April 2009

What's not to love?

by admin on April 24, 2009

Looking out from the duomo…

MORE ON THE WAY………

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Ricotta Fritta (Fried Ricotta)

by admin on April 24, 2009

Elizabetta’s was a nice respite from the rain…..we bid our usual ciaos and I announced my hope for the evening…..I wanted to make Ricotta Fritta (Fried Ricotta). I had found a recipe as I always do but SO look forward to Elizabetta’s spin. Today, she had a perplexed look and said ah yes….we make this in Tuscany…..but I don’t make too much…and then she went and grabbed a worn beautiful cookbook and began to explain how this chef is one of the best in Tuscany and he shops at her store every day…..and yes, he has the recipe…..

As I looked over her shoulder, she translated for me….and after we went through it all….she thought twice…I need to get a piece of paper….she looked everywhere on her desk and finally discovered a small tablet underneath some books…she tore a piece off and then went through the same routine with a pen.  Now armed with pen and paper, we went back through it again.  It was very different then the recipe I had found…

First you make the sauce…with flour, water, a bit of oil and two eggs.  I noticed the recipe didn’t have any measurements…but how do I know how much flour?  She looked at me in the eyes…perhaps with a bit of astonishment…she truly had a novice on her hands….ok….she said….you are making a sauce….you want it to look and feel like a sauce…that would cover the ricotta….that you could dip the ricotta in….so just do it that way….if it is too thick add more water….too thin add more flour….I must have looked a bit afraid as she then said…..ok about this much of flour….and held her thumb and finger apart so wide….and this much water…and opened them wider….and a splash of oil and the 2 eggas….I love the way she says eggs….eg gas.  Ok…I can do this!

She then went on to tell me how to make the ricotta…take the ricotta…I give to you exact amount you need…and add two eggs…and 100 oz. of parmesan cheese….ut oh….how much is 100 oz. I asked…not much she said…and then proceeded to pick up a piece of parmesan and show me about how much.  Mix it all together and finish it with salt.

Take a spoonful of the Ricotta mixture and dip it in the sauce…then place it in a pan with olive oil…don’t let them touch….and fry for a few minutes…should be brown on the outside and creamy ricotta in the middle.  Serve them hot….

As I walked out of Elizabetta’s that day, I couldn’t help but have a new feel for cooking….she was teaching me the “feel”….I never knew it had a “feel”.   Cooking is a lot of common sense…it can be a bit natural if you can cast the fear of failure aside….and I have failed….ask the girls about the ricotta and spinach canneloni I tried….we ended up having cornflakes for dinner…ha….but I have succeeded too…like the ricotta fritta…it was a HUGE success…the kids loved it….they loved that I was cooking and serving them right off the stove (of course I wasn’t sitting down)….and they talked about the look, texture and goodness…what it reminded them of….a food memory in our own kitchen!  They begged me to stop as I believe the recipe was for a cocktail party for 20 but I fried down to the last drop….we pulled them out of the frig the next day for lunch…along with the sundried tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil….and they were just as fabulous.

MY INGREDIENTS LIST AND DIRECTIONS ….. AND A LITTLE BIT OF RICOTTA FRITTA!

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Falling in love…

by admin on April 23, 2009

How could you not fall in love with this..….

Yesterday it was warm but there were dark clouds in the sky…..I knew the dry time was limited so I set out to do some of my daily tasks early….as I was walking my normal route to Elizabetta’s, I came across a small boutique that I hadn’t noticed before….I popped in and was overwhelmed by the abundance of stylish clothes at a reasonable price…and made in Italy….I’ve been good to date and mother’s day is just around the corner…so I purchased a few shirts and went on my way.

A few doors down was one of the many churches that I visit…this one is special because it is a church that we went to on our visit 8 years ago…and one that has a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary with real candles to light….so, with my bag in hand,  I dropped in to have a chat with Mary and light a candle for a dear friend of mine…hung out for a bit to the sounds of a new organist trying his best at keeping a tune…and then went on my way…peacefully.

