Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HAPPY 2009!

Happy New Year to all of my friends, family and acquaintances out there, as well as those I have never met. While I have not been posting lately, I felt the need tonight. 2008 brings to end a year that was a personal challenge for my husband and I, but brings it to end on a positive note. We feel better than ever and are excited about the possibilities and promises of 2009. I don't believe we are the only ones with hope and gratitude.

I would like to say my "gratefuls", as my Dad calls them, out here in the blogosphere. I am grateful for life, to learning how to live and learning from my mistakes. I am grateful for employment and the possibilities of doing more Italy tours in the future. I am grateful for my husband, who after having had to jump many physical and emotional hurtles this last year, not only cleared them, but came away jumping higher than I ever would have thought. I am grateful for the 5 wonderful years I spent with my dog, Golia, whom we had to put down this year. I am grateful for the opportunity we have to move in the next few weeks to a glorious piece of country on the Central Coast of California, where serenity reigns supreme. I am grateful to an amazing and supportive family, who I am lucky to count as my true friends besides being related to them. I am grateful for friends, old and new, who walk the path with me. I am grateful for my health, yoga, teachers, travel, abundance and nature.

May your new year and beyond be filled with peace, happiness, love and health. And just for some inspiration, I give you this quotation from Marianne Williamson:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.We must ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,talented and fabulous?Actually, who are you NOT to be?You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.It is not in just some of us; it’s in everyone.And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same.As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Piccola Cucina and Coming Back

I took a hiatus from blogging for many reasons, but feel a bit more restored and rebalanced. Regardless, I have missed blog-hopping and connecting with all of you out there. I am doing okay, just too busy like all the rest of you. I think I am still recovering from a very traumatic year and just now reconstructing a bit of a new life. I appreciate all the emails from concerned and caring bloggers who missed me. Thank you!

I am excited to announce Piccola Cucina's fall classes. You may have read about my cooking and language classes here before, but this fall, my partner and I have moved our venue to a wonderfully roomy culinary store in Long Beach - Kitchen Outfitters.

You can hop over to our Piccola Cucina site to read all the details of the classes, and I hope those of you in Southern California come and join us for one or more of the classes.

On a completely different note, if you have never tried La Quercia products, I highly recommend them. They are an artisanal producer of cured meats in the U.S. - one of the very few that creates products similar to the Italian originals. I first tried their meats at Mozza in Los Angeles, and have since bought them on-line. Again, I am very impressed with their quality and hope that you will be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Computer Issues

We all experience them, don't we?

My computer is on the blink and being repaired. I don't expect to have it back for two weeks. So, my computer time is cut to a minimum as I share my husband's (slow) computer. Oddly, I welcome the respite from so much computer time, while being challenged at how to keep my businesses running on one cylinder in stead of four.

I'll be back with more posts just as soon as I can. In the meantime, have a passionate Thursday!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Italian Events & Festivals

Here are some random events and festivals happening in Italy currently and for the next few months. I hope you are lucky enough to be going to Italy. Don't forget, if you need any help in planning your Italian vacations, please contact me through Passionate Palate Tours (my email is in my profile of this blog.)

Venice: Now, we're talking! Many of you know this is my favorite city in Italy, so I love to spread travel tips and help for "La Serenissima".
Now through October 12 - in celebration of Peggy Guggenheim's arrival to Venice 60 years earlier and the mark she left on modern American Art - "Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s" at, of course, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

Florence: Now through September 7 - "I Grandi Bronzi de' Battistero: L'Arte di Vincenzo Danti, Discepolo di Michelangelo." "The Great Bronzes of the Baptistry: The Art of Vincenzo Danti, Disciple of Michelangelo."
When I was there I really wanted to see this exhibition a the former prison of Florence - the Bargello. Unfortunately, the museum was closed every time I had some free time. I hope you can see this exhibit of the artist who created three of the great doors of the Baptistry.

Verona: July and August - the great Verona opera season is in full swing. See their site for full details.

Macerata, Le Marche: July and August - the other great opera venue is the Sferisterio in Macerata (my husband's home town!) Not as many Americans venture into Le Marche, but it is worth it. The details of their opera season can be found on their site.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Maremma

After the wonderful week of wining and dining through Tuscany with my fantastic group, I headed west. I left Florence and drove to west to Vinci stopping to see the Da Vinci museum which I had wanted to see for years. I was not disappointed. For you Da Vinci fans out there, as well as all of you who can appreciate a brilliant mind, this museum is FASCINATING! It holds none of his art, only his inventions. Each invention is shown as working model, some real-size, some on a smaller scale. I came away more impressed than ever with this man's mind and talent. To be such an amazing artist, an inventor, a scientist, an architect, a physicist, and more, is mind-boggling.

