Tuesday, April 30, 2013

florence--day three {travelogue}

day three is usually when jet lag hits
at least for me
after so many years of it being a pattern
it is probably now a learned response
i allow myself to succumb to it
because it is something you can say to people
 they won't judge
which is how
we found ourselves
rip van winkle
a run for his money

after a long sleep
a long walk seemed in order
we cruised the streets of florence
until it seemed a respectable time to look for lunch
i was craving roasted chicken and potatoes
we found it on the menu of a place that looked really nice
except they were playing sade
i can't stand sade
i can't
no specific reason
just can't tolerate her music
reminds me too much of jazz, i think
i like a hook
sade doesn't give you a hook
so i refused to go in
i convinced myself that another place would be just as good
i was wrong
not even photo worthy
 mike liked his
he got some sort of pasta
i ordered chicken with roasted potatoes
and was served
seriously, seriously, seriously
overcooked anorexic chicken thigh-slash-leg
french fries
i poked at it
ate the salad i had ordered
more room for gelato
which was good thinking
because it actually did leave
more room for gelato

but let me get ahead of myself here
don't despair

i had a bad meal in italy
no biggie
i made up for it at dinner
and then some
we ate at a fun place
when i say fun
i mean...bring your sense of fun
because if you bring your
"that would never go in america" attitude
 this place
they will hate you
so don't go
 if you still insist on going
don't tell them i told you to
i happen to like these people
 i would like to think they like us

you must make a reservation at Il Latini
a restaurant that looks small
but it isn't
you make a reservation
then you queue up
like so
then the crowd starts building
everyone starts thinking that their reservation is the most important
they open the door
 it becomes a bit of a fiasco
they start calling out numbers
not names
but numbers
everyone starts pushing and throwing up their hands saying
we are due
we are cinque
but mostly 
they start yelling
i have a reservation
rest assured
everyone has a reservation
 everyone gets in

and all is forgotten
the food starts arriving
first the antipasto
then you make choices
soup or pasta
oh you want pasta?
do you want
hubs chose ravioli
i had soup
but the people next to us had soup and pasta
they had no idea what was next
did i mention that at this place
they open a bottle of wine
you pay for what you drink
drink the whole bottle 10 euros
drink only half
5 euros
drink less
pay less
i love this system

 ooh la la
the main course
roasted meats
you want
chicken, rabbit, steak, lamb, pork, veal?
all of them
some of them
one of them
none of them
you decide
and of course
the side dishes
this is what our table looked like
you should know
we cleaned our plates
but declined dessert
which was a good idea
because they brought out 
a plate loaded with cantucci
glasses of vin santo

just as we thought it was all over
they brought us a glass of moscato
you know
as you do

if you don't know the drill
you think
they get you drunk
so you aren't freaked out by the bill
come on
this kind of meal
doesn't come cheap

unless you are at il latini
because they have
in spades

Monday, April 29, 2013

pisa-lucca---day 2 {travelogue}

saturday in florence
is like saturday in any city
locals pouring into town to do their weekend shopping
tourists milling about in large groups
staring upwards

just an all around
crowded situation
which is why
we got out of town

pisa and lucca the destination

turns out
it wasn't such a bad idea
the weather had turned runny
just as we took our seats on the excursion bus
rain began pouring down
(that really isn't its name...i don't know what the name was, except that it was one of those total tourist deals...which turn out to be a pretty good thing, actually)

i never think i am a fan of the organized tourist train/bus/walk
but i nearly always give them a try
i am hardly disappointed
except when it  includes food
which is a big bad bust
most of the time

those, i avoid
as you know
i am all about the food

speaking of which
we had steak and eggs for breakfast
but there are no photos
because i forgot
and by the time i remembered
it didn't look so appetizing
just trust me
leftover bistecca fiorentina
with a couple of fried eggs
and hunk of bread
is money

in Pisa
we did a tour of the church
which is beautiful
but dark
which is why i don't have any good photos
because in churches
you can't wear a hat
you can't use a flash

the real draw in Pisa
is the tower
a leaning tower
i love all the great photos that people fashion
holding the tower up
grimacing under the supposed weight
they never cease to humor me
but you rarely see this maneuver
someone kicking the darn thing over
but it is funny
that is my husband
who enjoys a good laugh as much as i
we hooted over this one for hours

time for lunch
but in a tourist town
where restaurants actually name themselves
restaurant tourista
getting a good meal is a bit dubious
but we found one
just outside the main tourist area
trattoria bruno
(no identity crisis here)