As I crossed the Piazza della Repubblica and headed toward the alley, my short cut, I knew I was running out of time….as I stepped into the alley, the sounds of thunder began to resonate off of the walls…and a light but consistent rain began to fall from the sky….I put my hood on…and watched my feet as they stepped feverishly from one wet cobblestone to the other……I began to hear another familiar sound….clippety clop clippety clop…..I looked up and trotting toward me at lightening speed was a beautiful white horse pulling a carriage….it was moving at a fast trot…down the cobblestone….like a scene out of an old movie….the grace in which this horse moved was like that of a ballerina….fluid in motion… mane blowing in the wind….classic.   As it came closer, the thunder roared again.  I stepped up on the sidewalk and watched the horse trot by…wow…so beautiful….so surreal.   This was not the first time that I felt like I had stepped back in time….or onto a movie set.


Elizabetta’s was a nice respite from the rain…..we bid our usual ciaos and I announced my hope for the evening…..I wanted to make fried ricotta.  I had found a recipe as I always do but so look forward to Elizabetta’s spin.  She had a perplexed look and said ah yes….we make this in Tuscany…..but I don’t make too much…and then she went and grabbed a worn beautiful cookbook and began to explain how this chef is one of the best in Tuscany and he shops at her store every day…..and yes, he has the recipe…..continue this story and recipe at sholiveoil.com/recipe.

I picked up a few extra things from Elizabetta…organic sun dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella…..one of our new favorite crostinis is bread…arugula…mozzarella….sundried tomatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.  Emily likes to add Balsamic Vinegar…which is also a nice add.  It’s not easy to find high quality sundried tomatoes…we sell the best I could find back home.  I always make sure the tomatoes are packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil….not an olive oil or canola oil….it usually means the producer is serious about their ingredients.

Anyway, Elizabetta also sent me home with the most adorable package of Confettra Di Cotogne..she tried to explain what it was but I couldn’t understand…the picture on the little box looked like a potato hanging on a tree and she was describing it by picking up lemons and oranges and putting them together …I wasn’t getting it.  She said to put it on cheese…very very good…. I was curious and sold.  I had to get parmesan for the fried ricotta so she said to slice a thin piece and add “this” and it is wonderful.  (And it is wonderful….it is simply quince jam…but solid..not jammy….perfect with cheese….).  And by the way…if you are going to serve it….you may want to call it “confettura di cotogne”…gives it a bit more pizazz then quince jam. :)


I loaded up my bag….bid my ciao grazies and off I went….back across town.  I came the back way and took a left off of Via De Neri and up the alley way to our flat…before I reached our flat, I ducked into my right to see Christian, over pasta man.  Christian makes fresh pasta from organic flour from their ranch every day(except Sundays).  It’s quite an operation….I asked for spagetti today….
per quattro persone come al solito….he smiles goes in the back and gets the dough that he made that morning….cuts it based on how much he thinks we need….puts it in a machine that flattens it (all the machines are old…traditional)….he then takes it and puts it in a machine that cuts it into the pasta…he cuts the strings in half and proceeds to the cutting board..where he carefully places it on the wax paper…adds some more organic semolina….and mixes it a bit…and then closes the package with great care.

Abbiamo oggi il pane” he says….ah their organic bread that they make on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only….always a treat.  So, he adds a loaf of bread to my bag….and rings me up….3.50euro for the pasta and 1.50euro for the panne.   As I’m bidding my ciao grazies and buono serata (he taught me to say buono sera when I arrive and buona serata when I leave)….Christian reminds me…ravioli domani!  I smile….they only make ravioli on Fridays…with spinaci and ricotta….why?  Because on their farm they make ricotta on Thursday only.  There is such charm to limited availability….when it is based on such goodness….it puts you in a food rhythm….and makes everything special. And when people are out…they are out….so you learn to get their early….I’ve been late a few times…and went without…and although disappointed…there is even a charm to that!

