Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day with Le Zeppole

Today, Italy is celebrating San Giuseppe or St. Joseph, a day dedicated to fathers. It is also the onomastic or saint day for all those named Giuseppe or Giuseppina. Yeah, it’s a pretty busy day, and in Cosenza it means it’s time for La Fiera di San Giuseppe or the Saint Joseph’s Fair. This outdoor market is one of the oldest and most important traditions in Cosenza and dates back to 1234 when it was first established by Frederick II of Swabia.

Every year, residents and visitors from all over come to shop the stands, take in live music and entertainment and just enjoy the energy that the fair gives off. Here you will find artisan products, flowers, plants, and you will most certainly find “Le Zeppole di San Giuseppe”; a delicious sweet which has become the symbol of this day as well as the fiera.

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Where the zeppole originate from is uncertain – some say it originated during the Roman period, while others say Naples is its birthplace. Regardless, it is a typical Italian dessert that is prepared and enjoyed throughout the country.

Here in Cosenza, Zeppole consist of dough that is fried or baked in the shape of a ring which is then filled with a pastry cream and then topped with icing sugar, more pastry cream and an amarena cherry. You will find this yummy treat everywhere whether it’s in your local bakery or your neighbour’s house. If you find yourself in Italy or pass by an Italian bakery in your hometown during this period, definitely pop in and give this dessert a try!

Have you ever tried zeppole? Do you make them at home? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Filed under Calabria, Cosenza, Festivals, Food

5 Questions with… Alissa DeGrazia

I’m totally psyched for this edition of my “5 Questions With….” series. This person has continuously been an incredibly important person in my life. She has been with me through thick and thin and I can’t imagine what my life would be without her. She is an inspiration to me and I’m so proud of her accomplishments so far and I just know that there is much more in store for her.

Alissa DeGrazia is a talented actress, writer and filmmaker who prides herself on her Italian heritage, in particular her Calabrian roots. Alissa has always been very active in the Italian-Canadian community in Toronto and was also a regular cast member in the well-known comedy troupe, The Rosina Parmiggiano Show.   Alissa’s grandparents immigrated to Toronto from the small town of Carpanzano in Calabria. Growing up, she was surrounded by the Calabrese dialect and customs. It inspired her to create a documentary called Sempre Avanti: An Italian-Canadian Immigrant Experience, sharing first hand experiences of Italian immigrants who came to Canada in the 1950s.

I’m so thrilled to be able to introduce you to the wonderful and fabulous Alissa DeGrazia.

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Let’s start with the most obvious question, what inspired you to get into acting, writing and film-making?

I think that I am a born performer but, if I had to choose one specific thing that inspired me it was my grandfather Arturo.  He and I were inseparable throughout my childhood.  When I look back on it as an adult, I think he saw something in me as a very young child and was able to hone in on that.  He taught me to speak the Calabrese dialect from our town when I was about a year old.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I have filmed footage of us performing little stories for people and I was about 14 months old.  That’s really how it all started.  He used to teach me stories and then we would perform them together.  As I got older and started to study Ballet, he would put on music so I could dance around the house and when the Italian variety shows were on TV he used to make me dance along with the “velline” because “some day that would be me”.  He also gave me a passion for both listening to and telling stories.  If I had to sum up what I do, whether acting, modelling or film making, it’s just me telling a story.

Alissa and her nonno

How much of a role have your Italian roots played in your development as an artist and in your life in general?

My Italian roots, I believe are the reason that I am a artist; mind, body and soul.  The Italian culture is a culture of passion.  Whether it be food or clothing, cars or politics; we are a passionate people.  Even the smallest conversation can have so many variations of colour in a room full of Italians.  We also have an appreciation or an understanding of art and beauty which I think is innate.  If you have ever been to Italy, it doesn’t matter where, you are inundated with beautiful art, architect and landscape.  In a more specific way, my Italian roots have given me an ability to explore diverse career options.  At about 16 I started as a coop student at the Telelatino Television Network.  This was my first real experience in the industry and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t understand and speak the language.  Later on, in my comedy career I toured for several years with the Rosina Parmiggiano comedy troupe.  This was another one of those serendipitous moments where my “dialect” got me noticed.  It’s incredibly rare for a young woman to speak such a fluent dialect without being born in Calabria, and this, along with my sense of comedic timing is what drew the producer/ writer/director to me.  Eventually she created the character of, Stellina Parmiggiano, which I was able to originate on stage which was a great deal of fun.

Alissa as Stellina Parmiggiano with Rosina Parmiggiano

As you already know, my father immigrated to Canada when he was only 17 years old. In fact, much of my family and yours were immigrants from Italy and each had their own unique experience. You decided to film a documentary documenting the different experiences of some of your family and relatives. How important was it for you to tell this story?

