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The winners of the 2019 Accenti Writing and Photo contests were announced at the Accenti Magazine Awards, during the 2nd edition of the Librissimi Italian Book Fair held at the Columbus Centre in Toronto. The awards were presented by publisher Domenic Cusmano and editor-in-chief Licia Canton. My photo Cruciverba was selected as the winner of the ‘Capture an Italian Moment’ photo contest!

Cruciverba (croo•chee•VER•bah)=Crossword. ‘On hot summer afternoons, I love to wander the winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleys of the medieval hilltop village of my birth, searching for interesting scenes of everyday life. This image of an octogenarian casually sitting in the shade doing a crossword with his cane resting at his feet immediately captured my attention.  It gave me hope that I will still be able to do my weekly cruciverba at his age.’

The winner of the 2019 Accenti writing contest is Eufemia Fantetti of Toronto for her short story ‘Tree of Life’.  Eufemia’s words dance off the page (or screen) and tug at the heart. I am looking forward to reading her upcoming book, My Father, Fortune-tellers & Me: A Memoir. The winning photos and stories will be featured in upcoming issues of Accenti online. Read about all of the finalists hereAccenti online photo contest finalists 2019Founded in 2002, the mission of Accenti Magazine ‘the magazine with an Italian accent’, is to document the evolution of the Italian-Canadian experience and disseminate its expression through the publication of literary and creative works. Accenti also aims to act as a conduit for dialogue among its readers and contributors. The 2020 photo and writing competition will be open and accepting submissions later in the year. To find out more, go to or

Ciao, Cristina

Bloghiversario #5!

Caspita, il tempo volo!  Oggi Un po’ di pepe compie 5 anni/Today Un po’ di pepe turns 5! It is hard to believe it has already been 5 years since starting this blog.  Where did the time go?  If feels like just yesterday I had trouble coming up with a blog name. This has been an amazing, rewarding experience and I have ‘met’ so many virtual friends and even reconnected with old ones.

There have been some big life changes recently.  The biggest one is that I left my permanent job and switched to working freelance.  Now I can say I am una libera professionista.  That has a nice ring to it.  I will be working less and my schedule will be much more flexible. No longer will I have to request time off one year in advance!  In theory, this means more time for writing and making art.  So far, all I have done is housecleaning, gardenwork and powerwashing, but those need to be done too!

Posts have increased from an average of 2 per month to 3 lately.  Hopefully this will continue!  A change in layout and a gallery page will be coming soon. Hopefully you are Caravaggio fans, because I wrote 4 posts recently and there will be more! A few blog collaborations are in the works too.

In other news… I will be going on a short trip to Firenze with my nipotina soon.  We will do a lot of research for future posts. My first non work related publication came out recently.  Read about it here.  There are 2 more publications coming out soon; a contribution to the Canadian Wine Anthology and a short story in the AICW Padula 2016 Conference Anthology.

La Terrazza degli Uffizi

In the last year, I have participated in 2 blogging linkup groups. ‘In my kitchen’ (IMK) hosted by Sherry posted in September and April.  My next one will be from my Pugliese kitchen this summer.  7 post were linked to the monthly ‘Dolce Vita Bloggers’  (DVB) group hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie .  These have been some of my most viewed posts, especially Aria Pericolosa.  In May, the DVB theme is ‘Favourite region of Italy’. Although I have been to 14 out of the 20 regions it should not be too difficult to guess which one I will write about!

This month’s DVB theme is ‘Favourite season in Italy’ but the timing was too close to Easter and this bloghiversary post for me to participate.  I definitely have a favourite season, and will write about it in the future.  A question I am often asked is ‘When is the best time to visit Italia?’.  Well, the answer is …anytime you are able to go!  There is no time that is not good to visit, you just need to know that each season will give a very different travel experience and even a different selection of food.  It’s all good!

Today is also La Festa della Liberazione d’Italia, the anniversary of the liberation of Italia from Fascist occupation in 1945.  It has been a national holiday since 1946.  Viva la libertà!

Grazie to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, send messages and especially for giving me an excuse to research and write about things that interest me!  If you have any suggestions for posts or just want to say ‘ciao‘, leave me a comment.

