La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part II, Cooking)

Ciao Readers!  And Happy Passover and Easter!

So, today we’re going to cook in Italy – specifically my language classmate, Terri, and I are cooking with Chef Giuseppe from “Extra Virgin” cooking school.  As you may recall, I have taken a variety of cooking courses in many countries, ranging from the super casual paella cooking with a fun bunch of well-lubricated Australians in Barcelona to the more “professional” kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (ooh la la).

While honestly, I already knew much of what we learned (cooking in Italy, unlike France, is “simple” in the best way – a few excellent ingredients combined to perfection), the class with Chef Giuseppe was a wonderful way to end my stay in Lucca (and yes, of course, a DELICIOUS one!).  (As a side note – Chef Giuseppe was featured on House Hunters International with his American love interest, Liz – Liz and I e-chatted about our respective experience with house hunters before I arrived.)  We met up with Giuseppe in the morning and went to a few small shops to get ingredients for the day, where he would fill us in on the products and their “back stories” (and have long leisurely chats with the proprietors).  Once we arrived at the “palazzo” (their apartment, which is Artchitectural-digest-worthy gorgeous!) we were offered drinks (including, of course, prosecco) and enjoyed olive oil and cheese tastings with mini-lessons before we got to cooking. There was obviously great attention to detail paid before we even arrived as there was a beautifully printed menu and place cards with our names on them (more “ooh la la”s).

As I was feeling tired and lazy on my last day in Lucca, and Terri was interested in mastering technique (though she is actually a “professional” herself – she sells her artisinal homemade gelato in her native Seattle!), I mostly nibbled and drank prosecco while Guiseppe and Terri cooked (and Giuseppe somewhat obsesively cleaned-up behind us throughout the day). Don’t let the photo of me laying out the maccheroni to dry fool you (yes, that’s what Lucca’s local specialty pasta is called, and yes, it’s pronounced “macaroni”), Terri did the hard part – all of the kneading of the dough.  The cooking ended with a drool-worthy multi-course meal (artichoke frittatta and salad, risotto with asparagus and truffle butter, maccheroni with ragu, all topped off with a dessert of buccellato (Lucchesi specialty sweet bread with anise), strawberries and lemon custard), served at a beautiful table with well-paired wine.  We left with little gifts, the aprons you see us wearing, and a little cheesiness for good measure (“official” certificates).  Buon Appetito!

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 Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca”

Ciao Readers! And happy Monday after Spring Break! We have finally made it to Italy….

The title of this post reflects both its focus, as well as the book from which I got most of the substantive information.  As you may recall, back when we lived in Florence (was that real?!), we took a day trip here and had a thoroughly lovely time.  Now I have 10 days in which to really explore this place…

Lucca is mainly known for two things – primarily, its wall; secondly, Puccini.  Apparently there have been 3 sets of walls built around Lucca, dating back to Roman times;  the current wall, which completely circles the town, was built from 1550 to 1650, using much of the town’s resources (human and economic) for 100 years!   Either it was money and time well-spent or wasted, depending on your perspective – no one ever tried to bombard the town again (Pisa had in the past).  Of course, the walls did little to protect Lucca from “modern” warfare, and Napoleon took over in the early 1800’s and “gifted” the city to his sister, Elisa.  Now the wall basically serves one perfect function – THE town park where everyone bikes and jogs and partakes in the lovely Italian ritual known as the “Passeggiata” (ambling, chatting, and basically passing the time).  I spent my first two days here doing my own passeggiata – come along with me:

In addition to the lovely wall, the entire town has lots of cool old architecture, complete with more churches than you can count, and relaxing little bistros and shops now occupying the old historical buildings.  I am sure I will learn more and post some specifics, but for now, take a wander with me around Lucca (saving my stop at the truffle store to taste and shop for a future post about food), ending at the picturersque building that is my school (which I start tomorrow/today when this posts):

Thanks for joining me!

Newyorktoitaly

Ciao Readers!

It’s been awhile!  So, the title of this post is a play on the title of my blog, and a preview of some hopefully exciting blogs to come.  I am off to New York next week to run the NYC half marathon (check out the very cool course – map below).  As you all may remember from my other posts about running, I am no world-class athlete, so I got into this race the old-fashioned way – by getting my name drawn in a lottery.  It was very exciting to get the email this past December telling me I had made it in.

Now, I have to tell you I was worried about going, as I (had) an upcoming jury trial in April.  I thought I was cutting it close, but would make sure I was well-prepared in advance.  Then what do you know – the trial just got reset for June.  While that was rather disappointing, suddenly I had a big swath of open time….and lots of miles saved up…..and the ongoing dream of going back to Italy (to language school in Lucca to be precise)….  It seems as though the universe wanted me to go…..so after NYC I am off to try and remember how to speak Italian (and I am certain, take a cooking class or two).  Stay tuned!

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!

