Familiar Eyes (Plus Limoncello Recipe) by Guest Blogger Susan Filson

Susan enjoying Nutella for World Nutella DayIt’s time for another guest blogger! This month it’s Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy, who I was lucky to stumble across during the World Nutella Day celebration.

Susan’s recipes are *fabulous* (indeed she won a judge’s prize for her Sogooditshouldbeillegal Triple Chocolate Nutella Semifreddo for WND) but her blog is so much more than simply food; after you read her amazing guest post, treat yourself to a cup of whatever you like best and a few hours immersing yourself in Susan’s beautiful words and photos.

Like her guest post below, you’ll quickly feel the love of la famiglia at Susan’s place; indeed some of my favorite posts of hers talk about her dear, departed father, her grandmother (and her gravy!), and her gorgeous daughter; like a true Italian, Susan makes you feel at home from the moment you arrive, so I do hope you’ll stop by for a visit.


When Michelle invited me to write a guest post on her wonderful blog, I was flattered. And excited! I’ve been enjoying her blog for some time, and I must admit, been living a bit vicariously through her.

You see, Michelle is living my dream.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to pack up my life as I know it and start all over in the far off land of my ancestors. To let go of everything familiar and take a leap of faith!


Growing up in the flatlands of Florida, I’d always kind of felt a bit like a fish out of water – like I was incomplete. For as long as I could remember, I’d been yearning for some nameless, faceless thing, the mere definition of which, eluded me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a great life. I love my family and I’m pretty certain that the feeling is mutual. I’ve been lucky in love, at least after quite a lot of practice. I live in a community that many consider paradise – a very large playground for sun-starved tourists from all over the world.

Yet, if you strip away the balmy breezes, the glossy aquamarine seas and the technicolor sunsets, you are left with a place devoid of any real sense of posterity or ethnicity. A transient microcosm.

There is no permanence. No roots!

Sunset by Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy

I think that, when you come right down to it, this “thing” that I’ve sought all along is all about finding my roots. My father was born in 1932 in a small town in Italy called Esperia.

Esperia is a picturesque little hamlet nestled in the hills of the Apennines, halfway between Cassino and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Because of its location between the beach at Anzio and Monte Cassino, Esperia had a prime front row seat for a lot of WWII action. The little town was part of the Nazi occupation during the latter part of the war and was right smack in the middle of many of those last battles between the Allies and the Germans.

Dad never spoke much about it, but over the years, he would occasionally let something slip about the many atrocities he witnessed and suffered there. Even as a young child, I could tell that it affected him deeply.

Frosinone by Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy–go visit her!

When Dad immigrated to this country in 1956, he never looked back. Although his father died when he was four, he still had his mother, brother and two sisters back in Esperia. He would write to them often and of course, send money, but he absolutely refused to go back – not even for a visit.

In 1971, he sponsored his youngest sister and her family’s emigration to the US, and in 1980, he brought my grandmother over for an extended visit, but that was it.

For most of my life, I heard about aunts, uncles, cousins – all just names without faces. We would all beg and cajole him to take us on an Italian holiday; to meet our family, but he stood firm. It was over thirty years before he finally relented and agreed to go home. I don’t know what change his mind. Maybe he had finally healed enough.

I was elated to finally make the trip. By then, I had a four-year-old daughter of my own, and I desperately wanted her to know her culture and heritage.

I began to plan.

There were ten of us: my husband, daughter and I, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law. We would be gone for a month, half the time traveling on our own and half the time together in the home town.

During the first half of our trip, we went to Stresa, Bellagio, Venice, Florence and Rome. Each city wove its own magic around us. I couldn’t honestly tell you which place I liked best. They were all so different . . . and so wonderful. I could write volumes about all of the amazing experiences we had (and the phenomenal food!) everywhere we went, but I’ll save that for another time.

Esperia by Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy–go visit her!

