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Taormina Sicily

12 Dec

Our first visit to Sicily was in the spring of 2016. Len and I had planned a month stay, from west to east coasts. However, as we learned, March is not the ideal month as the winter winds nearly knocked us over.

Fast forward to last October. We met Benita and her friend Christina in Rome, flew to Catania, and headed to Taormina, a resort town Len and I had skipped on our last trip.

We arrived on a Sunday night to views from our room that were painted by the sunset.

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After a bit of unpacking, our first stop was one of Benita’s favorites: Pasticceria D’Amore, or pastry of love.

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On the menu – fresh to order cannoli, “filled at the moment”

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and then dipped in freshly ground pistachios. They certainly lived up to their reputation!

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Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily, flanked by Mt. Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is a heavily visited tourist location, but fortunately the monster cruise ships seem to depart late afternoon, leaving plenty of space to stroll leisurely and visit attractions.

The streets are filled with restaurants, bars and lovely stores of every kind;

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and the piazzas are filled with artists and musicians.

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Perhaps the best known attraction, and truly my favorite, is the Teatro Antico di Taormina. This ancient Greco-­Roman theater, built in the 3rd century BC and modified by the Romans, is still used today for concerts and live performances. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

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Near the theater, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches and always providing spectacular views.

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Checking online, we were able to find the less crowded times to visit the theater, and it seemed as thought we nearly had it to ourselves.

Another lovely and peaceful attraction, away from the crowded streets, is The Public Gardens of Taormina. The vast property was originally settled by Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman and animal and nature lover, who married the Italian mayor, Salvatore Cacciola, and settled forever in Taormina.

The park and its views are peaceful and beautiful and provide welcome space away from the often crowded streets.

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Late one morning, we took the tram from the main town to the beach to visit Isola Bella,  also owned by Lady Florence Trevelya until 1990, and now a nature preserve.

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As it was very hot, we concluded our walking tour in a short time and returned to main town for lunch and gelato.

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As for food, Sicilian pistachio is king. You can get pistachio on, in, or over just about anything you can eat or drink…steak, pasta, cheese, seafood, coffee, liquors, etc.,  and we loved trying almost anything that included pistachios.

Pistachio liquor, creme, and spreads

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Pistacchio Gelato (their spelling!)

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Pasta with Pistachio Sauce

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Another favorite of ours was the homemade caponata, an eggplant dish, made a bit differently at each location, but always good.

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Our last night, we decided on dinner at a restaurant named Ferrara, that being my mother’s maiden name. No relation, of course, but the dinner and service were both great and a fun place to take a final photo of our time in Taormina.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Does our Orto (Garden) Grow?

17 Aug

With warm sunny days, sufficient rainfall, and tender loving care, “our” garden grew from this at the end of April…

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to this in August!

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After giving a thumbs up to the garden’s success, Len decided to take in some sun and enjoy a Toscano, a small Italian cigar (that actually doesn’t smell bad),

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while Fernanda and I were ready to pick, baskets in hand.

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We filled our baskets with three of the four varieties we had planted…

Ciliegino (Cherry)

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San Marzano

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Camone

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and the not quite ready, Cuore di Bue (Beef Steak)

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We also picked susine (plums) from the brimming trees that not only keep the orto from scorching in the summer sun,

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but also provide fruit for delicious marmellata.

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Then it was time for our “casual” county lunch ~

Our Al Fresco Menu included:
freshly cut prosciutto and sliced melon;
hand-picked tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and garden basil;
just cooked porchetta from the market;
cannelloni beans sautéed in fresh tomatoes;
Toscana Rosso di Montalcino

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Talk about farm to table –  and so much more rewarding since we are the planters, pickers and very fortunate eaters!

After lunch, it was time for some serious relaxation.

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Little did we know two years ago how incredibly rewarding this small garden would be. How does our garden grow? Well, we may not be experts, and the local farmers still offer much advice, but for us, everything about the orto is perfectly wonderful, perfectly delicious, and so proudly our own doing. We just can’t help but smile!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Egg-ceptional!

25 May

Ok, I am ruined. We have all heard of farm to table. Wonderfully fresh food from local farms delivered to nearby restaurants. Delicious!

But have you ever tasted warm fresh eggs, right from the hen?? Nothing compares. As you might expect, they are “nonconformists”, with differences in size, color, speckling, etc. And those golden yokes – just delicious. You truly can taste the difference.

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Fortunately for us, we have Italian friends who are happy to share their fresh eggs, and we are most happy to cook them in a variety of ways.

Baked potato, topped with fresh ricotta, covered with fried eggs.

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Scrambled eggs with potatoes, onions, and cherry tomatoes.

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Fried eggs on toast with sliced tomatoes.

