I have a wonderful life and in case anyone out there thought maybe I didn’t appreciate it: I DO! Every night as I go to sleep and each morning when I wake up I gaze out my window and give thanks for this beautiful place we live (not to mention all the times in between!)I have been ‘high’ since our Italian wine makers came out for a visit last Wednesday and totally made my day. It started about 2 weeks ago when I found out that several of our favorite Italian wine makers were going to be in Seattle and Tacoma at different events. Our friend and coordinator for our Italy food & wine tripDoumina Whyman made sure that they got to stop by the cafe for a visit. It was a mad scramble, as I had 5 days (2 of them the weekend!) to make sure I got their wines into the store, had some great food to go with them, and most importantly got the word out so folks could come meet them and taste their wines with them! These men are so gracious and welcoming when we bring our groups to visit them in Italy, it was very important to me to show them as much hospitality as possible while they were visiting here. Meeting us for the first time was the endearing Nini Palama and his wife Isa, with wines from their estate in the Puglia region, the boot-heel of Italy. Then tall and handsome Federico Stella with his adorable father Giorgio, with wines from the Peimonte region, the upper thigh of Italy. We will visit his vineyards in October for the first time. Last and not least was our dear friend from Tuscany (the kneecap of Italy) Alessandro Bocci, from Perazzeta winery, which we can show you pictures of from our trip last year. Around 30 wine-loving people showed up to welcome our friends from Italy, some of whom had a bit less English than others, and we had a wonderful time hearing them talk and sipping their wines. Because of the late notice I did not have much of anything so we had to take orders for most wines, but I think it worked out well anyway, as our customers are the best in the universe and they understood about time constraints. It was wonderful to see the men and I feel like we showed them a great time, and then they got to take the Bremerton-Seattle ferry back on the most beautiful of nights, which I know they thoroughly enjoyed.

The next day Mark and I trekked to Tacoma to see “our Italians” and several other wine-makers from Italy at a trade event. We saw Lorenzo from Podere Ciona (we stayed there last year and it is a place I could live, to be sure! I love his mother and her friends, my Italian mamas!) We also reminisced with Antonio Sanguineti, who has visited the cafe before, and Enzo from Rigoloccio winery in the Maremma. We met Luca from La Quercia, where we wanted to go last year but did not due to the big earthquake, & Elena de Tarczal from the far northern area of Trentino. We missed a few friends and we made a couple of new ones, and I would have to be tortured to decide which of these geniuses makes the best wine. They are all the best of their regions and at the top of their different classes to be sure, and I really do love them all. It was fun to share pictures of last year’s trip with them, some of whom were in those pictures, some who will be next year, and the rest just enjoy seeing photos of friends’ wineries and familiar places within their homeland. Mark and I both had a fantastic time, it felt like a reunion, and we did not want to say ‘ciao’ when it was over. We did get one last farewell from Alessandro on Saturday, as he had a public event at Tacoma Boys so we popped in to get a favorite bottle signed and to wish him well. We will see him and some of the others in October-you can join us still, we have 3 spots left on the trip! I promise it will be so much fun you will barely be able to stand it!

Last weekend was my BFF Linda’s 1/2 birthday (I thought it sucked that her late December birthday gets overshadowed by Christmas so I started celebrating her 1/2 birthday many years ago..) so I surprised her with a chocolate tour! We went through Savor Seattle and did the ‘Chocolate Indulgence’ tour, which is a walking tour and therefore puts you into massive calorie deficit and makes it all worth while. We went on Sunday, which happened to be the Gay Pride Parade and that made it all the more colorful of a tour! We parked in Tukwila and took the lightrail down so traffic and parking were just fine, thank you very much. We went to places and experienced flavors that neither of us had been or tried before and it was so much fun! A tasty learning experience, to be sure. If anyone out there wants to take me on the Gourmet Seattle tour, or even the Pike Place Market tour, I am totally game! Yes, it is sort of a touristy thing to do and yet we learned things about our own area and that was fun. Plus we could even fill in the blanks on a few things, like when we sampled Matt Carter’s chocolates at The Chocolate Box, I was sure to let everyone know that Carter’s Chocolates is in Port Orchard and absolutely worth a visit. By the time 2 hours of chocolate had passed we were done! We lightrailed it back and I had spicy pho for dinner…the chicken soup was light and very spicy to cut all that richness from earlier in the day. When I got home Mark had done most of the laundry…now THAT is a good day!