From there I headed southwest to the Maremma area. This is the "wild west" of Tuscany, with miles of meandering coastline, islands, mountains, pastoral and agricultural lands. My first stop was in the mountains above Bolgheri at an agriturismo I had read about and had wanted to visit. It is an old restored villa - Tenuta La Bandita. One of the things I love about Europe is that you can feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, as in the case - 45 long minutes on a windy road to the nearest small city or freeway, but you can have all the comforts and culture that you could ask for. This place is run by a lovely young woman who looks like she could be on a fashionable street in Milan. Yet here she is the middle of mountainous country overseeing hectares and hectares of crops (vegetables, fruit and lots of olive trees), cinghiale, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, workers, a lovely hotel with about 20 rooms and a first-class restaurant. How does she do it? When I asked her, she sighed and couldn't really give me an answer, but her tired look spoke volumes. Almost all the food you eat there was grown and made there, and it was delicious.

The grounds are lovely, with sculptures and views of nearby medieval hamlets:

I was very fascinated by these wild, dangerous creatures being raised for food. Can you see the cinghiale?
I took leave of this lovely sanctuary and headed south to see a very famous and ancient Etruscan town. I was in no hurry, which was a good thing because those mountainous Maremma roads are tedious to drive, but worth it for their views and tranquility. The solitude was good for my soul. What felt like three hours later, I reached my destination of Pitigliano. I had heard this "city of the tufo", or a city built on this tufaceous rock, was a must-see and now I know why. As I approached the city, I couldn't see it. The road signs kept stating I was getting closer, 10km, then 8 km, then down to 2 km and I still could not see it! I didn't understand as I know this city is built up high. I rounded a corner and the view took my breath away, literally. I exclaimed to no one, "Oh my God!" I pulled over as soon as I could to take in this view.

It turns out that I had been driving at about the same level as the city, the trees obscuring any view, but the city is surrounded by a kind of ravine. As if a river had naturally worn away at this rock. So, while it is high, it stands in a bit of a valley/ravine.

This is a big tourist attraction, although it is difficult to reach. Parking is at a minimum, so go when you have plenty of time.

After parking, I walked a bit to get into the city and stopped and admired yet another amazing view of this Etruscan marvel:

You can see the ravine here on the bottom, and in those trees are tunnels called Vie Cave, which the Etruscans used to safely moved their people when under attack. I assume these tunnels somehow reach the city itself, but in my laziness, I did not ask anyone.
Once inside the city, one is greeted with the lovely cobblestone streets and charming houses of most small, Italian hill towns. The restaurants were all packed with tourists and the prices are not cheap here. Despite that, it is indeed a "must see".
From there I headed west toward the coast to one of my favorite hotels in the world - Villa Il Tesoro. It is run by the Guldener family who make the famous wines of Terrabianca. They artfully restored these old stone farmhouses into modern and spacious guest suites. There is no detail overlooked here - from the toilet paper holder to the gracious staff that learns your name immediately and never forgets it.
The only downside to Il Tesoro is that is romantic and I was all alone with about six or eight couples! I did need some quiet time, so I welcomed it, but when it came time to leave was really anxious to see my husband.
I should note here, I could probably not afford more than one night here on my income, but I had received many "free nights" here from sales programs I had won years before for selling their wine. I never had enough time to use the nights while working in that sales job, but I was able to use them now.
Each night my table for one was prepared by the window with the most amazing views over vineyards, gardens and hills. I watched the sunset while counting my blessings for three lovely nights in a row.

The grounds are as tasteful as the inside of the buildings. With artistic and tranquil touches everywhere.
There are many hectares of vineyards here, too, growing Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. Terrabianca also has a winery and vineyards in Chianti Classico.
I took day excursions to the coast to see the gorgeous area of Punta Ala, only about a 30 minute drive and the next day to Porto Santo Stefano and Orbetello. Punta Ala has pine trees that come right down to the beach and a peaceful, low-key atmosphere that really attracted me. I made a mental note to return to Punta Ala for a week at some point, or sail the coast in order to see more.

Perhaps I was a bit bored, but definitely relaxed, while watching a storm roll in from my room I was playing with the view out my window. I dubbed this "A Matter of Perception."

