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Italy, Part Uno, continued

Saturday October 13:

We began the day with espresso of course! We explored the neighborhood this morning, found mom and dad’s B&B, took the bus to the train station, then the shuttle to the airport and waited for their arrival. They were tired and happy to see us! We whisked them away on the shuttle to the train station, then a bus to Piazza Bra. Our stop had a great view of the arena and we walked around it to take it in. We guided them down a busy pedestrian street filled with high end shops and gazed in the windows at the Italian high fashion. Through the touristy Piazza Erbe straight on to gelato and espresso! They were quite happy to have this be our first stop. We showed the how to get to our apartment and then how to get to their B&B, which was really nice! They were quite happy with it, so quiet, very clean and lovely with a nice breakfast and a great soaking tub.

We left them to get settled in for an hour and met for drinks at a central wine bar where we enjoyed the regional ‘spritz’: sparkling water and aperol or campari. I love them both, though no one else enjoyed the campari as much as I did, as it is quite bitter. We walked around and explored more of the area, then made our way to Taverna via Stella for a fantastic dinner. Just as we were being seated they put a sign out that told newcomers the place was full. I looked up and in walked Shannon and Jerry Childs, 2 of our group that will be meeting in Cortona! I had emailed Shannon to let her know where we were dining in case they could join us and here they were! It was great fun to see them and our waiters quickly adapted and changed us to a table of 6. We had a fabulous time with great company, wonderful food and wine, too. Dinner stretched out to about 3 hours and we all walked away too full and very happy. No gelato that night, we fell into bed and zonked out.

Sunday October 14
We were up and out to pick up the rental car as early as possible and on the road to the Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) area. This is Italy’s largest lake and it is full of tourists from all over, and there is even ‘Gardaland’, a themepark complete with seaworld, rides, and more. We did NOT go to that part. Thank goodness for GPS, which Mark and I had never really utlized before, not like this, and it was great to have it. We were headed for Malcesine, at the north end of the lake, to ride a cable car up the mountain and see what there was to see. That was also where my friend Jill’s marathon was to end, so we didn’t know what we would find when we got there. As we drove along the lakeshore there were lots of little towns and shops and cafes, just as you would expect for any resort area. Soon we came to a road block and told the police where we were going, and he let us through. He did NOT tell us that we would never find parking, and we would be unable to leave until the race was over. It began to rain. I mean really rain. It poured. We tried so hard! driving from the cable car down every possible road and they all ended in road blocks. Back and forth, over and over we kept driving that road looking for signs of something we had missed; we never found it. Finally we decided to stop at an agriturismo and see if we could at least get lunch. Normally you would need to have reservations or be a guest of the inn, but we had to try. We walked in and I asked if they were open for lunch and luckily they said yes! They were full, so they brought a table in for us from out on the covered patio where it was too chilly to sit. We had a nice lunch that was worth the drive, and it helped us feel ready to try it again. We drove back to the main road block and it was still there, so we decided to try the mountain road that our waitress had suggested. Holy crap, this was a steep, steep, very narrow, extremely windy road. Great views, in spite of the rain and clouds, and really really lovely. And sure enough, after a very long drive, we did get off that mountain and away from that lake.

We wound our way (again, thank goodness for gps) to our next destination: the church of Madonna delle Corona. And no, it is not a church of beer. Check this out, because it is amazing, to say the least. Big hikes down to it and beyond, then again back up. We found out later that there were buses taking folks down to the site and back again! That explained all the particularly elderly foks there, which did not make sense for this very steep hike. This 16th century church is so completely amazing! It is unimaginable how they got up there to do this… we spent awhile appreciating all that hard work.

We moved on then, and gps got us to Valpolicella, where we visited the winery of Guiseppe Lonardi and his daugher Silvia. Guiseppe was not able to join us but Silvia gave us a tour of her lovely winery. The vineyards are about a mile away from the winery and it was getting dark so we were unable to see them, though we had seen many vineyards along the way. Visiting Valpolicella was a big deal for me, I love the wines from this region so much! And Lonardi’s winery is one of our very favorite so we were very honored that Silvia was able to take the time to show us around herself. They have begun the harvest and separation of grapes and even crushed some for their Valpolicello classico. The best grapes are separated out for Amarone and there were stacks upon stacks of them beginning their 3 month drying process. We saw the barriques and learned about the process of ripasso as well. There is a lovely tasting room, though we waited for dinner to do our tasting. As Silvia was closing everything up I was getting pretty excited to get up to the trattoria because I had a feeling Jill was waiting there for us. We walked back over to the 100 year old restaurant and sure enough, she was there! BIG HUGS! It was so great to see her and be able to celebrate her marathon finish with her. She moved to Sicily over a year ago and it was a wonderful treat to see her! The chef gave Jill and I a tour of their immaculate kitchen and we saw the polenta pot that they have always used over the fire.

