by Lisa on November 11, 2014


Learning how to cook in Florence – my first cooking class ever!

I have always wanted to do a cooking course and last week finally got to take part in a class at the newly created Desinare Cooking School located in central Florence in the beautiful surroundings of Tuscan interior expert, Riccardo Barthel.

I didn’t know that the word Desinare meant before finding this class.  The following translation is taken from the Desinare website and I think it is my new favourite word now.

DESINARE is an old-fashioned Florentine term for that time of day when the family would gather around the table to eat. It refers not just to the act of dining but to the ritual of conviviality, the need to take a break from work to talk, exchange ideas, renew the bonds of love that have long been at the heart of our domestic culture.



Looking at the calendar of classes on offer, after a bit of indecision, I finally decided on the ‘Altre Carne’  (other meats) as I wanted to do something that I might not necessarily know how to do at home.  I was very excited about the menu of three dishes that we would be preparing :

Coniglio Ripieno in Porchetta
(rabbit de-boned, stuffed and rolled in the ‘porchetta’ way)
Petto d’Anatra all’Arancia
(Duck Breast with Orange reduction)
Quaglie Arrostite con Vermicelli di Riso e Verdure Croccanti
(Roast Quail served with Vermicelli Rice Noodles and Stir-fry Vegetables)


arturo dori
Our Chef for the evening was Arturo Dori,  well known for being at the helm of Il Cavolo Nero, one of Florence’s most highly regarded restaurants, for more than fifteen years.  He made everything look very easy and effortless so I will let you know when I try these dishes at home if they are as simple and straight-forward as they seemed.  

duck and quail




Upon arrival we all met each other and then put on our lovely new Desinare aprons before sitting down in the beautiful surroundings of the classroom.   The decor is just gorgeous, as you would expect from Barthel.   We had a typical Tuscan antipasto of salame and pecorino and were extremely fortunate that Jim Lahey from Sullivan St Bakery in New York had visited for an earlier class and made some of his amazing bread and foccacia.
The atmosphere was extremely relaxed and we all enjoyed a glass or two of red wine while watching Arturo prepare each dish.  Volunteers were called upon to assist and I shot my hand up to help stuff herbs inside the quail.  One thing I realised was that I need to sharpen our kitchen knives at home.  I also learnt that you can eat certain cuts of duck raw, that a rabbit can be completely de-boned by your local, trusty butcher at no extra cost and how amazing a good reduction can taste.
Evening classes tend to mainly be in Italian as these cater mostly to the locals who can’t make the morning classes due to work commitments.  The morning classes are normally in English which cater to tourists and as all the chefs are fluent,  this would be a great experience to anyone wishing to immerse themselves that little bit more in their  Florentine experience.
So now Emiliano is eagerly awaiting his Coniglio in Porchetta which I have promised to make this week so I had better go and have that chat to my friendly butcher.  We did visit Nonna yesterday however and so I now have a whole rabbit (already cleaned and cut in two) plus two pigeons in the freezer so might have to eat these first.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I had never done a cooking class before but I already can’t wait to go back to Desinare and do another one.  As you can see by the size of the plates, we just didn’t taste each course, but ate a generous portion of each dish.  The class went for three hours, from 8-11pm and for 80 euro, I think you will agree it is excellent value!
I also met some lovely people;  Francesca Fumagalli, the photographer who took the photos below and Cinzia, a fellow foodie and mamma of two whom I had so much in common with that we probably chatted a little bit too much during the class.  It  really goes to show how good food can bring wonderful people together.
I jumped at the chance to assist the Chef!

I jumped at the chance to assist the Chef!

I think I'm proudly showing a photo of my boys to Cinzia here.

I think I’m proudly showing a photo of my boys to Cinzia here.

Desinare is walking distance from the center but probably also a 10 minute taxi ride from most central hotels.  If you have a car, there is very convenient parking available.   For those of you that know Florence, it is located very close to Porta Romana.



50124 FIRENZE [FI]
PH. +39 055 22.11.18


9AM-1PM | 3PM-7PM
10AM-1PM | 3PM-7PM

{ 1 comment }

Making Pasta…….

by Lisa on October 26, 2014

With a Toddler!


This afternoon I made pasta for the first time ever (well I did attempt ravioli once upon a time but they were a bit of a failure).  Matteo was pretty impressed with the machine and so of course he had to be my assistant.  My one fear was that he was going to stick his fingers into the pasta machine as my sister had her finger sliced quite badly in the exact same machine (we are talking 11 stitches! )and I can only imagine what damage it could have done to a little toddler finger!

