Cultivating the Italian ideal of La Dolce Far Niente

My January started off a little rough (everyone has the flu, things stopped working and now it’s -27 degrees Celsius here with the windchill. ugh). So it wasn’t the best month to start of something new, like a resolution. I think resolutions are too hard to keep and not keeping them is just an eventual disappointment. So this year, I have new years themes: what I want the year to be like based on my hopes and theories of what might make this year a bit more enjoyable than the last. One of these themes is to “go easy” on myself. I have a tendency to want to fill everyday, actually every minute, with something productive. Ask me to sit and watch TV, and I’ll do it while making a list in my head of everything else I should be doing or what I’ll be doing next.

It’s tiring. And I’m tired of it. It’s not that I want to do less either, I have a whole bunch of goals I want to reach, but I want to take time to enjoy reaching them and enjoy the time in between “doing stuff.” Maybe it’s the Canadian lifestyle in me and I have to admit what I’ve lost touch with in my Italian blood is “la dolce far niente”, that Italian lifestyle of enjoying the idleness of life.

Dolce Far Niente literally means “sweet doing nothing” = “Delicious idleness.” Sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness, being deliciously idle.

If you’ve ever been to Italy you know just what I’m talking about: stroll along city squares, sitting in a café just because, enjoying the view because you can. And the best part about it is appreciating the fact that doing nothing isn’t bad at all, it’s part of life, probably a necessary part of life. I used to watch my grandfather enjoy it all the time (in his retirement at least), taking in the view of his garden from his patio chair as the day turned to evening.


By |23/01/2013|Culture|2 Comments

Just in time: Top 5 Gift Ideas for Nonna and Nonno

Gift ideas for NonniShopping for Christmas presents is not always the best thing about Christmas (I maintain it’s the baking, but you already knew that). For Italian-Canadians, no one can be harder to buy for than Nonno and Nonna. I know this because I struggled with it for years. Though I no longer have grandparents with me, I now help shop for my husband’s grandparents and often get questions from coworkers and friends who would love some gift ideas for Nonna and Nonno.

As someone who turns to the internet for solutions, searching for “gifts for nonni” won’t get you far. Most recommendations will be for an Italian-flag t-shirt of some sort. That’s pretty lame. So I’m writing the post that I would have wanted to stumble upon when I was searching for gifts for Nonni and I’m hoping it will help others.

Of course with gifts, it’s key to take into account what your Nonni are interested in….knitting (so they get yarn), fishing (so they get new lures), cooking (so they get a new pasta cutter). But at a certain point it’s difficult to get them anything that you haven’t already purchased them or something that is useful to them. Sure you think the new pasta machine attachment for the KitchenAid mixer will save all sorts of time, but Nonna still wants to roll the dough by hand. You can’t beat tradition.

But you can beat the stress of shopping for Nonni, at least this year. Here’s my top 5 gift ideas for Nonni:


By |15/12/2012|Culture|1 Comment

Italian-Canadian Christmas traditions…and what we used to get

vintage_santa_colour_2Christmas is coming and there’s no better time to celebrate traditions. Mine usually start with baking with family (some more recipes coming up next week!) and getting familiar presents together like panettone and chestnuts. Nothing solidifies tradition more than speaking with older Italians about what they remember when they were young and why they keep traditions going.

Recently I was able to contribute an article to Panoram Italia magazine (the Montreal edition) about “What We Used to Get“, meaning what Italians used to receive for Christmas or the Epiphany back in Italy or when they were new immigrants to Canada. It was so interesting and entertaining to interview older Italians about their early Christmases – it is certainly amazing how well they remember the small gifts they did receive. It’s clear that in the times of poverty in Italy and the struggles in Canada, every small gift and joy left such an emotional impact. Torroncini, torrone, oranges, chestnuts and dried figs were all common gifts to receive and some remain tradition to have at the table for the holidays to this day. Up to just a few years ago, my mother still gave us stocking with oranges and chestnuts at the bottom as a reminder of what simple gifts she used to receive in Italy.

