The Art of Scarpetta. YES it is ok to LICK your plate clean in Italy!

Leave any sauce behind on your plate?


This blog post tells you how we LICK our plates clean in Italy.

Have you ever been served pasta with a sauce so delectable you secretly wanted to lick the plate clean?

Well the Italians have solved this age-old problem.

In fact they even have a word for it. It is called Scarpetta.
I was first introduced to the practice when I traveled to Italy,
with my good friend Tiziana to meet her family.

deb & tiz resturant 2
There were many things I leared about Italain culture that summer, but this one comes to mind often. In fact I used the technique this evening as I enjoyed a tasty pasta dish here in Italy.




Scarpetta: the literal translation is ‘little shoe’.
There are a few different versions of the origin of the word, and as to why it has taken on this name. The version I was told by my friends family is that when you drag your piece of bread across the plate to pick up the sauce, the bread looks the shape of a little shoe.

This plate is in dire need of SCARPETTA

This plate is in dire need of SCARPETTI

pig pasta

Pappaerdelle al ragu di cinghiale, local Senesi wild pig

I was happy to know that it was not only acceptable but truly a sign of a good meal and a compliment to the family to not leave any bits of sauce behind on your plate.In other words it is acceptable to ‘lick the plate clean’ by using a piece of bread.

This is how we do it!

This is how we do it!

This evening I returned to Bengodi, a favorite eatery of mine. An enoteca in my neighborhood and ordered the Pappaerdelle al ragu di cinghiale.
Chingale is the local Senesi wild pig, and in this case it was served over a nice wide flat noodle. (Papparedelle)

The sauce was incredible, and I really enjoyed the flavors. In order not to leave anything behind, I did the only thing I know how to do, and that is use a piece of the local Tuscan bread and ‘start mopping up’.
Just take your piece of bread, start at one side and finish to the other. Easy as pie!


Ciao Y’All

The Palio in Siena, is it really only a 90 second horse race?

The short answer is YES. The true answer is NO.

I traveled to Siena Italy last summer and witnessed both Palio. Known as il Palio.

When I first heard about the historic horse race in Siena, I could not believe my ears. Was it truly only a 90 second, three lap race? It seemed maybe I was missing something, and I began my quest to understand what this race was or was NOT.

Palio in Siena

Early on I knew it was NOT your typical pick your trifecta Saratoga Travers Day Race. No siree, get out of your American mind set. Take a look around and remember:

  1. You are in Italy
  2. You’re in Tuscany
  3. You’re standing in Siena, a medieval city in which the first inhabitants were Etruscan, dating back to 900-400 BC.

The race is called The Palio and actually takes place twice every year in Siena on two dates:

JULY 2nd and AUGUST 16th.


Don’t make the mistake like I did and say hey wait those dates aren’t weekend dates. I thought how could something so famous and important take place on a Tuesday as it did on July 2, 2013? A local quickly reminded me that this race has been taking place (as we know it today) since around 1856. So basically with a few exceptions on these same two days for over 300  years. I was told I was missing the point. It is the day that is important not the day of the week. These two days are considered holidays, and with the exception of the hardworking shop workers, restaurant, and other tourist based employees, everyone else will have these two important days off.

starting line August 2013 Palio

Pre-race trials for August 2013 Palio

*An important note is that there are actually 4 days of preparation for the actual race day, (with trials etc.) and if planning to attend and witness this truly spectacular event I recommend adding as much time to the beginning of your trip as you can in order to grasp the excitement and emotional build up that occurs within the walls of Siena during this time. See photo above; note the jockeys are not in their colored costumes for this trial.

This race is attended by thousands and held in the famous Piazza del Campo which is transformed into a makeshift racetrack, a few days preceding the race. Yes I witnessed truck- loads of a special type of clay based soil being brought in by the truckloads, spread around and tamped down covering the Piazza bricks. Wooden barriers are erected in the center to protect the thousands of spectators, padded crash pads on the perimeters of the track to protect the perhaps not so lucky jockeys and unfortunate horses and even wooden bleacher seating called ‘palchi’s set up for this event.

Short Clip Palio Flag Throwing and Drums in Piazza July 2, 2013

There are so many nuances to the race, and the more I spoke to the locals the more intrigued I was to learn more.

First I had to learn about the Contradas. There are 17 contradas, which are like small communities within Siena, sometimes referred to as wards. Note that for each race only 10 of the 17 contradas will compete. Each contrade is represented by it’s own symbol, many are animals such as Pantera (panther), Drago  (dragon), or things of nature like the Nicchio, (shell) or Onda, (wave) The contradas are true delineated geographical regions, all each have their own colors which are  represented in their flags and costumes. There are both strategic alliances and fierce rivalries between the contrade. One can not join a contrada but rather is born into it.

Panther statue in contrada of Panterra

Panther statue in contrada of Panterra

photo of winning jockey & horse Onda contrada

photo of winning jockey & horse Onda contrada

Then slowly I was told of more nuances such for example, the jockeys ride bareback, and there is only one winner, the horse that crosses the finish line first with or without a jockey on his back! Wait a minute; do you mean that they sometimes fall off? YES. In most races it seems to happen and in both that I witnessed last summer that was indeed the case! The horse that comes in second is considered the loser. There was so much to try to understand. I decided to purchased a book, considered by some to be one of the best-written books about the Palio.  It is titled La Terra in Piazza by Alan Dundes and Alessandro Falassi.

To put the Palio into a quick perspective I would like to quote a partial paragraph from the book. The quote below from La Terra in Piazza.