I vowed upon leaving that I would be back, and next time with my husband.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tuscany - Through Its Wine and Food - Part Four

Ah, bella Tuscany! I count myself fortunate to take a group of people to Italy and share with them the Italy that I know, in the same way that I have come to know it - through its wine and food. Yes, indeed, I LOVE doing that. I feel that through wine and food, one can understand a culture. It is not the only way, but it is one way. I like that old saying - "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach." I believe it is also be true for women. When I see the look on people's faces when they taste something that is quintessentially Italian, or a flavor that we do not have at home, you see this look of "Ah Ha!" or "Wow!" Then when one tastes the local wine with the local food and has spent time with the locals, all the elements start to come together and one's understanding of the culture bloom on many different levels. But enough of philosophy.

My most recent Tuscany tour began in Florence, where after a welcome dinner, we departed the following morning for Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany. Our first stop was to the spectacular Avignonesi winery. Our VIP tour was lead by the lovely and elegant Signora Fulvo, the owner, who led us down into the ancient barrel caves,

then into their Vin Santaio, where there very special Vin Santo is made, or should I say where it rests and makes itself. The mother for their Vin Santo is centuries old, and they treat their aging wine like gold, as they should. These little half bottles of very precious liquid sell for over 100 euros a bottle and fetch perfect scores, yes 100 points, from top wine magazines. Amazing. Here is a shot of a barrel of Vin Santo:

We also visited the stunningly beautiful property of Vignamaggio in Greve. Vignamaggio is the ancestral home of the Monna Lisa - yes, there really was a Monna Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci painted at this property on several occasions. Because of its beauty and views, I understand why. With their delicious array of Chianti Classicos and Super Tuscans, we were served a typically delicious lunch.

After lunch, we walked around their immaculate gardens where "Much Ado About Nothing" was filmed. Leaving was the difficult part. "Celebrating the Harvest" (my title). One of the many garden sculptures at Vignamaggio.

One of the highlights of the trip was a day of cooking lessons at Badia a Coltibuono winery, the home of Lorenza di Medici and her family. She founded the famous cooking school and now her son runs it, deftly teaching typical Tuscan dishes with a great sense of humor. Everyone loved it so much that after the long lunch with dessert, dessert wines, grappa and coffee, I had a hard time getting everyone on the bus!

My group, firmly planted, not moving from the comfort of Coltibuono.

Some of Coltibuono's cellar collection.

Some of the many bottles enjoyed at tastings and at meals.

We started our Montalcino tour at Poggio Antico winery, owned by the talented and lovely Paola Gloder. Her Brunellos are always elegant, stunning and top-rated. The winery and grounds are extraordinarily situated and beautiful. And by the way, there is a fantastic restaurant at this winery if you are ever in Montalcino.
Next stop was Costanti winery, ancestral home of a long line of Counts. Yes, Conti Andrea Costanti gave us the royal treatment. Don't let his title deceive you, he is one of the most accessible, gracious, generous and sweet human beings. He is devoted to making small amounts of some of the best Brunellos coming out of Montalcino. They are worth seeking out! He spoiled us with giving us a magnum of 1999 Brunello to have over lunch. That was one of the best bottles of wine we had on the whole trip!

Our last winery tour was in Chianti Colli Fiorentini, close to Florence, at Le Sorgenti. The make elegant Chiantis as well as some powerful Super Tuscans. The winemakers cooked us lunch in this gorgeously painted room.
In between all this wine tasting and fine dining, we had time to tour Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra. This was a tremendous group of people, all genuinely interested, kind, easy-going and responsible. The tour could not have been better. We celebrated its success with a fabulous meal our last night in Florence. At Il Latini, known for their roasted meats, we not only ate like kings, but drank like them as well. The staff treated us great and stuffed us like pigs! Most of us took a late walk around Florence that night to help digest what we ate.

I invite you all to come on one of my tours. I will be posting two 2009 trips on my website in the next month or so. Hop on over there and sign up on my email list if you want to receive more information when I have it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

So Many Reasons to Celebrate!

Happy Father's Day to the Best Dad in the World!

My husband and I (and our dog Ruby) drove up to Santa Barbara to celebrate Father's Day with my dad. This morning we had breakfast in a cafe' right on the beach - and how glorious it was! I happen to love the fog and cool weather, and that is what we had, but it was the company that was the best. To be able to take my dad out, and have my husband there as well, was a real treat.

