Leaving Modica, Sicily, May 31, 2014


One year ago, today, we were boarding a plane in Catania to Rome. It was the end of two glorious weeks in Sicily at The Villa Modica. It was tough leaving.

Really tough.

We had more fun than six people should be allowed to have. We've thought of the place often since we returned and even called our host, George, for more of his olive oil back in December. Liquid gold, indeed.

It was seriously one of the most fun and relaxing times I've ever had.

To celebrate this most auspicious occasion, I decided to use up the last two chocolate bars we brought back. Modica is the chocolate capital of Sicily and we brought back several dozen bars to give as gifts and to nibble on when we needed a Sicily fix.


The chocolate is totally unique to the area and made the same way as it has been since the Spaniards brought chocolate from Mexico way back when. It's has a grainy texture and the flavor combinations they have come up with are great, from oranges to cinnamon to hot red pepper to vanilla to lemon and a score more flavors.

Pretty outstanding stuff.

I had been holding on to these two, but decided what I really need to do is use them up and then go get more.

Cookies seemed to be the right thing to make.


I used my basic oatmeal chocolate chip recipe, but tweaked it a bit. I spaced out what I was doing and flattened the cookie balls which helped them to spread a bit too much, but what they lack in thickness they make up for in flavor. They work really well.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cubes butter (1 cup)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp Cinnamon liqueur
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 bars chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cream butter and sugars together until light and creamy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix well.  Add cinnamon liqueur and mix well.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add slowly to butter mixture, mixing well.  Add oats and mix well.

Add chocolate and mix until blended.

Scoop onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake about 14 minutes.  (I use a #30 scoop – about 2 1/2 tbsp per cookie.)

Next year we're planning another European adventure and we're seriously thinking Sicily, again. We'd like to see more of the western and northern coasts this time and maybe stay somewhere between Trapani and San Vito Lo Capo.

With so much of the world we still haven't seen, there's a draw to Sicily that almost defies explanation.

I really could live there.






Olive Oil from Modica


George, our host in Sicily, when we visited last May, is a true Renaissance Man. Once we left the 1-800-world of big-box home centers and 24-hour supermarkets, we entered a world where your ingenuity and creativity are the keys to survival.

He has caper bushes growing along the side of the house. Yes... fresh-brined capers. And a carob tree in the front yard. His young nephews pick the carob, he sells it, and gives them the money. He has chickens for eggs, an organic garden of artichokes, greens, herbs... Lemons, pomegranates, prickly pears... 80-year old fig trees planted by his grandfather... and olives...

He's constantly moving, constantly doing - with his 4-year old son in tow. His little boy - already fluent in English and Italian - is learning about living life to the fullest from the master, himself.

It's a bit like what life was like here, before we all got fat, lazy, and gluten-intolerant.

I mentioned olives...

Sitting in our refrigerator the night we arrived was a huge bowl of olives they had cured themselves - from their own olive trees.

There really is something magical about eating something like this - that you have gotten out of a jar or can all of your life. I've had what would be considered good olives, before. These surpassed good. They were unique to the point of defying description. I had never had a freshly-cured olive grown within spitting distance of where I was eating it. We pulled that bowl out and munched on them all day long. Great with a beer, excellent with a glass of the local red wine. It was all pretty awesome.

And then there was the huge container of olive oil that was in our kitchen for our use...

Also awesome was the liter of oil we brought home with us.


In 500ml plastic iced tea bottles. Nothing is wasted. Everything is reused. And it really was the perfect vehicle for packing into our suitcases.

We've kept in contact over the past 5 months - I've done some web work for him and we've just kept up a friendly correspondence. So when my brother asked me about possibly getting more olive oil, I was on it. And, as they say, timing is everything!

Seems the olives just got picked and pressed!


What a process!

George stated:  we produce one of the finest extra virgin olive oils in our area. The trick to get great olive oil is to harvest the olives by hand - hand selecting only the best quality. The reason is the hand picking avoids bruising the fruit, if the olive is bruised then immediately a chemical process starts within the olive that would increase the acidity in the oil, making it of a lesser quality. Then, mill the olives within 24 hrs of picking, The cold pressing of the olives paste must be done at a low temperature, that's how all the aromas and flavors of the oil are preserved.


They're cleaned of debris and washed.


Into the centrifugal masher...


And, finally, the liquid gold.

