Pesto for All Seasons

13 Dec

In Italy, you won’t find broccoli or cauliflower in summer markets, and conversely, you generally won’t find large bunches of basil in winter markets. One of the reasons we love the food in Italy is that it is always seasonal.

In the U.S., we too have wonderful seasonal food, however, we often can get “out of season” food nearly all year long. Like those bunches of basil. Hence, I can make fresh pesto on December 13 when the outside temperature is 34°.

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Yesterday, I bought three packs of fresh basil from Trader Joe’s. For me, the worst part of making pesto is the prep – carefully washing and drying the leaves and removing the stems.

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Although ingredients and directions vary widely, mine are as follows and amounts are suggestions:

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To the food processor, add and process until chunky:

  • 5-7 peeled cloves of garlic*
  • 8 ounces of pine and/or walnuts

Then,

  • Pack the bowl with 3-4 cups of fresh basil leaves and process quickly until mixed
  • Slowly stream in 1/2 cup olive oil, mix
  • Add 8 ounces of pecorino cheese, mix
  • Add additional olive oil for consistency
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

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*I learned something interesting about garlic today. When I peeled the first clove, I noticed it had sprouted.

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I had never seen this before, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, sprouted garlic isn’t harmful, it’s just more bitter, so I opted for another garlic head.

When the pesto is ready, and Len and I have completed our taste tests,

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I separate the pesto into small containers with tight lids that can be kept in the fridge or freezer. Covering the top of the pesto with olive oil helps maintain the freshness and color. To defrost, I simply leave in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

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There you have it, pesto tonight, next week, or in a few months, ready whenever our taste buds are yearning, no matter the season. And we don’t limit pesto to pasta – we use it with appetizers or as a marinade on beef, poultry and even fish.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

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Andrea Bocelli in Chicago

7 Dec

Last night, Andrea Bocelli performed in Chicago,

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and last night, I witnessed the best “concert” I have ever seen. I put the word “concert” in quotes as I am actually unaware of a word that captures the breadth of the performances.

 Andrea Bocelli returns to the U.S. for seven concerts only of repertoire from his Grammy-nominated album Cinema, special selections from his groundbreaking release Romanza, and a selection of beloved arias, love songs, and crossover hits. The concerts will be led by Maestro Eugene Kohn and will also feature soprano Larisa Martinez and Broadway sensation and Chicago native, Heather Headley. Our own Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus will join him for his concert at Chicago’s United Center. (2017 © Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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Maestro Eugene Kohn conducting Chicago Lyric Orchestra and Chorus

Our daughter Benita had surprised us with these tickets for our anniversary. In 1999, we took her to see Luciano Pavarotti in Austin, and now she was taking us to see Andrea Bocelli in Chicago. How fortunate we are to have seen both!

Each artist was exceptional  – captivating the audience with finely-tuned skills. Although there were thousands in attendance, one could hear a pin drop. Stupendous was the word that kept coming to mind.

In addition to the incredible pitch-perfect performances, the large multi-dimensional projection screens behind the chorus provided a visual extravaganza. The audience was transported, as if we were at times sitting inside a grand European cathedral; attending an opera at La Scala in Milan; walking through falling snow at the Eiffel Tower; strolling ancient streets of an Italian town; enjoying a gondola ride through canals in Venice; or taking in any number of breathtaking vistas.

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Andrea Bocelli was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at the age of 12, following a soccer accident. Yet nothing was going to stop his great passion for music, developed as a young child. Today, his musical accomplishments include fifteen solo albums, of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 80 million records worldwide. In addition, over the years, he has performed in many charity benefits, and in 2011, the Andrea Bocelli Foundation was launched, focusing on medical research and fighting poverty.

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About two months ago, Len and I were in Portofino, a now very famous, picturesque and tourist-filled Italian fishing village where Bocelli performed under the stars in 2013. We had seen the performance on PBS, and as we lunched along the water, we talked about how fun it would be to attend a Bocelli concert.  Little did we know that just a few weeks later, Benita would surprise us with tickets. And since our concert was in December, we were happy to be inside where it was warm.

Kudos to the sound team at the United Center, a space more often used for sports enthusiasts than tenors and sopranos. Even with a packed house, acoustics were perfect.  And if you are a Bocelli fan, check his website as the tour has a few more east coast US dates this year and then returns next year to the west coast.

