Planning my Visit to Murano

In early March I am going to visit Maestro Imperio Rossi in Murano.  Going to Murano also means visiting Venice, the birthplace of Marco Polo who inspired our company name and our quest to bring artisans and those who appreciate their products together, across great distances.

As I wrote in my History of Murano Glass, the town of Murano has such a great artistic tradition in glass making that this feels like a pilgrimage to me. My goal is to get to know a lot more about the products that we have started adding last year. The production process is so complicated and there are so many glass types in use that one can always learn something new by going to Murano, and that is what I am very much looking forward to do.

I also hope to see products that I had not seen before that I will want to order and bring to our customers. If you are a fan of Maestro Imperio Rossi and his wonderful creations, make sure to contact me and I will make sure to look at your favorite Murano glass creations.

Finally, I hope to find out more about Marco Polo but, unfortunately, the house where his spent his youth burned down in 1598 (so moving the glass factories to Murano was not enough!) and there seems to be very little to commemorate his life in Venice.

Fenoci in Salata – Fennel Salad Recipe

This week I was looking for an alternative side dish to our usual salad and I decided to try a fennel salad recipe I found in my Cucino Io cookbook.

The recipe calls for

  • 4 fennels
  • 2 anchovies
  • 1 tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon of grated parsely
  • olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • flour
  • 1/2 lemon
  • salt
  • pepper

You start by cutting off the top of each fennel, washing it, and placing it in a pot filled with boiling water. Add the lemon and the flour to the water to keep the fennel as close to white as possible. Cook uncovered until the fennel is thoroughly cooked. At that point, drain, dry, and cut.

In the meatime, finely mince the anchovies and place at the bottom of a plate along with pepper, the Parmigiano Reggiano, and the minced parsley. Then add the vinegar and mix well with a fork until you obtain a creamy paste. Add the olive oil (a couple of tablespoons or slightly more), and add some salt to taste.

Cut up the fennels and pour the sauce on the fennels.

How to Format Pictures Using Cascading Style Sheets

Today I am going to skip working on taxes all day long and try to learn how to nicely style the History of Murano Glass page that I created the other day. I am going to do so by learning a couple of the Cascading Style Sheets tricks that Emi is so good at using.

Emi has more experience styling content and I am definitely jealous. My knowledge of cascading style sheets is average at best and I tend to use them improperly out of old habit. Plus, I tend to forget some of the things that I learn. For example, how do you get a photo to nest with the paragraph and not push the text below it? I know that I’ve done it before, but… When I try to wrap text around a picture I always get only one line of text to the side of the picture and the rest goes below… something that looks awful! If I were a little more enterprising, I would go look at a page I like and find out the styles that were used and reverse engineer the process. Perhaps that is what I should do, but it still sounds a little daunting. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have the pro tell you how to do it?

Yes! It would DEFINITELY be easier. Emi has agreed to help after lunch. I will make sure to create some sample files and save them on our intranet for future reference. I am also going to save a “before” version of the page so that I can look back and see how bad I was.

OK, now I’m done. The first thing I had to decide was the layout. Instead of our usual two column format, we thought that a three column format would make the article easier to read. To create 3 columns I took our existing layout which has a div (id=containerBody) that contains the entire page, then 2 divs (id=sideLinks to the left and id=contentSideLinks) inside the containerBody div for the navigation bar and the actual body of the page. To add the third column I created two divs (id=contentSideLinksBody and id=contentSideLinksMore) inside the contentSideLinks divand made the first one float left and the second one float right.

That was pretty easy. I had to make sure that the width of the divs did not exceed the width of the div that contained them. Then to create some spacing between the two, I added padding-left: 30px; to the right div (contentSideLinksMore). The padding gets added to the width so, I had to reduce the width by 30px to make sure that the second div would fit to the right of the left one.

Then I formatted my text by creating some sections with headings, I cut the long article into two pages, and got to my holy grail: embedding photos with text and make sure that the text wraps around the photo. What I figured was that this would happen automatically if you properly placed an img tag inside a p tag. The reality is that you have to define a class for float: left; and a class for float: right; and use the former for pictures aligned to the left and the latter for pictures aligned to the right.

When I was done, my History of Murano Glass article looked a lot better and I had the basis for formatting a lot of other articles.

History of Murano Glass

I have always been fascinated with Murano glass and have become even more curious about it since we have started selling Maestro Imperio Rossi’s products. This has led me to wanting to know the history of Murano glass. After reading countless articles online I have created my own article: Murano Glass History.

I had to reconcile a few conflicting facts and, as it is sometimes is the case with history, could not rely on a definitely correct source. So if you find some inaccuracies in my article please point them out. I look forward to talking to Sara Rossi about this as I am sure that I will be able to fill a lot of gaps. The research was very interesting, though. I did not know about the quest to make clear glass, and did not know that clear glass was accomplished in Murano.

I also left a few tidbits of history out because I want to research them some more. I expect to update the article after my trip to Murano in March.

Leather Roses Video Updated

Thanks to the feedback we have received, I have updated the leather roses video interview in which Gianni introduces his new product line of rose-shaped leather accessories for 2011. Gianni utilizes a technique that had been developed in Venice to mold leather to make theater masks in the 1700s.

Leather rose earrings

I think that this is a very creative way to make something that is really pretty. When I watch people try on the leather roses I think: “that really looks good!” and I am actually pretty surprised. I used to think that handmade bijoux was just another word for cheap-looking wannabe jewelry. “Excuse me, please!” In recent years, I have been noticing how much character can go into bijoux and I now admire people that can find and wear something that really adds to their appearance. I hope that Gianni’s leather roses will find the people that will make them shine. I am very curious to hear some feedback. Use the comment box below!

