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Cooking Class with the Accidental Tourist October 29, 2008

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San Grignano

San Grignano

Last Thursday, while in Italy, I took a cooking class.  The tour company is called The Accidental Tourist (www.accidentaltourist.com) and it was fantastic.  Our guide, Jesse, was very good.  I would wager to say that the day was one of the most fun we had while in Italy and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something to do while visiting Tuscany.

Where the Olive Oil Rests & Ages

Where the Olive Oil Rests & Ages

We did the full day.  In the morning, they picked us up in Florence and drove us out into the Tuscan hillside to the first villa and vineyard.  This villa was amazing.  It is currently owned by a family in the fashion business in Milan that uses it solely as a vacation home a couple times a year and bought it because making wine was a hobby.  We got the tour of San Grignano and learned how they make olive oil and wine.

The Wine

The Wine

It was very interesting and I can see why people would like wine as a hobby.  I also would say I have a much greater appreciation for wine and olive oil.  It takes nearly a year and a half to produce wine from the time the grapes have been picked to the point it is ready for people to drink.  And it takes so many olives to produce olive oil.  One olive tree on average produces 2 liters of olive oil.  Now I know why it is so expensive.  Make sure from now on when you are buying you get olive oil that was produced and bottled in Italy.

All the Wine We Tried

All the Wine We Tried

After the ‘how-to’ tour, we drove down to the next villa where we had a wine tasting and olive oil tasting to try everything we just learned about.  Most wine tastings are a sip of this and a sip of that.  This on the other hand was a glass of each.  Needless to say the majority of the small group was pretty intoxicated by the end of the tasting. Lesson Learned: make sure to eat breakfast before going to a wine tasting in the morning.  Though I did try everything, I can’t say that I care for wine.  However, my palate is learning how to identify the various flavors wine can have.  I was pretty impressed with myself 🙂

Our Ravioli

Our Ravioli

After the wine, we went to villa number 3.  This used to be a watch tower built in the 1100s for the castle down the road.  The family that owns it had added on more living space about 300 years ago.  It was everything you woule ever imagine a Tuscan villa to be (aside from the very modern, stainless appliances and plasma television).  People live in this house and we used their basement for our cooking class and learned how to make fresh pasta.  We made taglietelle and spinach & ricotta ravioli.  While we were making pasta downstairs, Cristiana was upstairs cooking the rest of our meal.  We joined her later to have an amazing dinner.  It started with a cauliflower something, a zucchini fritatta, and homemade pizza.  Then she cooked our ravioli and noodles for us.  I have to say, they were pretty good.  Then for dessert we had the most amazing tiramasiu (and I don’t generally care for it).

Overall, it was a fantastic day….good food and good company.  So if you get the chance, try this one out and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

The Vatican October 29, 2008

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St. Peter's

St. Peter's

One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  I could tell you a million things about it but what I’m most impressed with is the scale in which it was built.  When you are inside, everything is proportioned so well that it doesn’t feel like it is nearly as big as it is.  It is enormous.  There is not another Catholic cathedral in the world that could not be contained within St. Peter’s walls.

When in Rome, don’t miss this.  It is right up there with the Colosseum and Forum.

Politics in Cinque Terra, Italy October 29, 2008

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As Seen In Cinque Terra, Italy

As Seen In Cinque Terra, Italy

Over the last two weeks I have been asked many times if I prefer Obama or McCain.  Obviously by now you know that I’m for Obama.  It seems as though most everyone I’ve talked to is also for Obama.

As Americans, I feel that too often we are oblivious to the fact that our politics affect the rest of the world greatly.  Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be more concerned with our elections than most of the people I know here.

Monday morning on the train, I was speaking to an Italian woman and she asked me about who I supported and she smiled when I answered and said that she hoped Obama won as well.  Then she said, “McCain just seems too much like Bush.  I can understand the first time Bush was elected was a mistake but you did it a second time and that cannot be overlooked.  I hope for your sake that your country makes the right decision this time.”

