Running Rome – a personal account of running the Rome Marathon

a guest post & photos by Annika Blyckertz

11357518_103402846667186_95173999_nMy friend Annika is a salon owner in her mid-thirties from Gävle, Sweden – married with a 15 year old son.  She’s a casual runner who ran the Rome marathon in 2014.  For all the most up to date information about the 2016 Rome Marathon taking place on Sunday, 10 April please go to http://www.maratonadiroma.it  The site comes in various languages:  English, Spanish, French and German.

I came to Rome on Friday and the marathon is on Sunday. Coming from Sweden, it was quick and easy for me to jump over to Rome for a few days and I had already been to Rome before.  However, if you are coming from very far away and/or have never been to Rome and plan on incorporating some sight seeing into your time here, I would highly recommend giving yourself much more time than just a long weekend.

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Palazzo dei Congressi in the EUR – photo by Magnus Manske

One or two days before the marathon you have to pick up your race packet at The Marathon Village which is at a place called the Palazzo dei Congressi.  By public transit you take the blue line metro/Line B to the EUR Fermi stop.  It was my first time on the Rome metro and I was traveling alone, but it was very easy and even though you have to walk a few blocks from the station once you arrive it’s easy to find – just follow the crowd!

Saturday the day before the marathon is best spent eating and SLOWLY and MODERATELY strolling around. You will want well rested legs on Marathon Day, and you need to eat more than usual, but still easily digested food.  I went to a local restaurant near The Beehive for dinner the night before.  I had some amazing pasta alla gricia – a Roman pasta dish, usually rigatoni or spaghetti, made with guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino romano and pepper – which turned out to be perfect fuel.  An early night and as much sleep as possible is definitely recommended.

I stayed at The Beehive which was an excellent decision thanks to it being so close to Termini (among all of the other reasons). Marathon start time was at 9:00am, but you have to get there earlier around 8:00am to leave your bag and anything else you don’t want to run with. I left The Beehive at around 7.30am.  From there it’s a short walk to Termini to take the metro to the Colosseum – again follow the crowds.

Everyone is obligated to bring their race packet that you must pick up at the Marathon Village.  For Rome’s marathon, you’re given a backpack which is the only bag you are allowed to drop off in the start area and of course all the runners wear running clothes and various cover-ups some of which are pretty hilarious.  I have never seen so many people dressed in garbage bags before.  The metro was free for runners that day, and there are lots of people – literally thousands. It’s a special feeling to be part of an international community consisting of total strangers, but everybody is so friendly and helpful and there is this immediate feeling of belonging. It is difficult to explain until you experience it yourself.

On the metro I was a bit confused about where to get off because I had read something about one of the exits being closed off, but all I had to do was stand there and look confused for some of the other runners to say that no, we were to stay on the train for another two stops. We were all going to the same place, all having the same goal. There’s no competition, only friendliness and community.

Bags are dropped off at several trucks parked in a long row, it’s easy to find once you get into the start area, but depending on your bib number you may have to walk quite far from the drop off truck to the start line, so get there early to give yourself enough time. This is where the garbage bags I thought were so funny come in handy; put one of them on top of your running outfit and it will keep you surprisingly warm – and dry, if it is raining. It is also recommended to wear an old sweater that you can simply discard when you get too warm – it is important to stay warm until you start running!

Drink water, eat a banana, slowly walk towards the starting line. There are toilets close to the start, they were in multiple rows which weren’t easily seen so there were many of us waiting in line for the first row while there were many empty booths in the rows behind!

Once all of that is done you need to get to your corral, then wait to hear The Final Countdown (yay Sweden!) and then the gun goes off and everybody starts clapping.  The tears…

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After that, you’re in it for the long haul.  You really have no choice, but to follow the mass of people as they proceed towards the starting line and before you know it you will have crossed it. Crazy feeling. Tears again. When you have crossed that line there’s no going back, you just have to keep going until you reach the finish line 42,195 meters later. CRAZY. And hilarious. God I laughed. Then I stopped after ten meters because I realized that I had forgotten to start my music. Then after another 100m to take the sweater off. More laughter. I think was laughing for the first 10k.

You’ll find lots and lots of supporters and people watching and cheering at the start, but pretty soon you go into more residential areas and the crowds thin out. You run through areas not often seen by tourists, which is great!  For example, on past trips to Rome I had never seen the pyramid of Rome (Pyramid of Cestius). I remember the course as being relatively flat – surprisingly so for a city built on seven hills, but I can’t remember any super steep hills and the roads you run on are generally well maintained (much better than in Florence’s marathon, but that’s another post!).

Quite a large part of the course is on cobblestones, which as you can imagine is tough on the legs, but then again those are the parts where you get to see famous monuments and you will also have a larger audience cheering you on which makes up for it.  Running up towards St Peter’s basilica is spectacular – more tears!

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There are lots of spectators all the way in the center (here are some tips for spectators here and I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to have people cheering you on and clapping even if you know they’re really there to see somebody else.  So if you were one of those spectators in 2014 – thank you!  At Piazza Navona I found my good friend, Nicki, who was there to see me, or rather she found me. Tears again.  I was so crazy tired at that point (36 km in or so), but having her support really made all the difference.

Keep going, run through the pain, don’t forget to drink at the stations and those wet sponges are fantastic to clear your mind. Look up and see the Spanish Steps when you run by because I didn’t!

Before you know it, you can see the Colosseum in the distance, and the end is near, and you sprint the best you can, there’s no point in saving any energy by then, just run. Run run run, and cross that finish line, raise your hands if you still have any juice in you (I only had enough to get them halfway up), then go ahead and collapse once you have your medal.

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After you have collapsed and gotten back up on your feet, hobble on as best you can. It’s amazing how you can run for hours and hours and then once you stop running you can’t even walk. There are refreshments and massage tents (I hid in one when the sky burst open) that you pass on your way back to the truck where you left your bag. Once there, put on some cover-ups and if possible at least change your shirt. Nobody cares if you strip down to your underwear in the middle of the crowd, promise.  My friend, Nicki and I went straight to the metro after that. Warning:  you have to go down a few stairs to get to the metro and it’s not pretty.

Back to your accommodation, shower (BEST SHOWER IN THE WORLD), get dressed, collapse on the bed for ten minutes until your stomach demands that you get food. Eat, drink, then be asleep like a baby by 9:00pm.

It was my first marathon so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I have run in the Stockholm and Florence marathons since then and I must say that Rome will always be special. I thought it was very well organized (yes, Stockholm was better but not as much as many might think) and so much fun, definitely one of the best days in my life despite all the pain – lots of blisters, ouch! The course was great; some boring passages but all marathons have those. Extra bonus for being a 1 lap course (Stockholm is 2 laps) with lots and lots to see along the way thanks to beautiful Rome being Rome.

22 February 2016

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Devin

Devin was looking for directions to the Stadio Olimpico for tonight’s football/soccer match between AS Roma and Real Madrid.  She asked if our manager Yuli and Steve wanted to join her.  “My boss owns the team,” she said.  And “conversations with guests” nr. 2 followed….

17 February 2016

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Jordan

The other day, while listening to a podcast, Steve thought it might be a good idea to start recording bits and pieces from the people he meets here at The Beehive and the unique conversations that can often take place. He hadn’t really committed to it until the other morning.

To set the scene:  guy comes in with a backpack asking if he can eat in the cafe even though he’s not a guest.  He’s vegan and just found us online.  He heads down for breakfast and when he returns to the reception, he asks if he can leave his bag here for a while. Steve asks how long a while might be and he said he needs it stored for a few days.  Steve said he can store it until the evening, but that if he wants to hold it longer, he should check out the checked luggage at Termini.

A bit curious, Steve asked where he’s staying and he responds that he’ll be in a sleeping bag in front of St. Peter’s.

“Pause,” Steve said.  “Mind if I record your answer?”

What follows is the first “episode” of Steve’s Conversations with Guests.

 

15 February 2016

Day trips from Rome: Orvieto

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If you want to experience small town life in Italy that’s a quick and easy distance from Rome without needing to rent a car – I highly recommend visiting the medieval hill town of Orvieto. Orvieto is easily reachable by train from Rome’s Termini train station and depending on the train takes 50 minutes to an hour & twenty minutes to reach.

Orvieto sits up on a rock which when coming from Rome you can’t really see from the train.  As you exit the station at Orvieto, cross the piazza and take the funicular up into town.  The original funicular started running in 1888 and used a water powered system.  The ride up is a smooth and effortless 2 minute climb up the side of the rock past people’s homes, olive groves and vineyards.

Exiting the funicular station, you can walk up Corso Cavour one of the main streets located directly in front you and be in the town’s center in about 10 minutes.  Or you can jump on the A bus that takes you to the front of the Duomo – Orvieto’s cathedral –  in less than 5 minutes.

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Many Romans come to Orvieto on the weekend to stroll around the town and have a nice lunch.  Orvieto is in the region of Umbria and has loads of great restaurants serving local, regional cuisine.  Cinghiale (wild boar), truffles, umbrichelli (a thick spaghetti-type pasta made with flour & water) and the Orvieto Classico – a dry white wine, are typical specialties of the area.

