A Last Look at Lovely Lucca

Ciao Readers!  Happy Monday!

So, here we are at the end of my trip to Lucca (boo hoo)….  I still have so many nifty photos I haven’t posted as well as some random stories, so thought I’d do a final photo-centric wrap-up with some  sights and info from my adventure.  Enjoy:

Photos from the “Verdemura” (green walls) flower and growers festival:

Check out  the facade of the Cathedral of San Martino (building began in the 1100’s!). Notice how each column is different from the others?  Legend has it that there was a competition to design the columns for the church (these artistic competitions were common in Italy during the Renaissance) – but instead of picking a winner, the town stole and used all the designs and didn’t award a prize or pay anyone!:

This is the “famous” Torre Guingi (the one in the background with the trees growing on top of it – pretty unique feature, no?), which has 227 step to the top that I did not climb:


Remember the handmade pumpkin torteloni I bought back in the “shopping” post?  This is me turning it into a scrumptious dinner – just add butter, sage and parmesan:

One day I just wandered all over town, including down empty alleyways (always so picturesque); I happened upon this large (about 12 feet tall) piece of art made entirely from recycled cardboard, literally in the middle of nowhere….

And, finally, a peak-a-boo farewell to the sea (though technnically not in Lucca):

Thank you, Dear Readers for coming with me to New York and Italy.  Hopefully I will have more blog fodder (i.e. ADVENTURES) soon!

 

La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part III, Eating)

Ciao Readers!

Today we finish our foodie tour of Lucca (sigh).  So far we’ve covered shopping and cooking – today we simply indulge in EATING (and drinking wine – after all, it is Italy)! While Italian food is not that “difficult” to cook, there’s nothing like having it expertly prepared for you at a local restaurant (or osteria or trattoria or pizzeria).  And, of course, enjoying it over a leisurely two-hour lunch with friends (or dinner, if you can wait to eat till the restaurants open at 8:00 p.m.), just adds to the pleasure of the experience.  Since I still can’t figure out a proper way to share these experiences with you, all I can do is try and paint a picture with words (and pictures).  Join me for some of the dining-out highlights from my trip… included a leisurely lunchtime visit to Gli Orti di via Elisa with two of my lovely classmates from language school where we enjoyed an amazing antipasto platter (the little white square thing is not cheese as it appears, but baccala – perfectly prepared salt cod spread) as well as lovely half-bottles of local wine and maccheroni (the local specialty pasta as we learned from the “cooking” post) with fiore de zucca (zucchini flowers). Instead of trying to describe how wonderful the food and company were, just take a look at the experession on my face – I think it says it all.

There was also a solo visit to indulge in more grilled “polipo” at Il Cuore (actually a gourmet food shop, with a few chairs outside for eating).  I am sorry (and not) to say it put the grilled octopus from Marea in NYC to shame (as good as that was) – melt in your mouth tender and fresh from the sea.  I sat outside in a little square on a beautiful day making “yummy noises” till the very last bite of my seafood salad (and also enjoyed a plate of truffle-infused delicacies).  Add Steve and it would have been the perfect meal:

Next, while I think we both agreed the food wasn’t the best we had in Lucca, my classmate Terri (pictured holding up some fried stuffed anchovies) and I managed to finally stay out late enough one night to eat dinner out, at Ristorante L’anciua Pesce Povero.  I guess we should have realized from the “povero” (poor) in the title that at the ridiculously low price of 20 euros for 4 starters, a main dish, a half bottle of wine (each), bread, coffee, sparkling water, dessert, coffee and limoncello that we were not going to get giant plates of whole fish (“pesce”) (though we did get our mutual favorite, the pictured plate of fried anchovies).  While not as drool-worthy as other meals we shared, we agreed that we enjoyed the family-style meal (no menu), the fact that is was almost all local patrons, and each others’ company!

And, finally, no trip to Italy would be complete without the quintessential Napoletana-syle pizza (thin crust, super hot wood-fired oven).  I’m a traditionalist and stick to the margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil)  – this is the best one I had on my trip, from a nifty little pizzeria only blocks away from my apartment (which I unfortunately did not discover until the last night of my stay):

Until we eat again…..

