Good Morning | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

This week photo challenge is about how we interpret our Morning. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/photo-challenge-morning/
My day starts very early with a good morning ritual. My first thought as soon as I wake up goes to the Sun. I salute the Sun for its powerful energy that will energize me all day.
To have an advantage on my morning, I set my breakfast place the night before. As seasons change, my place settings change as well, I like to get in the mood of each new season.
Basically, on a place matt, I set out the book I am reading in that moment, a coffee or tea-cup, a glass for juice, a plate and silverware, fruit and a scented candle. Perishable food will come out in the morning.

Breakfast Setting

My breakfast setting is simple and cheerful. I enter my day with ease and I allow myself to be with my thoughts in the quietness of morning silence. I don’t listen to the news and I don’t read the paper, these are activities I don’t do when I am eating. At breakfast I read only a pleasant book and I listen to pleasant classical music. I treat myself as the preferred guest of my life.
My private life is not disjointed from the business. Long time ago, I realized that to run a successful business one needs clarity of mind and eliminate all the negatives. That’s what I did.

I also realize that our lives are not the same. Families with kids have hectic schedules and may not have the same luxury to easy into their days. However, running a family is very much like running a business. It’s all matter of organization and planning the right activities for the right time. Those breakfast food that can be prepared the night before and warmed up for breakfast will cut the stress of the morning and the clothes to wear can be made ready to go the night before as well.
“Il buongiorno si vede dal mattino” ~ says an Italian proverb. Translation: A good day stems from a good morning. Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2013 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Val WorkingValentina Cirasola transforms and creates spaces realizing people’s dreams in homes, offices, interiors and exteriors. She infuses your everyday living with a certain luxury without taking away a comfortable living. 
She offers design consultations on-line through Skype and the traditional in-house consultations, helping people with their design challenge any where in the world. She is the author of three books, all-available on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

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Even The Fastest Race Car Needs A Pit Stop | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

I read in a travel magazine that in North America 25% of the population never takes vacations and 37% will only take one week of vacation a year. Considering that North America is a highly productive part of the world, how can we keep our sanity and keep on producing our wealth if we don’t ever take a break from the daily grinding? We know that stress is the major cause of heart disease, high cholesterol and on and on, while our nerves are slowly being pulled apart as a rubber bend until they snap for good and become beyond repair.

(Click on each photo to view it larger).

Gargano(Architiello S. Felice seen from the sea- trip to the sea caves of Vieste by Cappellaccio)

As we need restorative breaks in life, April 15, 2013 I am taking a group of curious travelers to Puglia, Italy, the region where I come from, South-East of Italy, sitting pretty on the blue-green Adriatic Sea looking at the white Greece and the Dalmatian Coast of the ex-Yugoslavia. Puglia is one of the many Italian regions not well-publicized to mass tourism, thus it is an area where the land is virgin, the air is pure, food is deliciously hand-made fresh every day, people are warm and friendly and prices are affordable. This is a place where you will reconnect with freedom, or will make you the protagonist of your own art of vacationing.

Trani(Cathedral of Trani – Via Pinterest)

Traveling to Puglia is not about a super luxurious accommodation, but about finding new experiences and feeling new emotions. Puglia will teach you how to lose yourself in moments totally without the “hurry” word. I promise, while you are there, you will not want to see your electronics to connect with work back home!

 

My father used to say: “Andiamo piano che abbiamo fretta” meaning “let’s go slow in order to go fast”. How true is that? If you don’t slow down, you will never be attentive to the details in your life and fall in love with them, or even appreciating the “unexpected” life brings.

Our private bus will take us to many places, however the trip is not a “tour de force”! At our leisure, I will take the group through beautiful landscape of orchards, vineyards and seaside views, art, history and shopping in markets. The group will learn to appreciate local traditions, the rhythm of nature and its sounds, healthy natural food cooked at home, colorful atmosphere and the pleasure of making your own food. Yes, perhaps, one or two nights we will cook with a local chef in the farmhouse where we will stay. Puglia will teach you never to eat alone. One a different day, we will have a crazy fun, dressing up in vintage clothes and ride in vintage cars along the Adriatic Sea, or perhaps you will want to experience a relaxing massage with olive oil, the “green gold” of this land.
Register here: https://valentinaexpressions.com/trips-2

I will take the group to an “unexpected” Italy through all the human senses, collecting memories or flavors and not material things. I will show you how simple food will change you forever, as it fulfills your soul and rewards your health. While we are on the subject, we will talk about Italian table manners and etiquette.

