Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm Leavin' on a Jet Plane (John Denver)

"It's 5 AM, I'm ready to go.  My bags are packed, they're by the door.  The shuttle doesn't get here for another 90 minutes."  It doesn't rhyme, but I never claimed to be a song writer.

Chris and I will be winging it back to the good old USA while you sleep.  We leave at 9:45 AM our time, 12:45 AM your time and get home tonight around 8.  I'm not sure if this blog will continue.  The journey has been fantastic, responses have been great to read.  But, I'm not sure how much more of me any of you can stand to read about. 

So if this is it, I can live with it.  A new journey awaits.  When that one gets rolling, I'll see if you want to come along on that one too.

Ciao Italy,  ciao to Paola and Franco.  My intrepid classmate Julie, thanks for being here.  To all of you who read this blog, thanks.  To my family, your support made it possible.  To Chris, I love you.

Thank You

Thursday, Vatican City.
Our B&B is located on the Vatican side of the Tiber River.   Early Thursday morning, we walked to what we thought was the Castle San  Angelo.  Turns out it was the Palazzo di Giustizia, which is a great looking building, but not the castle we were looking for.  In fact it's the city jail.  A few inquieries later, we headed to Plazza St. Pietro or St Peters Square.  Which we did find.  It has the tallest building in Rome and kinda hard to miss.  I guess I could describe St. Peters Square, but if you have ever followed the Pope, then you already know it.  Big Square, large Eqyptian Obelisk in the center.  Once inside, you just sort of walk in a wonderment that is the Catholic religion. 
     From there we went to the Musei Vaticani.  A long walk up a hill, being hounded by people wanting you to pay for their tour of the museum.   We resisted!  The Sistine Chapel is there.  Michelangelo did a few paintings there.  I will just say it was absolutely the most breathtaking place I have ever been.  And that was before I got to the chapel.   The Sistine is the Popes private chapel.  It's where the College of Cardinals vote on who the next pope will be.   Black smoke, no decision.  White smoke, he's elected!
The only thing coming close to the number of rooms of antiquities are the number of book shops wanting to sell you pope stuff.

Friday, Roman Ruins Day.
 We went backwards according to the recommendation of most guide books.   We started at the Panetheon.  The best preserved interior that was Rome.  Not piliaged for it's marble, it is a wonderful monument to what was Rome.  Then we headed to the Foro Romano.  The town center of ancient Rome.  Julius Ceasear lived there and  was buried there.  Mark Anthony said, "I come to bury Ceasear, not praise him", there.  According to Shakespere!  Temples, baths and arches dot the landscape, along with rubble that you have to imagine was in place during the 1000 years of the Roman Empire.   Lastly, I took Chris to the Colosseum.  The face that is ancient Rome.  The echos of this great place cry out. 

To finish off our tour of the ancient city, we went to a small church called San Pietro in Vincoli.  (St. Peters-in-Chains).   Built to house the chains that held St. Peter, it also holds another statue done by Michelangelo, Moses.  Looking nothing like Charleton Heston, it is non-the-less spectacular to see.  I lit a candle for my mom there.  It is my last day here in Italy.  It is because of her I am here today. 

Thanks Mom!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

And then there was Roma!

Wednesday was travel day.  We left our Spoleto hosts, Steve and Denise, and headed to Rome.  Unlike to Hannibal, Spoleto was a fine host of a city to us.  Ciao, grazie you guys.

I made it to the city in fine fashion and then the fun started.  Teem, in his usual calm voice, guided us to our B&B.  He said we had arrived, but there was no place to be found.  A small market, Tobacco Shop, bank and a few large doors.  While I double parked, Chris was able to locate the B&B behind one of the large doors.  Luggage dropped, I headed back to Park Borgesse to drop off the car.  Three circles around a construction area, I finally made it to Hertz.   The gas guy didn't fill my tank and I had to pay an additional 30 euros or go back out and fill up.  I paid.  Took the metro back to the B&B and then Chris and I headed out to return the TomTom to Paola's daughters place via the metro.  This was going too smoothly.  Got to her apt and the receptionist was gone until Saturday.  Crap!  Got inside the locked gate and followed a delivery guy into the complex.  Found her apt and dropped off our semi-trusted guide and left him hanging on her door.  Seemed a crule fate for Teem, but I was done driving.  Yea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Trevi Fountain
By now it was late afternoon, so we headed off to the Trevi Fountain to cast our coins in over our heads, ensuring a return to Roma.  As long as I don't have to drive here, I'll gladly come back.  Walked a ways, found an old church that was rebuild in the 1600's and saw art work from 1546 from a guy named Ricci.  Hey, that's how my name is pronounced here. Walked a bit further to the Monument Victor Emmanuel at the Piazza Venezia.  The over the top monument to Italys first King celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country's unification in 1870.  The people of Rome hate this Alter of the Nation.   According to Rick Steves guide book, it's thought of as a wedding cake, dentures or the typewriter monument.  Check it out and see if you don't agree.

