Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gelati per Colazione

You scream.
I scream.
We all scream for ice cream!

Imagine a lighter than air, sugar topped, brioche. A thing of perfection in itself. Cut the brioche in half and add a scoop of ricotta gelato and a scoop of dark chocolate gelato inside. You have the best ice cream sandwish you could ever dream up. Italy is the place of dreams and these dreams taste soooo good.

We also enjoyed the best dinner I have ever had in Italy. Exquisite. Our first night in Sicilia was in Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa Ibla is located in the South-East part of the island. We stayed at the Locanda Don Serafina, which was an absolute gem of a hotel. The restaurant is part of the hotel but is located a short walk away through two beautiful piazzas. The restaurant had three tasting menus: for food, for wine, and for olive oil. We weren't feeling really hungry so we didn't opt for any of the tasting menus. But the olive oil they serve for dinner is from Ragusa and has been voted best in the world for 5 years. It was light, fruity, and remarkably bright. A collection of 6 different types of breads were served along side the olive oil.

First the chef sent out a tiny slice of ricotta in a tomato emulsion with a hint of basil and a little peeled cherry tomato. Then I had the most amazing starter. It was grilled vegetables (eggplant, radicchio, potato, zucchini, tomato, and onion) in balsamic vinegar. The vegetables were stacked precisely on top of ricotta cheese and embraced by a parmesan cheese wafer. They called it a waffle in the description but it was thin and crisp and bursting with flavor. If I could eat a vegatable dish this good every night I would be a vegetarian.

Hubby started with a Sicilian specialty, which is spaghetti with cuttle fish ink and clams or something like a clam. He thought it was superb. For me, it is not my cup of tea. I had the pasta with shrimp and salted ricotta and basil. It was very good. The shrimp were so sweet it was closer to lobster in flavor. Hubby also had the involtini of quail with apples and peppers. Very good.

Dessert was heaven. It was ricotta mousse with pralined almonds. WOW! It was the kind of dessert that brings an instant smile to the face and a dreamy sigh. While I had ricotta in every dish for dinner, none of the ricotta was the same in taste or consistency.

To find this type of restaurant in a remote part of Sicily and off the tourist path was very special. The chef came out and introduced himself. He was young and, in my mind, a food genius! After dinner we had a tour of the wine cellar. They have a very extensive wine list and impressive wine cellar. They serve dinner in the cellar. However, it being a beautiful summer night, we ate dinner at a sidewalk table by candle light with ancient walls around us.

An after dinner grappa and off to bed.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Where to start? It has been difficult to get on the internet living with two teenage girls in the house. I had to leave Todi and go to Venezia to get on the internet.

Let's talk about food.

You have to love a country that eats cookies (biscotti) for breakfast (colazione). Every morning I had cookies and tea for breakfast. It was the best. Then I walked up a very steep hill to school. I cannot wait to get to Sicilia because for colazione they eat brioche with gelato! Ice cream for breakfast. Some people have really got things figured out.

I stayed with the Ciliani family in Todi. Fiorenza, Riccardo, Miriam, and Daniela. Miriam is 18 and Daniela is 15. They swooned when they heard I live in Hollywood. They wanted to know if I knew Chad Michael Someboy-or-other from One Tree Hill. I don't, but did catch part of an episode in Italian and I can now be on the lookout for Chad. Miriam likes sweets so she asked me if we could make an apple cake. We made an old fashioned American apple pie. I was a little worried because in Italy they do their measurements by weight and not cups. We decided to wing it. Good thing I know my way around the kitchen because I eyeballed the measurements from a coffee mug. They do not have shortening, so we used butter. They also don't have brown sugar, but sugar is sugar, right? It turned out delicious. Riccardo, the papa, loves all apples desserts. We got his approval. The next morning I had a slice of apple pie for breakfast. Um, Um, Good!

I also made mojitos for Riccardo and Fiorenza. They don't have limes until Christmas time. I had to use lemon but they were delicious. Also we had to bust out the ice cube tray to make ice. We don't realize the abundance we live in with ice cube makers and limes all year round. We can enjoy a proper mojito all year long! They really have to wait until Christmas for a proper mojito. But wait...Does mint grow in the winter?

For lunch I ate pizza almost everyday at Pomodoro Rosso with my classmates. We'd chat in Italian and eat our pizza and sometimes do homework. On the walk home I would often stop at Pianegiani for gelato. The best gelato in town. I am partial to Bacio and pistachio. On my last night in town I tried the torrone. Torrone is nougat made with pistachio and almonds. Whoa! It was very good. I never tried the house specialty which was made with pine nuts. I guess I better plan my return trip.

Fiorenza made dinner every night. I ate very well. Always pasta first, then meat with vegatables and salad. This was follwed by fruit for dessert. However, if there was cake or pie, we had fruit first than dessert. I was fed very well every night. Oh and there was usually cheese somewhere in there too. They eat like this every night! When I told them that we didn't eat pasta every day they almost perished at the thought!

Last night we went out to dinner with friends in Venice. I ate pig fat! It was called Lardo somethingini and is a regional specialty. I thought what the hell, I will try it. When the thin strips of white pig fat surrounded by crostini arrived in front of me I was having some doubts about my order. It was very white food. Not very pretty. But it was delicious, people! I am not kidding. I ate every bit of my pig fat and totally enjoyed it. Who would think that pig fat could be so complex in taste?...salty, but smoky and creamy at the same time.