It will need to sit for the next 2 to 3 weeks to naturally filter itself - the sediment burns - but, if the shipping gods are willing, we'll have George's Olive Oil in time for Christmas!

Olive oil from a man who understands. Who appreciates what the earth has to give. And who gives back and is passing that knowledge along.

I don't even know what this is going to cost. And... I don't care.

I can't wait!

Focaccia - Ragusa-Style


One of our many fun food finds in Sicily was a local take on focaccia. While everywhere we went, it was referred to as focaccia, it seems it's also referred to as scacce. It's a stuffed bread. A fantastic, fabulous, and absolutely delicious stuffed bread.

It was one of the first dishes we had and it was a recurring item, everywhere. The great thing is no two were ever alike. Similar traits, but always different flavors. It is a bread with no rules that changes with the seasons.

It starts with a ball of dough.


We made this with Italian "00" floor because we bought 10 kilos of it before our trip. All-purpose will work just fine.

It is rolled out paper-thin, and then a thin layer of fillings is added.


This was tomato sauce and then a layer of fresh ricotta Victor made. It was then topped with thin slices of fried eggplant.


It then gets folded. The two ends fold to meet in the center, a bit of filling is added and then they are folded in half.

A bit of sauce goes on top and into a hot oven. 20-30 minutes later, you have achieved focaccia ragusana.


While we usually had it as a part of a thgree-hour meal, we thought we could live on it, alone, for dinner tonight.


And have plenty for lunch tomorrow, as well. Funny how those three-hour meals just aren't as much fun here...

But we do plan on making more fun meals - and showing them off on some new fun plates and bowls.

On our last trip to Italy, we bought dinnerware in Florence, along with a few serving platters. What we didn't get were serving bowls that are practical. We have a few that take up most of a table, but they don't quite make it for a mere 5 or 6 at the table.

So two new bowls came home with us.



They're the perfect size for a big batch of mashed potatoes, vegetables, or even salads.

I also wanted to get little bowls for salt and pepper by the stove. I don't measure S&P, I use my fingers and add a pinch here and there. The bowls we have used for years were just 99¢ Ikea glass bowls. Time for an upgrade.


They're the perfect size - and they were really inexpensive - just a couple of euro each.

We got these in Modica at a local shop, along with a couple of ornaments, and a few other things. We made a trek to Caltagirone - the ceramics capital of Sicily - for a few more goodies...

I wanted a new cake platter since the one we have with the faux-Italian design that is slightly off-center is machine-made Made in China - and just not worthy of our culinary efforts. First place we walked into, we saw the perfect plate.


The perfect plate that didn't make the trip home in one piece. Even with some pretty good wrapping, it broke in half and chipped in a couple of places. Some good glue and it will work just fine. And now I don't have to worry about anything happening to it. It already has.

We also wanted plates for dolce - dessert.  Sweets.

We walked in and out of a few shops and found some plates that just seemed right. The owner of the shop was also the artist who created them and gave us a tour of the shop, his studio, things in his kiln. It was a really fun experience. I lived with my dear ceramic artist friend Susan for years in both Tahoe and Boston and know first hand the work involved in creating these works of art. Each piece was better than the next. We had to settle for four small plates. I would have loved to bring home half of his shop.

06-08-14-dolce-plate4 06-08-14-dolce-plate3 06-08-14-dolce-plate2 06-08-14-dolce-plate1

All different, yet complimentary. Can't wait to use 'em!


And just because we saw it and liked it, we got a little wall piece at yet another shop.

The prices were good - we stayed well within our budget.

Now... back to tonight's dinner...

Victor made fresh homemade ricotta for these, but, as good as the fresh ricotta is, it's a little wasted on these if you add other filling flavors. A store-bought ricotta will work just fine unless you make it as a dessert.

Focaccia Ragusata

(makes two)

  • 9 oz  all-purpose flour (Italian "00" if you have it!)
  • 5/8 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch salt

Proof yeast in warm water. Add flour, salt, and oil, and mix well. Knead about 5-6 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Roll into a ball, cover, and let rest 30 minutes.

Divide dough in half and roll into a large, very thin circle. Spread with a very thin layer of tomato sauce and then top with a thin layer of ricotta. Add slices of fried eggplant.

Fold sides to almost meet in the center. Brush new tops with a bit of sauce and cheese. Fold in half, again, and press lightly to seal. Paint a bit of sauce on top.

