Finding Happiness Where You Are

I have previously alluded to the challenges of living here as an American. Where I live, on the outskirts of Naples, the country is frozen in time in many ways. Many or most women do not work. They are expected to have children and stay home and raise their children, cook, clean and care for the house. Most do not seem to form friendships outside of the relationships they have with their extended families, often a sister or sister-in-law is the closest friend. The society can be very closed and difficult for an outsider to enter and make friendships. Friends are your backbone, your community, especially when you live away from your family and when it is nearly impossible to form these friendships, life can feel very isolating.

I have made friends with other expats, but none are close enough to just stop by for a cup of coffee or meet for lunch. I have worked in schools closer to home, but the women who work in the schools in my area, are essentially products of their environments, not looking for friends more than they already have. I was also treated like an outsider because of the language barrier and was given very little confidence in my work and abilities by my Italian counterparts.

The school I began working for this past month and will continue to work at in September employs other only native English speakers or women who speak English fluently. Most of these women have spent time outside of Italy and are open minded as well. We share the same goals. Going back to the school was like a breath of fresh air. Fresh air to get out of the small town on the wrong side of Mt.Vesuvius, fresh air to talk with others, fresh air to be accepted into a community.

When I started working I was told that I wouldn’t be able to do it “all”, “all” being cleaning and caring for the house, caring for my children and working. At first I was annoyed with this very typical response from a society that values women staying at home with showroom pristine houses. I decided to take it as a challenge though, I can do it all. On top of those “women” responsibilities, I have been working on a business degree which still has weekly assignments and research projects. I began to listen to podcasts and watch YouTube channels of women who do it “all” for motivation. I woke up earlier, I bought a new planner and time blocked my schedule, I spent my long commute listening to motivating and empowering podcasts about women who want to do it “all”. It has been life changing, my grades in my online courses actually went up from the grades I had when I wasn’t working!

Take the time each to be grateful and reflect on what you are grateful for and what you can do to be happy.

A New Direction

This blog has evolved from my original intention of writing about the recipes we’ve tried from around the world. The challenge was fun and introduced to so many cultures and food that I would never consider trying before the challenge. The challenge got difficult though in the sense that I found it to be very wasteful of food, since I was buying ingredients I would most likely never use again and finding the ingredients could be very time consuming and expensive, usually in the end I had to buy ingredients from Amazon. I wanted to continue with the challenge though by trying only two countries a week but I was offered a job I couldn’t pass up. The commute is long and I don’t have the energy to cook elaborate meals in the evening any more, so for now I have put the challenge on hold.

The new job is actually an old job I had my first year of living here, I mentioned it in a previous post, saying it was the best place I worked here. The problem was always the commute, it was very tiring when my kids were smaller. Now they are bigger and sleep better, so waking up early for the drive isn’t leaving me as exhausted before. Also after experiencing the brutality of working in Naples, I know now that was by far the best place to work, especially because the other women that work there make it a warm and welcoming place to work, a break in the daily life of Naples.

Today though is my last day until September but during this month that I have been there I have though many times about starting a blog and Instragram stories and reels about what is like to live and work in Naples from an expat’s point of view and especially as a women. It is a world so different than the rest of Europe and the West. It’s a place almost frozen in time for many things, but for many things its also modern. Living here has its challenges already, but being a working mom here brings on more challenges and lots of cultural differences.

So stick around and I will update here and as well as on my Instagram, (k.gradinetti), about how different it is to live here, the struggles and the good (its not all bad, I promise!).

The not so bad part about living here, The Amalfi Coast is a 30 minute drive away.

Working in Naples

This post deserves its own blog, but I will try to summarize my experience into one blog post. Working in Naples should be prefaced with this is not working in Italy, I believe and have heard from others that working in other parts of Italy is completely different. As many say, Naples isn’t Italy.

I began my working in Naples journey nearly five years in an English immersion nursery and elementary school on the outskirts of the city proper on an old NATO base. Coming from Switzerland, this was a shock I wasn’t ready for. In retrospect, the school was the best job I had here (I’ve had many). In the end, I left because the distance to drive each day was too far (over an hour). But back to my first experience working here. Before school started, the school held a “Get to the know your teacher open day”, the parents came with their kids and visited me and the classroom. I though I was prepared, I had spoken to the more experienced teachers about what I needed to do and I had nearly 5 years of teaching experience under my belt (in Switzerland). I had great relationships with the parents in Switzerland so I couldn’t imagine why this would be any different.

