I thought I would follow-up the previous post with some rather unique and fun facts about the city of Venice.
The city’s symbol is the winged lion with an open book under its right paw. The Latin writing on the book states “Pax tibi Marce evangelista meus“, “Peace to you Mark my evangelist“. Saint Mark is Venice’s patron saint.
In Venice, there are 417 bridges, of which 72 are privately owned. 300 are made of stone, 60 of iron and 57 of wood. The latest bridge built in the city was opened in 2007 and was designed by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Venice is built on 116 islands, has 170 campanile towers and over 7000 chimneys.
Saint Mark’s campanile tower is 98.6 metres high and on its top there is a statue of a golden angel, whose turning wings indicate the wind’s direction. The campanile collapsed on itself on 14th July 1902 and was built back in less than 10 years: it was re-opened on 25th April 1912, Saint Mark’s day.
Venice’s narrowest road is called Calletta Varisco, and it is only 53 cm wide.
I live some 100 km away from the wonderful city of Venice, Italy.
One of the most well-known Venetian celebrations is Carnival which, like most celebrations in Italy, dates back a long time.
The first documented Carnival celebrations in Venice date back to 1094, of which we have a written document regarding public “divertissements” (that is, leisurely activities outside of the work realm, approved by the local authorities) in the days immediately before Lent.
However, Carnival’s traditions are even more ancient and probably started with ancestral cults celebrating the end of Winter and the start of Spring. These cults were present in almost all societies, and their main goal was to let the lowest ranks of society to become, just for a limited period of time, alike the rich ones. Thus, poor people were allowed to disguise themselves with masks and make fun of the rich and powerful.
Carnival celebrations usually lasted for quite some time: they started on the first Sunday of October, intensified themselves the day after the Epiphany and reached their peak in the days before Lent. Today, Carnival celebrations last only for about 10 days before Lent.
As mentioned before, Carnival celebrations allowed Venetians to set aside work and worries, devoting themselves to fun and entertaining activities. Many were the available attractions: jugglers, acrobats, dancing animals, tumblers, musicians. Stallholders were selling dried fruits, roasted chestnuts and fritole (typical Venetian Carnival fritters) along with sweet treats of any kind, always pointing out the exotic origins of their products.
Historically, Venice had always been a huge commercial city thanks to its port, and had a priviledged relationship with foreign countries, particularly in the Far East.
In every Carnival celebration, the thin line connecting Venice to the Far East is always there, connectiong the famed Venetian festival to the legendary journey of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo to China and to the court of Kublai Khan, where he spent 25 years.
Several Carnivals have made history. In 1571, during the great battle of Christian forces at Lepanto, a chariot parade was organized: Faith was standing with her foot over a chained dragon, followed by Virtue, while Victory was standing over the defeated and over Death.
For a few days a year, the world no longer seemed to be turning in the same direction and wishes were granted. So was Venice during the 1700’s, century which turned Carnival and the city itself in a place of great illusions.
After the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Carnival celebrations came to a halt because of the largely skeptical views during Austrian and French rule. It was only in 1979 that the celebrations were resumed and brought back to their old glory.
Today, one of the most popular attractions during the Venetian Carnival are masks.
Masks were (and still are) hand-made by local artisans called mascherari (mask-makers). They have always had their own rules, regulations and guild, dating back to a 1436 statute.
Traditionally, they were part of the painters’ guild, who were assisting them by painting realistic facial features over stucco. Sometimes these faces had quite ridiculous proportions, but were always extremely detailed.
Masks were used not only during Carnival celebrations, but often throughout the year: masks were allowed on Boxing Day after Christmas, and up until midnight on Mardi Gras, when the partying came to an end. They were also allowed during all important occasions such as official banquets or parties.
Here are a few of the elaborate masks and costumes I was able to see during my day in Venice.
Hope you enjoy them!
The second cookie recipe I’ve used for my Christmas Project was for Chocolate Chip & Cinnamon Cookies. This recipe was taken and adapted from a book I’ve recently purchased by Susanna Tee called “1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & other tempting treats”.
I have adapted the recipe as not to include cinnamon, which isn’t a favorite ingredient of mine…
225 gr. butter, softened
140 gr. caster sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp. orange extract
280 gr. plain flour
pinch of salt
100 gr. plain chocolate chips
Cinnamon coating (optional):
1 1/2 tbsp. caster sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 190C. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment. Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and orange extract. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture, add the chocolate chips and stir until thoroughly combined.
To make the cinnaom coating, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a shallow dish. Scoop out tablespoons of the cookie dough, roll them into balls, then roll them in the cinnamon mixture to coat. Place them on the baking sheets, spaced well apart.
Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Here is the recipe for the Peanut Butter Biscuits which were featured on my Christmas Project. This recipe was given to me by my aunt Pamela while I was in South Africa and has never failed to turn out really good!
Picture courtesy of Google Images
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 lb. butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla essence
Sift together dry ingredients. Cream together sugar, butter and vanilla essence. Add peanut butter and beaten egg, mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix until a dough is formed. Take dough pieces the size of a walnut and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Press each biscuit with a fork twice to create a criss-cross pattern (as shown in the picture). Bake at 180C for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
I have used smooth peanut butter, as it is the only kind you may find here in Italy. However, I am sure ti will work just as well with the chunky one.
You also don’t need to space the biscuits very far away one from the other when you place them on the cookie sheet, as they will not spread much.
Last tip, roll the dough pieces fast, or either work with a little bit of dough at a time, and leave the rest wrapped in film, as it will tend to become quite dry as minutes go by.
Hope you will try it and enjoy it with family and friends!
Here I am, finally able to find some fruitful online time to update my ever-so-neglected blog!
Where can I start? What can I say?
My Christmas season was as busy as ever: the Friday before Christmas we experienced quite the snowfall and the roads were not “driveable” that weekend, which translated in some very frantic last minute Christmas shopping.
Even though the snow brings along major logistic problems and dangers, the landscape was amazingly transformed by the fluffy white coating: another amazing creation by the Lord!
Here is our building’s back yard covered in snow! It truly looks like a winter wonderland!
This was our Christmas tree in our living room, decorated by my Mom, with a back garden view. It was the very first time we had purchased a fake tree instead of a real one. It didn’t smell like a real tree, but the result was just as good!
Another snowy close-up!
My Christmas Project was a complete and utter SUCCESS!
I was able to purchase 9 beautiful clear glass jars, all fitted with a nice vacuum seal top, for just under $4,00 each at a local department store.
I was able to shortlist 4 kinds of cookies to fill the jars with and I did most of my baking the week before Christmas. I baked the last batch on Christmas Eve, just before leaving for our traditional Midnight Christmas service.
The cookies I prepared were: peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, lemon meltaways and midnight cookies.
After the jars were filled, I wrapped them in clear plastic with a white snowflake motif and I tied it up at the top with a nice and thick red sating ribbon. To finish them off, I attached a cardboard tag which I downloaded from Google Images from Gooseberry Patch which said “From the Kitchen of…”, looking very Christmassy. I also slipped a peppermint candy cane through each bow.
I will share all of the cookie recipes in later posts.
Christmas day was spent with family from my dad’s side: there were 18 of us, sitting around a rather long table!
We had a luscious Christmas lunch, with the start dish being my grandmother’s hand-made cappelletti: a kind of pasta with a meat filling, made entirely from scratch by my wonderful 83-year-old grandmother.
We also had roast, potatoes, a variety of appetizers and panettone, the typical Italian Christmas dessert.
There was a huge gift exchange and we all had fun watching my 2-year-old cousin Greta trying to open her gifts, while at the same time keeping track of what everybody else was doing!
Since most of my Christmas day was spent helping in the kitchen, I hope to share a few more pictures once one of my uncles will pass his through…
Speaking of my precious cousin, she turned 2 on December 15th and I was asked to bake a cake for her birthday party.
I decided to bake a basic vanilla sponge cake, using a Swiss roll recipe, cover it with the lilac tinted fondant I purchased in London and maybe getting a few gumpaste flowers on as well. This was the end result:
I don’t know if you can spot it on the picture, but I did sprinkle some pink lustre dust to make it all glittery on top.
Making this cake was a very time-consuming job, but I hope to bake many more in the future, thus furthering my expertise at handling fondant and gumpaste.
Another great thing which came up during the holiday season was a new and interesting online tour and study course from Vision Forum called “Hazardous Journeys: Into The Amazon”. Doug Phillips is taking us to the deep Amazon forest to uncover some of the great mysteries of God’s wonderful creation: from plants to animals, to the lost tribes of this remote yet fascinating area of the world. Mr. Phillips’ wife, Beall, is also posting some interesting pictures, videos and blog entries letting us into the Amazon craft world. If you’d like to join Mr. Phillips on this hazardous but God-driven journey, you may do so here.
The greatest challenge so far in this journey to unexplored and stunning lands for me was to stay true to the belief of worshipping the creaTOR and not the creaTION.
Today is November 1st, All Saints’ Day, and here in Italy it is both a national holiday and a holy day of obligation.
