Monday, June 27, 2011

Panicale Lunch 3

  Man, thank god I keep a journal when I travel. I'd love for you all to think I could actually remember the events I write about, but let's get real. Half the fun of doing this blog is going back through my photos and journal to get an idea of what to write about today. 
   And today it's food. Again. In Panicale. Again. 
  Every day we would pass by the sweet little outdoor patio of the restaurant "Lillo Tatini" at the top of the main piazza in Panicale. It was right on the way to our apartment. I always enjoyed the pots of herbs and flowers that were scattered around the front door and patio, and could just imagine how lovely it must be in the summer when there would be people sitting outside, drinking wine and enjoying a good meal. Plus, every time we passed by, there were spectacular smells coming from the kitchen. We knew it would only be a matter of time before we popped in for lunch.
  On March 17, the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy (gee, thanks, journal!), we woke to another overcast day. Most businesses were closed for the holiday, except for Bar Gallo and the restaurants. So after our Bar Gallo visit, we hoofed it up to Lillo Tatini. There were quite a few people in town because of the holiday, so we were happy to get a table early. 
  Inside, it's very cosy, again like being in someone's home. There is a nice mix/match of table settings and linens. Even the napkin rings were cool.

Front dining room, all yellow and warm. Unfortunately, the food photos are
a little on the yellow side... sorry

  I had actually read about this place on a couple of foodie websites before leaving the states, and I was looking forward to our lunch here. We had asked about it around town, and were told that Lillo Tatini was "non tipicali", meaning not a typical regional restaurant. It may be a little more contemporary, but we really loved our meal. Nouveau cuisine? a good way. We ordered a nice bottle of something red while scoping out the menu. The waitress, perhaps the owner, was very helpful with vegetarian options. I never cease to be amazed at how nice wait staff can be with those of us who have to make little changes with the menu offered. In this case, the change came in Johnny's dish, below:

Johnny's ravioli stuffed with quail egg and topped with sauteed zucchini and ricotta salata.
The original dish included speck sprinkled on top, instead of the zucchini. The little egg yolk in the ravioli were perfectly done.

I had, and by the way, hope to have again, wonderful potato,truffle and lentil cannelles
in a buerre blanc sauce with shaved truffle on top. Whoa.

A typical "insalata mista", (mixed salad) and Umbrian lentils were our shared contorni. These lentils
 are a regional specialty best served simplest with olive oil and a little lemon & rosemary. 
  Ok, can we talk Dolci? We don't always order dessert, but in this case it was a must have. Most dessert menus leave me wanting. Wanting what? I don't know, until I see a dessert menu like the one at Lillo Tatini. And why not a little vin santo to go with, please? Fine, just fine.

Fresh pear cake with a warm semi-sweet dark chocolate sauce. Notice, please, the
caramelization of the pears on top. Thank you. And the inside, so warm, and almost a creamy consistency.

Right up Johnny's alley- a white chocolate semi-freddo with the same warm chocolate sauce.
The little orange tomatillo sort of things were fun, and pretty!
  We will be very happy to book a dinner next time at Lillo Tatini, in beautiful, down town Panicale... and most likely a lunch, too!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Me And Movies 1

  I just saw "Super 8" this week, and it really tugged at my heartstrings. Without giving anything away, I will say that it involves some kids who love movies. Especially horror movies. Kids after my own heart. It reminded me of my much younger self, which is what movies do so well at times. I love that younger self, and I think she was pretty dang cool.
  Movies and I go waaay back. Long before  digital downloading, Netflix, DVDs, cable, VCRs....back when the options were basically the nearest theatre or late night television. I loved when the weekly TV Guide would arrive in the mail box. I would sit for hours, scouring the listings and circling in ball point pen all the options I had for the next 7 days.
  In the summer, I remember staying up until all hours watching "Creature Features", often with my Mom. She was the best Mom ever, because she let me, along with all the neighborhood kids, watch all the creepiest horror movies we wanted. I was introduced at a tender age to the delights of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (still the sexiest vampire on screen, sorry Edward Cullin...), Bela Lugosi,Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney. All staples of the late night horror fests. I even made and painted the monster models to put on my bedroom shelf. These were the oldies but really goodies, until Abbott & Costello got hold of them.....
  I couldn't make up my mind whether I wanted to be bitten by the Vampire, or the Vampire himself. It was a very confusing time for me. Could I grow up to be Mothra? Rodan? What would I do if the Living Dead attacked our town? Was the Creature of the Black Lagoon under my bed, just waiting to grab me and pull me to my ultimate death? The giant ants, humongous tarantula... scary, for sure, but that 50 foot woman really freaked me out. I would lie awake worrying whether I would have time to get the whole family(including my Grandma who lived up the street...) safely into our various closets when "The Birds" attacked.
  It was always a delightful blend of being heart pounding scared, and completely thrilled by the idea that it could happen to me. All of it. Vampires. Zombies. Wolfmen. Giant Insects of all sorts. Robotic Space Aliens, Blobs of Slime, and of course, Super Huge Radioactive Reptiles from Japan.
  It was heaven sent when I got my job at Kit Parker Films, a local 16mm film distributer that used to have it's headquarters here. Over several years working there, I was able to see many of the obscure, foreign, and classic films I'd only read about in the books and magazines I collected. Good times, Good times....the sound of the projector chic-chic-chic-ing, and the film flap, flap, flapping at the end of a reel. Heady days. In many ways, movies saved me, and made me who I am today, but that's for another posting..
  As time has passed, I still love really scary, gruesome horror films, and now I can stop and examine each disgusting scene, frame by frame, thanks to modern technology. But don't get me wrong.... I don't watch horror exclusively, I'll go in for just about any type of movie from summer block-busters to art house indies. I am no film snob (well, Julia Roberts is a deal breaker).
  These days we try to see a movie every week on the big screen, and I can easily go through several dvds a week, sometimes watching movies for the 5th, 6th or 10th time. Drives my husband nuts. I enjoy every minute, from the previews to the soundtracks, the credits are always too long, but fun to watch... I like to see where in the world the movie was filmed. It's all a world of wonder for me, and always has been. When I sit and watch a really great movie, I am that little kid again, with eyes wide open and heart pounding, just waiting to see what will unfold up there on the big screen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Eternal City Indeed

