How to Make Olive Oil In 8 Easy Steps

People often ask me if I know the secret to authentic, genuine Italian olive oil. As a matter of fact I do, and have just received the following report from our On-The-Ground reporter with details of her in-depth investigation of the olio process.
Step 1: You need to purchase property in Italy and plant olive trees. In 6 to 9 years, they will begin to produce olives and you have successfully completed the first step to authentic Italian olive oil.
Alternatively, you can take a trip to Italy and stay with a family that has pre-existing trees. If you are short on time, I’d highly recommend this option.
Step 2: Pick the olives. You may be able to reach them from the ground, but if you are vertically-challenged, it may require a ladder or other forms of arboreal ascension. The two pictures below illustrates what is commonly referred to as the “Zacchaeus Technique”.
A local olive picker demonstrates the "Zacchaeus Technique".

According to our Hands-On Reporter, it's "a little like milking a cow...grab up at the top, hold gently but firm and pull down."
Step 3: Pick all the olives you can, saving plenty of time for eating, drinking, and going to festivals in quaint little Italian villages.
A festival in a quaint little Italian village.

The local band in a festival in a quaint little Italian village.

Step 4: Collect the olives and transport them to the “frantoio”. A literal translation means “the place where the olives get squished”. At the frantoio, all the olives are collected in the hopper. In our example, the hopper contains 317 kg (that’s 697.4 pounds to our American readers) of olives. Of note, you’ll notice a combination of green and black olives in the hopper. Based on extensive personal research, our In-The-Tree Reporter tells us that green olives usually have a little less oil but good medicinal properties (and impart a spicy taste), while black ones are more ripe and have soaked up more water from the rains. Both are desired for different reasons.

Step 5: The hopper is dumped onto a conveyor belt, which takes the collective olives to the first elevator ride of their short oleaceous life. At the top of the lift, they get a quick visual inspection by the geriatric quality control officers, then get “whirled around a bit” to suck off any remaining leaves and stems.

The Quality Control Crew
Step 6: After a quick shower and scrub down, the olives get rinsed and take their second and final elevator ride, which finishes with their arrival in the “mush tank”. In the musher, the olives get crushed and churned at a warm temperature to create a pulpy, puree-type liquid. The picture below shows “Roberto”, our On-The Ground-Reporter’s contact in the olive business.
The rinse cycle

The Musher

Step 7: Time for the spin cycle, which separates the oil from everything else. According to our In-The-Frantoio Reporter, this machine is “super duper fast”.
Step 8: A series of filters and separators culminates in 41 kgs (90.2 lbs) of extra-virgin olive oil, ready for your gastronomic delight.

The end result....41 kilograms of extra-virgin olive oil.
And in case you were wondering, here's the by-product of all that pressing and spinning and extracting. Some frantoios will press this again, but it loses the "extra-virgin" label.
Up next, the long anticipated answer to the pressing question: How do they get the stuff inside a cannoli?
(Editorial comment: Ginger spent 10 days at an olive farm in Montemarciano, northeast of Ancona on the Adriatic Sea. She has since left the region and surfaced in Verona (setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and later took the train to visit our friend Mel in Osijek, Croatia. Stay tuned for further updates.)

Anzio, 58 years later.

      Most of you who know that I consider myself an historian. I believe history is what makes us who were are. It was ties us to the past and, in many ways, determines our future.

     Some of you also know that I also have a fascination and strong interest in America's National Cemeteries. (Side note: I have a lifelong goal to visit every American National Cemetery (there are currently 146 in America and 24 international locations) and fully intend to write a book about it when I am done.) Many people are under the mistaken impression that everyone buried in a National Cemetery is a military veteran. But that's not true...while the vast majority are veterans, they are also the final resting place of politicians, civic leaders, and others who rendered a great service to our country.
     This post is comprised of two parts: a bit of history and a biographical sketch written by yours truly, and photos of the Sicily-Rome-American Cemetery and Memorial, taken by our reporter on the ground, Ginger.
     First a bit of history (if I put the pictures first, I know you'll just look at them and go somewhere else).
Southern Italy, 1944.

     After an amphibious landing in Sicily, the Allies made rapid progress through southern Italy despite stiff resistance. By the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the “Gustav Line”, which stretched across the entire Italian mainland (the “leg of the boot”, if you will). Unable to breach the line, the Allies undertook “Operation Shingle”—a surprise landing 20 miles behind the German lines at Anzio. German defenses were well organized, and despite initially penetrating 7 miles inland, a major breakthrough was not actually achieved until May. For several months, the Allied troops couldn’t advance and the Germans couldn’t dislodge them from the beachhead. The result was over 43,000 Allied injuries. The majority of those injuries were treated at combat hospitals established on the beaches of Anzio, where the wounded were treated and waited for evacuation by sea.
     One of those hospitals was run by the 56th Evacuation Hospital out of Fort Sam, Texas. The 56th was known as the "Baylor Unit", since it was largely staffed by men and women trained at Baylor University College of Medicine in Dallas. The 56th had previously spent time caring for the wounded in Tunisia during the North African campaign, and came ashore at Anzio to treat the wounded and dying.
     Like chaplains, medical personnel are considered “non-combatants”, but that didn’t stop the Germans from attacking the beach hospitals with artillery fire and strafing runs from the Luftwaffe. At one point, the beach became known as "Hell's Half Acre" and patients were known to go AWOL and sneak back to their unit at the front to avoid the shelling.
The aftermath of German shelling.
     Two hundred US Army nurses took part in the medical care of Anzio wounded, and 6 died during attacks on the wounded hospitals.  As D.L. Collins, a doctor with the 56th would later write,  "They were completely committed to their task at whatever the cost . . . They would not have traded their country, their comrades, their officers, their medics, their nurses, or their doctors during those hectic days. Not for anything would they, nor we, have traded off the other, for those were days of complete commitment, complete cooperation, complete teamwork, and intense pride."
     2nd Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth, of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, was with the U.S. Army Nurses Corps and serving with the 56thduring that time.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth

     According to Army records, Lt. Ainsworth was on duty on 10 February 1944 while, “the area was being subjected to heavy enemy artillery shelling. One shell dropped within a few feet of the ward, its fragments piercing the tent in numerous places. Despite the extreme danger, she calmly directed the placing of 42 surgical patients on the ground to lessen the danger of further injury. By her disregard for her own safety and her calm assurance, she instilled confidence in her assistants and her patients, thereby preventing serious panic and injury." She was wounded in the attack and died six days later from her wounds, no doubt cared for by her peers and colleagues in the 56th Evacuation Hospital. Lt. Ainsworth was laid to rest at Plot C, Row 11, Grave 22 of the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno.
     In addition to a Purple Heart, Lt. Ainsworth was awarded the Silver Star, America’s 3rdhighest award for bravery. Her citation reads, in part, “Second Lieutenant Ainsworth's gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for her own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon herself, her unit, and the United States Army.”
     In honor of Lt. Ainsworth’s bravery, a health clinic at Fort Drum, the American Legion Post in Glenwood City, a conference room at the Pentagon and a building in the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, WI are all named in her honor.
     Now the real question: why am I telling you this story?

     Many of you know that Ginger is spending much of the next two months traveling throughout Italy and Europe. This past week found her at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, about 65 km south of Rome.

     As an indicator of the number of casualties during “Operation Shingle”, an American cemetery was established on 24 January 1944, just two days after the initial landing on the beaches of Anzio.


Looking up at the ceiling in the main building.

Grave of Sgt Sylvester Antolak, of the 3rd Infantry Division, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor at Anzio

Leonard Greene, of the legendary 4th Ranger Battalion

     The cemetery is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an independent agency of the US Govt tasked to operate and manage 24 cemeteries in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Panama, Italy, Luxembourg, Philippines, Mexico, Netherlands and Tunisia.

     The cemetery is the final resting place of 7,861 of America's sons and daughters. They are not forgotten.

      There are also two Commonwealth Cemeteries at Anzio, serving as the final resting place of soldiers from the British Empire who died at Anzio: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. The Beach Head Cemetery has 2,316 graves (295 of them are unidentified), and the Anzio War Cemetery has 1,056 internments.

Anzio Commonwealth War Cemetery

Absent With Leave

On 5 August, I mentioned that I hadn't yet figured out what I could and could not post about my assignment here in Afghanistan.  Due to the nature of my work, I've finally made the discovery that I can't post ANYTHING about my job, and due to the nature of where I live, I can't post ANYTHING about that as well.  I'm also not out and about Kabul as much as before, so I've spent the last week or so wondering about what I could possibly post on this blog to keep you coming back.

I have a few ideas, and first up (coming in a day or so) is a SPECIAL REPORT from one of my favorite guest bloggers. Come back in a few days and check it out! 

14 September


This post will be slightly different, and probably isn’t appropriate for younger kids (I don’t know if any younger kids read this, but just in case…..). It’s not funny, or necessarily enlightening, but is a stark description of the reality of life here in Kabul. If you aren't comfortable with this, I'd suggest you stop and come back later for a more entertaining post. If you are, then read on.

I’ve been in country for over 3 months now, but my stay has been pretty uneventful. I’m working a good job, and I’m lucky enough to be living and working at what is probably the most secure site in all of Afghanistan. I live in the “Green Zone”, the term given to the section of downtown Kabul that houses NATO Headquarters, several foreign embassies, the Afghan Presidential Palace, Parliament, and many other government buildings. I wear a loaded pistol on my hip all the time, but I don’t walk around in body armor, and no one has shot at me (that I know of).  It’s easy to forget that I’m in the middle of a warzone.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik from Northern Afghanistan, was a mujahedeen who fought the Soviets with such ferocity that he earned the nickname “The Lion of Panjshir”. A moderate Muslim, he rejected the extremist views of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. When the Taliban was fighting for control of Afghanistan, he was a leader of the “Northern Alliance”, a loose confederation that battled against the Taliban for many years.  On 9 September 2001, two suicide bombers, posing as journalists, detonated a bomb during an interview with Massoud and killed the charismatic leader.  9 September is now known as Massoud Day (or Martyr’s Day), and the memory of Massoud is celebrated all throughout Afghanistan.  One of the focal points for the celebration is Massoud Circle, a busy traffic circle that happens to be just outside the Green Zone. Local leaders were expecting as many as 15,000 people there this year.

