April 11, 2014

Skai's Birthday Dinner

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Our Palazzo Pals, Beverly & Gianni Gossen, hosted our next meal in honor of Skai’s birthday (which was in February). We don’t need much of an excuse to have a communal meal. It is always a treat to go to their apartment. Aside from Beverly being a fabulous cook, the Gossen’s apartment has the best view and we always have great photo ops to share with friends and family.

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Here are Skai and Janis Krisans.

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And, in a nice turn of events, I handed my camera over to Janis for a rare picture of me.

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I provided the appetizers for this meal. Fortunately, there was some broccoli puree left over from our cooking lesson. I also made crostini with lardo from Dario Cecchini, a bit of piggy fat heaven. Throw in a few slices of salumi and some cheese and you have a great appetizer table.

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The main event was rabbit stuffed with artichoke purchased from the same butcher who earlier provided our stuffed and rolled pork roast. It was, of course, cooked to perfection.

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Skai hiked out to a great bakery near the Piti Palace and dinner was born.

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The evening view is sometimes better than the daytime view. This night was no exception. And, we had an extra treat of an event happening on the steps of the cathedral of Santa Croce that provided beautiful background music for our evening.

Here is the video of our random exposure to beauty

For all of the picture go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157644055492255/

March 28, 2014

Cooking With Emily

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We have met several wonderful Florentine friends through our Palazzo Pal Beverly. Madeleine and Don, who live in Florence full time, and Linda and Steve, who spend 6 months of the year here, are among them. Where does Emily come in? She is Madeleine’s niece who has worked as a cook at several restaurants in Florence. We had a “Ladies Lunch” at her current restaurant and decided that it would be fun to have a cooking lesson to learn some of the recipes that she has learned while working here. Linda has the biggest kitchen so she was nominated to host the event. As usual, Linda set a beautiful table in her gorgeous Florentine home.

I shot a video since, as you will hear in the background, some of the ladies were more interested in the social aspect and not the educational aspect of our morning together. We didn’t get actual recipes, more ingredient lists and techniques. The demonstration consisted of broccoli crostini as appetizers, meatballs in caper sauce as the main course and apple crostata for dessert.

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For the crostini cook the broccoli until just soft, set aside, reserve some of the cooking liquid. In a sauté pan sauté garlic in oil until brown. Stay attentive since it will go from brown to burnt in a heart beat. Add red pepper flakes then chopped anchovies or anchovy paste. Add the broccoli and sauté for 5 min. Set aside. When everything is cool add a bit of riced (mashed) potato, ricotta, salt, pepper and puree with an emersion blender. Toast the bread. Put pureed broccoli on bread. Sprinkle with salt.

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Linda was generous enough to provide freshly made pasta that she purchased on a recent trip to Bergamo. Casoncelli, are a bit like ravioli filled with ground meat, Parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs and a little amaretto biscuits, raisins and pear.
They were served in a brown butter and sage sauce. It was a special treat since they are not available in Florence, and, they were delicious.

The star of the show was the meatballs in caper sauce but I never got a still shot so you will have to look at the video to see how fabulous they are. We started with the caper sauce. Melt lots of butter in a sauté pan. Add sliced garlic while the butter is melting, then add olive oil. Cook until the garlic is brown but not the butter. Stay attentive as the garlic will go from brown to burned in a heart beat and the butter will turn from golden to black quickly as well. Add chopped anchovies or anchovy paste. Heat gently. Add chopped sage then add capers. Set aside to await the meatballs

For the meatballs soak a small amount of bread in milk to soften. Place the meat in a bowl large enough to fit all ingredients. Squeeze the milk out of the bread and add bread to the meat. The secret ingredient was the addition of one riced (mashed) potato. Then the usual suspects of parmesan cheese, 1 egg, rind of 1/2 lemon, sage, salt & pepper were added. Mix with your hands. If the mixture is too dry add some water. If it is too wet add dried breadcrumbs. Allow to rest in refrigerator.

Shape the meatballs then roll in flour. Deep frying is the recommended method, however, they can be pan sautéed or baked. Don’t cook them all the way through since they will be cooked a bit in the caper sauce. Add the partially cooked meatballs to the caper sauce. Gently heat through.

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The apple crostata for dessert was amazing and amazingly simple. For the dough mix flour, butter and salt together. Add enough ice water to bring the dough together. Knead a few times then wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 min. You could use any pie dough recipe. Here is an Ina Garten recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/apple-crostata-recipe.html

Pare, quarter and core apples. Thinly slice each quarter but keep together in a bunch to be laid in the dough together. (watch the video)

Roll out the dough in an uneven rustic shape. Place the dough on parchment paper on a baking tray. Paint the dough with melted butter. Place the apples, kept together in their quarters on the dough. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on apples. Fold dough up around the apples. Paint dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake.