  As a bit of a Happy Father's Day to my dearest Dad, I decided to go on a bit about Rome, one of his favorite cities... and a place I visited for the first time earlier this year.
  Johnny and I had been put off by the "big city" aspect of Rome, so we had steered clear on previous visits to Italy. Mom and Dad had told us over and over again that we needed to go, what with all there is to see in the way of Art and History. Their first trip to Italy was a trip to Rome, in late February...well, that's when we would be heading over to Umbria, so why not add a few extra days and check out Rome a bit off season?
  I did my VRBO research, and snagged a great little apartment in the Testaccio district, just south of the main attractions and close to the Tiber River. Sweet. We stayed 5 nights, which gave us 4 full days to explore, and explore we did. Of course 4 days isn't even close to enough time to see everything, but our motto is "we can always come back". Even still, day 1 was pretty crazy. Johnny got us up and out at the crack of dawn, and like Roman Gladiators we fought the good fight:
  Boarium Forum, Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Arch of Titus, Colosseum, Pantheon, Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, Via Giulia for dinner, and at midnight or so... why not hoof it over to the Trevi Fountain, to end the day? I now refer to this day as "The Forced March". Seriously, it was a day I will never forget...just amazing.

Roman Forum with the Colosseum in the background. See how clear it was?

Inside the Colosseum. There were other people, for sure, but we never had to wait in any lines...

Sunset Day 1 in Rome. Amazing light.

We are on top of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument for sunset.
Beautiful? Yes. Freaking cold? You have no idea. Worth it..You Bet!!

  Please don't try this at home... especially with jetlag, in near freezing temperatures. I must say, we had the city to ourselves, and a few others... it was wicked cold, but sunny and amazingly clear, and not windy. In the next few days we took in all of the Vatican (wait in line? Maybe 15 minutes...), Trasrevere,  Testaccio Open Market,  MACRO in Testaccio(a cool new contemporary museum),  Piazza Fiori, and Piazza Navona, Pallazzo Doria Pamphilj, and the Juniculum Gardens...WHEW.

Artichokes in the Testaccio Market. Roman style artichokes are most delightful.

It's all about the about Art!

Pizza Bianca. A flat bread we fell in love with. Oily, salty, crunchy, and sooo simple.

Gorgeous clouds over Piazza Navona. 

   Really, even just walking around our little neighborhood was something special. I remember when my folks got back from that first trip to Rome. Dad kept saying how "everywhere you look, you see art". Well, Dad wasn't kidding. I mean, we knew it would be great, but it was beyond anything we could have imagined. I really think part of our enjoyment was due to being there without the crowds. If you can take the weather risk, go in late February... but take a heavy coat. Big plus: flights are way less,
 and you can get a good deal on an apartment.
  Dad, Mom.... I only wish we were sitting in Piazza Navona enjoying negronis or vino bianco, right now!! Thanks for inspiring us to take on Rome.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Trouble With Gnomes

  Sure, they're sort of cute, very kitschy, maybe even collectable at some level. But when you begin to see them popping up a bit too often, you have to ask yourself  "What the..."? So I did ask myself. And a few others, too.
  My curiosity was piqued while we were driving around while in Umbria. Our M.O. was to just pick an area to go check out, and drive. On the way we might find a great place to stop for Johnny to paint, or maybe find another awesome place to have a bite to eat. As the perpetual passenger, I was able to stare out the window, enjoying the scenery. I began to notice that the Gnome was a regular visitor in many a garden. Especially the characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Ms. White, in all her Glory.

Me thinks this is Bashful, but I love what he's done with his hat & shoes!

Workin' so hard...

Classic "Doc".

I saw lots of these guys that had duel purpose of
greeter/light keeper. Oh, and Strawberry Presenter.

