Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Feast of St. Rocco, Gioiosa Ionica, Italy

As I wrote in my last blog post--click here--my husband's hometown of Gioiosa Ionica, in Calabria, Italy, celebrates the Feast of Saint Rocco, which is officially August16th, but celebrated in this town on the last Sunday of August. Saint Rocco is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against plague and contagious diseases.  Saint Rocco (also referred to as St. Roch) was born around 1340 in Montpellier, France, and performed many healing miracles throughout his life. To read more about him click here and here.   (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge if clicked on)

We visited the early 17th-century Church of Saint Rocco a day before the feast. Inside we saw the statue of the saint that would be paraded through the town and to three churches on his feast day in great celebration and fanfare. The wooden statue was carved in Naples in 1749, and transported to the town by ship. Thousands of people return to Gioiosa Ionica for the event, and we were excited to be here to see it. The Feast of Saint Rocco in Gioiosa Ionica dates back to at least 1583. He became the patron saint of the town in 1743 when a bubonic plague outbreak miraculously ceased when prayers to St. Rocco intervened.

For an entire week before the feast day, the entire town of Gioiosa Ionica is lit with festival lights. There are carnival rides and musical concerts in the squares all week long. Long processions of drummers march through the town for many hours during the day and in the evening, drumming a fast rhythm. It is a long tradition and a form of devotion. Tourists and locals from adjoining towns begin to gather in the town until there are thousands of people in attendance on the last day of the festival.

Vendors come from many miles away and set up booths along the main streets where all kinds of fruits and vegetables, condiments, candies, nuts, dried beans, meats, ceramics, toys, and kitchenware are sold. A sense of anticipation and joy builds and builds as the week progresses closer to the upcoming procession of the statue of Saint Rocco through the town on his feast day celebration.

Finally, the big day arrives! My husband and I watch as the statue of Saint Rocco is carried out of the Church of Saint Rocco and paraded to two other churches throughout the town. Masses are said at each church, and the procession of the statue lasts most of the day.

 The Facebook video above shows the statue being carried and a pause in one of the town piazzas, with the sound of the drums playing all around it. Click here to view it on my Mille Fiori Favoriti Facebook page if you can't see it or hear the sound here, 

There is great devotion to Gioiosa Ionica's patron Saint Rocco year round, but the constant sound of drums, the large crowds, and the groups of people celebrating by dancing the tarantella is thrilling to experience in person on the feast day.

We also saw a musician playing a traditional zampogna, a bagpipe-type instrument played in Southern Italy. This one was made out of goatskin. If you'd like to hear how this sounds--click here to view the video on my Mille Fiori Facebook page. 

As the feast day celebration progressed, my husband and I returned to our bed and breakfast room to watch the procession of the statue from our balcony. In the collage above you can see some of the vendor booths lining the street, and the large crowds all the way to the end of the town, where the procession ends.  
This was such an exciting day for my husband, as he has not been able to participate in this feast day celebration since his youth. He was especially happy that I was there to witness it, along with many of his other relatives who were in Gioiosa Ionica for the week.

After the statue is returned to the Church of Saint Rocco, the festival ends with a firework show for almost 45 minutes. We watched the fireworks from our balcony, enjoying the end of a wonderful and memorable day.

We visited a few other towns in Calabria during our visit and I will be showing them in future blog posts. We also flew north to Genoa, Italy, to visit family and toured not only Genoa but also Verona, Padua, and Bologna. Many stories, photos, and videos are to come!

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Gioiosa Ionica, Calabria, Italy

Benvenuti in Calabria--Welcome to Calabria!