Put into a preheated 475° oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until dark brown. Take out of the oven and cover with a towel to trap steam and soften the top.

These really are no-rules focaccia.

The raw, uncooked rolls can be sliced into 6 or 8 pieces, dredged in grated cheese, liberally brushed with beaten egg on top, and then baked cinnamon-roll style.

The filling can be sweet or savory, they can be brushed with sauce, olive oil, egg, or left plain before baking.

You can brush a thin layer of olive oil on the dough and forego the tomato sauce altogether. Add some nuts - pistachios - or bits of sausage.  Little bits of anything.

The only must-do is make them.



Our Last Night in Modica

Our host at Villa Modica had been so wonderful, we wanted to show a bit of our appreciation by taking him and his wonderful family out to dinner on our last night. He brought us to Taverna Nicastro - a great local restaurant cooking the traditional dishes of Modica. They have been in operation under the same family since 1948 - 66 years. You don't stay in business that long by serving mediocre food.

The restaurant is in Alta Modica - upper Modica - and probably would have been impossible for us to find on our own through the warren of narrow one-way streets in the area.



But when we did get there, a gastronomic treat awaited us.

After two weeks we had eaten some tremendous foods - local ingredients, hand-made regional specialties - and when we saw the menu, we knew we were in for more treats. The difficulty was going to be in deciding what to order. The problem was solved by just asking the waiter to bring us dinner.

The beauty of this approach was knowing we would get a representative sampling of the best foods on the menu. And we did.

Everywhere we ate, we ordered liters of house wine and it was almost always served in tumblers. While many places had extensive wine lists, we saw no reason to overspend when the house wines were always extremely good. I liked that the wines were in simple glasses. It relegated them back to where their place should be in the meal - an enhancement to a good meal - not the centerpiece of the meal. The wines never competed with what we were eating but were always a welcoming addition.

We started off with arancini and focaccia - two very traditional Sicilian antipasti. Every arancini we had on this trip was different. The concept remains the same, but every cook puts their own unique spin on it, making for some great food. These had sausage and chopped egg. What a flavor delight!  The focaccia - totally unlike what we call focaccia here - is the same - every one different. These had either a red or white sauce and cheese, sausage, vegetables... Totally unique - and totally what I am going to be making soon!


Next was the requisite plate of local olives, eggplant, salami, cheeses - including fresh ricotta and fresh mozzarella - and fresher than fresh carrots. Everywhere we went, the olives were exceptional, and these were no exception. They're all cured locally, and in many cases, are done in-house. The whole area is slow-food. Local, in season, fresh.



And then we had jellied pork. What a surprise! It was fun and unexpected.

Following was ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a tomato sauce. The sauce was make with pork and sausages and they were served later. The ricotta was fresh - as in fresh.

And following that, cavatelli with more fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and wild fennel. Absolutely stellar. The flavors blended perfectly. Less is more - a mantra I have to keep repeating to myself.

Next came a platter of sausages and pork that were cooked in the tomato sauce. Fork-tender and heavenly.

And, finally, the house specialty - sweet and sour rabbit.

Potatoes, olives, carrots, celery, peppers, herbs, vinegar... and succulent chunks of rabbit. Everything about it was great - from the texture of the potatoes to the tanginess of the sauce. Some dishes are just meant to be - and this was one of them.



Finally, chocolate gelatto and cannoli. I ate before thinking about taking a photo.

Oh well...

This whole trip has been nothing but stellar foods served by wonderful people in homes and home-like settings. It was fitting that our last big meal complimented our first big meal - and that we were able to share the evening with our host and his lovely wife and children.

Vogliamo rifarlo.




Sunday Dinner Sicilian-Style

Pretty much everyone has a version of Sunday Dinner, but the Italians have raised it to an art-form. Last Sunday we were just getting our bearings, here. Today, we decided to be artists.

We also decided since it seems to be the custom around here to eat one meal for several hours that we would do the same.

Phoebe has stated many a time that she doesn't like gnocchi - they're belly bombs and just not something she cares for. Victor took that as a challenge, since he makes a pretty good ricotta gnocchi.

He made gnocchi...

Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 1 lb ricotta cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
  1. Stir together the ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan Cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a large bowl until evenly combined. Mix in 1 cup of flour. Add additional flour if needed to form a soft dough.
  2. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces, and roll into 1/2-inch-thick ropes on a floured surface. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces, and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  3. While sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Boil the gnocchi until they float to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes, then drain.
  4. Place gnocchi into a serving bowl, and spoon sauce over top.

