Book Review | At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

At Least You're in Tuscany Gemelli by Jennifer CriswellAs an expat in Italy, I’m drawn to memoirs by writers who have followed a similar journey of uprooting life and going in search of a new pathway in a new country. Naturally, if the book is about expat life in Italy, then it’s probably top of my “must read” list. I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of the latest release from Gemelli Press At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell.

In the case of Criswell’s memoir, you can judge a book by its cover! Just like the author, I have a weakness for those brilliant red poppies that dot the fields in Italy. Or, in my case, poke out of the cracks in the ancient stone staircases on the Amalfi Coast. I was captivated by the beautiful cover design from Gemelli Press and then laughed when I read the book’s subtitle: “A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life.” The title At Least You’re in Tuscany evokes the spirit of Criswell’s book, which is a refreshing and often hilarious read from an author who has captured the charms as well as the challenges of expat life in Italy.

At Least You’re in Tuscany follows Criswell’s big move from New York City with her beloved Weimaraner named Cinder to a new home in an apartment in Montepulciano, a beautiful Tuscan hilltown not far from Siena. The book follows her first year as she adjusts to the ins and outs and ups and downs of life in Tuscany. From learning Italian and slowly making friends to epic delays in paperwork and bureaucratic nightmares, Criswell shares with readers more than just the pretty views and stereotypical Italian experiences. Her stories and enduring sense of humor reveal that adjusting to life in another country and planting new roots isn’t all all about wine and fields of poppies.

While reading At Least You’re in Tuscany, one Italian word kept running through my mind – grinta. While it may not have the melodious and romantic sound usually associated with Italian, its hard sound is very appropriate. While the dictionary definition comes up as “determination,” for me it’s a mix of courage, stubbornness and eternal optimism. It’s Italian for oomph! And grinta is precisely what is needed when you pack up and move to another country. Criswell has grinta in abundance, and it’s what makes her story such a compelling read that I couldn’t put it down!

Although the title hints that the book might have a negative bent, I found Criswell’s sense of humor and determination uplifting. Whether she’s describing the time her laundry froze on the line or painstaking struggles with finding work, I found her sense of humor the perfect balance to the troubles at hand. Reading At Least You’re in Tuscany reminded me of the many adventures I’ve had adjusting to life on the Amalfi Coast. Humor is absolutely required! That and a good mantra to keep positive even in the most difficult moments. Criswell’s mantra, “At least you’re in Tuscany,” carried her through that first year of changes and challenges until Montepulciano finally became home.

If you’re dreaming of making a move to Italy one day, or simply enjoy reading expat tales, I’d highly recommend At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell. It’s a tale not only about life in Tuscany but also about having the determination to follow your heart’s desires – no matter what challenges life throws your way!

Now available at Amazon in Kindle version. Nook and paperback versions coming soon!

At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life
By Jennifer Criswell
ISBN: 978-0-09821023-7-4
Author’s website: http://jennifercriswell.com |  Gemelli Press website: http://gemellipress.com

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Recipe | Bietola with Mustard Seeds

Fresh Swiss Chard on the Amalfi Coast

Fresh bietola - swiss chard - from the autumn market

The change of the seasons is official when it arrives in the markets of Italy. Or, at least, it’s officially tasty! Fruits and vegetables suddenly appear that we haven’t enjoyed for awhile, and it’s fun to see what will be new at the market each week. Shopping seasonally and locally is a healthy habit we can all cultivate. It just so happens that living on the Amalfi Coast makes that so much easier. Right now the markets and small shops are full of grapes, persimmons and lovely greens that only show up in the autumn. I stopped into the local fruit and vegetable shop yesterday and noticed a crate of fresh picked bietola with dark green leaves and white stalks. What’s bietola? That luscious vegetable is called swiss chard and is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. I brought home a big bunch and prepared it quickly as a side dish for dinner. While this recipe is so simple it hardly counts as a recipe, I couldn’t resist sharing one of my favorite autumn vegetables. If you haven’t had swiss chard, or perhaps don’t usually care for greens, do try this unusual and tasty flavor combination!

Bietola (Swiss Chard) with Mustard Seeds

Ingredients

1 big bunch of swiss chard

1 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1-2 cloves of garlic

salt (to taste)

1. Wash the swiss chard thoroughly. Remove the thick white stalks and cut in 1/2″ slices. Cut the greens in 1/2″ or thicker slices and set aside separately.

2. Place the olive oil, garlic and mustard seeds in a large pot and heat over a very low flame until the garlic has infused the olive oil and the mustard seeds start to pop. Remove the garlic.

Swiss Chard with Mustard Seeds

Cooking the stems of the swiss chard

3. Add the white stalks of the swiss chard and mix well to coat in oil. Cover and cook over medium flame about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stalks begin to soften.

Bietola recipe with mustard seeds

Adding the swiss chard greens

3. Add the swiss chard greens and mix well to coat in the oil and they begin to wilt. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes (depending on quantity) until tender.

4. Salt to taste and serve as side or over rice or quinoa.

Swiss Chard with Mustard Seeds Recipe

Swiss chard with mustard seeds

If you don’t have mustard seed handy or don’t care for the flavor, leave it out and prepare the bietola with olive oil and garlic or add a bit of peperoncino for a spicy punch!