Grazie mille a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’ per leggere e darmi una scusa per scrivere di cose che mi piacciono.  Lasciami un messaggio se hai un idea per un post o semplicemente per dire ‘ciao’.  Un abbraccio, Cristina


Halifax and the Titanic


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Titanic: the unsinkable ship exhibit Maritime Museum of the Atlantic HalifaxApril 15th 1912, 2:20am. 107 years ago today, the doomed luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.  In October, I had the opportunity to visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The museum has a permanent exhibit called Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship. The exhibit takes you back in time and tries to recreate what life was like for everyone on board.  It is interactive, educational and really well done, focusing on the creation and tragedy of the ship, and also Halifax’s connection to Titanic.

The collection includes photos, reproductions, and many items that floated to the surface when Titanic sank. These were donated or loaned by descendants of the recovery ship crews.  Following maritime custom, fragments of shipwrecks were kept as reminders. This ‘wreckwood’ was not sold commercially, but kept by the families. Some very large pieces of elaborately carved wood and a deck chair were also recovered.  The deck chair was given to Reverend H Cunningham for his work on the recovery ships.  It was donated to the museum by his family.  Titanic deck chair Maritime Museum of the AtlanticThere is also a reproduction deck chair where visitors to the museum can sit and imagine what it would have been like to hang out aboard deck-before jumping into a lifeboat, of course!

Halifax was the closest port to the disaster and when the news broke, there was much confusion. The survivors and damaged ship were expected in Halifax.  Trainloads of relatives were on their way.  Immigration officers, sleeping arrangements and medical care were prepared in anticipation of an onslaught of 2200 cold, wet, hungry, displaced people.  As it turned out, the 706 survivors were all taken to New York by the rescue ship Carpathia because the captain thought it was safer to head south than risk meeting another iceberg on the way to Halifax. 325 bodies were recovered from the frigid water, mostly by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett.  116 had to be respectfully buried at sea because they ran out of supplies, ice and embalming fluid.  Regulations permitted only embalmed bodies be brought ashore.  The 209 bodies were taken to the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax.  Undertakers came from all over Nova Scotia to help.  59 of the bodies were picked up by relatives or shipped home, and 150 are buried in 3 Halifax cemeteries,  one third in unmarked graves.  One belongs to a 23 year old J Dawson, the name of Leonardo Di Caprio’s fictional character in the 1997 movie. Titanic’s band bass player and violinist are also buried here.

The crew of the Mackay Bennett were profoundly affected by the recovery of an unidentified 2 year old boy. They paid for his gravestone and accompanied him to the cemetery.  He was wearing a pair of brown leather shoes.  Unclaimed personal effects were burned to prevent souvenir hunting, but the Halifax Police Sargeant in charge could not bear to destroy the shoes.  He kept them in his desk drawer until he retired and his grandson donated them to the museum in 2002.  In 2010, scientists were able to use the shoes to identify the child as 19 month old Sidney Goodwin the youngest in a family of 8 on their way to Niagara Falls.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Shoes

Visiting the exhibit again made me think about the world’s ongoing fascination with Titanic. Everyone knows how it ends and there have been other marine tragedies with worse devastation. In fact 5 years later the Halifax Explosion killed 2,000 and injured 9,000. Yet it is Titanic and its stories that go on and continue to fascinate and intrigue after over 100 yrs. Why?  Read on:

1) Man vs Nature. Titanic was the biggest, fastest moving thing on the planet. According to the builders ‘even God could not sink this ship’. She was considered invincible and unsinkable, yet ironically was gone 4 days into her first voyage. Titanic was propelled with arrogance at full speed at night in an area known as ‘iceberg alley’, steering straight into an iceberg- and no one saw it coming! It turns out the impact of the iceberg should have damaged the ship, but not caused it to sink.  As I learned in the exhibit, Canadian scientists discovered that the steel used to build Titanic contained high levels of sulfur, making it brittle at cold temperatures.  This helps to explain the devastating results.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Titanic

2) Maritime safety- In the early 20th Century, everything was becoming ‘super-sized’, but regulations did not keep up with progress.  The White Star Line knew more lifeboats were needed, but did not want to make the deck look cluttered or make 1st class passengers nervous. There was room for 64 lifeboats but regulations only required 16!  With approximately 2224 passengers and crew on board, there were only 20 lifeboats with room for 1178 people.  The crew had no lifeboat training, so when panic and fear set in, they were massively disorganized and rowed out with 470 empty seats!  It was fortunate Titanic sailed at only ⅔ capacity, as there was room for almost 1,000 more passengers.

