Cookbook Review: Cooking Up an Italian Life by Sharon Sanders

I enjoy cooking throughout the year. But when the weather begins to feel cooler, and the sycamore leaves turn that light golden hue, I find myself looking forward to the evening hours and preparing dinner. The first rainy day—with a cool breeze blowing down from the mountains—has come and gone, and with came the first supper of pasta fagioli (pasta with beans). This is a dish I crave in the autumn and winter, but often find too heavy for the summer months. I love how cooking has become a part of my daily life, and one that I look forward to and do with passion. Without a doubt, Italy has done that to me. Over the past three years I’ve gone from being a person who followed recipes religiously and cooked because it had to be done to a person who reads cookbooks for fun, enjoys being in the kitchen and invents new recipes. Every part of the cooking process, from picking out the freshest ingredients to chopping to serving, has become a pleasurable part of my daily life in Italy. Yes, Italy will just do that to a person!

This summer it was a pleasure to meet Sharon Sanders, food writer, editor and author, while she was visiting the Amalfi Coast. Talk about someone who has experienced the transformational power of the Italian lifestyle and cuisine! Sharon fell in love with Italy at a young age while she was living and working in Florence. (Where she just happened to meet and fall in love with her husband Walter Sanders from Chicago as well!) What started in Florence turned into a lifelong love affair with Italian cuisine and lead her to write Cooking Up an Italian Life: Simple Pleasures of Italy in Recipes and Stories. This cookbook is a labor of love for Sharon, driven by her desire to share the beauty and simplicity of Italian cooking with others who have been equally transformed by the Italian approach to appreciating the value of good food enjoyed with family and friends.

Cooking Up an Italian Life

Sharon’s sweet and positive outlook on living Italian in your daily life comes across on every page of Cooking Up an Italian Life. One of the themes of her cookbook is living like an Italian no matter where you happen to live in the world, especially when it comes to how you eat on a daily basis. You don’t have to live in Italy to bring the fundamental aspects of Italian cooking and the country’s unique food culture into your life. Throughout the cookbook, Sharon shares her insights on how to live an Italian lifestyle … starting right in your own kitchen!

Each recipe in the cookbook is cleverly designed as a complete meal, with suggestions and recipes for complementary salads, wines and desserts included on the same page. This makes it easy to plan a nice meal and prepare your shopping list in advance. Sharon’s recipes center around the key elements of Italian cooking, while also allowing for creativity and flexibility of ingredients depending on your location. It’s this mixture that makes Sharon’s cooking a refreshing and inspiring read. Her essays about traveling, living and learning about Italian cuisine are interspersed with the recipes and add a wonderfully personal feel to the cookbook.

Over a leisurely lunch in Amalfi earlier this summer, we shared our stories of loving Italy and how we each discovered our “Inner Italian,” as Sharon describes people like us who connect deeply with Italy but who, unfortunately, lack the genetic requirements to be Italian. But that’s just a technicality, after all. Sharon hasn’t let this get in the way of living her life Italian, and she certainly follows her motto “Cook Italian, Be Happy” each and every day.

You can learn more about Sharon, her cookbook and travels in Italy at her lovely website and blog Simple Italy – Feeding Your Inner Italian … Body and Soul.

Photo Friday: With Love from the Amalfi Coast


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Heart Santa Croce


Earlier this week I shared some photographs I took this summer at the Santa Croce beach in Amalfi, one of my favorite spots on the Amalfi Coast. This picture is from the same day, but is very special to me. I have a knack for finding heart-shaped rocks here on the Amalfi Coast, but this heart-shaped pool of water at Santa Croce took me completely by surprise. I want to share it today for Photo Friday and wish you all a weekend full of love and happiness!

Tempting Tuesday: A Day at the Santa Croce Beach, Amalfi

This summer it has been a real treat to travel around the world visiting a new beach every Tuesday. We’ve been to both Long Beach Island, New Jersey  and the La Maremma beach in Tuscany, Italy with Lisa Fantino. We saw the beautiful Giannella  beach in Argentario, Tuscany with Katie Greenaway.  Andi Perullo took us to two exotic and dreamy spots, one in Cuba and the other at the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.  Cherrye Moore brought us back to southern Italy by showing us Tropea’s tantalizing beaches, the Giovino beach and Soverato’s sizzlin’ beach in Calabria. And I gave you a peak at the beautiful Fornillo beach in Positano, right here on the Amalfi Coast. That’s a lot of beach time … I hope you had your sun block on!

As the beach days begin to wane, this week I’ll be wrapping up my Tempting Tuesday beach series. But, on this last day of August, I just couldn’t resist sharing with you all some photographs I took this summer at my favorite beach on the Amalfi Coast – the Santa Croce beach in Amalfi.

Located just west of Amalfi, this heavenly beach is only a short boat ride away. (Or, if you’re feeling like some exercise, about 400 steps below the Amalfi Coast road.) During the summer, there’s a local boat service that runs throughout the day from Amalfi, and the ride only costs €2.00. Or, you can take the free boat service offered by Ristorante Da Teresa, the one with the orange umbrellas in the photos below, if you plan on dining in their restaurant or paying to rent a sun bed and umbrella.


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Beach


The beach at Santa Croce is small, rocky and absolutely perfect. I think the water is perhaps more beautiful here than any beach I’ve seen on the Amalfi Coast.