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The husbands arrived close to 1PM and patiently (or not) waited in the living room while we played in the kitchen.

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After eating the broccoli crostini, followed by the pasta we moved onto the meatballs served with asparagus mixed with Talllegio cheese and a side salad. Linda and Steve , the ever hospitable hosts, opened their magnum of Il Borro that was signed by Salvatore Ferragamo. The Ferragamos own the winery. We ended with the perfect crostata.

Then we waddled home for a long afternoon nap.

For the video go to http://youtu.be/ul3d-VzMI2Q

For all of the pictures go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157643893939634/

To check out the Ferragamo Il Borro winery and villas for rent go to http://www.ilborro.it/en/

March 21, 2014

Pilgrimage to Panzano

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With the gang all here it was time to take our annual pilgrimage to Panzano to the Antica Maceleria Cecchini ( www.dariocecchini.it). It really is so easy to get there. The bus takes about an hour, driving through the beautiful Chianti countryside and costs $10 round trip. We don’t have to worry about a designated driver or getting lost. We are dropped off a few feet from the butcher shop and the fun begins.

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If you have never read my blog before Dario Cecchini is the butcher, and he puts out a beautiful free spread in the butcher shop that really makes lunch in his upstairs restaurant unnecessary, assuming that one is a sane person and does not over-eat and drink on a regular basis.

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We, of course, have a drink and some treats while we shop and then go upstairs for lunch. We buy much of what he serves at the restaurant to bring home. Our shopping bag always includes lots of his special salt; his mustards; his pork braised in vin santo wine; his roasted pork; his beef stew; his pate; and, last but not least, his lardo (that’s straight up pig fat). We forgot to pre-order his sausage and so we must return another day.

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Arnie usually has the 8 oz. all beef hamburger served with beautiful roasted potatoes. The waiter has a pre-printed check list for ordering, and under the hamburgers 3 options are listed: “the way it should be”, “medium”, “over-done”. Arnie always has it “the way it should be”.

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I have the full meal which is a taste of everything. It includes steak tartare, meatloaf, braised pork, and roasted pork. I share so everyone gets a taste. Need I even mention that there is wine?

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We have never taken advantage of the opportunity, but one can have anything cooked from the butcher shop below. I believe one of those giant roasts was being prepared for just 2 people. Maybe next time.

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Another reason to like the restaurant is the staff. Everyone seems happy and anxious that the customers are happy.

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So, after our fill of everything, we waddled to the bus stop and soaked in the beauty of the countryside while leaving the driving to another.

What a life!


For more pictures you can go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157643795801974/

March 16, 2014

The Gang Is All Here

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Playing with our Palazzo friends is a large part of the fun that we have in Italy. Our three apartments make up the soul of the Palazzo. We don’t spend every waking hour together but we do connect every day, if only with a phone call. Of course, playing means eating (and drinking). It is so easy to entertain here. The first group meal was at our house.

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First we walk a few blocks to the butcher. Tonight, a pork roast stuffed with a frittata, prosciutto and fontina cheese will be our centerpiece. We struggled with choosing the rolled rabbit stuffed the same as the pork, or stuffed with artichokes; or the stuffed and rolled Guinea hen; or the stuffed and rolled chicken; or the beef fillet covered in lardo and pink peppercorns. What choices!

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Then, around the corner to the Frutta e Verdura (Fruit and Veggie store). That yielded some potatoes, agretti (Tuscan succulent vegetable that looks like seagrass but tastes like spinach) and a few salad greens. We wanted to keep it simple so there was no pasta course, but if there was, the fresh pasta shop is just around the corner as well.

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We had already gone to the deli for some salumi and cheese to set out for appetizers. And a meal is born.

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The roast took about 45 minutes and the potatoes (tossed with rendered pancetta fat before roasting) took a little longer. The agretti was just 10 minutes but the cleaning took about 30 minutes. Beverly brought down the salad.

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Skai was sent off to buy dessert and she did a great job. It was too embarrassing to take a picture of all of the empty wine bottles. Let’s just say there was a bottle of white wine, and a few bottles of red wine, and Prosecco with dessert, then aged Vin Santo. Can you totally understand why I would not document that for all of the world to see? Thank goodness our guests only needed the elevator to get home.