There are a lot of very good restaurants in Orvieto. Our family’s favorite is Trattoria del Moro-Aronne.  This family owned and run restaurant is very popular in the guidebooks so usually crowded with visitors, but they have not lost their integrity as some places that get popular do – their food is great.  When eggplant is in season go for the polpette di melanzane (eggplant patties)  and their roasted potatoes.  Their nidi di rondine with pecorino and honey is a cheese-lovers delight (warning – sweet & rich, but oh so good) and they make a fantastic porcini mushroom/truffle pasta dish. The owners, Cristian and his mother Rolanda are super nice and friendly.  Bistrotters is owned and run by Emiliano & Ilaria who took over a long-standing restaurant that had seen better days and transformed it into this stylish yet casual spot.  The staff are super friendly and they have a large outdoor dining area with good pizzas, pastas and great wine.  Trattoria del Orso is the two-man operation of Ciro and Gabriele. Ciro will explain the day’s dishes and Gabriele cooks in the kitchen.  I particularly like their pasta dish with mushroom and truffles and they have some excellent meat dishes (I’m told.  Being vegetarian, I have to trust the meat-eaters I know).  After your meal, ask Ciro for his latest digestivo.  They make their own liqueurs out of natural ingredients such as bay leaf and other plants.  A bit hidden away is Mezzaluna if you are looking for a quick bite to eat with local grumpy ambiance.  The owner is a bit gruff, but does serve up what my daughters consider some of the best carbonara they’ve ever eaten and the price is right.

If you’re looking for a place to have a coffee try FEBO, Via G. Michelangeli a cute bar in town on the oh so quiet and quaint Michelangeli street.  If you want outdoor eating and people watching,  Caffe Cavour or Barrique are the place to be both located on Orvieto’s main street, Corso Cavour.
For gelato head to Pasqualetti, the oldest ice cream vendor in town. They have two locations – via del Duomo, 10 and Piazza del Duomo, 14 (here in the summer there is outdoor seating located off to the side of the Duomo)

THINGS TO SEE & DO:

– the Duomo – €3 entrance fee
– Underground Orvieto tour – tickets bought at ticket office next to Tourist Information located in front of the duomo, tour departs every day at 11, 12:15, 16:00 and 17:15.
– Torre del Moro – €2.60 entrance fee, you can take an elevator to the 2nd floor, but then have to walk the rest of the way 200 or so steps up – so not recommended for people with heart conditions.  Great panoramic views of the entire town and its medieval layout as well as the surrounding countryside.  Be careful of your ears though as the clock sounds every quarter past the hour.
– Pozzo della Cava vs Pozzo di San Patrizio – these are two underground well systems that are heavily advertised throughout Orvieto – Pozzo di San Patrizio is the most interesting from a historical, engineering and architectural perspective – it’s located right near the funicular station.
Museo dell Opera del Duomo – Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Piazza San Giovenale – This place is definitely off the beaten path in Orvieto and it’s a definite must-see.  It’s only one large room, but it holds these slightly large than life statues of the Apostles and two huge brass bells with intricate details that used to be housed in the Duomo before they removed sometime in the 19th century.
– Churches – there are many churches in Orvieto such as Sant’ Andrea church in Piazza della Repubblica with it’s 12 sided bell tower. The oldest church in Orvieto is San Giovenale built in its original state in 1004 – recently re-opened after years of renovation it has beautiful restored frescoes and is a simpler, humbler, but not less beautiful church – from the inside, I personally like this church better than the Duomo.  Nice views of the countryside from this vantage point and very quiet in this part of town as it is off the tourist path.
– Anello della Rupe (literally means “ring of the rock”) – there is a gorgeous walking trail that runs along the volcanic rock on which the town is built on.  It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to circumnavigate the entire town on this trail, but you can do a shorter walk.  There are 5 entrances to get onto the trail so if you get tired you can get off it at various spots.  Just a few meters down from the town and you are in nature.  There’s an Etruscan necropolis, a little church built into the rock and just a pleasant walk – some steep hills so a bit of a workout too.  I usually enter on the Palazzo Crispo entrance and walk clockwise and exit at the Porta Vivaria entrance.  There are gorgeous views of the countryside from this section of the path (including views of the 12th century Abbey of San Severo now a very nice hotel called La Badia)  Near the Porta Vivaria exit is where you’ll find the necropolis.
– evening passeggiata – cozy up to a coffee bar like Barrique (in coffee bars above) with seating outside and enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco or an aperol spritz and people watch before taking the evening stroll with all the residents of Orvieto who go up and down the 2 main drags – Corso Cavour and via dell Duomo each evening. The residents here take their evening passeggiata very seriously and everyone comes out in full force.  Only very bad weather will keep people inside.
– outdoor market at Piazza del Popolo  – Thursday and Saturday mornings – best place to get vegetables, fruit, cheese, etc. and inexpensive clothes and household goods.
– theatre performance at Teatro Mancinelli on Corso Cavour.  It’s a gorgeous little theatre built in the 1800’s.  You can stop by the theatre and see what’s taking place while you’re there – they often have posters outside and the ticket office is to the right if you are facing it.  They also have a pretty cafe open all day.
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SHOPPING:
Federico Badia – leather goods – this young Roman cobbler moved to Orvieto and is continuing an artisan tradition that unfortunately is disappearing in Italy, but he’s made a success of it with his energy, enthusiasm and love for his craft.  Here you’ll find handmade and custom made shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, etc. Steve wrote a blog post and made a short video about him.
Orogami – original, unique and beautiful handmade jewelry by master jewelers Massimo and Tiziana – the nicest and friendliest couple who will happily answer any questions you might have about the items in their shop.  They have a range of pieces from simple and affordable to more intricate and expensive pieces.  They can also work on custom designs.
L’Orvietan – via del Duomo – don’t know the number, but it’s on the right side as you are going towards the Duomo – this shop has all kinds of beautifully made and well-sourced products all made in Orvieto.  The owner of the shop, Lamberto (if you see bald-headed man with a great smile and kind eyes behind the counter, that’s him) is an artisan papermaker who also has a paper workshop near the Duomo.
il Crogiolo – via dei Magoni, 7 –  beautiful handwoven scarves, hats, linens, etc.  You’ll find the owner Maria Gagliano usually working on the loom in her shop.
Ceramicarte – via dell Duomo, 42 – unusual handmade, artisan ceramics by Nadia (there is usually her dog Briciola outside).
Mastropaolo – Piazza dell Duomo, 36 – artistic handmade ceramics – both Ceramicarte above and Mastropaolo are a few of the authentically Orvietan artisans.  Many of the look-alike places on via dell Duomo are not handmade and are shipped in from southern Italy.Ceramiche Orvietane Difusari Giorgio – Corso Cavour, 431 – traditional artisan Umbrian ceramics

Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – a chocolate shop with artisan handmade chocolates and cookies and in the winter – their excellent hot chocolate and in the summer, their gelato.

La Loggia – Corso Cavour, 129 – wine shop

Enoteca al Duomo – Corso Cavour 51 near Torre del Moro  – wine shop owned by friends of ours who also have a location at the Duomo and owners of the Bistrotters restaurant mentioned previously.

PLACES TO STAY:
I highly recommend these two places if you decide to make Orvieto more than just a day trip.
B&B Ripa Medici and B&B Sant’ Angelo 42 

 

 

30 October 2015

Wine and olive oil tours near Rome

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When you’re in the midst of the chaos of an urban city center like Rome, it’s difficult to imagine that just a few kilometers out of town you’ll find a rural idyll with green hills, rolling green pastures, olive trees, grapevines, sheep and horses.  Yet just 40 minutes by train north of Rome is a beautiful area called Sabina that easily rivals Tuscany and Umbria for its green and natural beauty.

I used to take horseback riding lessons in the Sabina area, but when I was pregnant with our third child, I was told very sternly by my midwife that horseback riding and pregnancy do not mix.  Unfortunately, I never did go back to my lessons, but recently, thanks to our friends at Convivio Rome, I have been spending time in the area again.

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Our excellent hosts and tour leaders, Sally and Guido.

Convivio Rome is small tour company run by Sally Ransom and Guido Santi, an Australian-Italian couple who offer cooking tours out of their home in the small medieval town of Toffia as well as wine and olive oil tours of the surrounding Sabine countryside.  They were kind enough to invite me first on an olive oil tour last year and then a wine tour a year later this past April.

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L’Olivone

The only way to see this area is by car and Sally and Guido meet and pick you up in their own vehicle at the Fara Sabina-Montelibretti train station located 40 minutes from Rome’s Tiburtina station.  The countryside here like many parts of Italy is agricultural and there are orchards and vineyards a plenty.

The area of Sabina has been cultivating olives and making olive oil for thousands of years. In fact one of the oldest and largest olive trees in Europe, “l’Olivone” is located in this area and has been dated as being over 2,000 years old!

The olive oil from the Sabina are is one of the few olive oils to earn the DOP label (protected designation of origin) and many consider the olive oil here to be some of the finest in Italy.

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Wine is equally important to the area and its cultivation started with the Etruscans in the area back in 800BC. We visited the Tenuta of Santa Lucia owned by the Colantuono family who have been wine producers in the Abruzzo region for 50 years and who bought the current vineyard in the Sabina area 10 years ago.

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They are small producers, but their wine is exported as far away as the US and Japan.  The grapes they grow are Malvasia, Falanghina, Pecorino, Syrah, Merlot, Montepulciano and Sauvignon.

 
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We spent the day following the wine-making process with Massimo, a young oenologist, who explained in depth the scientific and technical aspects of wine production.  Then we had a few tastings – a white and a red, along with some bruschetta and local oil.

Sally and Guido then took us to the nearby tiny borgo of Farfa, home of the Abbazia di Farfa (Farfa Abbey) and to Benedictine monks since the 600s.  The borgo is small and seemingly perfect with an eclectic mix of people – I’ve seen tai chi practitioners to yogis to teenagers playing football in the local park in town.

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There are only a handful of shops and places to eat including a place called i 4 Monaci where Sally & Guido took us for a light snack lunch and more local wine.  This eclectic shop specializes in funky artisan products as well as many organic Italian skin care products and they sell an incredible homemade dark chocolate with hazelnut and pistachio.

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The eclectic shop of i 4 Monaci.

A 3 hour tour turned into 4, but Sally and Guido were very patient and drove us to the train station afterward.  Personally it was very gratifying to see visitors to Italy getting off the tourist path and I had a wonderful time with a diverse group of people who by the end had developed a camaraderie after a fun day together.