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We are so very grateful to Benita, not only for the tickets but that we were able to see this magnificent performance together.

Bravo, Andrea, Bravissimo! Thank you for coming to Chicago!

Ciao,
Judy

 

Remembering a year ago…

5 Dec

Last year, I sadly published this post and can hardly believe a year has passed. There is so much I keep learning about my grandfather Alex’s life, so much more I want to discuss with my Aunt Marion, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I’ll try to remember how lucky we were to have her till almost 90. In memory of Aunt Marion, one year later…

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Yesterday was Aunt Marion’s 90th birthday and she was throwing a party. How lucky to approach 90, still active and in full command. She had shopped the day after Thanksgiving and found just what she wanted to wear – a red wool jacket and black pants.

What birthday gift would I give Aunt Marion? The answer came easily. In October, 2013, I began writing a series of posts that traced a European trip my grandfather, Alex, her father, took in 1938. I titled the series Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather. From Alex’s letters, postcards, etc., that Aunt Marion had saved, I was able to document every step of his incredible journey. 76 years, 10 months and 10 days after Alex returned to his birthplace, so too did Len and I, being the first and only, we think, descendants to step foot in the town of Pietrabbondante, Italy.

With each post, Aunt Marion would call me or I her. How I loved those conversations. Along with several members of my extended family, I learned much about a man I hardly knew, and even Aunt Marion learned a great deal more about her father. Who could have guessed that a blog could bring so much joy?

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©Blogginginitaly.com Sharing info with Aunt Marion, my sibs & some cousins.

“I just wish I could print these all out,” she had said to me on more than one occasion.

As her 90th birthday approached , I found blog2print.com, a company that could make a book of my blogs. With guidance from a very helpful customer service, I created the front and back covers, wrote the dedication, and selected the contents. It was the perfect gift.

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©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

Of particular note is the dedication to Aunt Marion: …my guiding light, collaborator and friend, who guarded “the bag” that made this all possible. The bag, of course, contained my grandfather’s letters and so much more that she had kept all these years.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

On Saturday, instead of celebrating her 90th birthday, we celebrated her wonderful life. Sadly and very unexpectedly, she left us just 5 days short of her 90th birthday.

I will miss her and our talks. But like the other strong Italian women in our family who proceeded her – my grandmothers, my mother and my aunts, I will remember her always and the traditions she passed on.

If only I could have given her the book.

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Sleep well, Aunt Marion. Love you.
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ricotta, Biscotti, Twice-Baked Potato

25 Nov

What do these delicious items have in common? It’s simple, they are all cooked twice. The wonderful creamy ricotta cheese we love is literally made from whey left over in the production of cheese,  then “re-cooked”, hence the name ri cotta. Biscotti, the crisp, rectangular-shaped Italian cookies, often dipped in coffee or vin santo, are twice baked. And then, of course, there is the American twice-baked potato, cooked, then dug out and refilled with just about anything one likes.

So it got me to wondering, “What does one call turkey in a second cooked form?” Since I couldn’t find anything in the dictionary or even in the Wikis, I tired to make up a word. The Latin word “bis” means twice, so I tried that – Bisturkey.  Not very catchy. Other options included TurkeyTwice, Turkeyx2, but not any better. Finally I settled on the simple and obvious – Turkey Soup.

Thursday, first cooking produced this…

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Friday, second cooking produced this…

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So, if you’ve had enough leftovers for a while, simmer that turkey bone for hours in water or broth, then remove the bones carefully and add leftover turkey, veggies, potatoes, etc. Best of all, it freezes well for a cold winter night when your tasty memories of that delicious turkey have begun to fade.

And should you come up with a great recooked turkey name, please let me know!

Ciao,
Judy

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

23 Nov

On this day for giving thanks,
I am most grateful for the love of family and friends,
both near and far.

May your day be filled with whatever makes you happy,
and a little bit of rest at the end of the day!

Version 2

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Ciao,
Judy

Life Photos in Black and White

12 Nov

Let me begin by saying that I am not an avid user of Facebook. (When I was in college, people still used typewriters for term papers!) Some years ago, however, I realized that FB was a simple way to keep up with or reconnect with relatives/friends, especially those who live in different cities and time zones around the world.