With my bag pulling at my shoulder and my lower back screaming in pain, I tighten my abdomen to take off some of the pressure….reminding me I STILL haven’t joined the gym……and then I turn the corner to my flat and bid ciao to the familiar neighbors….walk up two flights of stairs……and plop the goods on the table.  The three teenagers entranced in their computers jump up with excitement and ask what I got from Elizabetta….and what kind of pasta we were having….they help unpack the goods with a gleam in their eye as if it was a stocking at Christmas time….we pour ourselves a bit of Chianti and put dinner together…talking about Elizabetta…the recipes…our day….the food….tomorrow…life….and the haute dog beauty contest that we have just entered Bella and Alli in. ☺  We share a wonderful meal…..the kids fight about the dish duties….and I retire on the couch…..I read a bit and then put my book down on my lap….glance out the window as the church bells ring…this is still so surreal….the beauty of it all…..I never knew such a thing was possible…but I admit….I have truly fallen in love with this life….within this City…how will I ever go home?

I hope your days are filled with beauty!

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Does Madrid ever sleep?

by admin on April 18, 2009

We got Sydney (Kaelin’s visiting friend) off to the airport this AM but what an experience!  We left the apt at 6:30am…I was a bit worried about finding a cab as they said calling one does not work….so we headed to the closest blvd.  As we left the apartment we immediately realized that Madrid had not gone to bed yet.  There were hundreds of people….all over…..still partying in the streets….LOTS of drunk people…as we strolled through the scenes with Sydney’s luggage rolling behind I felt somewhat unsafe….at 6:30 in the morning!  No one bothered us so I became more comfortable as we strolled to the main blvd.  It was still dark out so it was a bit erie…..we reached what appeared to be a busy street….as we waited on this one corner we saw taxi after taxi pass us by…all filled with passengers…I had no idea that my issue would be that all taxis would be full….and that we would be avoiding drunk people….no idea…I had these two young girls in my care and I was not prepared.

I started to immediately process game plan #2, with my antennas reaching toward the dark sky…..to think…30 minutes ago, I was sleeping peacefully.   As I contemplated our next move, I said a prayer…”just show me the way….show me the way”……..the next thing I knew this drunk guy was walking toward me eating a sandwich and said….”taxi?”  I said, “si” and he slurred some street name and point up the street….I tried to repeat what I heard so he would say it again…..and he did…but I still didn’t get it….I just knew it started with an M…and that there was egg in his sandwich…. so, we headed up the street in the direction he pointed….looking for anything that resembled his M word.  Yes I did ponder how ludicrous it was to follow a drunk man’s slurred direction but at that point it was all I had…so we walked…and as we did, I noticed a silence in our group….Kaelin and Sydney are normally take charge girls…there was silence…just the faint sound of their footsteps immediately filling the steps of mine….as if I had a wing…and they were struggling to stay under it.

As we walked passed a mariachi band loading their car….several couples hanging out by cars….groups of people all dressed up and looking good…I realized that we were the minority….sober people on the streets at 6:30am…we were the minority?!  I began to look at the passing cars in a different light….it was as if we were part of a game….I had to find a taxi…while tranversing through drunk people and most likely, drunk drivers…and the point structure?….taking the right direction after a drunk man slurred some words at you….10 points…….crossing a main blvd with cars full of drunk people driving every which way…..15 points……a empty taxi passing without stopping…..lose 15 points…..successfully passing the group with the young man peeing on the street sign….20 points…..staying calm while being taunted…10 points…..rolling a suitcase…..lose 50 points……saying prayers…..100 points……getting cash out of the atm during all of this…..beep beep beep stupid stupid stupid…..lose 50 points….I can laugh as I look back on it…but then….with two young girls in tow……and no pepper spray in hand….I wasn’t laughing.

No….it wasn’t funny when I glanced up to see a young man….in a group of men…peeing on the street sign…and looking directly at us approaching.  I told the girls…keep walking fast and keep looking to your right…..no eye contact…..Kaelin….not hearing…..looked……and the taunting began….and our pace increased….there was a very big intersection in site….and as we approached the corner,  I could see lots of taxis passing by….filled with people….and my heart sank.  I began to turn toward the girls while telling them to say a prayer to whoever it is they pray to so …..and out of my eye there was a taxi….sitting right in front of us….I gestered to him  and he knodded his head…..he knodded his head!  He didn’t just drive on as others did before….he knodded his head!!  I didn’t really believe it until he got out and popped his trunk….we were safe…..we had won.

