A Break with Nespresso

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Nespresso's pop-up caffe at Manhattan's Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

Nespresso’s pop-up caffe at Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

By Tess Sanders

Today I was transported within the walls of legendary Grand Central Station. No, I was not catching a train for a beach getaway. I traveled briefly to Italy with Nespresso.

Until June 6, Nespresso is offering complimentary cups of their pod-brewed beverages to celebrate their new home brewing machine, the VertuoLine.

Amidst the bustle of New Yorkers and tourists alike, I met with Nespresso demonstrator Fabio Ferrari (yes, his real name) who told me the company’s cross-cultural origin story, a Swiss entrepenuer who became enamored of Italy. Watch the video story here.

And that signature Italian crema? Ferrari tells me that after countless Nespresso customers asked for it, the company delivered with the new VertuoLine: a pod system that brews an American size cup of coffee with the delicate flavor of crema, the creamy foam that crowns genuine Italian espresso.

As Ferrari—a Modena native—sees it, coffee preferences reveal cups-full about cultural proclivities.

“Italians socialize around food… The espresso signals that food is over and it’s time to get back to work.” Compare that to Americans who “invented fast food” and use coffee, instead of meals, to socialize.

The VertuoLine allows users to taste it all, brewing both espresso and coffee. In the time it took me to enjoy a cappuccino and begin a coffee, I’d learned Ferrari’s story (a “caffeine-crazy boyfriend” introduced him to Nespresso and he left his life “in a golden cage” as a 9 to 5er to begin demonstrating for the coffee company).

My only complaint about the cappuccino: it was prepared with 1% milk instead of the full-fat stuff. The coffee was the most flavorful pod-brewed I’d ever sipped. The head is lush, rivaling a Guinness!

My tastings were prepared after three staff members consulted about my preferences (the more bitter, the better if you’re wondering—though only in matters of chocolate and coffee), and the three-on-one consultation was a delight. You can revel in Nespresso’s escapism all week at Grand Central.

If you’re lucky you’ll meet Ferrari, who, in his own words, will lure you into the world of bold flavors and won’t contaminate the experience with a sales pitch.

October 2014 Tuscany Tours

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
SimpleItaly's happy campers by the granaio at Fattoria Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

SimpleItaly happy campers in front of the granaio at the Tuscan farm estate Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

You can put yourself in this picture! Escape to the private Villa Pipistrelli this October for the next Tuscany Tour:  Harvest Celebration with SimpleItaly. Two different week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from: October 11-18, 2014 OR October 18-25, 2014. This intimate adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll truly feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

  • Sessions on making pecorino cheese, watercolor painting, pasta making, and more
  • Tours of wine estates
  • Magnificent medieval Siena–home of the Palio–and a private tour of a contrada museum
  • Gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli
  • Afternoon at a sagra, a local harvest festival, mingling with the locals
  • Free time to truly explore the natural beauty and experience the daily rhythm of Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away
  • Private meetings with English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle

Click here to read what folks are saying about our trips. Click here for the full itinerary to put yourself in the picture!

Foraging for Greens in Tuscany

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014
According to our edible wild plants expert, Marta, the delicate white blooms of the wild garlic in the foreground are only good for looking not eating.

According to our edible wild plants expert, Marta, the delicate white blooms of the wild garlic in the foreground are only good for looking not eating.

“Mother Nature gives us what we need every day,” said Marta, l’erborista, as she greeted our SimpleItaly Adventure in Tuscany tour group on a recent blindingly bright spring morning in the piazzetta at Montestigliano agriturismo.

We passed around her information sheets as she explained that her grandfather, Alterio, educated her in plant foraging when she was a child. An “Italian cowboy” who owned a big farm in the Maremma, she would scour the fields and woods with him to identify and pick wild herbs and mushrooms that her grandmother would transform into good things for the table.

“Wild herbs are great fortune for us. . .for the health of the earth and biodiversity,” said Marta, who is affiliated with an erbandano cultural association that conducts foraging tours in the area southwest of Siena.