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Sea


Now do you you believe me?


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Incredible water


The larger rocks form a swimming area that is fun to explore, especially for kids who seem to love splashing around in the beautiful water.


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Water


I’m usually off exploring the rocky area with my camera. I don’t know how this plant can survive the intense summer sun!


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce taking photos


There are few places on the Amalfi Coast that I find as peaceful as the Santa Croce beach. Sometimes I close my eyes and see this photo.


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Sailboat


I found a beautiful spot at the end of the beach and sat down for awhile watching the tiny crabs run back and forth on the rocks below. Not a bad view, eh?


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Rocks


These are the summer days I’ll be remembering as the weather turns cool and I pack away the swimsuits, flip flops and beach hats for next year.


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce feet


But, until then, I’ve got the sound of the sea to carry me through until next summer, when I’ll be back at Santa Croce beach!



If you want more tips and information on visiting the Santa Croce beach, check out the post I wrote last summer about my favorite beach on the Amalfi Coast.

A Delectable Panino in Florence by Katie Greenaway

When I visited my friend Katie in Florence this past May, she was kind enough to meet me at the train station since it was my first time in Florence. After dropping off my bag at the hotel, my stomach rumbling reminded me that after the train ride from Salerno to Florence it was certainly time for lunch. When I asked Katie for a suggestion on where we should go, she responded with, “Do you want something cheap or something good?” I said, “Something cheap AND good.” Off we went to her favorite panino shop, which was a memorable and fun experience. I’ve tried to recreate that panino here on the Amalfi Coast, but it’s just not the same without the Tuscan prosciutto,  pecorino and artichokes. Yum! Here’s Katie to tell you more about where to find the best sandwiches in Florence.

Welcome, Katie!



Vinaino di Parte Guelfa opened about a year and half ago by two good friends, Luca and Leonardo, who happen to be brothers-in-law as well.  Having done every job under the sun, they decided to open this delicious panino shop in the center of Florence.  Both natives of Florence, they have now accumulated new friends from the city and all over the world.  They tell me they enjoy speaking with folks that frequent the shop.  Social interactions are what they thrive on!  Sometimes it seems as if they are bartenders as well since every time I am in there someone is complaining about their life, while Luca and Leonardo add their two sense here and there and then let the client vent.  It’s an extra bonus to be able to let all your worries and concerns out to your neighborhood sandwich extraordinaires.


vinainodeli Photo courtesy Vinaino di Parte Guelfa


I entered this sandwich shop because of a recommendation from a friend.  Often I’m nervous entering a new establishment in Florence since I’m very shy and it takes time before I feel comfortable with the owners and then can loosen up and talk up a storm with the clients and perhaps help out the tourists order.  The shop is very small with only 2 tall and very tiny tables.  Most people congregate outside on the curb during the busy lunch hour since there is no room inside.  When arriving during the hours of 1pm to 3pm, expect a line.  Don’t worry as it moves quite fast.  Luca and Leonardo are very helpful and patient with each customer foreign or not.  (Bare with them they are still learning English!)  It is hard to decide when there are savory meats and tantalizing aromas making you second-guess yourself.


schiacciatinabywww.terradivirgilio.itPhoto courtesy Terra di Virgilio 


The menu is small and versatile, offering you the choice between having a schiacciatina and panino .  A simple panino with prosciutto crudo and pecorino fresco will run you only €2,50.  If you are like me who like to mix tons of fresh flavors of Tuscany together, then it will cost you just €1 more, €3,50.  Beverages consist of vino (wine), Fanta, Coca-Cola, water and beer.  All will be from €1 to €1,50.  I suggest the vino after a long day of walking in Florence!


vinainolucaleo Photo courtesy Vinaino di Parte Guelfa


This delectable panino shop is located off the beaten path on Via Val di Lamona right near Mercato Nuovo.  The street is very small and once you walk down it, you will see the token barrel outside the shop.  That’s your cue that you’ve arrived at this scrumptious panino shop!



Katie Greenaway is a freelance travel writer and is the Local Expert of Florence for Nile Guide where she also provides the secrets of Florence on her blog.  She writes about her life in Florence on her personal blog Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino and contributes to MNUI travel insurance with travel articles.

Southern Italian Generosity

This morning while shaking a rug out the window (Yes, I actually do that.), our friendly neighbor called across the garden asking if we’d like some tomatoes. Of course! These neighbors have some terraces of land that they put to very good use and work hard every day tending all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It’s always a treat when they offer something fresh from their garden. When I went to pick up the tomatoes, I got a surprise dose of southern Italian generosity when I found the basket piled full of more than just tomatoes. She also shared some of their wonderful plums (better than any I’ve ever bought!) and the most delicious ripe figs. Oh my!


Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Summer Fruits


This type of generosity is so common here in southern Italy. (And no doubt in the rest of the country as well, but this is only place in Italy I’ve lived.) Without any space for gardening, I often feel like I have so little to give in return for such generosity. So today, blessed with such abundance and kindness of neighbors, I want to share with everyone just how lovely, warm and generous the people of southern Italy are by their very nature. For many, something as simple as sharing an abundance of fruit is just as natural as saying buon giorno in the morning. It’s something that I learn from and love every day here on the Amalfi Coast.

Buona domenica a tutti! (Happy Sunday to everyone!)