Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ciao, Italia!

It's already been a year since our rendez-vous in Rome. This isn't Rome, obviously- it's on the trail in Cinque Terre. The happy hikers, Monette, Martha and moi. What a wonderful trip...
Rome and the gladiators outside the Coliseum- and foolishly forking over 10 euros (or was it 20??) each for the photo op (well, only Martha and I paid- Monette played dumb). Moustachio at the hotel in Rome (at the top of the Spanish Steps, thanks to Martha's Marriott points)-- what a sweetheart he was, bringing us lovely glasses of Italian chianti and pinot grigio at the rooftop terrace bar and telling us about "his" Rome. We had drinks, pretzels and nuts, left to find some dinner, didn't find anywhere we really wanted to eat so we went back to the hotel for more views of Rome at night and another glass (or two) of Moustachio's wine. (Dinner would've cost less...) Actually standing under the Pope's balcony in St. Peter's Square and visiting the Basilica. The Pope wasn't in town-- he had gone to France. Visiting the Forum and Martha's major hot flash- it must've been 100 F that day. Taking the train from Rome to Florence and seeing all the vineyards through the window. Walking by the Duomo on our way to the Hotel California (thanks to The Eagles this made me a bit nervous). Gazing in awe at Michelangelo's David. Oh là là. And Martha sneaking around snapping a photo while the guard wasn't looking. Searching for a restaurant listed in Rick Steve's Italy guidebook and thinking we would never find it (Rick, work on that map of Florence, please??), but we did in time for the first seating of the evening. The day trip to Tuscany- we had a great group on our bus with none other than Douglas for our guide. Can I get another oh là là, ladies? I can finally say San Gimignano (but I couldn't spell it without looking it up-- I just love Google- you can find stuff even if you misspell it!), but I bet I could say it even better after a glass of wine from the winery we visited for lunch. And Cinque Terre. The hike between the five towns. Watching the men carry the baskets of white grapes down the hill from the terraced vineyards. Beautiful, large, bright yellow lemons growing on trees by the side of the trail. Olive trees with their nets strung up to catch the fruit and keep it from hitting the ground. Dinner at the outdoor restaurant where the obnoxious Brit told me that I was talking too loudly about bull fights. (Just for the record, I was not.) Monette very nicely (there is no other way a good Southern girl would do it, of course) putting him in his place before we left. Thanks, Mo! Seafood and mushroom risotto. Sitting on the beach, toasting our trip with wine from the little shop that not only sold it chilled but uncorked it and gave us plastic glasses. The world's best pesto made by someone's grandma that we discovered in the little deli in Monterosso-- my heaven will have that pesto, the freshly sliced cheese, still-warm-from-the-oven crusty loaves of bread and chilled white wine. Roaming around town looking in the little shops, buying postcards and sampling limoncello and the orange liqueur that tasted like creamsicles. And accomplishing all this with none of us speaking more than two words of Italian-- ok, Martha did take a crash course from our friend Daniela (who is Italian) the day before they boarded the plane to cross the Atlantic. Bless Dani's heart- she even drew pictures and sent Martha away with a cheat sheet. The Italians we met were all so friendly and helpful that we didn't really need it. We only had a problem with the young Brit tying to impress his blond date. Oh, yeah, and the guy at the train station in Monterosso who sold us tickets for the France part of our trip which were no good once we crossed the border and got to Nice. But at least he was nice about it!! Running to find the right train in Nice after buying more tickets (I did cut in line... but I did it nicely, smiling and speaking French all the way), thinking we only had 20 minutes until our train left (with way more luggage than was necessary, of course-- and Martha brought me a whole duffel bag of books, something she has sworn she will NEVER do again- not that I would dare ask) only to find out when we climbed aboard the train that it was broken down (thank goodness this happened in a French train station so that I could understand what was being announced over the loud speaker). Sitting in the train station, on the train, waiting and waiting and waiting. Finally giving in and eating our stash of the world's best pesto, bread and cheese. Falling asleep once the train started rolling towards Marseille, only to be jarred awake when the train stopped at about 1 am. Trying tofigure out where we were... we had literally been on trains all day long. We had chosen what is known as the "milk" train, meaning it stopped in every little town along the way. Jumping off the train to search for a sign and finally seeing ARLES. Running back to our car, yelling frantically for Monette and Martha to wake up and throw all our bags off the train. And then looking up to see Chef Érick talking to the conductor and laughing at us as we stumbled down the quai dragging all our stuff. He said that he had told the conductor he was sure there were three sleeping American women on that train and he'd just about decided that he'd be driving to Avignon, the next stop, to fetch us. That is, if we woke up by the time we arrived there.
Thank you, my dear friends, for such a wonderful time. Thank you for visiting me in Europe not once, but twice, in 2007 and 2008. I am very lucky to have such amazing friends and traveling buddies.

Here's a recipe sent to me by Tammy from Arizona. I met her in Arles in the summer of 2007 when she and her husband Chuck came to take a cooking course. We've stayed in touch and she even came to Durham last month and we had lunch. She introduced me to limoncello one evening in Arles. Dani, of the Italian lessons, recently made these cookies for her husband's birthday and brought some to share with me-- delizioso !

Lavender Limoncello Cookies

1/2 c. butter
1 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
2 lemons, zest and juice
1 egg
2 Tbsp. Limoncello liqueur
2 tsp. baking powder
2 c. + all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Blend butter, sugar and lavender.
Add in lemon zest and juice, then egg and Limoncello.
Blend in the 2 cups flour and the baking powder.
Dough should be soft but not oily.
Add more flour by the Tbsp. if needed.
Roll into 2 logs and place in wax paper. Chill 20 minutes.
Slice into 1/2 in. rounds. Makes approximately 30-36.
Bake 10-15 minutes, just until pale gold.

Buono appetito!


Martha said...

Thanks for all the memories - we did have the time of our lives didn't we? We WILL return one day!

The Sabbatical Chef said...

Either that or we will find a new destination!!

5 terre said...

Hello everybody, just want to invite you and your readers to our site about the cinque terre
( in my signature ) and to the blog where you can also vote the nicest of the 5 Terre.
Also a video section is online: Video of the Cinque Terre, a different point of view..

The Sabbatical Chef said...

Thank you, Cinque Terre. I loved it there. What a glorious time we had... a true paradise