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If you have some time while in Rome, but don’t have a car, just contact Convivio Rome.  Their tours are very reasonably priced and getting out to the Sabina countryside is easy and hassle-free.  Wine and olive oil are inherent parts of Italian culture and are revered worldwide –  it’s worthwhile taking the time to learn more about them while you’re here.

16 May 2015

Rome’s Hidden Museums with Context Travel

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In the center of Rome alone there are over 100 museums.  They range from the most visited (Vatican Museums ) to the oldest (Capitoline Museums ) to another that many people consider has one of the most exceptional collections of art under one roof. ( Galleria Borghese )

While these museums are definitely worthwhile to visit, the last time I visited the Vatican Museums in 1995 I was so overwhelmed by the hot, sticky crush of humanity that all these years later I’m still in shock over it and have never gone back. Granted, I should probably give it another try, but for now, I’ve got other fish to fry.

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There’s something I like about those places that are off the radar and that are not so well known and less well known means less people which is a huge plus for me.  Context Travel’s tours in the public interest offers the perfect opportunity to explore those unnoticed gems in Rome and they started their season with a “Hidden Museums” series.  The series features tours of four museums that are often overlooked and yet full of important and interesting works of art, free of the masses and yet in an easily doable and digestible 1.5 hours.

Their first featured museum was the Centrale Montemartini.  “Gods & Machines” was the perfect title of the first exhibit that took place here at this former power plant turned museum space when it was restored back in the 90’s. Many ancient Roman sculptures from the Capitoline Museums found a home here.

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The pieces here are beautiful and the contrast between the industrial and the classical in this art nouveau style building is striking.  There were only a handful of other visitors when we were there and yet so surprising considering what an exceptional and very unusual space it is.

The second tour was of the Museo di Roma in the Palazzo Braschi (the first photo in this post is of the grand staircase).  Palazzo Braschi looks out onto Piazza Navona and was the last papal building in Rome constructed in the late 1700’s and giving it the nickname “the last miracle of St. Peter.”  The museum is full of very detailed paintings of a Rome long since gone and it was fun trying to guess which part of Rome we were looking at before reading the title of the painting.  An unusual touch is the classical music played in the grand staircase leading up to the different floors.

Context’s next Hidden Museums tours will be of Palazzo Venezia in Piazza Venezia on 27 May and the Museum of the Middle Ages in the EUR neighborhood on 24 June.  Tours must be booked on-line and are only €5.  Tours start at 5pm and last 90 minutes.

 

Climbing a terracotta mountain in Rome

I lived in Panama as a child and I was a bit of a wildish creature.  I spent 6 years barefoot and most of my waking hours were spent without walls – the worst punishment I could receive from my mother was being made to stay inside for the day.  One of the highlights of our neighborhood was a hill that my friends and I dubbed “Clay Hill”.  We played on it a lot and in the rainy season that hill became a slippery, red, muddy mess, but as children do – we were oblivious and we played on despite the mud and the wet.

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Unbeknownst to many, Rome has its own “clay hill”.  Monte Testaccio is not really a mountain, but a huge hill made up of the shards and fragments of amphorae dating back to the 1st century BC.  Amphorae were terracotta pots used to carry a variety of products and the ones to carry olive oil were not reusable so they were discarded after use.  These discarded pots are what formed Monte Testaccio.  Estimates of  how many amphorae were deposited on here range from 20-50 million.  I’ve always been curious about this hill and it was great to explore it recently with Katie Parla of Parla Food.

Before the walk up, Katie showed us a bit around the part of the Testaccio neighborhood just surrounding the bottom of the hill.  We stopped by Testaccio’s food market which was moved to its present location in 2011 and which is overlooked by a mural of “La Lupa” – a 20 meter tall depiction of the Capitoline She-Wolf by Belgian street artist, ROA, that was commissioned by the residents of the building.

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During the walk we observed the beginning stages of the dismantling of the Big Bambù installation by artists Mike & Doug Starn at the MACRO Testaccio which had been a beloved part of the Testaccio landscape for the past 3 years.  The MACRO Testaccio is located in what were the former city slaughterhouses.

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From the grounds of the MACRO and the Città del Altra Economia – a fair trade complex also located here – Monte Testaccio from the distance looks like an ordinary green hill. However, its uniqueness is more apparent the closer you get as you can see from this path leading up the hill.

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At the top of Monte Testaccio is an iron cross.  For years, the summit served as the final stage of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) for the Pope during the Good Friday celebrations which now take place at the Colosseum.  Some of the views from Monte Testaccio look out into the area of early industrial Rome in the Ostiense neighborhood and the Gazometro structure that was built in the early 1900’s – now no longer in use.

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On another side of the hill Katie pointed out the birthplace of the football team, AS Roma, the pitch where the team had its first games back in 1929, abandoned in the 40’s and turned into an illegal dumping ground.  Still standing are 4 lights surrounding the pitch and some stadium seating.  You can see the top of the Pyramid of Cestius – Rome’s own pyramid –  in the background.

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As we walked back down the hill what came to mind was “where the hell else in the world could I do something like this?!?”  Rome truly never ceases to amaze me!

Katie’s next visit of Monte Testaccio will be on Rome’s 2,768th birthday on 21 April.

Be sure to visit one of my favorite restaurants in Rome, Flavio al Velavevodetto, built into Monte Testaccio. 

Pasta making for everyone!

I’ll come straight out with it – I hate to cook.  I do it when I have to, but I do it begrudgingly.  In Italy, where it is very easy to head to the local fresh pasta shop, learning how to make my own pasta has never seemed essential.   I’ve also been spoiled by great food made by my husband, Steve, who is an excellent cook. However, in one of those “you can give a man a fish or you can teach a man to fish” moments – I thought it would be a fun evening spent with friends learning how to make this classic Italian food staple.

We often get guests at The Beehive wanting to take a cooking course, but nothing too rigorous.  Walks of Italy’s pasta making course is a great option for someone wanting a short, easygoing class while still learning a delicious and handy skill.

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The course is located on the beautiful rooftop terrace apartment of Chef David Sgueglia della Marra and his wife Barbara. Chef David welcomed everyone warmly and despite his leg being in a brace from a recent surgical procedure,  he still had loads of energy and enthusiasm.  Pre-pasta making started with prosecco and delicious appetizers.  My kind of cooking class!

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Donning our aprons, our stations were already set up – ingredients were laid out and pre-measured.  He told us the portions so we would know for the future and showed us how to mix the two main ingredients.  While there is pasta made with egg, we made the lightest and easiest kind which consists of only two ingredients.  It all starts with a little bit of flour and a little bit of water.

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After we mixed and lightly kneaded our dough – it was wrapped in plastic and set aside for about 15 minutes which allowed us to have a second round of prosecco.

When the dough was ready, Chef David showed us how to use the wooden rolling pin to initially roll out the pasta and then using a hand cranked pasta machine – we rolled the pasta out another 3-4 times until it was quite long and thin.

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With a knife we cut off pieces and rolled between our hands.  Here’s the result – our handmade pici pasta – Marchigiano style.

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The sauce he chose was deceptively simple – olive oil, garlic, zucchini flowers, sausage and saffron which the pici pasta was then mixed into.  In a smaller pan, Chef David’s wife Barbara made a vegetarian version for me without sausage.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Afterward, we ate our pasta which was incredibly light and flavorful and enjoyed some glasses of wine and camaraderie with our fellow students.  The weather was a bit cold to sit out on the terrace, but I can imagine in the spring and summer what a lovely evening it would be to enjoy the fruits of our labor al fresco.

For more information on this pasta making course with Chef David, contact Walks of Italy.

23 March 2015

Yoga near The Beehive

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By Steve Brenner

Visiting the major sights of Rome doesn’t leave loads of spare time – there’s certainly plenty to see to keep your days full, so perhaps taking some time out for a yoga class won’t seem like time particularly well spent.  However, Rome is also very hectic and can be stressful, and if you’re traveling around with a big heavy backpack, or just spent 10+ hours on a long flight, a great way to shed all that is with a good yoga session.

I’m not a yoga fanatic at all – sometimes I consider my “practice” to be rolling out my mat, sitting down on it, petting my dog a bit and then rolling it back up.  But I do appreciate a good class, and they can be hard to find.  That said, I once flew into Paris and took a taxi straight to a yoga class and felt it was an excellent way to start my trip.

So, unless you’re a hardcore yogi and travel with a mat and want to do your asanas in our garden, here’s my recommendation of where to go near The Beehive.

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RYoga is 10 minutes away by foot from The Beehive.  They have a calendar of classes that run regularly.  You can just drop in without any fuss (just make sure you’re not late – in decidedly un-Roman fashion, they are sticklers about that).  At the time of writing this, drop in rate for a 1 1/2 hour class is €20.

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They have a nice changing room with lockers, mats and all the gear you’ll need.  The class I do, a Vinyasa Flow, is conducted downstairs in a small, cozy room.  The quality of the instruction is good, and although I haven’t tested whether the teachers speak English, I’ve heard them ask other students if they speak Italian.  Since classes are small, I assume it would be easy even with a language barrier for a teacher to give more personal instruction.

