How to prepare an Italian for an Irish Christmas

  1. Keep them warm. Socks, thermal underwear, hats, gloves, scarfs.  Go on dress them up like a mini Micheln man you won’t regret it.
  2. ….and keep them cool.  We have a nice open log fire at home.  One of the things I miss the most is sitting in front of warm glowing log embers on a dark cold winter evening…….but what no one tells you, is that sitting next to a burning flame is hot. Really hot and I don’t mean in the sexy way.  Imagine sitting in the living room.  Open fire.  40 degrees celsius stripped down to our underpants.  Cheeks glowing pink (it’s probably due to the wine consumed, but we’ll blame it on the temperature) and then deciding its time for bed, or a bathroom break or whatever.  Heading away from the fireplace into another part of the house.  Now  this can only be described as an experience similar to that of jumping into a frozen lake after sitting in a Nordic sauna.  Not at all pleasant.  Although come to think of it people do say this is healthy and good for you, which on second thoughts almost always equals something rather unpleasant.
  3. Get the liver warmed up. Increase daily tolerance of alcohol SLOWLY in the weeks leading up to the festivities.  This should allow the body to get used to the blood being a little more diluted than usual.  Do you need some more wine in your blood system???  No problem, just visit my mum.
  4. Gin and Tonic is an aperitivo.  Consumed in our household normally before the Christmas lunch.  This is THE secret ingredient to all our cooking and quite frankly anything that helps keep my mum singing while she’s juggling a 2 kilo turkey in the kitchen is more than welcome! In Italy this cocktail is more commonly consumed as a digestivo, late in the evening after a hearty meal so getting used to this cultural difference, I hope should come as a pleasant surprise.
  5. Throw away the daily planner.  Mum is in charge.  Much like Italian mothers controlling the household, Irish mothers seem to have read the same parenting handbook.  Think Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins without the psychedelic trips into street paintings.  You should not expect to make any decisions for the entire stay. This however should be seen as a positive.  Say yes for a simple life and let the brain take a well deserved vacation.
  6. Set them up to make pasta fresca.  I ordered a while back for my sister a large rolling pin and tagliere, the large wooden board for making fresh homemade pasta.  This can have two benefits.  The home cooked Italian pasta creating a mini-island of calmness and familiarity in the chaos that is an Irish home – and we get to eat well!…
  7. ….or alternatively get them to be mums chef in training in the kitchen. This is a more realistic option for Christmas as generally there is little time to ask, “what shall we eat today?” given all the mincepies, turkey, christmas puddings, coffee, cakes and finger food that is forced upon you.  Bonus points with mum as she has a little helper never fails!
  8. Secret escapes to the beach.  A little ‘down time’ away from the Irish clan is essential to (a) relax the brain from having to understand our babbeling, noisy, fast and unique way of communicating with each other.  Remember your (better) Italian half will feel at times like a fish out of water (b)  Breathing in the fresh salty sea air is just priceless and a great way to steal secret kisses and hugs with your Italian Stallion (although be warned the dog will be keeping one eye on you!).
  9. The dog is the most loved member of the family.  She will be your shadow, cuddle your feet, eat your leftovers and take you for walks.
  10. Finally, say goodbye to elegance and impeccable Italian style.  Say hello to crazy Christmas jumpers!

How not to drink coffee in Italy

How not to drink coffee in Italy

Do not sit down to drink your coffee: Lets be honest, coffee is a drug and who needs to sit down for a daily injection of caffeine in their blood system? We are in Italy and the bar is not Starbucks and no you cannot sit here for free for the next 2 hours.

No need to order an espresso: Un caffé per favore is all you need to say.

In fact, no fancy coffee allowed: keep it simple and certainly do not try ordering a white chocolate mocha frappuccino, that’s like asking for  a single malt whisky with olives and  a cocktail umbrella in an Irish pub.

Do not order cappuccino after 11.00 a.m.: Baristas have been known to split their beautifully fitted tailored shirts rolling in laughter when a tourist does this.  I am still uncertain of the rationale behind this but I suspect that the highly evolved (and as such delicate) italian digestive system has something to do with this.

If you need some milk in your coffee and it is past noon you are safe to order a caffé macchiato: this baby cappuccino literally means ‘stained’ coffee as it has been stained with a splash of milk.  You will be asked if you prefer hot or cold milk, congratulations if you can taste the difference.

You don’t go to a café to take your coffee, you go to the bar: No all Italians are not alcoholics unless….

You are in the mountains/ski resorts and you ask for a caffé the barista will look at you twice and say ‘liscio?’ which literally means ‘straight’ i.e. no additives, no liquor….are you joking??

Which leads me to a caffé corretto: this literally means a ‘corrected coffee’, with the liquor of your choice.  Normally this is grappa, brandy or sambuca and can be served with a shot glass on the side or with a few drops added to your coffee cup depending on the crazed look in your eyes or the generosity of your barista.

Finally once we’ve enjoyed our coffee we have to ask for lo scontrino and pay, or should i have paid first?!: This is where it gets a little confusing as payment systems vary. Generally in small local places you can order, consume, order a second pastry (or is that just me?) and then pay once you’re satisfied and refueled.  At the larger bars you need to: queue, order, pay, get a ticket, order a second time (in a different queue), now wave your ticket frantically in the air in front of a second barista who will actually give you your coffee. Hurrah!

Anyone have any other Italian coffee survival tips for this caffeine addict?  Let me know in the comments!