As you can see, it's hand-on work. Dive in.

Once you get the swing of it, it's not that difficult. Really.

Gnocchi needs a sauce. Victor started off with some of the most delicious fresh tomatoes around - along with wine from our winery tour the other day. Local products. Gotta love it. Even the garlic was fresh out of the dirt. Awesomeness.

Ground beef for meatballs, fresh Italian sausage - not hot, not sweet. Just delicious.


They cooked up really nice...

And then there was the plate of gnocchi...


Light as a feather. Victor made a believer out of Phoebe. They had everything going for them - flavor, texture, and the unbearable lightness of being. Okay. They weren't unbearable. But they really were light.

But I just described the main course. We started off with a lot more.

Like roasted eggplant.

This was simplicity. Thinly-sliced and drizzled with olive oil, it was baked and then sliced and topped with tomato sauce.

Next came artichokes out of our garden.


That lovely creature - and its brothers - became stuffed artichokes...

Finger-lickin' good.

And since I had picked up a fennel bulb the other day, I decided to make fennel and lentils. Another really simple dish I've made often over the years.

It's great as a side dish or as a room temperature salad. Great flavors that work with almost anything.

Lentils and Fennel

  • 1 cup lentils - brown, lentils du puy, or black beluga lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • pinch salt
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • splash red wine
  • 3 tbsp Italian parsley
  • 1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • S&P to taste

Cook lentils in salted water until cooked through but not mushy – 15 to 20 minutes depending upon type.

While lentils cook, cut fennel bulb into 1/4-inch dice. Cook onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and garlic until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add a splash of red wine and cook down.

Drain cooked lentils and stir into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten and heat through. Stir in parsley, S&P to taste, and vinegar.

They totally rocked. And with all this good stuff, we needed bread.

I've been loving the breads I've had, but I knew at some point I'd have to bake a loaf of Pane Siciliano. I've baked many a loaf of it from Carol Field's The Italian Baker, but I actually bought a loaf the other day and knew I had to try my hand at it in the Mother Country.

It came out fantastic!

This was especially fun because I didn't have any measuring cups and the only liquid measure was in milliliters. I really wish the US had gone metric back when the rest of the world did, but... American politics are what they are...

I followed the recipe pretty close - I think. I did it all by hand and feel. I didn't have malt syrup so I threw in a teaspoon of sugar. I also used fresh yeast - it was in the 'fridge - which is really what got me thinking about making it in the first place. And semolina flour. The all-purpose was Italian "0" flour.

Pane Siciliano

Makes 2 loaves

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp malt syrup
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups durum flour or semolina for pasta
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 to 3 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds

By hand:

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.  Whisk in the oil, malt, and 1 cup of water.  Mix the flours and salt and whisk in 1 cup at a time into the yeast mixture.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Knead on a floured surface 8 to 10 minutes, occasionally slamming the dough down vigorously to develop the gluten.

By mixer:

Stir the yeast into the 1 1/4 cups warm water in a large mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the oil and malt with the paddle; then add the flours and salt and mix until smooth.  Change to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until; the dough is firm, compact, and elastic with lots of body, 4 to 5 minutes.  Finish kneading by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  The dough should be springy and blistered, but still soft and velvety.

Shaping and second rise. Punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and let it rest for 5 minutes.  Flatten it with your forearm into a square.  Rollit into a long, narrow rope, about 20 to 22 inches long.  The dough should be so elastic that it could almost be swung and stretched like a jump rope.  Cut the dough in half and shape each into a loaf.  (The book shows 3 classic shapes and illustrations; Mafalda, Occhi di Santa Lucia, and the baked Corona.  I made the Santa Lucia.)

Place the loaves on floured parchment paper, peels sprinkled with corn meal, or oiled baking sheets.  Brush the entire surface of each loaf with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds; pat the seeds very gently into the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap, and then a kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Baking. Thirty minutes before baking heat the oven with baking stones to 425°.  Sprinkle the stones with cornmeal just before sliding the loaves onto them.  Bake 10 minutes, spraying 3 times with water.  Reduce the heat to 400° and bake 25 to 30 minutes longer.  Cool on racks.