When our train finally rolled into Esperia, my anticipation had reached epic proportions! Apparently the townspeople were just as curious about us. It was a mob scene! It seemed that my father had become somewhat of a legend in their own minds and everyone from miles around had come to catch a glimpse of the native son who “made good” in America.

By the way, one thing I learned over there is that the Italian trains don’t actually come to a complete stop at every little station. When they go through a really small town, they merely slowwww down to a crawl. If you need to get off, you have to toss your bag out ahead of you and make a well-calculated jump onto the platform.

Anyway, there we were, being rushed like celebrities, when my gaze caught hold of a pair of familiar eyes. What the . . . they were . . . my eyes!

On the other side of those eyes stood a lovely and stylish young woman with long, dark, wavy hair. My hair!

I was mesmerized. It was almost like looking in a mirror, except that she had better shoes! The woman was my cousin Renata. I could tell by the look on her face that she was a little thrown too.

We greeted each other, Italian-style, with a kiss on both cheeks. My Italian was weak. Her English was worse. Somehow, we managed to become fast friends.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I saw more familiar eyes, familiar noses, mouths and ears. I just can’t quite describe how it felt to find these people – my people – living on the other side of the world all this time, and yet, I never knew them. These people who not only had similar physical features, but also looks, gestures and mannerisms. I saw not only myself in them, but my father, brother and even my little daughter as well.

Vineyard by Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy–go visit her!

We spent halcyon days enjoying each other’s company and the natural beauty around us. I wished I could absorb it right into my pores!

There were vineyards and olive groves and fig trees with gorgeous figs the size of your fists, dripping with sticky sweetness. We ate spectacular meals together, featuring olive oil made with the olives from our groves. The homemade wine from our own grapes flowed freely. It was bliss.

I was complete.

One of the treats we enjoyed every day as we sat outside under that big fig tree was ice cold Limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur that is very popular all over the country, especially in the warmer months.

Limoncello is made by the infusion of lemon skins in pure alcohol, to which a sugar syrup is added. Authentic Limoncello is made from Sorrento lemons, which come from the Amalfi Coast, but you can use any lemons you have access to.

Here is the recipe I like to use:


Fresh lemons by Susan Filson of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy–go visit her!

15 lemons
2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka *
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

* Use 100-proof vodka, which has less flavor than a lower proof one. Also the high alcohol level will ensure that the Limoncello will not turn to ice in the freezer.

Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any waxy reside. Pat the lemons dry.

Carefully peel the lemons with vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter.

Step One:

In a large glass jar, add one bottle of vodka. Add the lemon peel. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 ten days and up to 40 days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. Gently shake it around a little every couple of days. As the Limoncello sits, the vodka slowly takes on the flavor and color of the lemon zest.

Step Two:

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook into a thick syrup, about 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool and it to the Limoncello mixture. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.

Step Three:

After the rest period, strain and bottle: discarding the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Salute e ciao!


Please feel free to leave comments for Susan here or over at her place!

44 Beans of Wisdom to “Familiar Eyes (Plus Limoncello Recipe) by Guest Blogger Susan Filson”
  1. Joanne

    Who do I address this comment to? Susan, this post really moved me. Thank you.

    Joanne’s last blog post..Enough is Enough

    You bring up a good question that others may have; I’ll edit the post to show that comments for Susan can be left here or at her blog–she’ll see them either way 🙂

  2. 03.14.2008

    Susan, I loved this post. The life, the love and the passion real flow. This is what life is all about.

    running42k’s last blog post..My kick at the Friday Feast

    Agreed 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  3. 03.14.2008

    Susan, lovely story. It was nice getting to know you, your family and I could feel you love for Italy jumping off the screen. I also adore me some limoncello 😉

    And thanks Michelle….

    Buon week-end!

    My Melange’s last blog post..Le Canard Enchainé

    My pleasure Robin…buon weekend anche a voi!