My husband and I flew to Italy last August, on a dream come true trip for us! We would be spending three weeks in both the south and north of Italy, revisiting relatives we last saw in 2001. In that year we spent an entire month in Italy with our two young adult children, traveling again from the south of Calabria to the north, and sightseeing the major cities of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, Genoa, and Turin. On this trip, we were excited to be able to see a very special, week-long, saint's feast day celebration in my husband's hometown and visit with relatives who still lived in the town and also those who were traveling to see the celebration.  We flew from New York to Rome, and then connected to Calabria at Lamezia Airport, where we rented a car and drove to Reggio Calabria.
(All photos and photo collages will increase in size if clicked on)

We stopped in the town of Siderno, where my husband's oldest sister and brother-in-law live, and met in La Vecchia Hostaria--a wonderful local restaurant. My husband's nephew, wife, and daughter were also visiting from Brooklyn, New York, and we dined together, happy to see everyone again. Afterward, we went to my sister-in-law's house for dessert.  She prepared a chocolate dessert called sanguinacchio dolce which is my husband's favorite--photo bottom middle. It is made with pig's blood and sweetened with sugar, chocolate, and spices We also had pastries for those of us who are less adventurous eaters.

We then drove to my husband's hometown of Gioiosa Ionicawhere we had reservations to stay in a bed and breakfast called "La Vecchio Stazione." Our room was very comfortable, had its own bathroom, and was air-conditioned, which is a treat in Italy. Every morning we would cross the street to the "Bar Pasticceria Gatto de Pasquale Gatto," where we would choose cookies or pastry and a cappuccino or cafe latte for breakfast. 

Gioiosa Ionica is also called Gioiosa Ionica Superiore, as there is also an area of the town called Gioiosa Ionica Marina, which is closer to the Ionian Sea. This view is looking up from one of the town's piazzas...

...and this view is looking west from the top of the town, from a terrace of my husband's aunt's home. You can see a medieval castle on the upper right. which dates back to the 12th or 13th century, during either the Swabian or Angevin domination. The Chiesa Matrice, or Mother Church, the oldest and largest church on Gioiosa Ionica, is seen in the upper left of the photo. It was built during the 17th century and has had many additions and renovations.

A closer look at the castle. It was also the home of a feudal lord in the 17th century. This part of Italy was inhabited since ancient times as Greek and Roman ruins have been found nearby,  and it has also been invaded by many over the centuries.

A view over the town's rooftops towards the Ionian sea, which is about five kilometers (3.1 miles) away

Of course one of the first things we did was walk to the home where my husband was born and left as a young boy to immigrate to America with his parents and siblings. The house is located near the town's market, in the middle of the town, and is now owned by another family.  We were able to go inside in 2001, and our children and I were very surprised at how small and humble it was. My husband remembers they did not have plumbing or electricity when he lived there, but it has been modernized since.  Southern Italy was very poor in the 20th century, and although its economic status has greatly improved it still does not have the economic advantages, or tourism, as the rest of Italy.

We enjoyed walking along the narrow streets of the town, marveling at how many of these buildings have been here for many hundreds of years.

I was fascinated to see the dichotomy between ancient and abandoned buildings ...

 ...and modernized and contemporary buildings in Gioiosa Ionica.

Another interesting part of the town was the medieval aqueduct of the Galizzi River, characterized by pointed arches and support the conduit, clearly attributable to its medieval age. It rises at the foot of the cliff, and water is still running down it. High above we could see ancient buildings clinging to the top of the cliffs, and hills full of cacti, that was full of prickly pear fruit, which my husband told me they call "Fichi di India." He remembers eating them as a child and still buys them when he finds them for sale in our area.

Of course, the best part of being in Gioiosa Ionica was visiting with cousins and their families and being with our sister-in-law and brother-in-law and family for a week. We had wonderful times and many delicious meals together!

We visited the early 17th century Church of Saint Rocco, who is the patron saint of Gioiosa Ionica. Inside we saw the statue of the saint that would be paraded through the town and from church to church on his feast day in great celebration and fanfare. The wooden statue was carved in Naples in 1749, and transported to the town by ship. Thousands of people return to Gioiosa Ionica for the event, and we were excited to be here to see it. The Feast of Saint Rocco in Gioiosa Ionica dates back to at least 1583. He became the patron saint of the city in 1743 when a bubonic plague outbreak miraculously ceased when prayers to St. Rocco intervened. 

The streets of the town were all decorated with fanciful lights and the main piazza was bustling every evening for a week leading up to the feast. Many vendors set up booths to sell food and other items and multiple stages held musical and opera entertainment. 