Last night we went to the reputably best gelato in Venice. It had nothing on Pianegiani. Today wandering around the streets we found a cioccolateria. Exquisite chocolates. I was called VizioVirtu. If you are in Venice find this place!

Next stop Sicilia and ice cream for breakfast!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

L'arte della commedia

Last night I went to the Teatro Commune (the local theater). This is a beautiful little theater. It has boxes and is painted with gorgeous frescos and gold trim all around. It was a little opera house. Really pretty. I went with Fiorenza ( the mother of the Italian family I am staying with) and her sister Anna Maria.

When we arrived I thought some disaster had happened because there were a lot of Red Cross workers milling around and an ambulance. Come to find out that the concert was sponsored by the local Red Cross. The music was spirituals and gospel. The singers were both from Chicago. They sang a couple of songs from Porgy and Bess and Westside Story and some others. The gospel portion was gospel but the entire show was sung very operatic. No down home, earth shaking, rivers breaking soul happening. They did try and get the audience up and going with a finally rousing finale of "When the Saints go Marching In." The audience seemed confused but started clapping with a little singing. The male singer was fantastic but the women was not as good. I know the words, it was in Enligh for gods sake, but I could not understand anything she was singing. She was singing operatically with marbles in her mouth. The show was nice. It was even better to get out and see the town at night. I am usually home having dinner with the family, doing homework and watching television.

Of course there is always some nut in the theater. After intermission a woman sat down in front of us. She was half humming and half singing all the gospels while conducting her own orchestra. People were turning around in their seats and looking at her. She was that loud, but dirty looks did nothing to quiet her. She was a little crazy. It reminded me of the time I saw the Three Tenors at Dodger Stadium. (Go in Peace Pavorotti! Arrivederci!) The tickets cost a fortune but my hubby then boyfriend got a pair. I think he had to eat macs 'n cheese for the rest of the month. In front of us was a woman who sang every aria. I kid you not. She was drunk and her friend tried to get her to shut up because everyone was getting upset. She became belligerent and kept on singing. So we saw the Three Tenors and a Wino. Last night was Spirituali e Gospel con una pazza. Spirituals and Gospel with one crazy woman. You have got to love the theater. Everyone wants to be in on the act.

There is the most disgusting and hysterical commercial (pubblicita) on television. It is an animated commercial and begins showing a forest fire. Then a cute little squirrel watching the fire from a pine tree. The squirrel springs into action and grabs a pack of gum, takes a piece, and starts chewing. The gum is sooooooo cool and minty that he preceeds to FART enthusiastically ( yes fart) a cool and refreshing mist that creates a shower of snow that covers everything and puts out the forest fire. The commercial makes me laugh but I don't really want to chew a gum that gives me cool and refershing farts with the possibility of shooting snow out my ass.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ciao a Todi, Italia

Hello from Todi, Italy!

I am in Todi which is in Umbria. I am doing a language immersion for two weeks before my hubby meets up with me and we drive off to Venezia and fly down to Sicilia. I have been here almost a week. I am LOVING it!

Todi is the most beautiful town. It is an ancient town that goes beyond the Romans to the Etruscans. The town is on a hill and still has the medieval walls around it. This is the place where fairytales are written. Beautiful rolling hills with small cities rising out of the tops. Cathedrals and towers reaching for the sky full of puffy white clouds. Spread over the rolling hills are a patchwork of fields full of olives and grapevines. My words do not do justice to the beauty of this place.

Language immersion is difficult but worth it. I keep wondering why I have never done this before. I LOVE it! I had studied Italian as an undergraduate many moons ago. I have not travelled to Italy in 15 years. that should tell you something. I thought I might see some other parts of the world, but my heart resides in Italy. I am rusty to say the least but it is a joy when you can understand what someone is saying and a happiness I can't describe when the words come out of my mouth easily. This does not often happen...yet. Espero. I hope.

I really recommend going somewhere and learning the language. Anywhere. Don't be practical. Really how practical is Italian? It is for the love of the langauge and the sound of the words. Italian is lyrical, like a song. It is interesting to try and express yourself with a limited vocabulary, but I am trying to sing my song! In class today we sang Italian songs. Il Sole Mio, of course, was one of them.

The weather in this part of the country is usually very warm this part of the year but unseasonably cold weather rolled in. I didn't even bring a jacket that's how warm it should be. But it's been raining with a cold wind blowing through. So yesterday I found the shop with the yarn. I did bring the Lady Eleanor (entralac shawl) project with me, but I am using a yarn with linen and silk. I needed some wool and fast! I bought some yarn called Medusa. Love that name. I also learned that a jellyfish is called a medusa. The little old couple in the shop were so nice. Knitting needle is not one of my vocabulary words but I made myself understood. I have learned how to say to knit, which is fare a maglia o lavorare a maglia. This translates to to make a stitch or to work a stitch. As things would happen today was warmer but I will keep on working on my scarf (sciarpa). I am going to a concert tonight. I will bring my knitting but the Italians are serious about their music. I may be required to pay attention.

Oh man...I've got to check on my laundry so I will post more later.
Ciao tutti!