Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Italy-Culinary and Historic Tour with CRazzzy Girls

Where does one start? We have traveled over 2000 kilometers from Ivrea, Italy (The Battle of the Oranges).  We went by car in the rain, in the day, in the night and sometimes in the sunshine from the Italians Alps to Monaco to Portofino on the Mediterranean, Rimini on the Adriatic, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ravenna, Sulmona, San Marino, Herculaneum, Pompeii and ended in the great city of Rome. So many tastes to match the many miles. We dined in celebrated restaurants, went to cooking school in Bologna, and when the road was long we dived into the AutoGrill for gas station coffee. It was a whirlwind that quite frankly I have a little bit of trouble matching the right faces, places and courses, thank heavens for digital cameras.

Whirwind tour by car and I think we all still love each other, amazing.

Let me speak briefly of my touring team: Hubby, who we have talked about before as to not having an adventurous palate but willing to do his part at exploration of beer.  We will call him, Brew-haha; Jeffie the adventurous Vittle Viking who led the charge into the wonders that the internet can provide when willing to venture; Beanie (hey that’s how she pronounced her name when she was two) the Pour Panach-ie, the team’s expert at regional hard liquors always willing to try the unique drink. And last but not least me, Cautious Crumpet, emphasis on Cautious (we discussed before how my mind was willing but the tummy is weak). Well it is an interesting combination to satisfy for 12 days especially since the Vittle Viking and the Pour Panach-ie are kamikaze and crazy fierce travelers. Seriously, fierce.  We (Brew-haha and I) learned alot from our crazzzy girls and resting wasn't one of those things. They inspired us to tour as we have never toured before.

Our goals were to have the best (not the most expensive) of the regional wines, seasonal courses, fresh pasta until we didn’t want pasta anymore (and yes that can really happen), and to experience foods from rustic to fine dining. Oh yes, and to walk enough to not gain weight, get gout or have an immediate heart attack from the salt, carbs or the “dolce”. Some in our group of four, well all of them except me, also seemed to want to guzzle the very strong coffee (I just don’t get it.) 

I know the translation doesn't say their coffee is as black as ink but trust me it is.

 For some reason I do understand gelato. Who wouldn’t understand that poetry. Just as in poetry there are rhymes and there are sonnets. Most gelato, as one walks down the streets of Italy, is just a rhyme but I didn’t know that until I experienced Grom (Turino it’s birthplace) and Ci Gusta in Rome.  There are plenty of experts out there on the technicalities of the art of gelato, so I will just say there is a big difference in frozen artificially flavored milk, and a gelato sonnet. Gelato melts faster than ice cream so enjoy with gusto and purpose, always try more than one flavor at a time (it is like a symphony for your mouth) and finally, if the display is mounded high and covered with syrup beware your tastebuds will wonder what is the point.  It dawns on me that I don't have a picture of how gelato should be displayed, it was sublime, possibly another example of Foodie Failure?  

It is going to be hard to just focus on the "culinary"  portion of this whirlwind tour because there are so many stories to tell, I will save those for another post.  All this being said let me start with the picture that we all fought hard NOT to have happen. The dreaded FOODIE FAILURE pic.

Foodie Failure brought on by tourism "gladiator style" in Rome

The Pour Panach-ie was typically pretty good at preventing the team from a foodie 'loss' but this time even her good senses succumbed to the fried meatballs, fried artichokes (peak season) some incredible zucchini mousse with yummy creamy topping.  We were done with the regional wine and regional appetizers before we barely caught a breath.  However, the Pour Panach-ie also seemed to have the gift to quickly scope the menu and almost without fail pick something that was not available. The waiter would patiently say that is "finished", was it ever there?  Italian menus would seem to be suggestions of what the chef is capable of doing when he is in the mood, or perhaps had the ingredients that day that inspired.  It was quaint really, a part of learning about the culture.