Commercial Wireless traffic had taken priority over ice warnings. The ship Californian had sent Titanic an earlier iceberg warning, and was close enough to rescue everyone, but her wireless operators were tired and asleep so did not respond to Titanic’s distress call. The captain even saw thought he saw flares, but did not respond. Safety regulations and procedures at sea improved immediately, ensuring lifeboat space for everyone on board, regular lifeboat drills, and continuous wireless watch for distress calls became mandatory.

3) Social inequality at the turn of the century -There was an extreme contrast of passengers on board-the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor IV, returning from his honeymoon, passengers returning from the Grand Tour, and the lower deck filled with impoverished immigrants heading to a new life in America. The classes were tightly segregated by locked barriers.  The survival rate for 1st class women was 97% and for 3rd class men 13%.Titanic exhibit. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax

4) Media-Titanic went down at the beginning of the communication age and was the first real disaster heard around the world. The first reports were from wireless operators on Carpathia. When she arrived in New York on April 18th, Carpathia was surrounded by hundreds of small boats chartered by news agencies.  The captain threatened to shoot any newsman who tried to board his ship.

5) Personal stories-It took 2 hours and 40 minutes for Titanic to sink. This provided time for survivors to witness the drama taking place-suffering, sacrifice, bravery, selfishness, cowardice, heartbreak.  We all know that the band kept playing to keep the passengers calm, and about the older couple who died in their bed together as she would not get into a lifeboat without him, and the richest man in the world putting his pregnant wife on a lifeboat then bravely going down with the ship. The stories were about real people and the public could not get enough.

6) Constant presence in popular culture-The silent film ‘Saved from the Titanic’ was released one month later, starring Dorothy Gibson, a real survivor, wearing the same outfit she was wearing that fateful night. 2 more movies and many books were soon released. The hype continued until 1918, then WW1, the Great Depression and WWII overshadowed Titanic.  In 1953 a new ‘Titanic’ movie was released, then the 1957 book ‘A Night to Remember’ sparked renewed interest.  Walter Lord interviewed >60 survivors, some of them speaking for the first time. The wreck of the Titanic was discovered SE of Newfoundland in 1985.  The ghostly images from the ship’s graveyard at the bottom of the Atlantic brought it back to life.  Then of course the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster renewed interest again.  There have been at least 15 movies/documentaries, 13 TV movies/miniseries and almost 200 books about Titanic.

I hope you have enjoyed my thought provoking visit to the Titanic exhibit. Despite the tragedy, we have the Titanic disaster to thank for improving maritime safety, and bringing to light the injustices and social inequality that were present at the time. If you happen to visit Halifax, do not miss the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Buon viaggio, Cristina

In My Kitchen, April 2019


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The last few weeks, my kitchen table has been a multipurpose space, doubling as a greenhouse and an art studio.  For the 4th year in a row, I am participating in the ‘Leftovers’ printmaking exchange.  The idea is to use leftover paper and other materials to make an edition of small prints.  I need to send 15 hand pulled prints via Wingtip Press to the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force in Boise.  1 print will be reserved for silent auction to support hunger relief and 2 will be part of travelling exhibitions. Last year, my print went on a Grand Tour to China, Wales, Whangarei New Zealand, Reno Nevada and Boise!  The remaining 12 prints are exchanged with other participating printmakers. In a few months, I will receive my ‘leftovers’ package in the mail with 12 prints  from around the world!

I have a beautiful old aluminum scolapasta (colander) in my kitchen that just oozes character.  I worked on my sketches and carved the linoleum here, but will do the printmaking in my little studio space.  I have to post the prints by April 10th! Papà has pomodoro seedlings growing on my back porch.  They are covered in plastic as it has been sunny, but cold.  I was given more seeds by a friend, so 2 weeks ago, right after la luna piena –the full moon, I started growing them at the end of the kitchen table by the big window.  Piselli and pepperoncini are growing nicely too!I made ravioli with funghi-mushroom filling but I could not seem to decide what size or shape to make my ravioli/agnolotti/mezzalune!  Despite the lack of symmetry, they tasted good, although I prefer my usual ricotta filling.

Some time this month, I plan to invite my coworkers over for pizza, but 2 of them have Celiac, so I need to make gluten free dough.  Mannaggia!  My experience with gluten free dough is that it tastes like crap, with the consistency of styrofoam.  Potato, rice and corn flour all result in a dense blob of yuck, yuck and yuck!  Bleh!  My local family run generi alimentari Renzullo’s finally started selling Caputo Fioreglut.  This is a gluten free flour from Italia that I read about on both Paola‘s and Silvia‘s blogs.  They are both in Australia and raved about it, but it was not available here.