The second reason to celebrate is that this is my 100th post and my blog is one year old today!
I wish I had so much more time to post more - more pictures, more stories, more photos, more recipes. Alas, life is a balancing act, isn't it? I am so grateful for this outlet and the wonderful readers who find there way here, and especially those that keep coming back. You make me feel heard and validated. Does that make sense? Thank you!!!
There are many more reasons to celebrate, like:
Being alive
Having a wonderful husband
Having a sweet, smart dog
Having a roof over our heads and food in our bellies
Not living in a war zone
Being blessed with wonderful friends and family
Having good health
...I could go on and on!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuscany - Through Its Wine and Food - Part Three


I count myself very fortunate to have met the lovely Erin of The Olive Notes while I was in Florence. We met at a hip wine bar called Sei Divino (or "You Are Divine" - but it can also means something like "You Are Of Wine" if it was written like this: Sei di Vino.) Erin has a delightfully bubbly personality and is full of knowledge of Florence. She gave me lots of tips for my short visit there and even escorted me to a palazzo that evening that was open for a poetry reading. Her blog has followed she and her husband's year in Florence and is full of lots of travel tips for many parts of Italy. They just moved back to Florida where they are adjusting back to the American way of life. I can tell Erin has the enthusiasm and lust for life that will lead her many interesting places.

Here we are. And she is as lovely inside as out!

Here are a couple more of my favorite sights in Florence:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tuscany - Through Its Wine and Food - Part Two

Upon arriving in Florence, before the beginning of my tour, I had the great pleasure to meet up with the author, chef and photographer, Ilva, of Lucullian Delights. Her blog was one of the first blogs I was drawn to and have continued to be a daily reader of her beautiful posts. If you haven't seen her site, you must! Her photography shows that she has a very keen eye, her recipes are truly original and inspiring, and her personal notes either leave me giggling or crying, as she has this straightforward honesty about her that I so appreciate.

We met in front of the Santa Maria Novella church, and I had no problem spotting her through the crowd. My Swedish aunt insists that in each country, people have a distinct walk. Many times she has shown me the difference between a Swedish walk and a Danish walk. I have no idea if this theory would hold up under scientific testing, but when I saw the Swedish Ilva walking, I new immediately it was her. Maybe it was instinct.

I instantly felt like I had found a long, lost and very delightful friend. She has a bright mind with a natural curiosity about everything. Our conversation covered so many topics, from illuminated texts to food to Alzheimer's. (We have both lost parents to that disease.)

We strolled through Florence, spending quite a bit of time in the San Lorenzo market - the great food hall. It was a feast for the eyes and senses. I was drooling over the products that are available there that we cannot get in the U.S., like these lovely porcinis:

...and capretto, or goat (tail and all!):

...and wild strawberries:
Of course there are some items I could certainly live without, like all parts of the cow and pig that I couldn't imagine eating! (No pictures necessary here.)

Ilva took me to a quiet lunch spot above the crowds with this incredible view:

I took a couple of photos of Ilva, but somehow I think the one of her behind the camera captures her spirit (and I think she is a bit shy of showing her face.)

Thanks Ilva for a great afternoon, and I look forward to our next meeting!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tuscany - Through Its Wine and Food - Part One

I've just returned from two and a half fabulous weeks in Italy, one week of which I was leading a wine and food tour through Tuscany. I had a ball! I was fortunate enough to have an incredible group of guests. I couldn't have asked for a better collection of people; everyone was easy-going and got along tremendously. We had six days of visiting wineries, beautiful towns and eating well (sometimes too well!) There is no way I can post all the pictures I took, or go into enough detail, but instead will do an entry for each day, including the free days I had before and after the tour. If you are interested in seeing our itinerary, you can visit my Passionate Palate Tours website for the details.

My next trip planned is for Piedmont in November. If you would like to see more details on that trip, click here.

