Friday, December 15

Entrepreneurs & Expats in Italy: Making the Move as a Single Woman in her 50's | Dogs, Dating & Renovating!

We are excited to start a new series on our blog - Interviews with Inspiring Expats in Italy - sharing stories of hard work, big dreamers with determination, entrepreneurs and risk takers!

In 2010 we first met Susan Dufresne, she was travelling through Italy with one of her son's and stayed at our farm, inn & cooking school. Throughout the years Susan kept in touch and shared the trials and tribulations of moving to Italy  and restoring a farmhouse with us.

It seems fitting to ask Susan to be our first guest in this series of interviews because not only was she a guest at our inn years ago and made the move, but she will be joining our panel of Expats & Experts in our Move to Italy to Retire Workshops! Sharing with our guests what life is really like a single woman, in her fifties living and dating in small town Italy!

Now 30 years after her first trip to Italy, Susan made the leap in April 2017 and moved with her two dogs to Guardia Sanframondi, Campania. And as she puts "Moving to a small village in Italy has truly been an adventure and a comedy of errors."

Let's jump right in!

Why did you want to move to Italy? 

I grew up in a little coastal town in Northern California with a large Italian and Portuguese community. I didn’t think there was anything unique about that community until my mother remarried and we moved to Oklahoma for a bit. Before, normal food for us were things like salami, pasta and sauce and fruits like pomegranates. Then was introduced to chicken fried steak and crawdads! A bit of a culture shock.

When I was in my early 20’s I took my first trip to Italy with my friend, Maria. It was love at first sight - literally. The minute I came out of the Termini train station in Rome, I knew I wanted to live in this country. I loved the language, the food, the culture and people. I never forgot that moment and kept that dream alive for another 30 years.

What was the catalyst for wanting to move?
"I was burned out by my corporate job and feeling a bit lost but had never given up on my dream of living in Italy. I have always known that someday I make the move here. I was previously married, I have two children, Steven and David, who are now in their 30’s and two grandchildren. I am always asked how my children feel about my move. The answer is that they have been prepared (maybe brainwashed?) since they were young. I talked about moving to Italy all the time. They were not surprised at all when it happened and probably would have been more surprised if I hadn’t moved.

What inspired you to finally make the move?
My son, David, and I took a trip about 6 years ago to Italy. I wanted him to see another part of the world and selfishly chose Italy. We were traveling to Rome, then traveling up north eventually to Venice and back. I found La Tavola Marche through a search and was very intrigued and it was on the way to Venice. What an inspiration! An American couple who took a chance and uprooted their life to start new in Italy. I would like to say I chose La Tavola because of how beautiful it was but I think deep in my heart, I wanted to meet people who had made the leap. They were truly inspiring to me in their bravery and determination. (What an incredible make me blush!!)

I’m guessing it is not something new for their guests to tell them that they will live in Italy one day. But I was serious! I continued to follow their blog and listen to their podcasts. Sometimes it was difficult for me to listen to their podcasts to be honest because I was so envious. It’s true. I wanted to start my life in Italy but knew it would be a few more years. That trip to La Tavola helped me to overcome any doubts and make the move.

It's not easy moving to Italy! What kept driving you forward when the going got tough?

I just kept thinking about the life I wanted. I knew that it would be almost impossible in the States. I had a fairly stressful job which involved quite a bit of travel, and being transferred to various cities. But I knew if I took those positions in the company and transferred where needed, I could save enough money to make the move to Italy. Also, my children were now living on their own and beginning their own lives (one lives in Florida and the other in Saigon). It was time. I sold my home, my car and gave away or donated most of my belongings. I often thought I was crazy to do this but continued to listen to my heart. I knew I would be happy but also knew it would not always be easy. It has been hard work but I have not regretted it for one minute. The beautiful Deruta vase I bought 30 years ago on that first trip now sits in my living room in Italy. It amazes me every day that I am here.

What's it like dating in Italy? This is a part of the culture I know nothing about.