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So, I’m ruined. It’s hard to imagine that I can ever purchase a dozen “matching” eggs at a large supermarket again.

But farm fresh eggs – any way we cook them, they are egg-ceptional!

Ciao,
Judy

Sights, Sounds and Tastes of Puglia

14 May

Fourth and Final post of trip south…

When you find yourself not quite a stones throw from the Adriatic, seeking wonderful seafood is a given. Our B&B host suggested we lunch in Savelleti.

The drive there took us through incredibly colorful fields

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and past some of the oldest olive trees – i.e., immense trunks – I have ever seen.

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When we arrived in Savelleti, it reminded me of sights I had seen along the shores of Trapani in Sicily.

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We decided a walk along the shore was the best way to choose our restaurant. The first place we came to was the fish monger who proudly displayed the morning’s fresh catch. We knew we were in for a treat.

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There were several places choose from, on and near the water, but we were determined to choose a restaurant right on the water. And then we found Ristorante Da Maddalena.

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Sometimes a setting just takes you in, and this was that kind of place. The windows provided panoramic vistas of the sea,

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and you could hear the crystal-clear water gently lapping over the rocks.

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It was a bit early for lunch, but Lucrezia warmly welcomed us and gave us a front row seat to splendor.

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She explained the menu, took our order, then headed to the kitchen to perform her magic. The aromas were amazing.

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And then it was time to eat.

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Even more than seeing the trulli, or the caves, I think this was why Len really wanted to head south. We video chatted with him, but we could never quite find the words to describe our meal. Guess we’ll have to head back south to Da Maddalena some other time!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Lunchtime in Italia

13 Apr

Lunch (Pranzo) in Italy is a great time to enjoy fresh homemade food and local wine with family and/or friends, and yesterday was no exception. Well, actually it was quite the exception due to the incredible seafood feast which was prepared for our return by dear friends. Feast your eyes on this.

First Course (left pot):
Cozze e Vongole (Mussels and Clams)

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Second Course:
Pasta con Cozze, Calamari, Gamberetti e Gamberi
(Pasta with Muscles, Calamari, Shrimp and Prawns)

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Third Course: Gamberi in Padella e Verdure
(Prawns in the Pan and Vegetables)

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The ingredients were simple, the smell and taste divine – fresh seafood, local olive oil, garlic, a splash of brandy, salt, pepper and parsley.

I can’t think of a much better way to spend an afternoon than with delicious food, wonderful wine, dear friends, lively conversation, and loads of love and laughter. And of course, all of this followed by a Torta della Colomba di Pasqua (Easter dove cake), sambuca and caffe.

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Perhaps Virginia Woolf said it best:

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,
if one has not dined well.”

Many thanks and sincerest compliments to our hosts/friends/amazing chefs!

Ciao,
Judy

An Ode to Springtime in Cortona

6 Apr

When an 8 1/2 hour flight turns into a 40+ hour unexpected project, it is heartwarming to be embraced by the outstretched arms of Cortona – its historic buildings, incredible views, wonderful food and most of all, its warm and gracious people. It’s no wonder that, over Easter weekend, Cortona was ranked the number one preferred Italian destination by Airbnb.

Thus, our familiar walks have inspired my very simplistic verse:

Ode to Springtime in Cortona

With temperatures rising,
the buds are bursting and the sun is shining.

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Many are walking as others are riding.

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As the fog is lifting, it is quite revealing –
the dandelions are popping
and the hillsides are greening.

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All the while,
the bright shiny Vespas and motos keep careening.

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So many places for delicious dining;

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accompanied, of course, by Tuscan wine(ing).

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And no matter what age, Gelato always brings smiling.

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So if you are seeking a place which is lovely and inspiring,

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Cortona in Springtime is simply beguiling.

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Ciao,
Judy

Riccardo Trattoria

8 Feb

Last night, Len, Benita and I shared an early Valentine’s Dinner at our favorite Riccardo Trattoria and took advantage of Chicago’s Restaurant Week special pricing. For just $33/person, we each selected three dishes from the ANTIPASTI, PASTA E RISOTTI, CARNE E PESCE, and DOLCI menus, and then shared them family style.

We have been patrons of Riccardos since it opened in early 2006, even before it had been granted its liquor license. We saw the sign on the door and were delighted that an authentic Italian restaurant was opening just blocks from home. And it has not disappointed – ever – probably because owner/chef Riccardo Michi began his career and ignited his passion at a young age in Milan in the family business and continues his passion today.

So what did we feast on?

For starters:

 

Followed by:

 

And finally dessert:

 

Delicious, fun, and lucky for us, a little trip to Italy just a few blocks from home. 

Buon Appetito and an early wish for a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

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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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

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