Monday, September 26, 2011


  We run a pretty tight ship around the house in the mornings. Wake up way too early, get coffee going, make lunch, do the stretches, hit the beach path for an hour of serious walking... not much time to just kick back and relax before rushing out the door to work. The coffee gets short shrift most mornings. So sad. 
  Sad, because I really love the whole coffee ritual. I like to fill the kettle with water, grind the luscious smelling beans, heat the milk up...yeah, it's only 1%, but I still enjoy it. We have stayed true to the paper filter in the cone system, going back and forth between the two cups. Mmmmm. No fancy machines or anything. What can I say. It works for us. On our "sleep late" day, when we blow off stretching and walking and don't have to go to work, we have our cups in bed, reading art, travel or food magazines. Luxury!
  Sometimes I'll get out the silver Bialetti espresso maker on our days off for an afternoon pick-me-up.
We'll put extra hot milk and even sugar in these special treat cups. Funny, because when we are in Italy, we only use the Bialetti.... Most places we've rented have them, and they even have a cute little tiny gas ring on the stovetop just for this purpose. It cracked me up the first time I saw one of these. Cute little gas ring thingy!
   A massive difference when we are in Italy, is that we drink cappuccinos in the morning with lots of milk and sugar, and we'll throw espresso back any old time of the day. Morning, noon, night. I think we walk so much while on our trips that no matter what, I'm going to sleep like a log. And dream. We'll stop in to the local bar in each and every town we visit, knowing that the cups are always going to be like heaven. Often we'll go native and stand at the bar just long enough to throw back one shot of espresso. Boom, and we're gone. Other times, it's a long rest or a chance to chat with the locals, or other travelers. I like to catch up on my journal writing over a cup, too. Johnny sketches while sitting outside, gazing into the everyday life of the piazza. Sweet.

These beauties were enjoyed by my folks and us in Certaldo, Tuscany. We were there for a local festival
celebrating all the local food and hand crafted products.

Two shots of cups in Venice, while writing post cards...
  We know it almost always costs more to sit outside and be waited on, but when the town center or piazza is active with kids kicking soccer balls, moms with strollers, grandmas gossiping on benches and cats, it's totally worth it. If the sun is shining, all the better. The slice of life you get to enjoy is worth the extra charge every time. And don't get me started about the pleasure I get when the bells go off at whatever church is close by. And there's always a church nearby. I get all teary eyed just writing about it. Damn.

Macchiato in Rome, from what I can see on the map.

At our favorite Bar Gallo in Panicale, Umbria.
For me, a cappuccino is breakfast.

Espresso at Caffe Degli Artisti in Cortona, Tuscany.
The dolci were on the house and yummy.
  For the price of a candy bar here in the states we can sit for hours if we want, sipping our cups, enjoying whatever show may be unfolding before us. One of these days I will learn that I can do this right here, at home... why don't I? Seems there is always something that needs to be done right now that keeps me from taking the time to relax. The clothes need washing, the garden needs tending, the groceries need buying, the house needs cleaning...I NEED RELAXING. 
  But, hey, that's what vacation is for, right? You better believe it.

Two photos after the fact...Assisi on top, and I think Venice is the second.

Our morning treat in Paciano, after walking from Panicale.
Then the long way back!