Victor Emmanuel Monument
Bought some bread, cheese, salami and wine that the old guy from the market opened for us and we had dinner in our room.  Thursday, Vatican City.  Friday, Roman ruins.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where the History Comes From

We left Venice around 10:30 yesterday and made our way down the eastern coast of Italy on our way to Spoleto to stay two days with Steve and Denise.  The trip is about 6 hours on two lane roads and small highways.  The eastern coast dotted with small towns, working cities and not much else.  Fano, has a few resort type hotels on the Adriactic Sea, but in the winter they don't do much business.  Ravenna has a transitional history of Roman to barbarian to Byzantine to medieval influences.  In 402 AD, the Roman emperor moved the capital here as the barbarian hords were descending on Rome.  In 476, the Goths from Hungrey conquered the city, thus ending 1,000 years of the Roman Empire.  In 540 the Byzentine's conquered the Goths thus reuniting Italy.

The town of Spoleto was responsible for stopping Hannibal from going into Rome.  After defeating the Roman Army near Cartona, he was marching onward to Rome.  Fierce resistence from Spoleto forced Hannibal to stop his southern march.  Legend here is hot oil from the bell tower here in the city is said to have burned Hannibal.  Only legend though.   The Romans went on to defeat the Carthagenians in a battle at Carthage.  Ending the second tunic war in Rome's favor.

Denise and Chris
Today Chris and I along with the Haerr's visited Trevi.  The Olio Captial capital according to the sign we saw.  I will say the lunch at Ristorante Osteria la Vecchia Posta was excellent.  Denise had grilled pecorino cheese drizzled with Umbrian honey.  It was fantastic.  I asked to meet the chef, who was a young girl from the Czech Republic with no formal culinary training who was very delightful and spoke very good english.

Chef Anna and me

Out trip ended with us stopping to film a herd of sheep walking through an olive grove.  A great day with Steve and Denise.

A walking sheep herder with his dogs

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Decadence or Class and Culture? You decide!

Wow!  Two days in Venezia.  Makes me sort of sad I went to Hamilton instead of Venice High School.  It's like Water World meets Disney.  So much tourism, so many canals.   We did the gondola ride, had too!  I tried to compare it to Napels in Long Beach.  Here's the big difference.  In Long Beach, the Gondoliers may sing and they may be good at what they do.  In Venezia, they sing, they show you Marco Polo's house, Mozarts house and garden, Jockomo, or Cassanova's house plus palaces and churches build in the 1400 & 1500's.  In Long Beach we got the Captain Morgan pirate guy and the 2nd Streed Bridge.  Nuff said.

Marco, our gondolier
I think Chris and I took about 500 pictures in Venice alone.  It was Carnival time.  Masks, costumes and confetti everywhere.  Wine coming out of fountains.  On Sunday, the tide rose up about 2 meters more than usual and the St Mark Square was partially submerged.  People didn't care because the city puts up raised sidewalks to walk through the square.   I think this happens a lot since the city is officially or unofficially sinking depending on who you talk to and who you want to believe.    

Us at St Marcos Square

Me and someone from Cleveland

I have no idea!
Food?  Well, we had been on the cheap since arriving in Venice.  So we treated ourselves to fresh seafood of clams, mussels, langostini and calamari with spaghetti and a whole sea bass grilled crispy.  A great Chardonnay from the Dolemites and for dessert and Sacher Tort as well as Mascarpone with Amaretto.  A nice tab, but we had not splurged in some time.    Yes, that is the fish head on my plate. 

Probably one of the highlights of our Venice stay was a tribute concert we attended to a Venezia native son, Antonio Vivaldi.  Two Concerto's and his Le Quattro Stagioni or Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Ateneo St. Basso church. 