  4. alexmom

    Reading your post gave me a similar sensation to your description of seeing your cousin Renata for the first time. It’s as if you’re writing from inside my own experiences with my famiglia in Calabria. Until people like you and Michelle began blogging, I really had no idea that this feeling of *a missing piece* was not unique to me, that this * italian-ness* is really and truly hardwired into us. I enjoyed your visit to Bleeding Espresso, and I’ll certainly be visiting you at your blog.

    Hey Michelle, Thanks for introducing me to Susan’s Blog. I generally don’t do Food Blogs (too much temptation), but I’ll definitely be adding Susan’s to my favorites. ciao ciao

    Alexmom, Susan’s blog will quickly become one of your daily reads, I promise 🙂

  5. ally bean

    Thx for the limoncello recipe. That stuff is just tooooo good.

    I’m so happy Susan shared this too; I haven’t made limoncello. Yet.

  6. 03.14.2008

    Thanks Michelle, I too follow your blog in “another life” sort of way! Thank you Susan for a beautiful memory. I have a similar background in that my father immigrated here from Italy by way of Argentina after WWII. Your post made me realize that I need document the history he gave me, quickly, before I forget a single word. He pasted away 4 yrs ago, already it’s fading! I’m going to try to enjoy a little limoncello this afternoon and remember.

    claudia’s last blog post..Beanthrop in the Hedge

    So glad you enjoyed the post Claudia–and yes, get recording!

  7. i-Mommy

    Great post, Susan!

    Love the story and will definitely have to try the recipe for Limoncello. It sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing!

    Glad you liked it i-Mommy!

  8. Susan, I am a first generation American and I completely understand what you mean about feeling like a fish out of water.

    Your post was beautifully written and moving.

    Thanks Michelle for introducing us to your guest.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Flashback Friday – Shalamar – “Night to Remember”

    My pleasure!

  9. Joanne- You’re so welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Running42k- Thank you. You’re right. Life, love and passion ARE what it’s all about. I wish everyone realized that!

    My Melange- It is my pleasure! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

    Alexmom- I suspect that if we took a survey, we’d find that a whole lot of people have these feelings. We all need to have a sense of belonging. I really feel that part of who we are is a culmination of all those ancestors who have come and gone before us. Blood ties are strong!

    Come visit me anytime. I look forward to it! 🙂

    Ally Bean- You’re welcome! It is pretty good stuff.

    Claudia- You’re very welcome! Please do take some time to document that history. It is so important to keep it alive, especially if you have children. Keep your traditions alive too. Food is one of the easiest ways to do this. Dust off those old family recipes and recreate them.

    I lost my dad a little over a year ago. During his illness, I tried to gather as much family history as I could. I’m so glad that I was such a pest!

    By the way, I also have several relatives who ended up in Argentina. 🙂

    i-Mommy- Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You’ll love the Limoncello too! 😉

  10. 03.14.2008

    susan, i loved your story. like a breath of fresh air i felt like you were sitting here telling it to me in person.

    very fascinating, thanks for sharing!

    Eryn’s last blog post..Friday Date Night

    Glad you liked it Eryn!

  11. 03.14.2008

    What a wonderful post! I’m so glad you were able to go “home” again. And the limoncello recipe looks delicious!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

    So happy you enjoyed this Jen 🙂

  12. Ragazza- I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. 🙂 I’m realizing that there are a lot of us out there who have had these feelings. I hope I’ve inspired others to delve into their family histories, like others have inspired me!

    Eryn- You’re very welcome! Thank you for such sweet words! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

    Jen- Thank you so much! Who says you can’t go home again! 😉

    Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy’s last blog post..Stuffed Eggplants With Meat From Arabesque

  13. Kathleen Marie

    Wow, she started on genealogy and ended up living in Italy! Sounds fantastic to me! We are going to Ireland next year for our anniversary. I can’t wait! I think I could handle living there very easily. I am so enraptured of the beauty of the place.

    You have a fascinating site and it is so nice to meet another genealogy buff!

    I need to try some of your awesome recipes! Blessings!