The decision to discuss the Italian immigrant narrative in my documentary Sempre Avanti!  An Italian Canadian Immigrant Experience was a no brainer.  The immigrant narrative is something that is always very close to my heart.  Again, probably from all the stories Nonno Arturo told me growing up!  It is such an important part of who we are as an Italian people.  I know that if my family had not immigrated, I would never have the opportunity to follow any of my artistic callings.  They gave up so much for future generations that they deserve to be paid back in whatever way we can.  Their stories deserve to be told!

To read more about the documentary, visit Transformations: The Italian-Canadian Experience

Alissa at the 2014 Canada International Film Festival

Alissa at the 2014 Canada International Film Festival

What are some of your favourite Italian traditions?

OMG this is a tough one.  I love cooking in general.  I love to make all the traditional foods and keep up the things that my grandparents taught me.  I love tomato sauce day because it means another year of amazing spaghetti!  I love to dance a long and fast tarantella and I love to sit around with people and chat in dialect.

Have you ever been to Italy? What was your most memorable experience there?

I have been blessed to visit Italy several times.  I have a great number of family and friends there and I really cherish each and every visit.  There are probably two Italy trips that stick out in my mind.  One was in 2003 when we went on our family vacation.  It was the first time in 14 years that we had been to Italy and being an adult, it gave me a chance to connect with people and places that I had only ever imagined.  Seeing our home town and meeting my great uncles Carmelo, Totono and Gerardo was an incredible gift which I was fortunate enough in subsequent years to continue developing.  Another great memory was sitting at the bar in my home town with you having a drink shortly after your move.  It was a fantasy that we had shared for so many years and it was so great to get a chance to fulfill it!

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Thank you so much Alissa! I wish you continued success in your many creative ventures!

You can find out more about Alissa by visiting:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/alissa.degrazia / https://www.facebook.com/alissadegraziapage
Official Website – http://alissadegrazia.com
Transformations – The Italian Canadian Experience – http://www.transformationscanada.com

Check out my other “5 Questions With…”:
5 Questions With… RomePhotoBlog
5 Questions With… Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino
5 Questions With… Cherrye of My Bella Vita
5 Questions With… Diana Spechler
5 Questions With… Megan of TorreBarolo
5 Questions With… Anna of La Dolce Vita di Pizzo Visitor Guide in Calabria
5 Questions With… In Italy Tours
5 Questions With… Johnny Ward of Aspiring Backpacker and One Step 4ward
5 Questions With… Jonny Blair of Don’t Stop Living – A Lifestyle of Travel

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Filed under Calabria, Carpanzano, Family, film, Italia

Chiacchiere di Carnevale Recipe

Le Chiacchiere” are a traditional Italian sweet, made during the period of Carnival.  Everyone is talking about these twisty treats commonly eaten in abundance on the days before Lent and in particular on Martedi Grasso (Shrove Tuesday), oh wait, that’s today!

Don’t worry, it’s not too late!  With simple ingredients, that you probably already have in your kitchen, you can whip up a batch of these sweet and yummy treats.  There are a million and one recipes out there, with everyone having their own personal version passed down from generation to generation.

Here is a simple recipe, to get you started:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tbsp dry white wine
1/4 tsp salt

vegetable oil (for frying)
powdered sugar

Have you got everything? Awesome, let’s get started!

Step 1:

Mix together all ingredients kneading them into a smooth, soft dough.  Place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for approximately 15 minutes.

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Step 2:

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick.  Cut the dough into long strips (about 1/2 inch wide).  You can choose to leave the ribbons as is or twist them into bows.  In some parts of southern Italy, a small slit is made in the middle of the ribbon and twisted.

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Step 3:

In a deep frying fan, pour enough oil to allow the strips to fry without touching the bottom of the pan (about 1 inch should do fine).  When the oil is hot, carefully place the strips of dough into the pan, but don’t overcrowd the pan.  Once they become golden one side, flip them over and do that same to the other side.  Transfer them to a cooling rack so that any excess oil can be drained. Before they have cooled down, sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

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Chiacchiere can be served hot or at room temperature.

What do you typically prepare and eat on Martedi Grasso?  Have you ever tried Chiacchiere?

Leave your comments below and if you make chiacchiere, I’d love to see your photos!

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World Nutella Day 2015

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It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love Nutella! So, it’s no surprise that self-proclaimed Nutella fanatics, Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso, decided to start up World Nutella Day back in 2007. With the help of social media and the many loyal and adoring fans of this creamy chocolate and hazelnut spread, it has grown into a much-loved and appreciated event.

However, in 2013, a cease and desist letter from Ferrero threatened the beloved event.  Fortunately, the letter was revoked and World Nutella Day was alive again!

World Nutella Day has gone on to receive International recognition from many well-known media outlets:

The National Post (Canada)
NBC (New York)
Metro (France)

And, it has brought together fellow Nutella-lovers all over the world.  It is quite fun to see all the creative uses people have come up with that include Nutella.