The first thing the parents did was pull me apart, tell me Neapolitan children aren’t well behaved and I had no idea what I was in for. Needless to say, I left the day in tears and in shock. What did I get myself into? The rest of the year passed though with only a few bumps, mainly caused by the parents, but the work itself wasn’t bad.

The next job came with a partial contract of being paid partially under the table at a language school, where I worked evenings. The owners were nice enough, always paid on time, but still things weren’t as they should be. Sick days were unacceptable and I went to work with a fevers and stomach bugs. I couldn’t take a day off to take my daughter to the pediatrician when she had chicken pox or take off the recommended two weeks I needed when I injured my ankle during the summer camp. I could have put up with it all though, but the evening hours were keeping me away from kids and it wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore.

The next job was an English teacher where Raffaello went to daycare. The school itself (daycare, preschool and elementary age) was nice enough and the other teachers were professional and did their job well, especially in the preschool and daycare aged classes. I worked lots of hours, more than I signed up for but was always paid for them. There were signs of the owners being unfair when they forced us teachers to attend 2-3 hour long meetings begining at 6pm, every two weeks, unpaid. There was also other signs through the work day, such as being called out on for doing something wrong by the owner in front of the children, being yelled at by the owner, etc. I left days many days in tears.

The worst of the trouble came when Covid hit and the owner began to stay our salaries would be cut and he would be paying us late, before we even knew the impact of Covid. One day after the schools closed from Covid, he already informed us employees that we would be paid late and paid less for the previous month (which everyone worked as normal). He only paid me for February in mid April, after I posted on social media that the school hadn’t been paying us teachers for February (many parents on social media). My best move professionally? Probably not, but I don’t care, they weren’t professional. The owner even called my husband and screamed at me to “control me” and that he “would come to my house and show me what he means”. They paid me after that, but ONLY if I removed the social media post. My contract with them officially ended in May, in Italy when you finish a work contract there is some money to be paid out, which usually ends up to equal a month’s salary. I never received that money, though I did receive a pay stub where it says it would be paid. That was May 2020, this is May 2022. It hasn’t come, even with an official letter from a lawyer saying it needed to paid.

The last job worth nothng in this story of bad jobs, was my most recent. I took the job reluctantly. I was supposed to be working in another language school for around 20 hours a week, but a friend of mine quit her job her teaching English and left me as the other English speak contact. This new job offer sounded better, it would be mornings only. At first I was promised the same salary I was supposed to make at the other school, but when I went to sign the contract, it was less than expected. I let it go, knowing that this is typical in Italy. The new job took me to three different preschools where I spent 1-3 hours a day “teaching” English.

Sounds easy right? I was given no materials and no budget to make materials. All materials ended up coming out of my pocket. None of the teachers in the other schools gave any interest in me, since I was just their new free hour. These preschools sell themselves to parents as “bilingual” education, which should mean the children are learning the same topics in Italian and English. This is impossible when nobody coordinates with you. These were essentially one hour of chaotic English lessons, since the children were left alone with a teacher they weren’t used to, nobody learned, I spent most of my time asking them to listen. I spent all of my “free” afternoon hours making materials and preparing for the next day’s lessons. I would spend around 1 hour with each age group each day, but I would be left alone with 20-25, 3-5 year old’s, trying to teach a foreign language. It was chaos. Then I was told it wasn’t enough or that my crafts I had done with children (not done by the teacher which seems to be the style here) weren’t good enough. This job affected my mental health more than any, I have never felt so much pressure and stress before. If the school was closed for whatever reason, often by the mayor (too many cases of covid or bad weather), I would be expected to “make up the hours” even if the school was closed for official state holidays. The problem was there were simply no other “hours” in the morning I had available to do “make-up” and the afternoons were off limits because the children were either sleeping or too tired for academics. The amount of hours I needed to make-up accumulated so much I have no idea how I was ever supposed to finish all of those hours. Sick days obviously, not allowed. The amount of children per classroom could not have been legal for one adult. The way the children were sometimes treated by the other “teachers” was shocking. I wasn’t the only teacher left with so many kids, it was often the same for the Italian teachers. Many of them worked extra days with out being paid as well.

