Friday, November 7, 2014

Morning Walk, November 7, 2014

  I'm sure I do a post like this every year…the Harvest Moon at sunrise/moonset on the Monterey Bay….
  It moves me enough every year to actually haul along my little camera so I can get the shot, which always ends up being a zillion shots…but really, why not? So beautiful to be out before the moon goes down and the sun comes up.
  For some wonderful reason, November is the time. The moon is huge, the weather is bracing, but not yet cold-cold…and it's still. So still.

I see you, Moon.

  There have been hundreds of seabirds hanging out at the nearby lake, and they all take flight out over the ocean as dawn starts to break…
  This morning, I tried very hard to catch them in my little lens, but it's tough to do!

Moonlight reflection on the bay…pretty.

  My routine is to run up and down the hill several times, at a reasonably good pace. While I do my "laps" the sun starts it's thing, and the colors can be breathtaking. Today, it was all soft pastels, as there weren't many clouds. 
  As I get to the top of the first hill, it seems the moon has gotten even bigger.

Big ole' Moon.

  Sun isn't up yet, though…
  Johnny calls this view of Mount Toro the "Sun Alter", and I get it. That sun will make it's first peek in just a few more minutes…..

"The Sun Alter"
A wonderful spot to stop and reflect on the day ahead of me.

  We listen to books while we do our laps…Johnny walks, I like to run…it makes me a child again. I want to wake up in the morning and have an hour or so of childhood, to start my day.
  All I need is a bowl of Captain Crunch, and I'm there, baby.

  We end up passing each other a few times while we do our thing. There is a good group of us out there at this time of day, especially on the weekends. Today was quiet, though…we had the place to ourselves, for the most part….

Johnny hoofing it up the hill, as I make my way down.
I didn't know this would be such a pretty shot of the fence….

The sun has just broken over the mountain, and it's shining on.
Johnny and I have traded places….

The top of the hill, where we watch the sunrise.

  Even though I see this scene over and over, year after year…I never get tired of it. The sun making the most of it with shadows everywhere. The moon just getting bigger and bigger as it gets closer to setting down...

The sun at our backs, the bay just down there a bit….

Almost down, the moon is ready to call it a day.
It will slowly flatten out and disappear….

  This morning I was surprised to see this massive fog bank tumbling towards us. It just didn't seem like it was going to be a foggy day! I guess the sun beat it back, because it's perfect out right now.
  This is so much more typical in our summer months.

One moment it didn't exist, then bam!

  We have all been so concerned about our lack of rainfall…it's been a true disaster here in California. Last week we had a whole day and night of soft rain, creating the most fantastic perfume in the air, as well as plumping up all the thirsty and very dry dune plants. 
  I swear, it was only a day or two after the rain that the grass started coming up. You just know those little seeds have been waiting for this one moment to sprout….

The very first of the "weeds" along the path.

   I love how the plants look in the early morning…the textures are lovely at anytime of the day, but extra gorgeous as the sun is coming up. Plus, they are so happy to have had some rain!

Early morning Artemisia, one of my faves.

  After months and months and months of drought…years, really…it's been worrisome to see even the toughest native dune plants dying off….

Usually these would be at least somewhat green….

  It is very special to see some life back in the dunes…some green coming on, along with the greys and such. I don't expect lush rainforest action, but seeing the native plants beginning to come along feels pretty good.

Native Buckwheat with it's pal, Artemisia.
Just look at the color of that new growth!

  I don't know, or have forgotten the names of many of the natives around here, but there are some real standouts that I look forward to enjoying each year. 
  My pal Mary has been involved with a group of folks who collect seed, grow off the babies, and then plant them in the protected areas along the bay. I helped a few times, way back when…and I think of these dedicated local heroes every time I am out here in the dunes...
  Thanks, Dune Restoration People!! One Million Thank-yous!

This is what they bring to those of us who walk/run/ride the trail….

It's just so beautiful….
Thank you, Rain!

  I just had a call from Mr. J, back at home…the fog has landed in our very own garden. It sure is sunny where I am…

This fog bank finally made it to our house, up the hill. 

  Back to the loveliness of the dune plants…..

Those leaves look nice and juicy.
I'm thinking it's a native verbena of some sort.

I liked the way the shadows were playing here.

Some little flowering whatchamacallits….
It looks almost like wild mustard of some sort.
Mary, forgive me my ignorance, please….

  Then I get caught up in the texture of it all. I mean, who wouldn't? With the sun just so, and the new growth just so…it's perfection….

I love this so much.

  Last, but certainly not least… we look forward to our Hawk. 
  We have named him/her Hawky-Hawk. We look and look and look. Hawky-Hawk has several places to perch, so we get the chance to spot her every morning, pretty much. If we go more than a week without seeing Hawky, we get nervous. But today, Hawky-Hawk was catching some warm sunshine and looking for mice, as always, in a favorite spot…..
  Honestly, I think people must think we're nuts…the way we yell out and talk to Hawky-Hawk. Hello, Goodbye, See you tomorrow…it goes on and on. 

  Sigh. I'm so glad I have my dear husband to be a total weirdo with. 

Howdy, Hawky-Hawk!!

