Tag Archives: Florence

Sbigoline Terracotte

The feeling of connection to tangible history makes Europe a treasure trove to the the wistful. Webs layering past to present might not immediately be apparent. But you can feel it, smell it, and taste it in the air.


I have been shopping at Sbigoline Terracotte for years.http://www.sbigoliterrecotte.it/ It’s a small pottery studio that lies a couple blocks from the Duomo.  Only on my last visit did I discover that this shop has been in existence since the 1850s. That’s wild.  The present owner is below.  In the past, they sold more plaster objects.  Now they made decorative and functional pottery, all in the back of the store.    The 1850s.


I’m stuck right now in the 1850s, wondering what was the gestalt of Florence in the 1850s.  It was the time of the unification of Italy.  Sbigoline survived several wars, in the 1800s, not to mention WWI, WW2.  Musically I’m thinking Puccini and Verdi and Romantic composers.  How many times was O Mio Babbino Caro was hummed along the street in front of the the store?  Although a fictitious character, I bet Lucy Honeychurch from E.M.Forester’s A Room With a View would have bought some quality souvenirs at Sbigoli.

Maybe she would have sent her mamma a couple of these terracotta roosters?


What does it say about a city that is able to sustain a store in the same place for over 150 years?  I think it gives people a sense of the secure.  Buildings that stand the test of time by virtue of still standing tall and proud deserve to be there.  I was dismayed to learn yesterday about a historical building in Victoria (that has stood for over a hundred years) that will be demolished to make way for a climbing gym.  Why take a building that could be renovated and restored to glory and destroy it?  Why not destroy a crappy building that wasn’t built to last?  Buildings made a hundred years ago were built to last…..

We must learn from the Europeans.  They have been city-making and city-dwelling for thousands of years.  We must honour our collective architectural heritage.  We must realize that by honouring the beauty and craftsmanship of the past, we honour ourselves.  In the present.

Style-Diet Shot – Elena

“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

 – Thomas Jefferson

I met Elena in Tuscany, Italy where she lives.  Her clothes are Dixie dixie.it and her shoes are from Raspini http://www.raspini.com/negozi_eng.html.  I called Dixie to find out where their clothes are made.  (Any excuse to pick up the phone and speak Italian!)  Dixie is made in a suburb of Florence called Signa. Raspini is a famous set of shops for the fashionistas of Florence.  Raspini recently added a vintage boutique to boot. Italians as a rule have a passion for fashion.  I understood this when I saw the bus drivers of Florence wearing Prada shoes.  I smelled it in the air.  I could feel it in my bones.  After a few years of living in Italy, we embraced the art of la Bella Figura.  Once you understand what quality is, there’s no turning back.  Like with their beautiful cuisine, the Italians appreciate locally-made, lovingly-made.  Well made. Quality.



20130716-065840.jpg20130716-065813.jpg 20130716-065908.jpg

20130716-065847.jpg 20130716-065758.jpg

The Style-Diet Shot celebrates individuals with unique style, wearing at least one article of clothing acquired via the Stephens’ Sisters Shopping Diet. It must be local, sustainable, second-hand/re-purposed, inherited or ethically produced. If you can’t find clothing fitting that criteria then it must be from a country with stellar human rights records.

Pizza Passion

She who enjoys pizza, enjoys life.

When we lived in Italy, we acquired not only a taste for gelato but also for pizza.

I’m lactose intolerant and don’t digest gluten well.

So if I’m going to eat Pizza, it had better be the best darn pizza that can be found.  Unless I am really hungry and low-blood-sugared, I don’t eat pizza.  I had better love it so much that the pain of the tummy is eclipsed by gastronomic delights, the ecstatic joys, and the bliss of singing angels.  Like with Gelato, when we lived in Eataly, we searched far and wide for the best pizzas to be had.

Like other expatriates, after moving to Italy, we gradually developed a discerning taste for sublime pizza.  One pizzeria we oft-frequented was chez Pascal the “Pizza Man”.  He was an award-winning pizza purist who scoffed at pizza pagans bound for Dante’s inferno.  The greatest crime, in his eyes were those who “disrespected” the pizza, by putting ham and pineapples, or artichokes (?) on that hallowed rounded lovingly twirled bed of dough.   No, signori, la pizza should only have the following: fresh buffalo or cow mozzarella, tomatoes (preferably home grown), fresh basil, salt, extra virgin olive oil, a powdering of parmiggiano, wild oregano.  Pascal only served about 9 different types of pizza using the same dozen ingredients in various combinations.  All were vegetarian except for one that had some anchovies.  Differences were subtle but divine.  For example one had fresh cherry tomatoes added after cooking.  Otherwise it was identical in ingredients to the basic Margherita (Named after the queen who favoured the green (basil), white (mozzarella) and Red (tomatoes).