“In order to understand the Palio one would need not seconds or minutes or hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. In fact, it is doubtful whether any one individual could ever articulate all the details underlying the palio, no matter how long and assiduously he studied it. For the palio is endlessly rich in symbol, metaphor, and patterns of interaction.”

Suggested reading for understanding the essence of il Palio

Suggested reading for understanding the essence of il Palio







Phew – now I could be easy on myself! All kidding aside, with the help of this book, and my own conversations with the locals on various trips to Siena, I was able to come to a level of understanding and to be present with this event and the locals. I have the utmost regard for what this event represents to them. I am sure there may be some tourists who think the parades through the walled streets of Siena, with the contrade members in full costumes beating drums are for, their benefit. That could not be farther from the truth. These events are the soul and fiber of their members, and something we would be fortunate to witness with honor and respect.

Contrada procession through the walled streets of Siena

Contrada procession through the walled streets of Siena






The contradas are competing for a silk banner. For the June race the Palio is created to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The banner is the ultimate prize and it too is also called a ‘Palio’. This is a sacred piece of silk cloth and local artists compete with their designs to be chosen to create the coveted Palio. Last year was unique in that the Palio was double sided, and two artists rather then just one were chosen to have their work, one on each side of the highly coveted Palio. I was honored to have met one of the artists, Cecilia Rigaccii. She was introduced to me through a friend.  A close up of her design and all the delicate detail can be seen here.

Close up of Silk Palio as created by Celia

Close up of Silk Palio as created by Celia and one of two winning artists for the June 2013 race. 

If you want to experience this wonderful Sienese event this summer contact me for more information. My next blog post will include more info and photos of the August 2013 race, where I was able to obtain a special ‘window viewing’ of the Palio for my clients. They were very pleased to have such a breathtaking view and all the comforts of an apartment for the duration of the race and proceeding parade.

Hotel rooms book quickly as you can imagine, even if you are still undecided, please contact me ASAP. or call 512 569 3560.


Catania Flea Market-Round Two Winter 2014

sicily catania Mt Etna view from roof B&B

View from patio of Bed & Breakfast in Catania Italy 

I traveled back to Catania this week to catch up with some old friends and to meet up with my newly made friends the Soffers, who also decided to visit Sicily around the same time.

I made my way from the airport to San Placido Inn Bed & Breakfast. I was once again warmly greeted by Orazio and Valentina the owners. Being a Saturday evening, one of the first topics of converstaion was the Sunday morning flea market, otherwise known as the Mercado de Pulcie.

Orazio has been decorating his B&B with flea market finds for years, and perhaps it was one of the first things that made me feel right at home here, a couple of years ago when I first stayed with them. Their warm hospitality and kindness has always made me feel welcomed and like I am coming home, when I stay here.

This time Orazio asked me if I would like to join him on Sunday morning. I know from what I see in the B&B that he has a good eye, and probably could supplement his ‘day job’ as a ‘picker’! So I am excited to tag along and see what I can learn about Italian flea markets from a well seasoned local!

I have my breakfast and meet Horacio and Valentina’s two children for the first time. Angelica and Simione. They too are ready to join us on this Sunday morning adventure.

Firstly it notice that the location of the flea has changed since I was last here, and it seems to be better laid out in this new area which was close by the B&B.
flea long shot with tent corner

I am really once again not looking for anything in particular, as is my usual mode when scouring flea markets, but I do stick to my, has to be small and light enough to fit in a carry-on or my suitcase.

I spot this funny little vintage toy. The front of the car reads, Animals Police. Which is a good thing, cause I am not sure how I would react if I was pulled over and the officer turned out to be dressed as a clown!

clown car








Of course just like with most flea markets there is the usual, general household ‘stuff’

stuffed animals flea





But take a look at these vintage Sci-fi magazines, the covers would make for some cool art projects!

flea magazines pulp







We had a great day out, and I did manage to find a few small, light items to bring back to Austin. One being a somewhat creepy vintage wind up toy. It is so bad it is good, sort of thing. And of course there is always the, scare your Chihuahua factor. My dog, does not know what to make of this that is for sure as it kind of limps and churns across the carpet.

wind up















On the way back to the car, we stop in a small shop for a traditional Sicilain breakfast treat.

bb ball

They are called Panzerotti. Pastry stuffed with chocolate. Did I mention that they were STUFFED with chocolate? see the close up photo below.


bb ball two closeTalk about a chocolate overload! Oh My it was soooo delicious.

As we make our way back to the car, I could not help but wonder if I had witnessed the next generation of flea market shoppers in Angelica. Here is she with her dad, and the treasures they had found that day at the ‘mercato de pulcie’ Flea Market.

two flea the end















The end.

Flea Market Finds in Catania, Italy

Being the owner of an estate sale co, what does one do while on vacation in Italy? Find the local flea market, of course!
While in Catania I set my alarm for an early start to the Sunday only flea market near the city center.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Like most good flea markets there is something for everyone, and this market does not disappoint.

Wide variety of books.

Wide variety of books.

Of course traveling under my own self-imposed rule of one suitcase only, I was very limited in what I would allow myself to buy. I was in search of something fun, unique, small and non-fragile.

These tiles and pottery although great looking and reasonably priced, did not fit any of the above requirements for returning with me back to Texas.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

Back in Italy, December/January 2012-2013

It has been a long while since I took a winter vacation, or at least a winter vacation to a cold climate destination. While this trip started in the somewhat temperate South of Italy, in Catania, Sicily, this past week took me to the far North of Torino, where we even had snow! I return to visit with my friend Tiziana’s family.

Sara, myself, Dominque, and Marta

Sara, myself, Dominque, and Marta