Handmade Gnocchi for Easter

I hadn’t made homemade gnocchi in at least seven years. I remember slaving away for hours last time and the fact that I had made my famous Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi that time meant that nobody was that keen to have something just as yummy but, unfortunately, equally fattening (we are all older and exercising less, unfortunately, so this time we stuck to a nice homemade red sauce). What got me to decide to try making them again was the fact that Trader Joe’s recently started selling a pack of gnocchi imported from Italy. I tried it, and it was good. It was exactly like the gnocchi we buy at the supermarket in Italy, which means they are a bit hard and packed  with preservatives. The thought of feeding my family preservatives is what pushed me over the edge. I want to avoid that whenever I can.

Chiara insisted to help me peel the hot potatoes. She did a great job!

Chiara turned out to be an awesome potato peeler. I’ll keep that in mind.

Since I remembered how long it took last time, I got an early start. The potatoes where cooked before noon, Chiara helped me peel them while hot (I did not ask her, she just insisted), then I mushed them really well. So by noon I had already made a few mistakes: too many potatoes (also I selected them without thinking about getting the driest kind) and mushing them well. After I was done I read that you don’t want to do that at all. Some even suggest baking the potatoes for a while to dry them up.

I then started kneading this massive ball and I kept adding flour, then I used up the recommended amount of flour, then I kept adding flour because I was trying to get a dough. That was another big mistake. Most advice I found later says to start cutting the gnocchi as quickly as possible.

Chiara developing her gnocchi-rolling technique

Chiara developing her gnocchi-rolling technique

Chiara, again, came to help and she helped me roll the dough so that I could cut it up. She also tried to shape each gnocco against the cheese grater, but we still have to work on that technique.

The gnocchi turned out hard. Much harder than last time, when they wear soft and delicious. They were still good, we had them with a homemade red sauce that turned out really well, but they were chewy and filled us up quickly. Ten gnocchi were enough to make up a filling portion.

The end result. Good, but not what I had envisioned.

The end result. Good, but not as fluffy as I had envisioned.

This was a reminder, that handmade products require practice and passion. I was out of practice, but I resolve to trying again! What I liked most about the experience was that I got to spend time with Chiara and that she was thoroughly entertained. She did not ask to watch TV at all!

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A Leather Key Chain with Royal Roots

There is a new member of our key chain family. The Dragon key chain, that we have carried since the beginning of our existence, got a younger brother: the red dragon. After spending 10 years by himself and being referred to as simply the “dragon key chain”, the veteran key chain will now be called Green Dragon Keychain.

Why the sudden addition you might ask? Well, we did not plan it. Last year we were contacted by a customer in Wales who told us that the Red Dragon is the symbol of Wales. After finding that out we immediately ordered it from Gianni and began reading about the association between Wales and the red dragon. It turns out that the red dragon has been officially part of the Welsh flag only since 1959, but the ties between dragons and Wales possibly go as far back as the second century when Roman cavalry stationed in Wales (and elsewhere) used the symbol. In 1485 Henry Tudor, of Welsh descent, flew the dragon of Cadwaladr during his invasion of England from France. He defeated Richard III and became king. It was then that he added the Tudor colors, green and white, to the dragon to complete the Welsh flag.

The Red Dragon Key Chain might be on the Welsh flag some day

The Red Dragon Key Chain might be on the Welsh flag some day.

What was most interesting to find out was that there is no standard design for the dragon on the Welsh flag. So, technically, the design of Gianni’s red dragon could, some day, make it to the flag. Until then, the Red Dragon Key Chain will be happy to represent Welsh pride and occasionally light a fire in your pocket.

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An Interesting Stop While House Hunting

House hunting for a business owner is a diversion. It does provide a diversion from my daily routine, but after not too long, I became so focused on this endeavor that I realize that this is going to be a massive diversion of my attention and of our funds. The market in Silicon Valley is moving up at roughly a 5% pace every month. This is the reason why we got beaten every time, even we offered $50,000 over asking, and possibly the reason why we will just decide to sit this one out.

Then, something very interesting came on the market. By interesting I don’t mean something that will cause us to spend our bottom dollar: I mean something that we had to go see and bring Chiara and our cameras along.

This is why:

Every day a smiling Sun will be warming your day!

The unit is entirely covered in tile. With the exception of the ceilings and a few, rare, surviving walls, it depicts Saint Francis and the Sun and what I think must be depictions of Assisi.

The unit is well laid out with two bedrooms and a den, an attached garage, two private patios, and an eye-popping asking price of $485,000. At 1102 square feet that is a whopping $440 per square foot. Far more than even the unit that just sold in the same complex and that was far more attractive. Take a look at it in detail on Redfin. It’s worth it!

Zillow thinks it’s worth less than $400,000. Let’s not talk about e-appraisal, which hasn’t yet figured out that the market is going in the other direction. On the other hand, it is located in a very attractive complex with a wonderful pool,  and the schools are really good.