Perfecting my Spaghetti alla Marinara

I got my recipe from the book Cucino Io, which is a great book filled with great recipes from around the world and which provides a lot of background and historical information related to each recipe.

I enjoy perfecting a dish for many reasons. I like to savor variations of the same recipe, try different adjustments, and find out what works for me and for my family and friends. Adjusting a particular ingredient to our tastes, trying a new one, or removing another often result in great variants that will become our official one. I also like cooking because by using wholesome ingredients I hope to eat well. Finally, I believe in “you are what you eat [and drink, and breath, and wear]” and I love handmade anything.

The original recipe calls for these ingredients:

  1. 350 g spaghetti
  2. 300 g tomatoes
  3. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  6. 1/2 spoon capers
  7. 12 black olives
  8. 2 tablespoons grated pecorino
  9. salt
  10. pepper

First of all, multiply everything by 1.3. I don’t feel like cooking 350 g of spaghetti out of a box of 454 or 500 g. I know that 350 g is the amount of pasta you need for 4 portions, but that really applies to Italian meals that include a solid second dish.

Preparation is as follows:

  1. Boil the tomatoes, remove the skin and dry;
  2. Wash and dry capers
  3. Cook the spaghetti
  4. In a pan, on medium-low heat fry the garlic and remove the garlic;
  5. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes;
  6. Just before the pasta is al dente, add olives, capers and minced parsley;
  7. Add everything to a serving bowl and sprinkle the grated pecorino.

When I followed the recipe using the ingredients listed above I felt that it did not include enough tomatoes. I changed the amount to 1.5 kg. and I still feel that it could use more.

I also like garlic, so I leave it in the sauce when it is sauteed. When I don’t have parsley around, I use some from the spice rack. Fresh parsley is definitely nice and I think it is a key ingredient to this recipe.

I have always wondered why a recipe called Marinara does not include anything from the sea. Why couldn’t it call for some anchovies, for example. So when I went to Cava de’ Tirreni and spoke to Vincenzo he said: “yes, I don’t know why it doesn’t call for any fish, I know some people who do add some anchovies, finely minced, at the end.” I have always wanted to try this, but haven’t yet.

The result of this version of the Marinara sauce is far different from what you would think when looking at “Marinara” tomato sauce in the jar at the grocery store. It is far more savory and pleasing. Its delicate taste makes it a favorite and something that can be had often: we space it only 45 days between tries.

Leather Roses Video

Yesterday I talked about how hard it was for me to do something as simple as editing and posting a video. Today I was able to complete my project, although I think that I will have to go back and polish things up a bit.

In the video, Gianni describes how he got his inspiration for his line of leather roses. He found out about a technique the Venetians used to make leather masks for use in theater productions and decided to apply it to mold leather. This technique gives leather a permanent shape which is ideal for creating custom shapes. I did not know that by immersing leather in alcohol and drying it the leather will retain the shape you give to it.

I think that Gianni leather roses are really unique and cute and am proud to be introducing them to the American market. I am curious to hear what customers will think: if you have an opinion, please comment below!

Leather roses

Coming Soon: Video with Gianni Describing his New Leather Roses

I thought that it was going to be a lot easier. Last summer we took a few videos of our interview with Gianni and now is the time to post them.

Clearly, I am no longer the tech wizard I thought I was in my twenties. And it took this small project to make me realize that. The project is simple: import the video in the free version of Windows Movie Maker, cut it up in scenes, create a caption for each scene, create the video and post it. How could that take longer than an hour?

Well, for starters, you can not post a Windows video and expect it to play without a plug in, even in Internet Explorer. The most logical thing to do, then, is to import the video in Flash. After one more file conversion, you are ready to go, just publish and post, right? Right, except I did not notice that the video playback control was bigger than the size of the document. This resulted in videos that appeared to be missing the play, volume, and other controls. In reality they were just cropped away when publishing the video.

I ran into a few other snags that caused me to write this blog entry instead of one talking about my new video. Let’s hope that that will come tomorrow!

Dreamweaver is Currently Interacting with a Server

I am trying to code our integration with Fedex web services and I have to deal with “Dreamweaver is currently interacting with a server” all the time. I mean: “ALL THE TIME”. When that is going on I cannot upload files and, in some cases, the entire application hangs… while it waits for the interaction with the server to be complete.

There are days when everything is fine, but now the problem is getting serious. I searched to see if anyone had a valid suggestion, or perhaps Adobe provided one. A lot of people are having the problem but so far I have found no valid suggestions and Adobe is not saying anything about it.

I am following a path in which I am always trying to tell Dreamweaver not to do anything at all, except work as a text editor and FTP files to the server. Unfortunately, I am unable to get that done, so I wonder what my options are. I tried their support site and Dreamweaver CS4 is the only version that does not have an update. I called support and it is not available without a paid plan.  I am too scared to install the software again. I feel that I will end up exceeding the number of licenses I have and will be locked out forever.

The lost productivity is becoming costly. Any suggestions for a cheap and simple HTML editor will be welcome.

Quality Versus Quantity in Workouts

Until a few years ago, it seemed that workouts were all about quantity. A better workout would involve more reps.

Recently, I have started reading and hearing about how quality is perhaps even more important. Instead of doing, for example, as many push ups as possible I should do just as few as one. One very long, and excruciating, push up.

I was surprised by this and a little bit amused by how this seems to support the Handmade Movement view that it is far better to have one quality handmade product than many cheap, low-quality similar items.