What was really clear to me in my interviews was that while the article focused on “what we used to get” as in gifts, most memories of the holidays aren’t about gifts at all, they are about traditions. Many of the older Italians started off by saying that they didn’t get anything at all but would spend days cooking or baking what they could with their mothers or grandmothers. Others remembered town events, music and decorations. The food is always the star of the holidays too. I didn’t get to feature these responses in the Panoram Italia article, but I think they are important reminders of Italian Christmas traditions and am taking the opportunity to feature them here. I encourage you to leave your own memories in the comments as well!


By |12/12/2012|Culture|0 Comments

Remembering all things past on All Souls’ Day










When I was younger, I distinctly remember the days after Halloween as muted ones. They didn’t have the zest and excitement of the black and orange candy feast of October 31, that was for sure. And truly your stomach takes days to recover from that onslaught of goodies that, though it pains you, you must keep eating. For the record, I always left the Smarties behind.

But it was more than just the candy hangover and life in ordinary clothes that changed the mood. My grandparents, who lived just next door, would light a candle that would stay on for all of November. It sat on the dining room table and you could see it from the hall, the front door, the kitchen while we ate dinner. It became this haunting little light that I don’t think for years I understood properly. They would also gather up flowers and cemetery candles (the type surrounded by tall glass and bearing the picture of Jesus or a saint) and head to the graves of relatives. Unfortunately, with their passing, I understand more about the All Souls Day traditions that fall on November 2 which include attending church and visiting the cemetery to remember the loved ones we’ve lost. (more…)

By |02/11/2012|Culture|0 Comments

Guest post: Growing up Italian & the tradition of zeppoli

Italian zeppoli

Today we welcome our first guest writer, Jerry Buccilli, a 2nd generation Italian from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Growing up Italian
There are two very old proverbs, “La cucina piccolo fal la casa grande,” which means, “A small kitchen makes the house big,” and the second, “una buona mamma vale cento maestre,” which translates to “a good mother is worth a hundred teachers.”

I wanted to quote these sayings because they hold a particular meaning to me. We immigrated to Canada when I was seven and after moving from one apartment to another we finally found a house to settle in. It was small 1,100 square foot bungalow tucked away in an old Italian neighborhood in Welland, Ontario, but it was warm, cozy and it was home.  It also had the tiniest kitchen you ever saw. But my mamma, who ranks amongst some of the best cooks I’ve ever known, would always be cooking up a storm in there. Using the little resources she had, she made due and created her little feasts. The food, the music and the good laughter and conversation that emanated from our kitchen was the focal point of our lives. It was like mamma was showing her love as only she could. Through food. It’s a romantic notion to be sure, but that’s exactly what it was. A love story.

For us Italians growing our own fruits and vegetables, making fresh bread and our own home-made pasta, making wine, sausages and canning our own preserves….or waking up to home-made Sunday sauce (the smells of garlic, tomatoes and braised meat were oh, so intoxicating)…this was about carrying on a love story with tradition. Handing down recipe after recipe, generation after generation. Each family had its own time-honoured secrets to share.


By |15/10/2012|Culture|11 Comments

It’s time to start listening and Wake Up Italian Style!

It’s no secret, really, that my spoken Italian is not as good as I’d like it to be. I’ve been exploring the use of Italian books on CD for my car rides, but I have also been trying to tune in to Italian radio and television to get my language back. In Toronto, and thanks to all the resources online, that’s not too hard to do. Recently, I found out that I’m probably not the only Italian-Canadian trying to reconnect with my language (you can check out my article in August’s Panoram Magazine about it, and this previous blog post).

In response to all us younger Italian-Canadians speaking English and Italian, CHIN radio is offering a new format to a popular Italian show. Today, Wake Up Italian Style, the Italian morning show on CHIN AM 1540 launched “Odd Couple Fridays” featuring Edoardo Monsaterolo, the show host and producer with a special guest co-host. Edoardo is joined by members of the Italian-Canadian community sharing their success stories in English and Italian and their favourite Italian music playlists. You can listen to Wake Up Italian Style in your car, online or connect with them on Facebook. So join me and listen up.