Have you been watching the FIFA World Cup? I bet you have since it is the most watched sporting event in the world (more than 715 million people watched the final match in 2006!) I am amazed by how in to this I am. Months ago I watched the draw for the lineup and I finally understand it! I am waking up every morning and tuning into the games as soon as they come on, either on tv or on my computer…Mark, Betuel and I huddled around the laptop to see USA score against England and we watched Mexico win early on as well! It is all very exciting and I find myself enthralled with the amazing footwork in the games. Now the USA and Mexico are both out, and I am still watching and loving every minute of it, and MLS is back playing again too, which is difficult to watch this year and yet I am there for those Sounders!

Soccer players are serious athletes, far more generally fit than baseball, basketball or American football players, and dare I say even more fit than Hockey, rugby and lacrosse players. They are running for more than 90 minutes at a time with only a 15 minute break in the middle! They must be eating mountains of protein and carbs before they play and yet the food sponsors seem to be predominantly those of fast food giants. There is simply no way these guys are eating that food and qualifying for World Cup play. There is, of course, controversy over that issue and FIFA (Federation International Football Association) is under fire from various health organizations from all over the world. FIFA isn’t saying anything and I suspect that they will not. Money talks and I would bet that this World Cup is going to be more watched than the last one, so FIFA will take the money from whoever wants to sponsor it. I guess it is up to the rest of us to explain to our kids that just because McDonalds advertises at the World Cup, it is not cool to actually eat there. Sigh.

I am partnering with the Library Foundation to have a great food event here in Kitsap that I am super excited about. It is called “Food For Thought: Edible Conversations with internationally renowned food bloggers/authors”. It will be at Rodstol Lane Farm and there will be NY Times best selling authors there! We are surrounding the panel with informational booths all having to do with our local food chain, such as our Food & Farm Policy Council and many more. Chef Chris Plemmons from Olympic College is going to roast a pig with me and we will do lots of other dishes that will be great, plus local wine and beer folks will be there selling additions to the meal. I want everyone to go and eat and learn and have a great time, though I have an event the following week that I think you will love, too.

This is one of our local Day Trips to Finnriver Farm & Cidery, in Chimacum Valley. We will create a great meal out of local foods, do a farm tour, have live music, taste their amazingly great hard cider (which tastes more like sparkling wine to me, so I love it) and have another fabulous time. We are still working out the details on both events, but get them on your calendars now so you will be sure to not miss them!

I was recently having lunch with Katie & Renee, both former Monica’s team members, who were saying they missed the black bean chipotle soup that we make, since they are no longer working there and therefore not available every time we make it. I decided to put a version of our soup here for you and you can make it at home!

Black Bean Chipotle Soup
Beans (You could use canned beans, make sure you rinse them really well if you do)
1 pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over and soaked over night with a couple of bay leaves and some pepper. Drain the beans and add the following:

4 ounces ham steak , trimmed of rind (leave this out if you are vegetarian
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions , chopped fine (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
3 ribs celery , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
5 – 6 medium cloves garlic , minced-about 1 1/2 tablespoon
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo (or more if you like it spicier)
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons lime juice , from 1 to 2 limes

maybe some cornstarch and water…

1. FOR THE BEANS: Place beans, ham, bay, water, and baking soda in large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; using large spoon, skim scum as it rises to surface. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (if necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender); do not drain beans. Discard bay. Remove ham steak (ham steak darkens to color of beans), cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and set aside.

2. FOR THE SOUP: Heat oil in 8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking; add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 30 minutes.

3. TO FINISH THE SOUP: Ladle 1-2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid into food processor or blender, process until smooth, and return to pot. If soup is still thinner than desired once boiling, stir 2 TBS cornstarch into 2 TBS water, then drizzle in/gradually stir mixture into soup; return to boil to fully thicken.

Off heat, stir in lime juice and reserved ham; ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately, passing garnishes separately. For garnishes you can use:
lime wedges
minced fresh cilantro leaves
red onion, finely diced
avocado, diced medium
sour cream