Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cooking School Day 1

This cooking school thing is pretty much the best decision I have made in a long time. We have only been here 2 1/2 days, but it has been so much fun. Most of the people in the 16 person group are very nice and a few are hysterical. Our first evening we took a walk around Soriano, the little Hilltown we are staying in. Then we went to dinner at a restaurant at the top of the town called Taverna Dei Frati. Our waiter Mario was being typically Italian and a total show.  He has a whole repertoire he goes through that involves grabbing side boob, giving sweaty hugs, trying to pour bottles of booze down your throat, and a grand finale of an ass pinch . . . good times!  The food was indescribably amazing and there was so much of it: antipasto was prosciutto, salami, fried olives, 4 kinds of bruschetta; 1st course was a delicious little pasta that looked like mini parachutes filed with ham and cheese in a light cream sauce; followed by the entree of balsamic marinated flank steak with rosemary and olive oil roasted potatoes, salad; then a layered custard cake with drinks of Limoncello and grappa. Before dinner we went shopping for some of the ingredients we would need for our first cooking class. Great day!

Sunday morning started with cappuccino and a pastry at the cafe in the piazza then we all headed to the villa for class. This place is my dream come true. The house and the land have been in Paula's family since the 1700s and she and her husband renovated the whole thing for this business. Carla is Paula's sister and she teaches the classes. Rita and Catia help with prep and cleanup all the while speaking no English. You can cook as much or as little as you want, open bottle after bottle of wine, or hit the cellar and drink as much homemade grappa as you want. There is unlimited cappuccino and espresso, I mean really what the hell else could you ask for?!  Once we get finished making all the food we are out on the terrace underneath the gorgeous cabana eating. I thought I died and went to heaven. After eating we piled into the bus and drove to a little Town called Pittigliano to see is medieval Jewish ghetto. After that it was back to Soriano for a 5 course dinner with loads of wine. There is clearly no shortage of food and booze on this trip. There is, however a shortage of time to write . . . Too busy drinking and laughing.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


There isn't much sight seeing to do on the Amalfi coast. It's mostly eating, drinking, riding water taxis from little town to little town, sunning, and people watching. Not a bad gig if you can get it!

Tomorrow, the ferry to Salerno and the train to ROMA!!!!!!
Appertivi at sunset on our balconey

 Lunch on the harbor at Positano

 Cappuccinos in the piazza in Amalfi

 Watching people drink from the boob fountain. 
sassy with cappucino

 We have to walk all the way down to the harbor
Half way down

They have it all and something more in Amalfi!

On the boat to Positano. 

A fountain of miniatures

Lemons in Positano

Lemons turned into Limoncello

Limoncello going into us at Tre Sorelle in Positano

The "beach" in Minori, just around the cliff from Amalfi

Amalfi Civil War & Ravello

Tuesday started off like any other day:  we had breakfast and cappuccino over looking the sea, walked into town to catch the bus to Ravello, etc. Since we were thinking about hiking back from Ravello, mom decided she should buy a hat for protection from the sun. And so started the Amalfi Civil war. As you you can imagine in a small town built into a cliff, stores run right up against each other and some of said stores sell pretty much the same junk. So mom finds a hat she likes at store 1. I keep looking to make sure there isn't something else at store 2, which literally blends with store 1. There are different awnings so we picked up on the difference. Mom remained in the unmarked borders of store 1 while I went over to enemy territory. I found a possible front runner and handed the hat across the invisible boundary for Mom to try on. Keep in mind we are both in one of the stores sidewalk boundaries. Shop owner 2 is right beside me and fine that I have handed one of her hats over to mom. Shop owner 1 screems from inside her doorway, "Miss that hat belongs to this shop," referring to the original hat mom was holding. Mom nods and smiles to acknowledge that she is aware and isn't going anywhere. Shop owner 1 then sees mom try on the enemy's hat and all hell breaks loose. She screeches from inside the store "come in and try on my hat, I have a mirror."  That must have been the shot heard round the piazza because shop owner #2 starts telling at her in Italian. Then owner #1 starts screaming back and we are in an all out old Italian lady bitch match. Moms eyes get wide as saucers and I'm just standing there with my mouth hanging open. I know shits going south when I  hear#2 call #1 a cretin. At this point mom has put down the original hat in favor of the second and #2s son has come out to break up the fight. I am now desperately trying not to laugh for fear of getting hit by one of the old birds. People on the street are just staring. It was awesome!!!!  As we pay for the hat #2 apologizes and says she has been putting up with that old woman for 30 years and today was the last straw. And I thank her for waiting till today to lose her mind!
Here she is at the scene of the crime 

Once we created civil strife between neighbors we boarded a bus to Ravello. Only in Italy can do many people be packed into a bus that will be driving through cliffs and around hairpin turns suitable only for a donkey. I would NEVER have survived the Sita bus front Sorrento to Amalfi. Ravello is a small beautiful little town hanging on the edge of a cliff with crazy awesome views. They do a summer concert series in the gardens of Villa Rufolo, which would be pretty spectacular to see. We had an damn fine lunch at Cumpa Cosimo of mixed posts and of course a litre of house white wine.  And because we are so charming we also got a sample of the best damn tiramisu I've ever had.

