Not Entirely Surprisingly, Payrolls Disappoint

I follow economic indicators like a hawk because they help me forecast inventory. That’s because I have to always figure out demand six to nine months in advance. The unemployment report that comes out on the first Friday of them month is the one indicator that I need to follow even if I ignore everything else. It is simply the most timely indicator of how the economy is doing right now.

For me, it is not an indicator that helps me forecast. It simply helps me figure out if my forecast was correct or it needs readjusting because it tells the story of how the economy did last month.

Payrolls rose by 169,000, less than the 180,000 forecast. But what is most telling, and confirming of my theories, is that July was revised down all the way to 104,000. I attribute this to the Fed’s announcement that they are going to begin tapering and the expectation that they are going to begin the tapering in September by $20 billion.

I think that the Fed is going to look at all the economic data, including the fact that there is another debt-ceiling discussion on the horizon, and realize that the continuing fiscal tightening is making it very hard for the US economy to find its footing. In addition, they are going to realize that their announcement (and before that the rumor of an announcement) has caused enough of a rise in interest rates that the housing recovery is definitely not booming, and that it has caused consumers to rush into purchases of houses and cars at the expense of other categories. As a result, it is hard to think of this recovery as broad and self-sustaining.

I think that tapering should wait until payrolls rise by more than 200,000 on average per month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fed decides not to taper or taper by a tiny amount such as $5 billion so I will be watching that announcement very closely. I hope that they realize that tapering and fiscal cliff negotiations might provide a one-two punch to the economy that we are going to have to scale back GDP growth projections that, according to economists, see the second half of 2013 growing at more than 2%.

Having said that, I think that the shock of the announcement is largely absorbed by now. I expect September to be a good month for jobs and I realize that QE cannot go on forever. I just wish that the Fed and our Congress treated the economy more gently and more predictably. In reality, I am more worried about another round of fiscal tightening in October than QE tapering.

First Time in 10 Years Inter Wins Its First Two Matches of The Season

If you are born in Italy, soccer (calcio) is the sport everyone cares about. Before you can read you can recognize the written name of your favorite team and what turns out to be a lifelong relationship is started. Very few people abandon the team they care about: the majority suffer with it to the end (that is except if you are a Juventus or Milan fan–those fans gets nearly constant gratification).

I picked Inter, I don’t know why as I can’t remember making the choice, and I have suffered through year after year of disappointments with very rare exceptions.

Inter fans

This year is very interesting. Last year we arrived in 9th place: one of our worst performances. Many people blamed the frequent injuries that plagued the entire squad. I think that is an excuse for a team which had lost purpose. But this year we have a coach, Mazzarri, who really seems to have the right touch and two nice victories in our first two matches seem to support that. I write now because next week we host Juventus, the reigning champions, and they like to remind us of their superiority.

It had been ten years since last time we won the first two games of the Campionato. That year we ended the season in 4th place. This year there are many contenders: Juventus, Napoli, and Milan, followed by Fiorentina, Roma, Lazio and Inter. We did not spend a ton of money buying any famous players, but it seems that we covered all positions with respectable players, something that Inter often doesn’t seem to be able to do. Let’s hope that this year it will be interesting. Vinca il migliore! (May the best win) and let’s get a spot among the top three teams, preferrably the top spot.

What do you think? Is a top-three finish in the cards this year?

Handwriting? Who does that any more?

We live in a technological age where everything is digitized; blogs, e-mails, instant messages, text messages, you get the picture. Because of all the digitized data we send and receive, we no longer have a need to use the old school method of solid pen and paper documentation. It is very telling to even use the term “old school” to describe it. When you think about it, people rarely ever write letters to their family and friends or keep a handwritten diary for their private thoughts. Even filling out a job application now is mostly through the internet. If electricity gets cut off for good without a chance of return, a majority of our recorded historical data would be lost! What will we have to show for all the progress we’ve made in all fields of research then?