    Kathleen Marie’s last blog post..Lives Well — Jane Austen

    Reading other people’s genealogy searches always makes me want to pull out my files…which unfortunately are in the US. Must get them here! And please do try some recipes, and let me know how they come out!

  14. 03.14.2008

    What a beautiful post! Your words transported me there… I could taste the figs. *sigh* It sounds like it was a dream vacation.

    Mrs.W’s last blog post..Asian Noodle Salad

    Thanks for coming over Mrs. W!

  15. Hi! This is my first time to your blog. I love it. I’ve only been to Italy once but I feel head over heels in love. Very strange, I have a horrible sense of direction but for some reason I can find my way around Rome effortlessly. I hope to do the southern regions next trip and in the meantime I will live vicariously through you!

    Simply…Gluten-free’s last blog post..Carnes de Rioja

    Happy to see you here! Obviously you were meant to spend more time in Rome, at least, and yes there’s a lot of great places to visit even further south…come on over!

  16. 03.15.2008

    Susan, where do I begin. First of all, great blog and great writing. Second, I still have a lump in my throat after reading your post. I live in Italy now but I’m a first-generation Canadian of Indian origin. Your trip back home reminded me so much of the times we went back to India to visit relatives. The same crowds, the same sense of familiarity mixed with awkwardness. Will definitely be reading more.

    Linda’s last blog post..Disco 2000

    I’m so happy to see you enjoyed Susan’s post so much, Linda, although I had a feeling you would 🙂

  17. 03.15.2008

    I love that Susan tipped me off to your blog. I love it! As a Sicilian, I can relate to both of you! There is something so important and elemental about going back to your roots!

    Ginny’s last blog post..Happy Early St. Patty’s Day!!!

    And I’m so happy to see you here Ginny! Couldn’t agree more about the roots….

  18. 03.15.2008

    What a beautiful post. Off to check out Susan’s blog…

    LA Blogger Gal’s last blog post..Wild Boys Always Shine

    Happy to hear it!

  19. Gil

    Had to read this post again. I always get so thirsty when I read about Limoncello!

    I hear you Gil!

  20. Kathleen- Ireland is gorgeous! I was there last Summer. Have you been there before? All I can say is EAT THE BUTTER!

    Mrs. W- Hey there! Thanks for tracking me down! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It was a dream vacation. I can’t wait to go back. I’ll have to wait until the dollar recovers, though.

    Simply…GF- I’m glad you found Michelle’s blog too. We’re all living vicariously through her, lol! 🙂

    Linda- Thank you! You are very sweet. Those ties we have to our heritage are so strong, no matter where we’re from. 🙂

    Ginny- Thanks! I’m glad you came by. I agree with you. I guess you can’t know who you are unless you know where you came from.

    LA Blogger Gal- Thanks! Come back soon!

    Gil- Lol! Grab a glass and sit a while! 😉

    Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy’s last blog post..SGCC Visits Bleeding Espresso

  21. 03.15.2008

    I really enjoyed reading this lovely evocative post.

    I’m off Limoncello at the moment, after having to be forcibly removed from a bottle for my own good earlier this year but as soon as the memory of the hangover wears off I’ll be back for more.

    Susan, I love the title of your blog and I’m off right now to check it out…

    amanda’s last blog post..Bones and stones

    Glad to hear you’re visiting Susan…and that limoncello will be returning to you shortly 😉

  22. 03.15.2008

    Simply just a beautiful story Susan:D

    Bellini Valli’s last blog post..The Dessert That Never Was……..or…..I’ll Bet You Can’t Eat Just One…

    Thanks for coming over Bellini Valli 🙂

  23. 03.15.2008

    What a wonderful post!
    The Limoncella reminded me of grandma – she came from the Amalfi coast.
    Waving at you all from a chilly New York,

    Frances’s last blog post..quote for saturday 03.15.08

    Waving back at you Frances 🙂

  24. 03.15.2008

    Another nice selection of guest authors, Michelle.
    Susan, your story is a very familiar theme told in a very charming style. So glad you got to experience your family and the homeland with your father. A very special memory once they’ve gone that you’ll always have to treasure.
    Must be careful with reading your blog, sounds deliciously dangerous.

