Italian Roots

My Kids Call Him Nonno

This post is the opening of a series explaining our roots and our connection to parents and grandparents. I will try to describe the great teachers and loved ones that helped us learn, influenced our lives and how we teach and bring up our children as well.

This tale is regarding Mike Barbaro. I will try to show you a taste of his background, the family, his village in Italy, and the experiences that Mike has brought forth.

Adriana’s father, Michele Barbaro, has been a bright light for us.

For Adriana- of course- it is because he is her father, and for me, too- because he is my father-in-law. But he is so much more–his wife Kathy will tell you this (as she accompanies these stories on the same path with him, after-all). But then, Mike B is a bright light for everyone.

Mike’s life starts in a little village in Campagna, Italy: San Mango, and even smaller settlement there-in: Castagnetta. From there Mike and his parents: Nonna and Nonna, his uncles: Bill, Jerry, Frank, Tony and aunts: Rosa, Maria, Ava, Lina, Carmela, his best friend, Uncle Eddie, and so many relations, have unfolded into America, traced their roots, and welcomed us to share in their traditions, love and heritage, even their village home, itself. One year before we had children, Adriana and I visited the village, and slept in the same room Mike did when he was a child. The walls of field stone hugged us close and divided us snugly from the neighbor next door who we ate cheese with the next day in the little piazza.

We returned to the place in NJ where home had now continued to bloom all these years for Mike Barbaro and his family, and this video is a slice of that life -our life. This is the root still alive from a cutting made in the field where the cow used to graze under the fig tree in the little village.

One late Summer day the making of the wine was ceremoniously acted out together in a real sharing of tradition across the generations. The footage shows Fiori Nonno, and his wife Angelina Nonna, doing what they did every year (or at least someone from the family did every year): make wine. Adriana captured the spirit of the vino as Mike Barbaro- son of Fiori the Patriarch- reached out with his beloved parents to do again together what they did since he and Uncle Eddie were small boys in San Mango. And I, Mike from Massachusetts, got to tag along. I was working with Mike B at this time apprentice to building houses, setting tile, and learning carpentry. I also learned the wine.

Adriana, Food

What to Do…. Bake Bread and Embrace the Pace

Mike and I started this website after traveling this winter with our kids and feeling so good about finding new routes in life and sharing our discoveries with you all.  But oh how life has changed.  Now we find ourselves in unprecedented times: times of fear and stress.  Anxieties over the unknown and isolated.  I don’t have any answers as to how we can stop what is happening right now in our world.  I wish I did.  I continue to pray that those around us with knowledge and power help to put an end to this pandemic.  So, as we wait, in our homes together, I humbly hope that I may be able to bring some calm to your day or even for a moment.  I myself have always loved being a homebody.  I love starting the day slow.  I have always moved at a slower pace, which at times has truly helped me to relate to my children.  Especially when they were younger and slow was a very common pace!  From putting on shoes and jackets, to looking at a puddle in the driveway, bubbles flying in the air or an ant traveling across the sidewalk – embracing the pace, has helped me move forward and connect.  

Surprisingly, we haven’t had to change much around here.  Since we are already homeschoolers, not much has been disrupted with our school schedule and learning, aside from me prepping to be a little more of a homesteader if at all possible!  But, those are lessons I feel are just as important for the kids to learn as is math and reading.  So, over the past week as we have prepared to be at home and social distancing, we have explored our family life and survival world a little deeper than before.  I ran out of bread yeast! To my dismay, so has Stop and Shop! I haven’t made fresh bread any other way.  This is where the internet and google are a gift.  I looked up how to start your own sourdough yeast starter.  I will include a link to the site and directions below.  Instead of starting my own, my kind, resourceful neighbor brought over a sourdough starter that was ready to go along with some chicken and duck eggs!  So, the kids and I have been baking our own bread.  If you’re home is at all like mine, we can’t keep sliced bread enough in surplus around here.  I usually buy extra and freeze it, but it is definitely a staple of our household.  And right now I don’t want to be running to the food store more often then needed, if at all.  Thankfully, there’s nothing like fresh homemade bread and I’m so glad the kids agree and I’m sure you will too after you pull yours out of the oven! 