Upon my arrival to Italy on May 22, I drove from Rome to Todi, Umbria to see my friend Stefania. I have mentioned her before, as she owns a terrific language school in that city. You can read about her classes here. I had a delightful visit, walking around Todi and eating one of the best rabbit dishes I have ever eaten. I will try to recreate it and post the recipe at some point.
The next day we visited some of my friends that own a beautiful agriturismo in San Venanzo, Umbria. (An agristurismo is a country inn/bed and breakfast that must produce some traditional product or raise some agricultural or animal product that is typical to that region. It is one of the many ways Italy protects its regional products.) You can see more details about Colli Verdi here. They had just gotten some samples of their nearly finalized first vintage of wine and wanted me to taste through them and give them my professional opinion. I was telling the honest truth when I told them how impressed I was. These red wines, based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, were all impressive, elegant, and balanced. I'll keep everyone posted as to whether they ever make it to the U.S. market. In the meantime, I encourage anyone who wants to get away from it all for a few days, to visit their piece of paradise.From there, I went to Torgiano, Umbria for a visit to Lungarotti winery, their wine museum and their lovely hotel. It was a relaxing and beautiful place to stay, and for you wine-lovers out there, I highly encourage a visit to that museum.
A fountain/sculpture depicting the God Janus, after whom the town is named.
On to Tuscany, where the next stop was the famous and picturesque town of Cortona, made popular by Frances Mayes and her UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN book. It is filled with expats - mostly American and British - but still worth a visit for its beauty. My friend Patrizia lives in the heart of the old town in an incredible, ancient house. She is such an inspiration to me, because in her retirement, she decided to follow her dream of living in Italy and packed her bags and made it happen (not even speaking the language.) Now, she can speak very well, and walking through the streets of Cortona she is greeted by all the locals with a big smile on their face. Everybody loves her! "Basta! Stop taking pictures of me!"
I was lucky enough to be in town for an impressive medieval flag-throwing celebration, a reenactment of some of the festivities that happened about 500 years earlier for an important marriage between two prominent families. From Cortona, I continued north to Montevarchi, where my friend Gia and her husband Beppe live part-time (the other part of the year in Chicago.) They produce very interesting television programs and films, many relating to Italy. Gia and I met 25 years ago, had been college housemates and had not seen each other for 20 years! It was a fun reunion and felt like no time had passed.

The next day I made it to Florence where the tour was starting from the following day. I had time to meet up with two fellow bloggers...stay tuned for the next installment for my visit with them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bella Italia!

I'm here in my "other home", Italy.  Needless to say, if you could see me, you would see a big smile on my face and a lightness about me.  I am always thrilled to be here, but this time it seems like an extra special vacation to me because of the heaviness of this last year.  

I wanted to get a proper post up about all that I will be doing these next few weeks here, but alas, packing too much at the last minute got in the way.   When I return, I will post lots of stories and pictures.

At the moment, I am in lovely Cortona at my friend Patrizia's house, at the moment, hiding from the rain.  Briefly, I am having fun visiting friends in Umbria and Tuscany and will end up in Florence on Monday where I will be meeting up with the participants of my Tuscan wine and food tour.  The twelve of us will be spending six days touring top wineries in Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano.  We'll also take in the sights of Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra.  We're going to get to know Tuscany through its food and wine traditions.

After my tour, I will take five days to explore areas of western Tuscany and the Maremma that I have not yet seen.  

I'll share all the details with you when I return!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Piccola Cucina

We are still continuing our Piccola Cucina classes - Italian Cooking and Language. You can go here for all the details. My teaching partner, Christina Sbarra, an excellent Italian instructor, and I have been having as much fun as our students. What could be better than spending three hours cooking great Italian recipes, practicing our Italian (even if it is very little) and eating and laughing together.
For our last class on Tuscany, we received a generous donation of a large grocery bag full of fresh-picked fava beans grown by Christina of a Thinking Stomach. The abundance she can coax out of a city plot is amazing! We sat around and shelled the fava beans, sang old Italian songs and then enjoyed the beans with some Pecorino and a refreshing Italian white wine. Thank you Christina!
We followed that with making pici - a typical pasta of Tuscany that is hand-rolled and fun to make.
Our next classes are:
Sunday, June 8: "Primavera" featuring recipes using the new ingredients of the season like fried zucchini blossoms, artichokes and peas, crostata di verdure and more. 11 am - 2 pm.
Sunday, June 22: A regional class on the cuisine of Le Marche. Both Christina and I have family from this area, so the dishes are close to our hearts. 11 am - 2 pm.
They are in Long Beach, for all you Southern Californians reading this.
For more information, please call Christina at 562-930-9194 or email christinasbarra AT yahoo DOT com.
We are talking about putting together a Piccola Cucina trip to Italy for 2009, practicing Italian and cooking in beautiful Italy. More information to follow, but if you are interested in finding out more, drop me an email at passionatepalate AT gmail DOT com.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Where Has Jeni Been?