I hope for the world’s sake that we make the right decision this time as well.  We are in a delicate position with foreign relations right now and it is more important than ever to make your voice heard and vote.

Oh How I Love to Eat October 28, 2008

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So as many of you know, I love to eat.  I have eaten my way through Germany and Italy over the last two weeks and it was fantastic.

Jagerschnitzel & Spaetzle

Jagerschnitzel & Spaetzle

We got to Germany Tuesday and went to eat some schnitzel. (That was my prime mission for my entire visit to Germany and I accomplished it fairly early on)  We went to the roten ox restaurant.  (I’m sure that S will be correcting me on that one.  But I’m sparing myself embarrassing spelling errors)  I had Jagerschnitzel and spaetzle and this delicious salad.  It had all sorts of vegetables and real German potato salad.  I learned today what one of the vegetable salads is…At least I think I do.  I think the white unknown was a celery salad.  I also had Heidelberg Hefeweissen with my meal.  At just the temperature I enjoy it.

The food wasn’t quite what I expected from Germany.  It was better.  I don’t know why I was expecting plain, bland food but everything I had was very good and it comes in these enormous portions.  A certain co-worker would have been impressed with my leftovers each night.

Maultauschen

Maultauschen

We had one night at the ‘really good restaurant’ and my mom had the clear winner of a dish.  It was called maultauschen (sp??).  It is the specialty dish of Heidelberg.  They are these delicious little vegetable and meat filled dumplings baked in butter and cream topped with melted cheese.  Amazing.

While in Triberg I had a tasty dish as well.  I’m not sure what the German name is but the English translation is gratinized veal.  Basically a little cheesy veal dish

Our last afternoon there we went to the restaurant that A describes as sub-par but you get a lot of food and it is cheap.  It was definitely two of the three.  8.50Euros for so much food but it was really good.  We all had the schnitzel, tomato soup, salad, and french fries.  I’m still amazed at how much food showed up at our table.

Now on to Italy…..

Gelato…I love gelato and I think I had at least a dozen new flavors.  I still can’t pick a favorite so I’ll continue to try new ones.

We had quite a bit more time to eat my way through Italy.  I was rather disappointed in Tony’s.  I had such high hopes for the best lasagna in the world and his restaurant has gotten really busy in the last couple years and I feel like the quality has gone down a little bit.  It was still good.  Just not as good as it used to be.

I can’t even remember most of Rome.  I had some spicy pasta one night that was good.  And I had some chicken and spaghetti one night too.

walnut ravioli

walnut ravioli

Florence is where I like to eat.  We went to Borgo Antico in Piazza Santo Spirito.  They have this delicious spicy spaghetti but I opted for something new this time.  Ravioli di patate.  So Good that I actually went back and had it again before I left.

A favorite from last time was the walnut ravioli from Za-Za’s and it didn’t let me down.

We even had a couple fancy meals with meat.  I had a balsamic steak one evening that was quite good.  I should try to make the blueberry balsamic myself.  One night at the fancy restaurant I had a steak and ‘spicy’ vegetables.  I’m not sure if something was lost in the translation but they were not spicy.

All in all, I successfully ate myself through a couple countries.  There were no missed meals and amazingly enough I could always eat more.  I learned how to make some pretty good pasta and stuff so I will continue to eat the way I am enjoying to right now.  Come over and try some if you want!

Lack of Pictures October 20, 2008

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I know I have promised pictures but I forgot my cord so I do apologize and will do it when I get home.

However, things are good here.  We have been in Rome all weekend and are heading to Florence tomorrow.  Germany was very nice….rainy and brisk like fall should be.  I would definitely like to go back and have the chance to see more.  We have seen everything possible in Rome….and I am tired.  Ready for a break.

Food has been pretty tasty.  Though Tonys was not as good as I remembered it …. that was very sad.