I bought a bag for $12.00 (!) and decided to try focaccia first.  That way, if it came out as a sticky, unpalatable blob of yuck at least I did not waste ingredients on it.  Fioreglut has some rice and corn flour, but the main ingredient is farina di grano saraceno-buckwheat flour!  I followed the recipe on the bag, since it was almost the same as my usual recipe.  Making gluten free dough is the opposite of making regular bread dough.  Usually you want to knead the dough as much as you can to make it light and airy.  Gluten free dough must be handled as little as possible to keep it together.  My white blob of dough looked questionable, but it did rise.  I dimpled it with my fingers and added rosemary, salt and parmigiano, made the sign of the cross and put it in the oven. I could not believe the results-it was actually delicious!  Just look at the photo!  Before inviting my friends over, I will try focaccia Pugliese, then pizza.

This ‘In my kitchen’ post is linked to the worldwide monthly get together of food bloggers hosted by Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings.  Click to read the other participating posts.  Buon appetito, Cristina

Spring Reading 2019


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My pile of books ‘to read’ has been growing for awhile.  Since I started writing this blog, I seem to have less time to read books.  I still read a lot, just not as many ‘real’ books. Lately I have had time to catch up on reading, so the pile is decreasing. Here are the Goodreads reviews for my latest reads:

The Caviar LadyThe Caviar Lady by Michele Marziani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Caviar Lady is an English translation of the Italian book ‘La Signora del Caviale’. The book takes place in a quiet fishing village on the Po, near Ferrara where prized caviar is harvested from the sturgeon. It is a simply written story told through the eyes of an innocent, Nellino, who is 12 years old at the start of the book. With the outbreak of WWII, things change in the village, including the disappearance of the caviar lady. The war becomes part of everyday life and the growing disillusionment of the once optimistic young Nellino.
This tragic story of family, friendship, disillusionment, disappearance and survival amid the horrors of war is a simply written one, yet the important details seem to lie in what is unwritten. The once thriving sturgeon fishing/caviar industry on the Po is a part of Italian cultural history I did not know about. Another victim of the war. I would definitely recommend The Caviar Lady, in fact, I plan to read it in Italian next.

Finding Rosa: A Mother with Alzheimer’s, a Daughter in Search of the PastFinding Rosa: A Mother with Alzheimer’s, a Daughter in Search of the Past by Caterina Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finding Rosa is part memoir, part history lesson, part detective work, about the author’s years of caring for her mother with deteriorating Alzheimer’s, while trying to piece together the history of her mother’s life. Complicating things, Rosa’s homeland no longer exists. Istria is now mostly Croatian, but also belonged to Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia all in rapid succession.
The Istriani are described as the ‘forgotten Italians’, and the author learns of atrocities and ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees, and unknown numbers missing or murdered by being buried alive in ‘le foibe’ (deep sinkholes). She makes several trips to Trieste and her mother’s homeland to visit relatives and interview ‘i rimasti’ (the remaining ones) and finds public records have been destroyed to hide the evidence of missing persons.
Since I know a few Istriani, I knew about some of the things that happened in Istria’s history, but I did not know the extent of the horrors or the fact that displacement happened not once, but 3 times in the 20th Century.
Brutally honest, Finding Rosa pieces together Rosa’s life, as we slowly begin to understand her angry, hypercritical, dictatorial personality and also her fear and paranoia. It also explores the challenges of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, the effects of displacement on future generations and the importance of making the truth known. Ciao, Cristina (Note, Finding Rosa is being translated into Italiano)

I Heart Rome: Recipes & Stories from the Eternal CityI Heart Rome: Recipes & Stories from the Eternal City by Maria Pasquale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was to express my love for Roma in words and images, this is pretty much what it would look like! Ciao, Cristina


The Pink House and Other StoriesThe Pink House and Other Stories by Licia Canton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pink House and Other Stories is a collection of 15 short stories. Each of these stories stand on their own, but several of them are interconnected. 6 of the stories are about events surrounding a car accident after a Leonard Cohen concert and a writer experiencing a creative block post trauma. The stories are told from different perspectives; the victim, the driver, the passenger, making the connectedness less obvious at first, but apparent as you continue reading. 2 other stories center around an unlikely couple; a very pregnant woman and a man she meets in the library. I was left wanting to know more about them.
The other 7 stories are not related. Most feature multigenerational Italian Canadian characters and deal with family relationships, love, aging and tension between generations. I could identify with many of the characters and situations.
My favourite story in the book is about an octogenarian insistent on renewing his motorcycle license so that he can be ready at any time to drive anything and everything. This character reminds me of my own hard working father and other aging immigrants I know.
The stories in this collection are not overly verbose. The author states what is necessary, but leaves enough room for the reader to think about the issues discussed and read between the lines. Ciao, Cristina