Although the Vittle Viking was the true warrior of the menu, willing to take on the culinary challenge and always helping us with the Italian (good idea to have someone in the group that can wade through the language barrier with aplomb), our Brew-haha ordered the most beautiful dish, we all know that was accident.  He can spot the beer menu from a mile (or rather kilometers) away and always tried the regional birra, so we had all the bases covered by our team.

Fresh pasta with gamberetto (prawns) piled very high., the most elegant dish.

A little nice wine for a birthday dinner, Vittle Viking turned 29 (wink)

You can't have a proper celebration without a few bottles of wine, right?

One should have the right champagne with ones birthday Tiramisui

We had a tremendous amount of fun along the way as well as some tense moments (like when the Vittle Viking tried to give away our guy to the stranded gypsy girls). We saw things that will never get old no matter how many times you see them and of course we saw for the first time very ancient things that we had never seen before, like Pompeii.  The food was always a big driver for the day and part of the adventure.

The Fuzzy One sitting on the counter of an ancient Pompeii restaurant
For me the highlight of the trip was the cooking school in Bologna, CIBO.  The Vittle Viking and the Cautious Crumpet learned how to make homemade pasta, gnocchi and Bolognese sauce.  The flavor will now be the benchmark for all future pasta par-takings (I'll never be the same when it comes to pasta)  and the sauce was wonderfully simple and bursting with flavor.  We had fun making it, our Chef instructor Stephano was a master (favorite moments were him talking to the sauce to let it know he would be back in a bit because he had to work on the pasta, so sauce don't get worried he would be right back).  

Can't wait to get home and try it, Stephano says everything matters when making pasta but call him if we had trouble.  That's commitment to the art.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Foodie Failure?

Let me start by saying one of the goals of this trip was to develop a more sophisticated palate for me and especially for hubby.  The developing of hubby's palate seemed 'the heavy lift' since he had declared earlier in our lives at a local deli that he just wanted a sandwich with "American bread, American mustard and American turkey"...whaaatttt?  I took a step away from him and acted like I didn't know him, seriously I did. 
I don't remember where I saw this little wit, but it is so true!

On this trip he has shed the shame of the deli incident and then some.  Me on the other hand have discovered that there appears to be two obstacles to me personally becoming a 'foodie' and therefore  I hang my head in 'foodie failure'.  Obstacle number one, my mind is much more adventurous than my stomach, no other details needed.  Obstacle number two, and to this I am assuming that there is a protocol to take pictures of the delightful meal you are about to consume, well when I am particularly hungry I consume first, like a child there is no holding me back.  A picture of a very clean plate is not a good testimony to the actual epicurean delight that was presented.

It is a really good thing to have a 'sponsor' to give you an assist when a momentary lapse of one's commitment to the art of dining well occurs.  My sponsor is my hubby and he packs a camera everywhere we go.  Last night we were having dinner in Nice, the beautiful salad below is my testimony.  There is also surprisingly a capture of the incredible risotto parmigiana and veal Milanese, I do remember hubby saying something to the effect that there were children present and I should stop moaning with every bite.
Even the carrots and cauliflower was good,

We are lucky to be in Nice, France as they celebrate Carnaval with a theme of ''Gastronomy of the Provence.  Although, other than seafood, I am not sure that the area has a clearly defined cuisine. To this  newbie one does have to sort through the 'tourist-ed menu's' with diligence. We have never attended a Carnaval parade and evidently Nice is the oldest celebration in the world? The floats were unique, extraordinarily detailed and celebrated the art of cooking, dining and of course 'the drink'.  It also had a smoke blowing dragon, not sure why except it is a old grand tourist resort after-all. There are probably lots of stories of 'smoke blowing'

This is a balloon celebrating those who serve the dishes

One must celebrate those who have joy in the drink

This huge balloon with a levitating multi tasking chef was eye popping

Gigantic smoke spewing dragon

The parade became the star of this post only because it happened to be today.  There are so many food happenings which I will try to post by city tomorrow from Paris, Venice, Barcelona and Turin.  You will notice that there are very few dessert pictures and that is because of 'foodie failure'.  I assure you that they were wonderful, the pastries are demanding of ones attention and extreme need to walk more.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fashion from the Streets of Italy