We asked Silvia to have her aunt and their chef choose our meal, to include typical dishes of the region and their house: antipasti: mixed cured meets, sweet/sour pickled veg, a little bread, and cheese. The primi was risotto with their amarone, and pasta with beef ragu. The secondi was lamb cooked 2 ways: one braised in amarone and one grilled chop. Wine with each course and for dessert: espresso! Plus their dessert wine of recioto (which technically is a baby amarone!) and their grappa. oy vey! Molto bene! Luckily the drive back to the airport was only 20 minuti, poor Jill had to drive over an hour to get back to her place. I am so glad we got to connect! It was worth everything! For those of you who know her, she looks GREAT and would probably love to hear from you, even on her blog.

 

From Wikipedia:

The sweet recioto dessert wine has been the style historically associated with the region and can trace its origins to winemaking techniques of the ancient Greeks. The name comes from the local dialect recie meaning ears. This refers to the extending lobes of a grape cluster, that appear as “ears” at the top of the cluster. The exposed grapes on the “ears” usually receive the most direct sunlight and become the ripest grapes on the cluster. Historically these very ripe “ears” were picked separately and used to make very rich, sweet wines. Today the method for making recioto has evolved to include the use of whole grape clusters. Grapes destined for Recioto della Valpolicella are often grown in the most ideally situated hillside vineyards. The grapes are taken to special drying rooms where they are allowed to desiccate, concentrating the sugars inside the grape.

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Buon Giorno! Italy, part uno

Well I finally got a strong enough wi-fi signal to sign into the blog! Of course my connectivity did not go according to plan, but here I am and hello! Welcome to Italy! I will be able to keep you more up to date from now on, so these first entries are a bit long, then I will keep them to a day or so at a time. I hope you enjoy them!

Italy: Thursday, October 11, 2012

After 15 hours of travel in small airplane seats and a quick cab ride we found ourselves in our Verona apartment. A little loft with a small kitchen; it was perfect. And better yet, as we learned, it was quiet! We aren’t used to city noises and I really appreciate a quiet city apartment. The location was great, we could walk to anything and there were no tourists in our neighborhood. We pretty much set our things down, paid the landlady and walked to dinner. We had left for the airport at 2 pm on Wednesday, and it was now 8:30 pm on Thursday (Italy time, which is 9 hours ahead of Pacific time). I didn’t eat the airplane food and I was hungry!

Our first dinner in Verona was perfetto! Taverna di via Stella had delicious food, and the experience/service we really needed for our first night. Mark picked the restaurant and could not have planned it better! We really felt like we were in Italy and it was a great, authentic evening. We enjoyed it so much that we made reservations to take mom and dad there on Saturday. The pasta course was almost a cavatappi, thick corkscrews, with pumpkin sauce and it was DELISH! Before we left Elizabeth had made a cold pasta salad with a pumpkin sauce and we really loved it, from the vibrant color to the smooth flavor, she did a wonderful job of making it up! This dish was reminiscent of hers, though it was hot and a bit ‘saucier’. I could have eaten a whole plate, but we were smart and shared everything so we could try a few things.

This region of Italy is in the Northern part, eastern side, and the regional dishes include polenta and risotto. The wines of the region include Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone, as well as many others. One of the many great things about Italy is the inexpensive wine. We had a litre of house red, which was delicious, and cost less than $10! We had a ripasso with our cheese plate (dessert!) and it was so delicious. We walked back to the apartment a different way than we got there, previewing Piazza d’Erbe, and some shops that we looked forward to seeing in the daylight. We stopped for a piccolo coppa (small cup) of gelato, Mark had Nocciolo (hazelnut) and it was so flavorful. I tried a new one, latte miele, and it was good but I should have had the cioccolate for the first taste.

Friday, October 12
We had plans to go out to lunch today and part of the reason I was so excited was that we were headed further north and the foods are different in the Alto Adige, than they are here in the Veneto (and of course each region of Italy has very different cuisine, and that is part of what we love about this place!) Of course, just as in life, the real destination was not lunch, but the journey to get there (and back).

