Curious Appetite

Travel Adventures

Vacation on Elba Island, Tuscany

I love that in Italy, August is the national month of vacation. Towards the end of July, people go around saying “I’ll see you in September!” and this appreciation for leisure is partly why the Italian life is so hard to give up.

I went to Elba for a week. I’m not going to bore you with cultural facts and history (boring!).

My idea of a vacation is eating, working out (on getting a wicked sweet tan aka lying on the beach), drinking and lounging. And not feeling guilty for having brioche everyday at breakfast overlooking the sea. Fresh fruit and sweet island baby tomatoes. Crisp minerally wine. FISH. Oh man, I learned how to make octopus! I’ll make that adventure in a new post.

Elba island is off the Tuscan coast and can be reached easily by ferry from Piombino. It is one of the most authentic vacation spots with thriving fishing villages. Their wine and agriculture sector is exploding and bursting with deliciousness. The weather is perfect for ripe wine grapes and catches the perfect amount of breeze from the sea. The summer fruit like peaches and susine are simply incredible and juicy. However, this is not historic. In the sense that, Elba was originally a mining center and agriculture is just now starting to take root. If you are an Italophile like me, I highly recommend a stay in Portoferraiofor a real taste of Italian island life off the typical tourist path. If you do, do not miss a visit to one of the most beautiful wine bars I have ever been to in my life: Enoteca della Fortezza. They showcase Slow Food Italy wines from Elba and it is so not expensive! And you can get small platters and purchase bottles of wine on-site. Of course, you can sit outside with a view of the sea…che bellezza!

Enjoy the slide show!

Island cherry sweet tomatoes! Like candy!
Fishing man at the beach!
Gnocchi with clams and porcini
Fish antipasto platter- this Island got me hooked on octopus (literally!)
Pistachio semifreddo! It’s like a creamy pistachio ice-cream cake!
olive tree?…probably not. Still pretty, though!
Elba Rosso, Elba White and Rosato- at Slow Food Italy Enoteca Fortezza dei Medici. Best Cantina of the Year! (in my book;)
Bubbly and oysters- made me think of home:) These slippery umami pearls of gold were pretty damn good!
Rocky beaches! Off the beaten path!
Beautiful views from the shore! Not for the faint of vertigo!
Seriously one of the coolest vespas I have ever seen…

Food and Drink in Venice

For the longest time, I refused to visit Venice. Once I learned that there is only one Venetian for every hundred tourists, I had no desire to be apart of that statistic. Tourists are a necessary good in the world, but in cities like Venice and Florence, we become exhausting to the locals. Can you imagine living in a city that is a disneyland with people blocking your commute with their wanderlost stuck in a map or drooling with their heads cocked up at some random monument? Blocking the paths while posing for their obsession with documenting every single detail (um, has anyone ever tried to guess how many millions of other people have that same token shot off the Rialto bridge?) GOSH! C’mon!

Anyways….

I decided to break my boycott.

Stuffed octopus, olives, baccalà mantecato and calamari salad. A typical plate of Venetian cicheti. Must have been all the Spritz that caused this dizzy pic 😉 

What I took away: Spritz and cichèti! YUMMM!!!! I discovered the glorious world of cichèti! Cichèti is Venetian finger food (like tapas!). It’s the revolution of the tavola calda, the mecca of the happy hour, the game changer of the aperitivo and paradise for seafood lovers and the hell for anyone with shellfish allergies. I feel so sorry for those people.

Drink: Spritz is a Venetian cocktail comprised of a bitter liqueur (campari, aperol, cynar, etc) prosecco and soda water.

Street bar food and drink: 3 euro Cynar Spritz and Potato Chips

Cost? In Florence, a spritz can be like 6€ (screw that!!!) in Venice, if you get out of the crap tourist traps, you’ll pay no more than 3€ and they are the best in Venice. My favorite was the Cynar variety (a bitter amaro liqueur made from artichoke, so good for your liver?).

A cynar spritz is served with one of those delicious fatty green olives and a slice of lemon. Perfect for potato chips and general sipping. Or, for many Venetians, perfect for that 11am pick-me-up. 😉

What I found most odd was the Venetian style of gazzosa, which is usually a soft drink like a lemon soda, etc. But what I drank in Venice included a light local red wine with sprite. EWWW you might think (as did I) but on a warm day on the lagoon, it’s not so bad.

Basically, cicheterie have a drool worthy spread of various first courses and fishy dishes like stuffed octopus, calamari salad, baccalà and polenta, baccalà mantecato (a puree of cod), baked mussels, scallops, pine nut and raisin laced sardines…the list is making me hungry just re-hashing it.

Do you have any favorite nibbles and sips from Venice? Share! 🙂

Until next time,

Curious Appetite

Want some restaurant and general travel advice for visiting Venice? Perhaps tips for a culinary tour in Venice? Contact me.