Before I could even step toward the taxi, the girls had thrown the suitcase in the trunk and were strapped in and ready to go.  I jumped in to the fainting sounds of taunting as we sped away.

Once safe in the cab, we regurgitated what had just happened and pondered what could possibly be so fun that you would stay out until 7am?  And how lucky were we that a drunk man felt the compassion to direct us?  And the taxi was right there at the end?  Hmm……

We took Syd in to her terminal and got her set…..watched her go through security and waved good bye.  Kaelin and I went on a search for the taxis which is never as easy when you don’t have your contacts in. :)   We were victorious and jumped in….buckled up….and headed back to Calle de Alpadoca, cinco.  As we told the driver donde we were headed, I recalled the memory of when we arrived in Madrid…first got in two taxis (5 people had to go in 2)….and how I had to show him the address written down…and was nervous about sending 2 girls in another cab at that point….and a bit nervous about where are apt was….how it would be…..what we would do…..and relieved that we made it through without customs…..and now we just jump in and say our address in Spanish and head back as if we were locals.  It felt comfortable….and everything had worked out just fine…..actually really good……and we had spent the night before at a bar, having a margarita, talking about sex, drinking, and anything else they felt like talking about……and I realized once again that there is a bigger picture to this….one that I cannot really even grasp….and I really need to let go of the daily worries and feelings as if I had control….and to let it be….be strong…identify good direction…..and execute…..because this is changing lives….and I’m lucky to be a part of it….

As we jumped out of our cab and ran back upstairs, I felt as if I was a Madrid local coming home from partying :) …so I jumped in my bed and fell back to sleep….and as I awoke there was a sense of great relief…..that I wasn’t in charge…..that I was back to my core team….and the stage was now set for an even more amazing second half to our journey….

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Food Memories….Make Your Own!

by admin on April 16, 2009

Food memories…..if nothing else we are creating an entire library of food memories.   Our world has made a dramatic shift…we have gone to Madrid for Kaelin’s spring break….to a land of tapas vs. pastas.  So far we have had 8 meals and I have yet to understand what I order.  It is clear when it comes to the table but before its arrival, it’s a crap shoot.  The good part is that I’ve had 8 delicious and flavorful meals.  So, I’m enjoying the “not knowing” and have decided that I will not attempt to understand the culture of eating in Madrid while we are here for 7 days…my brain is on overload and there is no room for anymore…so I will just order with no expectation and enjoy the flavors along the way…..not a bad philosophy to carry through my days.

Madrid is beautiful.  I actually bought a guide book this time and read it on the plane trip over.  I had a game plan which has been executed beautifully until today.  Today we took a left instead of a right and after we enjoyed a peaceful stroll through El Parque Del Retiro….and the kids jumped on a boat ride in the pond….we continued left…instead of right.  I was surprised that I was not reaching the street that I was looking for and we were going further outside of the City….the screams of hunger pains became louder and louder until there was no option but to duck into the nearest restaurant…so we did…and it was full….and so we continued…to the left…..the teen moaning became louder and louder until we spotted another restaurant…and ducked in….it was full too….but no…there was a downstairs….and they had a table.  The man spoke very quick Spanish to me and I was able to understand….the kids were amazed….you understood him mom?!  I had to admit that I didn’t understand a word but have become an expert on reading a situation and what he is probably saying and going with that….and sure enough….I was right….a table downstairs.  As we ventured down the small staircase, the noise became louder….of people talking….and the smells became more potent….of flavorful food….and ah….cigar smoke.  The girls (Kaelin has a friend visiting now so I have 4), were shocked and sickened.   I had to smile….feeling old as I talked to them about “when I was a kid”…and smoking on planes, etc….they were amazed as if I had told them that my refrigeration was in the ground…..and I had no electricity…..but their hunger pains won out…we would stay.

The man then told us where to sit, which I didn’t understand…and there were 3 tables open….two for 4 people and one for 6…..so I assumed it was the one for 6….ah….still going strong without having to say, hablas inglés?…I was proud.  As we sat at our table in the corner, I was able to watch all the various tables…through the smoke….a family at one….business people at others….and a few couples….all very local in appearance and language…all enjoying each other and their meals.  Their was laughter and chatter…the energy permeated the smoke so it soon disappeared.