For years I have heard that various colors ‘is’ the ‘new’ black well it’s not going to happen in my humble opinion.  Black will always be the ‘new black’ cut a different way, adorned with something a little different (exposed zippers, reversed darts, hemlines that will rise or float, you get it, etc.) what will change is the accessory color. There is the color institute that determines the fashion colors each year for each season, evidently 2013 fall was orange, it is a good read if you get a chance.  My earlier posting from Paris was somewhat bemoaning the lack of color regardless of how beautifully styled or designed it seems fashionably overwhelming when you see it ‘en masse’.  It takes time to get from the store window to the street.

So what is going on with fashion in Italy?  First let me qualify that the parts of Italy that I have seen so far, Turin, Venice, Verona, little spots of Milan (much more Italy to see and post at a later date) Italians love black as well, however as you will see in the pictures they have a flair for the more colorful.  That being said the key to fashion remains boots, slender leg coverings, scarves…I think I forgot to say even for the Paris post….puff coats, slim cut, black almost always.

The two people walking away from the camera are male and female both with cross body bags and puff coats

This is an older gentleman, at least 60, in his purple jeans and Timberland lumberjack boots.  
One guy two ladies great cross body hand bags

The slender cuts prevail, just as they did in Paris.  I was so out of style with my straight leg cuts of pants that I had to break down and go buy slender tighter legged pants.  As the sales lady told me, “fuller cuts just make you look fuller.”  Well, that seems simple enough and certainly prevails in the fashion hearts of not only the signoras but also of the senors.  The rather amazing thing is that the slender cut is for all ages and sizes.  Always, always hosiery, mostly black, usually textured, patterned, opaque. 

Burnt velvet leggings, great boots, puff coat

Black textured hoisery the boots were very nice, I just wouldn't put them together

Camouflage with great boots, it was amazing the amount of camo

Perhaps you remember in an earlier post that in Paris it seemed Parisian’s were very aware of body appropriate attire and one never saw body parts that shouldn’t be seen or crotches that hung to ones knees.  Well, in my travels so far in Italy let us say kindly that the passion for slender fit with tunic or short skirts perhaps should not be worn by everyone. To be more blunt, there are thunder thighs in Italy.  Still no baggy crotches (multi grazie).  Athletic wear is ONLY worn when one is being athletic, in the area where we are staying is on the River Po and there is a large park where runners and cyclist abound. Segue…it is amazing to see cyclist hard at it while they struggle to get a puff of their cigarette, hmmmm?

Scarves are the primary accessory for all sexes and ages, even the little toddlers with pacifiers have cute little scarves wrapped stylishly around their little chubby necks.  Hubby and I capitulated to the scarf fashion and were really surprised how warm it keeps you, better than a hat and they don’t mess up your hair.  Pretty smart really and easy to get a splash of personality to your ensemble.  Also, on the days that it is really polluted you can use your scarf to filter the air.

Venice in December, cold, wet polluted.  We still had alot of fun.

There is a difference between the fashions you see in the store windows vs the fashion walking around everyday, just like everywhere else.  When one travels in the winter there is going to be a lot of coats, boots and scarves.  So window shopping was especially fun, some of the most innovative things were actually seen in Venice.  Black of course is dominate, the accessory color for this winter is orange, red and sometimes gold. The belts are very narrow.  The boots are simply beyond fancy and of course you don’t get this fancy without spending 100’s of euros.

These are my dream boots for me, the leather looks like kid suede the fur is fox.  

Four different colors of suede absolute stiletto heel.

Burnt Umber and heavy metal, well what else can you say?