Class and Culture.  Bravo!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Autogrill-Not the Last Supper

The Last Supper is u n b e l i e v a b l e!   Besides being the beginning of the end of fresco style art work, DaVinci's semitri and use of light is what paintings are based on today.  Just amazing.  I never knew fresco work was done on wet walls and had to be done in a very short period of time. It also makes you wonder about St. Peter in the painting.  Sort of looks like a lady to me??   It's the person just to the left of Jesus where there is a big space.  Makes you want to read the DaVinci Code again. 

The Duomo in Milan is over the top, started in 1400 and it's still not complete.  Wonder if they had a 'completed by' clause in that contract?  Napoleon was crowned King of Italy there...for awhile.  Capacity is 40,000. Not including standing room. That happened to be the entire population of Milano at the time. It's said that one of the three nails that were used to crucify Christ is at this church, the fourth largest in Europe. There are over 6000 statues inside and out. So many interesting facts. Again, not having anything to do with cooking, but I am loving this part of the ride. We escaped with our lives and car intact from Milano and headed to Venice.  We will be spending the next few days here. Yes, we did get lost...twice! Freekin Milan!

Speaking of cooking or at least food, we stopped at one of the coolest places that dot the Autostrada's here in Italy.  Autogrills are rest stops that include the following; fuel, bathrooms, a full on dining area that include your choice of complete meals, pasta, antipasti and desserts.  Also included are fast food pizzas and sandwiches, a coffee bar, a full on market, toys, toiletries, deli meats and cheeses, beverages of every description, gift packs, books, magazines, slot machines and very good people watching time.  Not the last supper, but fun non-the-less!  Hey, maybe there's a market for these in the states?   Hmmm.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hotel Star by way of London and China

Two days in Florence is not enough. Two months might work. The Center of the Renaissance is mind blowing. If you have been here then you know; if you haven’t, then come, come to Florence. Just set aside a week, pay the money and get here. Come in February or early March, before the massive crowds get here and walk into history. See where Galileo is buried and walk his museum. Michelangelo and Leonardo have left masterpieces for you to explore.


We left Florence for Milan at 3 PM. It’s almost two hundred miles between the two cities. It was raining hard and it was very foggy in the mountains. The toll on A1 was 20 Euros. Fuel, 41 Euros for ¾ tank of diesel. We got to the city around 7 PM. We walked into the Star Hotel at 9 PM. Milan sucks for driving! I don’t give two cents for fashion, as it’s the fashion capital of the world. I don’t care two cents for the banking capital of Italy. The 1.6 million people who live here can have it. But I had to find our hotel and it took me two hours. The way to my hotel was thru London by way of China. Tomtom got us to the city, but was left a blithering idiot trying to find this place. I stopped at the London Hotel and the nice lady gave me directions to my hotel. But I had to park my car. There in a public garage, that was six blocks from where we were staying, I parked my car. Chris and I walked back to the hotel and by way of a Chinese Restaurant landmark.

Jungle Room
 Our room is reminiscent of Elvis’ Jungle Room. There’s a Leopard half submerged in water stalking our bed and the weirdest set of lighting I have ever seen in any hotel room. But that could not compare to the cement hard pillows and the constant stream of trash trucks picking up the seven bins of stuff outside our window. Their twirling flashing yellow lights streaming into our room and crashing sounds of junk followed by the hydraulic sound of compacting kept us entertained all night.

We did go back to the Chinese place and had a very good meal that included a bottle of white wine and friendly chatter with our Asian waitress.

Tomorrow, the Last Supper!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Crazy Heart for Firenze...Dude!

We woke up in Siena to birds chirping, bells ringing and Vespas buzzing. Siena is the city where Catherine hailed from. Only a woman could convince the pope to leave France and return to Rome. For that she is now honored as Europe’s patron Saint. Michelangelo got his start here. Then he left for Florence to do this sculpture of David, you may have heard about it. A college town unlike most others, you see the young students who are continuing the tradition started back in 1300. Pretty cool! Students of the world descend here to learn about art. I can see why one of my blog followers said, “Siena? It’s my favorite city in Italy”.

