Saturday, April 29, 2006


these gorgeous creatures come from a seed that was carried all the way from sudan to tuscany. planted in a tuscan garden many years ago, this tree bursts will golden grapefruit for months! as i took photographs i was eaten alive by tiny ants that were crawling on every limb of the tree. needless to say, the glamour of the moment didn’t last very long!

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Friday, April 28, 2006


or, the art of making do with whatcha got, italian style!
when there isn’t enough room on your grill for all of the stuff you have to bar-b-que, use a wheelbarrow! that’s what we did last weekend and it grilled to perfection!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006


better known as asparagus to most people, but in kiddie lingo i can confirm that it is actually called aspergrass. other common vocabulary i used when i was a wee child includes spasghetti (spaghetti) and liebelly (library). i am sure most people have their own personal set of kiddie vocabulary. anyways, last monday we went to the town of pereta in tuscany; the area of maremma to be exact. and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. those soft rolling hills south of siena are my favorite in all of tuscany. we went to celebrate the birthday of a good friend of mine. her father is an amazing cook therefore an excellent food supply was not lacking. a friend of the family brought a supply of fresh asparagus as a present. they had been picked that morning and came from a farm that uses 37 degree celcius thermal water to water the luscious green stems! i have had asparagus sauteed, bolied, steamed and baked, but this was the first time i ate them grilled. there is something about the grilling on an open fire that makes them taste even better than usual. they are crisp and smokey on the outside and burst with their natural flavor when bitten into. we devoured them grilled to perfection and dipped in a dressing of oil, lemon and salt.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006


glicine, or wisteria in english, is everywhere right now. climbing on walls, covering verandas and filling the air with its divine perfume. it is an incredible challenge to try and describe the scent of wisteria. to me it is sweet and bitter, citrus and honey, cool and penetrating.......curious fact: it belongs to the pea family!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006


as was browsing through the paper back exchange english bookstore today i came across this fun find. it gives a brief history behind the street names in florence. this book is probably not something you would carry with you if you are touring around florence for the first time. i would assume that rick steve’s, fodor’s or let’s go might be your companions instead. however, when you live here you can’t get enough of curious little historical facts. for example, on many street signs you will see two different street names: the current name and the old name. and it can be interesting to understand that a street was called tintori (dyers) because at one time they dyed wool in that road. or onesta’ (which means honesty) is where the onesta’ department of the city government resided. the department was made up of "eight citizens who were supposed to oversee public morality"!. a lot of names are of course very straight forward like antinori where the antinori family had several houses or terme (thermal baths) where the roman thermal baths were. if you want to add useful and some useless informational tidbits to your journey through florence, this is a great resource!

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Monday, April 17, 2006


my trusted butcher at the san lorenzo market is the man i go to for all my carnivorous needs. last week i went to order a leg of lamb for easter lunch. since they couldn’t prepare it immediately, my leg of lamb was reserved with my name on it, literally!

when i got there they were busy carving and chopping and prepping all sorts of yummy pieces of meat. the best seller for easter however is of course lamb. mine was to be boned and then seasoned with a salt rub of sage, rosemary, wild fennel and bay leaves. the secret touch is the “rettina” (fatty tissue of the animal) that they carefully wrap the seasoned meat in. this preparation is fool proof even if you have never cooked lamb in your life. the prepared roast should be seared on a very high flame for 5 minutes on all sides and then slow cooked with an inch of red wine in the pot for one hour. the only problem was that when i reached for the lamb on sunday morning, it hadn’t been preped at all - it was only deboned. so much for having a trusted butcher! after i got past my fit of anger, i seasoned the meat with fresh garlic cloves and a mixture of 16 herbs that i bought from a butcher in the dolomites last christmas. then i followed the same technique of searing and slow cooking in red wine. the result was finger licking good. but by the time i remembered to take a picture, there wasn’t any left. i realize that the above mentioned recipe is impossible to follow! so check out this article for some proper recipe ideas.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

DA IST SCHOEN or in this case, shun

“da ist schoen” is german for “that is great”, which is exactly what these knives are. my official knife supplier is my father. over the years he has given me an assortment of these irreplaceable tools that i proudly display and use in the kitchen. my first knife was a wusthof chef knife which has travelled with me from venice to florence and has seen many a sharpening by my local knife sharpening man. the latest addition to my collection comes from shun and is a santoku, or a japanese chef knife. now i really don’t know a lot about knives but i know what i like and what feels good in my hands. the first time i used my new shun was like using a new pair of fine leather gloves that you can’t even feel because they are so comfortable. when doing some research on the shun collection i discovered that 1. they come from seki city in japan which is famous for the production of samurai swords (so they gotta be good, right?!) and 2. alton brown (from the food network) created a collection with shun called “alton’s angles” where he modified the shun forms to make it easier to chop veggies without banging your knuckles on the cutting surface. these knives also have a very durable blade and are dishwasher safe. however, i could never bring myself to putting any of my knives in the dishwasher. according to the 1st golden rule in knife maintenance as per my father, my knives get hand washed!
last summer i worked in the kitchen of a restaurant that was set up for a local fair. the knives were so bad that we would go home at night with aching arms, throbbing hands and blisters! i do realize that i am spoiled by my coveted knife collection at home that has never caused me any pain but once you’ve tasted some of the best, it’s hard to go back!