The fabulous thing about the Italian culture is that I find the men very engaging, passionate in their interests and they truly enjoy having a dialogue. But there can be little landmines for a single woman whether you are seeking out someone to date or not. I live in a small town of 4,000 people and could probably make a fortune with a "The Real Housewives of Guardia” show. But…. I would then have to move. Just like any small town, gossip is a pastime. There are also many stereotypes of single, western woman coming to Italy solely to find men whether married or not...It can be frustrating, but it’s the truth. You will be asked out for coffee often and assume the man is single. They usually are not. That’s another reason it’s important to find a support system. They can give you the background of the locals and help you navigate through this.. I am a fairly independent, non-traditional woman but do respect the place that I live and do not assume that I have the freedoms that I would in the US. This is small town specific of course and it was my choice to move somewhere where I knew I wouldn’t always agree with the attitudes towards women.

The smaller town mentality can be difficult and confusing sometimes but the benefits are also incredible. Like your neighbors looking out for you and bringing you some fresh tomato sauce, olives, or whatever is seasonal and from their kitchen. Knowing the bread lady, meat guy, fruit and veggie guy so you get the freshest food possible and they sometimes throw in something extra for you just because. The hospitality is incredible. If you ask for directions, do not be alarmed if someone or a group of someones, jump in your car and lead you to wherever you were trying to go. One of my biggest dilemmas here is trying to figure out how to reciprocate the enormous generosity. That’s a good problem to have and something I appreciate every day.

How do you spend a typical day?

It’s fairly erratic right now because of the renovation in my home. Usually I am mainly dealing with renovation - consulting with the workers on plans and layout, trying to find material and general errands. Like you, I do not live near a major center where there are a lot of options so I do quite a bit of driving back and forth to Naples and the surrounding area for materials.

When I do have a break from renovation, I meet with friends for coffee and dinner, go to local events, take an online Italian class with a group of people and lots of walks in the mountains with the dogs. Errands can also take up a fair amount of time in a small town because I need to go shop to shop and make sure I get everything done before pausa, which Guardia Sanframondi takes very seriously. Stores are closed for up to 3-4 hours mid-day. Blessing and a curse.

Now that you live here and reached your goal of moving to Italy, what are your plans?!

I initially thought that a blog giving information about restaurants, activities, local trips, artisan, workshops, etc. for visitors and expats was something I would be interested in doing. There is no site or information currently in one place and Guardia has over 200 expats with second homes. But after many attempts to start, I realized that my heart was not in it and I would not enjoy it over time. I have a marketing background so initially thought only about the need. But I didn’t move here for that reason.

As they say… follow your passion. So I recently started working on a blog showing my day to day life here. It is not live yet but should be up early next year called SempreItaly.  I am a fairly adventurous person and love exploring. It will be from the prospective of a single woman who had a major life shift - going from the corporate world in the States to a small town in Southern Italy. And the dogs! I hope it is entertaining and helpful. I will talk about learning the language, being so far away from family, cultural differences, getting by as a single woman and everything else that happens in my life. I want to show the generosity of the people, my major faux pas which are daily and what there is to offer in this area. This I am excited about!

I have a hundred more questions for Susan (and I'm sure you do too!), as I mentioned before we are so excited to have her on the panel and joining our Move to Italy & Retire Workshop! She will be here to share more stories on her experiences of moving with pets, purchasing & renovating a property, dating and dealing with family! Below are a few tips and things to consider before moving to Italy, from the perspective of many of you dreamers - a single woman in her fifties!

A few of Susan's Quick Tips on Moving to Italy:

- Social Media - Remember that Italians have Facebook too! A woman I know moved to Italy, started complaining about everything Italian and forgot that she had “friended” quite a few locals on FB. Keep those rants in personal messages. Google Translate works both ways.

- Thick Skin - You will need it. Italians love to make fun of each other - to their faces - and can laugh at themselves. It takes a little getting used to but is harmless. When speaking you will say the wrong words a lot - just roll with it and laugh at yourself. Be careful of the word “Fico” It’s tricky!

