be between steaming the mussels first, then adding them to the sauce. Or steaming the mussels in the sauce while it’s cooking. You choose. Another major argument over on the Italian food forums is what, exactly, goes into the perfect spaghetti allo scoglio. Just forget it cause you can’t even get the ingredients traditionally listed in the recipes. The fishing boat from Naples doesn’t stop in these parts. Just assemble some shellfish that looks appetizing and you are golden.

What you need. For 4 people

Spaghetti: 125 grams per person. For 4 people that is one packet of pasta (500g/1lb)

A selection of any of the following : Mussels, clams, prawns, scallops. (together roughly weighing 1.5 kg/ 3lbs).  Scrub shell exteriors with a potato brush. Note: If you are using clams in the shell you need to do another step; here’s how.

2-3 tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely diced

handful of flat leaf/Italian parsley, chopped

chilli flakes (optional)

white wine

What to do.

Prepare a large pot of water to boil your pasta.  In another medium sized pot, place your mussels/clams  inside with an inch of water.  You can steam them on high heat for 3-5 minutes while you are preparing the rest. They are finished when the shells open up. Take a large frying pan and fry your garlic with olive oil. Add your scallops or prawns and a splash of liquid from your pot of shells. Then add  a glug of white wine . Cook your scallops and prawns until just done and set aside. Add the chopped tomatoes to the same pan and simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes. Then add your parsley, some salt and chili if you swing that way.  Add your shells, and a little shell cooking water if the sauce looks dry. Mix to combine, cover, and kill the heat. Please, if a shell hasn’t opened after steaming, don’t eat it.

Big Italian Mama hint for cooking pasta is as follows. Lots of water. Add salt. For god sakes set a timer! Nothing like overcooking your pasta when your guest are seated and waiting. Set your timer to 1 minute short of the package directions for al dente.  That gives you enough time to drain your pasta before it sogs out. After you’ve drained your pasta, return it to it’s pot and add your sauce. Mix to combine. Serve on four plates and place reserved prawns and scallops on top. Mangiamo.

Photo credits: All photos by Bianca Gignac, except first and last by Kristy Graham