Ahmad Shah Massoud
There’s a US base just down the street about ¼ of a mile.  It’s an easy walk; the most dangerous hazard are the swarms of local Afghan kids, some as young as 7 or 8, who try to sell you gum or candy or some little trinket to make a buck. They are there everyday, swarming over the pedestrians on the street, with dirty hands but bright, shining eyes and an attitude that tells you they don’t really care what your nationality is. They should be in school, but instead they are trying to make some cash and help their family. There’s a small store directly across from the gate that sells carpets and rugs.  There’s a large curb there…this is where all the kids hang out, waiting for the next potential customer to step out onto the street.

The end of Ramadan, the celebration of Martry’s Day, the upcoming recognition of 11 Sep—all of these were enough to make the international troops very cautious.  Force protection conditions throughout Afghanistan were raised, none more so than here in Kabul.  Many roads were off-limits, and foot traffic outside of the base was absolutely forbidden.
Alaska, Ecuador, Mexico, Bulgaria, Italy, Kenya, Afghanistan--I've seen it all around the world.  Adults are often too polite and timid to approach the foreigners, but kids don't have that problem. In a matter of seconds, you could have a kid on each arm with several more waiting their turn. In a country where the average adult might make $800 per year, the kids were more than willing to talk to the (relatively) rich soldiers. They knew we would never hurt them.

Kushi & her friend

These kids, some of the estimated 60,000 children who work the streets instead of attending school, were involved with "Skateistan",  an independent, NGO that works with youth from a range of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds through a combination of skateboarding and educational activities. They were a mix of ethnic backgrounds..some Pashtun, some Tajik, but they had formed an unusually close-knit group who looked out for each other, even sharing their profits so everyone managed to take home some money at the end of the day.

Mohammed & Esra

I was sitting at my desk about 1130, thinking about lunch when I heard a loud explosion.  It wasn’t loud enough to make me worry and dive under the desk, but it definitely got my attention. No more than 10 seconds later, the alarms started to sound.

Late that Saturday morning, a young boy in his middle teens (although the Taliban would later claim he was 28) managed to enter the Green Zone and get through all the layers of security and guards. He was driving a motorcycle and under his clothes, he was wearing a suicide vest. No one knows why, but he detonated in front of the Base gate. In front of the carpet store. No US, coalition or international injuries, but 6 local Afghans were killed.  Five of them were young children who worked on the street.

Why did I tell you this story?  Honestly, I don’t know. I didn’t really have a meaning I was trying to convey, and I don’t really know how to end it. I didn’t write this to start a discussion about the morality of war, or whether or not the US and her international partners need to be in Afghanistan.  I certainly didn’t write it to gain personal sympathy or attention. I wrote this to somehow grieve the loss of 5 innocent children, who probably didn’t care about international politics and weren't interested in our upcoming elections. It’s easy to continue our American lives, uninterrupted by the reality of war in a far off dusty place. And in the midst of this dusty place, it's easy to lose touch with the things around us. I get lots of emails asking how things are, and what it’s like here. This is part of what it’s like.

Maybe the best stories are those where you find your own meaning.


I pulled out of base today in my armored SUV to make a run to the airport.  The street was empty, except for a couple of men painting over a blackened smudge on the storefront with no glass.


Albert Camus once said, "Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

The Pretty Place Chapel on the NC/SC line.

Sixteen years ago, I was lucky enough to stand on the edge of the cliff at Pretty Place Chapel and marry the one who has walked beside me all the way.

While life has been unpredictable, it's also been better than I ever imagined.  I'd like to strongly refute the idea in popular culture that marriage is something to be dreaded, that it kills a person's spirit and saps their personality. Hollywood's portrayal of one-sided, selfish relationships couldn't be further from the truth.

I've found marriage to be just the opposite...based on a mutual conviction of trust and respect, of shared times in the past & better times yet to come, our marriage is one of the few places that I feel fully loved and accepted. My marriage, by far, is the best thing I've ever done and it continually inspires me to be a better person.

On this 16th anniversary, when we are farther apart than we've ever been, I've never felt closer. Happy Anniversary Ginger!

Here's a few brief photos of the last 16 years. (Ideally, I'd have one picture from each year, but based on my current location, I had to make due with what I could find online on on my computer.)

San Francisco; April 2007


Squamish, British Columbia

Nationals game, DC

Toulumne Meadows
Somewhere in the High Sierra

Another "somewhere" in the High Sierra

A pciture from one of our first years in Bass Lake

Golden Gate Bridge


San Marco Piazza, Venice

A Venetian night

A cold morning at the top of the Jungfrau; Switzerland

Kenilworth Aquatic Garden; DC

Another cold morning, Inauguration Day in DC
At the top of Lower Yosemite Falls

Tenaya Peak

Near the top of Seneca Rock; West Virginia

The White House

Marital Bliss