Narrow belts, fingerless gloves, black hoisery...Venice

Loved the black dress with the heavy lace back

The picture doesn't do this one justice, the straps are different one is orange one is black,
orange lining slit up to holy moly

We didn't even cover food this time, but we will on the next post.  And of course what post can I make without saying something about the little fuzzy one.  In Paris she was very frightened of the pigeons it was the first time she had seen them.  She got over her fear in Venice and was amazed that they could fly until the attack by the chubby pigeons on our breakfast table in San Marco’s square.  The little fuzzy one was sitting on my lap as about 5 of them decided that we had eaten enough and now it was their turn.  No barking, just trying to sink inside my coat as the waiter shewed the food pirates away.  She always makes me smile, I think others thought that she should have gone into watch dog mode….that mode is not the nature of the fuzzy one.  She doesn't understand when others are not kind, especially chubby pirate pigeons.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Learning Curve is Long Hard and Steep and the Path is Interfering with My Sleep!

Sorry Robert Frost, I love your works and this poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, has greatly been in the front of my mind these last two weeks. Moving to another country with 5 suitcases, a very delicate but adorable little Shih Tzu, a medical condition or two without speaking the language and a husband that is not known for his flexibility is much more difficult than I thought it would be. AND I’M A PLANNER! I’ve been planning this puppy for months. There have been highs to be sure but yesterday I bottomed.

Setting up house has its newly married aspect to it and the apartment is as advertised. Spacious in a 200 year old mansion, in a lovely old residential neighborhood surrounded by other stately old mansions. The views of the River Po and the majestic Alps bring a smile every morning. The very narrow road (strada) is cobblestoned and the first time we tried to find our place we totally dismissed it as someone’s driveway versus the road. The road wound up a mountain and we were transported to another time in another country, lovely truly lovely.  

Sentry kitty's on top the columns to our apartment

The first night was a little rough but we didn’t have anything other than the things we had brought with us, certainly not enough to feel nested. Tomorrow, we said, tomorrow (domani) we will put our little nest together, go do some more Christmas shopping, find a FedEx spot, and get the little fuzzy one her hypo-allergenic pet food, yep we can do this, we’ll be ready for our journey.

We were having trouble finding her special food

It has now taken almost three weeks to accomplish the ‘nest’ and all of the core things we felt needed to be done so we could start taking our next steps. Let me correct that, VPN has not, so far, been as easy as we thought it would be. Keeping in touch, which is what in part this blog was to be about, continues to be sporadic because of weak signals or loosing connection all together. We have one English speaking television station and it is EuroNews with about a 30 minute repeat cycle for 24 hours and my favorite of all is the portion of EuroNews that runs intentionally with ‘no comment’, whhhaatt?

So what is the hardest part? It may be a three way tie between the street names not clearly marked, actually they are barely marked with carved signs on the corner side of the building about 6”X16” and they aren’t lit and there may not be a side of the building that you can see while driving through a huge roundabout at 35 miles per hour. Okay that’s one, the second is shopping in a one stop manner is not the preferred way of doing things in Turin, it seems they prefer sole proprietor shops that may be scattered all over a very difficult town to get around in, that’s two. Language, it is challenging to even purchase things like cream for your coffee, half of a pound of ham for sandwiches (parmacotto is ham; dodici fette is 12 slices) but perhaps more importantly products are not necessarily even used here, such as diet soda, salad dressing, breakfast cereal is extremely limited, there is no maple syrup for pancakes. Well, that’s three and that is the end of my whining.

Heavily bundled up me waiting for ham slices
Yep Foxy Mega rolls of toilet paper

The days can be exhausting just trying to get something to eat when you are hungry, admittedly we have an unusual dining habit even for the states. BUT, my hubby has been the strength and hand needed when I thought I couldn't lift myself another moment or rise to the physical or mental challenge. The little fuzzy one with her big beautiful dark eyes the calm she provides that is better than any pharmaceutical but much more habit forming and last, but in no way last, our lovely landlady Anna.

Anna, the generational owner of the mansion is gracious, inclusive and a phenomenal guide we simply could not have asked for a better spot to begin our European journey, she is going to be very difficult to match. We are here in Turin for another month and know that every day will have its lows but also the highs will be more frequent as we learn more.

The next post has got to be Food and Fashion right?  See you can't get the girl down:)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Driving from Paris to Lyon, France to Turin, Italy Ohhhh Mon Dieu!