— Italian food - Do you really, really, really love Italian food? I do but after weeks on end of nothing but Italian, I crave some Thai, Mexican food or any other type of food. Bring your spices, your cookbooks and when friends are heading over to visit, have them bring anything you can’t get in Italy - within reason of course. It may seem a minor thing but after a while you will be dreaming of a carnitas burrito or tom yum soup.

- Professionals - Get a good attorney, commercialista (accountant), notary, and auto insurance agent in your area. Seek out referrals from locals and other expats.

- Type A Personalities - You may struggle. Italy is a tough cookie and will probably not change anytime soon. You’ll either need to let go and enjoy the crazy ride or enjoy Italy as a vacation spot only. Plus, isn’t that why we want to move here - because it’s Italy?

Things to Consider Before Making the Move as a Single Woman:

- How do you handle being alone and out of your element? If it’s something you know you would struggle with consider moving to a city with a more international atmosphere or try a trial run in a rental before making the leap to move longer term.

-Can you imagine being away from your children and family for long stretches of time? Will you be able to travel to see them or they to see you? Skype and other services are great but do not replace that connection. When thinking about the cost of moving and living in Italy, I would include travel back and forth as well.

-How will you handle your new found popularity? You will have friends you haven’t seen or heard from in years asking to come stay with you, cousins that you had forgotten about suddenly interested in coming to Italy. It’s nice to feel wanted but be careful with the constant flow of guests especially in your first year when you are trying to figure out your new life. Be prepared to be popular!

Thank you Susan for your insight & inspiration!!

Take the first step towards the sweet life!
Meet Susan along with other inspiring expats at the next Workshop: How to Move to Italy & Retire / Buy a Holiday House in March & May 2018 at La Tavola Marche (Le Marche, Italy). Jason and I love hosting this workshop! If you are dreaming of retiring or buying a holiday house in Italy understand  there's a lot of work needed for la dolce vita! We share first hand experience on what you need to know when it comes to house hunting, negotiating, taxes, health care and life in Italy!

Saturday, December 9

10 Christmas Gift Ideas for the Kitchen

Watch our Facebook LIVE! video sharing a few of our favorite things - 10 Christmas Gift Ideas for the Kitchen - all tools used in our cooking school and kitchen daily! From luxe to stocking stuffers & in no particular order here are the links below!

Be sure to watch the video to find out why we chose these great gifts!

1. Falk Copper Cookware - This is true craftsman ship! Beautiful handmade copper cookware - start your collection with either a sauté, sauce or fry pan! These pots & pans are Jason's favorite kitchen tools! They are worth the investment, don't be fooled by fake knock-offs.

2. Cutting Board with a Lip/Edge   - Stop the slippage with a lip! 

3. Chinois -   A classic fine mesh strainer.

4. Parchment Paper - I know, weird to be on a Christmas list but it makes a great stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift for anyone who cooks because it's so versatile! (I think Jason should invest in parchment stock!) From lining a baking sheet to using it as  - a lid or piping's indispensable in the kitchen! Buy it by the roll, not individual sheets!

5. Food Mill - from tomatoes to potatoes, keep one in your pantry.

6. Bialetti Moka & Milk Frother - It's a classic and makes most Italy lovers gift lists. We use ours every day, many many times a day! Bialetti is our moka of choice and this simple hand pumper/frother works like a charm. And here's (one of my first videos) on how to use it and make a proper Italian caffe!

7. Lexan - Take tupperware to the professional level. 

8. Big Pasta/Stock Pot - You can never boil pasta in too much water! This is when you hit up a restaurant supply store and buy the biggest pot your stove can handle. Nothing fancy needed it's just to boil water - and a lot of it!

9. Cookbooks - On every kitchen/cooking/food lovers christmas list are cookbooks! Our recommendation is simple: The Silver Spoon - get both in English & Italian, Il Cucchiaio d'Argento they are different. And a personal favorite is The Food of Spain, when the kitchen is closed for the winter we happily eat our way through this cookbook!

10. Cheese Grater - Ok this is the wild card item. This is an Italian military issued cheese grater, made for the battle field! We found this antique item in our farmhouse when we moved in (for years we didn't know what it was!)

Happiest of Holidays! 
Let us know your favorite's to add to the list for next year!