As a child, I have always had an affinity towards writing. Whether it be creative, academic or technical, writing is one of my best attributes. I’ve kept everything from handwritten journals and short stories to literary analyses and personal notes/reminders. I used to bring a small notebook on our family road trips to document ideas that I would have for future projects and take note of interesting places I’ve encountered. Going to college has changed everything for me though. I stopped handwriting everything and just used my computer for…well, everything and anything possible. Lecture notes? I have my computer. Need a shopping list? My iPhone can handle that! I kind of feel like ordering take out tonight. I hope they have an online ordering system! We live in dark times, my friends…dark times indeed.

Working at Marcopoloni and being in the “handmade” mentality in general has reintroduced the whole concept of handwriting my thoughts again. What is more personal than writing down your thoughts by hand? How about a letter to that friend you haven’t talked to in years? E-mails are fine and all, but it inevitably is a lot more distant. If you haven’t already seen the journals we have available, you should give them a chance. I use a blue medium Diario on a daily basis to write down notes at our meetings and reminders for little things that I need to do later. I also have a small dark leather Diario in my car to keep general notes on things such as gas mileage and grocery reminders. I took it a step further by personalizing my diary a little bit; I added a ribbon as bookmark so I can easily find where I left off. I am in the last quarter of pages in my blue diary though so I will have to choose a new one soon enough! Maybe I’ll even start keeping a handwritten journal again for my personal thoughts and reflections as well as short stories! I really miss doing all of that on paper.

So, what was the point of all my rambling in this blog post? Well, I simply wanted to point out that even in our day and age, we should remember the importance of pen and paper documentation. Yes, putting a reminder in your phone’s calendar MAY be more convenient but it lacks that personal connection and association. In fact, writing things down will help if you have trouble with your memory. Just my two cents.

 

Diario-Blog-1

Started out as a brighter blue but the leather darkened with constant use. This is what your leather diary will look like in a year!

 

 

Diario-Blog-2

My personal touch to the Diario.

There is Leather and Then There is Campomaggi Leather

After 10 years selling leather products and 40 years wearing them I still can’t say that I know everything about leather. But a recent experience reminded me of the material difference between handmade and canned-made leather. What do I mean by handmade and canned-made leather? It’s pretty simple and it is at the core of why we are in business at Marcopoloni. I grew up experiencing what I call “handmade leather” the leather selected by a skilled craftsman who seeks a quality ingredient that will determine the quality of the end product. “Canned-made” leather is a term that we made up to describe the material that is the result of the pursuit of profits. It is the product that doesn’t not want to last, that does not want to reward the owner, that aims to look like high quality so that it can be sold for just a little bit less than the “handmade” leather product and yield excellent profit margins.

There is Leather and Then There is Campomaggi Leather

The bracelet is a CARLINO by Campomaggi. The wrist band is a generic wrist band from super-thin leather stuffed with something to give it thickness (usually paper or a mesh fabric). I could not get a better example of the stark difference between handmade and canned-made, and it was right there on my wrist. The Campomaggi leather is beautiful and getting better with age, the canned-made wrist band is peeling, cracking and ready to look and be something other than leather.

A leather rose bracelet by Gianni is another example of handmade leather.

A leather rose bracelet by Gianni is another example of handmade leather.

Nuances of the Forlanini

When it comes to Campomaggi crossbody bags, the long straps made for them are, well, extremely long. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the length of the strap makes the bag that much more universal. After all, not everyone is 5’3″ like I am! When I first got my Forlanini (by the way, we finally have this in stock!), I had to punch a few extra holes into the strap just to not have the bag hang below my hips. What can I say, I’m a short person with a short torso, haha. Like on a belt, having the extra holes made the end of the strap longer as well. Although it didn’t get in the way or anything, it was just something I was a tiny bit bothered by. If you are familiar with the Forlanini, there is a side pocket on the left side (if you are looking at the front of the bag), with Campomaggi’s signature fish rivets on it. Even though I use my Forlanini everyday, I never once found a use for that tiny little side pocket! However, I recently discovered that the end of my strap fits RIGHT in that little pocket. It’s almost as if Campomaggi designed the pocket so the strap end will tuck nicely into it. Having that said, I have some photos to show you what I mean.