Growing up in Canada, we Stephens’ would order pizzas of different sorts and all eat some of everything.   When I moved to Italy with my husband and daugther, we initially ordered whatever – and always liked it.  But as time passed, I only actually ended up wanting and craving (joy and pain – mamma mia) and zoned in on the Margherita with Buffalo mozzarella.  So did my young daughter.  I gave her 2 blind taste tests before I had to concede that she could tell the difference between cow fresh Fior di Latte and Buffalo.  (I had to be sure since there was always a supplement for the Buffalo).

I became so particolare about this particular pizza that I started to wonder about the Italians.    Did the Italians have a favourite type of pizza like me?  Or did they just order whatever and share?  Once this occurred to me, I spent hours asking this to Italians (waiting for pizzas), who were very good-natured about this curious Canadian-Indian lady (who they thought was Portuguese – and a little nuts to boot).  Every one I asked told me that they ate 1 type of pizza.  And by cielo, were they specific.  One lady said, “I only eat the pizza ten minutes after it comes from the oven.  I like the cheese to be settled.  But 10 minutes maxiumum”.   One man said, “I like cherry tomatoes but they have to be added just after the pizza is removed from the oven.  Not before.  Not during.  After. Capisci?”  Another fellow said the opposite.  Yet another man worshipped at the altar of “Funghi (mushroom) but only the Porcini variety.  When the Porcini was fresh, not dried, and in season.  In season in Tuscany, of course, not Romania.  And of course, it was only made by 1 particular pizzaiuolo (pizza man) in one town, in one restaurant.  Of course, open only in the evenings between Wednesday to Saturday.

I know what you’re thinking.  You think that I exaggerate.  I donta exaggerat -ah.

With this background, I would like to share with you a few places that I’ve found in Victoria and Vancouver that cater to my flaming passion and love for pizza (Margherita with Buffalo).  A handful of places have the know-how and the magic.  I just experienced ecstasy of Prima Strada pizza http://www.pizzeriaprimastrada.com/ in Victoria.  Some of their tomatoes come from Saanich Organics (Victoria organic Box Delivery post).  The owner Geoffrey isn’t Italian, but like James of Bella Gelateria he gets it – and excels.

I plan to do a systematic review of all my favourite Margherita pizzas in my two V cities but for now, I wanted to share with you a special event at the Bibo http://thebibo.com/ Sunday night June 2nd.  Bibo is in Vancouver on 4th Avenue near Burrard.  Andrea and his partner and lovely wife Michela eased a gaping hole in my pizza-bereft heart (my tummy wasn’t complaining though).  Until crossing that one way threshold into Bibo, I was almost glad that I hadn’t found worthy pizza because of said stomach.  The Bibo is a wonderful place for Pizza .  Go often.  You should go there tonight for a special evening of foods and an introduction to a line of their new organic products.  They’re also doing a Tasting of Neapolitan Pizza.  See what tummy pains I will willingly endure for their marvellous Buffalo Margherita (‘Formula 1’ they call it)

Wine & Food Tasting event

Wine & Food tasting MENU

“You better cut that pizza in 4 pieces cause I’m not hungry enough to eat 6”

– Yogi Berra

The Style Diet Shot – The Beginning

“On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

– Thomas Jefferson

I have been following The Sartorialist (www.thesartorialist.com) for years now, watching him highlight people with unique style in fashion capitals around the world. When I lived in Florence, I regulary wondered if I’d bump into Scott Schumann at the Pitti or the Duomo. When we moved back to Canada, pictures of Florence’s stylish hotties (of all ages) helped heal my homesickness for Italy.

I discovered a Vancouver equivalent to The Sartorialist when my friend Edith popped up on Style Quotient http://www.stylequotient.ca/2010/03/31/no-288/. Edith is a beautiful singer with a silken voice and wicked sense of style. (If you’re lucky, you might catch her dulcet tones at Cheesecake Etc one fine evening)


Julia Roberts in 2001, wearing Vintage Valentino. The designer has said that dressing Ms Roberts for this event has been a career highlight.

What we wear cannot but echo part of our philosophy. I love fashion but want to celebrate common sense and sustainability. Yet style too. Is it possible? You bet your second-hand Fleuvogs yeah! Had to have a think and yay…

… I got a brain flash!

