Friday, April 29, 2011

La mia bellissima avventura Italiana

We are back from our fantastic voyage to Italy! Along the way we snapped photos, drank great wine, enjoyed the most incredible food and collected memories that will last a lifetime. As I told my dear readers in a previous post, I, along with four other parents, were chaperones for my daughter’s choral group – The Silvertones – and although keeping track of 34 teenagers was sometimes a challenge, the kids were wonderful…respectful, deferential, and just a joy to be around. We were assisted in our endeavor by the most amazing guide, Stefania, who toured, translated, advised and advocated for us.

After many hours in the air we landed in Rome and boarded yet another plane to Milan. A bus picked us up in Milan and we were off to Bergamo where our home for the next three days would to a lovely seminary in the center of this delightful little town. We strolled through Bergamo and had a wonderful dinner at a local Trattoria where we devoured the most amazing ravioli ever.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed to Milan and visited the magnificent Duomo, which included a roof top tour and panoramic views of Milan...stunning. We toured Teatro alla Scala and the kids were fortunate enough to sing in this important and historic foundation of musical history. We sipped espresso in The Galleria, where we encountered the only rude waiter of the trip….you see, in Italy, it is considered an insult for the waiter to present the “conto” (bill) before the guest asks for it. We did not ask for it!

On Sunday, it was off to the Lake Como town of Varenna where we visited the beautiful gardens of Villa Carlotta and strolled through the charming streets of Bellagio. During these visits, The Silvertones delighted tourists and local residents with impromptu concerts....very special. Their little arias were always greeted with grateful and enthusiastic applause. The kids officially performed for the first time on Sunday evening in Bergamo at the Basilica of Santa Maris Maggiore....the programs were stranded with some other diverted travelers, but their beautiful voices did not really require the written details.

On Monday, we left the seminary and headed off to Lake Garda where we stayed at Villa Maria Elisabetta, a beautiful convent that offered the most amazing waterfront views. After getting settled, we headed off to Limone where we blissfully sipped Limoncello (by we I mean the chaperones)! This little town offered breathtaking views of the Alps, the Lake, and the quaint little (and palatial) villas that dotted the shore.

Tuesday brought us to magnificent Malcesine, the honeymoon spot of one of our fellow chaperones…. it was fun to listen to fond memories unfold. Then, off to Verona, the picturesque hometown of “Romeo and Juliet”…the girls all wrote letters to slip into the crevasses of Juliet’s wall but were later disappointed to learn that the wall was a fictional wishing well, created for the movie “Letters to Juliet.” At dinner that evening at Taverna di Via Stella, we had the most incredible risotto made with Amarone wine. I weaseled the recipe out of the waiter and will make the same soon (don’t worry, I’ll post the recipe!). Amarone is a concentrated, rich, dark and dry wine with full bodied-flavors and is made in Veneto, the same region that makes Valpolicella. We also had the most delicious rabbit stew and, as trite as this may sound, it really does taste like chicken. Later, The Silvertones wowed everyone with their second planned concert in Sant’ Anastasia’s Church. The acoustics were so amazing that their voices lingered for seven seconds after they stopped singing…can you say goose pumps?

Words cannot begin to describe the splendor of Lake Garda, our Wednesday destination. Absolutely spectacular views….I will let the photos tell the story! We cruised the lake and docked in Sirmione. Before visiting Rocca Scaligera castle and The Grotte Di Catullo, we took a break and had a cappuccino in a charming little waterfront café that served our treats in the cutest little bicycle-clad cups! Later that evening, The Silvertones performed their third planned concert at the Church of San Francesco after which we returned to the convent. The kids wanted to have a little party but the curfew the nuns imposed put the kybosh on that idea! Pity.

We departed for Vincenza on Thursday where we took in the incredible views of a Palladio’s famous street-scape stage at Theatro Olimpico, then we boarded a bus to tour Padova. While there, we visited the famous frescos created by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, including the beautiful (but disturbing) The Last Judgment. We were, at last, heading to Venice where we visited the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San Marco, crossed the Rialto Bridge, and strolled along the streets of Dorsoduro, a picturesque Venetian neighborhood unlike any “hood” I’ve ever lived in! Did you know that Venice is built on a series of wooden logs? Over the years, the minerals in the water petrified the wood and the logs are now as hard as stone. Now you know! And oh, there are no dryers in Italy....everyone hangs their wash out to dry!