I put the formed loaves out on the back dining table -yes, we have an outdoor dining area for 10 or 12 separate from the other two dining areas in the villa - and headed off to the pool. An hour later, they were totally risen - I thought maybe a bit too much. They went into the oven on a sheet pan - we're slumming it without a bread stone - and came out perfect. Light as a feather.

It was seriously some of the best tasting bread I have ever made. I'd love to take full credit, but it really was the ingredients. Both of the flours were totally superior to just about anything I can get stateside. The feel was there from the moment I opened the bags.  It was the ingredients.

So... it was a long meal with lots of wine and lots of chatter.

And then we ate gelato.





Pesce Fresco

I knew coming to Sicily we would be having some great seafood. What I didn't realize was how much we would have at one place!

Ristorante al Monaco. Victor's maternal family name is Monaco - like the country he should own.  And it was like dining with family with platter after platter of some of the finest seafood I have ever in my life consumed. And I've eaten a bit of fish in my life.

I'm not going to even remotely do justice to this feast - but I shall give it that ol' college try.

The first thing we had was an Octopus Salad. Fresh. Refreshing. Light and delicate. Flavors and textures that just blended so naturally together.

Oysters on the half-shell. The most tender, succulent oysters I've ever had. Rich and sweet - not rubbery or chewy - the most delicate texture. I didnt put a thing on them - no lemon, no nothing. Adding anything would have been sacrilegious.


A fried fish, calamari, potato, carrots, and whatever whitefish dish. Can't quite describe it, but I wanted more and more. One of those things I'd love to be able to replicate, but I was having too much fun eating it to pay attention to what it was I was eating. Like a roasted vegetable, garlic - but not a lot of garlic - seafood mash-up that kinda knocked my socks off.



Shrimp No BP Oil Spill here. Fresh. Succulent. I'm running out of adjectives. It's difficult to describe just how sublime they were.

Anchovies. OMG Anchovies.I seriously have never had a sweet - not salty - anchovy in my life. Pop into your mouth and pull off the bone. These were definitely not your pizzeria anchovies. I would eat these every day for the rest of my life. They didn't even begin to resemble their canned or jarred relation of the same name. OMG.

Fried Calamari. These were not your typical fried rubber bands. The perfect bite and chew. Tender. Delicate. Words I'm going to keep using over and over and over. No sauces, no nothing. They spoke for themselves.

Squid Ink Arancini! Okay. We've made arancini for years. Never like this. And we have squid ink at home. This is definitely one we can make.

Mussels in a tomato sauce. Again. I've had mussels all my adult life. Never this good. Served in more of a tomato broth than a sauce, it was secondary to the sweetest, most tender mussels I have ever eaten I was going to say "in my life" and realized I've already said that. A lot.

I's difficult to rave and gush over something like this. The words just start failing me. And words never fail me.

And then the pasta arrived. Fresh pasta. This stuff didn't come out of a Barilla box. Cavatelli in a simple clam sauce.  Clams, wine, a drizzle of olive oil. When you start with great ingredients, you don't need to cover anything up.

And then came the mixed grill...

San Pietro, shrimp, swordfish, and something else that I never learnd its name. How many times have I said sublime, best I've ever eaten in my life, fabulous, fantastic, and OMG?!?

Not enough times, because nothing I can say will bring justice to the meal we had, today.

It was seriously that good. I may never get to eat there, again, but i can die happy, knowing I've had some of the best seafood on the planet.

Oh. And it all cost 25 Euro per person - with unlimited liters of wine.




Florentine Dinnerware

Oh boy!  Guess what was waiting for me when I got home from work today?!?  If you guessed "Hand made dinnerware from Florence" you win the Kewpie Doll!

What a thrill to see it all actually made and in our kitchen.  I am beyond psyched!  We weren't expecting it for another week or so - this was really a wonderful surprise.

The design is called Oranges and Grapes.  The piece above is the salad / pasta bowl.  I can see some noodles filling that thing.

The square dinner plate.  Very similar to the large salad / pasta  bowl above.  It's almost 12" across. Unbelievably awesome!

This is the pasta plate.  Same Orange and Grape design, but with a different layout.

The salad plate, again, has the Oranges and Grapes, but a different border.

And a square dessert plate.  How cool is that?  Same design, another border.

The soup bowl is simply awesome.  The design is painted up the side of the bowl and there's a painted band on the outside.

And, finally, the platter.

I am really, really pleased with everything, from the craftsmanship to the indestructible way they were packed and shipped.  There's a few more pieces I want.  Methinks I'm going to have to start saving my pennies, again.