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Via Servio Tullio, 22, 00187 Roma, Italy

9 December 2014

My favorite sandwich shop near The Beehive

By Steve Brenner
For your typical Italian, a sandwich looks something like this:  a dry roll (called a rosetta) with one thing in it – like mortadella.
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For variety, it might be prosciutto or salami instead of mortadella.  Maybe it could have a second filler – like a piece of cheese.  Or it might be in a focaccia or ciabatta instead of the rosetta.  But the defining characteristic about sandwiches here is that they are so simple that it can be hard to consider it a sandwich as I know them.  There’s no choice of mustard or mayo (which for the record, I am anti-mayo so this is not a hardship for me), and you won’t find cucumber or sprouts or hummus or any other delicious spreads either.  To sum up, sandwiches can be a big disappointment if you’re not Italian.
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However, near The Beehive, about a 5 minute walk away, there’s a large, daily outdoor market and on the corner before the market is an old-school alimentari (deli) called Fratelli Ghezzi.  Around lunchtime, they get packed with suited Italians from nearby offices who are in the know about this place.  Because here at Fratelli Ghezzi, they have a variety of bread (rolls with green olives, or sesame seeds, or dark crusty slices), and they will make your sandwich to order.  They have rucola, fresh mozzarella from the Campania region, sun dried tomatoes, a great selection of cheeses and I’ve seen Italians here go “totally crazy” and put as many as 3 ingredients in their sandwich – like salmon, rucola and pecorino, or mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes and prosciutto crude.
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Every ingredient you get is weighed out and added to the cost, so there’s no way to know what your sandwich will cost, but mine are usually around €3.50, maybe even €4.  Not bad for a sandwich freshly made and with top notch ingredients.  The staff is friendly, the service is quick and they will even suggest different combinations for you.
Fratelli Ghezzi 
Via Goito 32 (on the corner of Via Montebello

7 November 2014

To dorm or not to dorm – some Beehive tips

Back in 1999 when we started The Beehive, we were strictly a hostel with dormitory rooms and bunk beds.  Soon after, because of demand and our own desire to expand, we added private rooms.  In 2002 when we moved to our permanent location, we kept the largest room as a dorm in homage to our beginnings and to keep the vibe alive as a hostel in the more traditional sense.

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Dorm rooms are not just for the university, 20 something crowd.  They are a great option for travelers looking to save money or who want to meet up with other travelers, but do note that not all dorm rooms are created equally.  The Beehive’s dorm or “The Hive” as it’s called – is open to all ages except for very young children and is for both men and women.  Many different kinds of of people from all over the world and different ages stay in our dorm – from older kids traveling with their parents, to university students, to solo travelers, to our oldest dorm guest who was 80 years old and traveling Europe alone as he did back in his youth.

Different hostels have different atmospheres and offer different facilities and services.  We’ve created a dorm room to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally consider staying in a shared room.  Many hostels cater to the party-seeker while we offer a dorm room that is a clean and calm respite for those not wanting to spend a lot of money on accommodation, but who also don’t want to be isolated and alone in their room.IMG_3942

While sleeping in a roomful of strangers of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds means practicing tolerance and also having to put up with the occasional snorer, early risers or night owls, here’s what we consider a good code of conduct for staying in The Beehive’s dorm which can probably be applied to other dorm stays on your travels:

1.  If you need a towel, let us know.  We don’t put them out for all guests since many dorm guests carry their own.  But if you need one, we’re happy to provide one.  We do require €1 for a towel rental if you want to shower after you’ve already checked out.

2.  Many hostels require that you bring your own sheets, or that you strip your own beds. At The Beehive we provide linens and make up your beds for you and don’t expect you to strip the bed when you leave.  However, DO stay in the bed you were assigned.  Don’t switch beds and if you want to change beds with someone who is leaving – ask at reception first.

3.  Many hostels do offer kitchens, but we don’t at our main facility.  Our cafe, by law, is not available for guests’ use.  If you are wanting to cook your own food or store perishable food items, we have private rooms offsite – Acacia and Clover – that offer self-catering kitchens.

4.  Bring an eye mask and ear plugs.  This will help you sleep better so that you aren’t disturbed by the person arriving to the room late at night or leaving early in the morning, by someone’s snoring or from whatever other noises you might hear especially if you are a light sleeper.

5.  Consider bringing a small satchel with lavender in it.  It’s nice to keep in your bag to make your clothes smell fresh, but also nice to have near your head when sleeping at night – not only does it help you relax, but in the summer months when dorm room smells are subject to the hygiene of your fellow travelers – you’ll be happy to have something pleasant to smell.

6.  If you have to check-out early, pack your bag the night before and be quiet and mindful of the people who are trying to sleep.

7.  If you come back late, again – quiet is key.  Is it really necessary to shower and blow dry your hair at 1am?  If it is, than please use the bathroom downstairs near the lounge where no one can hear you.

8.  Let reception know immediately if there is anyone in the room who is  problematic in any way, exhibiting inappropriate behavior or who is making you uncomfortable. Our priority is to people who want to sleep and rest, so if someone is being disruptive, we’ll intervene – just let us know.  Thankfully, we have very rarely had to do this over the years as the overwhelming majority of our dorm guests have been respectful and considerate of others in the room.

9.  Be social.  It doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party, but say hello.  Introduce yourselves to others in the room. One of the great benefits of staying in the dorm is meeting others and sharing information and travel experiences, and if you’re fortunate, making new friends.

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Photo credit: Rosemary Dukelow photo of the Krause family.

Italian wine for Beginners

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Sarah May Grunwald comes from the sunny state of California and now resides in a country house in the Castelli Romani just outside Rome.  She is a wine educator, sommelier and tour guide who runs and owns Antiqua Tours with her husband Ettore Bellardini.  When she is not leading cultural and culinary tours in Rome, she is at home writing her wine blog, hanging out with Ettore and their 10 dogs and cats, in the kitchen or tending to her olive trees and garden.

Sarah and I are buds and so I felt comfortable sharing my wine ignorance with her and asking her some questions.  We know many visitors to Italy want to enjoy the wine, but the majority don’t know where to start or feel intimidated by wine culture which comes off as elitist in other countries.  Sarah is very knowledgeable about wine, but is also about as anti-wine snob as they come.  We share the same philosophy that knowledge can only enhance an experience and that wine is for everyone.

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1.  The Beehive:  Chianti and chardonnay.  Before I moved to Italy, that’s all I knew when it came to a red wine or a white wine.  Do you have any suggestions for different kinds of regions and different kind of reds and whites that people should try?  Are some regions better known for reds or whites than others? 

Sarah:  Well, we are certainly advocates of drinking local wine from the region because they pair best with the dishes from the region. As they say in Italy, “If it grows together, it goes together.” So, if you are in Rome, try wines from Lazio if they are available. One of the problems people have with Italian wine is the lack of familiarity, the names are hard to pronounce and many are not available or easy to find outside of Europe. If you want to get beyond Chianti or Chardonnay I suggest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as a red and Friulano as a white. Both of these wines are easy to drink and food friendly. Regions to look out for for reds in Italy are Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Campagna and Sicily. For whites you can’t beat the northern regions like Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and Liguria.

2.  House wines.  What are they exactly and are they worth it or better to buy a bottle? 

In Rome, it is best to avoid house wine. In fact, one of the reasons Lazio’s wine reputation has suffered is because of the terrible house wine served in many places in Rome. Consider that you can drink very well in Italy without breaking the bank so spending a few more euros on a bottle of local wine from smaller producers is worth it. For white, a local Frascati Superiore is both fragrant and fresh and for red go for Cesanese del Piglio or Cesanese di Olevano Romano.

Of course it’s important that we don’t make blanket statements. If the restaurant already has a good reputation for wine chances are they might have a good house wine. I always ask if I can taste the house wine before I order it. But in general spend the extra few euro on a bottle, at least in Rome. This is not the case in all parts of Italy. I was in Friuli Venezia Giula recently and snubbed the house wine at a local trattoria that my friend was drinking. He made me taste it and it was a wonderful wine. Don’t feel shy to ask for a sample of the house wine if you are interested.

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3.  What types of wine would you suggest to someone who has never really been a wine drinker?  Are there wines someone visiting Italy definitely should try that perhaps they wouldn’t be able to find  easily anywhere else?

Well, luckily I teach a class called “The Wines of Italy”for this exact type of person, so it is an easy question for me. My suggestion is to focus on wines that are fruity and easy to drink. Avoid highly tannic red wines or wines that have been oaked. A lot of my students like off-dry fruity wines. And of course, everyone loves Sparkling wines, so try lovely sparklers such as Franciacorta, Trentino DOC and simple but refreshing Prosecco DOC.

4.  The wine list.  This is often very intimidating especially for wine novices so I think most people go for the chianti or the chardonnay as safe bets.  Do you have any “sure things” on a wine list that you would suggest people choose instead?

Do try something different! Ask the waiter for something local from a small and high quality producer that is not overly oaked. Ask for something made from local, indigenous grapes instead of international grapes like Merlot or Chardonnay. I tend to think Italian whites are a sure bet if they are well made. Luckily in Italy you can drink well and not spend a lot of money, which also means you can try different wines and not worry you are going to break the bank. I highly suggest going to a wine bar and sampling different wine by the glass and getting to know the type of wine you like.

5. What’s the etiquette if you don’t like the wine you were given?

If you don’t like it that is your responsibility. Wines can be sent back only if they are faulty. If your wine smells like damp cardboard, eggy, boiled cabbage, vinegar or nail polish it is faulty due to a number of reasons. Then you can send the wine back. Tell the waiter the wine is corked or faulty. They shouldn’t argue with you, but sometimes, in Italy, they do. Unfortunately it is quite common for waiters to try to convince foreigners they are wrong, but stand your ground. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel intimidated especially if you are on holiday! Send it back and they will bring another bottle of the same wine. However, if the wine is not faulty and you just don’t like the wine, you can choose not to drink it and order something else.

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 6.  What are signs that the wine has gone bad (rather than you just don’t like it)?

Well, I just wrote above, but to elaborate more there are a number of reasons your wine may be faulty.  Cork taint (Trichloroanisole) or TCA is the most common and can be due to a tainted cork or tainted winery equipment. You’ll often see wait staff smelling the cork before they serve the wine. Although that can be indicative, it is not always, so the aromas in the glass are your best indication. Cork taint smells like damp cardboard or even mold. Not a nice aroma. If you don’t detect it, don’t worry. You won’t get sick from it!