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Sunday, April 09, 2006


isn’t there a movie or a book called "the remains of the day"? anyways, the remains of the banana bread i baked today are in the pictures above and below. i know banana bread is not very italian. in fact, most italians who had never tried it look at me like i’m nuts when i offer it to them! but today it was the perfect accompaniment to a sunday brunch in the sunshine at my friend m.’s house. it went down very well and without complaints! the recipe comes from my best friend j. in minneapolis. i have been using this recipe for the past 15 years. it’s foolproof and rich as hell.

here’s the recipe:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar

add and mix well:
1 egg

add and mix:
1/2 cup sour cream

sift together and mix into the batter:
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup flour

puree and add:
3 large ripe bananas

sprinkle the top with cinnamon and brown sugar. pour the batter into a buttered and floured bread pan. bake at 175 degrees celcius (or 350 farenheit) for 45 minutes. let cool and serve up in slices!

variations i use are:
1/2 cup walnuts chopped in large chunks, 1 shot whiskey, fresh orange or lemon peel. i almost always add the walnuts and the whiskey and i highly recommend this variation!

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Saturday, April 08, 2006


as i was making breakfast this morning, this is what i saw out of our kitchen window...........

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Thursday, April 06, 2006


this view gives a whole new meaning to taking a shower! our bathroom window is in our shower and looks out over these fields..............i know: we are so lucky.........and for those of you who are planning on bombing this blog (you know who you are!) why don't you get on a flight and come and enjoy some of this with us??!!

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006


about 25 minutes east of florence on the road to pontassieve is a fantastic destination for everything from sunday emergency groceries, to a quick panino or a sit down meal with bistecca alla fiorentina. in fact, la bottega di rosano always packed with customers. the staff is friendly and knowledgable and even sell fresh bread on a sunday, which is a rare treat - no bakeries in the city are open on sundays.

i am a bread monster and could live on bread alone, but tuscany is the only region in italy that makes bread without salt so it is not something i am crazy about. the absence of salt is uncomprehensible to me eventhough i know it has historical significance. in a nutshell: at some point in history the tax on salt was raised by the italian government and the tuscans decided to rebel and stopped putting salt in their bread! however i have to admit that the saltless tuscan bread they sell at rosano is a tasty exception, especially when accompanied by some wild boar sausage and fresh pecorino cheese. and that is exactly what we did last sunday! the bread has a thick crunchy crust with a dense but light core. we continued with artichokes that had been grilled and then marinated in proper tuscan olive oil. since we were having a bistecca fiorentina for our main course we shared a plate of homemade gnocchi served with broccoli and gorgonzola cheese - divine! we also shared an order of artichokes stuffed with pecorino cheese. of course each course was accompanied by fine red wines from different regions of italy! so if you find yourself in forence on a sunny sunday afternoon and you feel like a drive into the eastern countryside, i highly recommend heading towards la bottega di rosano for a snack and a shop up! their small grocery store is well stocked with top quality cheeses, salami, oil, wine, fresh vegetables, pasta and more. your other option is to reserve for lunch and to treat yourself to a bistecca fiorentina!

la bottega di rosano
trattoria e panini
via 1 maggio, 10
rosano, firenze
tel: 055.8303013

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006


there are so many exciting flavors and colors that bloom with the spring season. the list is endless and i can think of a million things i’d like to write about. but let’s start with one today. well actually, two items: fresh garlic and artichokes. both items have just started appearing at the fruit and veggie vendors. some italians will say that it’s too early and that you shouldn’t buy them yet. i took a risk.

fresh garlic is easier to digest and more delicate in flavor that the aged garlic you can find all year. i find it has a sweet pungent flavor. its moist bulb extends from a long green stem which actually looks a lot like a leek. in fact, garlic is in the onion family. the individual cloves are not fully formed so the garlic can be chopped into random pieces. some like to eat it raw and julienne on a simple tomato pasta dish. i used it to make sauteed artichokes last night.

easy and yummy artichokes:

6 artichokes, cleaned and cut into 6 wedges each
1/8 head of fresh garlic cut into chunks or sliced fine (i left it in chunks)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. salt
pepper (to taste)
1/8 cup parsley, chopped fine

heat oil in a deep pot with a heavy cover (i used my trusty calphalon pot. the pot needs to be wide enough so that all of the artichoke slices touch the bottom). add garlic and brown. add artichokes, salt, pepper and parsley. cover and cook for 20-25 minutes on low heat. the artichokes will cook in their own water. however, if need be, add a tablespoon of water as they cook. when they are done uncover and saute’ on high flame for a couple of minutes.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006


we had painters in our house for three days so we decided to abandon ship and to spend some time with one of my best friends at his house in the countryside. this friend of mine is a chef and his abode is fully equipped with live hens, ducks and fresh eggs. as usual, we had some fabulous food and plenty of laughs. on the eve of our departure my friend announced that he needed some help butchering 2 chickens and 1 duck. the beasts were getting old so it was time to put an end to their misery. since it was something i had never done before i enthusiastically volunteered to help. following this experience, i can say that i think it is something all meat eaters should do at least once in their lifetime. it gives a whole new perspective to biting into a piece of meat! i am hesitant about putting all of the gory details and pictures of guts and testicles in a post, so i am publishing just a couple of the “cleaner“ images and saving the details for anyone who is curious enough to e-mail me about their queries.

it took us 3 hours to do the butchering which included the guillotine, the hot water bath, the plucking, the gutting and the cleaning. the amazing thing is that every single part of the bird is conserved and used in various traditional country recipes like: “collo ripieno” - stuffed chicken neck, “crostini” - liver pate’, “cibreo” - a famous restaurant in florence and an antique florentine dish made from giblets. following country cooking rules, the only things we threw away were the beaks and the innards. even the intestines were cleaned and kept for rustic pasta sauce (cleaning those was definitely the biggest nasal challenge i have had in a long time!).

there is a good chance that the next time we spend an evening with my friend we’ll be eatin’ those birds!

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