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Umbrian Lunch 3

  Well, I'm getting down to the last meals we had "out" on our trip to Umbria this past March. That means one thing, and one thing only. Time to book another trip and get back there, PRONTO! Why, I do believe I hear Panicale calling right now
  One thing I have learned whilst fooling around with this little bloggy, is to get better at the picture taking- especially with food. Admittedly, many of the photos are pretty dang good, but the food shots are all about the lighting. There are a few meals that sadly won't ever make it to the blog simply because the food looks so icky. It wasn't, but without proper lighting, even the best Trattoria meal looks awful. The camera I use is just a regular little digital thing, nothing fancy.... and I don't want to get all fancy. What I have realized is that it's always good to sit near a window to get that natural light. Since we like to go out to lunch, this works well.
 This was the case with the restaurant I'm writing about today. This place was a trip - no lights on at all in the dining room. So Italian, to be saving on the electric bill. I love this. But the restaurant had big windows along the back wall, so it was bright back there. Perfecto for photos.
  We were told about Locanda di Sanfatucchio by Aldo, the ever informative owner of Bar Gallo, in Panicale. He explained to us that they were known for great pizzas, and he would get one "to go" every week to eat at home while he and his wife watched a favorite weekly TV show. I was craving pizza ever since we had eaten at Pizzaria Remo ( see the post "Pizza in Rome", April ). Weeks in Umbria, and we'd only had pizza once. So we decided to give it a try. First time was a bust, closed! We persevered, and a few days later, on an overcast day, we score.
  As we entered, we thought it was closed again, but it was just dark, because of the "no lights on" situation. Also, we were the only customers. There was an elegantly dressed man that came forward to greet us, and lead us to a table near the back windows, fortunately. He was also the waiter, of course. We looked over the menu, feeling a little was dark, no one around, just a big old flat screen TV with soccer playing...kind of spooky. No English spoken here, that was for sure. And the main guy was a little intimidating, too.
  But wait.... no pizza until after 17:00! Man, I was bummed! Ah, well, several options for vegetarians that looked good, so we decide to stay. Besides, that waiter was freaking me out. Best thing to do at a time like this? Order a bottle of the local white Grechetto, certamente! We ordered an appetizer plate of mixed veggie bruschetta, as always, a mixed salad and a platter of grilled veg, and just one plate of the awesome sounding risotto with asparagus and spring peas to share. The waiter wasn't too happy about the idea of us sharing a plate, but we knew it would be enough.
  What happened next was classic. Instead of turning the order into the kitchen, he went straight to the phone and made a quick call. Don't ask me how or why I noticed this, but I did. We were served our wine, and a little basket of bread... we were most content, watching the big TV, and the trains passing by in the distance. Nice. After about 10 minutes, a car zooms into the parking lot and in rushes an older woman, waving "buongiorno!" to us as she drops her purse behind the counter and ties on an apron! The phone call was obviously to the chef, sitting at home "on call" during this off season day. Looked like she could have been the waiter's mamma, for sure. The food was so good, we went back a few days later and ordered twice as much! As for pizza, well, next year we will have to go back after 5 to check out that scene.

  Ristorante Pizzeria Locanda di Sanfatucchio, located on Viale Lombardia 3, Sanfatucchio, Umbria close to Castiglione del Lago. Yeah, no website.

Mixed plate of bruscetta- tomato; olive oil and garlic; soft cheese with truffle;
porcini puree; strange, delightful creamy one with carrots and peas

Porcini puree and the creamy one. This was the only time we had this creamy variety... carrots, peas and potato.
I enjoy the simple, unsalted bread of this area... perfect for the salty, savory toppings.

Now I am hungry. Asparagus risotto served in a parmesan bowl. Perfectly beautiful grilled veg, salad.

Mmmmm...gots to have a close up of this... So pretty.

And a close up of this, too... Love the glistening olive oil. Oh, yum.
 As I mentioned, we went back a second time, and each ordered the risotto, plus the beautiful green beans, so simple with olive oil and lemon. And Grechetto. This made our now friendly waiter very happy, indeed! We will absolutely return for lunch, and can not wait to see what they do with pizza.

Mangia, Mangia!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Love Paris

  I know what you're thinking... Janelle, you're all about Italy, right? True, true... but I love Paris. My first trip to Europe was not that long ago, and it was to Paris.
 We arrived on March 19th, 2003. The day the U.S. bombed the crap out of the Presidential Palace in Baghdad in what was dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom". You remember.. it was when everyone was pouring French wines down the drain, and who could forget "freedom" fries? The U.S. was "Country non-grata", or so we thought, because of our invasion of Iraq and France's disapproval of our actions.
  I thought we would be spat upon, and have tomatoes thrown at us, all that sort of thing. On the contrary, of course. The people we came in contact with were kind, helpful, interested in what we had to say. We didn't have any problems at all. No one was rude or nasty to us. It was a fantastic first trip.
  Who knows what would have happened if things had gone another way. They didn't, and we have been back to Paris several times. Johnny would love to relocate to the City of Lights right this moment, in fact. He's all about the cheese and baguettes, man. Oh, and the fantastic light... I love the light, too. The unreal quality of the light. Sometimes, when I'm feeling blue, I think about the trees along the Seine, the way the sun hits the leaves. It's one of those images I hold very close.
   I just came across a bunch of discs with photos from trips we took to Paris and Italy a few years ago. It's better than Christmas morning as a kid, for me. Below are pictures that capture some of what I love about Paris. Still waiting to go back, and we do need to take in the south of France one of these years.     For now, I'll enjoy these pictures and have some champagne.

The boat guy in the Jardin des Tuileries 

Kids hire the boats for a half hour and push them around with long bamboo poles.
Very old school. So colorful.

Windmill in Montmartre, with bird, and purple blooming tree.

The sky is what knocks me out. Pont Neuf.


These are the trees I dream about, with the sun just so.

Giant looming tower. I love how it totally dwarfs you as you get closer and closer.

Lovely cobbled street in Montmartre. Rue Lapin, I think.

He's saying "Now do you believe me?"
 Springtime in Paris.

This guy was painting a very nifty scene on the side of a falafal joint in the Marais.

Sweet street art.

A typical corner market.

Luscious produce.

Bakery yumminess.

All sorts of iron work in one small picture. This is such a Paris scene.