Here are just a few more pictures of our adventure if you are interested. https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157643795162055/

March 13, 2014

The Rhythms of Our Life

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February 27, and we are back in Florence for our usual Spring Adventure. How lovely to return to our second home. Our flight here was uneventful: San Diego to Heathrow; Heathrow to Bologna; car transfer to Florence. Uneventful, but not without issues. Each year we have Sergio transport us from the airport to the Palazzo. This was our first year landing in Bologna because the flight from San Diego arrived too late for a transfer to the closer airports, either Florence or Pisa. Let me just say that we would not have survived making that drive on our own, even if we were rested. Through the mountains, with bumper to bumper 18 wheel trucks in 2 lanes of traffic going really fast. Sergio is a marvel and was weaving in and out of the trucks while I was covering my eyes. Thank God there was no fog, which is common.

We made the trip in a little over an hour and I was ready for wine, lots of wine. Francescovini ( http://francescovini.com ) is a reliable restaurant within a block, with good food and very friendly people. That is often our first stop and this year was no exception. I am usually too tired to take pictures and this year was no exception.
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There is a period of adjustment to the new rhythms of our life in Florence. First, we have to unpack the clothes and the house. We leave 5 suitcases full of kitchen ware, books, exercise equipment, even a printer. And I bring clothes. We are here for 3 seasons and one never knows which will be the longest. So, I am prepared for the harshest winter, longest spring and hottest summer. We arrived after one of their wettest winters. Our first non-food purchases were 2 big umbrellas and that apparently bought us insurance against any further rain. They have been sitting unused at the front door and we are happy to keep them there.

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Arriving as we do in winter allows us to watch the changes of the garden from our apartment windows. Soon the winter coverings will be removed and eventually, the bulbs will bloom, then, when we are ready to leave, the roses will be in full blossom. It is a most tranquil way to watch the seasons change.

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The empty streets are a big benefit of a late winter arrival, and we like it that way. It will change soon enough. The pace of life is slower in winter, but really, it won’t change that much for us in warmer weather. Our day starts with the church bells ringing at, what seems to us, random times. One church chimes the hour but it is at a fair distance and the other closer churches announce their mass schedule, at the quarter hour or any time in-between. We open the bedroom shutters to determine the kind of day we will have. At 10am the Day Care center next door brings their three yr. olds out for an hour of screaming. I particularly enjoy watching one feisty little girl who always seems to get the best of one pesky little boy.
Mornings start very slowly. We must remember to get our shopping done before the stores close at 1PM or we have to interrupt our nap to go after they re-open at 4PM. It is a rare day when we have shopped before 1PM. (We have squeezed in a museum or two in the late morning.) Then it is time for lunch.

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Another benefit of arriving in late winter is the ability to get into very popular restaurants without a reservation. Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori ( Via dei Magazzini 3, 055 293045) is one of our favorites and it is virtually impossible to get into as the season progresses. The above was some of the best linguini we tasted but by looking at it you would never know the intensity of the flavors.

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Del Fagioli (Corso dei Tintori 47-r, 055 244285) is another restaurant where we will soon be turned away without reservations. They make the best burnt protein around. We are getting our fill of spontaneously obtained burnt protein while we can.

But, lunch isn’t just lunch. It is the center of our day. It is live theater. It is our chance to socialize in Italian. Lunch is the experience that I most miss when we are back in California.

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After lunch (that always includes a bit of vino) there is the slow meander home where we always encounter something interesting, even if it is just a cat in a window. We collapse into our bed for a post lunch nap but, since we were too lazy to go shopping before lunch, we must get up to go back out to buy food for our dinner. God forbid we have only one substantial meal in a day.

Even though this is our second home, this is still my vacation and I am too lazy to do much more than make pasta with vegies for dinner. So, around 6pm we walk a few blocks to Christian for fresh pasta then, around the corner for vegetables. In the fullness of time, dinner preparations begin.

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I’ve mentioned before that I spy on all of our neighbors from our living room and kitchen windows. ( I suspect some of them may be saying, “That crazy American woman is back staring at us from her window.”) I was relieved to see the “mature” couple who lives next door, and 2 floors down, starting their dinner preparations together. Last year he was missing for the first few days after our arrival. We were worried, but this year all is well. We even saw the grand daughter (about 8), whom we have watched grow-up, having dinner there and playing cards with her grandparents.

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If the mood strikes, we go back out for an after dinner stroll. There is always something to delight. We have no idea of the significance of this art piece, stuck on a building behind the Uffizi museum, but it brought a smile.

Some evenings we fire up the computer to watch the PBS News Hour followed by The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just sit and read, with a bit of wine. Then, at bedtime we close the bedroom shutters and dream about what we will eat the next day.

It takes a while for me to get into the rhythm of writing this blog.

Wallowing in laziness feels so delicious.


April 2014

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