Recently, I noticed a thing on FB called the Black and White Photo Challenge. Simply said, people would post a B/W photo of their everyday life, for seven consecutive days, and challenge a friend each day to do the same. No people. No explanations.

For someone who has always loved photography, this challenge struck me as interesting. And then a dear friend from the UK challenged me. 

The word “Challenge” was thought-provoking. I took it not as a contest or competition, but rather as a self-reflection. Which of my photos represent my life? 

I have always loved photography and have taken thousands of photos over the years. Before I posted my first photo, I took time rolling through years of them. It was soon clear to me that not all color photos express their meaning well in black and white, while some black and white photos lose their impact in color.

After some time, I created a file with more photos than I needed, then chose one for each of the seven days.

Rarely do I leave home knowing what I might photograph, yet I’ve always felt that I see the world through pictures. We stop frequently on our walks and thankfully, Len is very patient, only to share later, “Wow, I didn’t see that at all.”

Photos of my life. No people….and then I remembered something Ansel Adams, American photographer and environmentalist, said:

There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer.

Photos of my life. No explanations…and then something else Ansel Adams said:

“A true photograph need not be explained,
nor can it be contained in words.” 

And so I share a few more photos with you. No people. No explanations.

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And now my challenge to you – If you have a phone, camera or computer full of photos, and a bit of time, try it yourself. Look through some of your photos and select seven that represent your life. If in color, adjust them to B/W. And remember…No people. No explanation needed. 

Ciao,
Judy

 

Still Saying “I Do!”

30 Oct

Wednesday was the last night in Cortona of our 9th stay, and also happened to be our 30th anniversary. 

We began the day with a wonderful walk through the parterre, bathed in sunshine and enjoying the magnificent October weather and views.

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We ended the evening, surrounded by friends, at our favorite Tuscher Caffè.

We had told Massimo and Daniela we wanted to host a Brindisi D’Anniversario, or Anniversary Toast, with simple finger food…but of course, they always do so much more than expected. 

We arrived a bit early to find Dani and Edoardo making the final touches on the buffet…

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and Massimo ready to open the Prosecco.

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The food was not only delicious, but so creative! 

As we waited for our guests, Len rehearsed his toast. When all had assembled, we took our first group photo. Well done, Francesco!

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After more toasts and eating, Len asked for attention. He began by apologizing for his Italian, but was quickly reassured by the group that his effort was well appreciated. Toasting our friends in his best Italian, he thanked them for their sincere friendship and for making us truly feel that Cortona is our second home.

And then he turned to me, with these words, also in Italian… “You are the butter on my bread and the fire in my heart.” Melted.

While the food was being cleared, we made some attempts at gender photos…

And then we were doubly surprised by the dessert…

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First, that it was a gift from dear friends from Toronto, Carrol and Larry, and second, that all this time I thought I was married to LEN! (Technology can be great as we were able to FaceTime them in Toronto while cutting the cake!)

Such a wonderful evening, full of laughter, smiles, stories, and most of all dear friends. 

30 years ago, 

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And today…

As I reflect on the the past 30 years, what comes to mind most is how blessed we have been and how thankful we are for our loving family, our dear friends, and our ongoing adventures. 

Hoping to get just one more group photo before we departed, we stopped a person walking by outside and asked him to take a photo. It was quickly evident this was not something he was used to doing… with his finger half over the lens and quite shaky!

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But alas, with pure luck, he took this. A little finger shadow top left, but all in all, a great memory of a wonderful evening!

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Many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for their hard work…we so love having parties at Tuscher. And our heartfelt love and thanks to family and friends, whether with us at Tuscher or from far away, for the wonderful anniversary wishes. I hope they all do come true and that we have many more years to celebrate.

And yes, after 30 years, I am still saying “I Do!”

Ciao,
Judy

The 2017 Olive Harvest

23 Oct

Every year, around mid to late October, many Cortonese hope to begin harvesting their olives. I use the word hope because Mother Nature plays a huge role in the success of the harvest. While 2015 was a bountiful year, the complete opposite was true for 2016 due to the dreaded mosca (fly).  And this year, the 2017 harvest was severely limited by the drought…hence,  small quantity but good quality olives depending on the location of one’s olive grove.