Eating in Barrels

(Ristorante Gorgo Di Fuoco – Putignano)

Even The Fastest Race Car Needs A Pit Stop, you need to stop in Puglia! Please find price, all the information needed and watch the videos when you click on the link. Start packing and register here: https://valentinaexpressions.com/trips-2
Registrations will close March 20, 2013 and I want to see you on my bus. Ciao,
Valentina

http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2013 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Val:FarfalleStampValentina Cirasola will host three trips a year to Italy based on her three books with the intention of showing Italy with the eyes of a designer born in those parts and let people experience the ”wheel of emotions” in the non-commercial Italy away from beaten paths of massive tourism. Valentina is NOT a travel agency, but with the help of her Italian expert travel team, she will guide her tours through art, architecture, food, shopping and special adventures organized for people who want to live it up! Register here: https://valentinaexpressions.com/trips-2.

Find Valentina’s books on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Brown Food, Yes or Not? | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

In decorating, black is for grounding the room, white is for transitioning between one color to another such are usually trims and doors, red is for uplifting energy in a dull environment, green for calming and each of the rest of the colors in the rainbow have a dedicated function, but brown has never been a color that delight in kitchen décor.

Brown in cooking is a totally different matter. Cooking something brown is not that appealing, unless we talk about chocolate in the darkest form of brown, sweet, crunchy, luscious, decadent and even with a hint of salt. Brown breads and brown beers fall in the good brown category that give nutrition and pleasure, but brown steaks don’t. Meat at a fresh state starts with a bright red coloration and by the time is cooked, it should be pinkish inside to retain all the juices and flavors, but never too brown, risking to get a shoe sole.

Brown sauces sold in bottles are full of artificial ingredients and so much sodium. Aside from upsetting someone here who likes that stuff, I would say that brown sauces are good to stain food without personality. Fresh food do not need to be corrupted with brown or any other color sauces. It is clear I don’t agree with people who believe the best food is brown. However there are a few of the brown food I eat all the time: mushrooms, whole-wheat pasta, lentil, truffle and nuts. It is important to combine complementary color schemes when serving dark food – “the eyes want to take part of the feast too” – therefore if it appeals to the eyes it will appeal to the stomach. That’s a fact. Use bright color plates to make the brown food come alive, but don’t forget bright condiments as well.

Enjoy a couple of my simple recipes and colors.

Funghi Trifolati (sautéed)
Use any kind of mushrooms, but mostly crumini, the common dark button mushrooms. Wash them very quickly in cold water, pat dry, cut in half. In a skillet warm up olive oil and garlic, when the garlic is golden, throw in all the cut mushrooms, sauté until they have shrunk a little. Season it with salt, pepper or chili pepper. Add a hand full of fresh chopped Italian parsley. Serve with meat or fish and a robust wine.

Lentil Andalusia Style
For this dish I use dry lentils. Before putting lentils in the boiling water, make sure there are no small rocks inside the bag, as often happens. Boil them in salted water for about 15 minutes and season if necessary with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, chop finely the center core of celery because is tender and more digestible and 1 -2 oranges in small bite sizes. Plate the lentils, add both ingredients on top and a swirl of olive oil.

It cannot be any easier than this! The food in my slide show are all in my books. Ciao,
Valentina

http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

 

Val:FarfalleStampValentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books and a book on colors, all available here in this site on the Books page and on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

I Was In A Comedy Dinner For Six | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

It’s Friday evening. I am dressed to the teeth, ready to enjoy a formal elegant dinner in a private home. One of the women in the group won the ticket for a dinner for six  at a private home at a charitable event and chose five people of her liking to appear in this charade dinner. I was one of them.
In the casual Californian atmosphere, I am already wondering how this formal dinner will be conceived, nobody organizes formal and sitting down dinners anymore, especially in California. For this occasion, the wife is the chef, the husband is the waiter dressed in total black with a white napkins neatly folded over his right arm, playing the part to the letter. They are travelers, I wonder if they learned that in Italy?

The dinner table is elegantly made in a 1930s style: crystal glasses, silver tableware, embroidered tablecloth and fabric napkins. I counted the plates and there are six place sets, but we are eight counting the hosts. “There is something wrong with this picture” I am starting to ask myself. I didn’t know the people offering the dinner as an action item are not supposed to sit down with the guests.
The small cup style champagne glasses really caught my eyes, so dainty, well etched, so different from today’s fluted glasses and so short. One sip and the champagne is gone… and so is the mind of some of the guests….
It took only a few bubbles to lose composure. Oh dear, non-senses are already spoken and we are only at the hors-d’oeuvres. What is it going to happen until the end of the dinner?

The hosts invite us to sit down.  I didn’t know anyone in the group, except the lady who invited me and was excited to meet new people. Neither did the hosts know anyone. Apparently in this type of style dinner, the hosts cannot sit with the guests, only serve them.
I truly felt awkward being served by an older couple and not having the pleasure to converse with them at the table. In my native Italy, this will never happen.