Galleria Machiavelli di Maria Grazia Chelazzi

Via Por Santa Maria,39/r
50123 Firenze



Reflections on Food...

We’re back.

It was a long, long travel day – but not as long as Phoebe and Nancy and the girls.  When we parted at Philadelphia, they still had a six-hour flight to Oregon.  That would have sent me right over the edge…

It was a bit of a rush to the train station in Florence.  We had a 7am train, but our landlord had to check us out.  Our fabulous 4br/2ba view apartment had a €600,00 deposit we needed back.  I don’t blame him for the deposit.  The apartment is beautiful and he wanted it to remain that way.  Fortunately, he understood our predicament and was there right at 6am, and after a quick check, returned our full deposit and called taxis for us to get us to the train.

With a bit of time to spare, we had our last cornetti e crema.  Those wonderfully-light croissant-like pastries filled with pastry cream.  We had dolce for breakfast every day just like the locals.  At only €1 or less, each, they were a deal.  And delicious.  Of course, that’s the price for take-away or standing at the counter.  There is often a service fee for sitting at a table.  Buying these was a bit of a lesson in and of itself.  Folks are standing, talking, eating right at the counter.  one needs to wiggle themselves in to get the attendants attention.  And please don't spend all day trying to make up your mind.  Others are waiting.

The morning dolce may be the most difficult thing to try and replicate.  I think am going to need to find some real Italian flour – or the closest US flour to it.  It seems like a very delicate cake flour.  I should have tried to pick up a few bags at the local grocery store but didn’t think about it at the time.  There’s probably a rule about carrying it in to the US, anyway…

But the food, the food…

It was truly stellar on every level.  From simple tomatoes to the mozzarella to the various pasta dishes we had – or made – to simple meats and cheeses.  It was spectacular.

There was lots of pizza – thin-crusted, lightly-topped, circles of magic – but, surprisingly, there were always other things that caught my eye.

There were gelato stores everywhere – all made in the store.  And stores selling pastries or sandwiches – often doubling as bars.  The pane, the various Panini – sandwiches – were unbelievably good.  Fast food was fast – and fresh.  It wasn’t made-in-a-factory-somewhere-and-trucked-in.  Made in advance, yes, but on-premise by the people in front of you.  And those people were not ignorant high school kids.  They were adults with a profession.  It’s amazing that one could get a sandwich quickly from an adult for a mere €3 and the store still seemed to make money.

Even out in the country-side away from the tourist centers, the food was locally prepared – inexpensively.

And then there were the grocery stores.  We lucked out.  We had grocery stores within feet of our apartments in Rome and in Florence.  Both were Conad stores - Consorzio Nazionale Dettaglianti – that are part of a national cooperative of entrepreneurs. Stores are independently owned and operated, distribution centers are cooperatives…

The stores are remarkably different than in the US.  First off, the cashier is just that – a cashier.  The customer places the items on the counter – and then bags their purchases.  If you do not have a bag, you buy a bag.  There are no freebies.  We brought a couple with us and got big smiles from the cashiers we dealt with.  On the other hand, not a lot of cashiers were remotely friendly.  I understand there was a language issue, but, a good percentage really didn’t seem to care whether we bought anything or not.

I did have a fun conversation with one young woman in Florence.  I had seen her a couple of times and asked if she spoke English.  She replied a little, and I told her I did her job in the US.  She was amazed that the cashier would have to empty carts, ring things up – and bag into free bags.  Your groceries, your job.

Another thing is produce.  The customer does NOT touch produce with their bare hands.  There are plastic gloves available for handling produce.  It is also weighed and priced at weighing stations – by the customer.  If you bring something up to the cashier without a tag, it is simply set aside.  They do not call out for a price check or look up the price for you.  They are not going to inconvenience the people in line because you did not follow the rules.

And the produce tasted so good.  OMG!  It tasted good. It wasn’t crap that was genetically modified for mechanical factory-farms.  It was real food that was picked at its peak and had a few days shelf-life.  Buy it fresh and eat it today.

Grocery carts were linked together and it took a €2 coin to get one.  You received your coin back when you returned the cart.  Most people used baskets that could either be carried or used on wheels like a small piece of luggage.  People didn’t do shopping with overflowing carts.  They picked up what they needed for the day.  Kids weren’t running amok around the stores.

It was really refreshing to experience. I just kept marveling at how well the system worked.