We stumbled through the menu as usual and ended up with a plethora of dishes…it was fun to share…family style…..makes a difference….it inspires food conversations and brings a sense of unity that you don’t have when ordering on your own.  I haven’t really thought about that difference until our meal today….interesting…..might be one of the attractions of tapas…..an underlying psychology that we are not totally aware of…..sharing food….very cool.

As we finished, we continued to pour our water and talk…..four teenage girls and myself…..hanging out for yet another 2 hour meal.  I had to smile to myself as we sat there because these girls don’t even realize what has transpired….sharing a meal is a 2-3 hour experience now…without even noticing.  Their conversations are intense and continuous…they talk about the food….about life…..about the food….there is no computer….no ipod…iphone…..just a meal with loved ones…..and it is satisfying….to the body, mind and soul.

Oh dear, I rambled again as I really wanted to tell you about an amazing bakery that we stumbled across in our left that should have been a right.  The kids spotted the sign…pan cake….it was adorable.  I told them we could stop after lunch…and they didn’t forget….headed straight to it and in….what a find!  It was very French in style of dessert offerings….and it was all organic.   They didn’t speak english and I was spent so they brought out a young very cool dude who was the “baker” and may have been the owner….he came out and with flour on his hands explained the pastries.   We placed our order, sat down and talked….not about the weather….or life……or Madrid…..but about the desserts that we were about to eat….and how amazing they looked…yes folks it was the beginning…..of yet another…….drum roll please……FOOD MEMORY.

I could reach deep into my library of descriptors and reveal each each dessert one by one….but there are not enough books in the library to do this justice….besides….I’m obsessed with my “flip camera” (thanks Kel!) and thought I’d show you instead.


I hope you are enjoying your day and creating your own food memories!

Ciao….or should I say…Adios!

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Grounded by David Picci

by admin on April 9, 2009

I continue to amazed at the people I’ve met on this journey….the passion….the heart…..the soul….it’s everywhere….and David Picci was no exception. I will admit that I had my doubts…I’ve met enough “experts” in my industry to be a little jaded. I also have less patience to listen to ego….so as I shook David’s hand….in a small parking lot in Figline….I was guarded. He immediately began to speak about the olive tree…the conversation started with pruning…went to varietals….pressing….harvest….oils….all over the map. I let him do most the talking as I have learned the art of listening…I have found if you listen as if you can hardly hear then you can discover not only the content of the words but also that of the person behind them…and as we neared the end of all we could say in a parking lot, I had a sense….that David was a man not only passionate about his trade but also about the earth that it was connected to….so needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to take him up on the invitation to see his orchards.

The drive to the orchards was framed with fields of olive trees….everywhere….and no straight rows….or plowed fields….but all pruned the same…..the centers wide open….at home the olive tree is the side show, if that, to the vineyard…..here, it steals the show….

I have attached the video of some of our conversation. I thought you might enjoy hearing knowledge passed down from generations….and although the content might not be pertinent to you, maybe David’s soul will come through, as it did on that day…and maybe you will feel the inspiration of a man who is driven by passion for his trade…..because David does not drive around with a “green” sticker on his car nor does he brag about his “sustainability”….because once again….it is simply who he is….and if there is one lesson that I have learned on this journey… it is that when you are true to yourself then you don’t have to say a word….you radiate your message because you are IT.

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Risotto Bianco con Basilico

April 9, 2009

This is the best risotto I have ever made….it was so creamy and filled with natural flavors…. Ingredients 2 pints stock…again we use vegetable Butter 2 cloves of garlic 14 oz. risotto rice Parmesan cheese A bunch of basil Organic Grey Sea Salt St. Helena Olive Oil Co. Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil Instructions Heat [...]

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Minestrone Zuppa

April 9, 2009

I always thought that minestrone would be too much to attempt….way too many ingredients. But…after many requests….I decided to attempt it…..when I began to tell my grocer what I needed he immediately knew I was making zuppa….so he began to pick out my ingredients even before I could say and then added some that I [...]

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