Sometimes you’ll hear people say a wine smells barnyardy.  This is a taint from an unwanted yeast called Brettanomyces or “Brett” it can give plastic or animal aromas or even sweaty horse. To most this is a fault, but some people enjoy these aromas at low levels. Again, if you don’t detect it you won’t get sick.

Other aromas to look out for are rotten eggs or canned vegetables (a sign of reduction), or toffee and caramel (a sign of oxidation). Vinegar or nail polish aromas or extinguished matches are also signs of a faulty wine.

 7.  Any major faux pas to avoid when ordering or drinking wine?

Don’t call all sparkling wine in Italy “Prosecco.” Prosecco is a type of wine just like Chianti Classico is. Don’t confuse fruitiness with sweetness. But other than that, unless you are at a trade tasting or a wine tasting, you should just enjoy yourself. Sure you should hold the glass by the stem, but if you don’t the wine police aren’t coming to arrest you. Remember that in Italy when you make a toast and clink glasses you have to look into everyone’s eyes, to not do so is considered rude but also considered bad luck.

 8.  Is there any basic vocabulary you can suggest to help the wine novice express what they like/dislike?

I would suggest taking the time to attend a wine tour to get to know the basics of Italian wine and learn some wine vocabulary so that you can order wine with confidence. Many of my clients take a wine tour with us on the first day or so after they arrive and when we hear back from them after their trip they tend to say it was the most useful thing they did because for the rest of the trip they were able to order wine with confidence.

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 9.  Are there any wine bars you recommend in particular where someone just could not go wrong no matter what wine they choose?  A wine bar that serves a good apertivo? 

I have a number of wine bars I love in Rome. Here are some central ones.

Al vino al vino in Monti is great. They have a decent wine by the glass list and the best caponata in Rome. I love to order the caponata with a pink Franciacorta.

Il Goccetto is a short walk from Campo dei Fiori and has an excellent wine by the glass menu that changes weekly. Order a couple of different wines by the glass and try different ones. They have an excellent cheese plate that you can order in small, medium or large.

 Bibenda Wineconcept is a short walk from the Colosseum and open at lunch time, except on Sundays. They have a lovely wine by the glass menu that changes regularly. The staff is friendly and best of all in summer, it is air conditioned.

 Palatium near the Spanish Steps specializes in Lazio only wines and products. They have a small happy hour and you can sample different local wines.

 10.  If someone wants to take back a special bottle as a gift to themselves or to someone they know – do you have any suggestions of where they should go and what they should get? 

Any of the enoteche I have already mentioned sell bottles. I always suggest taking back wines that you have consumed somewhere special, that way the wine has a story. Certainly some Italian wines are more expensive than others and make great gifts, but if you enjoyed a fresh Frascati Superiore in the Castelli Romani, try to get the same bottle if possible. Wines with a personal story are always the best souvenirs.

 

13 June 2014

Piazza del Popolo

 

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Many visitors to Rome are eager to rush to Piazza Navona, but I prefer the spaciousness of Piazza del Popolo. On the north-side of the piazza is Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo and tucked away in a corner chapel are two famous paintings by Caravaggio. The Fountain of Neptune is on the west side – a less famous fountain that can also be seen in Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita”. To the south are the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. To the east is the Pincio leading up to one of Rome’s most famous public parks, the Villa Borghese. Smack in the middle is the Fountain of the Obelisk which has one of the tallest obelisks in Rome and four lion fountains. Sitting on one of these lions and having a photo taken seems to be compulsory for every child living in or visiting Rome. Piazza del Popolo is very easy to reach from The Beehive from Termini train station on the Line A/red line metro – getting off at the Flaminio stop.

Our Chef’s Cooperative: Hayley North

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PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF 2015 OUR CHEF’S COOPERATIVE NO LONGER EXISTS AND HAYLEY NORTH IS NO LONGER A CHEF IN OUR CAFE.  CURRENTLY, ROBERTA & IVO, TWO ITALIAN CHEFS, MAKE VEGETARIAN & VEGAN DINNERS ON MON & WED EVENINGS. 

Chef Hayley North joined our chef’s cooperative this past July and serves up delicious and creative vegan and raw in our cafe on Friday evenings from 7:00-9:30pm.  Along with raw chef Matteo Morozzo she also puts on special raw food dinners a couple times per month on Tuesday evenings.  This interview with Hayley is the second installment in our chef’s cooperative profiles series.

1.  Where are you from?  What brought you to Rome?

I’m from the UK and have lived quite a nomadic life so far.  I came to Rome for love after 5 years of traveling the world as a specialist yoga retreat chef.

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2.  How did you hear about The Beehive and what made you decide to become a part of the chef’s cooperative?

I was put in contact with Steve and Linda at The Beehive through a mutual contact who runs a retreat centre just outside of Rome.  She knew I was looking for ways to bring my work to Rome and travel less and thought The Beehive would suit my personality and the type of food I make. When I heard about what was happening there and how they wanted to expand on the chef’s co-operative idea I wanted to be a part of it straight away.

3.  Can you describe the kinds of food you prepare on your evenings at The Beehive?

I call my nights The Holistic Kitchen, which is a name I have been using for many years now to sum up what I do. The food varies in terms of dishes and flavours, but it is the principles, methods, philosophy, and ethos that sum up what really happens in my kitchen.

The Holistic Kitchen is my way of making a stand against the manufactured, processed and convenience food industry, and it is as much about education and increasing awareness as the food itself.  This means that all food is sourced from independent, local or artisan producers, it is 100% organic or grown without the use of any pesticides or chemicals. I never use supermarkets and go out of my way to find the most ethical choice possible.

There are NO refined products used at all, and things like salts, oils and sweeteners are chosen carefully. The food celebrates ancient and traditional preparation methods and draws inspiration from the worlds of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Natural Nutrition, Raw/Living Foods and Macrobiotics, and is suitable for people with all kinds of allergies and intolerances.

My food is deeply influenced by my travels and my studies in yoga and nutrition related subjects. I gain inspiration from so many cultures, so from week to week you can expect a varied alchemy of flavours and dishes from around the world.

4.  Are you vegetarian or vegan?  If you are, what were your motivations to become vegetarian or vegan?  If not, do you find it challenging to create a vegetarian or vegan menu?

I am not personally 100% veggie or vegan, but predominantly so. I rarely eat meat or fish, but I still feel a nutritional benefit from some animal products from time to time. I do not believe that to be healthy means to live on only a plant based diet, I feel this is not right for everybody. However, I do believe that if we choose to eat animal products we must be responsible for how much we consume and make ourselves fully aware of where it comes from and how it is produced and know why we are eating it.

I cook mainly vegan or vegetarian in my work and day to day life, for most people it is a step out of the day to day box and shows how rich and varied the cooking can be. I don’t find it challenging at all to create veggie or vegan menus.  In fact there are endless creative and delicious ways to prepare veg, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.

5.  Where are your favorite places to eat in Rome?  

I haven’t really found many places that prepare food in this way in Rome to be honest. I really love Bibliothè and have had a lovely vegan meal at il Margutta RistorArte although it was very expensive. I also like the bistro at Villa Pamphili and Felice in Testaccio. I also was quite impressed with Grandma in Quadraro which had a great vibe.

Other than that I rarely eat out as I much prefer to make my own food. After 25 years in the catering industry I know how rare it is to find a good restaurant and to find food prepared by people who actually care about what they are doing!

You will find Hayley and her Holistic Kitchen every Friday evening in our cafe and special 100% raw food dinners on occasional Tuesdays – the raw food events are by reservation only and are posted on our Facebook page.

Dinner is served from 7:00-9:30pm and the cost is €8 for a mixed plate and  €10 with dessert.  Wine & beer are sold at €2/glass.  Menus are posted on the same day on our Facebook page as well as any notifications if there is a cancellation of dinner that evening as has sometimes happened because of illness or time away so it’s always a good idea to check there before heading over.  Reservations aren’t necessary, but do note that only a finite amount of food is prepared so it’s best to come earlier than later – we also have to be strict about wrapping things up early in order not to be disruptive to our room guests.

8 January 2014

The Beehive’s Clumsy Cook makes soup

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Winter is officially here.  Temperatures in Rome are now in the single digits in Celsius – that’s in the 40’s for those of you in Farenheit land.  I’m sure I’m not alone in craving warm comforting food when the temperatures drop – much to the chagrin of my waistline.

Even the Clumsy Cook has a simple solution for dinner on these cold winter nights.  This lentil soup is easy and requires no slaving over the stove.

Ingredients:

1 to 1 1/2 cups of small brown lentils

1 onion

1 celery stalk

1 carrot

1 clove of garlic

1 long sprig of rosemary

1/4 cup of olive oil

1-2 teaspoons of vegetable broth

sea salt to taste

thyme to taste

tomato sauce to taste

Chop up onion, carrot, celery and garlic into small pieces and sauté in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot.

After veggies are soft, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups lentils and sauté together for a few seconds.

Add about 2-3 liters of water depending on how many lentils you used.

Add some pinches of sea salt, a pinch of dried thyme, the long sprig of rosemary, a couple of splashes of tomato sauce and about a tablespoon of vegetable broth.

Mix and leave at high heat for a little while until boiling and then lower to medium heat.

In total – you want to leave the soup simmering on the stove for about 1-2 hours.  Keep checking from time to time to make sure all the water hasn’t evaporated.

When you see that the soup is thickening – take an immersion blender and blend the lentils until you have a creamy, but chunky texture.

Turn off heat and allow to come down a bit in temperature – warm, but not scalding.

Dish out into bowls, add a drizzle of olive oil and if you are partial to cheese, you can add some grated parmigiano on top.

Serve up with some crusty bread – a simple bruschetta with garlic and olive oil is a good match.

Pour yourself a glass of nice red wine to go with it and enjoy!