Nonetheless, October begins the eagerly anticipated time “olio nuovo” (new oil) signs begin to appear in restaurants and stores. And it is also a time when locals invite friends to celebrate their production. Lucky for us, friends invited us to dinner last night, but didn’t tell us they had already been to the frantoio (mill) to begin processing their olives.

As soon as we entered the cantina, we knew we were in for a treat. The bright green color and the light peppery taste of freshly pressed olive oil is unlike that of any other oil.

 

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Lapo and Paola like to call this a peasant dinner – simple and fresh food picked from the garden or locally sourced, all designed to highlight the taste of the new oil.

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New oil is traditionally first tasted as a bruschetta  – toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with the oil. We each made our own. Delicious.

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We also added the oil to a dash of salt in tiny bowls – a wonderful dip for fresh vegetables from the garden.

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Next came what Len calls an Italian version of hummus, this one made from ceci (chickpeas), drizzled with the oil and topped with a sprig of rosemary. Can’t wait to try this myself.

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The dish that followed was a type of bread soup, pappa al pomodoro, topped with a drizzle of oil. Simple, delicious and perfect for an autumn evening. 

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Now this is Italy, remember, so you know there is more to follow, and what followed was rosemary roasted chicken and potatoes, with a splash of oil of course!

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Now not all olives are turned into oil, as was the case with these tasty herb and orange marinated olives, served as a side dish.

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For dessert, we were treated to Paola’s delicious torta della nonna, (grandmother’s cake), a traditional Tuscan dessert with a light custard. (I forgot to ask if she added a drop of the new oil to it!) Not being much of a baker, I bought the others at a local pasticceria. 

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So that’s how we celebrate the olive harvest in Cortona, enjoying what Mother Nature provides, combined with the hard work of locals who pick by hand. 

From this…

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to this. Doesn’t get much better.

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Our thanks to Lapo and Paola for an always entertaining and delicious evening together. Complimenti to the cook and grazie for your friendship!

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Ciao,
Judy

Chocolate and Red Wine – Who Knew?

12 Oct

Somewhere in my past, I picked up the notion that red wine would make a stuffy nose stuffier, so all week when Len and I had meals, I drank water. 

Two days ago, I decided to check the data, and to my surprise, here’s what I found:

Red Wine: 
Red wine actually helps fight a fight a cold. (Am I the only one that didn’t know this?) Antioxidants contained in red wine, resveratrol and polyphenols, can prevent cold and flu viruses from multiplying once they’ve entered your system. 

Interestingly, a few Italian friends suggested this “before going to bed” remedy: 

Boil a cup of red wine, (thus deleting the alcohol), add a few red pepper flakes (optional), drink down and in the morning, the cold will be gone. 

Len says this is what he plans to do if he catches my cold.

Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) is loaded with zinc and like red wine, contains a lot of antioxidants which help fight a cold. While it is advised to not overindulge, small daily portions can help boost the immune system.

So there you have it, two over-the-counter remedies to consider adding to your shopping list should the cold bug strike. But then, why wait for a cold! 

 

And no, the wine doesn’t need to be a Brunello, but when it Italy, why not?

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Fighting a Cold (raffreddore)

9 Oct

In October, when the night air turns cooler but the days are still warm, Tuscan colds are a plenty. The locals blame it on the change in weather and I’m becoming a believer. But when the sky is bright blue and the weather is in the 70’s, it’s hard to nurse a cold in bed. 

Still, not wanting to spread my germs, we headed to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch. We were also curious about the lake level due to both the summer drought and more recent rains.

What we found didn’t surprise us as Umbria and Tuscany sustained spring and summer months with virtually no rain and intense heat. The lake had not only receded, it actually uncovered sandy beach areas we had never seen before.

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After our walk, we stopped at a caffé for a light lunch, but more so to sit in the warm sun and be mesmerized by the clouds dancing on the ripples across the lake.

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Walking back to the car, I couldn’t help but stop at this structure for a few more photos.

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Tonight for dinner, we made a red and yellow pepper risotto that turned out quite well. 

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All in all, a perfect way to not have a cold ruin a beautiful day! 

Ciao,
Judy

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