Tastes of London- I’ve come around…

Last time I was in London, I ragged pretty hard on the food culture in this post. How can you blame me- I live in Italy ferchrissake. However, I returned in May to be greeted with a brand new view. I realized, the food culture in London is better in certain ways than in Italy. GASP!!!! HOW DARE I??? The English??? Better food culture??

Wait, wait just hear me out! I have a few reasons. Some of the most celebrated chefs have come out of the UK. Nigella, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, just to name a few big wigs in the food world. 2nd reason: The youth is leading and taking charge of the artisan, slow food movement in the UK. In Italy, everyone talks about the cute mom and pop bakeries that start rolling out dough at midnight in order to have fresh breakfast pastries and bread by dawn. But key word: mom and pop. Pay attention the next time you are in Italy in these wine shops, veggie stands, bakeries, banco mobili (food carts) selling lampredotto or porchetta. They are sadly mostly in a similar (older) age bracket. Due to the idea that there is little opportunity left for the Italian youth, a large percentage (of the youth) are fleeing this country at an alarming rate and not following behind their parents slow food from scratch ways. Instead, the food supply is increasingly becoming monopolized by questionable entities, and in come regions affected by polluted water ways from illegal dumping and improper municipal waste management (by more questionable entities) which eventually seep into the food system. Afterall, water is the principle ingredient in the feed for crops and livestock. You have polluted water, you have polluted soil. If given a choice, I would much rather purchase mozzarella di bufala produced in Devon (UK) than from Campania (Southern Italy).

This time in London, I was refreshed by the amount of youth working at these artisan food markets. Even delighted that I found various young Italians as slow food purveyors, too. Struck by this reality, I returned to Florence only to notice I was one of the few young people on the morning commuter bus. But also discovered how fortunate I am to have a job in Italy and even more determined to not give up on Italy and the necessity to the positives or else if I do, with everyone else, many things that the world loves about Italy will be flushed downstream, just like toxins polluting the precious mozzarella.

That being said, here is a slideshow of what I found during my last trip. Enjoy:)

Cheese. amazing cheese. cheese that will make you drunk.
Borough Market vs Mercato Centrale. Of course Italy wins.
Swedish brain looking (blue) cheese! Amazing!
even deer salami! So yummy!
Makes me miss the PNW fish scene at Pike Place!
Hake! You gotta creature lurking in your mouth:/
love the baked goodies!
My first pastry pie- beer and beef w minty mushy peas by Pieminster
Buns that will go straight to your buns! 😛
CORAL MUSHROOMS!!! 🙂
Craft ale and smokey stout. I love England.
Pulled pork sandwich at the Real Food Festival by Jamie Oliver
My 1st sunday roast in the UK! Lamb, cabbage, yorkshire pudding (puff pastry on top) w duck fat roasted potatoes. And of course, craft beer.
At home (well, someones) making bacon wrapped dates stuffed with manchego. I enjoyed being able to find international cheeses and turkish dates in UK. Italy can be very Italian food centric.

Homemade fresh pasta and wild boar ragù

A lot of people I know who like Italian food love pasta. It is the cornerstone of Italian cuisine, it is what makes Italian cuisine, at least modern-day Italian. I go through phases of shunning carbs and gluten but during the winter months like January and February- I can’t seem to help myself.

Recently I have had to attend some culinary dinner events which included pasta making top chef-like challenges. So after one weekend of an event I borrow a pasta maker because I’m really curious if I can do it on my own after observing it at these events. All I gotta do is look up a recipe, give me a machine and I’ll figure it out, right?

So I call a pal to see if she is game for an afternoon of pasta making. She trumps my request by adding that we make our fresh pasta with a ragù of cinghiale (aka wild boar ragù). The game is on.

The night before I was excited. I told some Italian friends about my plans for the next day, they seemed impressed and respond by saying basically how weird is it that a couple of Americans are making something that Italians themselves are forgetting about.  Italy is being colonized by the Big Mac meanwhile American foodies teach themselves how to make the traditional dishes their grandparents used to make. Incredible.

After some trials and tribulations of finding wild boar meat in the city of Florence, my trusty sidekick succeeds in finding some from a local butcher and marinates it overnight with garlic, rosemary and wine.

We spend about 3 hours simmering a wild boar ragù– which is basically a red meat sauce starting with a battuto of carrot, celery, onion, peeled tomatoes, red wine and ground marinated cinghiale.

While the sauce is simmering we mak’ala pasta!


Start with 1 cup of all purpose flour and a cup of whole grain flour (believe me the consistency and texture is real nice- plus the fiber will make you feel less guilty for eating pasta! score!) mix it in a bowl with a pinch of sea salt. Pour it on a dry surface and stick your fingers in the middle to form a volcano


Then when you get a deep valley in your lump of flour, crack 4 eggs into it, careful to not let the lava spill quite yet.


