Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Exploring Venice


Against our better judgement, we packed up the children on Monday, tromped through puddles all the way to the stazione, and boarded a train bound for Venizia. You simply cannot go to northern Italy without seeing it, so of course, we went. We emerged about two hours later in Venice, the sun shining, the dull-turqouise water glistening, and our children behaving like angels.

We rewarded their goodness with gelato. In between scoops, Brad chased pidgeons all over the floating city. Cole crashed from the sugar high and fell asleep in his carrier on my chest. Again, we tried to get lost, turning every which way as the mood struck. What a beautiful city! Especially when you explore all of its hidden neighborhoods, avoiding the tourist shops with fake Coach purses, cheap children's toys, and tacky "I love Venice" t-shirts that have metaticised all over the city. Perhaps that's why it's sinking.


We finished the day a charming little pizzeria overlooking the canal. Though the pizza was nothing to blog about, the Chianti, the views, the perfect weather, and the wonderful company made it my favorite meal in Italy so far.

Not sure when if ever I'll make it back, but wow, I am smitten with Venice!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chopped

So I had a really clever title for this blog post, Market Day in Sachile. (That rhymes, in case you didn't read my earlier post on sah-chi-lay, Italy.) Unfortuantely, market day was Friday. Today is Sunday. Thus we're dining on my brother's bachelor pad pantry as all of the stores are closed. Don't get me wrong, he has more than just condiments. But a freezer full of hops and a fridge full of yeast samples doesn't exactly scream 30-minute-meal, now does it Rachel Ray?

Our options: canned tuna, baby spinach, honey nut Cheerios, celery, grana padano, butter, and sweet potatoes. I'm trying to pull all of my Food Network wisdom to this meal. It's like the grand finale of Chopped, minus the culinary training on my part or the 50K prize on theirs.

Rich is out at Biker Bar--no really, that's what it's called--watching the Europe football champion's league game Italy vs. Spain. I have another ten minutes to pull this together. Oh, I guess not, he's buzzing in now to the condo with Ciao Bella and a kiss. Time to pull off dinner!

Update: We just finished eating what was likely the best pantry raid dinner I have ever created: fish cakes of grana padano, crushed Cheerios, and tuna, topped with wilted baby spinach in a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, with roasted sweet potatoes. Totally bril!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Savoring Sacile


We flew into Venice-Treviso last night to spend the week with my brother Jonathan, who lives in Sacile (sah-chi-lay), Italy. The city centres on two islands in the middle of a crystal clear river, the banks of which have been built up with palaces over the centuries.

Everything I expected Italy to be, Sacile is: narrow cobblestone streets, towering brightly-colored buildings with tile roofs, steep pedestrian bridges, paintings on the sides of houses whose walls plunge into the river, gelato shops on every corner, and beautiful people, well, everywhere.

This morning we strolled from Jonathan's condo about two blocks to Bar Trattoria Cavour for breakfast. "Uno macchiato per favore," I said to the stunning middle-age women lingering around the counter. That's about all the Italian I know, unless prosciutto, prosecco, sangiovese, melone, or parmigiano reggiano count for anything. But none of those sounded so great for breakfast.

We dined outside under khaki umbrellas, where I enjoyed my coffee and a warm slice of torte salate--an egg-custard with prosciutto and spinach in a tart shell--which I begrudgingly shared with baby Cole.

After breakfast, we tried to get ourselves lost. We turned whenever the mood struck, new vistas of beauty and ancient history coming into view with every bend. Eventually we decided to find a children's playground and on the way stumbled across Rivaletto Alberto, a chaming little market replete with everything I needed--and so much I didn't--to make a superb Italian dinner.

I picked up a package of fresh gnocchi from the refrigerated section and Alberto emerged from the counter and filled the shop with mellifluous Italian. Unfortunately he didn't use one of the nine words I know in the language. I stared blankly at him. I don't even know how to say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian." It's not that I don't value learning other languages or think everyone should speak American. No excuses, I really should have learned a little more before hopping on the plane. Alberto knew enough English to get by and said the gnocchi was made with fresh potatoes in Treviso. Perfect. I quickly filled a shopping basket and emerged with dinner and snacks for aout 21 euro.

After reposo, we took the kids out to find some gelato. While we ate in front of the shop, the sky opened up and big fat rain drops fell, filling the air with the most amazing aroma of honeysuckle, cigarette smoke, expensive perfume, and warm rain. We walked all over the city. The baby's hair formed into tiny ringlets.

When Jonathan returned from work, we enjoyed fennel and chili-marinated olives, a local red wine, mixed baby greens with oranges, balsamic vinegar, and shaved fennel, and fresh gnocchi with caramelized fennel, leek, fresh tomatoes, and grana padano. A perfect end to a perfect day in Italy.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Raw, Vegan Pesto Wraps


The last few weeks have been our own version of Kafka, giving me yet another reason to identify with Julia Child. She also lived abroad for her husband's job and wondered what exactly she should do with her time. She also found solace and inspiration in cooking. And as I discovered from My Life in France, she also endured a tenuous existence overseas not knowing when and where she and Paul would be moved next. 

Well, here we are, moving again. This time, back to the United States. My life in Europe is coming to a close far sooner than I anticipated. But as I've adopted a vegan diet lately, I will not miss the butters here. Okay, maybe just a little. 

My dabbling in raw food came at a rough time in life, so I cannot say I did Ani Phyo's book Fat Blast any justice in evaluating it. Though I probably will never find three days of soups and smoothies very appealing, some of her other recipes later in the plan are amazing. Try these wraps as an appetizer or a healthy lunch. This serves two people for lunch or four for an appetizer. 

Yields 8 small rolls

Pesto:
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
1 avocado, mashed
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional 
1/2 cup fresh basil, minced 

Filling:
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced in thin spears
1/2 English cucumber, sliced in thin spears
handful bean sprouts or really any vegetable you find appealing

4 large leaves, such as cabbage, lettuce or kale

To make the filling, pulse the pistachios in a food processor until they're finely ground. In a mortar and pestle, mash the avocado, garlic, nutritional yeast, and basil. Add the pistachios to the mortar and pestle and mash until combined.

Remove the tough ribs from the leaves and schmear about one quarter cup of pesto onto the entire leaf. Lay vegetables on it and roll. Make a perpendicular slice to divide the roll. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to an hour.