The strap arrived with only four holes. I punched in six extra just to accommodate my height. Look at how long the strap end is!

 

The end of the strap tucks right into that little side pocket I never found a use for! Voila! The strap end no longer bothers me.

 

Handy, isn’t it? I am so glad I finally found a use for that side pocket. I’m sure it has other uses such as temporarily storing your train or bus pass but this is how I’m using the pocket! Anyway, this was just something useful I found out about the Forlanini and I thought I’d share it with you guys! Especially with all the interest surrounding the Forlanini, this will come in handy for everyone else who is around my height! If I find any other nuances of this bag, I won’t hesitate to share it with everyone. Keep an eye out for more posts!

Almost Perfected My Spaghetti alla Marinara

Daniele perfecting his Marinara sauce

Daniele is peeling the tomatoes one at a time as their skin starts cracking at different times.

Tonight I finally feel like I am at home in my new kitchen. After spending a few months getting to know the stove, I have found my balance and tonight I also made a Marinara sauce that was really delicious.

The Marinara is almost ready.

The Marinara sauce is almost ready. That’s the right time to add the olives and capers, which don’t need to cook.

It started with the selection of the ingredients. Instead of buying my Roma tomatoes (Perini) at Trader Joe’s I bought them at Sprout. I don’t necessarily think that the tomatoes are better, but they are meatier and less watery and 20 tomatoes will yield enough sauce for a pound of spaghetti. The other key pick was the Parmigiano Reggiano. I never use Grana and I always buy imported. I try to select one that has been aged for two years if I can find it. What I got a Trader Joe’s (their most expensive) was good and it paid off. Finally, the olive selection. I have tried just about anything on the shelves at Trader Joe’s and some other stores and the best pick for the Marinara sauce is the can of pitted black olives. I hate buying canned products, and the olives in some of the jars are delicious, but too flavorful. The olives for this sauce need to simply taste like olives–a subtle taste.

This Spaghetti alla Marinara meets the approval of my most critical customer.

Chiara loves my Marinara sauce. The proof is in the fact that she can eat a couple of bites before asking for dessert.

Boiling, peeling, cutting up, mushing the tomatoes takes a lot of time, but it is worth it. This time, instead of salting the water, I added salt and a bit of pepper to the sauce. I think that it made a difference. I also added three cut-up anchovies and the result was a dense red sauce, tastier than usual, but still a subtle, not bold, pleasure to eat.

The only complaint I heard was that I should have cut up the olives. I didn’t because the recipe doesn’t say to cut them up. Next time I will cut them up in half and see.

Testing the new RSS feed

We’ve been wanting to display a few of our most recent blog posts on the home page of our website. Today, I finally sat down to take a look at what’s involved. At first, it seemed quite daunting. I am not a WordPress expert by any means, and my knowledge of PHP is pretty much limited to the fact that PHP files have a file extention of “.php”.

Surprisingly, it was quite easy! I just googled “how to add an RSS feed to website”, and found a nifty website that would take the RSS feed URL, accept a few parameters like the color of the blog titles, and voila! It automatically generated the code for me to cut and paste into the website. Then, I realized that the code basically pointed to a third-party website which took my RSS feed and converted it to javascript … which means if that third party website goes down, then no RSS feed. Blah. So I kept on researching how to accomplish what I was set out to do … and eventually came across an online tool that generates an iframe for whatever content you wish. Great! That way I can point the iframe to our feed URL and style the iframe the way I want! Fantastic!

… But no, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Going this route, no matter what I did, there was a huge “Subscribe to this feed …” box appearing at the top of the frame. Truly annoying. I tried to figure out how to remove that box … read up about how I’d have to customize the functions.php file for the WordPress theme I was using, etc., but in the end … I just couldn’t figure it out. So I gave up. Good news is, I found a clean-looking version that did most of what I was looking to do at http://feed.mikle.com/en/ I don’t mind giving them credit for the code, I just hope they don’t start spamming our feeds with ads. Until then, I’m fairly happy with our new home page … what do you think??