This morning Rick Campanelli (from ET Canada, and formally “Rick the Temp” from Much Music) was the first to joint the “Odd Couple” between 7-9am on Fridays. Rick shared his entertainment knowledge with listeners with Edoardo helped him connect with his Italian roots. Here’s a sample of what to expect…tune in!

The Morning Show will be actively featuring young Italian-Canadians (in their 20s, 30s and 40s) from all walks of life in English and Italian as guest-hosts with Edoardo on a regular basis. I can’t wait to hear more.

By |12/10/2012|Culture|1 Comment

7 Tips for Dating an Italian-Canadian

What’s it like to be Italian-Canadian? What’s it like to date an Italian-Canadian or join their families? Turns out these are pretty frequent questions I’m hearing.

One of the more interesting aspects of keeping up this blog is seeing what people search (in Google, Yahoo or whatever) that gets them to An Italian-Canadian Life. There’s been quite a few people who search for Italian-Canadian “wedding” or  “dating.” It made me raise an eyebrow – it’s a topic I didn’t expect. Here’s a  sample of what people search for:

“italian canadian dating”
“italian love phrases”
“italian boyfriend family”
“italian breakup dating”
“what it means to be italian canadian”

I’ve also received emails from some readers who are looking to understand more about their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s Italian-Canadian family. So what is it about dating an Italian-Canadian that is so darn interesting or confusing? While each family is unique, there’s certainly a few things I can recognize as typical of Italian-Canadians (as tongue-in-cheek as this is!)…here’s what you should know:


By |05/10/2012|Culture|7 Comments

Italian-Canadian infographic – learn about our community

Italian Canadian Infographic

By |19/09/2012|Culture|0 Comments

Finding your history (or not) at the Pier 21 Museum

Pier 21 Museum











My dad insists he arrived to this country by cruise boat, my mother by cargo boat. This comment usually generates a bit of debate and argument in the house, though fun-natured. I doubt either is entirely correct though I would never doubt the struggles, feelings and fears they had about arriving to Canada from Italy which are still vivid for both of them. My mother particularly recalls, upon their May arrival, seeing snow and “houses on stilts” in the Halifax harbour prompting her to demand to her mother “we left Italy for this?” My dad remembers the nuns, processing his papers, changing his name from Luigi to Louis, something he still tries to correct today, some 50 years later.

I’ve long wanted to experience some of their history myself and when the opportunity came up this summer to visit Halifax, I immediately put the Pier 21 Museum on my touring list. I mapped it out, planned to give it half a day and started my trek down the harbour boardwalk. The Pier 21 Museum offers many exhibits on immigrant experience, a guided tour and a gift shop.

The Pier 21 Museum also houses the Scotiabank Family History Centre where you can look up family members that arrived at Pier 21, get information on when and how they arrived and details of the ship they travelled on. This is what I was really excited about. I was able to look up relatives that immigrated to New York (my great grandfather, for one) through the Ellis Island Passenger Search. That was easy and painless and I had been hoping to do the same for my parents and grandparents that arrived in Halifax. At Pier 21 though I ended up learning less about my family and more about the Canadian privacy legislation than I would have liked, but more about that later.


By |04/08/2012|Culture|2 Comments

Wanted: One Zappa

Italian garden zappa


I’m on the look out for an Italian artifact. Someone out there has one – in a dusty garden shed, in the rafters of your garage, or maybe you have just a piece of it in an old cantina or box in the basement. Well bring it out, because it’s hard to find! I’m after a zappa. You might also call it a sappa or saupa.

In simple words, it is a garden hoe. But brought straight from Italy, it is an amazing tool that you can’t buy anymore.

It has a long blade on one side, a two pronged fork on the other. The wooden pole it fits on has to be replaced from time to time, but the metal piece is unique for each one I’ve seen. And the Italians in my family that have them, aren’t letting go of them easily. For many Italians, it is their only gardening tool. You can do everything with it: turn the soil, remove weeds, mix in the manure, make trenches for planting the vegetables, and till the soil.


By |07/07/2012|Culture|5 Comments