It started with us walking to the city bus and taking it to the train station,. With a little help from watching others get on buses, we figured out that we could purchase our bus ticket from a machine on the bus. It took us a minute but we got it working, then got to the station and purchased our train tickets to Bolzano, had espresso e capucco at the ‘snack bar’, along with a hot panino and a piadino (flatbread, almost like a tortilla, w/speck inside. Speck is a regional style of salumi, somewhat similar to prosciutto.) We have really become good travelers, adapting to each new city that we experience, being patient with ourselves in figuring out new transactions and going with it. We are both proud of being able to do that, maybe especially because we aren’t particularly well-traveled in the bigger scheme of things.

We hopped on the train and the extra 4 eu are totally worth it for the comfort of 1st class. The weather was a bit cloudy and damp but the views are great as we chug through the countryside. This is all new area for us… seenig sunflowers, vineyards, mountains and fields; the adige river is winding along next to us as we had north.

We got into the station, found the tabacchi (a tobacco shop, but they sell everything you need from maps to bus passes and lottery tickets!) and bought 2 bus tickets to Alpine di Siusi, about 22.5 km from Bolzano, in the Domolites, aka the Italian Alps! We did a short hike up to the cable cars and boarded for the 15-20 minute ride up the mountain with spectacular views the entire way. Verdant fields, farmhouses, grazing dairy cattle, horses, sheep and other farm animals. Where there were no farms it was forested and at the top were ski runs. We rose to about 5000 feet and I could tell the air was thin as we were hiking and it seemed like I couldn’t get a decent breath. For my workouts I have been walking hills at a fair clip, so I know what I can handle, and I was definitely more winded than I should have been. When we started out this morning it was dark, damp and chilly. Up in the mountains it was bright, sunny, quite warm as we were hiking (we both got a little sunburn-pink cheeks from the sun) though if standing still or in the shade the chill was definitely still there. As we rode towards the top and saw hundreds of cows, we marveled at how much it looked exactly like we thought it would up there! Heavy Austrian/German influence here, so much so that everything is printed in both German and Italian. At the top of of the tram line we got out and breathed deeply to experience true Alpine air… and let me tell you, the hills are alive with the smell of cow poop.

We set off on one of the trails to hike Europe’s highest alpine meadow. We were wowed at every turn with amazing views of the dolomites and the fields below them. There were so many people up there, as we hiked we saw that the buses actually take you all the way up, though we couldn’t imagine doing that over the tram and the hike. We meandered through forest and fields, passing other hikers from other countries, including nuns and priests. Ever since we were in the Vatican City and I realized that most of the nuns, priests and monks there were tourists on holiday, I love seeing them other places, too. I don’t know why, it just tickles me to know they are out exploring the world, too! While I can show you the pictures of our hike (after we get home), I am really sorry that I can share the sounds with you. The farmers there all use cowbells and you can hear them clanging and ringing probably throughout the entire mountain range! When I think of cowbells I think of the sort of dull clanging of the typcial cowbell, but there were different tones out there. Some were tinkly and some were clangy and it sounded like we were on a mountain of wind chimes.

We got pretty hungry out there and needed more water, so we found a little ‘hutte’, called “Rauch hutte”, a restaurant that caters to the visitors to the area. The buses all take the people to the bigger hotels and ski villages, so there weren’t a ton of people at this place, and nearly everyone was sitting outside in the sun, so we did too. We each got a beer, as is appropriate for this Germanic region. We shared an antipasti of mixed cured meats and cheeses, and we also shared their house pasta, or ‘maccheroni’ as it was printed on the Italian side of the menu. The pasta turned out to be penne, and the sauce was of Porcini, tomato and a tiny bit of speck. It is strange to drink beer w/Italian style pasta, but when in the Alto Adige…

So yea, we went out to lunch… in the Alps! We enjoyed that lunch very much. We hiked back to the tram a different way than we hiked in, so we would see a few different things (we do this a lot!) ending back on the same beginning trail because I wanted to enjoy the views from the other direction. We timed it so that we got our own cable car for the ride down and that was fun! We were free to move around and check out all the views from all the angles, and we did not have to be mindful of other people’s conversations. Once down we figured out where the return bus would pick us up, but not how to purchase a ticket, so we asked in the tourist info office. It’s nice to not have to figure it out on our own, once in awhile! The bus ride down was warm and I snoozed a little, jolting awake each time the driver slammed on his brakes to barely avoid smashing one of the vehicles coming up the narrow, winding road. Our side of the road dropped off a pretty serious cliff and I decided to feel confident that it was not our time to die. It wasn’t! Back at the train station we got our return tickets (we didn’t buy round trip because we had no idea how long we would be and wanted the flexibility of no set schedule.