Traveling By Train

I love traveling by train.  To me, the trip is an adventure unto itself.  In contrast, travel by plane or bus is just a means to an end (and usually a rather unpleasant one at that).  My enthusiasm for train travel has been recently energized by the chapter in Paul Theroux’s book, “The Tao of Travel” dedicated to “The Pleasures of Railways.”

I think what makes train travel so different is the fact that you can freely move around and there is usually cool scenery.  The entire atmosphere seems so much more stress-free than other types of travel, AND there’s usually a dining car!  Something else I noticed about trains (and is oft repeated in Theroux’s book) is the fact that the people on-board seem to be happy, relaxed and talkative.   I remember the conversation about Michelangelo’s David with the guys from San Fransisco on our train ride in Italy (as discussed in a previous post), as well as the spontaneous gift of beautiful boxed sweets from a Japanese gentleman we spoke with on a bullet train in Japan.

When we traveled in ’08 we traveled by train.  We got a Eurail pass for two, which, for the most part, was super convenient and relatively economical (it doesn’t work perfectly for all trips, but can with proper planning).  The interesting thing about Eurail passes is that, unless you are a student, they only come in first class (we always have/do travel in second class when we don’t have a pass, as do most people).  There really is no need to travel in first class by train (and many trains don’t even have first class), as most train seats have more leg room than planes and there really aren’t very special amenities.  (One exception is Thalys trains in Northwest Europe, in which there was free wifi and we were given a wine list and varieties of smoked salmon and other fine foods.)  The small niceties of first class really can’t offset the sacrifices.  When you are in first class, other than some well-to-do business types, most of the other people in first class are other tourists on Eurail passes!  While I actually love meeting other tourists (and they usually speak English), you get a much better sense of a place and hear the native tongue in second class in a way you never do in first class (and you still get to meet other tourists).  So, while I recommend Eurail passes for people traveling frequently and for long distances over a compact period of time, I suggest just buying second class tickets as you need them for everyone else.

This is another one of those occasions where I think “if I had known I was going to start a blog I would have taken pictures at a train station [grocery store] [market] [etc.].”  I promise once I get to Italy I will routinely walk around with my camera (as much as I don’t want to look like a tourist).  For now we must suffice with a couple of pictures I took out the window of trains in Switzerland and Croatia (when the trains slowed or stopped in the middle of nowhere for a minute) and a picture of a Trenitalia train and train ticket (this one is for a reserved ticket [the fast trains] with my car (“carrozza”) number and seat (“posti”)).  Notice the Euro way to write the date: day first, then month (so this ticket was from April 7).  And, yes, you are correct if you are asking “aren’t trains in Italy often late?” ( “in ritardo”) and “aren’t there sometimes random strikes that leave you in a lurch?”… but I’m still in my “We’re Moving to Italy!!!!” buzz and will deal with those realities at a later date…

Traveling in Europe

Okay, I have to admit after writing that packing post and thinking about all of the work this adventure requires I had fleeting thoughts of retreat.  To redirect myself I re-read some of my own blog posts and decided to contemplate even more cool things about this move… and whatd’ya know – my enthusiasm was renewed!  On that note – ya know another totally awesome thing about living in Italy?  The rest of Europe!!!

I was watching a “No Reservations” episode from Croatia and it really hit me (in addition to the fact that I apparently watch way too much t.v.) that we will be living just a train ride or a €49 Ryanair flight away from everywhere else in Europe!  The way we can now get to Santa Fe, Colorado or Las Vegas, we will be able to go to Venice or Paris.  How cool is that?

When we traveled in 2008 we got to visit many amazing places (and yes, eat lots of yummy food), so I thought I’d reminisce about a few of those and share a few pics from that adventure.  (If you think I am also subliminally trying to tempt you to come to Italy, you are right!).

There were the more famous places, where we had fabulous experiences, including Paris (I took a pastry class at Le Cordon Bleu, we saw the city and the Eiffel Tower decked out for the holidays and climbed the stairs at Notre Dame) and Barcelona (where we went to the amazing La Boqueria food market and spent days exploring the architecture of Antoni Gaudí).  Then there were the lesser known places, where we also had fab, though more “quirky” experiences, such as the breathtaking Plitvice park in Croatia (which we almost never saw as we got stranded in the middle of nowhere Croatia by an ornery bus driver, but were rescued by nice folks at a lodge, who served us the bbq, pictured below [one is a pig, the other…we have no idea!]), Ljubljana in Slovenia (funky cool Euro vibe meets old communist architecture), Brugge in Belgium (where the best chocolates in the world are made…and maybe somewhat known after the Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”), Orvieto in Italy (where the incredible [and twisted] Signorelli fresco, “The Damned” is painted in a church, and the first place I ever tried real truffles [shaved onto my pasta] – YUM!), and Bath in England (a town so picturesque and storybook-like I seriously expected Hansel & Gretel to come skipping out of the houses).

Here are photos of the places I just described…  Come check it out for yourself!

%d bloggers like this: