From Italy to Your Table

La cucina l’italiana is rooted in the land.

My food-loving friends in Italy may live in towns or cities, but they all ‘know someone’ in the country. Someone like il cugino who cultivates olives and shares the olio with family. Someone like lo zio who preserves his sweet garden tomatoes and always has too many. Someone like l’amica who prepares divine apricot marmellata and loves to spread the sweetness.

Santisi medium logoPhil Noto knows someone: his cugino, Giuseppe “Pippo” Calantoni. Pippo lives in Motta d’Affermo, Sicily, in the province of Messina, in the house where Phil’s father was born in 1924. Pippo raises olives. He shares the olio with Phil and Phil is sharing the olio with us. Phil is a partner in Santisi Imports, a wholesale and retail Italian specialty food purveyor based in an office complex in Easton, Pa., about 100 miles west of NYC.

Like any self-respecting buongustaio, Phil not only knows where the olives are grown and the oil is pressed; he also knows the varieties of olives– Sant’Agatese, biancolilla, and nocellara Messinese.

Santisi oil is produced in Motta d'Affermo on the northern coast of Sicily about 24 miles east of  Cefalù.

Santisi oil is produced in Motta d’Affermo on the northern coast of Sicily about 24 miles east of Cefalù.

This level of authenticity extends to all the products offered by Santisi. Phil began the business in his garage in 2005 with olio and origano but now has dozens of products that boast as genuine a pedigree as the oil. Phil and partners Vince Sciascia and Mario Vicidomini scour the Italian peninsula to secure the best of the best: aceto balsamico, dreamy pistachio spread, saba, canned cherry tomatoes that melt in the skillet, assorted condimenti, and colatura d’alici (the ‘secret’ seasoning of so many Italian dishes).

As for dried pasta, partner Mario happens to be co-owner of one of the oldest, most-respected pasta makers in Italy. Mario and his brother Luigi are the fifth generation of Pastificio Vicidomini to carry on the family tradition (Luigi’s son is the sixth generation). Situated in Castel San Giorgio, Campania, the pastificio has been featured on Italian television‘s Linea Verde and is the darling of chefs and food critics.

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Villa San Michele

Villa San Michele is perched on a cliff top in Anacapri.

Villa San Michele is perched on a cliff top in Anacapri.

Capri’s Crowning Glory

By Sharon Sanders

The village of Anacapri sits more than 1,000 feet above the coast on the fabled island of Capri. The white stucco structures are blinding under the Mediterranean sun but nothing in Anacapri dazzles more than Villa San Michele.

The singular creation of Swedish-born physician Axel Munthe (1857-1949), Villa San Michele includes a museum, gardens, and cultural foundation supervised by the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome. During my visit on a June afternoon, visitors were amazingly few. What a gift it was to savor this magical spot at my leisure.

After threading my way through the center of Anacapri, past vendors hawking sandals and sunglasses, coral and mass-produced maiolica, I turned at the carved marble sign that read “Capri Beauty Farm” (a spa?) and walked down Via Axel Munthe.

The simple white stucco façade of Villa San Michele looks vaguely Spanish. A few antiquities are positioned out front. With a visitors guide book, I navigated the bedroom, study, and kitchen that remain as Munthe had furnished them and lived within their walls.

Enamored with Capri from previous visits, it was in June of 1895 that Munthe purchased a tiny house and vineyard in Anacapri from the carpenter Vincenzo Alberino. It stood on the ruins of an ancient Roman summer villa. At the same time, Munthe bought adjoining land and a ruined chapel from other sellers. On this ground, he built Villa San Michele from scratch with his own money and design, and the labor of his neighbors. At the turn of the 19th Century, the village was impoverished. A foreigner leading such a construction project was unprecedented since ancient times.

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St. Francis in Brooklyn

Francis doc

The Codex 338, dated between 1224 and 1226 (the oldest existing copy) contains the writings of Francis and among these the “Canticle of the Creatures,” a work considered the first literary document written in the vernacular and a poetic and spiritual masterpiece.

By Tess Sanders

This time of year, the Brooklyn Borough Hall is ablaze in all its holiday glory. But its current display, in particular, more clearly conveys the spirit of Christmas than any number of colored lights.

From now until Jan. 14, 2015, Brooklynites and visitors can see–for the first time in this country–papers that belonged to St. Francis of Assisi. The exhibit, Frate Francesco: Icons, Words, and Images, features documents from the early thirteenth century that capture the spirit of this extraordinary individual.

The show, which originally appeared in Rome, was displayed at the United Nations prior to coming to Brooklyn. These documents have only been viewed in Italy before this year.

The exhibition is divided into three sections:

  • Icons in the documents that closely witness the historical life of Francis
  • Words relating to the life of the saint
  • Images in miniatures portraying him in various ancient contexts
One of the most moving documents from the show is the illuminated Bible, which depicts St. Francis' union with God. The illustration of the saint remains vibrant for all viewers who want a reminder of all the good that can be done in this world.

One of the most moving documents from the show is the illuminated Bible, which depicts St. Francis’ union with God. The illustration of the saint remains vibrant for all viewers who want a reminder of all the good that can be done in this world.

St. Francis’ virtues of compassion and connection are more important than ever nearly one thousand years after he lived. Francis sacrificed his life and wealth in service of the poor, and his commitment to his fellow man transcends all religions.

At the recent opening reception, his spirit was in the air.



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Tomie dePaola

Tomie Christmas Books

Author and illustrator Tomie dePaola captures the magic of Christmastime.

When my daughters Emma and Tess were six and four, we met Tomie dePaola at a book signing in Oakbrook, Ill., for his then-latest release, Jingle, the Christmas Clown. The girls were shy about meeting the artist who had created Strega Nona and The Art Lesson, classics in our home library. They were hanging back, half-hidden behind bookshelves.

Staying behind when their circus moves on, a young clown and a troupe of baby animals put on a special Christmas Eve show for an Italian village too poor to celebrate the holiday.

Staying behind when their circus moves on, a young clown and a troupe of baby animals put on a special Christmas Eve show for an Italian village too poor to celebrate the holiday.

Tomie not only graciously autographed Jingle but also signed the well-loved copies of his The First Christmas pop-up book and Merry Christmas, Strega Nona that we had toted with us.

Tomie was born in 1934 into an Italian-Irish family in Meriden, Conn. An artist from a young age, he has written and/or illustrated more than 250 books and has received every major children’s book award including the Newbery Award, the  Caldecott Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Of his works, I can only say, they make me smile inside. As a writer, I relate to his narratives, which are wise to the universal foibles of human nature. Since I’m not versed in art, I’ll quote illustrator Beth Gismondi on what makes Tomie’s illustrations unique.

“Tomie is known for his distinctive, deceptively simple style: bold outlines, washes of bright color, and very linear compositions. However, as many illustration students soon realize, simplicity is anything but easy to achieve. Tomie has a full mastery of his technique and characters when he works in his minimalist line-and-wash style. He can indicate a facial expression in four lines! Every mark counts, and there is no way to hide a mistake when working in translucent washes of paint.”

You can read about Tomie’s life and art on his Website. To order autographed Tomie books, visit Morgan Hill Bookstore in Tomie’s hometown of New London, N.H.

What Tomie book do you love the most?

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Pazzi Chapel Restoration

Commissioned by the Pazzi family, the Chapel

Ornate sculpted rosettes, terracotta cherubim roundels and the colourful tin-glaze terracotta by Luca della Robbia decorate the interior of the Pazzi Chapel loggia. It is built in pietra serena, a grey sandstone that, by its very nature, tends to crumble over time.

By Walter Sanders

Many fortunate lovers of Renaissance art journey to Florence, but few get to the splendid Pazzi Chapel—one of architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s 15th Century masterworks–part of the complex of the Basilica of Santa Croce. If you have been to the Pazzi recently, you may have noticed the façade is in need of some repair. After 650 years, who wouldn’t need a little touch up?

The video in the Kickstarter campaign launched by the nonprofit Opera di Santa Croce paints a loving portrait of a jewel. The Opera is seeking donations to match the 50 percent of the funding it has already raised.

I’ll focus on what the Pazzi Chapel means to me. I first experienced it as an art history master’s student. Viewing it from the courtyard, I was underwhelmed. The façade looked severe, and a little top heavy, with the illusion of the tall porch and cupola being supported by impossibly spindly columns.

But there’s something transformative about entering the Chapel. I felt serenity, order, cool spatial integrity. I was amazed how hushed the interior was, muffling clamor from nearby Piazza Santa Croce. And, over time, I learned to love the façade.

I worked inside Santa Croce, at the Scuola del Cuoio (The Leather School), and lived just off the square. Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel became integral aspects of my daily life. In some respects, the Pazzi Chapel became a personal escape, a calm island. I needed only to look at it to feel the peace.

Sharon and I met in Santa Croce, and four years later married there. No, not in the Pazzi Chapel but in the Medici Chapel in the adjacent sanctuary of the Basilica.

The Pazzi means a great deal to us, and we are helping to support the renovation (#crazyforpazzi).

Do you have a Pazzi story? Share it here and please consider a contribution to help restore this Renaissance treasure.

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