He was very enthusiastic and a great help although my kitchen now has a new dusting of flour from one end to the other.  Also trying to explain to  a three year old the speed that the pasta machine needs to be set only to have him do as he pleases and set it to the highest speed proves that it was a miracle that no one got hurt.

And then there was the predictable toddler dummy-spit when I made fettucine and Not spaghetti as you can see in the video below.

making pasta

I was very impressed with how much Matteo ate though as he is a very fussy eater and even more surprised with his skill at twisting the spaghetti onto his fork.  He has obviously observed us much more closely that what we realised.  The best part was seeing how proud he was of His spaghetti that he had made himself!

eating pasta




October Heat!

by Lisa on October 20, 2014

Yes, the weather is this gorgeous at the moment……….



I have to keep reminding myself that it will be November next week! We only had our first really cold morning yesterday and as you may have heard, it has been raining so much in parts of Italy that many places have suffered from dreadful flooding in the recent weeks.

In Florence, the humidity has been so high and last Sunday it actually reached 26°C!!!  As much as I hate the cold, I am enjoying the fresher air that arrived yesterday.

You can still definitely pick the Italians from the foreigners! The Italians are the ones wearing jackets and scarves because it’s October you know and this is what we should be wearing at this time of year, regardless of how hot it was and how much you are sweating!  Matteo refused to wear long pants until yesterday when we insisted (it was not easy or pretty!) and so I would get quite a few disapproving looks from the Italian Nonnas when they would see him in the morning wearing just a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt.  When I asked him if he wanted to wear his jeans, he quite rightly told me that “It’s not cold Mamma!” and I couldn’t really disagree with him. I was praying that he didn’t pick up a cold otherwise those same Italian nonnas would have been looking at me with ‘I told you so!’ glances.

I never thought a 3 year old boy could be so difficult, fussy and downright stubborn about what clothes he wore.  This is obviously the Italian side of him coming through! (God help me!)  He even tells me if he doesn’t like the clothes I am wearing!  “Why are you wearing those shoes Mummy?”  He screamed at me once,  “No not that top! Take it off, TAKE IT OFF as if I had committed the ultimate fashion sin.


Thomas is now 4 months old and we have had an interesting time adjusting to being a family of four. I will be honest and say that I had a few very trying weeks with Matteo who really showed his dark side when faced with the combination of a new school, new baby brother and having his afternoon nap removed.  Tantrum is the word and did we see some big, frustrated, angry dummy-spits!   I was torn between wanting to discipline him and just give him a big hug as I realised what a confusing time he was going through.  He threw a huge wobbly at the park one day and when I glanced around to see who was watching, it was like one of those frozen moments in a movie where everyone had stopped what they were doing to just stare with their jaws hanging open while watching the incredible performance of Matteo.  Looking at me with shock on their faces like their kids never had a tanty!

Overall though Matteo did settle in very well to his new ‘Scuola Materna’ and we had an easy ‘inserimento‘ by Italian standards!  What does Inserimento mean, you may wonder?    Basically when your child starts a new day care or pre-school in Italy, they are eased into doing the full day.  The first day they go for just an hour or two but the parent stays in the class room with them.  This gradual acclimatisation is slowly lengthened each day with the mother or father also slowly spending less time with their child.   The inserimento usually lasts for two weeks before you can leave your child at the school for the full day on their own.   The difficulty with this system is when you have a full-time job and basically have to take time off from work to ensure that your child is phased gently into the school system without being scarred for life!  As Matteo had already done two years of full-time day-care, I figured he would adapt quite well and pushed for his inserimento to last only the week. We had three mornings of tears before he would happily wave me good-bye every morning.


Last week our street was closed for the annual lunch.  San Niccolò is like a little village with everyone knowing everyone (and their business!)  It was a great atmosphere and it was a really good turn-out which of course was also thanks to the amazing weather.

You can see Matteo with Emiliano in the photo below checking out the delicious food and saying hello to the neighbours.  I think this is such a lovely tradition and it is also a great opportunity to meet and greet the ‘vicini’ (neighbours) that we pass by so quickly in the mornings and evenings.


Autumn is such a beautiful month and one of the things that I love the most is the arrival of the seasonal fruits and vegetables. Porcini, broccoli, pumpkin and let’s not forget chestnuts and the delicious Tuscan Castagnaccio ‘tart’.