La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part I, Shopping)

Ciao Readers!

Did you think I forgot you?  Never. I just got busy with language school, leisurely meals…and a cooking class before I left Lucca (and now I am busy with things we lawyers do – not very interesting or delicious blog fodder).  But before the glories of Italian food totally fade from memory, I thought I’d share some of the highlights….

First – and the focus of this post – there is grocery shopping in Italy.  And by “grocery” shopping I don’t necessarily mean going to a grocery store (though if you’re interested in the somewhat amusing “how to” of grocery stores in Italy, check out this earlier post); it will as likely (or more likely) be a cool little outdoor market selling whatever is fresh and local at the time (at this time it was artichokes and strawberries).  Admire some of the market offerings from this past weekend – fruits and veggies and cheeses, oh my!  I am already suffering pangs of longing for the strawberries and cantaloupe I had – why doesn’t the fruit here taste that sweet?!? Then, of course, you can wander into any of the little specialty shops – handmade pumpkin tortoloni, truffle tasting or pistachio cookies anyone?  And no day would be complete without a stop at a panificio (bread shop) for a daily loaf of fresh bread (mine would usually run about 50 cents). It was all so darn YUMMY! (And affordable!) I have to say, I went grocery shopping here yesterday and I was just sad* – look at the fancy lettuces I bought at the grocery store in Italy (last photo)…then zoom in and look at the prices – yes, that’s right – mere cents for fancy speckled radicchio and frisée and baby arugula….

*Of course, when we lived in Italy and ingredients to make Mexican food were nowhere to be found I was equally sad – as they say “L’erba del vicino è sempre piu verde” (roughly, the grass is always greener….)

Next time…join me in my cooking class!

The Best Truffle Festival EVER!!! (In San Miniato)

Ciao Readers!

I have to admit, I’ve been hard-pressed for inspiration for a new blog post since my gallbladder removal. Some of the rejected ideas I’ve had include “Gallbladders and Other Extraneous Organs,” “The View from My Couch (a photo anthology),” and “Chicken Broth and Other Boring Recipes.” However, as I recover I am thinking about Italy (no surprise), how I can get back there this Fall, and if I can time it to coincide with the “Best Truffle Festival Ever.” So, please come along and reminisce with me about the wonderful truffle festival held every November in a nifty little Tuscan town….

New Mexico to Italy

Ciao Readers!

Okay, my mouth is watering just reminiscing about this festival and I am still smiling thinking about the fabulous little town it was in – San Miniato.  Apparently for the last 3 weekends of November every year for the past 42 years this little town has had the largest truffle festival in all of Tuscany (truffles as in fungi, not chocolate, though there was some of that as well).  It was so much fun (and soooooo delicious [if you like truffles])!

Now, for those of you paying extra close attention, you may remember that San Miniato is the name of the church on the top of the hill overlooking Florence (and supposedly where San Miniato brought his severed head).  Contrary to what I first thought, this is not where the festival was – there is actually a separate town (requiring a 40 minute train ride, then a bus…

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Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare! (or why Lidia Bastianich is super cool)

Ciao Readers!

Today I return to one of my favorite dual pastimes – watching cooking shows and then getting off the couch, compelled to cook what I just watched the TV chef cook (and as an added bonus, traveling to Italy vicariously).  If you’ll recall, I talked about this in a previous post, when I made Nigella’s yummy lemon almond cake back in our little kitchen in Florence.  Well, it happened again today, with Italian chef Lidia Bastianich and her nonna’s (grandma’s) apple cake.  One minute I’m spending a lazy Sunday watching previously recorded cooking shows, the next I’m in the kitchen mixing while Steve peels apples.  And yes, totally worth it!  So simple, but apple-y and crunchy and YUM!  (It didn’t dawn on me until we’d eaten most of it to try and take a photo, below; after looking at a real food blogger’s blog today, I realize my food staging photo skills need some serious work – it is way more delicious than it looks in my photo.)