Lost AriaLost Aria by Carmelo Militano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lost Aria’ is a collection of 8 moody, sensual, smoke-filled stories, set in Winnipeg and several Italian cities. The stories delve into the topics of relationships, vulnerability, loss and grief. Poetry is the thread binding them together. Most of the characters are poets or writers, tortured and suffering for their art, trying to find or recreate themselves. Reading and poetry are presented as an escape and a coping mechanism. The prose in ‘Lost Aria’ presents like poetry, whether it is the sensual description of a woman’s body, the realization that a friend’s life had been ‘a prologue to nothing’, the regret over words not spoken to a mother before her death, or the description of poetry itself ‘poetry is a way of knowing we often ignore, or quickly allow to pass over us like a brief splash of water on the face before we return to the business of arriving safely home. Poetry, like sensuality, feels impermanent and unsustainable…’. I recommend reading ‘Lost Aria’ on a comfy couch by candlelight with an ample glass of wine!. Ciao, Cristina

I have already written a blog post about La Brigantessa, but I will include it here again in case you missed it!

La BrigantessaLa Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

La Brigantessa is a novel of historical fiction which takes place following the Unification of Italy (1860’s), during a decade of turmoil. It was a time when law enforcement was often worse than the criminals and the law only applied to the wealthy.
The main character, Gabriella Falcone, is a young peasant girl whose family work for the parish priest in a small village in Calabria. Her love has volunteered to fight alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi. When Gabriella stabs a nobleman in self defense, she is forced to flee knowing that her version of the facts will not matter. La Brigantessa has everything a great read needs…love, honour, class struggles, jealousy, betrayal, bravery, suspense, and even a ‘modern’ Calabrese Robin Hood.
The story is told from the point of view of many characters, yet they are all so well-developed there is no confusion. Each character is given a detailed, credible backstory, revealing their individual struggles and motivations. I was emotionally invested in these characters-even the nasty ones! The attention to detail regarding life and customs in 19th Century Calabria transported me right there.
I have been waiting 2 years for La Brigantessa to come out, since I heard the author read excerpts from it at 2 conferences-and it did not disappoint! Pour yourself a glass of vino-red of course, sit back and enjoy. Ciao, Cristina

View all my reviews  

For more of my book reviews on this blog, search the category ‘Libri’.  Here are links to The Sicilian Wife, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, and Italian Street Food.  My ratings are usually out of 5 peperoncini! I will leave you with Madame Gautreau toasting my smaller pile of books!

Buona lettura, Cristina

Zeppole di San Giuseppe


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Zeppole di San Giuseppe are a traditional pastry served in southern and central Italy on March 19th for la festa di San Giuseppe.  In Italia, March 19th is also La Festa del Papà -Father’s Day.  In North America, Father’s Day is the 3rd Sunday in June, but in Italia it is always on March 19th because San Giuseppe (St Joseph) was, of course, the papà of Jesus! He is also the patron saint of carpenters, the family, orphans and the homeless. March 19th is also a few days away from spring and the start of the agricultural year, in the fields and vineyards.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe are made with the same choux pastry as bignè di San Giuseppe, but the dough is piped out into ‘nests’ rather than spooned onto the baking sheet.  They can be baked or fried.  The hole in the center of the zeppola is filled with crema pasticcera, a creamy custard.  Finally, the signature detail of zeppole di San Giuseppe….they are topped with un amarena in sciroppo.  Amarene are dark, wild sour cherries and they are preserved in syrup.  Amarene in sciroppo are likely available at your local Italian market.  Note-the word zeppole, singular zeppola, is used in some regions, including Calabria, for a type of doughnut or fried dough.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe are not the easiest thing to make, especially if you are not a baker or used to a piping bag.  My first ones did not look beautiful, but they still tasted great. If you need a visual tutorial, there are quite a few good videos online, especially from Benedetta, and Zia Franca.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

  • 150g (175ml, ¾ cup) water
  • 125g (½ cup) butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g (285 ml, 1 cup + 2 tablespoons) 00 flour
  • 4 medium eggs