This means that all Christians are required to go to mass and celebrate the holy apostles and all saints, martyrs and confessors, all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world. We usually celebrate it together with All Souls’ Day, which is on November 2nd, and has the specific purpose of remembering the dearly departed.
Therefore, this morning my family and I went to mass with grandma, and then we took a couple of huge flower pots to our small parish’s cemetery, where all our beloved family members are resting. It is our custom to take fresh flowers to the cemetery, and it is really beautiful to see such a sad place full of color and joy. It may seem strange, but I have always enjoyed going to the cemetery and pay my respects to those who have passed on to be with the Lord and I have to credit both my grandmothers for that.
After arranging the flowers, we spent a few minutes in the chapel and prayed, before heading home and starting to prepare a huge lunch for all the family.
Grandma made her famous spinach roll, served with lots of grated parmesan cheese and melted butter. Then, she made a wonderful veal roast with potatoes and pumpkin. For dessert, we had some ice cream and a cheesecake I’ve made.
I would like to thank my dear sister in Christ Meredith for the cheesecake recipe: it turned out to be really really good and everybody commented on how tasty and creamy it was! Here is a quick shot of what’s left of it:
It was very nice to get together with all of my relatives on my dad’s side and I was especially delighted in seeing my sweet cousin Greta: she is turning two next month and is a real handful! However, we all have waited for her so much that we cannot have enough of her!
On a different note, I would like to express some of my thoughts on Halloween and its dangers.
In Italy, we never used to celebrate Halloween, as traditionally it is connected to countries with a Celtic background and we already had All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. However, in the last few years the Halloween franchise has invaded my country as well, causing a sensation with parties, costumes, fake blood, zombies, you name it.
Personally, I chose not to celebrate Halloween and stick to the more “conventional” (or should I say “respectful“?) All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.
This is primarily because I see Halloween merely as a “feast” which promotes dressing up as zombies, relating to the occult, making fun of death and is starting to drive people away from paying a respectful and godly tribute to those who are no longer with us. All the towns in the area, big or small, have been adorned with posters promoting gruesome parties and zombie parades.
Today, grandma asked a 15-year-old boy who was at church what he did the previous day and he proudly stated that he went to 3 different Halloween parties dressed up as Death with a black robe and he was at mass just because his parents made him go. We all were utterly bewildered in seeing just how powerful Evil can be, and how it is plaguing the young generations, who are growing up being respectful to all that’s “material” and has a value money-wise, instead of striving to serve the Lord.
I will be forever thankful to my parents and my family for putting me on the right path, for providing me with wholesome and important values which have helped me tremendously to become a God-driven person with a higher purpose.
Ephesians, 5:6-12 ” Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Finally, I am able to post about the latest test batch of cookies I have made.
This time, I have picked Almond and Nut Cookies from a cute recipe box all about cookies I’ve received for Christmas a few years ago.
The cookies turned out to be very good, but the amount of work that goes into making the dough, spreading it regularly onto a level surface and waiting for it to set do not make them viable for my Christmas Project.
However, they are still extremely good cookies, with a nice nutty flavour, and I highly recommend them!
Please excuse the slightly blurry picture… my camera is acting up as of lately…
Here is the recipe!
Almond and Nut Cookies
150 gr. butter
100 gr. sugar
1 large egg
200 gr. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
125 gr. almonds, chopped
125 gr. nuts, chopped
pinch of salt
- In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and the sugar, until light and fluffy. Incorporate the egg, the sifted flour, the cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Mix well and add the chopped almonds and nuts.
- Spread the dough regularly onto a cookie sheet (covered with baking parchment or foil) and let it set for 30 minutes.
- With a knife, cut the dough into small bars and place them on a cookie sheet.
- Cook at 170 C for 20 minutes.
- If the dough is too stiff when adding the nuts, add a tiny bit of milk to help incorporate them.
- Make sure the almonds and nuts are not already toasted: they will toast as the cookies bake in the oven.
- It would be a good idea to add the cinnamon to the flour before mixing it in. Adding the cinnamon after it makes it very difficult to get well and evenly amalgamated.
- Chop both the almonds and the nuts coarsely, as it’s nice to feel the “crunchyness” in the cookies.
For my 2010 Christmas Project I have planned on giving each “family unit” within my extended family a clear glass jar of home-made cookies.
I have already started testing various cookie recipes to see which ones will turn out best and will eventually be shortlisted for the selection that will go into each jar.
On Sunday, I went to a local shopping center with my best friend Anna and took the opportunity to start scouting around for the clear glass cookie jars I will need for my project.
I had never had a “closer” look at cookie jars in the past, but now I am more determined than ever to find the perfect “dream jars” at a reasonable enough price.