We stopped at a Pizzeria, filled with some college students from Spain. They were all excited as they were writing on a paper who they were and what they thought of the pizza. The owner takes their picture and puts it up on the wall. The owner was kind enough to take our picture too, but it won’t be going up on any walls. He used our camera.

It was hard to leave Siena, but Firenze beckoned us to see how Michelangelo did with his sculpture of David.  We set out for the short drive to the Capital of the Renaissance. Just in time for rush hour! Tomtom (GPS) got us here but had us going down a 'pedestrian only' street a block from the hotel.  He didn’t know Florence had changed the rules about cars in the city center. I tried to find my way back around but it wasn’t easy.  Now Chris and I can sometimes butt heads about each other’s driving, but throw in extremely narrow streets, buzzing scooters, one way streets and a bit of renaissance fatigue, well let’s just say we kissed and made up. Déjà vu!  Thanks to a very nice and friendly police officer, who gave us authorization to drive down the pedestrian only street as she couldn’t even figure out how to get to our hotel, we made it.

Parking here is not cheap.  In fact, nothing in Florence is cheap.  So you scale down on the food. We had our own kind of room service for dinner.  I went to the local market and got some salami, fresh bread, some tomatoes, blood oranges, a tray of Aperifresco cheese, potato chips and popcorn.  The popcorn was for the movie Chris had brought with her. So we watched 'Crazy Heart' with Jeff Bridges. He was really good. Not the Big Lebowski good, but good. We had our own wine so it was dinner in bed and a movie with Mr. Bridges in Firenze, Dude!

Dinner and a Movie

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Under the Tuscan Sun

After two days in Spoleto, we said our goodbyes to Steve and Denise and set out for Siena. Along the way we stopped in Cortona, a college town just north of Assisi. The town goes back about 2500 years.  Hannible defeated the Romans just south of Cortona in 217 BC. We stopped long enough to have a quick lunch and walk the Piazza della Repubblica. There we ran into two college girls from Georgia, University of, as they have a Renaissance art program that is associated with Cortona.

We left Cortona and headed northwest to the heart of Tuscany, Siena. As it was Valentine’s Day, we went for a romantic dinner at Compagnia dei Vinattieri as recommended by our B&B hostess at our Hotel villa Liberty. Chris enjoyed Pumpkin, Potato Leek Soup while I had Chicory & Gorgonzola flan with red onion mustard.

Our main course consisted of Braised Beef in Brunello wine and Black Peppercorn sauce and homemade Tagliatelle with Ragu made of Guinea Hen and Pistachios.

We shared a sampling dessert of White Chocolate Mousse with Pineapple Cream, Ginger Chocolate Mousse, a Cheese cake with Raspberry Coulie and a Chocolate Torte. They were all excellent.

We walked the Piazza del Campo and watched the diners enjoying their meals and marveled at the huge piazza and large bell tower, the largest non-religious bell tower in Italy.   Made our way back to our room and called it a night.

A Valentines Day we will always remember

The Ride Continues!

Saturday and Sunday was spent with Steve and Denise Haerr, our newest of friends I have met due to my Chef WannaB blog.  Steve and Denise are on Part II of their lives together.  Kids, house, job all part of Part I.  Now it's traveling and exploring together while their kids finish college, or start their families.  They are now living in Spoleto, Italy and will be here a full year.  Sunday was what Denise calls a sojourn.  We started out to Assisi and arrived at the mist covered hill top walled city home of St. Francis.  Chris and I attended mass at the cathedral where he is buried.  Heard the wonderful bells at noon and had a very good lunch with Steve and Denise. Penne pasta with sasuage in a great white sauce, undercooked sausage links (3), which I returned, sauteed spinach, but without the red pepper and garlic Paola always used and a fruit cocktail for dessert. It also came with a 1/4 liter of vino russo all for 16 Euros.  Afterwards we walked off lunch strolling the ancient streets of Assisi.

Steve, Denise and us at lunch

We then headed to the very small town of Villanova, population 197 and attended a concerto in a newly renovated church.  Marveled at the quintet of 2 violins, viola, cello and a sassofono.  Listened to three classical pieces and then some classical/jazz pieces.  I was blown away and so enjoyed the music.  They did two encores and received standing ovations after each.  