While in Venice, The Silvertones sang Easter mass at the Basilica of SS Giovannii & Paolo and, later that evening performed their final concert at the Church of San Salvador. It was special, but even more moving was the spontaneous concert outside the church afterwards…a huge crowd gathered, everyone was snapping pictures, taking videos and cheering “bravo”…what an indelible experience!

Click here to hear the Silvertones singing .

Click here to hear the Silvertones singing

I hope you enjoy my little photo journey. I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted you to enjoy the trip as much as I did, albeit vicariously. This was my second trip to my (half) ancestral homeland and it will not be my last…I can promise my dear readers that!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Interventionists

It was Architect’s turn to cook on Tuesday and she cooked alright but she brought the dish to my house so that she and Foodie could participate in an intervention. Today I am leaving to be a chaperone for my daughter’s choral group which will visit Italy. Every other year the Silvertones travel to Italy to sing in the magnificent Duomos scattered throughout the county and this year the group will tour Bergamo, Venice, and Milan. It is a much anticipated trip and I am told that the Italians enjoy hosting the Silvertones as much as they enjoy singing for them…apparently their performances bring many to tears!

Back to the intervention…

You see, I am a notorious over packer and since the group will be regularly on-the-go during the trip, over packing is NOT an option. So I surrendered to my dinner pals who have been on this trip before to let them purge my planned piles. Regardless of how cute they are, I do not need to bring my leopard pumps, unless....

Here is the before pile....

Here is the after pile. NO difference!! Not a thing purged…see, I can learn!

My approach was to go monochromatic with some pops of color so I can repurpose the same black or grey basics with any number of items. I bought these great t-shirts from Hanes that are thinner and will hand wash nicely and dry quickly so I can layer. Only three pairs of shoes planned. There may be some stowaways…I’m just saying.

Architect brought an outstanding vegetable lasagna, Foodie was unfortunately otherwise detained, and I popped open a bottle of nice Italian Chianti. I set the table on Monday night so it would be lovely hoping my interventionists would be momentarily distracted and show mercy. The napkins and small vases, a Mother’s Day gift from daughters, are from Williams Sonoma. The napkin rings, candle and candle holder, Pier 1, the bee plates, April Cornell and the white plates, Target. My garden produced the beautiful daffodils and the gold forsythia is clipped from a neighbor’s garden.

Vegetable Lasagna

7 oz lowfat goat cheese
1/3 cup chopped pitted black olives
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp minced garlic
4 cups prepared pasta sauce
1 lb whole-wheat lasagna (Architect made her own!)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 small zucchini, diced
2 small summer squash, diced
3/4 cup bottled roasted red pepper, diced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
print a shopping list for this recipe
Heat oven to 375°F. Mix goat cheese, olives, thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Spread 1 cup pasta sauce on the bottom of an 8" x 11" baking dish. Add one layer of lasagna and season with black pepper. Add a layer of zucchini, squash, and red pepper. Dollop spoonfuls of goat cheese mixture over vegetables and spread to cover. Repeat layers, finishing with pasta and sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan on top, cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 minutes or until top browns. Let stand 10 minutes; serve.

No posts from me for two weeks. Sister and older daughter, who will be at the house watching Stella, may guest post! Have my newly arrived copy of "Gone With A Handsomer Man" by Michael Lee West to read on the plane!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chicken with Sautéed Leeks

I am happy to report that our Tuesday evening rendezvous has resumed. It was Foodie’s turn to cook and earlier in the day she gave Architect and me full disclosure that she was ready and willing to host but that she was coming down with some sort of bug. Architect and I sent emails back, almost simultaneously, that we both fully intended to brave any potential microbes to enjoy a meal together…..I think we all missed our Tuesday evening retreat.

Foodie made Chicken Breasts with Sautéed Leeks served on a bed of Spinach accompanied with Asparagus Risotto…YUM! The meal was, of course, delicious, but the company satisfied a hankering that only being with the girls can…are you smelling what I’m cooking? We caught up, laughed, talked about an upcoming concert (remember the Mavericks?), and Foodie helped me to decipher a convoluted (for me) knitted instruction. It was really quite simple after she explained it (I felt kind of dim-witted, actually)…I am a kinesthetic learner – I learn by doing!