Needless to say, I have no interest in finding another job for the moment, especially not in teaching. Working in Naples isn’t for people who like respect and equality. It’s unregulated chaos, stressful and a sign of how living here can be so difficult.

Bella Napoli? Not so much.

Homemade Pasta

For Mother’s Day on Sunday, we made homemade ravioli and tagliatelle. Making fresh pasta doesn’t take much time but it does require some patience. We began making the dough for the pasta around 9:30 am. The dough is quite simple to make, a basic mixture of flour and eggs. We have a Thermomix, its a multi function and cooking kitchen appliance that makes things such as dough making a breeze. It took less than two minutes to get the dough made then it needed to sit for 30 minutes to rest.

After it’s 30 minute rest, we got to make the ravioli. We used approximately half of the dough for ravioli. Umberto rolled out the dough until it was nearly cracker thin, we then used a small bowl to create a larger circle shape (we could say these were “raviolone”, big ravioli). After prepping the ravioli, I made the filling. I sauteed two eggplants until they were soft and then mixed with 250g of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, seasoned with salt pepper. We then placed the ravioli, one-by-one into the ravioli cutter, filled the middle with the eggplant and ricotta mixture, closed the cutter and scraped off the over flowing edges of the pasta (which we saved to add to the tagliatelle mixture).

I made a tomato sauce for the ravioli using canned and diced tomatoes, olive, oil, salt, pepper and oregano. When we had finished making the ravioli, there was still some eggplant and ricotta mixture left, so I added that to the sauce. To make the tagliatelle though, we needed to use our pasta maker. The kids loved this part, they helped us to turn the “wheel” to make the tagliatelle. We served both pastas with the tomato, ricotta and eggplant sauce.

Bruschetta for an appetizer
Finished Ravioli
Felicity helping make tagliatelle
Raffi’s turn for tagliatelle!
Raffi making Ravioli

Dressing Up and Showing Off

Neapolitans love to host events. Communions, baptisms, 18th birthdays, and the biggest of all, a wedding are huge, lavish, all day events. They stray from anything religious and you will have had a hard time trying to figure out what a horse drawn carriage and circus performance have to do with the holy sacrament of a child’s first communion. It leaves me stumped every time I attend one of these events. I come from a country that celebrates first communion with cake in a church basement after church.

The girls dress in extravagant child bride dresses, have professional photography sessions and then following the church event an all day party at an “event center” that looks like something you would only find for chic events in Hollywood. The meal lasts all afternoon from 2 pm until 6 or 7 pm, 4-5 courses are the norm. The whole day is centered on some sort of “animation”, anything from circus shows to small scale concerts. I’ve read this extravagance began as way to show that the families aren’t poor as was assumed in the past in Southern Italy.

Weddings are even longer and even more extravagant. If you attend also the church ceremony you are looking to spend more than 12 hours of the day at this wedding, going well into the night, finishing at 1-2 am. There is “animation” or teenagers that occupy the kids, while the adults eat for 7 hours and dance. Weddings usually have a grand finale of fireworks to close the party.

A simple Sunday lunch at a restaurant is also a small scale version of these parties. Lunch can began at 2 and continue until 5 or 6 in the evening. If you’re lucky the restaurant will have the animatore for children, a small playground, or a petting zoo. There will be 4-5 courses again and you will leave filling ill.

For these events, first and foremost you must dress to impress. Guest wedding attire usually must be formal and you will find yourself spending a mini fortune on dressing your family up to standards. The same goes on a lesser scale for the other events. Neapolitans love their version of fashion and as an a non Neapolitan you will stand out like a sore thumb if not dressed up the 9s (for me I don’t really care though!). Women should also have gotten their hair done at the hair salon before as well as makeup and nails.

These events are still, after five years, quite strange for me. I find them long, uncomfortable and I get the itch to leave and go somewhere else during them. Just another difference I run into here as an Anglo Saxon who grew up with shorter and more modest events.

My nephews’ communion (2021)
Before a wedding that lasted til 1 am (2020)

Pasta with oil, lime, and chili pepper

Yesterday was Cinco di Mayo and had we been in the States it would have been celebrated with margaritas, chips and salsa, and tacos. It’s a holiday I’ve long stopped “celebrating” but I decided to take inspiration from the flavors of Mexico and make pasta with lime and chili pepper or peperoncino as it’s called here.