Monday, Chris and I are off to Siena in the Tuscany district that begins our sojourn through Italy.  My hope is you enjoy this ride as well!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bon Appetit

My last day of externship came as most days arrive here in Casperia, a little cold, partly cloudy and life going on as usual in this medieval town. Walled cities dot the Italian countryside. As you drive the country roads, you see them in the distance, half way up hillsides or on mountain tops. It was great to experience life in one, even if only for a short six weeks. People knew who you were, why you were here and where you lived. A bright, buongiorno… ciao, each morning greeted me as I made my way down the many steps to the Blue Café for my morning cappuccino. The ease at which these wonderful people go about their daily life is something Americans could learn from. Imagine everything closed from 12:30 to 4 for siesta in Los Angeles or 3 hour meals. But, I digress.

I concluded my last day by making a sponge cake. It is a very complicated recipe of 7 eggs, 180 grams of sugar and 170 grams of flour. Whip the eggs and sugar till very fluffy, sift and fold in cake flour and bake for 45 minutes at 375. That was it! For lunch Paola heated up some left over tomato sauce used for a fish dish we had made some days before, added some canned dice tomatoes and cooked spaghetti. She took out some frozen fish sticks, drizzled them with olive oil and baked them up as well. Dinner was a kebabs of liver wrapped in pork fat, sausage, bread and Bay leaf baked with a drizzle of olive oil and cooked in the same roasting pan she had roasted potatoes before. We finished up with some fresh cheese and Franco’s very good vino russo. Some workers Franco had employed to work in the new kitchen joined us for dinner. He showed them how the wine vinturi worked. It was great to see the expression on their faces as he poured the wine and the distinct noise it makes startled the workers. I never got to taste the cake.

Paola gives her students a Gusto al Borgo apron and a bottle of wine as well as a certificate of completion when they complete her program. We got two, one for me and one for Chris, and Franco gave me two more bottles of wine as a thank you for the vinturi. It was I who should have been thanking him.


So the adventure of Chef WannaB comes to a close. It was February of 2010 that I started, stopped and restarted again in May, my blog on learning about culinary “excellence” at Le Cordon Bleu. I requested that you join me on this ride by reading my silly blog. My hope is you enjoyed the ride as much as I did and maybe, just maybe learned a bit about cooking like the French.

Bon Appétit

Friday, February 11, 2011


On Tuesday night, Chris and I decide to go back to Roma and return the stupid GPS part. Now I don't recommend you ever drive to Roma, especially after a birthday party and at 4:30 PM. But off we went, with our trusy TOMTOM and Tim (pronounced Teem) there to guide us to Villa Borghese where Hertz is located. Seems that this TOMTOM is an older model and a certain turn off to a connector road that takes us to the A1 highway wasn't programed. Tim kept taking us down a one way road that deadends. Go figure that one. I could see the connector road so decide to take it. Without missing a beat, Tim got us to Villa Borghese...(park). Not the parking structure where Hertz is located. So after driving around a bit I finally saws the Hertz sign, made an illegal turn against traffic and went underground. Hey, it's normal here!

Wednesday was Julie's last day here after three months in Casperia. Her externship finally coming to an end. Her flight out was Thursday morning. She came with a small carry on bag and left with 2 large bags, her carryon and a packback. Seems she was determined to take Italy back with her. Finally, after having to give up two large bags of her favorite cookies, we left for the car. I say that because in Casperia, which is a medieval city from 1000 AD, steps are the only way down. Lots and lots and lots of steps. Made it to the car, drove and picked up Paola and Franco as we were going to a train station where we didn't have to climb a bunch more steps to get to the platform, but I didn't know how to get there. Now, putting up with backseat driving is annoying. Driving with two Italians, one speaking english the other italian while arguing amongst themselves and telling me where to go, now that would be a sitcom success.  Made the train with just two minutes to spare, got Julie on board with all her bags, a quick hug and she was on her way back to California.

Benedictine Abby Farfa Sabina
 Later in the day, Chris and I went to a small town called Farfa Sabina. They have an Benedictine Abby there that was built on top of Roman ruins. It has the largest Renaissance library in the world. It was closed, but opens tomorrow at 11 AM. Sigh! We looked around the town, went into the Church that was amazing. Had to leave as they were starting mass and found a fun little store where I found a cool olive oil can. It was perfect.  Sort of abnormal, I know.