Then you put a few drops of olive oil in your egg lava nest and try to whisk the mix without letting it spill of the sides. But if it does, don’t worry. I did and the pasta came out just fine. Once the lava is all mixed, start incorporating flour in little by little with a fork.


Then just say screw it with the dainty fork and just get your hands all up in it and capture all your flour and knead like crazy- pasta dough is very kneady process and needs a lot of kneading care. get it…get it??!!! It’s a PUN!!!! No? Just me? Okay moving on….


Once your dough has got all it has kneaded..(okay, I promise to stop…) Tada! Let it rest, it’s taken quite the beating. For about a half an hour. In the meantime, feel free to eat chocolate, drink coffee and sip on wine. Yep, that’s Italy!


After the rest and by now I hope you’re buzzing and cracked out on caffeine…it’s the perfect time to do something time consuming and somewhat tedious- and that’s rolling out the pasta dough and cutting it! Good thing we were making a slow cooked ragù…maybe that’s why it was discovered! Maybe someone left some meat sauce on the stove while making fresh pasta and it turned into a delicious melt-in-your mouth wonder!

Be sure to keep your surface nice and floured as you are slicing your dough and flattening it out a bit.

When using a pasta machine and making sheets of pasta from the dough, start with the lowest setting and work your way up to your desired thickness/thinness. Once you make flat sheets of pasta, you put it through the cutting attachment as seen here in exhibit: z.

After you cut your pasta, you lay them on a flat plate-object like a plastic sheet or cutting board make sure they don’t stick together by adding a bit of flour, untangling the strands like hair.

And you must have a fun face on while you are doing it. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in life you must always have a fun face on.

Your slow cooked ragù is almost ready. So boil up a large pot of water, add all your hard earned pasta in and cook for no more than 3 minutes. A spectator in the peanut gallery of this adventure said “how funny that something that takes so long to prepare takes so little to cook.” Deep thoughts about pasta, yes this is Italy.

When your pasta is cooked and drained, pile some on a few plates and dollop a nice ladle of your slow simmered wild boar cinghiale ragù on top. Grate some aged pecorino on top and you got yourself a plate of pasta that will knock Dante Alighieri’s socks off.

Don’t forget to stop and smell. Watch. Drool. Devour.

Don’t forget to pair with some red wine. Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino…heck just make sure you have some goddamn red wine, preferably from Tuscany. Oh and make sure it’s daytime. Drinking during the day is totally okay. Only in Italy can you drink all day and be called a wine expert. Back home we call that a lush or an alcoholic! What a relief to live with real culture!

I think I will use this post as blackmail to get my friends and family back home to come visit. You want this? Then come visit me. Mwahahahaha! I mean, hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket is sooooo worth a lunch like this…and with me- hello! Sheesh. NO BRAINER! See you soon! 😛

BUON APPETITO!

Thanks to Sarah, my partner is cinghiale crime, for the lovely photos. You can follow her blog on her adventures as a movement theater teacher at Helikos in Florence here: http://slianef.wordpress.com/

London calling and foodie missions

It was when I moved to London on a whim with nothing more than a temporary work permit at age 19 that my appetite grew for travel and the desire to move to Italy after a summer weekend getaway in Florence. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in awe surrounded by beautiful architecture, fresh fish and summer salads. I turned to my travel partner and said:

“I want to live here one day. I want to learn Italian.”

…and I did. 7 years later. So I look back on London very fondly. It was my gateway drug to my expat desires.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to stay in London for a month for a secret food and wine mission. I accepted. But the critic in me unleashed its analytical wrath within just hours of arriving.

To say the least, I was shocked by a lot of things concerning the British lifestyle. After living in Italy for nearly 7 months now, I was quite excited to go back to an Anglo culture for a little bit. Italy can be tiring for a young, foreign American woman. You think I’m joking, but in Italy I am not really taken seriously in certain situations based on my age and gender. Also, people assume I am a rich American tourist. It could be worse if I were in a developing country, but c’mon this is ITALY. It is a country in EUROPE. I shouldn’t have to make such comparative justifications.

Moving on…..

As happy as I was to be surrounded by so many options in the grocery stores (like a whole section of greek yogurt! In Italy it is the same dinky overpriced Fage. One variety: plain.) I was relieved to be able to speak my language and be respected. And, to find such a variety of international foods, sauces, condiments, spices and organic granola hipster culture food. I was quite tickled when I was able to make this delicious shallow fried tofu and veg green coconut milk Thai curry:

But after a few days, I found that I really appreciate Italian food culture. In London (like in Seattle) cuisine is imported. There is a plethora of fusion but nothing quite convincing of its own. Yes, the Brits have a cuisine and it is very modest and humble. Meat pastry pies, scotch duck eggs, fish, stilton, cheddar truckles, oysters, roasted root veggies…they do indeed have delicious fare. But what they lack is culture in comparison to the Italians.