...hopefully our kitchen renovation will be done in time for Christmas!!!

Thursday, November 30

How to Make the BEST Mashed Potatoes | LIVE! Online Cooking Class from Italy

The potato: Take 5 extra minutes this Holiday Season to make good mashed potatoes!! They'll be on almost every table this holiday season at one festive dinner or another so why not do it right. Jason shares his technique on how to make perfectly creamy mashed potatoes every time. 

From our Facebook Live! Holiday Cooking Class from our kitchen & farmhouse in Italy! How to make perfect mashed potatoes...and a few turkey brining tips! Watch it here:

Tuesday, November 28

Podcast from Italy: Black Friday in Italy, A Pumpkin Pie Disaster, Paid Magazine Articles & Old Rope...

In a post turkey/stuffing/pumpkin pie haze we covered a lot of ground this podcast plus another chapter of the Book! After we took the dog (dog sitting for our Dutch neighbors) on a frozen walk we fired up the mics!

A little late to the party - Italy joined America by enthusiastically celebrating Black Friday with crazy sales & on thoughts on this. But first RAI (Italian TV station) arrived to interview us during our Thanksgiving Prep for a (what I hope to be lovely & endearing) segment on life in Le Marche, then returned the next day for a pumpkin pie recipe was a disaster!! We go into detail on Jason's pumpkin pie excuses....

Then we tie up a few loose ends of stories we never finished: wood delivery, Fusciani and staying at Ca' Camone. Stories of Gaggi (he's here every morning -before AND after hunting) as usual which prompts Jason to ask which is a better way to live: reusing old rope or buying a new one!

Then I rant about receiving emails from online magazines offering to feature us in their magazine if we want to PAY! That's not an article - that's an advertisement!! We ramble on about life and winter projects as usual... I finish up the podcast with Chapter 12: An Easter Feast

 Thanks for listening!! Podcast from Italy #111 Black Friday in Italy, A Pumpkin Pie Disaster, Paid Magazine Articles & Old Rope... Dowload/Stream on iTunesStitcher or Podbean

Saturday, November 18

Truffle Hunting in Le Marche | In the Woods + Cultivated

This November we hosted a truffle hunting holiday to give our guests a unique and hands on truffle experience! In full discloser 2017 has not been a good year for truffles (due to our lack of rain this summer) pricing are reaching 6,000 Euro/kilo - KILO! We weren't expecting to find much in the woods but a good story to tell!

We kicked off the weekend with a five course feast (including roasted crispy pork belly & apples with mashed chestnuts), a hearty meal to ready us for the hunt!


The next afternoon we slipped on our mud boots and followed two handsome Italians and one keen dog deep into the woods to hunt for white truffles.

I don't think that sets the scene properly - without knowing where we were headed, our group of five wonderfully rowdy & wild American women split up immediately into two separate SUV's and were taken off road (and almost off the side of the mountain), about 6km DEEP into the woods to their secret location. So secret, in fact we had to take the group photo in a different location to not give away any telltale signs of where we were hunting!

Our guides, two certified Truffle Hunters, Michele & Lorenzo. The cousins are locals from Piobbico (one a neighbour, the other a friend) and were EXACTLY what the ladies had envisioned! They were charismatic & couldn't speak more than a word or two in English but it made it all that more charming! Every so often the dog would catch the scent of truffles and dig wildly, only to find nothing but a newly dug hole. It wasn't her fault, it's a bad year for everyone. We foraged further into the woods, laughing along the way, crossing the river and climbed hills - not a truffle was found but friendships were made...along with a few crushes on our version of George Clooney, the Truffle Hunter!

Back to their farmhouse we popped a bottle of Bianchello and lingered in the garden until Jason called, the kitchen was ready for their cooking class, bring the ladies home!

Slipping off the wellies and tying on their aprons the group prepared a four course dinner with produce from our farm! Jason shared local recipes neatly wrapped in technique, how to balance flavors and knife skills. Three of the four guests have been here before with a combined total of over 20+ visits & cooking classes between them!!