the pasta outstanding
hubs had
penne with rabbit and boar sauce
and i enjoyed
pasta with porcini mushrooms
the pasta was handmade
and so thin
you could almost see yourself through the sheets

simple yet delicious

from Pisa
we got back on the bus and headed to Lucca
a medieval city
that is usually quite lovely
but on a rainy saturday
with many of the venues closed for the afternoon
there was little to see

after getting a bit drenched in the rain
we stopped for a hot chocolate
which in this part of italy
is more like
warm chocolate pudding
than chocolate water
you decide if it sounds better or not

e poi
(which means and then
not the poi you eat in hawaii
which is not italian by any means
despite having the same name)

we visited a winery just outside of lucca
it turns out
they make the house wine
for one of my favorite places in New York City
Sant. Ambroeus
when i was getting married
my dress came from vera wang
and before my first appointment
and subsequently
my fittings
i would go have
coffee and a little something
sant ambroeus
 so when the proprietor of this winery in lucca
off-handedly mentioned the restaurant
i perked up with
on madison avenue!?!
she and i had a bonding moment
it is her brother's place
and all the "house wine" comes from here
 it is pretty good
a tasty drinkable wine
i was set to buy quite a bit
but then my new friend
(the owner)
gave me the name of their american distributor
so i wouldn't have to pay for shipping
which now means
i'll probably buy a whole case
those italians
so crafty!

after the wine and the food and the travel by bus
we were pretty wiped out
without plans for dinner

we grabbed a quick porchetta sandwich
and called it a night
a night and half a day
since jet lag reared its ugly head
and we slept
about 12 hours
waking up just in time
to search out lunch....

Friday, April 26, 2013

Firenze--day one {travelogue}

i should really keep a food journal
not in the way that you think
i don't want it to scold myself
but to
extol the pleasures of each and every bite
lovely lines filled with prose
explanations of the blissful moment
that fork meets mouth
i would show it to my internist
as i step on the scale
so he might be so wrapped in envy
he'd forget to scold
fat chance
today was our first full day in italy
we rented an apartment
both for economy and luxury
i like to fill a fridge
fresh fruit
and other simple provisions
so each meal isn't eaten out
we can enjoy lazy mornings reading the local paper
or catching up on email

those gorgeous hotel breakfasts served in europe are mostly lost on me
i like to ease into my day
and an apartment in the heart of the city 
affords me that luxury
as luck would have it
for longer stays the cost savings can be quite extraordinary

we dropped in to the local market last evening and stocked the fridge
this morning, i popped down to our local bakery and fruit stand to pick up a couple of things for breakfast
i made a pot of coffee
set up breakfast on the veranda
and enjoyed our
beautiful view of the duomo
these incredible fragoline
(wild strawberries from sicily)
are tiny and pure white on the inside
and are sweet as they are small
with pure strawberry flavor
we are drying a few on the counter
so we can bring them back home to plant
hopefully they will germinate

post breakfast we walked, and walked, and walked some more
this town is crowded
people everywhere

i was in school here in the 1980s and for the last decade or so
i've tried to make it back every year
each time
there are larger crowds
the secret is definitely out
i do still feel the charm of a city i loved in my youth

speaking of the secret being out
we had lunch at one of my favorite spots
it used to be a sleepy little place
in a lesser known square on the oltroarno
partly by my own fault (telling anyone who would listen)
partly because of it hitting the guidebook circuit
it has become very, very popular
the prices remain low
the quality high

is a true gem
with simple yet delicious food
i always get the gnocchi tartufo
(small portion--still enough to share)
with a small salad

the restaurant shared with me the ingredients for the gnocchi..but not the recipe.  i have successfully duplicated the sauce  both with pasta and potatoes. i may be persuaded to share!

mike went with the rabbit cacciatore
which was equally delicious

on our way back to the apartment
we stopped in at the gallileo museum
it is a relatively small space
filled with the most amazing instruments
used in applied sciences
like this early thermometer
which beautifully marries
form and function
it also houses
gallileo's mummified finger
if you are looking for a draw for your teenage son
fully grown husband

the day progressed with more walking
an afternoon relax
ginormous steak
bistecca fiorentina

it is over 2lbs of dry aged beef
fired grilled
3 inches thick
medium rare on the exterior
blood rare inside
juicy and tender
a must try

while just about everyone serves a version of this steak in florence
not everyone does it well
if you find a bargain
it may just taste like a bargain
it is a treat
so treat yourself
skimp tomorrow
we enjoyed ours at
an old establishment
with cloth napkins
and attentive service
they are lovely
and the food is delicious
pair with a nice barolo
dig in
*be nice while you are there, and they may give you a restaurant apron...just like the one they gave me!

tomorrow we are off on a day trip to pisa and lucca
historic sights and olive oil
what more is there in life?
lots more meals
and i will share them all with you

but if you run into my doctor
just mention you heard i was doing a lot of walking
and drinking lots of water
that's a good distraction


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

gophers kidnapped julia child

double ugh
triple ugh
a couple of weeks ago, we planted 61 gorgeous tomato plants...all in a row, perfectly spaced, bordered by marigolds. it took hours.