And speaking of pumpkins, I have a little boy who is expecring big things this weekend when we carve the pumpkin for halloween so stay tuned but don’t expect anything too impressive!








Meeting Thomas

by Lisa on July 30, 2014

 Thomas Joseph Di Donato

Thomas-patchwork 24 Days

Today the 29th of July is the ‘official’ Due Date of Thomas, when I would have been 40 weeks.  Even though I knew that I would probably not go full term considering a cesarean was the plan at around 38-39 weeks, I certainly did not expect him to surprise us one month early, at 36 weeks!

There I was, just finishing dinner on the 2nd July, feeling pretty tired as had crammed as much as possible into the first THREE DAYS of my maternity leave when I crossed my legs and felt a little leak!  So my first thought was, “oops I really need to do more pelvic floor exercises!” The thought that my waters may have broken did pass quickly through my brain but I just as quickly dispelled any such thought!  It was too early!  I had a lot of plans for the next few weeks and giving birth so early wasn’t really one of them.  I stood up, felt more fluid run down my legs and then gave Emiliano a look that probably said something unprintable here but I’m sure your imagination can fill in the blanks.

Our first concern (after getting over the initial shock) was what to do with Matteo who was peacefully sleeping unaware that his new brother was about to arrive!  As Emiliano and I have no relatives who live nearby,  we had no idea who we could call to look after Matteo at such short notice.  As I was sure that I would be having a scheduled cesarean, we hadn’t really thought about who we would call if we had to do a late night run to the hospital.  We also didn’t want Matteo to wake up and find a stranger in the house so I sent a quick message to one of his favourite teachers from day-care who replied immediately and was at our house within 10 minutes.

There is a lot to be said for those of you who have your hospital bags prepared way in advance!  I was soon to discover that you can never be too organised! I threw a few things in a bag as quickly as possible only to find that when I got to the hospital and needed a change of underwear, I had packed no undies but instead, I had packed three bras! At the hospital, you have to bring your own cutlery, water-glass and coffee cup which I also forgot along with my moisturiser and a change of clothes.

After an uneventful night (no contractions) I was whisked into the delivery room and prepped for a cesarean. At 9:43am, weighing 2.680kg and measuring 48cm, Thomas Joseph Di Donato was safely delivered. As he was born before 37 weeks, he was taken off to the nursery for observation but he was fine and showed that he was putting on weight so he was discharged four days later.

The last 26 days have absolutely flown. I am soaking up the newborn smell, touch and tiny size of Thomas as I know that he will soon be a chubby toddler crawling around at our feet and getting at everything within reach.IMG_1655[1]






Today in Florence

June 15, 2014

There is so much going on in Florence at the moment, mostly to coincide with the ‘Firenze Hometown of Fashion’ week.   Thanks to a bit of rain and a drop in the temperature this weekend, we went for a lovely walk into the center and the below photos are a little taste of what we […]

Full Article

In Fabbrica

March 10, 2014
Thumbnail image for In Fabbrica

with PAMPALONI Looking at the photos above, and based on the decor and beautiful silverware on the tables, you would be mistaken for thinking that I am in a very expensive and exclusive restaurant,   You will probably be very surprised to learn then, that this is the cafeteria or Mensa as it is called in Italian of […]

Full Article

Busy, Busy, Busy!

March 7, 2014

I am feeling a little sheepish writing after such a long absence! I can’t believe that it has been nearly three whole months since my last post! A bit embarrassing really BUT I will tell what has been happening in those past months and you may understand. (I hope!) I guess the biggest news is […]

Full Article

Driving a Fiat 500 in Tuscany.

December 15, 2013

It was a stormy morning, the rain fell heavily and dark grey clouds rolled across the Florentine sky.  It wasn’t looking like the weather was going to improve as  I drove into the drive-way and saw a group of people huddled under umbrellas.  At least I had arrived at the right place. I saw him standing out from […]

Full Article

Orange shade of Autumn

November 9, 2013
Thumbnail image for Orange shade of Autumn

We are experiencing such a beautiful Autumn at the moment.  Lovely warm days with crisp mornings and fresh nights.  One downside of this time of year is that we have turned our clocks back so it is depressingly dark at 6pm and it feels so late when I leave the office to pick Matteo up […]

Full Article


October 11, 2013

Home Made by Emiliano Emiliano’s favourite desert believe it or not is a traditional Tuscan biscuit – Cantuccini accompanied of course with a glass of Vin Santo.  He has been nagging for weeks now that he wanted to actually try to make them himself so the other night he finally got his wish and we […]

Full Article