So I am just wondering IF one's spouse or partner is the same sex, let's just say two males, do they drive furiously  to their destination because there is some bio-genetic code that males have to combat with the road?  Then it would follow that IF one's spouse or partner is the same sex let's also conjecture two females they would wander seemingly without purpose but just gathering lovely experience after experience and take forever to arrive at the original destination?  Just wondering.

Certainly, I believe that IF there is a man behind the wheel there will be only combat with the road, the petrol, the other cars, the mileage..."what is a Fountainbleu?  huh? yeah I think I heard of Castle Chateauneuf?  Burgoyne, there was a WWII battle there right?  Do you want to stop at the next truck stop, I can top off the fuel?"  Well, you can say this can't be a road trip, but that does not make it so.

Really the intent is to put some jest in this post and ultimately with some "skillful point making", that is what they call 'pouting' right,  we ultimately stopped at enough 'truck stops' to take a couple of pictures of the spectacular Alps, Mont Blanc, the almost fine art road signs in France that picturesquely announced what the next city or town was well known for, such as one was famous for champagne and it had bubbles on it...just lovely.

While in the ferociously moving vehicle I got a spectacular shot of an ancient church literally at the top of the mountain with the sun making it seem as made of gold, don't have a clue what it was but if it was what I think it was, a church where princes and soldiers went before long journeys to receive blessings to protect them on the a harrowing road ahead....coincidence perhaps not!  

About 500 miles all in all, the car GPS is pretty good, the streets of Lyon were a nightmare, we were not safely in bed until well after midnight.  No parking had been reserved for us, so we had to seek public parking and literally haul all of the luggage to our room.  Well, let me painfully honest here, the result of NOT having a bio-genetic code to combat with a  road, also makes it impossible for one to haul anything but the little fuzzy one, my purse and my "keep it happy damn it attitude" because this is a great trip., seriously a really great trip.

Our spirits sometimes go south when we get tired but in reality we both love to solve things and solving the mystery of the destination on a foreign road is pretty invigorating.  It would seem that the major highways are funded by tolls, you pay the toll based on how many km you have go from checkpoint to checkpoint.  We stopped counting but think in our  500 mile journey there were approximately 6 tolls and we paid in total about 100 Euros or about $140.  We felt safe at night, but we didn't take any chances just to be sure.  Tolls and tunnels, since you going through the Alps there are lots of tunnels, makes the Eisenhower Tunnel look like a poser, sorry Colorado.  

The little fuzzy one is doing really well all things considered, however shy she was before, and she was VERY shy has gone a little shyer.  For me her tender little heart and extraordinary big brown eyes make me strong for her.  There is a really cute picture posted tonight of her little head resting on my neck pillow in our hotel room in Lyon at midnight waiting for her humans to finally go to bed.  Did I mention that she has not barked once on the trip?  In the hotel in Lyon, there was an ever so slight growl when she heard someone go down the hall, only if you know her will you know how very slight that growl was.  

The next post will be about setting up house in Turin, I miss a shopping center, and the Turin grocery store clerk tried to school me on buying produce.  Well, that is a story for later.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paris-Fashion and Food

Perhaps the place to start is the color and I do mean "the" color- black, black did I mention black?  Of course, I had done alot of research for the trip and was aware that there was going to be a preponderance of black, if one wanted to add a splash of color, then buy a scarf here, don't pack stuff that would make you scream tourist by just standing on the street.  There was so much black it almost reminded me of a trip to China many years ago and there were millions of dark haired people with black clothing, almost like a uniform.  Well, of course the clothing is beautifully cut in Paris and could hardly be thought of as a uniform, but then when something is de rigueur does it ever run the risk of being uniform because it is so common?

There are three more words to add to the Paris fashion scene; boots (very good boots of all heights, heels, colors, well not all colors); scarves (oooh la la do they take their scarves seriously men and women), leggings (well this for the benefit of briefness let's consider leggings as also hosiery, tights, skinny tight pants almost always black).  Ifmadame/mademoiselle wore leggings they were paired with a tunic or mini skirt.  I don't remember a single ensemble that wasn't beautifully pulled together from head to toe.