 

 

 

28 November 2013

Our Chef’s Cooperative Profiles: Paola Haas

Please note that as of 2015 our chef’s cooperative no longer exists.  We now host occasional pop-up vegetarian & vegan lunches and dinners and our former guest chefs Roberta & Ivo can prepare Italian vegetarian & vegan dinners by request for small groups as well as cooking courses.  

The most recent chef to join our cooperative is Paola Haas – originally from Mexico and Rome resident for many years.  She serves up traditional and authentic vegetarian Latin American food on Sundays from 7-9:30pm.  She also has vegan and gluten-free versions of her dishes available upon request as well.  This interview with Paola is the first installment as I profile all of our chefs in upcoming posts.

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1.  Where are you from?  What brought you to Rome?

I come from Mexico City, and moved to Italy to study art and design more than two decades ago.

2.  How did you hear about The Beehive and what made you decide to become a part of the chef’s cooperative?

I found out about The Beehive from my friend Paolo Casassa, who runs Clover and Acacia guestrooms.  When the idea of a Mexican or Latin-American evening came out, I jumped in immediately, as there are very few places in Rome where you can get this kind of cuisine– and The Beehive, with its international, innovative spirit is the perfect place to offer it.

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3.  Can you describe the kinds of food you prepare on your evenings at The Beehive?

I strive to prepare only authentic food, the kind you would have at a real Latin-American home, the kind your Mamá or your Abuela would cook… in a vegetarian version. Only ingredients that are true to the recipes are used, which can be difficult as we are across the ocean!  I also try to keep a balance between elaborate and simple.

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4.  How did you learn to make this food?  What is your food background?

I have been cooking at home since I was fourteen, as my mother did not cook regularly.  On the other hand, I was constantly surrounded by grandmothers and aunts who cooked divinely and passionately, and encouraged me to learn their recipes and secrets.  Furthermore, in my family, the appreciation of good cuisine has been a trademark ever since I can remember.  I consider myself a self-taught cook although I have taken non-professional courses in Mexico, Italy and France.

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5.  Are you vegetarian or vegan?  If you are, what were your motivations to become vegetarian or vegan?  If not, do you find it challenging to create a vegetarian or vegan menu?

Personally, I am neither vegetarian nor vegan.  However, my cooking philosophy is definitely vegetable-centered so I am used to adapting dishes to a vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as other diets like wheat-free or gluten-free.

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6.  Where are your favorite places to eat in Rome?  

You mean besides The Beehive?  For traditional Roman food, Da Marcello in San Lorenzo; fun, popular osterie in the Garbatella district like Grottino der Traslocatore, Er Moschino or Tanto pe’ Mangià.  In the Testaccio district always reliable and a bit more trendy: Da Fedele or Osteria degli Amici, or Da Domenico in San Giovanni; at a higher budget and with a creative twist, Primo al Pigneto, or Rivadestra in Trastevere; pizza: anywhere but Dar Poeta.  Also, 99% of the places selling pizza al taglio, supplì and arancini are delicious!

You will find Paola and her delicious, homemade and authentic Latin American food every Sunday evening in our cafe.

Dinner is served from 7:00-9:30pm and the cost is €8 for a mixed plate and  €10 with dessert.  Wine & beer are sold at €2/glass.  Menus are posted on the same day on our Facebook page as well as any notifications if there is a cancellation of dinner that evening as has sometimes happened because of illness or time away so it’s always a good idea to check there before heading over.  Reservations aren’t necessary, but do note that only a finite amount of food is prepared so it’s best to come earlier than later – we also have to be strict about wrapping things up early in order not to be disruptive to our room guests.

The Beehive Cafe – a Chef’s Cooperative

PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF 2015 OUR CHEF’S COOPERATIVE NO LONGER EXISTS.  CURRENTLY, ROBERTA & IVO, TWO ITALIAN CHEFS, MAKE VEGETARIAN & VEGAN DINNERS ON MON & WED EVENINGS. 


Our cafe at The Beehive has evolved a lot over the years – first from a simple breakfast room and then into a guerrilla style vegetarian restaurant serving lunch and dinner without set prices.  We called it the “Cucina Karmica” and while we had price suggestions, people could pay what they thought the meal was worth.

Cafe Karmica

Despite naysayers who thought it was a crazy idea, it actually worked quite well and we were often packed with nearby office workers during the day and guests and residents at night.

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In 2009, we got a shock from the city of Rome who forced us to stop serving lunch and dinner, without much explanation, but that didn’t deter us from wanting to continue to bring healthy, delicious, vegetarian and vegan food to our guests and Rome residents.

Fast forward to May 2012 when Aimee Jackson Accolla became the first participant in our chef’s cooperative, cooking and serving up delicious vegan meals 3 times a week in our cafe.  Aimee and her family recently moved to Scotland, but we have found several other remarkable people to take her place. We do serve a daily breakfast from 7:30-10:30am, but now 4 evenings a week (and hopefully we can get all 7 evenings filled up), we have outside chefs come in who are participating in our chef’s cooperative.

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As a cooperative, chefs buy and prepare all the food themselves either offsite or in the cafe, and host their themed dinners.  All proceeds go directly to the chef, which is a great way for us to open our space to people with passion, motivation, enthusiasm, and a love of food.  Our cooperative supports fellow entrepreneurs and also provides homey, lovingly made food to our guests and the Rome community at large.

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Our kitchen is by no means a professional kitchen!  The beauty though is that we believe great food can be made by anyone in any kind of environment, no matter how small and simple, and our cafe has proven that.

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Our guest chef evenings are currently as follows:

Wednesday – Vegan Asian fusion with Katrina Tan Conte (NB: Kat is from the Philippines and will heading there for the months of December, January and February.  Her last evening at the cafe will be 11 December 2013, but she’ll be back in our cafe on 5 March 2014.)

Friday – Creative Vegan and Raw with Hayley North

Saturday  – Vegetarian/Vegan Ceylan cooking (Sri Lankan) with Shabeena and Rozana

Sunday  – Vegetarian/Vegan Latin American with Paola Haas

Dinner is served from 7:00-9:30pm and the cost is €8 for a mixed plate and  €10 with dessert.  Wine & beer are sold at €2/glass.  Menus are posted on the same day on our Facebook page as well as any notifications if there is a cancellation of dinner that evening as has sometimes happened because of illness or time away so it’s always a good idea to check there before heading over.  Reservations aren’t necessary, but do note that only a finite amount of food is prepared so it’s best to come earlier than later – we also have to be strict about wrapping things up early in order not to be disruptive to our room guests.

Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring each of our chefs on this blog – stay tuned!

 

21 November 2013

Is Rome safe?

If I had to choose one of the most frequently asked questions we receive at The Beehive, at the top of the list would be those regarding safety.  Is Rome safe? Is our neighborhood safe?

Guidebooks can paint a grim picture of Rome as a city ruled by pickpockets and lawlessness.  However, as a long time resident of Rome, I have always felt secure here.  Since guns are illegal the thought has never crossed my mind that I would be the victim of an armed hold-up or on the wrong end of someone’s mental instability or bad day.  As a woman and a mother of three daughters, I don’t take matters of safety lightly.

Rome is still a big city though with big city problems and there are some crimes & scams that you should be aware of and look out for:

1.  Petty theft and pickpockets

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Here a couple of girls near Termini were inspecting the crowds while holding a piece of cardboard.  On their way to work on a crafts project or checking out who might be a target? What do you think?

Keep an eye out for men & women and groups of young children (who should be in school), called baby gangs because of their youth, loitering near any area where there is a large concentration of tourists:  the train station, on crowded metros and buses, popular tourist attractions and/or holding pieces of cardboard – many of these people are indeed gypsies, but I will stress here that not all gypsies are thieves.  However, if you want to try to get tourist information from the two girls holding the piece of cardboard in the picture above – be my guest.

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At train station self-service kiosks, more than likely you’ll have someone come up and offer to “help” or ask for money.

The reality is that you may encounter people throughout the city who come up to you offering to help you with your luggage or buying a train ticket or asking for money and they need to be kept at a distance.  The general rule is that when you’re somewhere that’s very crowded and you could be easily distracted, you need to be hyper aware of your belongings and the people around you.  Don’t get so immersed in what’s on your iPhone that you become oblivious.  Don’t put your handbag on the back of your chair or resting beside you on a bench.  These are just a few of many common sense approaches to take when being in a city anywhere in the world.

2.  The outsiders

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Woman begging on the street – a common scene in Rome.

 

This unfortunate person either had too much drink or too many drugs and no place to sleep it off other than on the street.

Around Termini train station and throughout the city, you will often see scenes like those above.  I have never had nor heard of anyone who has had a negative encounter with these people.  They either simply just sit there and ask for money as you walk by like the begging woman in the top photo or are too wrapped up in a cloud of drink or drugs and their own suffering to do much of anything else like the person in the bottom photo.  Many people visiting Rome are shocked by these scenes as their fantasy images of what Rome is like clash with what the reality is actually like for any large urban center, and Rome is no exception.

3.  Cars & scooters

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As you can see here, cars and scooters couldn’t care less about pedestrians on the crosswalk.

I can’t stress enough – BE CAREFUL when crossing the street!  The statistic is that an average of 7 pedestrians a day are hit while crossing streets in Rome and personally, I have been witness to tourists getting hit by a car while they were on the crosswalk.  The problem is exacerbated by crosswalks and corners being used as parking spaces making it difficult for cars to see you.  Please don’t assume that if you are on the crosswalk cars will stop for you.  Be vigilant and be fast when crossing the street!

4.  Con-artists

There’s a good rule of thumb that I know you’ve heard before:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are some scams that play out in Rome everyday many of them preying on people’s sense of an almost childlike gullibility when traveling to a foreign place.  Here are some scams you may encounter:

Scam #1:  Someone approaches and motions to you to extend your finger or who says they have a “regalo” (gift) for you.  They will make a “friendship” bracelet or offer some sort of cheap trinket and then you will be expected to pay for it.  Best not to extend your finger or shake hands with anyone.  They will and can get nasty if you refuse to pay.