  Well, until sometime next November…or most likely from Panicale, here's to the early morning walking routine. I can't recommend it enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dinner At DivinPeccato, In Panicarola

  As the excitement of future travel begins to tickle my belly, I can't help but go back through photos of meals from past visits to Umbria. I always plan to write more posts while actually there, but the internet connections can be slow and sometimes difficult, so lots of "moments" become stashed away in folders on my computer desktop…just waiting to be discovered anew.

  A perfect example is right here, right now.
  Dinner in nearby Panicarola. 
  Nearby to Panicale, that is. I wish it were nearby my current location, but I can wait.

  This post is about a really fantastic meal Johnny and I had back in 2013. We totally planned on going back again this past 2014 trip, but just never made it. So many trattorias, so little time. A problem I am more than happy to have, by the way.

  Not more than a fifteen minute drive through the lovely countryside, DivinPeccato, or "Divine Sin", is fairly new to the area, and serves a more modern take on the local cuisine. They have a cantina as well as a few nice rooms to rent.

I noticed the sign a couple of years ago, and we just had to try it.

The front of the restaurant, which is right in the middle of
this very small village.

Outdoor seating for the warmer months…

One of the cozy dining rooms.

  We hadn't heard anything about DivinPeccato, therefore I had Johnny stop the car one afternoon so I could take a quick look at the menu. 
  I had a chance to speak briefly with the young couple, Mirko and Nicola, who own it. Evidently, they both worked at a nearby country resort that had recently sold, so they opened up this place of their own. They were happy to point out the various vegetarian options available.
  They also talked about their philosophy for the restaurant, which was local, seasonal, sustainable…all good! Of course, the specialties of most places around Lake Trasimeno are the fish dishes, which I imagine are wonderful. We did see some very interesting vegetarian dishes to try, so we made a date to come back for dinner.

  When we finally came for dinner, it was close to the end of that trip, so we even dressed up for the occasion.
  The wine list was extensive, but we opted for the house wine, which was fine. I tend to go for white wine, and stay away from reds, as they can trigger my migraines…so here, we were each able to order what we wanted by the half carafe. White for me, red for Mr. J.

Two glasses for two happy campers.


  Our waiter was very nice, happy to answer any questions, and also non-intrusive. Perfecto! As is often the case, Johnny just sat back and asked me to order for both of us. This works out well most of the time. Here, it really worked because there were so many things I wanted to try.

  We started with a dish to share…sadly. Sadly because I should have ordered two! It was wonderful...

"Cipolla Rossa di Cannara in Parmigiana"
Local red onions, special to the region, layered with parmesan, and roasted until gooey.

  I love onions, I love parmesan, I love roasted, gooey things. It was all that. I would order this again, absolutely, only one for each of us.

  Since we knew this would be a last "special" dinner out, we decided to go for it, and order more than we usually do. It was nice to really take our time, and sit back to enjoy a night out. I had a couple of dishes in mind as our "primi", or first course. In reality, these would probably be starters, and our main course choices would be first course. We skip the "secondi", or meat course, so we often order extra things from the first course menu, as our main dish. Are you following me? I hope so….More importantly, the waiter understood, so no problemo!

  Now, for Johnny (but also for me, because we switch plates back and forth) I thought we should try the  "Coccetto di Pecorino e Tartufo in Crosta Sfoglia".
  I wasn't exactly certain, but I knew it had pecorino, truffles, and some type of baked crust….It did.

Oh! You mean like a "pot pie"!
I get it..

Of course it wasn't rich….ahem. Sure.
It was so #*%&$#! good!

  Good thing the alternate dish was a bit lighter. Not much, though.

"Crema di Asparagi con Gnudi di Ricotta"
Asparagus soup with ricotta dumplings.

  The soup had that green, springtime flavor of asparagus that just takes you right to the fields. It was super clean and actually it was quite light. These two dishes worked well together.
  The gnudi were good, and I remember that the crunch was a very nice texture to have here. This is a dish I would love to try and recreate. I bet it wouldn't be that difficult, either.

  But then I get to a point where I say to myself:
  "Self, when are you going to realize that you are someone who likes the idea of cooking, but in all actuality, you just like to eat, and are pretty lazy when it comes to the cooking part "?
  So, instead, I'll probably just make a point to go back to DivinPeccato for the soup, and call it good.

  Ok, back to the dinner we were enjoying.
  First of all, I do want to mention again how great the staff is here. We were so happy to just hang out, sip wine, watch all the goings on…it was a long, slow evening of perfectness, with nobody trying to move us along at any point. They just don't do that here in Italy. Your dinner should take all evening. It's just that we usually go out for lunches, and order much less, so this was sort of special.

  Ok, NOW… back to the dinner we were enjoying.

  Johnny can never have enough pasta, so I ordered a plate of "Stringhelli al Tartufo e Pecorino" for us. Of course, the pasta is all handmade, in house. Always such a mindblower. The texture is nothing like packaged dry pasta. Nothing wrong with the dry pasta at all, it's just a different experience. Both are just fine.
  This was fresh, though, and it was a perfect match for the sauce of truffles and pecorino cheese.