  The Seven Dwarfs, known as "Sette Nani" in Italian, were not the only small, slightly creepy guests in these gardens. There could be strange little men with chianti bottles, or stoned looking dudes... even lovable characters from old black & white movies.

This was a drive-by shot...but I could not resist.



  I became obsessed.
  Poor Johnny... I went from the passenger who hums along with Italian Top 40 radio, to the passenger who screams "STOP! There's another one! I have to get a picture!" He was such a trooper, though.
  And strangely patient.
  Secretly, I think he would really like a little Gnome party going on in our garden, but that's a whole other blog. Enough said.
 When I asked a couple of locals what the deal was with the Gnomes, they all had the same response:
 "I don't know who these people are, I don't know ANYONE who has these things, I do not understand this thing."
  It was hysterical. And yet, here they are, in living color. And these are but a few of the pictures I took. AND this was in a 20 mile radius, for the most part. I loved it. It became a fun scavenger hunt, without having to knock on strangers doors. Though I did feel odd (dare I say creepy) when we would pull up to a house and I would jump out to get the shot. I ended up taking lots of photos as we slowly drove by... what with the barking dogs and grandmas giving me the evil eye. A big smile does go a long way.

So what's the trouble with Gnomes? I just can't get enough...
I don't know for sure, but I think this guy is up to no good.
These two buddies were in the middle of an apartment parking lot.
 You tell me. Looks like a get-away attempt, BIG time.
LOVE LOVE LOVE the pup in the background.
 And the fact that this guy is tied up.
The Money Shot! Jackpot..

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Climbing "The Dome"

  Third time was the trick. Third stay in Florence finally got us to climb the Dome. We love to fly in or out of Florence when we visit Italy. It's such a dainty little airport, and user friendly, in my opinion. I just know they are going to change it again, and make it bigger, but I hope not too soon. Ah, well...
  Anyway, on this last trip, we stayed 2 nights before flying home. I was bound and determined to get to the Top-O-The-Dome this time, and had to plan carefully. First, even off season, there are the crowds. I knew that it was a tight fit getting up there, and we didn't want to feel pushed or rushed. Then I took into consideration our tendency to have a little mid-day wine break(or two), which always kills any chance of doing something very physical (we screwed up our chance in this manner on day 1), and decided first thing in the morning would be our best bet. 
  Morning 2 in Florence we woke early, to a beautiful April day. A bite of breakfast in the hotel, and off we went to tackle this massive feat.... but of course we had to stop for just one more cup. We sat outside, at a cafe across from the entrance to the Dome, watching for hoards of people to get in line, but we lucked out. There was just a group of high school kids getting ready, so we sprinted over and cut in front of  them. Hehehehehe... we can still run... and still take cuts....

Waiting to go inside the Dome, having a cappuccino.
  Inside, you start climbing right away. I should mention that we had already visited the cathedral itself, so we were just here for the Dome. We huffed it up, up, up, high school hooligans hot on our heels. So it seemed. In reality, sound travels amazingly well in that space, and it just sounded like they were on our heels. It was very cool arriving to the area above the alter, and being able to view the Vasari frescoes so close. You get to go all around, on a catwalk type thing, circling above the entire alter. The sight of the people down on the floor of the cathedral was just amazing. Plus, all the tile work on the floor itself revealed the intricate detail beautifully, seen from above.
  So we start up again, and now we are in the "dome within the dome", part of the genius of Brunelleschi's design to help keep the weight to a minimum, and allow a space to climb up on the inside. This should be one of the miracles of the modern world. Perhaps it is. If not, I declare it so. To have the vision to design and build this masterpiece, without all the conveniences of modern construction, is mind blowing to me. 170 years in the making.

  Once through the really freaky tight spots, and corkscrew turn places, we are outside and stunned. So nice to be up there with only a handful of people. What's not to love... amazing views over one of the world's truly awesome cities, on a glorious spring day...  Kinda pretty, I'll say (thank you, legs and lungs. So glad I've been taking care of you!).
Looking towards Piazza Signoria, and the Arno River.

Love to look close up at the many roof gardens. There are some great ones in Florence!

So far up. I enjoyed seeing the outside curve of the Dome from up here. Imagine what it
took to build... begun in 1296, finally finished in 1436.

  After taking bunches of photos, looking for our hotel, searching for where we stayed with Mom & Dad in 2004, checking out where we would wander to next, we just stared out at the wonder of Florence. I believe I may have gotten a bit teary-eyed, being as it was our final full day in Italy. Eventually we wound our way back down, as it started getting crowded up there.
 Heading back down.
The dome within the dome... Just enough space to fit through.

This corkscrew part went on and on and on. It actually made me a little dizzy and  woozy!

  As we were leaving the area, there was another group of teens getting ready for the climb up. We overheard one particularly stylish young man with a British accent say to his companion:
   "Eight euro? To climb a bloody stair?" 

  We looked at each other and had to laugh. Brunelleschi's Dome. A bloody stair, indeed.