Scam #2:  You’re walking down the street and a man in a car with a map on the front seat pulls up next to you and says he is lost.  He will say he works for Valentino, Armani, Gucci or any known designer.  He will ask if you can help him with gas money and will trade you one of the “expensive” sample leather or suede jackets he has in his backseat for the low price of between €20-€50.  The “leather” or “suede” jacket turns out to be an extremely cheap, smelly, PVC jacket not worth €5.  It’s an elaborate scheme, but the guy is persistent.  Just walk away.

Scam #3:  Guys beware!  This one also is a bit of an elaborate scheme and I don’t know how common it is, but I’ve heard about it more than a few times over the years and there are different variations, but the gist of it is like this:  A man walks up to you “looking lost” who says he is an Italian-American from New York.  He says he is looking for a particular pub and cannot find the street on the map he is carrying and could you help him.  Once you have found the street for him he asks if he can buy you a beer at that bar.  Apparently when you arrive there is a big bouncer guy at the door and upon entering you notice it’s a pub/strip club type place.  Girls are issued to your table to sit with you, than the waiter brings a bottle of sparkling wine and asks if you would like to buy the girls drinks.  When you get the bill, you’ve been charged an exorbitant amount of money with big bouncer guy making sure you don’t skip out on the bill.  Beware of girls in g-strings “baring” gifts.

 5.  Bill padding at restaurants

Excessive and outrageous bill padding by bars and restaurants has recently made the news on several different occasions including a recent event where a bar/gelateria charged around €64 (about US$84) for 4 ice creams.  Many bars in the center charge triple for sitting at a table outside (go to a coffee bar outside the historic center and this isn’t the case) and always check prices before ordering.  At restaurants, there’s a thing called “coperto” that actually by law you are not obligated to pay that restaurants say is to cover the costs of the bread basket they bring out.  To be honest, I can’t bother to squabble over the coperto, but then I also don’t tip especially when the coperto is added.  Paying the coperto is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying a tip of 15-20% of the bill.  I only add on a bit more if I liked the food & service, but tipping is not mandatory here (that’s another blog post!)  That said, note prices when you order and before they take away the menu and don’t accept a bill with just one price scrawled onto a piece of paper.  It’s not quaint or charming.  Ask for an itemized bill.

 6.  Taxi drivers 

There are official taxis in Rome – usually marked on the side with their cooperatives phone number and/or “SPQR Comune di Roma” and then there are private car companies that do airport transfers, called NCC (usually these are black-car sedans and vans).   The white city taxis have the rates posted to the airport on the side and a card inside the taxi that explains the fare and any additional charges.  Taxis start the meter at €3, Mon-Fri, 6am-10pm and at €6.50 from 10pm to 6am.  Sundays and holidays from 7am-10pm the meter starts at €4.00.  NB:  If you call a taxi rather than picking it up from a taxi stand, the meter starts from when the call was made and not from when it actually arrived and picked you up. NCC drivers are hired for a flat fee and don’t go by meter.

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Rome city taxis on the via Marsala (Beehive) side of Termini train station.

My warning to you when taking a white city taxi is to make sure the meter is set to “Tariffa 1” and not “Tariffa 2” – many taxi drivers are notorious for putting it on “2” or switching it to “2” sometime during the journey.  I’m sure there are plenty of honest taxi drivers, but unfortunately, we have had this happen one too many times and feel compelled to warn others.  In every taxi there should be a price list in several languages.  Taxi drivers at the train station and the airports are notorious for overcharging (despite set rates from the airport) so keep an eye out in any taxi you get into.

Please note that if you happen to leave a camera, phone or other items in a city taxi – unless you remember the name of the taxi driver and his driver number (listed on a panel attached to the doors in the back) as well as the taxi cooperative that he/she belongs to (this number is on the outside of the taxi), it truly is impossible for us to help you recover your lost item.  There are many drivers and many taxi cooperatives out there and not one central line.

Sometimes, despite precautions, bad things can happen.  We’ve known people who have had their iPhone snatched out of their hand in the middle of the day, and when we first moved to Rome, I had my purse stolen right out from under my feet in a restaurant.  Be cautious, but there is only so much you can do if you don’t want to walk around in a constant state of fear and paranoia.  That’s no fun either and will prevent you from experiencing fully the place you are visiting or being open to new experiences.

When traveling, for maximum peace of mind – purchase travel insurance.  Not only will it cover the cost of theft (if you have proof of purchase of your items), but it’ll cover your tickets if you miss a flight, cover medical expenses and much more.  You may or may not end up needing it, but the cost is low compared to what you could potentially lose.

We are proud to have recently started a partnership with World Nomads  since we have always encouraged our guests to consider travel insurance.   We use this insurance ourselves when we travel and as a family of 5, we think it’s well worth it.  Having a back-up plan and something that can help take the sting out of a bad experience will be worth every penny.

5 October 2013

From the kitchen of The Beehive’s Clumsy Cook

Okay, I’m REALLY bad at this blogging business.  Back on January 1st, I made a resolution (as we all do) that I would post on the blog more often.  Well, my last blog entry was in February and it was a recipe for Steve’s walnut pesto.  Well, here we are 6 months later and I’m finally posting again and this time it’s about – you got it!  – another pesto recipe!  This time it’s basil pesto and rather than Steve – the cook in this post is me – Linda, The Beehive’s self-titled Clumsy Cook.

Now I am NOT the cook in our family and I am filled with gratitude that I married someone who not only loves to cook, but is really good at it.  Not only in terms of the deliciousness factor, but also in terms of economics and speed.  I have seen Steve whip up a tasty lunch from scratch for 10 people in an hour.  He’s THAT good.

Despite having a mother who was an awesome cook – that particular trait decided to bypass me.  I really don’t like cooking. I find it boring and a drag. I much prefer to eat and clean up – those are my skills.  However, having 3 children – it does call upon me sometimes to take over the reigns in the kitchen.  If Steve is bed-ridden (thank goodness that rarely happens) or in Rome at The Beehive, someone has to feed our children and that someone has to be me!

I’m not a total loser in the kitchen, but it’s not my thing and I am constantly having kitchen disasters of one kind or another.  It’s rare that I don’t draw blood or burn something in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I still have all 10 digits and the fire department has not had to come to our home, but it’s been a fine line.

Despite my ineptness, the other day, I did manage to make a basil pesto and pasta alla genovese.  This is one of my favorite dishes because not only is freshly made basil pesto mindblowingly delicious, but even for someone as unskilled as myself – it is very easy to make.  Summer is normally the best time to make pesto when fresh basil is plentiful.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

pesto ingredients

FOR THE PESTO:

Fresh basil – a heaping bowlful about 100 grams

Grated parmigiano cheese – about 30-40 grams

Grated pecorino romano cheese – about 15-20 grams

Pine nuts – a handful

Garlic – 1-2 cloves depending on your garlic preference

Salt – a pinch or two

Olive oil – as much as it takes, but don’t overdo it

Put all this in the blender or use an immersion blender.  The purists use a mortar and pestle, but I don’t have that kind of time so it’s the blender for me.  Add the oil slowly so that you don’t overdo it on the oil.  You want the pesto to be be smooth enough, but still have a bit of chunky factor to it.

finished pesto

 

FOR THE PASTA ALLA GENEVOSE

3 medium sized potatoes

a small bowl of green beans

500 grams Pasta – trofie pasta if possible, if not, any other short sturdy pasta such as – penne, maccheroni, sedanini

Before you start the pesto – since it really doesn’t take too much time to make – cut up into small pieces 3 decent sized potatoes and cut in halves a small bowl of green beans.  Make sure to snip off the ends of the green beans.   Put the potatoes and green beans in a pot of water and boil for about 20-30 minutes or until you can stick a fork through one of the potatoes and it’s nice and soft, but not that it disintegrates.

Once the potatoes and beans are done, drain the water.

potatoes and green beans

Now boil water for the pasta.  Once the water is boiling, add a good big pinch of salt.  Put the pasta in and follow directions for cooking time.

Drain the pasta water and then add the potatoes and beans and the pesto to the pasta.  Mix until all the pasta, potatoes and green beans are well-coated with the pesto.

Put in a pretty bowl, serve and enjoy!

pasta alla genovese

 

25 August 2013

Simple and tasty – walnut pesto

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We love to eat here at Casa MB and since I got such a great response to our recent ribollita recipe, I thought that from time to time – I would post some of my personal favorites that Steve whips up in our kitchen.

Walnut pesto is simple, quick and easy to make – so simple that even I, the incompetent chef, have made it successfully for our daughters.  It’s a crowd-pleaser for the whole family.

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You’ll need the following ingredients:

a large handful of shelled walnuts

half or 1 clove of garlic (depending on how garlicky or not you like things)

a piece or two of stale bread

about 1/4 cup or 50ml of milk (you can substitute this with rice or soy milk)

a handful of parmigiano cheese

olive oil

Put all of these ingredients into a blender.  Not sure exactly how much oil to put in – probably about 1/4 cup / 50ml.   Blend.

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Boil the pasta.  You can use a variety of pasta – in this version we used fresh sedanini pasta.  We have also used whole wheat spaghetti or farro (spelt) spaghetti.  It works well with a thinner variety of pasta and not a thicker one.

This photo has nothing to do with walnut pesto other than the fact that our dog, Goji, was keeping Steve company in the kitchen.

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Once the pasta is cooked, check the pesto.  If it’s thickened up a bit, add a smidge of the pasta water and blend again.

Mix in with the pasta.  If it doesn’t seem to be mixing in very easily, add a bit more oil to help it blend better.

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And voila!  Accompanied by a salad, this makes an easy and delicious lunch or dinner when you are low on time or energy.