To prepare this meal, Foodie chopped and sautéed the leeks in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. For those of you who don't cook much with leeks, it is a root vegetable in the onion family. The bulb of the leek is edible as well as the light green portion of the stalk, very much like a scallion. Some describe leeks as a cross between an onion and a cucumber and they are delicious sautéed, tossed in a salad or pureed into a soup! When a recipe calls for onions, try half chopped leeks and half onions for a more subtle, but sweet, flavor! You should let leeks sit for a few minutes after slicing and before cooking them. Why you ask...according to “The most beneficial compounds in an onion or a leek, are separated by the cells' walls. The act of slicing the onion or leek ruptures these walls and releases compounds... which then combine to form a powerful new disease-fighting compound: thiopropanal sulfoxide. You want to give the compound time to fully develop and concentrate before heating.” Who knew! Maybe some of my dear readers with science backgrounds can elaborate?

To plate, Foodie prepared a bed of sautéed spinach, topped it with the chicken that was lightly pan fried, and sprinkled the duo with the sautéed leeks and homemade sourdough breadcrumbs. How pretty is this dish?

I have not mentioned this, but I leave for Italy next week for ten days. I will be sure to return with lots of wonderful recipe ideas and wine choices – and souvenirs!

Image of the leeks from Google images.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Consuming Biscuits

I am reading a delightful book called Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West. It is the author’s quirky true tale of family, food and frolics growing up in the south. I feel like I know the characters whose personalities just leap off the pages as the author memorializes the antics and traditions of this obviously close-knit family.

Sprinkled amidst her stories, the author shares family recipes and one recipe in particular caught my eye…”Mimi’s Buttermilk Biscuits.” Mimi is the author’s dear grandmother and the women folk in the family feared that the matriarch took the biscuit recipe with her to the grave. However, the author’s Mama proclaimed she knew it “by heart” and one day following an aunt’s funeral, she taught the author how to make the coveted biscuits!

Mimi’s Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cold, unsalted butter
1 cup of buttermilk

“Preheat the oven to 450°. Butter two 8 x 8 x 2-inch square glass pans. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Cut in the cold butter. When the flour and butter mixture is crumbly, pour in the buttermilk. Stir. Turn the dough onto a floured board and pat down to a ½ inch thickness. A light touch is recommended—biscuits don’t like lots of handling. Using a biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits. Heat the glass pans, then add the biscuits (they can touch each other – they like togetherness). Bake 12-15 minutes until brown.”

I made these yummy little gems Sunday night, but my dough was not as stiff as it should have been, so I had to make drop biscuits….they were, none-the-less, delicious! If you don’t have buttermilk, never fear….just add a teaspoon of white vinegar to milk and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. I baked them on my trusty pizza stone...also, next time I will use real buttermilk!

All you biscuit makers out there...any suggestions what I should have done differently with the dough.....less liquid?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Accidental Knitter

I browse for many of my knitting ideas (sometimes that’s just what they remain – ideas…my projects occasionally sit for a spell because I am not a fast knitter). Regardless, there are some great patterns on the site. Some patterns are free, others require a nominal charge and a PDF of the pattern appears in your “favorites” on the site…did I mention that the site is like a knitter’s social network, complete with chats, favorites, shops, commentary, etc…? Sometimes (just when you think you found the perfect pattern), the site merely refers the knitting explorer to a periodical in which the pattern was published……this can be annoying, especially if the magazine was published in the last decade! Well, such was the case recently…however, not easily discouraged….I clicked a new tab, moseyed myself over to, typed in “knit simple fall 2008” and to my downright amazement, a copy appeared for sale! Since I have an account, I quickly purchased the available copy (before it sold out because you just never know who, besides me, might be searching for the Fall 2008 edition of Knit Simple).

This particular edition is a treasure trove of patterns and information. In addition to the pattern of my original desire, a SIMPLE V-neck vest, there are sweaters, swing jackets, scarves, crafts, felt bags, hats, gloves, etc…. Of course, there is information on knitting basics and a marketplace for knitting supplies and yarn. This is a delightful (and useful) publication.
I get a little frustrated when a pattern isn’t readily available on, but in this case, I was accidentally pleased because instead of just one pattern to simply print out on an 8 ½ x 11” sheet of plain, white paper, I received a book full of inspiration!

BTW…I have begun to knit the vest with a silky-bamboo blend yarn from Caron called “Spa” in a lovely pastel blue/green “Ocean Spray.” I know what you’re thinking.

Be nice.