    Bella Baita View’s last blog post..Risotto revisited or Arancini tonight anyone?

    So glad you enjoyed, and yes, do be careful over at Susan’s…definitely don’t go on an empty stomach!

  25. Pixie

    What a wonderful memory to treasure always; I chuckled about getting off the train! Thanks for sharing and for introducing me to yet another wonderful blog.

    Happy to see you Pixie!

  26. 03.16.2008

    My mother-in-law went to Sorrento this past year and brought back Limoncello and couldn’t stop raving about it. I’ll have to pass along this recipe.

    Juliet’s last blog post..First buffet as a novice intuitive eater…

    Good to see you Juliet 🙂

  27. 03.16.2008

    What a great post Susan. For a moment the world around me was non-existant of worries and stress and that was quite welcome.

    Tartelette’s last blog post..Sweet Melissa’s Blueberry Muffins and Carrot Cake & Books Giveaway

    Thanks for coming over Tartelette!

  28. 03.16.2008

    Susan, Loved reading your post and getting to know you better, not to mention that great Limoncello recipe!
    I’ll be sure to stop by your blog!

    Marie’s last blog post..BRACIOLE!!

    I’m happy to read you’ll be visiting Susan, Marie–you’ll love your stay 🙂

  29. Cleopantha

    Thank you for sharing your story it is always wonderful to discover such beauty on our way back to our roots.

    Cleopantha’s last blog post..Do you want to see something cute?

    Thanks for stopping by Cleo 🙂

  30. 03.16.2008

    What beautiful writing..evoked such vivid scenes…..Im hooked….Limoncello…will be my new Vodka martini ingredient, Im sure…Brava


    Annette’s last blog post..Spitzer Spritzers…Poetic Justice for Martha?

    Thanks for commenting Annette 🙂

  31. Amanda- Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! That must have been one wild Limoncello episode! 😉

    Please come visit me anytime.

    Valli- Thanks! And, thank you for coming all the way over here to read it! 🙂

    Frances- Thank you so much! I’m glad I brought you a good memory. Here’s a great big, sunny smile to warm you up! 😀

    Bella- Thank you! It was very special, inded. I lost my Dad in Nov. 2006. I am so thankful to have shared the experience with him when I did. He had a marvelous time! He left a war torn little town wallowing in poverty and misery. That was his last memory of it. He came back to a beautiful, thriving little place. He was so pleasantly surprised! 🙂

    Pixie- You’re very welcome! I’m clad you came by. And, the train story is 100% true! 😉

    Juliet- Please do! The homemade is soooo much better!

    Tartelette- Thank you! I’m glad I could help. Although, I suspect things in Tartelette-land are ususally pretty sweet! 😉

    Marie- Thanks! Please come visit me anytime. I think your blog is great! 🙂

    Cleopantha- You’re welcome! Yes, I was fortunate to have such a happy result. 🙂

    Annette- Thank you so much! A Limoncello martini! Wow, what a great idea! 😀

    Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy’s last blog post..SGCC Visits Bleeding Espresso

  32. 03.17.2008

    This was a great post! I left a comment at Susan’s place, too.
    Just wanted to say Hello and let you know that you have been tagged at my place for a Make a Wish meme.