Heat the water on low heat and add butter and sugar.  Stir until melted and bring to a boil.  Add the flour ALL AT ONCE and stir quickly until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then add the eggs, 1 at a time.  A mixer at low speed can be used for this part, but I just used my wooden spoon-less stuff to wash!Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Put the dough in a pastry bag with a very large stella, star tip.  The tip needs to be at least 1 cm, preferably larger, or the zeppole will come out too small.  I was not able to find a bigger tip, so mine were actually zeppoline!  Pipe out circular nests with 2 rows of pastry onto carta forno –parchment paper.  Bake at 200ºC (400ºF) for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180ºC (350ºF) for 10 minutes.  Turn off oven and leave the door partially open to let them cool.

Baked zeppole have a delicate taste.  Frying gives them a more robust taste.  To fry them, cut the parchement paper into squares.  Drop the whole square upside down into hot oil.  Remove the paper and turn them.  Enrica from Chiarapassion says her Mamma’s secret is to  bake them, then fries them so they do not absorb as much oil!  Sounds like twice as much work to me though.Zeppole di San Giuseppe fritte

Dust with icing sugar, top with crema pasticcera and amarena with syrup.  I served mine with my homemade liquore di foglie di amarena.

Crema Pasticcera

  • 2 whole eggs + 2 yolks
  • 80g (6 tbsp, 1/3 cup +1 tbsp) sugar
  • 70g (165 ml, ½ cup) flour
  • ½ L (500 ml, 2 cups) whole milk
  • lemon peel
  • vanilla bean(optional)

Heat the milk in a pot with the lemon peel.  I use the entire peel.  Start at the top and cut it like a corkscrew so you end up with one long peel.  In a bowl, beat eggs and yolks, add sugar and whisk. When milk is hot, remove lemon peel and add vanilla bean, if desired. Add other ingredients, whisk and heat until thick.  When cool, refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the crema.  When ready to use, fill a pasty bag and pipe onto zeppole with a large star tip.

Auguri a tutti i Papà del mondo e Buon Onomastico a tutti i Giuseppe, Giuseppina, Giuseppa, Peppe, Joe, Pina, Josie e Giusy!  Ciao, Cristina

PS In my post La Festa del Papà, you can see my absolutely favourite photo of me and papà.  Have a look.  Cute-issimo, no?

Giornata della Donna~Franca Viola


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Auguri per la Festa della Donna! Today is la Giornata Internazionale della Donna or International Women’s Day-originally known as International Working Women’s Day. There is no one specific organization or event behind International Women’s Day, but it is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day to recognize the achievements of women and a call to action towards gender equality.  More about la festa della donna is in this post.

I thought today would be appropriate to write about an outstanding, courageous woman, and I have chosen Franca Viola.  In 1965 Franca was the first Italian woman to refuse to accept un matrimonio riparatore – a rehabilitating or reparative marriage. This was a situation where all charges of rape, sexual assault and/or abduction were dropped if the offender married his victim. This was legal! The assumption was that no one else would want the woman anyways, thus ‘restoring’ the family. Mannaggia! ‘Marry the rapist’ laws and practices were common in many parts of the world until the 1970s and unfortunately still exist in too many countries.

Franca was the daughter of contadini in Alcamo, Sicilia. In 1963, she was 15 and had a 23 year old boyfriend Filippo Melodia, the nephew a local mafioso. She broke off the relationship when he was arrested for theft. He left the country and returned in 1965, thinking he could just resume their relationship. Franca refused, in fact she had a new boyfriend, her future husband Giuseppe Ruisi.

Melodia was furious and threatened Franca, her family and Giuseppe. The evening of December 26 1965, he and a dozen others invaded the Viola house. They beat her mother and dragged Franca away. She was taken to a farmhouse and for 8 days Melodia repeatedly raped her, telling her she would have to marry him to avoid dishonouring her family and becoming una donna svergognata –a shameless woman. Her father worked with the carabinieri to organize a rescue. On January 2 1966, Franca was released and the kidnappers arrested.

As expected, Melodia offered un matrimonio riparatore, expecting the law support him. Contrary to Sicilian custom at the time, Franca publicly refused. With the support of her father, she took Melodia to court for kidnapping, rape and intimidation. Her family received threats and their barn and vineyard were burned down. The December 1966 trial received worldwide attention, including coverage by the New York Times.

