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!