 View from Villa Rufolo

 Villa Rufolo

 Concert space

  Villa Rufolo perfect name for a store in Ravelllo
The lemons grown on the Amalfi coast are HUGE

Once back in Amalfi we had beers in the main piazza then headed to dinner at a little place near our hotel. Il Preferito is run by a very sweet old man who is also a little on the dirty old man side. I dropped my fork and when he went to pick it up he rubbed his face on my leg. He also put on American music just for us with a lineup that included Elvis then Lauren Hill, followed by Lionel Richie . . .interesting. At least it ended with free Limoncello, yay!!

Beer and church, amen!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


So the woman who worked in our hotel in Naples was super nice and pretty much mildly stupid. When we asked about the ferry schedule from Naples to Amalfi she informed us there were no ferries on Monday. She checked over and over and seemed baffled as to why, but was very sure there were no ferries. Ok lady, your the Italian boss. So mom got the distinct pleasure of taking the Circumvesuviana, aka the ghetto train, to Sorrento. There is nothing quite like packing 10,000 sweaty humans into a train car meant for 50 all the while dodging impromptu traveling bands, hordes of Korean tour groups, and gypsey pick pockets.  Oh and of course we got the concerned good citizen of Naples who walked us to the secret tobacco shop to buy our tickets without waiting in line, took us to our track, and carried our luggage down the stairs all for the low low price of 5 Euro a piece. Dude, didn't anybody teach you in scammer school that you have to negotiate your price first?  I will give you 2 euros, a grazie mille, and accept the cussing out you give me . . . but you ain't getting no 5 Euro a piece, mio amico. Fucking Naples.

Once in Sorrento we discover, of course there are ferries; it's the high season for God's sake, why wouldn't there be boats every day (thanks mildly stupid hotel lady). Thus we choose a lovely 1 1/2  hour boat ride over the Sita bus (read vomit wagon).  It really was a great way to get down the coast. We stopped at Capri, Positano, and finally Amalfi.

The hotel we are starting at, Il Nido, is great. It's just a little outside of town on the cliff with great views of the water and town. After checking in we walked into town to get to the real business of being in Italy, eating and drinking!!

Harbor in Sorrento (I'm totally artistic with my new camera)

Arriving in Amalfi

Looking out on our balcony

Walking into town


View of Amalfi from the balconey

Walking into town


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Italy at Last

After over 24 hours, more like 2 days, of travel we finally arrived in Naples. But first we spent 8 hours in Chicago lounging around the country's only aeroponic garden. I am not making that word up, although O'Hare airport might be. Nonetheless it was a lovely place to spend an 8 hour layover.  Thank you American airlines, watching herbs grow in an airport terminal totally makes up for losing a day in Italy.
The flight was interesting. Somehow they ran out of water in the lavs in the low rent cabin, where we were. Their coffee maker broke between dinner and breakfast service and quite a few people's audio systems wouldn't work so they could only watch the movie but not listen to it.   Once in Rome it out took over 45 minutes for our luggage to come out because the ground crew forgot one of the containers out on the tarmac.  Really American, really?

Finally we hoped a train and arrived in Naples. We are only staying over one night here before heading on to Amalfi, this is probably one night too many. The city is far dirtier than I remembered it and it kinda sinks. The only reason to stop over in this place is for the pizza if it's not a Sunday and every damn thing is closed. Again, thank you American for our day delay.  So mom and I made the best of it by finding the least touristy tourist place to have pizza and a beerpitcher, yes I said beer pitcher, of house wine.
It's not classy service but it was actually good house wine for 3 euros!!!

And of course we had to people watch and make fun of them. Here is our favorite of the evening. The hats on these guys are just so humiliating. I mean really? Is anyone actually threatened by a soldier in a fedora with a feather?!

Tomorrow we get that awesome pizza, shake the Napolitano dirt off and head to Amalfi

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ciao Italia 2013!