We had an hour to kill so we walked around Bolzano. We found a public street market and an amazing church to look at, while wandering about their cobbled streets. Those cobble stones tend to hurt my feet, no matter how good my shoes are. We ended with an espresso and a couple of bottled waters to go. While waiting for the train to arrive Mark found Jason Parker! We forgot we had brought him along to take pictures with (it’s ‘Flat Jason’, a caricature of our Jason printed out) so we got a couple of shots of him and me at the station. I regret that we didn’t get one of him on the tram! We will find another great shot, I am sure. Since we have had no luck finding a “TIM” store for wireless connection, we will walk back to the apartment from the train station to look for some sort of wireless card for me to use. If you are reading this while we are still in Italy, you know I succeeded! The rest of this evening and tomorrow will be spent exploring our neighborhood and Verona in general. My parents join us tomorrow (Saturday) and on Sunday we are all renting a car to explore Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), or at least the east side of it and the surrounding hills. Hopefully I will see my friend Jill!!!

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Do we love food enough?

Folks have been noticing that I have dropped a significant amount of weight over the past year. Everything has changed for me and while this has not been an easy journey, I am learning different things every day. I don’t know what ‘switched’ on (or off?) inside me a year ago to get me focused enough to even be on this path, though I am glad that it did switch, and I could not have been this successful without help, which is a theme in my life!

I have been with my naturopath, Rachel Robertson, for about 12 years. I followed her from Gig Harbor to Port Orchard, and then to her own practice at Port Orchard Natural Medicine (PONM). Last year she mentioned a weight loss program that she was featuring called ‘Ideal Protein’, and we talked about it at length. Quite frankly, I did not think it would work for me and I did not believe I would be successful at dropping any significant amount of weight. I always love a challenge so I took that dare (yes, I do realize the level of crazy that it takes to hear your own inner voice as a dare! It has gotten me this far, so don’t knock it ’til you try it…) and so far I have gotten rid of 93 pounds. Notice I don’t say I ‘lost’ the weight; it isn’t lost, I do not want to find it again, so I prefer to say I have gotten rid of it for good. Words have power, so I am not going to mess around in that area… I am exercising regularly, and being very careful about what (and how much) I eat; being very mindful of the nutritional balances in each meal or snack and throughout the day; not drinking wine or any alcohol, and receiving regular coaching from the most wonderful woman: Laura at PONM.

It doesn’t necessarily get easier the longer I do this. There are easier moments and tougher moments, though in fact, the longer I do it the more I want it to hurry up and be ‘done’ with the losing phase and just on  maintenance (aka ‘living life’). I don’t know if you have ever struggled with your weight and can relate to any part of the physical, mental or emotional issues that go with it; I have dealt with extra weight my whole life. Last week was extremely stressful for me, and I got really sick of focusing on all of it. My weekly check-in with Laura was an absolute highlight of my week! She brought me back onto solid ground from the very shaky ledge I was dancing on, and she calmed me down (thank you, Laura!) I know I still have some work to do because I want to get more fit and a bit more lean, and I am doing a better job of it this week than I did last week. My goal is a certain body-fat percentage, not a certain number on a scale, and I like that approach.

So along the lines of focusing on eating and food, I was having a wonderful discussion with Nancy Aala from the Olympic College’s catering department the other day. We were talking about food quality, cost, and more when she said: “People complain that real food, farm-to-table-fresh-homemade food is more expensive than the mass-produced-highly processed-nutrition deficient-readily available foods that so many of us have become used to. Good quality food has ALWAYS cost more! Even when most people grew their own food you worked all day every day to get enough food for your family. The high risk of physical accidents, costs of the family home, farm and equipment, all of that has always been a factor. The real problem is that we don’t love food enough! If we loved food, really loved good food, we would embrace it and show it with our purchasing power. More people need to love food more!”… now I did put quotes around all that, though I know for a fact that I paraphrased a bit because I didn’t take notes when we were talking. I totally agree with Nancy on all of that and I had not heard it articulated in quite that manner before.