If you have any leftover, but not enough to make another batch of pasta – it also works very nicely as a bruschetta  – just toast some crusty style bread and spread on.

 

26 February 2013

A hearty, yummy soup from Casa MB

Steve's ribollita

Steve is the cook in our household (dubbed Casa MB).  He’s got an annoying gift of not following recipes and just throwing stuff together with whatever he finds in our refrigerator.  If you’re familiar with this American television show from the ’80s you’ll understand my reference when I say that I call him the “MacGyver” of the kitchen.  His gift is annoying to me because I’m the pathetic cook who is a mess in the kitchen, has to follow a recipe and if I’m missing one ingredient – it’s freak out time!  Well, perhaps I exaggerate – I have my golden moments in the kitchen too, but not very often.  I guess I would have more of those moments with experience, but when you have such a great cook in the house who actually enjoys doing it – why bother?

Steve is a big fan of “cucina povera” – the style of Italian cooking that uses very simple, very few, in season ingredients to create delicious dishes.  It’s been a bit chilly around here lately and we had lots of cavolo nero (kale) and stale bread so he decided to make a ribollita – a typical Tuscan soup. I was completely blown away by this insanely delicious soup and despite our abstinence recently from wine – we decided the soup and the day deserved a glass of red wine to go with it.  Here’s his version of a recipe – give it a try and let us know how it works for you.

STEVE’S RIBOLLITA
Soak about 200 g of cannellini beans overnight.
Cut up:
1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
Sauté these ingredients in a good amount of olive oil with a small pinch of chili pepper flakes.
Add in a bunch of cavolo nero/kale (I rip off and dispose of the tough rib and just chop the leaves up) and you can use a good bunch because it cooks down a lot.
Rinse the beans.  Put the beans in a pot and add water (about twice as much to cover what you have, or more).  I put in 1 big tablespoon of good bouillon broth (we are vegetarian so use a vegetable broth – our favorite is Rapunzel) and about 1/4 cup of passata di pomodoro.  If you have some fresh rosemary, throw a good size sprig in too.
Let it boil gently for at least 2 hours, regulating the heat so that
a – it doesn’t stick
b – it doesn’t dry out (if it does, add water or cover)
c – it doesn’t stay all watery (if it does, turn up the heat and cook longer)
Cut up about 4 big pieces of stale, ideally Tuscan/Umbrian style salt-less bread and put it in.  Let this cook too for at least 30 minutes so it breaks down and really thickens the soup.
I like to let it sit a while before eating.  This soup is really great the next day as leftovers as well.
Season with salt if needed and add some olive oil as well.

15 February 2013

“What’s around The Beehive?”

When we opened The Beehive back in 1999, a lot of our first customers were very young backpackers.  We would inevitably get someone who would ask “so I’ve seen the Colosseum, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona – what else is there to do?”  Or “it’s boring here, where can I party?”  Well, thankfully, we don’t have many of those kinds of guests anymore, but I do occasionally read a review where someone states that “there is nothing near The Beehive.”  In a city that is almost 2,766 years old – there is always something nearby.  Just to give you an idea, here are a few gems located just a 10 minute walk from The Beehive.

PALAZZO MASSIMO

One of the four branches of the National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo is conveniently located right near Termini train station – this museum houses an amazing collection from 2nd BCE to 5th CE.  Sculpture, ancient coins as well as frescoes from the walls of Empress Livia’s summer villa incredibly preserved.  One of the more overlooked and yet important museums in Rome just a stone’s throw from The Beehive.

BASILICA SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI

This church was incorporated into the ancient Baths of Diocletian by Michelangelo.  It has a meridian line (see the astrological figures in the floor) commissioned by Pope Clement XI in 1702 that was used to check the time, predict Easter and check the accuracy of what at the time was the new Gregorian calendar.

BASILICA SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE

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Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore is all about Roman Baroque style glory. Come here for the 5th century mosaics including one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary. Under the high altar is the Crypt of the Nativity  there in a container are4 pieces of sycamore wood boards said to have been part of the manger of the nativity.

BASILICA SANTA PRASSEDE

Behind this unassuming entrance you’ll find more beautiful mosaics and a relic of the pillar which was supposedly the one on which Jesus was flogged and tortured before his crucifixion.

After all this site-seeing or after your long flight and you’re feeling those hunger pangs – our immediate neighborhood has some good, inexpensive trattorias – the best of which is Meid in Nepols  Ask our reception to call in advance as reservations are necessary.  For a quick bite, 80 Fame, is an excellent pizza by the slice just a block away from us.  Gainn, a Korean restaurant is also a block away near 80 Fame.  A little further afield, but still only about a 10-15 minute walk is Come il Latte – easily in the top 10 of Rome’s best gelato.  In addition, there is Rome’s oldest wine shop which also has a wine bar, Trimani, a place to find a fine bottle of wine or a spot for a tasty, albeit pricey lunch.

Besides the sites I just mentioned and the many hotels you’ll see, The Beehive’s neighborhood is a living and working area. It’s home to many non-profits such as Unicef, Save the Children Italia and Amnesty International Italia (both of whom we have good relationships with), a branch of the nation’s bank, Banca d’Italia, (located across the street from us) as well as several branches of Rome’s university, Roma Tre and one of the branches of the national library.

We’re happy to point you in the direction of any of these sites and if you have a particular interest or need suggestions – just ask!

 

 

 

11 February 2013

Putzing around Piazza Vittorio

I was in the prep phase of a 7 day juice fast and my daughters were still on their winter holidays and feeling a bit bored so we decided a quick trip to Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighborhood was in order.  Many moons ago The Beehive was in this neighborhood and my daughters spent their formative years dodging dog poo and syringes.  Despite that – we have very fond memories of this area.   I guess you could say it was where we “cut our teeth” in Rome.

One of the hearts of Piazza Vittorio was its former market – you can see it in the scene from the 1948 Vittorio De Sica film “The Bicycle Thief” where he looks first for his stolen bicycle – yup, the old Piazza Vittorio market.  In 2001 it moved from its decades long location to a new indoor center and re-named Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. The area has changed a lot since then, but there are lots of gems hidden in the rough and so we decided to spend the afternoon walking around the old neighborhood again without much of a plan.

My girls enjoying their lunch at some of the best pizza by the slice in Rome.

First stop was Forno Roscioli at via Buonarroti, 48.  The cousin of the more famous Antico Forno Roscioli near Campo dei Fiori, we like this place much better for the incredibly kind and congenial staff who talk to strangers as if they have known them for years.  The clerks there are beyond patient despite the hordes that mob their counters especially during the lunch rush.

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Supplì – Roman street food. Only found at pizza places.

We managed to get a table and the girls enjoyed their pizzas while I ate cooked vegetables the whole time cursing my restricted diet before my fast and coveting their crispy slices of piazza bianca and Roscioli’s supplì (arborio rice balls made with tomato sauce and a piece of mozzarella stuffed inside, breaded and then deep friend – delish!)

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Plantains at Mercato Esquilino.

Next we walked through Piazza Vittorio on our way to Mercato Esquilino.  This market is fantastic!  Besides all the wonderful seasonal produce you’ll find here, this is also one of only a couple markets in town where you can find a wide assortment of non-Italian ingredients – vegetables and fruit such as sweet potatoes, avocados, plantains, yucca, cilantro and all kinds of spices, legumes and beans.

We did our shopping and the girls were good sports about going around and around the market.  I always end up buying more than I really can carry, but they helped me with my bags and in turn I thought now was a good idea for a gelato break so we headed over to the Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, a mouthful of a name for one of Rome’s oldest gelaterias (since 1880).  It’s the only true ice cream parlor type shop left in Rome.  While there is better gelato to be had in Rome, you don’t just come here for the gelato, but also for the experience.  Unfortunately, they happened to be closed for the holidays so there were some unhappy campers in my group, but I tried to stay positive and we continued along.

Paloma and Viola denied at Gelateria Fassi.

We decided to go through Piazza Vittorio again and this time stopped at the little kids playground in the park that has games and some electrical rides.  Giulia and Paloma who are 12 and 10 respectively were physically too big for the rides which are for the 6 and under crowd, but Viola was happy to be able to take their place and her mood switched.

Back to being a happy girl

As I mentioned, the original Beehive was in this neighborhood and now every time I am in the neighborhood, I must make a pilgrimage to Panella, one of my favorite coffee bars.  Despite it being on the pricey side, it’s worth it to me to come here for an excellent cappuccino and freshly made, warm out of the oven pastries in the morning instead of the stale, cardboard tasting poor excuses for pastries that are found at most Italian bars.  This place feels homey to me – despite not having lived in the neighborhood for many years – the older women who have been working for their years still remember me and our daughters are captured in time in their memories as little babies.

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Panella’s iconic coffee machine.

I am of the school of “never come over to a friend’s empty handed” when coming over for dinner and these exquisite sweet treats from pasticerria Regoli will have your friends inviting you again and again!  Regoli was founded in 1916 and has a steady stream of loyal customers.   Pick up some of these tortine alle fragoline for a tiny taste of creamy pastry heaven.

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The perfect dessert.

Unfortunately, Piazza Vittorio and the neighborhood of Esquilino get a bad rap from guidebooks and I’ve made it one of my missions to post things here from time to time that will hopefully show the area in a different light.  Many expat residents and Rome experts like Gillian Longworth McGuire of the Rome for Expats guide share my appreciation of the area and look underneath its sometimes gritty surface. Piazza Vittorio has tried to clean up its act over the years and this sign in the park for me spoke volumes.  It’s a great combo of providing information as well as provoking people to think beyond what they can immediately see and open their eyes to the fact that we are indeed sharing the space with others.   These others may not be as visible, but in this often crazy, chaotic city, need the trees and the grass as much as we do no matter which neighborhood it’s in.

Bird watching at Piazza Vittorio

 

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