Now, here’s the thing about Lidia and her show – they are on PBS.  No fancy “Iron Stadium,” no one getting “chopped,” no timer counting down, no celebrity judges and basically no hoopla.  Just Lidia, and sometimes a grandma or granddaughter cooking simple family recipes.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned (i.e. old), but I still really like the plain old cooking shows on PBS (did you notice I used the word “old” 3 times on one sentence – ack!).  While I love trying to figure out what I’d cook from the ingredients on Chopped (black garlic, bull testicles and gummy worms anyone?), I am sure I’ve actually learned more about cooking from Julia, the gang on America’s Test Kitchen and Lidia. Lidia just makes good food!

Not only do I know she makes good food because my mouth waters when I watch her show, or because whenever I cook recipes from her show they come out yummy, but we’ve actually eaten at her restaurant Becco in New York (photos below).  Now I know that she was not personally there cooking, but it is her restaurant (and her son’s).  Funny, but despite the wonderful pastas and seafood dishes we had, the simplest thing left the biggest impression and it is something I have been replicating to this day – fresh grated lemon zest on your appetizer bowl of olives.  Try it!  You’ll be amazed at how such a little thing has such a big impact on taste.  Anyone who is responsible for teaching me something I will do forever or filling our lazy Sunday with delicious apple cake is super cool in my book!

If you haven’t seen her show, the title of this post is what she always says at the end of the show –  everyone to the table to eat!  Actually, there is one piece of cake left…..

Thanks for reading!

Fur Coats (or how New York is [and is not] like Florence)

Ciao Readers!

In my last post I mentioned a trip to New York we took in January.  Part of the reason I love going to New York is because (in some ways) it reminds me of Italy (most importantly the food!).   Which got me thinking, as I often do, about the similarities and difference between places I have been (I have even compared Japan to Italy, which on its face seems absurd, but I’ll explain in some future post).  My observations are completely random and superficial, but here are some similarities and differences I couldn’t help notice while wandering the streets of New York:

Similarities:

– The sidewalks are packed with people who seem to be oblivious to anyone but themselves, their companions and/or their cells phones; stop paying attention and you will surely be mowed down!!! (though you may find it more endearing when it’s by an Italian nonna and not a man in a $10K suit….or not)

– Fur coats!  That’s right, there are at least two places left on earth where wearing full-length mink coats is not only acceptable but apparently very fashionable.  Funny, I remember thinking in Florence during the winter “parade of pelts” that you could never get away with that in the U.S. as your coat would be unceremoniously doused with red paint (or worse) immediately upon exiting your home.  Was I wrong!  I had no idea that in New York fur coats are as common and as fashionable as in Italy – who knew?!?

– Delicious Italian food (of course I have to talk about food!).  Is it wrong to travel across the country for a really good pizza? Okay, before you answer that, have you ever had a John’s pizza in New York?  Seriously, I have no idea why, but only New Yorkers and Italians know how to make really good pizza (I’ve been trying like crazy, complete with a pizza stone and “peel,” but without the 800 degree stone oven I think it’s hopeless).  And then of course are the salumerias, the lovely little places with cheeses and meats and wine (while we did enjoy a fabulous meal at Salumeria Rosi in NY [and previously at Eataly], Italy wins hands down in the availability and affordability categories).   By the way, did you know that Italy also has several “Eatalies”?  Strikes me as weird to have a specialty food shop specializing in the food of the country you are in (at thrice the price of the salumeria down the street)!!!

Differences:

– Food choices.  In Florence you can get Italian food, between the hours of 1:00p.m. and 2:30p.m. and 8:00p.m. and 11:30p.m.  Monday through Saturday.  Period.  Okay, you could also get some really sad Chinese food or a hamburger if you hunt them down (see my old “foreign food” post).  Even if you are craving a pizza, in Italy, you will likely have to hold tight till 7:30 p.m. when the pizza shop begins to come back to life (this was a regular ritual for us in Florence).  In contrast, in New York you can get whatever you want whenever you want it.  AND, you can have it delivered to you!   When we were in New York, one morning it was just too darn cold to venture out (recall it was 8 degrees), but I was craving a good old-fashioned egg bagel with cream cheese and lox.  Googling my options for close places to bundle up and run out to, a revelation hit me – these places deliver!  And viola – about 20 minutes later I had exactly what I wanted brought right to the comforts of my hotel room.  (I am fairly confident if my craving was more exotic – tom yum soup or lamb curry, that would also have arrived at my hotel room with very little fuss.)