Seven courses are waiting to be consumed. I glanced in the kitchen, the portions are very small, but some of the women felt intimidated, when they heard about several courses coming and felt stuffed before even trying them.
In one of the many forums I belong, it was said that seven courses is too much to offer, considering that people don’t eat that much any more. How do we explain so many overweight people in our society? Perhaps, the large portions eaten mindlessly are the fault. The women in the group were no small examples either.

 

Did I see a pair of shoes loose under the chair of the woman on my left? Oh my, this is really promising! The woman directly across from me, an artist, asked the hostess in which order to use the flatware. Clearly, she eats with plastics everyday.
Then, like in a comedy film, I incredulously saw everyone turning the plates over to see the trademark and where the dishes came from. I tried to stop them by talking about the design in the front of the dishes. It seemed very much a John Sanderson’s design, neo-classic fretwork of the middle 1700s, perhaps a copy. Well, the two women on both sides of me, just came out with a simple “really?” and still looked at the back side of the dishes, the rest of the guests were in their own “cookie wonderland“. Hard to make conversation with shallow people, I thought.

(Pumpkin Photo: BHG)

A cute starter of small baked pumpkin filled with mozzarella cheese open the banquet and libations. The woman next to my left, after the first course, unravels the layers of her clothes. She would have taken off her bra if she could have, she admitted.
I asked her what she does when she eats in restaurants, but I received no answer.
I am envisioning this dinner as the same version of the funny film Hollywood Party with Peter Seller. I don’t know if I am amused or disgusted. I cannot get up and leave. I am beyond being offended already, so I observed in silence, thinking of what other mishaps I am in for.

The highlight of the dinner is the changing of wines with each course. Strange as it sounds, I like this old fashion way of pairing wines with food. Those women, not being wine connoisseurs, can only flash heat waves on their skin, with increasing bawdy attitude and loud talking. To think they started the conversation in a softly and lady-like manners. What happened to their initial gentleness?

In the next scene, one woman tips over the wine glass full of white wine over the embroidered tablecloth and another one pins her long hair up with a huge clip looking as she just came out of the shower. This disaster dinner is really getting good!
The palate cleanser arrived, a well-balanced peach sorbet. Oh yes, some of them thought we are having a dessert and questioned where did the rest of the courses go. They expected to see a 6 course dinner since this affair was won at an action. (Sorbet photo: http://www.myhobbies.com)

The conversation is boring, I am a spectator in pain and amused at the same time. Dinner was prepared in a simple way, even though seven courses sounded heavy and complicated, but it was not. It went on as the host planned it, I enjoyed every bite, appreciated the host’s culinary efforts and did not exclaim “no food for me for the next three days!” as some of the women did.

(Chicken photo: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/roasted-chicken-with-sausage-stuffing)

This comedy is winding down with the doggy bag shocker scene. You heard it right. A few of these “classy women” are asking for a doggy bag for their leftovers. Clearly they have mistaken a private home for a restaurant. Once people learn bad habits, they repeat them to nth power.
The women present at this dinner were not professional actresses, they just made their own funny and impromptu comedy. I would have liked to record it for my amusement later.

Lessons learned:

1. Never go out to dinner with unknown people, unless you make an effort to get to know them before the event, which is not always possible.

2. If you are hosting a sitting down dinner party, never serve more than four courses. Not a good idea to keep guests prisoners attached to the chairs, forced to listen to unpleasant shallow people.

3. Wines do not need to be paired with each course. Find one red wine for meat and one white wine for fish and vegetables, or find one that can be served interchangeably with all the food and stay only with those two choices.

4. Offer well tasted and liked recipes by previous guests in previous parties; offer food in the right quantity to avoid the “doggy bag” situation. No more than 1500 calories should be served all together through the entire dinner.

5. If you can, distract guests from turning over the plates, with a talk on the special dishes designs, or table setting decorations. Witty conversations are of great help in keeping the attention of guests and drive them to a more proper behavior.

6. Make sure there is fresh air circulating through the dinnertime.

To me, breaking bread with people is an honor, having good manners at the table shows respect towards the hosts, the food so well prepared and the guests.

If I were a TV producer, I would have turned this dinner into a funny comedy, but I hope to have amused you for now. Ciao,
Valentina

http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola has been a lifetime designer in fashion and interiors. Her extensive knowledge of colors and materials led her in both directions successfully. Vogue Italy magazine and many prominent publications in California featured her work. Among designing and remodeling homes, designing custom-made furniture and writing books, Valentina is now teaching etiquette, table manners, table setting and life style. Her new book Red-A Voyage Into Colors is about how colors affect us in life. Get your copy on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Organize Your Kitchen To Please Your Soul | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

KitchPerspective2

Most of you know the kitchen is my favorite room, I like to design it and I like to live in it. In my family, the kitchen is the place to resolve our difficulties and the place where we invite the real friends to sit. (Click on each photo to view it larger).
I executed my schoolwork on the kitchen table, where I could be part of my family life, instead of being closed in my room alone.

Most of the kitchens of today are conveniently located near the garage or entry door and just because it is convenient turns into in a dumping ground for mail, bills, magazine and stuff.

Nowadays we got so complicated we must have Feng Shui in the kitchen too, but when I was growing up we called it common sense. Here you will find some of my life habits on how to keep the kitchen in harmony with the soul.

* September is the month of cleaning the kitchen cupboards inside and out. Prepare the kitchen for the coming holidays, make room for new serving dishes and cooking equipment you might buy this Fall. Some are so inviting!
This is the time you will get the opportunity to throw away or donate all the items you don’t want anymore. Get rid of those non-matching plates and glasses that have lost their companions. Cupboards need to be completely emptied out of contents at least every change of season to keep a clean positive energy in the kitchen. If the job feels too overwhelming, get help, there are plenty people out there who want to do this kind of work.

  • Keep all the bills in the home office, study, or any room dedicated to office/school tasks, but please don’t take the bills in the bedroom. Kitchen functions are  for cooking, tasting, and conversations. Keep everything else out of it, unless you have a dedicated desk in a corner of the kitchen.
  • Today we see mail with suspicion. Mail is no longer welcomed, as when a letter arrived from far away, or we received friendly cards from people we knew.  Today we get bombarded with emails and our post mail is filled with advertisements and junk mail. Stand by a fireplace or trash when reading the mail of the day and don’t even let it in the kitchen.
  • Recycle all the store plastic bags you bring home with food or other items. I reuse them as garbage bags and I have no need to buy more plastics. Recycle also any paper bags for other uses, such as packaging wrap, for more shopping, or to keep in the car as garbage bags. In my garage, I have two containers, one for recycled plastic bags and one for paper bags rolled up neatly.
  • Organize all the food plastic containers, find the matching lids and keep them together in one place. Throw away containers without lids. The same applies to cooking tools. There is nothing more irritating than being in need of a cooking tool ready for the task and instead finding a tangle up mess of tools in the kitchen cabinet drawers.

    CoffeeStation(photo: BHG)

  • If  kitchen space will not allow to store large pots, baking pans or slow cookers, take these items to an adjacent closet.
  • Appliances garage and roll out shelves are designed on purpose to keep small appliances out of sight and counters neatly clean.
  • I like to keep my expensive chef knives in a drawer with a magnet to keep the knives from sliding back and forth and to protect the tips.
  • To have a fresh lemony air in the kitchen, put lemon peels in the sink garbage disposal, lemon peel in the dishwasher utensil tray and lemon potpourri sachet in each kitchen drawer and cabinets.
  • I don’t like my kitchen steamed up with cooking vapors, not only it creates condensation, but the odors will stay in the house, especially if the kitchen has an open floor plan communicating with other rooms. The vapors and grease will go up to ceiling and will come down on the upholstered furniture. Keeping windows opened during cooking will redirect vapors outside and you might hear the wild birds singing at you for the good aroma you are producing in the kitchen.
  • Have you thought of a calendar for family activities and one for weekly menus? My mother added a comment at the very top of our weekly menu calendar:
    “If any of you don’t like this week menu, there are plenty restaurants that will take your money”. Needless to say we, teenagers kids ate at home all the time.
  • Prepare your table with a tablecloth and napkins, every time you eat at the table, even if you eat alone. Feeding your soul with beauty and comfort will distract your stomach from overeating.

Enjoying fresh food prepared in the kitchen, to me this is an important ritual. Kitchen and food nourish and bound the family together.
Kids who grew up with good food and pleasant kitchen atmosphere will always want to return home even after they have formed their life.
(Photo right found on: http://www.magazyndomowy.pl/przechowywanie-w-kuchni/zdjecie/14971/)

I am here ready to help, if you need to organize your kitchen and feel really overwhelmed with the task, just leave your name in the box below.
Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is the author of two published books on regional Italian cuisine, available here in this site on the Books page and in various other locations:

http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M

http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

 

Plates and Chopping Boards | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time.  We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just  as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dish ware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. It was not this way a few centuries ago. (Photo: marcel wanders alessi)

Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates.  This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.

Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.

Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.

Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to suck the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.

Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.

In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone or some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.
(Himalayan Sal Slab: surlatable.com)

This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.

Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today food is brought to the table on a hot stone  with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.

These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.

I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


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