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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Nice????

My cousin just sent me this picture of a place he just visited in the Persian Gulf, and I was immediately transported there in my mind. I could just imagine myself sitting on one of the chaise lounges, sipping a nice cool fruity drink, and taking in the beauty of the sea before me. These desires always seem to come to me at the end of the summer when I have not had my fill of the ocean. I was born and raised in San Francisco, therefore while growing up, I have always had the ocean in my backyard (not literally, but it was less than a mile from my home and always in view). There was never a day when I didn't see some part of the blue Pacific! Now I don't live in sight of it every day, but I am only about an hour's drive from the beach. Unfortunately, with life's busy schedule, my trips to the coast are few and far between - and I MISS IT!! I didn't realize it until I saw this beautiful picture! I think it's time for a beach vacation...what do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Al Fresco Dining in California

We are definitely experiencing what is known as Indian Summer in California. Towards the end of the summer, when the weather heats up to almost 100 degrees, we experience the last moments of summer before Fall sets in. And even though it's very hot and miserable during the day, it's all worth it to have a beautiful and warm evening to be able to enjoy the outdoors. So we take advantage of eating al fresco whenever we get these opportunities. And tonight was one of those great evenings. We started off with Tijuana Taxis - a refreshing martini made with 2 parts each of orange juice and sweet and sour, mixed with one part tequila and cointreau. Our salad was made from home grown tomatoes from a friend's garden near Sacramento, basil from our backyard, a sprinkle of gongonzola cheese, and olive oil.

And then we grilled up some "vino and formaggio" sausages and served those on toasted french bread. But the prize dish tonight was Prosciutto Wrapped Figs and Blue Cheese!!! And what a treat it was!! We have a great harvest of mission figs this year and frankly, I'm getting a bit tired of eating them as is.

So I went online and found this great recipe from Michael Chiarello!! Even my husband, who is not a fig lover, couldn't get enough of this concoction!!! And it couldn't be any simpler to make. It consists of wrapping prosciutto around a half fig and some blue cheese, and then grilling it slightly until the prosciutto just begins to crisp. A little drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper finishes off the dish...yummy!!! The salty prosciutto complements the spicy gorgonzola cheese and sweet figs to perfection.


Today, despite the great heat, I made a tiramisu dessert for my contribution to a mini college reunion we are attending tomorrow afternoon. I have to say it turned out very pretty!! I found a beautiful glass bowl to display it in, and I'm hoping that it will settle into a great consistency after being chilled overnight!! Sometimes tiramisu can be a bit temperamental - if you let the lady fingers pick up too much coffee when you soak them, then the result can be a runny dessert. Also if you don't whip up the egg whites all the way to stiff peaks, it can become runny as well. So...I'm hoping that I did all these things right and the result will be a firm tiramisu!!!

Here is the recipe that I use for my tiramisu:

2 c. strong coffee
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
80 gms. sifted powdered sugar
30 cc (or 2 T) amaretto or rum
2 packages lady fingers
1 package mascarpone cheese
Mix egg yolks, sugar, and amaretto or rum until creamy and thick. Add mascarpone gradually and mix well after each addition. Fold in beaten egg whites. Dip lady fingers very quickly in cooled coffee. Place them side by side in a bowl to form one layer. Pour some of the egg mixture on top to cover the layer. Repeat layers ending with the egg mixture on the top. Chill overnight or for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle with cocoa powder before serving.

Dancing the Night Away

Last night, Da Mario's restaurant in Saratoga hosted their annual Italian Festa. This was the first time that I attended since my husband and I just discovered this gem of a restaurant about 8 months ago. My date for the evening was my new friend, Melissa. And we had a wonderful girl's night out. The atmosphere was electric with live Italian music played by Giuseppe and Dino (they do this when they are not being waiters at the restaurant!!) Sandro, the owner, was busy getting everyone out onto the dance floor. Both old and new Italian tunes were played and everyone was dancing. We even did a conga line which went through the kitchen and out into the back parking lot and then around the building to the front of the restaurant!! Saratoga hasn't been this lively for a long time!!! But not only did they have dancing - they had a great buffet with their amazing food, and unlimited wine!! The staff was attentive and always made sure your glass was full! All in all, I'd have to say it was a total success for the restaurant and all the guests! Can't wait for next year's event!!!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homemade Pasta

Today, my husband and I decided to make some homemade pasta. It's always a bit of a messy ordeal, but the results are always so good. After many years of having my mom's homemade pasta, I figured it was time I learned to make it myself. So for Mother's Day this year, I asked for a hand-crank Pasta machine. My family was thrilled that they finally knew what to get me as a gift that I really wanted. So they ran out and bought one immediately.