Tomorrow is my last day of externship. Will write more on that tomorrow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Birthday Wishes to Franco

So much has happened since Sunday. On Monday, I was finally able to take Chris to Roma. I had to return the GPS that I had rented from Hertz. It was going to cost me 200 Euros for the full rental period. I can buy one for 100. So I took it back and of course we had taken the train in and I had forgotten a part. So they took it back, charged me 50 Euros and I had to come back to return the missing part or they were going to charge me the full 200. I got a two day grace period. Anyway, the Villa Borghese where Hertz is located is right next to the Spanish Steps. A famous meeting place and tourist highlight on all the brochures. Just a short walk is Campo Marzio, a wonderful park that overlooks the Piazza del Popolo. The park was dedicated to the people of Roma by Napoleon for a place families could visit. Had a great lunch at a restaurant just off the Piazza and people watched. I wasn’t going to do major sightseeing in Roma until we got back towards the end of our trip as we are spending 3 days there. But I had to show Chris the Coliseum. As you walk out of the Metro station, right there it sits. The iconic site that is Roma to many people was there to stare at. We strolled around it trying to put history into some sort of perspective. It is a very humbling feeling. Sort of like gazing out at the Grand Canyon. We made our way back to Casperia, went shopping for groceries and called it an extrodinary day.

Campo Marzio


Tuesday, I helped Franco move some furniture and kitchen cabinets upstairs at their new cucina. It sits on top of the two apartments they own. It was Franco’s birthday! As he tells it, “a very special holiday”, and he wanted fish. Off he went to buy fish and Paola, Chris and I went back to the restaurant. Man, he really wanted fish; fresh anchovies, calamari, clams and shrimp. Paola and I prepared his special lunch by dusting the anchovies and calamari in flour and a quick deep fry. De-shelled and be- headed a few of the shrimp for the pasta. Sauteed the clams in white wine and herbs, also for the pasta and quickly sautéed the remaining shrimp all intact. A friend, Georgio, came over and gave Franco a gift and he stayed for lunch. We polished off most of the sea food, drank a bunch of wine and sang Happy Birthday to Franco after downing some Scotch that Franco insisted we try, in what else, Italian. Funny how good our Italian got after wine and scotch. 

Is this the way to spend an externship or what?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Make my Day!

The weekend brought my most rewarding time here at Gusto al Borgo. The sun was shining and the temps were in the high 50’s to low 60’s. On Saturday, we all went to Paola’s garden about 500 meters down the hill and picked the rest of their winter vegetables. Mostly broccoletti, a green vegetable that is cooked like spinach. After cleaning and removing most of the spiders and bugs, she par-boiled it and then wraps it to be sautéed later with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic. Saturday evening, I brought Chris back with me and I made risotto with gorgonzola cheese and apples topped with walnuts, breast of turkey scaloppini in butter and wine sauce and some of the sauteed broccoletti.  I didn’t say anything about the spiders or bugs.

Sunday was even better weather. We had word that customers were coming because the day was so perfect. We had 5 different parties show up. It was like a real restaurant. We set up two tables outside for two couples. We made Salmon balls “fritto” with a blood orange sauce and deep fried fennel with pesto for starters. We put together a sausage and potato frittata with roasted garlic and thyme. Then chicken in a light tomato sauce with black olives and fresh rosemary. Next up was Cannelloni, one with sautéed mushroom and one with smoked cheese and prosciutto. Broccolini was also served. We ran out of chicken and had to make pork scaloppini with a wine and butter sauce. Topped it all off with a Zabaione, a frozen desert made with equal amounts of egg yokes, sugar and marsala wine wisked over heat to make a custard then whipped cream is folded in with crushed amoretto cookies, topped with a chocolate sauce. Then homemade Lemoncello, and of course every meal ends with caffe, strong with sugar. From 11:00 to 4:30 we were turning and burning. I got to taste the frittata, but that was it. Lucky for us, Paola had made and froze a lasagna with pumpkin in a white sauce for our family meal.

The topper was this; Franco makes his own red wine. It’s very strong with lots of sediment at the bottom. I had Chris bring a wine venturi and we presented it as a gift to Franco. I used it for our first table as Franco stood back and watched. It was great to see him use it for the customers afterwards. He would come back into the kitchen and tell me, “This is very special.” It made my day knowing Chris and I had brought something new to Casperia never seen before.