My two favorite shopping experiences were at the Mercato Centrale in Florence.  A huge food hall filled to bursting with every sort of meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, produce, jam, jelly, and baked product, imaginable.  It was gastronomic heaven.  And I hardly bought anything.  I was just in awe.  It’s the place I want next door to me.

The other was the Antica Caciara in Rome.

Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing how food is honored and respected in Italy – and in Europe.  Coca Cola is made with sugar – and tastes like the wonderful Coke of my youth.  I didn’t see HFCS in ANY product – and I looked.  The reality is, unlike Americans, Italians simply wouldn’t buy it.  Other American-brand products were the same.  Better ingredients for the European market because people in Europe care about what they eat.

Over the years we have gotten better about what we eat, but this trip firmly implanted my resolve to just eat fresher, healthier all of the time.  I’ll spend the extra time to cook because American Convenience is just going to kill me.

And now…  time to start planning the next trip.  I’m thinking about flying into Milan, seeing an opera at La Scalla, and then heading to Sicily and a palazzo overlooking the sea for a couple of weeks.

Time to start saving, again.

The Foods of Venice...

We had been in Venice for a few hours and had worked (walked) our way from the hotel to the Rialto, and to San Marcos.  It was time for sustenance.

Sustenance in San Marcos is Caffe Florian.  A little caffe that has been around since 1720.  yes... 1720.  There was a small band playing, the waiters were all in white coats and ties, food was brought on silver trays.  I feel at this point it is unnecessary to say the caffe was expensive.

I decided to go for it and ordered an €18,00 ice cream sundae.  Chocolate and coffee ice creams, amaretto, crushed amaretti cookies, a couple of other cookies, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.  Thankfully, there was not a cherry on top.  Victor naturally went for a fruit and ice cream with another liqueur drizzled on.

2 ice cream sundaes - with entertainment charge - was a mere €48,50.  Sometimes ya just have to do the outrageous.  It was fun.  it was delicious.  It was worth it.

More walking around town and then we regrouped at the hotel.  It was Megan's birthday.  Her only request was a dinner by the water.  Easy enough in a city built on water, but... it was hot in the sun - and the sun wasn't going down for a long time.  We looked, we walked, we went up side streets and alleys.  Seats abounded - in direct sun.

Seven people trekking through Venice were starting to get cranky.  We finally saw one place and made a mad dash.  We were seated - and then looked at the menu. It seemed that the vast majority of the items were not available for just one person - you had to have two people order them.  And the other things on the menu just weren't worth the outrageous prices.  We were beginning to see why the place was practically empty.

We got up and left.

That was exactly what we needed to do.  It broke the cranky spell and we started laughing and joking again and within seconds, were at the Ponte Rialdo and a great little place right on the water.

We had fun waiters and a really good meal.

We started off with a Beef Carpaccio

and a Tuna Carpaccio.

The beef was topped with shredded parmesan cheese.  The tuna with a really mild mustard sauce.  Both were excellent.

And then the plates started arriving.

Light as a cloud potato gnocci with a gorgonzola sauce.  It was unbelievably good.

A huge bisteca alla Milanese.  Fork-tender delicious.

A Lobster Spaghetti that was to die for.  The sauce had a rich lobster flavor and the half-lobster was perfectly cooked.

A simple steak...

I missed a couple of entrees, but I didn't miss dessert.

It was a great presentation! A fork was placed on the plate and cocoa powder dusted over it - and then the vanilla creme pudding was placed on top - along with a decadent chocolate sauce and cookies...

The perfect end to the perfect meal along the water.

It helps when the waiter is cute!

What do you get when you cross a small, cozy restaurant with excellent food and a cute-as-a-button flirt of a waiter?!?  A fabulous dining experience!

We decided to stay close to the apartment tonight, so we walked up a hill behind the place, saw a small restaurant right away, cute-as-a-button waiter came out, saw us, I held up seven fingers (I'm a pro at Italian sign language and gestures) and next thing I knew, we were being led into a great little restaurant - Trattoria Bordino.

And what a fun meal it turned out to be.

Our waiter had a great command of the English language and an even better command of how to work a table.  He was great.

And so was the food!

I had my first Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Beefsteak Florentine style consists of a T-bone or porterhouse steak (traditionally taken from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle), grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, and seasoned with salt and, sometimes, black pepper, and (strictly after the steak is retired from the fire) olive oil.