I DO love food. Maybe not in the way that you might think, though. Last year when I went to the Quillisascut Farm School I learned about everything you can imagine that has to do with growing/producing food, including produce, dairy, meat, grains, legumes and more… harvesting and preparing those foods, sustainability and low food-waste, and so much more. I learned that I do not want to be a farmer! Though I do want to be surrounded by those who farm, with ready access to their products. I had known that I loved food before I attended this week-long course, though this course solidified my love for food in ways I did not know could be. I would love to go back and do it again because this time I would have more confidence and just enough extra knowledge to really dive in! I stood back a bit when I was there, in awe of the knowledge and skills of the other culinary professionals that I was there with. I participated plenty, but I would do even more if I went back. The memories are a highlight in my culinary life! I love cooking for you and nourishing other with excellent food.

      

I love to eat good food, too: eating good quality food is an experience and nourishing in different ways. I don’t eat fast food (never have), unless you count the very occasional take-out thai or teriyaki joint, though even there I am very picky about which ones I will choose. The closest I come is to go to the Blue Agave in Port Orchard, and they make all their own food, including some items that aren’t on the menu (ceviche de pulpo, aka octopus ceviche) but they have it there if you know to ask. I don’t go to those ever-popular quick-serve restaurants, or fast-casual style places that so many people are fond of, either. If I am going to spend money on food, never mind put it in my mouth to taste and my body to nourish, it has to be worth it. If a restaurant is simply purchasing menu items off of a big truck from a food distributor and essentially re-heating it and putting it on a plate for me, I see no reason to give them my money. Anybody can do that! When you work in a restaurant you should know how to easily make your own sauces and dressings, soups, croutons, and even some easy bread and desserts. If you don’t, it is not worth it to me. Not worth my time, money or energy and now that I am being very cognizent of everything that goes into my mouth, not worth it nutritionally or calorically, either. If you work in a restaurant and strive to make your foods with the most nutritious ingredients available: farm-fresh, sustainably harvested, as local as possible, or eco friendly in any way, I am thinking it could be totally worth it!

And yes, those foods may seem to cost my wallet more than the easier convenience foods out there. However in the long run they are far more valuable to me in flavor and nutrition, as well as conscientiously and as far as social responsibility goes. So I purchase/prepare/eat those things in my personal life as well as in my restaurant. Also, when I purchase those foods it is very likely that I am putting far more money back into our local economy than if I were purchasing the big brands from the big chains, and THAT is much better for my personal, as well as my community’s, finances.

Last week I decided that I was going to attempt to make ricotta cheese (again), as I had failed miserably in my prior attempts. We make it successfully in Italy, and each time I have tried it here I have flubbed it. 2 weekends ago I attended a free library Fall at the Mall event and Diane Fish from the WSU extension office was there to talk about cheese and yogurt making. I listened, asked a few questions, took her recipes and tried it again. I purchased raw Blackjack Valley Farms milk at Colello’s Farm Stand in Port Orchard. I followed Diane’s recipe and used my stove-top diffuser to bring the temperature up very slowly. So slowly that it drove me nuts! (Veruca Salt and I have much in common as far as patience goes…) But it worked! I made my first ever successful (solo) batch of cow’s milk ricotta cheese! It is not as tangy and flavorful as the sheep’s milk or the goat’s milk ricottas that I have made (with help) in the past, but it is pretty darn good. When I do it again I won’t need to go quite as slow on the milk-heating as I did, and I am confident now that I can do it again.

I also made yogurt, which was also successful, though not as creamy as I would love it to be. I did not add the thickener that was optional in the recipe, I quadrupled the recipe and on top of that I used some Fage (say it: ‘fah-yay’) Greek yogurt as a the starter, rather than a regular yogurt, which is what was recommended. It didn’t say NOT to use Greek… at any rate this morning I hopped out of bed in anticipation and took the yogurt dish out of the proofer and at first thought I had a failure on my hands because there was so much whey in it. However as I pushed a spoon into it I could see that I really had made yogurt, albeit very watery yogurt. I lined my fine-mesh strainer (which had been draining my cheese over night and now was free) with cheesecloth and spooned the yogurt into it. I let it drain out quite a bit (I like Greek-style yogurt that is thicker) and put the cheesecloth that was draining it over the top, so it would keep it moist and not soak up extra whey. I chilled it and then moved the cloth back to take this picture for you.

I have tried a little taste of both things and they are delicious! I can’t wait to dive into them a bit more… so here are the recipes that I used (as written and handed out by Diane) and I think you should try one of them if you want to. I plan to get some local goat milk and do this all again, because I love the flavors in goat and sheep milk more than I love the cow’s milk. Have fun with it and love your food!

WSU Ricotta

WSU yogurt