.Men however are much more likely to have on Docker-like or jeans in jewel tones, yes green, red, bright yellow.  Saw some men in velvet trousers, navy blue velvet,  one gentleman had a pair of royal purple velvet trousers, beautifully tailored he walked much too fast to get a picture, intriguing to say the least. Oh yes I forgot about corduroy...really does anyone wear corduroy anymore?   I try to think of the conversation that it would take to get hubby into a pair of colorful corduroy trousers....nope, that's not happening.

 It should also probably be said that simply NO ONE wore clothing that was not body appropriate to them.  NO ONE flashed underwear of any kind, belly rolls, cracks hopefully you know what I mean etc.  However that being said it is the city of 'love' so of course there were several couples that I thought shouldn't they just get a room!  One such couple sat next to us at dinner, the tables are very close, let's just say that kind of smacking would be rude if only food was involved. Really, it was rude, time and place people, time and place.

And now before I sleep tonight let me fondly say that it is not possible to get a bad meal, snack, dessert.  Parisiennes walk alot and they walk fast, which is good because the food is magnifique.  The hot chocolate is the best I have ever had in the world, the delicious crusty baguettes which citizens looked like they bought daily so many were carrying them under their arms as they rushed home.  We even had game foie gras, something that I would never do in the US, don't even want to ponder how it is made.  It is oyster season and we love them so, but of course they had to be sampled.  Cheeses paired with wines (lots of wine it is France afterall), wonderfully yummy desserts with coffee (hubby says the coffee is very good, I don't have a taste for it no matter where we are). 

Probably, breakfast was our favorite because the little fuzzy one got to sit next to us in a chair observing great puppy manners and watching, she seems to always understand what her humans are doing.  Enjoy the pictures we enjoyed gathering them.  We are off to Italy in the morning, and the little fuzzy one now has her European Pet Passport.  Bon soir Paris. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


It's exciting to be here, it is only kinda sorta sinking in that perhaps this may be more than just a long vacation.  I think it will help when we get to Italy on Saturday and set up housekeeping. Okay, let's talk Paris.

Let's start with customs....the months of preparation and paperwork to make sure that the fuzzy one wasn't put into quarantine or denied admittance wasn't even looked a way it was a little like a lost opportunity to "proudly show" the attention to detail to insure her acceptance into the European Union.  Well, they checked our passports and said "bienvenue". 

 We leased a car and my adventurous husband drove like a maniac just like the other Parisiennes. Lanes are kinda suggested, motorcylcles pretty much drive wherever they want at high speeds, there are lots of roundabouts (what else would you expect from a city laid out like a huge wheel) and GPS says make a right turn on the 4th turn in the roundabout...but there may be 8 main turns and 4 minor may take you a couple of passes on the very large roundabouts.  We were in such a great mood that it simply didn't matter, we laughed and said okay let's try that again.  Although hubby had already read a book on international driving, we had gotten our international drivers licenses, nothing prepares you for a highly mobile city of over 9M people with signs in a language that you only studied for two years in high school.  

We were very tired, no sleeping on the plane, so we got to the hotel (sweet little boutique hotel wtihin two blocks of the Eiffel Tower and truly pet friendly we love you Hotel Motte Picquet) and got us and the fuzzy one settled in snugly.  So far so good, everyone had treated us very well and at least acted like our lack of French was endearing.  We somehow were able to stay up until 5 o'clock Paris time after flying all night, trying hard to slam shut any jet lag.  I forgot to tell the little fuzzy one the plan, she woke me up about 3 a.m. Paris time and wanted to eat, go potty and get a drink.  Really, it was very sweet and reminded me of when my babies seemed to not know what time it was and only I could tend to their needs.  Of course walking a busy avenue in Paris at 4 o'clock in the morning is a lonely place to be, but for a brief moment we had Paris all to ourselves, she always makes me smile.

So much more to say and of course fashionistas and foodies there are some really great pictures coming tomorrow.