Since then, I have used it several times, and each time it has been a real joy to make the pasta. When I make it, I make a lot so that I can dry it and then save it in the refrigerator for use when I need it. There is nothing like fresh pasta - especially because you know exactly what is in it :) Evidently every region of Italy has its own way of making the pasta dough: some use more eggs, less eggs, water, no water, and on and on. I use a basic recipe which I think is very versatile: 2 1/2 cups flour, 4-5 eggs, a little oil, a little salt, and a little water. That's it!!! It's incredible how simple the ingredients are! And voila...delicious pasta that melts in your mouth when you eat it!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Great Website for Things to Do in Italy

I just found this website for things to do in Italy. I can't wait to try it out the next time we go!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sure Fire Way to See Leonardo's Last Supper in Milan

After Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code, it seems like Leonardo's masterpiece, The Last Supper (or Il Cenacolo), has become even more popular than it already was. Due to this, it has become increasingly more difficult to get tickets to see it at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie where it is frescoed onto the refractory wall. Scientists are trying to preserve what is left of the fresco, and therefore have implemented means that limit the amount of visitors each day. Only 15 visitors at a time are allowed into the frescoed room, and the time allotted is 15 minutes. Consequently there are more visitors than spaces and people are turned away. But I have found a sure fire way to see it!!! I stumbled upon this during my first visit to Milan and have used this method every time since without fail!! I called the concierge at my hotel to ask about a city tour that included the Last Supper. For 50 Euros they booked me on a half day tour of the city. The tour consisted of the Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, the Teatro La Scala, and THE LAST SUPPER!! All transportation was included (even from my hotel) as well as a tour guide who spoke perfect English and who gave a great history of the places we visited. It was well worth the 50 Euros, but the best of it was that we got to get into The Last Supper while we saw all the people who were trying to get tickets at the door get turned away. This is a guaranteed way to view the masterpiece. The tour actually starts at the Duomo Plaza and we saw some people get tickets for it at the bus stop -so advance reservations don't seem to be required. But during peak tourist season, I would think it might be best to set it up a few days in advance through your hotel. Good luck!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Historical Fiction Novels and Real Life!!!

I love to read historical fiction novels, especially those that deal with the Renaissance. I have read many of these novels and at times, it's hard for me to keep the stories straight! But two of the novels I read stand out in my mind because the stories actually have come to life for me! The first one was Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex. I'm not going to do a summary here because you can look that up on amazon. But what caused excitement for me from this novel has to do with my trip to Milan in 2006. I had read the novel right before my trip and it gave me so much history into the city of Milan that I probably would never have found out on my own. I used it as a mini-guidebook, and it opened up new places for me. One of the settings involved the Castello Sforzesco. From the book, I learned that Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Sforza family to paint some frescoes at the Castello. In fact, one of the halls is adorned with his frescoes, The Sala delle Asse. This is a lesser known work by the great Master, and therefore not something of much interest when one visits Milan. The book also went into a description of the immense bronze horse that Leonardo designed. The horse was never built but has now been replicated and placed in front of San Siro racetrack. Other anecdotes described the painting of the Last Supper, as well as the other masterpiece, the Crucifixion, painted in the same hall by Giovanni Donato Montorfano. From the book, I learned that Ludovigo Sforza had himself painted into this painting by the artist. These tidbits of information are what make history come alive for me and without having read this "fictional" story, I would never have even thought about going to look for these wonderful art pieces.

The other novel which has brought history alive for me is The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger. This is the love story between Rafael and Margherita Luti, a baker's daughter of Rome's Trastevere district. This story has come alive because of a restaurant in Rome that is housed in the home where this love story took place!! The restaurant is called Romolo nel Giordino della Fornarina. I have just learned of this restaurant's existence so therefore have not had the opportunity to dine here, but you can be sure that the next time I find myself in Rome, I will definitely go!

Whenever I can experience something real from these so called fictional novels, I get very excited! The other book, though not historical fiction, that has made a place come alive is Dan Brown's Angels and Demons! This book is very popular, but it played a role as a guide book for us when visiting Rome. It was fun finding the obelisks, chapels, churches, etc described in the book. It made us feel like detectives and it made sightseeing all that much more exciting!