 It was all very exciting and our anticipation grew, as we awaited the Saint Rocco feast day event, which I'll show in my next post.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

On Our Way To Italy, With a Stop in New York

Happy New Year, again, to all my readers! Our Christmas decorations are all safely packed away, and we're back to a healthier diet and trying to fullfill our resolution to begin to walk or hike a few miles again every day.  Happily, our weather has been sunny and mild, as we escaped the cold front plaguing the east. All we need is more snow, as we are far below normal so far this season

As I promised in my last blog post, I'd like to show some of the photos and memories I have of a trip my husband and I took to Italy this past summer. It was an "off the beaten track" type of trip, as one half of it was visiting Calabria, in the very south of Italy, in the town where my husband was born, for a celebration of the patron saint of his town. We also visited a few more towns in the south--many places American tourists usually don't visit, unless they have relatives that originated from them, but very worth seeing. The other half of the trip we visited my husband's relatives living in the north, in Genoa and Bologna, and a few other scenic towns.  

We began our trip to Italy with a stop in our old hometown of Brooklyn, New York.  It is always a thrill for us to return to New York for a visit, as it seems we have made a trip there every year in the past five years that we've lived in Colorado.  I've been blogging for ten years and the first five years was mainly about my life in New York City.  If you click on the word Brooklyn, under my header photo, it will take you to all my posts about my hometown borough. If you click on the words New York Cityit will take you back to all the places I visited in New York.  In both categories, you will have to scroll back and back and back, and so on, to see them all, as I blogged quite a bit about the greatest city in the world!

Because we had to change planes in New York, before continuing on to Rome, Italy, we decided to spend a night in Brooklyn with dear friends.  It was a beautiful day in early August, so we took a walk along Brooklyn Bridge Park to enjoy the sights. I blogged quite a bit about this part of Brooklyn, and you can read those multiple posts pages beginning here. if you are interested in this fabulous and scenic part of Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Bridge Park offers spectacular views of Lower Manhattan... well as the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

...and contains the very fun, Jane's Carousel, which you can read more about here.

It was fun to visit with our friends and begin our trip to Rome and then take our connecting flight to Lamezia Terme International Airport in Calabria. In my next post, I'll show you the town in which my husband was born, and how it prepared for the very important and festive feast day festival that lasted a full week. It was a dream come true for my husband and me!

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Gluten Free Italian Rainbow Cookies Recipe, and Happy 2018!

Longtime blog readers will know that the reason my husband and I moved from NYC to Colorado, was to live close to our children and grandchildren. They are our life's most precious gifts, and our family means everything to us.  Whenever I have a family gathering at my home I try to make half, if not all, the food I serve gluten-free, as I have a gluten sensitive grandson.  I recently posted a photo of the gluten-free Italian Rainbow cookies I make for the Christmas holiday on my personal facebook page and had many requests for the recipe, so I decided to share my recipe here. If you are looking for a special gluten-free cookie recipe to share with your family year-round, these Italian Rainbow Cookies, also known as Seven Layer Cookies, are delicious!

Gluten Free Italian Rainbow Cookies

For the past few years, I have used a recipe that I found on Nicole's blog, "Gluten-Free on a Shoestring." She has beautiful step by step photos in her post. I've tweaked it a little for my taste and I'll put my additions in red print in the recipe.


For cookies and filling:
8 ounces almond paste. Read the label to make sure it is gluten-free.  I usually use Solo brand
16 Tablespoons of butter--two sticks--softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs. at room temperature, beaten\
1 teaspoon good quality almond extract
2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (Nicole uses a brand called Better Batter. I use King Arthur Flour's gluten-free blend or Namaste Gluten Free Flour. A primary rice base flour, white and brown, works best in this recipe)
I teaspoon xanthan gum--omit if your flour mix already as it
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Red liquid food coloring, about 8-10 drops (I use more drops to make it a deeper red)
Green food coloring, about 8-10 drops (I use more drops to make it a deeper green)
Seedless Raspberry jam (I always use Smuckers brand)
Apricot jam ( I always use Smuckers brand)

For chocolate topping:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream


Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Line three 9 X 12-inch sheet pans with unbleached parchment paper  (in a pinch, I've also used waxed paper that has been brushed with melted butter.)

