Passport to Fun - Italy

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You'll remember that I came up with a pretty awesome idea for G's Christmas gift this year.

If you're new here and don't know what I'm talking about, then feel free to wander on over to this post to read all about it.

I'll wait.

For our next "trip," we headed off to a country that's a bit closer to home than most.

In fact, it was home for G - for five years, while he lived in Rome and went to grad school.

Needless to say, I chose this particular country for this particular month's trip because I knew it would be easy.

And after over a month camping out in the middle of the mountains, I needed easy!

July - Italy

Set the Stage

I added the next stamp to G's passport so he'd see where we were going, then left it out where he'd find it the next morning before he went to work:

What to Decorate With

The flag thing seems to be working out pretty well for us.  It's something fairly simple for Gv and I to do together, uses supplies we already have, and still lends an air of the locale.


I also grabbed a frame hanging in the hall and an armful of fancy Italian wine bottles to add to our front-entry arrangement.

What to Dress Like

I was brainstorming ideas for how to dress for our trip when Gv spilled the beans to G on where we were going.  Since I was having trouble coming up with something super-easy to wear, I asked G if he had any ideas.

He raced off to our room and came back with three Italian soccer shirts.


Would you look at that - an actual photo of all of us that doesn't include G purposefully making some goofy face in exasperation! (Note also that I have not yet emerged from my summer camping bandanna-on-the-head hair routine!)

What to Listen to

I've got some Italian music on my ipod (and G has quite the collection of Italian CDs), so the musical part of our journey came together quickly.

My favorite selections are off of albums from the music label I wrote about here.

What to Eat

Even though we eat Italian food all the time, I had some trouble narrowing down my ideas for this meal.  

I considered making some bruscetta, a margherita or quattro stagioni pizza, gnocchi, a risotto like this or this, ragu alla bolognese, some crockpot lasagna, fancy homemade pasta, cannoli or gelato, but ultimately, I went the lazy route and kept things crazy simple. 

I basically chose the easiest things I could think of - all dishes I've made often and we all love (particularly G, since both the entree and dessert are his favorites).

We started with a small antipasto platter (comprised of foccacia, olives, prosciutto, capocollo, parmigiano & homemade mozzarella), moved on to a simple caprese salad (just fresh basil, tomatoes, and more of my delicious homemade mozzarella, layered on a plate with some salt and pepper and then drizzled with plenty of olive oil), and then had Spaghetti alla Carbonara for our main course. 

(I told you I was keeping the food uncomplicated this month - I would normally have made both primi and secondi piatti for this meal, but instead, I guess we'll just have to pay Italy another visit!)

We finished it all up with a coconut-milk version of Panna Cotta, guzzled down plenty of Italian wine with the meal and had a bit of limoncello with dessert.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

What You Need

1 pound of dry pasta (something long - I used linguine)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces chopped pancetta (although you could really use any pig meat)

6 chopped garlic cloves

2 eggs

1 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

salt & pepper

What You Do

1.  Start cooking the pasta in salted water (make it in a snap in this) and heat up the oil in a skillet (I used my electric skillet).

2.  Saute the meat in the oil for just about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for just 1 minute, then remove from heat.

3.  Beat the eggs and cheese together in a large bowl.

4.  When the pasta is done, add it to your skillet and mix everything up until the pasta is coated in the oil and fat.  Don't toss out the pasta liquid just yet, though.

5.  Dump everything from the skillet into your big bowl and stir the heck out of it for about 2 minutes.  The hot pasta is actually cooking the egg.

6.  Add in some of the cooking liquid from the pasta until the dish is the consistency you're after.  I probably used a cup of liquid in ours.

7.  Give it all a few twists of freshly ground pepper and maybe a shake or two of salt.

Coconut Milk Panna Cotta

Fancy berry placement courtesy of Gv - she did it all by herself after I inverted the Panna Cotta onto the plate!

What You Need

1 box of this culinary coconut milk (or a can of some other kind, just make sure it's full-fat)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup honey

1 1/4 gelatin (this is a great grass-fed option)

frozen or fresh berries

What You Do

1.  Whisk 1 cup of the coconut milk together with the gelatin in a small saucepan and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

2.  Stir in the vanilla and heat the mixture over low heat, stirring until the gelatin has completely dissolved. Don't let it boil!

3.  Remove pan from heat and stir in remaining coconut milk and honey.

4.  Pour into 4 small glass serving dishes (I just used one larger dish for us to share) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  You can even make this a couple of days ahead.

5.  Invert the dish onto your serving platter and then scatter fresh or frozen berries all over and around it - or, just enjoy it plain!

What to Do

We spent the entire evening operating under a "No English, Italian only" rule.