Peperoncino are the most common spicy peppers in in Italy, they are small, red and pointed. They are not as spicy though as the peppers we normally find in the US. They are grown usually in the South of Italy, in Calabria. Italians use them for an element of taste, not to make something overly spicy. You will find peperoncino in a variety of dishes just to give it an extra kick.

This recipe stems from the traditional pasta reciple “olio, aglio e peperoncino”. The addition of the lime gives this traditional dish a refreshing, summery twist. It would go perfect with a lime margarita!

Pasta with oil, lime and chili/ Pasta con olio, lime e peperoncino

2-3 servings

240g of spaghetti or other long, thin pasta

2 limes

2 gloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

Fresh chopped parsley

olive oil

1-2 peperoncini (or small red chili peppers, to taste)


Pecorino Romano, to taste

First bring a large soup pot of water to a boil, salt liberally (as the Italians, “salty as the sea”). In a medium sized pan, add enough oil so that it forms a small pool in the pan (this will be your sauce). Chop the parsley and set aside. Finely chop garlic and add to the oil with the two bay leaves and chopped peperoncini. Stir occasionally and cook until garlic browns. Take off heat. Zest one lime and set aside the zest in small bowl. Remove the bay leaves from the oil.

Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta for one minute less than indicated on the package. When the pasta is cooked, take it immediately from the water (without rinsing, use a pasta spoon to transfer. The starches on that pasta is necessary!) and add to the oil and garlic mixture. Heat over low heat. Add the zest of one lime and the juice of one lime. Mix well, stirring often to ensure the pasta is completely covered in the sauce. Mix in some chopped parsley and stir again.

Serve topped with chopped parsley and grated pecorino cheese. Extra lime juice can be added too!

Pasta e piselli, revisited

It is the season of fresh peas in Italy. You can not find fresh peas any other time of the year and when they are in season, its a time to celebrate. The season is short, so you must take advantage of it. Tuesday and Friday a produce vendor truck stops outside our house. I’ve never gone to buy from it but decided Tuesday to see what was being offered and decide what to cook with was for sale this week. As soon as I saw the peas, I knew I had to buy them. I wanted to make a meal that everyone in my family would eat, pasta e piselli con pancetta.

Instead of pancetta, we used bacon which was a big hit with the kids. This recipe could also easily be made with frozen or canned peas but if peas are in season, use them in this recipe!

Pasta and peas with bacon/ Pasta e piselli con pancetta affiumicato

4 Servings

340 g of short pasta (I used “pasta mista”, but any small shape would work)

300 g of fresh peas

4 slices of bacon

1/2 white onion

olive oil

salt (to taste)

pepper (to taste)

Pecorino (to taste)

First, boil water in a medium sized soup pot. When water is boiling, add peas and let cook for around 5 minutes or until they are tender but not losing their bright green color. Remove peas (but save water), rinse under cold water and set outside. Using the water you cooked the peas in, bring the water back to a boil and salt the water for the pasta.

Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Chop the bacon and onions. Add the bacon to the hot pan and fry for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. If the bacon doesn’t release enough fat to cook the onions in add a little olive oil (bacon here doesn’t seem to be as fatty as American bacon, so I usually need to add some oil). Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent.

Once the onion is cooked, add the peas to the onion and bacon mixture. Mix to cover the peas with the flavor of the bacon and onions. Salt to your tastes. At this point your water should be boiling, add pasta and cook for one minute less than is recommended. Lower the heat on the pea mixture and continue stirring occasionally while the pasta is cooking. Once the pasta is ready, transfer it with a pasta spoon to the pea mixture, do not rinse pasta or you will some of its starchiness and ability to stick to the sauce. Add soup ladle full of pasta water to the pasta and pea mixture, stir. Let cook over low heat for a minute. This will cook the pasta.

To serve, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and pecorino cheese.

An American in Naples

I have been encouraged by a friend to start a blog on cooking in Italy as an American. I’m taking up her challenge as I have run out of energy on cooking food from around the world, the hardest part for me in cooking recipes from the around the world is the food waste associated with it (various ingredients only needed once) and the difficulty in finding such ingredients. I love cooking but I want to cook with what is easily available to me and with little waste and extra expenses. So here we are, an American in Naples cooking Italian food with a twist and a bit of zest from the traditional recipes.