2 days later we noticed that rabbits had nibbled on the leaves of a few, and 2 plants had disappeared completely

i drove to town, picked up supplies and fashioned a secondary fence to protect the plants

6 more plants disappeared....and fresh gopher mounds appeared in their place
we planted gopher bombs, traps and ran water in the tunnels...and went to bed
the next day, all looked good

3 days later...
julia child was gone
a special tomato that i can only imagine would have been colorful and plump
a real vivor
 we will never know
a gopher kidnapped julia child and michael pollan and 40 other tomato plants

this is what the tomato patch looked like when it was all said and done

no ransom notes, just holes, mounds of dirt & tipped name plates--where julia, michael, cherokee and others once stood

rather than feed another generation of gophers, we pulled the plants, and are starting again.  we transferred the plants to larger pots as a transitional step.  it was slightly heartbreaking, as they were  rooting really well, and had begun to sprout roots from the deeply planted stalks.  i gave them a good feeding and mixed up a delicious soil (1 part dirt: 1 part organic potting soil: 1 part compost) and crossed my fingers

the plants we saved are doing very well...and should produce a nice healthy crop of tomatoes

we will plant again. in gopher safe-raised beds

(this post is from my other blog which catalogs our journey on our new ranch--www.keepingupwiththeclampetts.blogspot.com)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

farro crostata {savory&vegetarian}

as spring arrives
so does my realization
that i have been tucking into
 thick suppers of  roasts and shanks
for months

with the promise of long days
evenings of light
my desires change
i begin to crave
hearty vegetarian suppers

when i was offered the opportunity 
to try
i jumped at the chance

i enjoy the meaty texture and nutty flavor of farro
using it mostly in soups and summer salads
for this recipe
i took inspiration from a classic (and favorite)
italian easter pie

substituting savory elements
for sugar and fruits
this farro pie 
lovely as a simple supper
by itself
paired with a leafy salad
as a sliver of a starter for a seasonal tasting menu
   farro crostata
1/2 cup onion--thinly sliced
1/4 cup onion--finely chopped
1 clove garlic--finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup organic farro alle verdure by Tuscan Fields -cooked
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan (+more for topping)
generous pinch kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup cream
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry

pour enough olive oil in the bottom of a skillet to just cover the bottom. toss in thinly sliced onions and over low heat, slowly caramelize. if you find that they are starting to cook to quickly, add a couple of splashed of hot water to slow down the cooking.  once fully caramelized (about 20 minutes), remove from pan and reserve. 
meanwhile, whisk together the farro, ricotta, eggs, parmesan, salt pepper, and nutmeg in a large bowl.   using the same skillet in which you caramelized the onions, without washing, add a tiny bit of olive oil (1 tsp) and over low heat, saute the chopped onion, garlic and thyme just until the onion becomes translucent--keep from browning.  pour in the cream, use a spoon to scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan.  allow the cream to come to a simmer, then slowly stir into the farro and ricotta mixture.
place your puff pastry on a cookie sheet or in a pie tin.  it is not necessary to shape it into a circle, if it is square.  gently spoon the farro mixture into the center of the pastry, allowing it to naturally move towards the edges.  allow for at least 2" from the mixture to the edge of the pastry. scatter the caramelized onions on top and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese.  fold the pastry ends towards the center, overlapping itself and the farro mixture as necessary to keep the contents within the confines of the pastry.  alternatively, you can line a pastry tin with puff pastry and simply fill with the farro custard.
bake in a preheated 350F oven for 30-40 minutes.   after 25 minutes keep a watchful eye that the custard is not "souffleing"--you do not want to over cook this, as it will dry it out and it will taste a bit eggy.  this crostata is meant to be creamy.  serve warm or room temperature.

*i received several samples of Farro from Tuscan Fields, free of charge, to utilize in recipe experimentation.  in exchange i am entered in a drawing to win a scholarship to Eat Write Retreat


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