Wouldn’t it be awesome to show stylish peoples wearing a main item of clothing acquired according to the Stephens’ Sisters Shopping Diet Principles?!! Organic, local, sustainable, second-hand, ethically made. If none of the above, then clothes from countries with stellar human rights records. Quality, so you replace your stuff less often.

To kick off, here is Jyoti at the office. Her dress is Value Village Vintage.

20130513-171407.jpg 20130513-171355.jpg

I acknowledge that some people don’t want to clothe themselves in the energy of strangers. My mother, born in India, is one of those people. She asked me to say this when I told her I would blog about The Diet. In India, there is a taboo about buying other people’s cast-off clothing. Fortunately, being born in Canada and being half English, I laughed off that cultural idea when I was young. Wearing clean, second-hand clothes that fit your style can be super cool, sustainable, hip and exciting to shop for. The quality of many well-made vintage clothes is such that they have lasted decades. Clothes back then were were made to last years, not a season.

I hope to make The Diet Style Shot a regular – if not frequent – section of my blog to celebrate those people who can rock your grand-dad’s clothes.

And look incredible.

Bello Gelato at Bella Gelateria

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food”

– George Bernard Shaw

When we lived in Firenze’s Le Cure neighborhood, we were spoiled rotten for hand-made gelato, from Cavini to Badiani and a few in-between. Taking a post-dinner passeggiata (stroll), we would lazily amble about in the evening sun and eventually turn a corner and then find… Bliss.

Moving back to Canada’s West Coast was bittersweet in general and definitely sour when it came to locally-made ice cream. I had given up even after I had read an article last year about some non-Italian Vancouverite who had won an international prize for gelato. In Florence. In Italy. Hmm.

Today I went to Bella Gelateria run by James Coleridge in downtown Vancouver. Folks had mentioned this Gelateria to me but I had dismissed them – What would Vancouverites know about authentic gelato?


When we lived in Italy, we systematically tried every single artisanal Gelateria (ice cream parlour) in Florence. My husband and I made lists compiled from blogs and locals and tried at least one new Gelateria a week. This resulted in some funny foodie episodes. Once we actually fought with owners of a gelateria in Scarperia who didn’t want to sell us a tub of gelato.  Well, they were happy to sell it to us, until they found out that we were planning to bring it back home to Florence. Although it was packed in a Styrofoam container, they were genuinely worried that their gelato would lose its delicate flavours in the half hour ride back home. That episode is worthy of a short story: “The Gelato Nazis of Scarperia.”

I became such a gelato snob/conoisseur, that for a real treat I would make excuses to take the train to Rome to sh-lurp away at San Crispino (not then found in the travel guides). San Crispino behind the Fontana Di Trevi is usually passed over by the unsuspecting traveler.  They are looking for colorful ubiquitous mounds of frozen delight, gloriously decorated with delectable delicacies.  San Crispino doesn’t display their gelato but covers it up.  So much that is worth waiting for is initially hidden.

The first thing that struck me at the Bella Gelateria was that like Rome’s San Crispino, the gelato was covered, not displayed. This minimizes air exposure and flavour-mixing. I had to admit that I was impressed. Maybe James Coleridge really knew something about gelato.


He does. He is worthy of his title and wins in 2 categories of the International Gelato competition last year. He makes speechlessly-divine gelato. World Class. I asked him this afternoon about it.

James said it’s like David and Goliath. An independent against the industrial machine. I’ve heard my father use the same analogy about making organic breakfast cereal. We inhabit a world where flavour is generally sacrificed for cost. It takes a true artist to attain perfection in the flavour department. Flavour perfection is almost invariably tied to pure ingredients. In this weird world where quantity too often trumps quality, James has distilled pure gelato magic.

His mandate is to bring genuine flavours back into our culinary repertoire. Like fast fashion I’ve written about, fast food is even worse. On a meta level, who cares about how you dress if inside you are full of artificial flavours, artificial colours, GMOs and toxic residues? James is attempting to reconnect us with truth. The maestro uses Avalon milk for goodness sake.

Avalon milk

I needed to post about James’s gelato for a few reasons. My noble goal is to highlight people and systems who are getting it right. By worshipping the good and great, by drawing energy to that, we can’t help but inspire change. James is my hero of the day. First, he makes incomparable gelato. Second, he doesn’t compromise quality. He exemplifies what we all must strive to: independence, pride in our work, love of what we make and what we give to others.

I heard Vandana Shiva say that our greatness should be judged by what we create. I agree.

James Colergidge, alchemist, is transforming gems of nature and augmenting them for our tastebuds. He is creating beauty one cone at a time.

I left James with a “Ciao”, feeling I had met a great man today.