Melodia’s defence claimed he was love sick and the feeling was mutual.   He claimed that Franca’s family did not approve of their marriage and that the kidnapping was a consentual elopement. Franca denied the claim, stating:

 Io non sono proprietà di nessuno, nessuno può costringermi ad amare una persona che non rispetto, l’onore lo perde chi le fa certe cose, non chi le subisce”. (I am the property of no one, no one can force me to love a person I do not respect. Honour is lost by the one who does certain things, not the one who is subjected to them).

Melodia was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was murdered in Modena 2 years after his release. 7 of his accomplices also received 4 year prison sentences.

Franca Viola became a symbol of freedom and dignity for all women who endured violence, and her example provided others with the courage to say ‘NO’. Her case led to the abolishment of Articolo 544, the article of law where a rapist/kidnapper avoided prosecution by marrying the victim. In December 1968, Franca married Giuseppe who supported her through the trial. They still live in Alcamo with their family.

On International Women’s Day 2014, Franca received the honour of ‘Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’. President Giorgio Napolitano awarded her with this for her courageous gesture in refusing the matrimonio riparatore, which signalled a fundamental change in the history of the emancipation of women in Italia.

Ciao, Cristina

Photo credits-Cover photo and portrait of Franca Viola-Wikimedia Commons, second photo of Franca from with graphics added by Cristina.

Grano Arso in print!


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Italian Canadiana Vol 32 2018 Grano Arso Cristina Pepe www.unpodipepe.caMy presentation from the September 2017 ‘Italians in Canada: 150+ years’ 31st anniversary AICW conference at Laurentian University in Sudbury Ontario has been published!  The proceeds of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers Conference is a special edition of the University of Toronto journal Italian Canadiana (Vol 32 2018). This is not my first publication, but it is the first one that is not about diabetes!

Grano Arso is about a Pugliese gastronomic tradition that honours the resilience of our contadini ancestors. The conference proceedings are not available online, but if you have not already done so, read my 2015 post Grano Arso . It is not exactly the same as the publication, but contains similar information and photos.  There has been an increase in views of my post.  This may be due to the publication, or because there is not much written in English on the topic. I made some taralli di grano arso for my presentation and carried them with me on the plane to Ontario. Taralli di grano arso www.unpodipepe.caOther conference presentations included The evolution of the Italian grocery store, Representations of Italian Canadian Internment during WWII, Italianismi e pseudoitalianismi, and Documenting Italiese, which I will write more about in another post. Creative writing readings by Italocanadese authors included short stories, poetry and excerpts from books and a graphic novel. I reviewed one of the books here.

I don’t know if they have many copies left, but they can be ordered by contacting the Frank Iacobucci Center for Italian Canadian Studies c/o Dept of Italian Studies, University of Toronto 100 St. Joseph St.  Toronto, Ontario M5S 1J4 or contact

The next AICW conference will be in Italia in 2020.  Details will be available soon!

Ciao, Cristina

San Valentino ❤️


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La festa degli innamorati, la festa di San Valentino….people either love Valentine’s Day or think it is just una festa consumista – a consumeristic ‘Hallmark Holiday’.  The festa has been around for a long time, but what do we know about San Valentino?

February 14th was declared St Valentine’s feast day in 496 AD by Pope Galerius, but the history and reason why is obscure.  The saint’s relics are apparently in churches all over Europe, including Terni, Vienna, Malta, Poland, Dublin, Madrid, Prague, Santa Maria in Cosmedin and Santa Prassede in Roma.  How is this possible?  I know some people are big boned, but how many bones did he have?

Well…. there are at least 11 Saints named Valentino, including one woman, Valentina of Palestine, and a Pope who lasted only 40 days.  That would explain all the bones!  There were so many of them that their stories got mixed together.  At least 2 of these ‘Valentini’ died on Feb 14th around the year 270 AD.  One was a priest in Roma and one was the Bishop of Terni in Umbria.  There are enough similarities between these 2 that they could have been the same person, moving from Terni to Roma.  They both died as a result of their faith near the Ponte Milvio and Via Flaminia, which coincidentally is the road that leads to Umbria!

San Valentino the priest of Roma was known for performing marriages. Emperor Claudius II needed soldiers to fight his many military pursuits. He believed that soldiers would perform better on the battlefield if they did not have spouses, so he banned marriage.  Another version is that Christians, who were persecuted at the time, were forbidden to marry.  Valentino secretly married soldiers and/or Christians.  This landed him in prison. He is also said to have cut hearts out of parchment to give to the couples he married to remind them of their vows.