    Thanks for letting me know…what a fun meme 🙂

  33. 03.17.2008

    Sognatrice, what a great idea. And thank you Susan for a beautiful post. Family is so important and I’m glad you found yours. I love Limoncello so will be trying yours out without delay. Thank you.

    african vanielje’s last blog post..Free range Steak and Mushroom Pie

    So happy you enjoyed Inge 🙂

  34. Wunschdenker

    Sognatrice, great choice in guest posters! Susan, your story is a very interesting one – I really enjoyed it and loved the fact that your father finally agreed to return to his homeland. How did he feel about it afterwards….I wondered? Anyhoo, thanks for sharing! I hope you make it back to Italy often.
    Ciao, ciao,

    Thanks for reading Wunshdenker; glad you enjoyed 🙂

  35. Inge- You’re very welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Let me know hoe your Limoncello turns out. 🙂

    Wunshdenker- Thank you! My father was overjoyed to be back in Italy. I’d never seen him so happy. In fact, we were planning another trip when he got sick, but he declined too quickly. He was too weak to go. We’re thinking about taking my mom next year.

    Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy’s last blog post..Baking With Mom, Part 1: Pizza Rustica

  36. 03.17.2008

    Great post! There’s no question, Italians really know how to live. If anyone is interested in diving deeper into homemade limoncello, I have a blog devoted to that topic entirely at http://www.limoncelloquest.com. If I were to make one suggestion about this recipe it would be to use a microplane zester instead of a peeler for zesting. It will be much faster and will greatly reduce the chance of getting pith in the liquor, which is extremely important.

    Limoncello Guy’s last blog post..Testing the Merits of Organic Lemons

    Ooh thanks for the tip, and thanks for stopping by!

  37. 03.17.2008

    What a wonderful post. It was moving, and inspirational, and educational too…I never knew limoncello was something that could be made at home. Very cool! I’ll definitely be visiting Susan’s blog.

    Karina’s last blog post..Happy St. Patty’s Day

    You will love hanging out there Karina 🙂

  38. Susan, this was beautifully written post. Thank you for allowing us into your life and dreams.

    Susan from Food Blogga’s last blog post..Bring Back The McDonald’s Shamrock Shake

    Thanks for coming by Susan 🙂

  39. Limoncello Guy- I prefer zesting too, but the my recipe advises peeling. Not sure why. I admit that I have zested before, but don’t tell anyone. 😉

    I’m going to check out your site. It sounds interesting. Thanks for commenting.

    Karina- Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed my post. In my opinion, like most things, homemade Limoncello actually tastes better. 🙂

    Anytime, Susan. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy’s last blog post..Baking With Mom, Part 1: Pizza Rustica

  40. 06.13.2008

    I loved, loved, loved reading this! I **LIVED** in Esperia when in Italy! My host family has a house there; the family has roots there going back centuries! I helped with the vendemmia… I’ve been back there three times to visit, bringing my husband and older daughter…. That’s where I learned tips for cooking w/o oil and butter since the Germans would take all of that away from the local families.


    MoscowMom’s last blog post..Stockmann’s in the Center Truly Is Gone…

  41. 06.15.2008

    Susan- I loved your post and I cant wait to get to your site. This was amazing- I felt like I was there- you had me in tears. I want to go back to Italy so badly I can taste it. Thank you for your joyous blog. Baci e abbracci!

  42. 07.22.2010

    I see that I am posting a comment 2 years after your post, but it is a small world.. my father was raised in Esperia with his sister and three brothers. One brother and his sister are still living. I am making my twelfth trip to Esperia (I am 29) to visit my father’s family this week, my 2nd trip since marrying and our first with our 10-month-old son. That place holds such a powerful place in my memory and identity. I am sharing the journey with my mother and father, my sister and her husband and their 1-year-old twin sons. I can’t imagine a better place to relax, eat, walk, sleep, and drink in time with family. It is a wildly beautiful, if melancholy, place.

    Thanks for your comment, Anna! You should be in touch with Susan if you haven’t been already; I’m sure she’d love to hear your story as well 🙂

  43. Maria

    Wonderful story. I am from Esperia too, I was born there.

  1. [...] if you’re in southern Italy like I am, “sweet citrus-flavored liqueur” means limoncell... bleedingespresso.com/2008/05/whats-cooking-wednesday-olive-oil-limoncello-cake.html



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