I think that it should fetch $468,000, but I would not be surprised if it sold for asking. In fact, given the craziness of the market today, I foresee 3 offers and a $495,000 winning bid. I will be curious to see how it pans out!

In the meantime we will hopefully be busy bidding on something else.

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A Surprise Gift From Italy

A few weeks ago we got a surprise visit from Gianni’s cousin, who happens to live less than an hour away from our office, and he was bearing gifts from Italy! Oh my, what could it be? We opened it right away and it was a gift for our daughter Chiara: a small blue t-shirt from the volleyball team that Gianni sponsors bearing the number 13. If you think that the number 13 is bad luck, you must know that, in Italy, the seat of countless superstitions, it has long been supplanted by the number 17 and has now found a new vocation as a lucky number.

Although this is a simple gift, it does say a lot about Italian people and culture. First, Italians love kids and always think about how to make their day a little brighter. Second, Italians can make you feel like you are part of the family (which comes with all the benefits I have mentioned in other posts and articles) and will not refrain from asking you a very time consuming favor (in this case Mario had to spend a half-day to deliver something to a perfect stranger–but in the end he made a new connection): so we fully expect to be on the hook. Gianni, if you are reading this, when you finally make it to California, I will arrange everything, including the bikes to go coast-to-coast.

Gianni's gift to Chiara

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The Companion I Never Expected

I don’t like purses. Why? Well, the word “purse” ALWAYS implies that it is some sort of fashionable handbag that ladies carry. Any sort of bag a lady carries is automatically seen as a “purse”. That makes no sense to me. With that said, I am definitely not the type of person to carry a purse, a handbag, or what have you. All I need are pockets to carry my phone, keys and wallet and I’m ready to go!

My first impression of Marcopoloni was how it is a company that perpetuates passion, hard work and genuineness. That definitely is what Marcopoloni embodies, no doubt. The products being offered here are so full of life and character that you can’t help but get drawn to them. Well, let’s fast forward to when I had access to the Campomaggi catalog. Found my first Campomaggi creation pretty quickly, I’d say. Not only is it my first Campomaggi bag in general, it is a custom order! Named after the inventor of the helicopter, Enrico Forlanini, it is every bit as logical and practical as its namesake.

After carrying the Forlanini with me on my adventures, the bag has become an appendage of me (Notice how I use the word “bag” to keep the ambiguity of what it is alive. It’s a bag. Simple as that). What has changed since I have the Forlanini? Well, I still just carry my essentials, really. The typical phone, keys and wallet with the new addition of a sketchbook, a pencil, and mints (ginger mints, to be specific). The most important aspect of my bag is how it represents me. The ruggedness of Campomaggi’s signature distressed leather coupled with its simplistic, utilitarian design just makes so much sense to me. It symbolizes my ideals of keeping things simple and straightforward. Lastly, I truly feel that Campomaggi embodies what it is like to be true to yourself–to your roots–in all of his products. As someone who has never envisioned herself seeing any sort of need to carry a bag, my first Campomaggi bag has truly become the companion I never expected.

My Forlanini as it is, scratches and all.

 

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Why Only Bags Made in Italy?

Italian Artisan whose craft is an extension of his soul.

At Marcopoloni, we care about products that express the artisan’s genius and creativity. We expect to find that anywhere in the world, but, since I am Italian, Italy has been a major focus for our searches. It helps that amazing leather craftsmanship abounds in Italy.

But I am sure that you are already well aware that the opposite is also true: many Italian companies have taken advantage of the fact that only a percentage of the final product has to actually be made in Italy to get the “Made in Italy” label. That’s unfortunate because, as I have read on many forums about bags, customers no longer associate quality with an Italian product.

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to travel a lot throughout every corner of Italy and to most Mediterranean countries. It was at that time that I started appreciating leather craftsmanship and the production process of leather goods. What I saw then has grown into my passion and is what I am trying to preserve now. When you you shop for one of our bags from Italy you don’t get a cheap bag that tries to profit from its Italian label. You get a bag that I am pretty sure you will have a chance to like because the artisan who made it put his experience and pride behind it.

When Emi and I got married in Portovenere, Italy, in 2007, we stopped by the leather shop in the picture. I probably do not need to explain that his craftsmanship was amazing. We tried to buy from him later but it was too difficult to communicate from the States. It is my unfulfilled dream to go back on a future anniversary and fill up my suitcases. Because that is our mission: to help you rediscover the soul that was infused into a product at the hands of an inspiring artisan.

True craftsmanship results in products with a soul.

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Four Years with My COLOMBO Distressed Leather Messenger Bag

DANIELE's Distressed Leather Messenger Bag

Daniele’s COLOMBO Distressed Leather Messenger Bag

2009 was the year when Emi uncovered some beautiful Campomaggi bags. We instantly fell in love and in a matter of months we were perusing the Campomaggi stock room ready to place our first order. That’s when the COLOMBO caught my attention: the vertical design was modern, manly, and appropriate for use with a netbook or tablet. When we received our first shipment, the one that featured the reinforcement leather strips that had absorbed the distressed olive brown color differently became my pick.