I’ve participated in Nutella Day in the past with Cupcakes with Nutella Butter Cream Frosting and Mom and Me’s Nutella & Peanut Butter Cookies 

This year, I decided to do something new, well for me anyway.  I’ve been saying for the longest time that I wanted to learn to make Crostata – a tart-like cake that is made a lot here in Southern Italy.  Crostata is a simple crust filled with whatever you want (usually jams and marmalades).  I, however, decided I would load mine up with Nutella.  I was so pleased with the result and decided I would share it with all of you as my contribution to this year’s World Nutella Day!

Crostata alla Nutella

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Ingredients:
500 g – flour type 00
200 g – sugar
200 g – unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
2 eggs
Lemon zest from one lemon
Pinch of salt
1 envelope of baking powder
Nutella (for the filling)

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and butter together until it has a crumbly texture.  In a bowl or on a flat surface, add the sugar and the zest of one lemon to the crumbly mixture.

Next, add the eggs and begin to mix all the ingredients together unilt you have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your surface or your hands (if the dough is too dry, you can add the yolk of an egg).

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Form the dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap. Place the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

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Roll out the chilled dough (about 1 cm thick) and place into a round pie-dish (that has been lightly coated in butter and then dusted with a little bit of flour).

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Slather as much Nutella has you want onto the crostata (depending on the consistency of the Nutella, you may need to heat up the Nutella to make it easier to spread).  With the remaining dough, roll out and cut into long strips to create a checkered pattern.

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Bake in the oven at about 350F (180C) for about 30-40 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown.

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Now comes the hard part…take the crostata out of the oven and let it cool before eating.

Please leave a comment below if you try this recipe or if you have a recipe you’d like to share with us!

What are you doing for World Nutella Day?

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Winter Legend: Tre Giorni della Merla

One topic of conversation that comes up frequently is the weather! This week we’ve experienced a real drop in temperature and a brutal reminder that winter is still here for some time. There has been much talk about the colder temperatures and everyone is making predictions on whether it will snow or not.

During one of these conversations my Zia told me a story (you might even call it a legend) that she heard when she was a little girl. It is said that the last three days of January leading into the first of February would be the coldest of the year. Okay, the idea that the end of January would be really cold didn’t seem strange or unusual to me but this notion was also paired with a sweet story about a bird called “la merla” (the blackbird).

The story says that one winter long ago, on the last days of January, the winter was very cold; so cold that a blackbird, which at the time had white feathers, desperately sought refuge for her and her three offspring. The only place they could find was in a chimney stack where they rested for three days. On the first of February the sun came out and so did the blackbirds, only their feathers were no longer white but black with soot. From that moment on, all blackbirds were born with black feathers.

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After hearing this story, I mentioned it to many of my Italian friends and all of them had heard this story growing up, and although there are many different versions to this little story, one thing is certain, the coldest days of winter always seem to fall on the last days of January and as I look at the weather forecast for the rest of the week, it seems this tradition will hold true.

Stay warm everyone!

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Mercatino di Natale (Christmas Market) in Cosenza

Living in a small city like Cosenza, it is often difficult to get into the Christmas spirit.  For one thing, the weather is mild so you won’t find those cold, chilly wintery days with a sprinkling of snow on rooftops and cars.  In Toronto, Christmas decorations start appearing right after Halloween, but here in Cosenza it is tradition to wait until December 8th, the day of the Immaculate Conception, to turn on the Christmas street lights that seem to ignite that Christmasy feeling in all of us.

Thankfully, the Mercatini di Natale (Christmas Markets) are popping up all over Italy.  Here in Cosenza, the Mercatino di Natale has been up and running for a couple weeks now.  There is nothing quite like an Italian Christmas market to get you into the holiday spirit.

You will be sure to find everything you could possibly want or need to build, construct or expand your Nativity scene.  It is a time-honored tradition that is taken very seriously here.

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Cast members, props and other goodies for your Nativity Scene.

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Gorgeous Nativity Scene sculpted in the burr of a chestnut tree.

The Christmas market also has everything you need to make a beautiful centerpiece for your table or wreath for your door.

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Let your imagination take flight with these glittery Poinsettia plants and berries.

And of course, you can’t forget the commercial side of Christmas with Santa Claus, tree ornaments and other fun decor.

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How do you get into the Christmas spirit?

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Filed under Calabria, Cosenza, Festivals, Holiday, Italia

Festa del Cioccolato, Cosenza (CS)

There is no denying that when chocolate is involved, people will come out! And that is just what happened this past weekend in Cosenza.  The annual Festa del Ciccolato on the pedestrian area in the heart of the city was jam packed with chocolate lovers from Cosenza and neighbouring cities, towns and villages.  Stands from all over the Province of Cosenza set up shop on Corso Mazzini for the weekend offering up their chocolate treats to all those in attendance.

Like every year, I picked up some delicious chocolate bon bons and at midnight my friends and I hit up a crepe stand and got us a freshly made crepe overflowing with Nutella (of course!)

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To check out more photos from the Festa del Ciccolato, head on over to the Calabrisella Mia Facebook page!

 

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