– People choices (“diversity” as they say).  New York is truly a melting pot; people come in every shape and size and color and background and financial status…and any other category you can think of.  Walking through NY is like walking around the world, all within several city blocks.  It’s what makes New York, New York.  And – and maybe I’m being naive here – New Yorkers like it that way (technically I am a native New Yorker and I like it that way).  In contrast, Italy is populated mostly with Italians (not counting the tourists of course) and Italy would be just fine (and likely more happy) peopled with nothing but Italians (this is actually one of the ways Japan and Italy struck me as similar).

There are many more similarities and differences, but I’ll leave those for you to discover and debate.  We need to get on to the photos afterall!

I never had the chutzpah to walk around talking pictures of people in their fur coats (either in NY or Florence), though I wanted to many times.  So, instead, I thought I’d give you some more food photos (I do that a lot huh?) and let you guess which ones were taken in New York and which ones where taken in Italy (answers at the bottom).  Man, I always end up making myself hungry….

Okay, so here’s how it goes…I did a NY/Italy comparison for the first 10 photos (NY, then Italy) (btw, the Grom hot chocolate in NY is not even a close cousin to the ridiculously yummy and thick Italian cioccolata calda); the next 3 photos are all Italy (how did I not take ANY pictures of our John’s pizza in NY, especially since we ate it more than once?!); the last one is a trick question – that was our dinner in the middle of nowhere Croatia – a roasting pig….and a mystery animal….

Cheers!

A Photo-Filled Foodie Farewell to Florence!

Ciao Readers!

Well it has been quite some time!  I didn’t think I could leave Florence without one “farewell” post to say goodbye to all of things we have enjoyed about our temporary home.  And what better way to end our stay (and my blog) than with a cooking class!  Specifically, a hand-made ravioli-making class!

But before we start cooking, a quick update and “goodbye”…  Over this past month, we have been trying to enjoy all of the things that drew us here to begin with (in between trips to the post office, the vet, etc.).  As the weather has been way too sweat-inducing (much like Hell, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity) to enjoy the (non-air-conditioned) museums or the gardens, this basically leaves us with…FOOD!   We have been going back to all our favorite spots and eating WAY too much – in the form of pizzas and pastas and pastries and bruschetta with fagioli & lardo, and…well, you get the picture!  It has also been a time to say “goodbye” to folks we were just getting to know, and to thank those who have helped us during our stay (you know who you are).   In an effort to go out on a positive (and delicious) note, we indulged in a one-day cooking class….

We took this class from Food for Friends, which provides small in-home cooking classes (our class was us and two friends from Oslo and London).  The “home” is part of a magnificent Palazzo owned by the Chef, Francesca (pictured with Steve, below) and the course is run/translated by her friend Jacqui (originally from England).  For our course we made two too-yummy to describe ravioli – a traditional spinach and ricotta with butter and sage sauce and a more modern radicchio and burrata.  The class was great fun, especially because Steve put me to shame.  After all my boasting to the chef (in Italian, no less) about all of the cooking courses I have taken, my first batch of dough was so rock-like I had to start over!  In contrast, Steve’s dough and ravioli were so perfect that Francesca actually put some of his away for herself for dinner!  (Lucky for all of us there were only a few of my dense ravioli in the mix).  Throughout our cooking session Francesca would whip up little snacks, and there was plenty of prosecco to boot.  Overall, a good (and scrumptious) time was had by all!   Since there still is no smell or taste-o-vision, you’ll have to make do with the photos (which walk you through both pastas as well as the snacks)…

With these yummy photos from our class, I leave you, Dear Readers, as the Italy chapter of our life comes to a close and the next chapter begins….  It has been a pleasure.  Enjoy:

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