Since then, I have used my COLOMBO Distressed Leather Messenger Bag practically every day, and only rarely applied lotion to spots that got scratched–I meant to do it more often but I never seem to get around to doing it. The bag has been with me every day at work and on every travel occasion: it always seems to be the right bag for my tablet and netbook whether or not I need to carry both.

First the cons: on days when I carried both tablet and netbook and stuffed it with everything else I needed to take to an all-day trade show, the bag eventually started feeling heavy. Campomaggi leather is top quality full grain leather that is thick, and therefore heavy: there is no way around that. But since I carry the vertical messenger bag cross-body, the weight, although noticeable, was certainly bearable. On a day-to-day basis when I carry it for shorter bursts at a time I don’t notice the bag’s weight at all. The other time when I felt that the bag did not perform was when I wanted to take my sweatshirt off and slip it in the COLOMBO: it did not fit. Although the bag carries everything I need, there is not room for additional bulky items.

As to the pros… they can be summed up quickly: I love the bag. First of all, it doesn’t feel like a purse and I am totally comfortable wearing it. Second, I think that it looks good hanging fairly low behind my hip. Third, did you see the leather? To touch it is a constant reward. It feels alive when I hold it, it basks in the sun when I open the trunk to get it and shines with richness of color. Anyone who knows something about leather is very impressed and compliments me. Finally, after four years the bag still performs like a new one: I mistreated it a few times (I seem to want to drive with the trunk locked around the cotton strap) and it is not showing any signs of wanting to fall apart. Some of the deeper scratches take a long time to go away and perhaps some will not, but they blend in so nicely and they are part of  the story of me now: they are here to stay.

My Favorite Campomaggi Bag

Daniele and his favorite Campomaggi leather bag.

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I Finally Got My LUCA Leather Belt

LUCA Casual Leather Belt by Dionigi
After owning my ALDO Leather Dress Belt for a few years, I found its quality so superior that I stopped wearing any other belt I owned. I soon realized that wearing a dress belt with jeans is not good for looks and it is not good for the wear and tear on the belt. So I set my eyes on the more casual LUCA Leather Belt but it was always close to going out of stock (I did not want to risk depriving our customers) as every time a new shipment would arrive from Italy the availability would appear to be just barely sufficient to meet demand. So I increased our order quantities and finally got enough belts to go around to feed my growing hunger for a LUCA. That’s when I realized that I had another problem: our smallest size was for a range of waist sizes from 32 to 37. My pants size is 31 and I don’t like the extremity of the belt to flap around too much.

I had to ponder the decision of adding a smaller belt size (30-35). Considering that it is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent a run up in my waist size, did I really want to get a size that would cause people like me to say: “maybe I should just get a 32?”

Luckily I brushed my hesitation aside and ordered the 30-35, which has just arrived. I waited for Anita’s stringent customs inspection to be complete (I’m referring to her quality control inspection) and I finally got to have my very own LUCA. This whole process took longer than a year!

I am thrilled with it so far, but I will write a report in a few weeks with all the details. For the time being enjoy the photo. Do you like my new Campomaggi bracelet?

 

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Why is 25-02-1961 on Every Campomaggi Label?

February 25 is Marco Campomaggi‘s birthday. He turns 52 today!  The reason why he put his birth date on the label is not to get birthday wishes every year but to express the fact that his bags are his creations, they express his creativity, which began when Marco was born.

Because we are, or at least think that we are, his number one fans in the world we have started sending him birthday wishes every year, partially to thank him for making our lives better. Our customers have joined us and we include their wishes along with ours. Marco has really appreciated this and says that despite having “25-02-1961” on every single label, nobody, except us, has, so far, used it as a yearly birthday reminder. That is a little surprising, and, knowing Marco’s modesty, it may be something he said just to keep the spotlight away.

Perhaps, next year, we can circulate a card among his fans so that we can deliver to Marco a card signed by his most passionate fans. If you like that idea, the place to go is the Fans of Campomaggi group on Facebook. You can also wish him happy birthday in the comments here!

Daniele Graziani and Marco Campomaggi

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Vroom vroom!

Ever wanted to buy that nice Italian car you’ve been dreaming about? Well, I believe you are in luck! Last week, we received a Gianni shipment with some brand new products. Yes, including a car! We even held a Facebook contest giving away a free car key chain in the color of your choice (available in blue, red, green, white, black and yellow)! Big congratulations to Jennie for being the lucky winner!

Modeled after the Fiat 500, Gianni’s new car key chain takes you one step closer to owning a genuine Italian car. This surely is the case for me since I am a fan of the Fiat 500. If my dog could fit comfortably (and safely!) in a 500, that would be my “new car goal”. Did you know that a Fiat can make coffee for you right in your car? Well, it exists in an upgraded model, the 500L. Seems like the US is out of luck until it has been approved though, but hey, one can dream!

Speedy blue!

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