We both really liked that the sauce wasn't too heavy with creme.
Just really tasty, with a good truffle accent.

  I also ordered an omelette. Yes, you do see omeletts every once in a while on dinner menus here. The filling was fresh fava beans and caciotta cheese. The cheese is usually a soft textured, young cheese from either cow, goat or sheep. It's a cheese that is pretty typical in Umbria. It was nice with the fava beans. It has a mild flavor.
  We also ordered some roasted potatoes and some excellent artichokes cooked country style with "mentucchia", the wild mint that grows all around the fields of the area. 

  (don't tell anyone, but I snuck a small plant of this home in my luggage. It's doing nicely, too)

This looks really good to me right now. 

I would say "perfectly" roasted potatoes.

There is a tiny sprig of mentucchia…not like any mint we have here.
This is a very typical recipe, the artichokes and mentuccia.
They are cooked in olive oil until totally creamy.

  We did share all the way along, passing our dishes back and forth throughout the evening. Everything was delicious. Everything.

  Why, yes, we did have dessert, thanks for asking!

 Apple & Cinnamon Strudel
in White Chocolate Sauce.

And here we have Banana and Chocolate Flan in Caramel Sauce.
More cake like than flan, but with a very soft interior…"lava" like.

  It was a lot of food for us. But, you know…you just need to do this every once in a while, and this menu just made us want to overindulge some. 

  We both look forward to returning, and I think for dinner again. It's close enough to home that we can handle the roads at night, which is huge. We can actually find our way back….!

  So, until we meet again, Dear DivinPeccato…Arrivederci!

DivinPeccato is located in the town center of Panicarola, Umbria

A warm summer night in Panicarola, Umbria.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Open Says Me

  I hold the odd shaped key as though it were made of gold.

  It might as well be. It's the key to the apartment we stay in while we visit Panicale every year. We have been warned that it is difficult and expensive to duplicate. 
  Fair enough….we keep it close at all times. It is heavy, makes a great clunky sound when dropped, and never goes missing. Well, not yet, anyway.

  It reminds me of a key that was golden and magic…the key that we would get at Children's Fairyland at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Always a very special outing. Mom or Dad would insert this magical key into a slot at whatever Fairyland exhibit we would be standing in front of, and the fairytale would come to life as the tale was read aloud through a speaker.

  This was so high tech and so cool….at the time. Sigh.
  Then we would go and feed the seals. Oh, the simple pleasures of childhood in the early 60's.

Wow…a classic memory, for sure.

  Anyway, like I was saying, this old Italian house key is very much akin to that magical golden key of yore…

  This key opens the door to many dreamlike days and nights in Umbria, filled with all sorts of fairytales. Sure, these fairytales include large doses of pasta, cheeses, and wine, late nights chatting with friends, fantastic espresso, as well as scary drives down wet and muddy backroads, language faux pas ga-LORE, and bouts of the flu…

  But, oh, how I have come to love my new, grown-up version of that Magic Key from Children's Fairyland…..

And cue the angels singing, please…..
I love you, key. Keyhole, you can be a pain in the ass sometimes.
Just saying.

  With a key like this in hand, you know you're somewhere else in the world. Then you begin noticing all the various hardware that is meant for a key like this. Old keys for old doors...
  I should rephrase that.
   begin to notice and then I become obsessed. Like I need another subject to obsessively take photos of….jeez. This being said, here I go.

  There are so many ultimately wonderful old doorknobs, knockers, handles, all textured and funky. We  actually ended up buying some really nice old door handles and pulls for our house at the salvage place we love so much.
   By the way…where are they? Hmmmmm…..Must remind Johnny about this forgotten project before we go away again, and bring back yet more rusty old things that are awesome.

Super Old School and very functional.

I'm guessing the old keyhole isn't used anymore, but it looks great.

Just a very nice door knob.

Don't you just want this at home? I do.

Ok, so sometimes reality is this.
It works.

  Once I got started looking around, I would see ironwork on doors everywhere, of course. Lots right in Panicale, but every town is full of all types of door jewelry….

I'll take this for my front garden gate.

This one for the back garden gate….

A newer version, but still lovely.

This might function as both a knocker and a hook thingy.
I get a kick out of the "dots" on some doors I see.

I can just imagine this one at the front door.
Who's there?

  You will often see faces creep into the scene. I see the Egyptian theme a lot, as well as beautiful women. It's always the beautiful women, isn't it?

The patina is just about perfect here.

Yeah, I would go for this for my front door.

Don't go to this house for a party.
I'm warning you...

I guess she doesn't like her hairdo.

This might be my favorite…maybe...


  The handles are very practical. You have to grab on while you insert the key, and jiggle it all around. It takes two to four hands and a handle, sometimes.

Love this one.

A very normal, often seen handle.

  There are the "human" door knockers, but there are animals, too…lots of lions, of course….

Do I distract you enough that you
don't see the peephole?

LOTS of lions! Who knew?

This pup has his own leash.
I'm thinking he wants a walk.

And an elephant,  just for fun.

  All I know is this:
  I can not wait to have that key in my little old hand again. I could use some magic.
  Let the fairytale begin, baby!