Please note: the following comments are merely gross generalizations.

I noticed a lot of drinking and not a lot of food pairing. In Italy, it is almost a violation to serve an alcoholic drink without some sort of snack- even if it is a small bowl of chips and nuts. “Happy Hour” in London consist of, not full on buffet bars of lasagna, salami, cheeses and radicchio salads like at an Italian aperitivo, but rather 4 beers for 10 quid. People work hard in London. They live in small flats. By the time you come home after a ten-hour day combined of work + riding the grey, crowded and smelly tube all you want to do is relax with a beer, eat something quick or grab dinner at the pub. And smoke a lot of cigarettes. My diet was at its lowest while I was there. Not because there isn’t good food, but because I was so busy and refused to pay a lot of money on food. Food is to me, a basic human right and should be affordable and good. Good food in London (and in Seattle) come at a premium. In Italy, good food is accessible to everyone. I can get a big bag of local organic farmer market produce at 5-10 euros. It’s not trendy, it is just the way they do it. And no wonder rates of diet-related disease are lower and people seem generally healthy and vibrant.

Romanesco Cavolfiore. In Italy, its filling and cheap. Perfect for Tuscan winter soups and bakes. At Selfridges in London, its a tourist attraction for the privileged at 9 quid a kilo.

In London, I noticed an affluent couple taking a picture of perfectly merchandised Romanesco (a simple cruciferous vegetable related to the cauliflower priced at a whopping 9pound x Kilo). The said vegetable celebrity was paparazzi’d at the food hall at Selfridges ( Hellridges: a pretentious food museum) because the couple had never seen it before and I recall laughing to myself and trying really hard not to scold (judge) them silently for this blatant food voyeurism.

Onion bhajee so good, that I didn’t even notice how pathetic the salad was.

I did however manage to eat delicious samosas and Indian food on Brick Lane. Just walking through the colorful street with spices lining the store counters piled up in the shapes of upside down cones and fresh fried samosas sitting innocently in the windows wafting their savory turmeric and chili aromas deep into your nostrils, so deep that you can almost taste the mushy potatoes, curried lamb and fried fennel seed within those little triangular pockets of Indian heaven. As well as decadent spicy onion bhajee with tamarind.

those yellow globs are pillows of brandy butter.

While I was on my food mission, I discovered a couple true English food gems. Such as: Christmas Pudding w/ Brandy Cream (and Brandy Butter) and mince pie. A mince pie is not what you think I thought (a savory pastry pie filled with minced meat). The mince is actually a sweet pastry filled with a winter spiced apple and dried fruit gunk. Christmas pudding is this gooey sticky fruit cake thing that is soaked in brandy or some sort of booze and is set on fire and served warm with the brandy fat/cream products oozing on top.

I was lucky enough to be in a small beach town in East Sussex with a lovely Brit family that left a wonderful taste in my mouth about the English food culture. 

On Christmas Day, you basically eat everything all day long. Not much different from the rest of the Christmas celebrating world. Port and Cheese is not an uncommon compliment and neither are little sausages wrapped in bacon, homemade cranberry sauce and creamy bread pudding. The food social scientist in me asked a lot of questions concerning food and tradition to the family’s grandmother. She told me that in her school years, domestic sciences were taught where you learned all cooking basics and knitting. Like I imagine home-economics was in American schools. Those classes don’t exist anymore (at least in the U.S.) and no wonder why people of our generation are having to either teach themselves culinary arts as apart of hipster homesteading trends or simply eat processed convenience foods out of ignorance. I notice, that in America unless you come from a liberal, educated family (or a very rich one), your holiday dinners generally come from a box, a can and a cling-wrapped foster farms tortured processed meat product. In England, at least most people from a wide range of socio-economical backgrounds cook from scratch.

After my trip, I realized Italy is the best place on earth. People (Italians) sometimes take for granted how precious their country is. What other country has what Italy has: Rome, Venice, Sicily, food, wine, art, history, music, Milan…the list goes on and on.  Not only is Italy wonderful for its rich landscape and crystal blue beaches but the also the way everyone respects each other, their body and how to eat (and live) a good life. I heard so many Italians on the streets in London and it made me sad because I know why they are there. Young Italians are giving up on Italy and fleeing to more affluent (organized) parts of the world for a “better” life. But what constitutes a better life? To me, I left America and effectively rejected my culture in order to live a better life. In Italy. And this is where I plan to stay until its not fun anymore.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! (:

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