I must get personal here in order to explain. Most of you know that my husband has been undergoing a medical treatment for the last year. You also probably remember that my mother died in October. I also mentioned here that I was helping to care for a neighbor who was dying of cancer last year and passed away just before Christmas. I also started my tour company last year and in January began selling Italian wine again. To, put it lightly, my plate has been full and life has been very heavy. I have broad shoulders and can really handle a lot, but I finally reached my limit. About the same time my husband finished his treatment, about three weeks ago, I hit the wall. I was breaking down, tired, depressed and utterly exhausted emotionally. It had all caught up with me. I think the fact that my husband finished and that I knew he would be improving quickly, allowed me to let go of my responsibilities and let my shoulders drop a bit. I finally let all the stress of the last year come to the surface.
I have never been depressed in my life, but I finally got the picture of what depression felt like. got worse. Our favorite dog, Golia, our big teddy bear, had a problem. My husband was walking him across the street, on a leash, when he crossed paths with a woman and her small dog. We pass by this woman and her dog almost daily with no incidences. That day, Golia decided to lunge for the little dog, and not being able to get at him, bit the owner's leg instead...badly. It was awful and traumatic for everyone. (The woman is going to be fine. She is healing from some extensive plastic surgery on her leg.) We fell apart. After some days of trying to calm down, we consulted several German Shepherd and animal behaviorist specialists. We all were able to put together an understanding of why Golia did it. Since my husband was home sick all year, Golia felt stressed and sensed the change in the house. (He was always extremely tuned in and sensitive to us.) There were small changes in him during the year that indicated stress that we did not see. Also, my husband did not walk with Golia except a few times during the year; I walked Golia daily. So, Golia became extra protective of Antonio and Antonio lost some of the dominance he had over Golia. Because the incident happened in front of our house, the dog was also extra protective. Golia was also a rescue dog, so we don't know what else could have triggered his fear, and ensuing "misdirected aggression", from his past. The experts agreed, he was not attacking the woman, but taking his aggression out on the closest thing to him when he couldn't get to the dog. We were left with the option of keeping him away from people for the rest of his life, muzzling him when we left the house and never taking a vacation and leaving him with anyone, or...putting him down. After much heartbreaking reflection we decided to put him down. We could not risk this happening again, and potentially being worse. We put him down two weeks ago.
We rescued Golia 5 years ago, and he had been abused and had a hard life. It took a lot of work to break through to him, but when we did, the pay off was huge (as it so often happens with rescues.) It is so difficult to explain to those who didn't know him, but he was one of the cuddliest, sweetest, friendliest big dogs either one of us had ever met. Anyone who came to our house fell in love with him, even to the point of ignoring our other dog. He was my daily walking partner. He was a 105 pounds of happy, bouncy, appreciative, expressive and loving presence in our house - especially this last year when we needed that lightness so. We miss him tremendously.
On a lighter note, my husband is improving daily and that is bringing so much joy back to our lives. All the things we take for granted like standing in the sun, listening to music, taking a walk, driving a car, eating what you want, and more, he couldn't do this last year. Everything is a gift to him right now, and in turn a gift for me, too!
I will be leaving for Italy soon- taking a group of wine and food enthusiasts on a week long tour of Tuscany. Lucky for me that I have lots of friends in Italy that I will be visiting and staying with. The trip will be a salve for my tired soul. I don't know if I will be posting anything from the road, but you will hear more from me on the trip, before and after for sure.
Another beautiful thing I have planned to put a smile on my face is a camping trip this weekend with my nephew Nicholas. I have written about him here before. We will explore Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California.
I leave you with a big thank you for all the blogging friends I have made out there who have sent me the kindest notes of support over the last year. I also leave you with this beautiful picture taken yesterday of my husband who is slowly becoming more active and our other dog, Ruby.

More soon my friends!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Apples & Thyme - Round Up #5 - An Addition

Marla at Bella Baita View has added an addition to the Apples & Thyme round up. It was an entry from Equal Opportunity Kitchen whose wonderful post came to us on time, but fell through the cracks. Our apologies to Giz and Psychgrad.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Apples & Thyme - Round Up #5

The April Apples & Thyme Round Up is here...well, thanks to Marla, it's been here and I'm just late letting everyone know. My apologies.

The Magnificent Marla of Bella Baita View posted the round up of this months memories and recipes. Please pop on over to her site to read all the delicious and heartfelt posts.
This will be our last Apples & Thyme event for the time being, given that Inge and I have very full lives at the moment. We thank all of you who have participated. You may see the event return in the future at some point.

A big thank you, Marla for your excellent effort. Actually, that reminds me...

Chris at Mele Cotte awarded me with an Award of Excellence that I haven't
yet acknowledged nor passed on. Thank you so much, Chris, for thinking so
highly of my blog! I think this is an opportune moment to pass it on to
Marla for her continued excellence in the blogging. I would also like to pass it to along to my wonderful partner in Apples & Thyme - Inge at Vanielje Kitchen. If you both already have the award, then consider yourself doubly blessed. You both have not only excellent content, creativity, stories, writing but excellent attitudes.
Lastly, I will post more soon about why I have been so absent lately. I have much to share and have missed the wonderful exchanges with all of you out there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Apples & Thyme - April

First of all, apologies to my friends and readers out there for being MIA for a bit. As my husband finishes up his year-loooooong medical treatment, and I am still recovering from some big losses in my life, I find that I haven't been very social as of late. I am allowing this recovery process to take its own course and as I feel the need to stay quiet and turn inward, I am allowing myself to do that. I admit that it is a strange course for this normally extroverted, busy, conversation-loving, adventurous Gemini! I trust that it is just what I need right now.
In the meantime, African Vanielje and I am thrilled to announce that April's guest host of our Apples & Thyme event is the wonderful Marla of Bella Baita View. She and her husband own a B&B in the Italian Alps and her blog is filled with wonderful stories and recipes of the area. In the next few weeks we encourage you to tell us a story about your mother, grandmother or anyone else influential in your life and the time you spent with them in the kitchen. Do you have a family heirloom recipe to share with us? Do you have certain family cooking traditions that would be of interest to us? Is there a recipe that you have always wanted to seek out from your past that you don't have? There are so many stories like these waiting to be told. We await yours.

Submit stories to Marla by April 20 at info AT bellabaita DOT com.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Importance of Passing Down Recipes

I must admit that I have procrastinated writing my Apples & Thyme entry for this month for two reasons: my life has been feeling a bit out of control and not allowing me to feel my usual ability to communicate, and secondly, I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about. Of course, my mother always is in the forefront of my mind, and I've written about her many, many times. Some days her absence feels so strong, filling me with sadness and an inability to write about her. Other times, it is easier.

After her death last October, my older sister and I sifted through her huge collection of recipes - she filed them neatly in binders, categorized and put handwritten notes on her favorites. We came across three - 3x5 index cards, each with the same recipe but each one having one of her three daughter's names on it. On the back, she had written "October 1975"! The recipe was simply labeled "Cornbread", but it wasn't just any cornbread - it was our Nanna's delicious cornbread. She wanted to make sure that we each had a copy of this legendary recipe.
Here's a little background: "Nanna" was my mother's mother and was raised in the back woods of West Virginia. I've written about here before. My grandfather was from Georgia and later Tennessee, and they settled in Ohio. They continued there humble, southern cooking traditions throughout their life. One of the staples at the dinner table was cornbread, and my Nanna's was the best. Cornbread from the south is savory, while the cornbreads I've tasted on the west coast are usually a little sweet. I have never gotten used to that sweet flavor and still prefer, and can taste to this day, an old-fashioned Southern cornbread slathered with butter.

When I read the recipe I called my older sister to question a few things. First of all, we don't believe they sell self-rising cornmeal anymore, although perhaps they do somewhere. I went on line and found this information on the Aunt Jemima Corn Meal site: To make one cup of self-rising cornmeal:
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons Quaker or Aunt Jemima Corn Meal

The second thing I asked my sister is "Why did Nanna's cornmeal always taste soooo savory, almost like there was some bacon in it?" This recipe doesn't indicate anything like that. She immediately knew the answer. Nanna used to coat her pan with bacon grease before putting the batter in. Ah hah! Another old-time southerner's trick!

I remember my mom carrying on the cornbread tradition by making a simple meal of it with some cooked beans and coleslaw. Yum!

The point I started to make about the importance of passing down recipes is that a recipe such as this, which was never written down by my Nanna would have been lost if my mother hadn't taken the time to write it down for all to remember. We were all touched by mom's foresight at making a copy for each of us because she knew how important it would be to us one day - over 30 years later!

Over and over again we have read stories in this Apples and Thyme event of people wishing that they had a certain recipe one of their mothers or grandmothers used to make, but now it is impossible to get because the person has passed on and no one knows exactly how they had made it. Which leads me to why I love this event so much - it honors those age-old family cooking traditions and encourages us to write about them for posterity's sake. It even encourages us to seek out those living members of our family and ask them for their secrets before it is too late to do so.
Please visit this month's Apples & Thyme host - Mele Cotte - to see the full round up, which will posted sometime before the end of the month.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Piccola Cucina

One of the many things that has been keeping me busy lately is this new project. Obviously it is only applicable for those of you living in Southern California. It would be great if some of you local readers and bloggers out there could participate. I can't speak highly enough of my partner in this project - Christina Sbarra. She is an excellent Italian teacher and has come to specialize in teaching the language via activities. It has proven to be one of the fastest ways to learn. We are both passionate about Italian cooking, food and wine and thought that using those activities would be a fun vehicle for learning the language. Any level of Italian speaker - yes, even beginners - are welcome.