Within the shopping center, two stores had various kinds of glass jars in stock. To make you better understand the look I’m going for, I would say it’s a style that closely resembles an apothecary glass jar, quite similar to this one:
It is a beautiful jar, but the ones I found were very expensive and way too big. Therefore, I knew I had to find something that was a little on the smaller side, but equally nice to put on display anywhere in the kitchen.
This is the first jar I found:
It’s a classic tilted glass cookie jar, with a large enough mouth to fit a hand in, made of strong, thivk glass with a silver-coloured lid. Overall, a very nice jar, but very much out of my price range at $ 8,90 each (I will put the prices in US $ instead of Euros).
This is jar number 2:
It’s the one I liked the most, as it is the perfect size and looks like an old-fashioned candy jar straight from the 1940’s “Little Women” movie. Remember when the March girls go to the shop to buy their Christmas presents and the owner offers them a candy cane each? Its mouth wasn’t especially wide, but I absolutely adored the glass lid it had: looked so classy and fancy at the same time! But, alas, this jar is still too expensive at $7,90 each!
This is the third, and final, option:
A rather modern-looking, Y-shaped jar, with a very large mouth and silver lid (the one I found doesn’t have any writings on it), and priced at only $ 2,90 each.
I must say it really doesn’t look one bit like the apothecary-style jar I had envisioned, but I am positive that with some fabric and a nice ribbon it’s going to be pretty anyways.
Moreover, I thought that since I know all of the recipients’ kitchen styles, I can still afford to purchase about half of the old-fashioned jars and half of the modern-looking ones, so as to better fit the likes of the people receiving the gift. I think that’s quite a good compromise!
I would gladly welcome any suggestions or ideas for both the right jars and their decorations: feel free to leave a comment!
Coming soon: test batch number two, almond cookies!
It turns out that my first cookie “test batch” has exceeded my expectations, and it all went very well.
As I have mentioned on my previous post, I have tried “Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps”, a Martha Stewart recipe. A couple of months ago, I remember watching a tiny segment of her show from 2006, when she baked these cookies with Jeremy Irons: they looked so gorgeous that I had to go and look for the recipe.
Here it is…
Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps (makes about 20)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant espresso
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, for coating
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients; beat in milk just until combined. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar twice.
- Place balls on prepared baking sheets, two inches apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, about 12 to 14 minutes; cookies will still be soft to the touch. Trasnfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the dough at least two days in advance and do not freeze it, rather leave it in the fridge.
- Don’t be discouraged if it looks like cake mix and not cookie dough: it will firm up, eventually.
- As soon as you take the dough out of the fridge, cut it into even-sized cubes, and place it on a cold surface.
- Dust your hands with confectioners’ sugar to prevent the dough from sticking too much. Repeat the process if necessary.
- When placing the balls onto the baking sheet, leave some extra sugar on top of them, to create the nice contrast of chocolate brown and sugar white.
- If you don’t have instant espresso (I didn’t), you may substitute it by adding a little coffee in the chocolate while it’s melting.
The final result:
Proverbs 31:31, “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates”.
I was browsing through my London pictures and thought it would be neat to share with you some more! These are pictures I took during my visit in December 2009.
That’s me after shopping at one of my favourite places in London: Jane Asher’s Party Cakes! It’s a cake supply store and I was able to get lovely Christmas sprinkles and other edible decorations.
Me again, this time in front of The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I am a ballet enthusiast and hope to actually watch a performance at The Royal Opera House in the future!
My dear friend Silvia and I. Please pray for her as she is going through cancer treatment: she is now growing stronger in the Lord and I am so very grateful for this.
The following pictures were taken on another visit (with my parents and best friend Anna) in the Spring of 2008.
Lavish chocolate displays at Harrods.
A carriage escorting a royal guest inside Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard ceremony. How fancy!
A nice view from the London Eye, the biggest panoramic wheel in the world.
My mom, my dad and I on the Tower Bridge.
The sign at the entrance to the Tower of London: it’s a bit intimidating to think that we were entering “her majesty’s palace and fortress”.
The Jewel Tower inside the Tower of London, where all the crown jewels are kept.
On a lighter note, this is me (excuse my terrible face…) with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.
Anna and I with Princess Diana’s wax model.
Madame Tussaud’s wax museum is located in Baker Street, famous for being the place where Sherlock Holmes’ office was. This is the wall of Baker Street’s underground station.
Hope you enjoy this pictures!
Christmas cookie project update: this afternoon I’m going to bake a “test batch” of Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps… recepie, pictures and tips coming soon!