Make the cookie dough:

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or large bowl with hand mixer), cream the almond paste and butter till well combined--some small pieces of the almond paste may still be visible but that is fine. Add the sugar and eggs and the almond extract, beating well after each addition. The batter should be thick. Add the flour, xanthan gum if needed and the kosher salt a little at a time until the dough comes together and is smooth, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the mixing paddle. 

Divide the dough into three equal parts. In one part add the green food coloring and mix well.  Leave second part uncolored. To the third part add the red food coloring and mix well.

Divide the 3 prepared doughs into the three prepared pans, Stretch and press the dough into an even layer in each of the pans, using wet fingers and a wet spatula. The dough will be sticky. The first time I tried this recipe I thought the dough was hard to work with, but I found it is easier if you remove the parchment paper to a flat surface, and spread the dough with a well moistened or greased spatula into the approximate size of the pan.  Do not worry about the edges being very even, as they are trimmed off in the final product.

Bake and assemble the layers:

Place each pan, one at a time, in the center of a preheated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until dough begins to brown slightly around the edges. Do not over bake. Lift parchment paper from the pan and cool on a rack.

To assemble, begin with the green layer. Place carefully on a clean piece of parchment paper and spread a small amount of raspberry jam on top, adding just enough to cover all. Then lay uncolored layer on top, removing baking parchment paper if it sticks to it. Add the apricot jam to this layer, removing any large lumps of fruit. Add just enough apricot jam to cover the cookie layer. Then carefully add the red layer over uncolored layer. Add a fresh piece of parchment paper over the red layer and then weigh down the layers with a heavy cutting board or book.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to compress layers.  I often leave this overnight to ensure the layers are melded together.

Make the chocolate topping:

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-size heat-safe bowl. In a small saucepan heat the cream and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the cream is beginning to simmer. Pour the hot butter and cream mixture over the chopped chocolate, and mix to combine. The chocolate should be smooth and shiny. Pour the melted chocolate over the cookie layers and spread with a spatula till it covers all. Chill once more in the refrigerator until the chocolate topping is set (about 20 minutes). Using a large serrated knife, trim off all the edges, and then slice into about 21 even rectangle slices.  Store in airtight container in a cool place.  Can be wrapped tightly and frozen. 

I hope you enjoy these cookies! 

 If you'd like the recipe for the regular Italian Rainbow Cookies I also make every Christmas, it can be found on my blog at this link.

The days leading up to Christmas were busy ones for us, as our grandchildren had school and church pageants and shows, and our eldest grandson had a fun 9th birthday! I did quite a bit of baking and we spent time with friends at different events as well. Christmas Eve and Day were filled with lots of good food and fun presents for the children. The entire month seemed to fly by!

I want to wish everyone a very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year, 2018! Thank you for being faithful readers of my blog and for all your comments all year round and for following me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus. I'm always excited by a new year, as it begins as a clean page and a new beginning in life. It's a time to feel grateful for all of life's blessings and to hope and dream that the coming year will bring even more.

The photo above is one of my favorites from 2017, taken in Spring in Rocky Mountain National ParkThe snow was over our heads when we traveled up to its higher elevations--truly a sight to be seen!  I often use the hashtag #lovelivinginColorado on Instagram, as I really do love living here! I feel fortunate to have lived most of my life in Brooklyn, New York, but spending my retirement years in Colorado has been a dream come true for me. There is so much of the western part of the United States I still hope to see, and my goals this year is to travel to more parts of Colorado that I have yet to see.

I also plan on recapping the trip my husband and I took to Italy in the summer of 2017, on my blog, beginning this month. When we returned from that trip I sadly learned of the passing of my brother-in-law, and I was too sad to think of the happy time we had in Italy while he was unexpectedly suffering from fast-acting cancer. 

In 2018 lets us treasure each new day as a gift, and do our part to make the world a better place.

Happy New Year!

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