Piccola Cucina
Italian Cooking & Language Lessons

Have you ever wanted to speak Italian?
How about learn to cook authentic Italian dishes?
Now you can do both at the same time!

All levels of Italian welcome – including beginners. Three hour class includes Italian language instruction along with a cooking lesson, in Italian, lunch and wine. Small group – limited to 6 people. Classes are held on Sundays from 11 am – 2 pm in Long Beach.

Sunday, April 13: “Stuzzichini” (appetizers, salads, bruschettas, etc.)

Sunday, April 27: A regional lesson on the cuisine of Tuscany.

Sunday, May 4: “Primavera” – cooking with the freshest Spring ingredients.

Sunday, May 18: A regional lesson on the cuisine of Le Marche.

Fees: Save money buying when you sign up for all four classes! 1 class $100, 2 classes $90 each, or 4 classes $75 each.

Your instructors:
Christina Sbarra is the Coordinator and Instructor of the Language Center of Long Beach (a branch of La Lingua La Vita from Todi, Italy – She has over 10 years of Italian teaching experience and specializes in teaching language through activities, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to learn a language. Christina has been a passionate home cook of Italian food for over 20 years.

Jeni Moretti is an Italian wine and food expert who owns Passionate Palate Tours ( a company specializing in group wine and food tours of Italy. She also has many years of working in the Italian wine business and studying the regional cuisines of Italy.

For more information, please call Christina at 562-930-9194 or email christinasbarra AT yahoo DOT com.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Still Here

Dear friends,

I am still here, but have been away from blogging for a few weeks. Life happened. My intentions are to get back to a normal blogging routine soon, after some things calm down in my life. I miss you all!

In the meantime, please don't forget to submit your post for this month's Apples & Thyme event. This is the first time we have a guest host - the talented and beautiful Chris at Mele Cotte. Do forward all entries to here at melecotte AT gmail DOT com.

May you all be well.

I'll be back soon (or "A Presto" as we say in Italian),

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Apples and Thyme - Round Up #4

The February Apples & Thyme round-up is here! The memories of mothers, grandmothers and others and our time spent in the kitchen with them are endless. I love how others' memories spark my own and inspire me to write them down. Thank you all for your heartfelt entries.

Before I launch into the round-up, my lovely partner in this event, Inge at Vanielje Kitchen, and I have decided to have a guest host next month. Chris over at Mele Cotte has happily agreed to be March's host. So, please watch for her announcement and send all entries to her by March 20. Her email is melecotte AT gmail DOT com.

On the 14th anniversary of her mother's death, Ivy at Greek Hospitality, shares memories of her strong, generous and hard-working mother with us. Ivy created this very unique dish of Halloumi and dried fruit and honey using her mom's favorite cheese.

Jeanne at Cooksister made me wish she lived next door so that I could walk over with my coffee in hand to share in these delicious looking "no recipe" biscuits. I cried as I read her words about longing for her mom's arms around her or the sound of her voice. I know that pain well.

Maria Gay at A Scientist in the Kitchen gives us a birthday tribute to her dad - a fabulous and inspirational cook. I love to read stories of men who have influenced us in the kitchen. Check out the spread of dishes they created in his honor!

My Apples & Thyme event partner, the incredibly talented Inge, presents The Delectable, Unforgettable Valerie Crunchie Recipe along with her memories of childhood friends in South Africa. Who couldn't love these treats?

Next month's Apples & Thyme host, Chris, over at Mele Cotte created her first successful and very decadent looking lasagne in honor of her mother - very cleverly representing layers of their relationship!

Speaking of layers of relationship, I allude to that in my post "Cooking With Mom". According to the comments I got back already, I think that all mothers and daughters have a sometimes intense and definitely layered relationships. Oh, yes, my recipe is one that my mom and I passed back and forth - a very simple and delicious Penne with Prosciutto and Radicchio.
Thank you all for sharing your beautiful memories and tempting recipes with us. I look forward to seeing what memories inspire us next month!