“My grandfather said, ‘Open your heart in nature but be careful. Open your eyes. Mother Nature has two faces, one beautiful, one dangerous,’ ” she said, then advising us to watch out for snakes, spiders, and toxic plants. (Her warnings did not go unheeded. I doubt that few in our intrepid band would have had the courage to forage without a Marta leading the charge.)

She led us to a nearby low stone wall where she opened a meticulously annotated reference book with scans of numerous edible plants. Then it was off to the nearby olive grove with our plastic tub for gathering the ingredients for our lunch. The undergrowth was much more lush than typical for the season due to heavy late winter rains. Marta pressed down the high grasses to look for the herbs.

Quicker than a suburban lawn warrior can say Weed B Gon, Marta spotted tarassaco (dandelion), crepis (hawk’s beard), stellaria (stitchwort), papaver (poppy—only eat the leaves!), calendula (marigold), nepeta (catmint-for funghi and pomodori), sonchus (sow thistle), and cicoria (chicory).

When she found the first tender leaves of piantaggine (plaintain) she held two leaves to the crown of her head to mimic their nickname “ears of the hare.” She resembled a woods sprite.

Marta led us to a different olive grove where behind an old stone farm building, she found a flourishing ortica (stinging nettle) plant. She assured us that the prickly leaves would be tasty when we cooked. In fact, they are inedible raw.

“Ortica is the queen of the wild plants,” Marta said. “It’s good for the liver. The cooking water is good for the hair.” In past times, the peasants would weave storage bags from the fibrous stems.

Next stop was the kitchen where, with Marta’s tutelage, we’d cook Mother Nature’s gifts.

To be continued. . .

Spring Blooms in Tuscany

Friday, April 18th, 2014
La rosa (rose)

La rosa (rose) climbs a wall on the Montestigliano estate near Siena.

Time stops when you’re in Tuscany. I  have proof.

Three weeks ago, Walter and I left Pennsylvania  to host our tour program at Villa Pipistrelli on the Montestigliano estate. The temperature was chilly. Not a bud or bloom were to be seen.

I returned yesterday to an unchanged landscape.

Time does stop when you’re in Tuscany!

Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. I do see a few brave daffodils and maple buds shivering outside my window.

But for Eastertide, I prefer to pretend I’m still in Tuscany among all the lovely spring blooms.

A Vintage Tour of Italy

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
photograph courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board

photograph courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board

By Tess Sanders

Walking through the ever-bustling Manhattan Eataly it would be easy to miss the latest additions to the 58,000-square-foot Flat Iron-district emporium.

They’re dangling from the ceiling as you stroll past the Lavazza cafe, the house-made gelato, and the sweets: remastered Italian travel images. Some of these lush posters date back to 1920. The Italian Government Tourist Board hosted a reception to welcome the exhibit “A Vintage Tour of Italy.” Tourist board director Eugenio Magnani introduced the Italian consul general Natalia Quintavalle who cut the ribbon.

Thirty digitally revitalized posters of the original art works are in the show.

Italia PosterXThe stylistic representations mark nearly a century of travel art, from the hyper realistic rendering to bolder expressionism. One stunning poster is done in that modern style: I. Gnagnatti’s Italia from 1963. It is the eye-arresting image of a woman’s back with the word Italia scrolling across her red shawl. With little more than a block of incandescent coral, Gnagnatti captures the allure of the Italian woman.

In a time predating television these images were among the first to capture the sparkle of the now-beloved Italy as a destination. Today the proliferation of blogs like this one is the norm when it comes to Italy worship, but in the 1930s these images were all that foreign, prospective tourists saw of the country.

When she's not contributing to SimpleItaly, Tess Sanders works for Macmillan Higher Education. Her office is serendipitously located across from Eataly.

When she’s not contributing to SimpleItaly, Tess Sanders works for Macmillan Higher Education. Her office is serendipitously located across from Eataly.

When I inquire as to how long these iconic images will be showing at Eataly, I am told “at least through the new year.” After that, these vibrant posters will grace venues in Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami, and L.A.

Catch them at Eataly NYC while you can!