Oh, I heard something about a football game. Who won?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Takin' it Slow

The past few days have been very slow. After Chris came to the cucina on Wednesday, we had Thursday off. We decided to go to Roma, but since I’m a cement head and thought the trains ran every 20 minutes after arguing with Julie, they don’t, we missed the train. The next one was in three hours.  I could have driven to ROMA…NOT!!!  So instead we decide to find the OUTLET. It’s like going to the outlet mall in Morongo. We plugged in TOMTOM and set it for no tolls. Big mistake! Well, sort of.  Julie remembered a restaurant, Pizza al Taglio, and we programmed in that restaurant, as OUTLET was not found in TOMTOM.  Driving on this one lane road up a mountain to the top, we saw some really cool things. Big rivers, sheep, horses, cows, road signs that I had no idea what they were or what they meant. But Tim, our TOMTOM guide, coolly guided us up the mountain, over hill and dale, ever so gently telling us to turn left in 80 meters. After about a 45 minute ride where we saw no cars or people, we were at the top of this mountain. No OUTLET mall, but there as big as you please was our Pizza al Taglio. Seems there is more than one of these. Must be a chain or something. Walked in to this ever so tiny place where the proprietor must have thought we dropped in from Pluto, and ordered some pizza and a coke. Now I don’t drink cokes at home. However, Coke in Italy is so good and sweet; you just cannot resist a coke. We enjoyed the view and the pizza and decided to drive back home.


We plugged in Casperia, to make our way back home and went down a bigger road where a sign read, OUTLET. Drove another 5 minutes and there it was, just off the highway. The OUTLET restaurant that Julie had remembered was nowhere to be found, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t hungry anyway. Shopped and enjoyed the very nice stores, Chris bought a cool pasta cooker, I a heat diffuser.

Tim found our way back home and we enjoyed a movie after making chicken cacciatore with mushrooms for dinner.

A nice slow day in Italy.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Millie la Pagina

Having recovered from an interesting day before, we got on to making Millie la Pagina, or 1000 sheets.  It's a desert made with puff pastry, pastry cream, whipped cream, chocolate chips and finished off with chopped hazelnuts and powdered sugar.  Hows that for ingredients?

Chris came to the restaurant and was a witness to our process, which is asking Paola what can we do? As a school, it's not traditional at all.  But, that's why I love it. Dealing with Franco, her husband, who comes into the kitchen and sneaks food, to Foxy, Maggie and Biondo, the three dogs who wonder in an out.  It's surreal and fantastic. Ah the Agriturismo in action.

For lunch, I made a Gorgonzola risotto. Paola cooked up pork chops and we had my new favorite vegetable, fennel quartered, sauteed till soft with garlic and topped with parmasean cheese at the table.  Soo Good!  A fun day to be sure.  Tomorrow, Chris gets to experience Roma!


One of those Days

Tuesday brought me to February 1st.  Thirty-one days in Casperia and it seems like I just got here.  Tomorrow is Paola's brothers birthday.  So our charge was to make a chocolate torte or cake as you would call it.  Nothing out of a box here, except maybe the flour we used.  Melting the bittersweet chocolate with butter seemed an easy task.  Break the chocolate apart add hunks of butter and melt.  Well, I burnt the chocolate.  Heck, I didn't even know you could burn chocolate.  So I had to re-measure my ingredients and this time I melted the chocolate in a bain marie.  Put the eggs in, mixed with dry and poured the batter into the cake pan.  I undercooked it.  The never fail toothpick method failed me.  Paola tried to save it. She cut it in half and applied the homemade appricot jam in the middle, flipped it over and it fell into 3 big chunks.  Then she was out of baking powder, so no cake. 

I was filling up the big pasta pot with water. She has a connection that allows her to put the water line inside the pot right on the stove.  I walked away for a minute and (probably longer than a minute) and the pot overflowed onto the stove.  Big watery mess.   Cleaned up that mess.

Burnt the first two sheets of puff pastry.  I did get six of them done correctly.

Then we made Crepe's.  Nine of them.  Stacked into three, rolled up and cut like fettuccini noodles.  We then toss them with a simple tomatoe sauce.  It's a very light texture and really tasty.  No problems with the crepes.  Paola had to leave early which meant so did we.  About that time I was thinking, "Thank you Lord".

I suggested that we go out for dinner here in Casperia at Friends Cafe.  I didn't want to burn down the apartment!