Finally finally returning to Italy this summer!  Mom has decided to come with me so there will probably be more responsible behavior than in trips past, but being that I'm not 22 anymore that is not a bad thing. Our plan is to hop a train to Naples the day we arrive and spend a night or two eating pizza and maybe visiting the town my family is from, then heading to Amalfi for awhile before going to Tuscany for our week long cooking school!!!!!!  It is this part of the trip I am pee my pants excited about. According to the school we cook, we drink, we drink, we cook, we dance, we drink, we cook, we drink. Get the picture? On the half days we aren't having cooking lessons we are going on little excursions to other hill towns in Tuscany and we will spend a whole day touring wine cellars.

Here is the run down at the moment:
06/29 Napoli
6/30 -6/05 Amalfi
6/05 Roma
6/06 - 6/13 Seriano Cooking School
   Sat - arrival and dinner in a converted monastery
   Sun - 5 course cooking class and a trip to Pitigliano, dinner in Seriano
   Mon -  Montelcino (Brunello tasting), Pienza (cheese tasting),
                Montepulciano (wine)    
   Tues - 5 course cooking class then dinner in Viterbo
   Wed -  Assisi and Deruta
   Thurs -  An olive mill and winery, The Dying City, and Limoncello,
                  Gelato & Biscotti,  Ricotta Cheese making class.
   Fri -  market day in Soriano, Orvieto, and pizza making class
   Sat - Home :-(

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Longboat Key - the arrival.

The plan: take the Autotrain down (I need my car), Matt arrives later, and then we take a couple of days to drive home.

The autotrain was pretty nice, in the sense that I didn’t have to pack to fly; I stuffed everything and anything I wanted into my car. Then my car was stuffed on the train. And by every/anything I wanted, I mean exactly that. I took a case of wine, spices/oils/vinegars and such for cooking, Matt’s fishing rod/tackle box, just about all the clothes I own, 417 pairs of shoes, all my jewelry, 327 books, 4 purses, and toiletries over 3 ounces and more than fit into a quart size Ziploc. Ha, suck on that airline liquids rule maker!!! Now, the downside to the train situation is that it took as long to get to Sanford on the rails as it would to drive there, maybe a couple hours longer, actually. I’m not really sure why this is the case, but it is. The seat was super roomy and comfy since I had to be on it for 17 hours, minus the loud, rude, kinda low rent clientele that kept walking up and down the aisles yelling and acting generally retarded at 5am. Positive, I was one car from the lounge car, aka pharmacy for liquid self-medicating; negative, see previous low rent clientele statement. Matt called it Walmart on rails . . . pretty accurate! Once in Sanford, I had about a 3 hour drive southwest to get to Longboat Key. Drove right past Disney World and thought about nipping into Epcot, just to feel like I was in Europe for a little while. Alas, I just kept going.

Longboat Key is a barrier island that is made up of mostly residential properties. There is big money on this little island, some of the houses are unbelievable. I’m staying at a great little property that is made up of 2 little cottages and then 3 villas. There is a big pool for all the houses and then a private little garden/pool for just the cottages. Since the Jasmine cottage is empty, I pretty much have the little slice of heaven all to myself. I will be most un-neighborly if someone arrives to that cottage in the next 2 weeks. The beach is right across the street and is great. No crowds, since it’s all residential and there is no public parking, clear water that just rolls in across the sandbar, great sea shells to collect, and awesome sunsets.

The first 3 days were a little touch and go. It rained, and I mean poured, for 3 solid days. There isn’t much to do here other than be on the beach or at the pool, so I was seriously considering saying fuck it, and heading home. The weather forecast was exactly the same for the next 10 days; mamma can’t have that! Fortunately, the weather people were dead wrong and it’s been beautiful for the last 3 days. My days pretty much look like this: wake up, have coffee on the beach and try to beat the blue hairs to the best shells that have washed in overnight, have breakfast, make sangria for later in the day (gotta let the fruit soak for a couple of hours), go to the beach, have lunch, lay by the pool, get sangria for sundowners on the beach, drink sangria until the sun goes down. Sometimes I have to decide between sangria and gin&tonics. It’s exhausting :-)

the cottage

outside the front door

entrance to private garden and pool

seriously, a little slice of heaven

a quick swim in between rain showers on my first day

So, I woke up from a little nap to find this beastie about 5 feet from me. Clearly his beach.

friend on the front steps seeking higher ground from all the rain.

sunset after the rain

another friend on the front steps. She tried to follow me in one day.

storm coming in

see . . . pouring!

and then the sun came out!!

sundowner sangria!
lovely no?

great sunsets