The Bishop of Terni was arrested for evangelizing. The Roman judge Asterius decided to test him by asking that he restore his blind daughter’s vision.  Her sight was restored and Asterius released the Bishop from prison.  Valentino went right back to performing illegal marriages, and was sentenced to death. Before his execution, he left a note for Asterius’ daughter signed ‘from your Valentine’.

The bishop of Terni was also known for providing a dowry for a poor girl so that she could marry the man she loved. With this act, he came to be the protector of innamorati.

San Valentino became associated with being a champion for amore, young lovers, engaged couples and marriage and we can thank him for Valentine’s cards and flowers.  He is also the patron saint of epilepsy, beekeeping, the plague and travelling!  What an interesting combination! We do not know if these stories are fatto o finzione-fact or fiction, but like it or not, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated and associated with devotion and love since the 14th Century.Auguri per la festa di San Valentino.  Baci e abbracci, Cristina

This post is written as part of the dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie the 3rd Sunday of the month.  Click here to check out what the rest of the Dolce Vita bloggers have written on this month’s topic ‘Romance in Italy’.

Image credit:  Il Bacio, 1859 Francesco Hayez from Wikimedia Commons.


Pio Monte della Misericordia


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Pio Monte della Misericordia (Pious mount of mercy) is a charitable organization founded in 1601 by seven young noblemen in Napoli.  Every Friday they met at the hospital to minister to the sick.  400 years later, the organization is still in operation, assisting minors at risk, those struggling with addiction, unaccompanied migrant minors, disadvantaged families, the homeless and the terminally ill.

In 1602, the founders commissioned a small octagonal church on Via dei Tribunali. They wanted artwork to express their sense of charitable mission, which was guided by le sette opere di misericordia, the seven corporal works of mercy.  These are a set of compassionate acts concerning the material needs of others, based on the bible passage ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me.  I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’ Matthew 25:35:36.  Bury the dead was added later and comes from another scripture.

They hired, who else but Caravaggio to paint one of the seven works of mercy for the altar of each of 7 chapels. Caravaggio was either in a big rush or feeling like a challenge, because he incorporated all 7 onto 1 canvas!  The capolavoro is one of the most important of his works, and of the 17th Century.  It still hangs in its original position above the high central altar! Seven local Caravaggio followers, including Luca Giordano, Fabrizio Santafede and Battistello Caracciolo provided paintings for the chapels.Caravaggio Sette opere di misericordia Pio Monte della misericordia

The composition is realistic, complex and dramatic. At the top of the painting, 2 angels are supporting the Madonna di Misericordia and child in the air.  The bottom half features figures carrying out the acts of mercy.  On the right, from the myth Roman Charity, Pero secretly breastfeeds her father, Cimon, after he is imprisoned and sentenced to death by starvation. (feed the hungry and visit the imprisoned).  Behind the wall of the prison, 2 men carry a shrouded body with the feet dangling out of the blanket (bury the dead). On the left, St Martin de Tours comforts the injured beggar in the foreground (comfort the sick).  He tears his cloak and gives half to the naked beggar (clothe the naked). In the background, a pilgrim with a shell in his hat asks an innkeeper for shelter (shelter the traveler) and behind them, Samson drinks from the jawbone of a donkey (give drink to the thirsty). All of this action is taking place in a dark, mysterious vicolo, an alley that could be just around the corner. Caravaggio uses his signature strong contrasts of light and dark chiaroscuro, the bright light acting as a metaphor for mercy.

Caravaggio came to Napoli with a price on his head, on the run from a murder charge. He was idolized and successful in Napoli, but he was desperate for a pardon, so after only a year, he left Napoli for Malta where he thought the Knights of St John could help him. This may explain his decision to incorporate all of the works of mercy into one painting!  As discussed in this post, it has also been confirmed that he had lead poisoning.  Caravaggio understood Napoli like no other painter and had a profound influence on the artistic scene in the city for the next few centuries.  He left behind a lot of followers-the Caravaggesque movement.

The €7 admission includes a visit to the Quadreria- Art Gallery, which contains 15th-18th Century paintings by Napoletani artists and also the original receipt for 400 ducats paid to Caravaggio.  Via dei Tribunali 253, Napoli. Open Mon-Sat 09-18, Sunday 09-14:30Pio Monte della Misericordia

Images:  Scan of Le Sette Opere di Misericordia taken from the Pio Monte della Misericordia brochure.  Photo of me with the painting taken by another visitor to the church.  He said I looked so excited he had to take my photo!