My life has been like I dreamed it would. I wanted to live in a foreign country and learn a second language–and I have done that. I lived in Umbria for a total of 1-1/2 years while studying Italian with a private tutor and researching the food, wine, and culture for a cookbook. And you might imagine after developing recipes and writing about food for a career, my dream might be to have a cookbook published. That’s done. My Umbrian cookbook, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle: Memoir of Stories and Recipes from Umbria was published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2010. And now I am leading cooking tours in Umbria! Wow, I am still pinching myself that life is so much fun.
How did I come to write a book about Umbria?
And during my long culinary career, I had always wanted to write a cookbook, but my life as a single mother kept me too busy to do it. Finally with my son off to college, I decided to move to Italy to write a book and to fulfill my teenage dream of immersing myself in a foreign language and culture.
So in 2006, I shipped twelve boxes of personal items to Italy, rented out my house in the Napa Valley, and moved to Umbria to research my book.
Before moving, I had previously spent almost six months in Umbria–during which time I fell in love with the region. I adored my two best friends, Silvia and Paola, and I was especially fond of Mario (my Umbrian “son”) who had patiently tutored me in Italian during my stay. When I returned a couple years later to stay for a year, Silvia, Paola, Mario, and his partner Michela, welcomed me like a lost parente (relative). During those twelve months of living as part this old Umbrian family, I cooked with the family and dozens of other people.
While I lived in Umbertide, I immersed myself in the daily lives of my adopted family. I gained insight into the cuisine, customs, and lifestyle that few outsiders are privileged to have. I attended birthday, holiday, and graduation celebrations. I was one of the first to visit Michela in the hospital, just hours after she gave birth to a baby boy. I went into forests inhabited by wild boars and poisonous viper snakes to gather truffles and wild asparagus. I harvested grapes to make vinsanto wine. With a family who lived up the hill from me, I picked olives and watched them being pressed. So many adventures—and they’re all in my book.
In my blog, you’ll meet Mario and his family along with many of my Umbrian friends. These are the folks who populate the anecdotes in my book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle: A Memoir of Stories and Recipes From Umbria (Thomas Dunne Books, August 2010).
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Food has been my love since childhood—I developed my first recipe, apple pie filling, at age ten while my mother was at work. I went on to study food, cooking, and nutrition at university. Since I graduated, I have been teaching cooking and nutrition; developing recipes, styling food for photos, and shooting food for major food companies; and writing for major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and The Oakland Tribune. I have written for Cooking Light, Wine Enthusiast, and Sunset. I have also worked in advertising-public relations agencies and been a PR director for Beringer Blass Wine Estates’ Italian portfolio—Castello di Gabbiano, Campanile, and Travaglini. My client list has included major food companies and commodity boards, such as Del Monte Food, Nestlé, and The Dairy Council of California. I have taught Italian classes and worked as a part-time demo chef at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone (one of the best-regarded chef training programs in the country).