This was way more difficult than I anticipated, because even though G and I have carried on complete conversations solely in Italian before, I quickly realized that the last time we did this (during a dinner party, where we were bored and didn't want people around us to know what we were saying), I was pregnant with Gv.  And after not really speaking it much for over three years, my ability to converse was nearly non-existent - even G was a bit rusty!

It made us realize how important it is to keep up our language skills, though, before we lose them!

We broke out the Bocce ball set and headed outside for a game or two:

It's 98 degrees and Gv runs back to her room to plunk this hat down on her head.  Uh, fashion statement, I guess?

Then we returned to our air-conditioned family room and spent time letting our inner Michelangelos and DaVincis break free:

Ready to hang in the Uffizi, right?  I have to laugh at how these pictures showcase our different personalities.  It's obvious which one is mine, not only for the rainbow, but because it's such a straightforward scene. G's is so cool, but I could never come up with something so free-flowing and un-orderly myself!  Gv's is difficult to interpret, but she knew exactly what she was drawing - Silly Sally, of course!

 After we created our own art masterpieces, we made Venetian masks out of paper plates.

Can you guess whom each mask belongs to?

We all had such fun making these.  To make your own, just chop a paper plate in half, cut out a notch for a nose and two holes for eyes, then gather whatever decorating materials you can find to spruce them up.  We used feathers, buttons, markers, pompoms, and glitter glue.  I was hoping we'd find some sequins to use as well, but the only ones I could come up with were on my old skating costumes and I wasn't ready to start dismantling those memories yet.

Finally, we glued a craft stick handle onto the side of the mask so that we'd have an easy way to wear them.

Well, now you can see who made the first mask...G made the second one (it's so cool!) and I made the third, plain one.

What to Read

For Gv, I just grabbed the first book I could put my hands on quickly that had something to do with Italy, the classic Strega Nona.  (Other great choices are Italy ABCs, C is for Ciao, and This is Rome.)

For adults, this one or this one sprung right to mind, but I've actually got this series sitting beside my bed to begin reading soon.  Other titles to check out that I've enjoyed over the years:  Italian Ways, Beautiful Ruins, Wish You Were Here, and The Lady in the Palazzo.

What to Watch

Since this country's movies don't require us to use subtitles (well, they could probably be helpful to me, but G always challenges me to watch without them), we've seen tons of Italian films already.

Here's a list of some you might want to check out - not all are in Italian and quite a few are really mainstream, so you should find something here that suites your fancy:  The Italian Job, Life is Beautiful, Under the Tuscan Sun, Roman Holiday, Casanova, Cinema Paradiso, Suburra, La Doce Vita, Perfetti Sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers), Nothing Left to Do But Cry, Il Postino, Pinocchio (both the Benigni and Disney versions), The Ages of Love, Il Sorpasso, or any of the bazillion spaghetti westerns out there like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Gv had her own idea about what she wanted to watch this night (Lady and the Tramp), but we figured the spaghetti-slurping romance scene was so iconic that it totally counted as Italian.

It was a toss-up between Roman Holiday and Casanova for me and G, but we settled on Casanova because G had never actually seen it and we were kind of in the mood for a little bit of Venice after making all those masks!

And that wrapped up our seventh "trip" together for the year.  It was another huge success and we can't wait to jet off to someplace new next month!

Travel all over the world, without leaving your living room!  Come back each month to see where we head next.  Can you think of any other ideas to add for a trip to Italy?  I'd love to hear!  Either leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.

Also, if you don't want to miss a single minute of great tips like this and all the fun around here, be sure to sign up for free updates and then look forward to having each post delivered right to your inbox.

Want more?  Check out some of our other trips:

India - France - Africa - Ireland - Switzerland - Canada - Greece England Germany Thailand - Russia China - Jamaica Egypt - Mexico - Japan - Brazil Cuba Scotland - Australia - Scandinavia

Love this idea, but want the easy, made-for-you-and-all-you-do-is-print-it version?  Click here to get your own pack and see what inspired me to create this series!

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  1. This is such a fun idea to experience different cultures without all the added travel expenses. I need to have a French travel night at my house. Thanks for all the great ideas. #sweetsaturdays

  2. I think I need to learn how to make mozzarella. Thanks for sharing with us at Creatively Crafty Link Party #CCBG

  3. Sounds like you all had a great time! Love the Venetian masks :)

  4. Wow! This is fabulous! It sounds a lot like the cultural gatherings we've had throughout our Children Around the World homeschool studies this past year. Please come check them out at!

    Oh, and I can't wait to try your panna cotta recipe! Thank you so much for linking up at Booknificent Thursday on this week!

  5. What a fun way to experience other countries and cultures. Your daughter will learn so much. Have you done this for other countries aswell?