Three-screw wall hook

A three-screw wall hook by Antartidee. It has noting to do with this blog post, but I just needed a photo to test the feed.

“I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle”

For the past few months, I have been saving for a road bike bit by bit. Well now that I have it, I think I’m in love! Of course, there were extra expenses for the additional gear but I was finally able to go on a nice weekend bicycle ride. I rode along the Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View, CA and it was a really fun route overall. At the beginning of the route, I had passed by what seemed like crowd after crowd of pedestrians walking and running. It was a bit of a mess but after that short stretch of nonstop foot traffic, the trail opened up and emptied out for what few cyclists were on the trail that day. I really wish I was able to do this sooner. I think everyone should start cycling instead of driving. It’s so much fun and you barely notice that it’s actually a workout! I am starting to transition to using my bicycle for my work commute as well. Here are some photos that were taken that day!

By the marshlands

 

 

 

12.28 miles! Not bad for a beginner cyclist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini Secchi

Emi and I share many preferences: our passion for porcini mushrooms is just one of them. Last week I posted on Facebook a photo of the Risotto ai Porcini that she ordered at A Bellagio in Campbell. It was really good, though a bit salty, and the suspicion is that a lot of butter was used. Someone asked me to post the recipe that I use, so here we go, I just translated it and I hope that you will try it.

  • Submerge 50 grams of dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl full of water and some wine. All the recipes say to use white wine. For some reason I like to use red wine better.
  • Use a strainer to preserve the liquid and remove the impurities.
  • Slice the well drained mushrooms.
  • Finely mince an onion and stir fry in extra-virgin olive oil. Many recipes call for garlic instead of onion, and that is what I prefer to use (3-4 cloves).
  • Add the mushrooms making sure that they do not stick to the pan.
  • In a separate pan, bring the beef broth (1.5 liters–6 cups) to a slow boil (it must be boiling temperature so that when you add it to the rice it does not stop its cooking process).
  • Back to the mushrooms: add a little of the water set aside and add about half a glass of wine.
  • Add the rice (somewhere between 1 and 1.5 cups) and let it toast for a few minutes, mix well to make sure that the rice will not stick to the pan.
  • Add the other half of the glass of wine.
  • When the wine has evaporated start adding the broth and stir frequently to make sure that the rice does not stick to the pan. The rice should always be covered in broth so keep on adding broth as needed.
  • From the time you added the rice, the rice should cook in about 20 minutes, but this can vary depending on the rice used. Turn off the flame.
  • Add finely minced fresh parsley and the imported Parmigiano Reggiano (it is rather important not to use imitation cheeses here). I also usually add some butter.
  • Finally, give the risotto a good stir and let it sit for five minutes. Then it is ready to serve.

This is the recipe that I like the most out of every recipe I am familiar with. It requires paying very close attention to every step as you can’t walk away from the pan for longer than a minute. If you try this recipe I would be very curious to find out how it turned out. Buon appetito!

I Won’t Let Summer Slip Past Me

When the days start getting noticeably shorter in August I start thinking of ways to hang onto summer for just a little bit longer. When I get up it is pitch black again, when I go for a walk with my dog it calls for a sweatshirt, it is easy to start thinking that fall is just around the corner.

But the reality is that summer is only half over and in the San Francisco bay area there are plenty of hot, sunny days ahead that call for gelato and dinner in the yard. To get myself back in a summer mindset, all I have to do is think about summer in Gianni’s Sicily. I can picture him in his patio overlooking the sea with paper and pencil sketching new designs. There is a sail boat in the far distance, moving slowly, he picks up some paper, makes a boat origami, and one idea is sparked.

Barchetta sail boat leather key chain

 

Then I picture Gianni reaching for a slice of Anguria and bam! Another idea is calling for a cute design.

ANGURIA watermelon keyring

By now I am thinking of when we visited Sicily: the most delicious Spaghetti alle Vongole we ever had at Oasi Azzurra, the summer heat, the refreshing clean water, the fun of carefree times with your family and friends.

Now I am ready to enjoy summer again. My motivation to go to work has disappeared–it is time to plan a few days off (maybe during the week-end) :-).