It may be the best steak I have ever eaten.  It was so rare, so tender, so mouthwatering-good.  It was perfection on a plate.

Before the steak arrived, we had a few appetizers - smoked salmon bruschetta, and another absolutely fabulous chicken liver bruschetta.  This I have to figure out how to make.  it is stellar-good.  It is grainy, not smooth and pureed, and has virtually no chicken liver taste - but it is so rich and flavorful that a little goes a long way.

It's served warm and it's not at all greasy - so it's not the same as Uncle Rudy's with all the butter. I'm going to have to figure this one out.

There was a seafood spaghetti that was fantastic,  and a carpaccio, a farfalle with salmon, and a chicken breast that I never did get to taste - or photograph.

Mr. Cute-as-a-button was just that - as well as attentive and fun.  He asked how long we were in town, suggested we come back for another meal, said the restaurant was open 24 hours and the waiters were all strippers after hours.  Needless to say, we laughed and laughed - and fought over who would be first.  I won't even describe the swiping of the debit card - or the punching of the card code.

We were bad.

And then there was a table of desserts...  All made in-house.  Mr Cute-as-a-button had us all come out to look and choose - much easier than trying to describe the.

I had a chantilly cream cake topped with meringue - Zuppa Inglese!

It was made in a casserole dish, topped with the meringue, and then spooned out.

I told Mr Cute-as-a-button I wanted to make it at home, and he gave me the basics - a sponge cake thinly sliced, sprinkled with liquor, layered with lemon chantilly cream, layer upon layer, topped with the meringue and then popped into the oven to brown.

It rocked the Casbah.

So... Another fabulous meal, a really fun waiter, and a train ride to Venice in the morning.

Life is good.

For those taking notes... The restaurant is:

Trattoria Bordino
via Stracciatella, 9r

We may stop back for our last night in Italy...  It was that much fun!

Food in Firenze


We have been eating well.  From simple salamis and cheeses along with a bruschetta I made,

to a fabulous ravioli with a pesto cream sauce my sister, Phoebe, made last night,

to street sandwiches, small cafes and trattorias, we're really eating well.  The food is just better.

One place that was on the top of my must-do list was the Mercato Centrale - the central market.  I want to live here so I can shop there every day!

Produce, meats, poultry, pastas, pane... I walked through the doors and immediately fell in love - and immediately felt at home.  I could shop here, regularly, become a local and grow old and happy.

We bought gifts for us and a few others.  I need to make one more trek before we leave...

I could literally spend hours here.  Everything one could possibly want is sitting here under one enormous roof.  It's like a Reading Terminal Market or Ferry Plaza Marketplace on steroids.  And clean.

I need to figure out why we're living in the nowhere Philadelphia suburbs.....


Antica Caciara Trasteverina

I found my dream-store - in the Trasteverina district of Rome.

Trasteverina - literally after (or across) the Teverina (Tiber) - is what many consider "old Rome."  It's not as touristy, it's a bit more run-down.  But for many things - less expensive and much more real. We had a great dinner there the other night and wanted to return to see the area in daylight.  I am so glad we did!

We found a meat and cheese shop that was just out of this world!  A salumi & formaggio store with so many meats and cheeses, I wanted to cry.  The cases were just filled to the brim with the most fabulous foods.  The owner saw the look on my face and broke into a grin.  He spoke no English at all, but we had the best conversation.

I asked if I could take pictures and he smiled and shook his head yes.  And then got out of the way.  He was a bit camera-shy, himself.  Or part of the witness protection program.  But, oh...  what a shop full of earthly delights!

He had every conceivable smoked or cured meat, from different prosciuttos and speck to a dozen salamis - spicy and not - along with lots of wines, dried pasta, and fresh-baked breads. It was the store I want right down the street from me!

And the cheeses!

The case went on and on...

Filled to overflowing with some of the most beautiful cheeses I have ever seen.  They weren't displayed as art - as they would be in a negozio di formaggi di Parigi.  But art, it all was.  Handmade cheeses from all over the country.

Besides the meats and cheeses, there were walls of wine and olive oil.

I wanted to just sit on the floor and start eating.  And eating.  And eating.  Savoring every new flavor, every new texture, every new aroma...

The owner let us know that they are online and they ship to the United States.

I see an order being placed when we get home...

Antica Caciara
Via San Francesco a Ripa, 140 a/b
00153 Roma - Italia