Some of my fondest childhood memories are spending Sundays at my Italian grandparent’s home in New Jersey.  My grandparent’s made almost everything from scratch.  They didn’t have a yard with grass, they had a giant garden with peach, apricot and fig trees, eggplants, peppers, lettuce, broccoli arabe, herbs, beans, baseball bat squash hanging from the grape vine rafters and of course, tomatoes; rows and rows of tomatoes.  As a kid, I never quite appreciated their uniqueness and resourcefulness.  They never went to Target to find what they needed.  They went to their garage and whatever they were looking for, it was most likely there!  My grandfather was the Italian McGuiver – he could make a chair using wood, plastic and shoelaces!  He used handkerchiefs instead of tissues and he really only had a handful of outfits in circulation.  He made his own bread, cheese, wine and sausage.  And even though I’m not a meat eater, I loved that sausage and still dream about it!  Something special about making it from scratch.  In there basement my grandfather had his wine cellar.  It was a hidden room strait out of a Nancy Drew novel.  After finding your way to the laundry room through the sausage and cheese hanging from the basement ceiling, there was a secret door and inside was a small room with a dirt floor, shelves full of glass jars with tomato sauce made by my grandmother and three giant barrels of fermenting wine.  I always felt so special when my Nonno would take me down there.  We’d sit on a wooden bench and he’d put a giant plastic tube in one of the barrels of wine, suck on it and start the flow.  He’d pour us both a cup and we’d sit there, most often in silence, since I didn’t speak much Italian and he didn’t speak much English, but he’d say, “very good wine, no?” and I’d nod and we’d sit there watching the feet go by the small basement window and guess who was stoping by for dinner.  My grandma, Nonna, made her own bread.  It wasn’t a soft sandwich bread.  It was hard as a rock and in order to eat it, you had to put it in water to soften (she made it in large batches like this because it was easier to store and didn’t go bad like fresh bread). 

It’s funny now to think of such things.  As a young child, I didn’t understand why they worked so hard to make all these things when they could buy them at the store.  I didn’t fully appreciate all the hard work that went into doing what they did.  As I grew older, I had more appreciation.  No one made sauce like my Nonna.  That pretty much goes for everything she made, it all had an unbelievable taste because it was fresh, because it didn’t get shipped in from another country, it was grown and made on location.  And now, reflecting back, I feel I can appreciate their simplicity and hardwork even more.  My grandparents were ready for anything. They had a pantry full of good, supplies (whatever was on sale, they always bought extra even if it meant storing five boxes of toothpaste, it was worth it if it cost them $1 cheaper)! My Nonna’s freezer and fridge were always stocked. They lived through a World War in a small Italian Mountain village.  My grandfather fought in WWII for Italy.  He was in the Navy at age 19 and his ship was sunk; he swam for 11 hours at sea only to be saved by another ship and taken to the USA as a prisoner of war.  My Nonna grew up having to hide food in the brick wall so the police wouldn’t take it because they were only allowed to keep as much as they needed to feed their family and the rest was expected to go to others.  She grew up having to dig trenches outside her home at the age of nine, she had to tend to the garden and the animals, she had to cook, clean, sew and crochet, she had to go to the mill with her grain and grind it up to make flour for baking.  She wasn’t deprived of the beauty of life, but she was taught and trained to be resilient.  To make things last and to appreciate what you had, to go without and to be resourceful.  I share these stories with you, hopes that they give you hope.  That they remind you of your own resilience and those of your ancestors whose blood runs through your veins and those of your children.  We have been blessed as human kind, to not have to go through times like we are experiencing now and although I truly wish we did not have to experience them, I believe they will make us all a little stronger.  Our families, our hearts and our homes.  We will persevere.     

  So, as my home has slowed the pace a little more, I encourage you all to do the same.  To embrace the pace, to bake some fresh bread make a pot of soup and enjoy your time together.  Most families don’t eat meals together never mind cook or bake together.  I am trying hard to keep faith and believe that a greater more beautiful lesson will come from all of this fear and time of unrest.  And I truly believe that there is so much to be said for slowing the pace, for living more simply for taking time for yourself and others to fully appreciate the precious moments and precious gift of life itself.  I pray you are all safe and healthy and that you are able to find moments of peace and calm and be reminded of our true human resilience.  It is a gift we all have.  

Now I go out to rake the vegetable beds and prepare my cold frame for our 2020 Victory Garden.  

With Peace and Solidarity from my home to yours,


Here is a Great link to starting your own Sourdough starter – Good Luck, take your time and Enjoy!

And Here’s a great No Knead Bread recipe!

Basic No Knead Sandwich Bread: (Do this before bed)

Mix 3c flour (I use 1c WW and 2c Bread flour), 1tsp salt, 1.5c water and 1/4c starter (which I stir into the water first). Cover the bowl and leave in a warm spot overnight.

In the morning, knock it back and let it rise for 60min, then knock it back again, shape and put in greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise to almost cresting the pan, but not quite…about 20-30min depending on how warm the space is. I do it in the oven with the light on.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425F, flour the top of the loaf and snip to score (I go lengthwise, but you can do a few short diagonal ones, too) and put pan in over COVERED! You can use another loaf pan (I do this) or make a foil tent, but give the bread room to grow. Bake 20min, then uncover for 10min.

That’s it.

If you’re in a rush, you can shape and rise in the pan first thing, and not do the second rising, but the bread will be more dense.