Italian food in Italy is not at all what you would find in the US. Each has their own special place in the culinary world, neither is good nor bad (though the quality of pasta in the US is usually not good!). So stay with me, check back and please continue reading. See you next time (with a recipe!).

Italian Culture Shock

I lived in Switzerland for nearly 9 years of my adult life then moved to Italy, where my husband is from at 32. Switzerland was a minor culture shock in comparison to Italy. The initial culture shock of Switzerland faded fast. Everything was smaller, the working hours of businesses and stores especially were very set in stone. For many years, most stores closed at 7 pm. Sundays stores were completely closed. The people of Switzerland weren’t very friendly and remained very closed. I never made a friend with an actual Swiss person, all my friends were expats, like me. Traditional Swiss food, such as fondue was important but the day didn’t involve around cooking or deciding what to eat. But I adapted to the lack of store hours quickly and grew used to the ways of Switzerland.

Moving to Italy was a total culture shock, one I still feel nearly 5 years later. The way of life here is a complete 180 from Switzerland. People are very friendly, everyone will talk to you. Everyone wants to offer you advice on something, if you want it or not. The day is centered around meal times. The hours of work are longer because of the large “siesta” in the middle of the day. Stores are open earlier and later. Sundays are “partially” closed, small town shops will be open til mid-day, especially supermarkets and then close. Malls and other large big box stores are open all day Sunday.

Family is the center of life for most Italians. Many children live with their parents until they get married, in their 30’s. Many families all living the same building, separate apartments for each family unit. Many families still gather to eat lunch together, especially on Sunday. Many women do not work (me included) and take on the traditional role of housewife. School ends at 1 pm and children come home for lunch. This in itself is a big factor, I believe, in women not working. It is hard to manage children coming at one, needing to eat, do homework and go to activities unless one parent is at home.

The work environment in Italy is the perhaps the hardest challenge I have come across living here. I worked in Switzerland and the US, I stayed in my same jobs most of my life in those countries. Here, in Italy, I have changed countless times because each employer is worse than the last. There’s a lack of fair treatment to employees and usually the salary is so low you can’t justify the bad treatment. You must deal with being yelled at by your employers, yelled at in front of your coworkers (and in my case in front of the children), not being able to take sick days without having to “make up” those hours, making my own materials for teaching without reimbursement, working outside of discussed hours without extra pay, and late payments. The list could go on. In the end, its always too much stress for the money you are paid.

There is also what I like to call Italian “beliefs” or old wives tales. There are endless old wives tales that are still believed today despite science telling us otherwise. Cold and wind gives you bronchitis. Sweat will give you a fever. A wet bathing suit in wind will definitely give you bronchitis. Eating after swimming will give you stomach cramps. The list goes on and on of things I never knew existed until I moved here.

The culture shock does get less and less as times goes on, I’ve learned to adapt to it or push it of my mind. Often, though, I am still caught off guard by one of the old wive’s tales and I want to scream its not true! But I can’t change anyone’s mind on it. Culture shock is a part of living abroad all of us expats have experienced, some of it is good, some it is bad, but you learn to eventually adapt or accept it.

Until next time!

Meals, the center of the day
Oh no! Not the cold and wind! An Italian’s worst nightmare!


Recipes from Tonga aren’t easy to find and most that I found surprisingly have corn beef! Corn beef was brought from the Australians and the Tongans kept it alive in their food culture. Corn beef is difficult to find in Italy and is usually on available in the canned form. The recipe that caught my eye was Kale Moa, a mild yellow chicken curry with coconut. I love coconut curries and this recipe fit into our requirements of easy to cook and easily available ingredients. Kale Moa is a common dish throughout the islands of Oceania and each country adds what is has on hand to make it their own.

Kale Mao – Serving: 3 to 4

1 onion, chopped

1 large chicken breast, chopped into chunks

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of mild curry powder

1/2 piece of ginger, minced (or a teaspoon of ginger powder)

1 – 1 1/2 cup of water

2 cups of coconut milk

3 medium potatoes, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

3 Tablespoons flour, 3-4 tablespoons of water

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, add garlic, curry, and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper, brown chicken chunks then add water and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then lower, simmer, and cover for 15 minutes. Add carrots, potatoes, and celery, bring back to a boil if needed, the cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Mix the floor with the 3 tablespoons of water until a flour slurry is formed and add to the curry. Mix in the slurry, turn up the heat to medium until the curry has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with basmati rice.