It was a long day that lasted long into the night (under the wifi-cherry tree!) kept warm with hearty red wine.

 After a good night's sleep we got an early start for the next adventure...


We climb the steep hill to Roberto's agritruismo Ca' Licozzo just as the fog is lifting out of our valley.   (Again, in full discloser; I was driving & stalled the car at least 3 times, it was a guests rental...) Rewarded at the top with sweeping views we were greeted by our kind friend & farmer Roberto. He beamed with pride as he gave the ladies a tour of his farm, cantina, butchers shop, guest rooms, the works! He then asked us to wait for just a moment, he quickly returned with a huge smile and curly haired friend. This time we were just feet from his farmhouse - no off-roading, no secret spots, just an orchard in his front yard. He actually had numerous orchards - each recreating a different environment with different species of trees & bushes in hopes of finding truffles buried under their roots.

Roberto explained to us in great detail (then I would translate & condense to cliff notes) what to look for - nature's indicators of truffles growing at the roots, explained the different seasons and why 10 years he started this truffle rich orchard.  He does it for passion, not profit. Then as if on cue - his herd of sheep roaming free passed by to say Ciao! It was straight out of a movie!! Roberto was unfazed, the ladies all whipped out their cameras & phones.  Now cue the dog -  Lola suddenly took off, dragging her owner behind - she's on to something. Sure enough - in the cultivated orchards of Roberto's  hillside paradise we found two white truffles!

Satisfied with our success we returned to the main house, sat on the picnic tables and gazed out at the mid morning view as Roberto prepared a platter of his homegrown/raised and homecured prosciutto, thinly sliced pancetta, lonzino and capacollo.

Before we headed back down the steep hill to our house, Roberto asked if we'd like to see the sheep again? Of course! He took us to the stable and called them in for lunch. The tiniest of the herd emerged for her special lunch - a bottle! Fed to her by our guests!! Truffles, sheep, meats & cheese - oh my! Another great day this was shaping up to be!

After a long nap we got dolled up (ok, not really it's still the countryside) and headed into town for the big international White Truffle Festival in Acqualagna. The tiny town hosts one of the biggest/well known festivals in Italy and it's just the next town over from us! We meandered the streets, perused the stalls selling truffled goods and found the perfect spot to sit, eat, drink & people watch while we enjoyed our white truffle dinner on plastic plates!

All the way down our long dirt road and deep in those woods memories were made this weekend that will last a lifetime! I'm grateful for it!

 (Photo missing of the five of us ladies taken by Jason on their last morning should go right here...I will hunt down a copy)

Tuesday, November 14

FAIL: Stoccafisso - Stock Fish

Sometimes you hit a home run with trying a new recipe and other times you strike out big time... this was one of those times!

After a chance encounter with an old man delivering stoccafisso to Fusciani, Jason eagerly purchased one on the spot. Not sure what exactly to do with it - he was excited and eager for the challenge. The old man was familiar with where we lived and suggested placing the fish in the river next to our house to rehydrate. Well instead of going old school & rigging a cage to place the fish in the river  (to make sure none of the wild animals - including our cats tried to eat it) Jason opted for the more modern approach in our outdoor kitchen sink; placing the fish in a big plastic bin with constant running water.  Continue this for 14+ days!

All of our guests  throughout the month of October know what I'm talking about - that big ol'fish in the sink...

We were so excited to finally COOK it after all these weeks of prep that we filmed a Facebook Live! video of Jason preparing the dish he researched: Stoccafisso all vicentina, a classic Venetian recipe.

It sounded simple enough: dredge the fish in flour, place in a pot, then fill the pot with herbs, garlic, anchovy - then pour almost a liter of olive oil along with milk and cook very slowly...(Of course there's a bit more to it but that's the gist.)

Little did we know what an awful smell we would be unleashing into our kitchen... It was horrible - the smell, the texture and the taste. I'm not sure what we did wrong - but it wasn't good. At all.
In fact, no one wanted to eat it - not us, the guests, Gaggi or his buddy! Gaggi didn't even want us to feed it to his dog!

We'll stick to baccala from now on!
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