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Sunday, 28 August 2011

99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

Sorry I have been so busy since Stefano arrived ;) ...travelling around - beautiful places, delicious dishes & friendly people...this truly is the trip of a lifetime!
On my arrival in Genoa...on the bus to Tagliolo, I met a wonderful lady, Sarah Wallace. She and her husband own a beatiful bio-dynamic wine farm & Bed & Breakfast(mentioned at the end of my last blog)called Casa Wallace. Stef & I were invited to participate in a day of bottling...10000 bottles!! So on a boiling Monday morning we headed to Casa Wallace on the early bus. As we arrived, so did a huge truck, & to our surprise it opened up into a portable bottling facility!

We worked relentlessly the entire day, stopping only for a quick break of home made organic pizza, some cake (thank you Gina!) and the most delicious wine which we had bottled that morning. By 5pm we were all exhausted & stopped at 9952 bottles - a great team effort!

It was time for a dip in the warm pool, a rest in the hammock watching the sun set & an al fresco dinner under the stars next to the grapes in the most beautiful surrounds you can imagine. Thank you Claudio & Sarah for a wonderful experience & hospitality. (ps: I would like to add that Casa Wallace is for sale if anyone would like to live the Italian dream :) )

Next we headed to a very beautiful town called Acqui Terme. As usual I was completely spoilt buying gorgeous produce at the market, including my favourite courgette flowers & porcini mushrooms (below). I think I will be a very disgruntled girl with the food shopping when back in PE :( .

I was astounded visiting my first ancient Italian church (The Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption)...nearly 1000 years old...I had quite a reaction walking in which really surprised me, my eyes filled with tears, I dont know why ... possibly as it was soooooo beautiful. Glittering chandeliers, solid gold mosaics (below), the most beautiful paintings everywhere, marble everything! and a painted ceilings which were out of this world. My mouth was hanging open! The history in many of these towns (particularly the old Roman towns) is overwhelming (you realise how new SA is!).

In between Stef & I have been visiting small local summer festivals all over the place, sampling the local wine & speciality dishes. Sometime the most simple dishes are a complete taste sensation, I have no idea how the Italian people could, for example, make a simple chickpea broth taste so good! I do believe the Italian kitchen is one of the best in the world!

Tomorrow we are visiting the Genoa Historic centre... Tuesday a beautiful boat trip along the coast to the gorgeous & romantic Cinque Terre, Wednesday learning to make sweet treats at a well known Genoa bakery and spending time with Enrica Bottaro, a fabulous cook who will impart her Gnocchi secrets ....its going to be a busy week :)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ready Steady Cook & The Amazing Race!

Sitting in the picturesque mountains in Tagliolo in Piedmont typing my blog…so lovely in fact that as I look out of the shuttered windows I half expect Heidi and her goats to come yodelling down the hill J

On the train trips from Fano I felt like I was in some crazy scene from the Amazing Race! I was very nervous as the train schedule & bus schedule I had booked was quite tight (only 20 min from one train to the next) I found it really stressful that none of the trains were numbered so you just had to stand on the platform at the right time and hope that was your train!! (can just imaging arriving in France.."um is this Italy? I think I just saw the Eiffel Tower… I might have got on the wrong train..")

So my first train was running 15 min late so that meant 5 min to find out which platform and run for my life !! Only difference between Jen & the Amazing race is that they have fabulous backpacks and I had 40kg of luggage! My suitcase was 30kg (well chaps I'm here for 3 months! Barely room for a bra & a bikini!) and 10kgs on my back (laptop, camera, lipgloss J ) Stairs galore to get to the next platform….NOT GLAMOUROUS & VERY BAD MOOD by the time I got on J and then clearly I thought I was flying Virgin Atlantic First Class "Sir, where is the drinks trolley? I'm in desperate need of a stiff G&T?" Nothing!!!! (Note to self – carry half jack in luggage!) Instead I was handed a bottle of tepid water and a stale sandwich (the very first bad thing to eat in Italy as everything has been fabulous!)

Once I had calmed down however it was beautiful to watch the landscape change from one side of Italy to the other and indeed nearing Genoa and then up into the mountains to Piedmont it was very very beautiful.

I am very fortunate to have Stef's family home to stay in... with loads of history as the house is 500 years old and in fact Stef's mum,Bruna, was born there. (can see from photo above how really old) Amazing to see how sturdy these old stone structures are – we have nothing like this in SA, so again I'm fascinated.

I didn't have much time to enjoy this tho as I was whisked off the following day to the tiny town of Cremolino (population 1000) where I would be staying at Juri Risso's hotel and restaurant for 6 days. Juri is a celebrity chef here in Italy due to his daily cooking program aired on RAI TV called "La Prove Del Cuoco" (The Test of the Cook) – he likens the program to Britain's Ready Steady Cook where often the chefs are at a race for time to cook something delicious in 20 minutes! Juri is very charming & well spoken & I could immediately see why he is so successful on the telly. (you can search for him on You Tube if you would like to have a look) This is a small family run business where we all eat together and there are always young budding chefs in the kitchen as he mentors them (Ricardo & Gabriel shown below) The restaurant d├ęcor is simple but so Italian charming (pizza oven set with copper) with a lovely view of the small town – gorgeous to sit outside in the summer!
Once again it was a week of many hours of cooking and scribbling in my inspector notepad as I am learning at lot from Juri. I would just like to mention getting the pizza on that long spade thingie not easy!! J I have renewed respect…mine landed everywhere but not where it should be - However I must say the pizza is heaven here!
Next weeks news … Stef arrives (I could WEEP I'm so happy!!), a visit to a gorgeous biodynamic wine farm (Casa Wallace below) which practices sustainable farming methods & produces top wines ….and Genoa (Italian – Genova)..beautiful, historic and bring me the pesto gnocchi!!! Now, its time for Jen to relax a while with her man. J Till next time xx

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Piedmont & Celebrity Chef

Its amazing how differently you act when you are far away from home…you start slotting into another culture and I find myself doing things I wouldn't normally say or do at home. When it's a mad in the kitchen …the pots and pans are flying, the dirty plates are stacked sky high and everyone is hot and exhausted, I find myself putting hand to my forehead in dramatic pose and exclaiming "MAMA MIA FA CALDO" loudly – (in the kitchen, I think I'm Italian) There were times at 12 at night.. I would be limping up the stairs after working since 9 that morning…mutter mutter "these Italians are trying to kill me..swear swear in Italian" J….legs so sore from standing.. thinking I'm going to lose a limb…if it falls off right here on the stairs I'll just HOP on to my bedroom cos I'm so damn tired to pick it up !!

On my days off I have taken to sauntering around the beach in my bikini (everyone does here, old, young, fat, thin..and don't get me started on the LILAC speedos!)…I go to the bars & cafes on the beach in my bikini…would I do this at home? Are you nuts?! The people here are less worried about what others think and just tend so relax and enjoy the beach no matter your age or size… just have fun. So I go for my walks on the sand feeling carefree.. I do however forget that the people can't really see who I am anyway due to the large mound of lemon or chocolate gelato I'm carrying that obscures my face J (so large possibly people think there is an eclipse) I even find myself preferring to hop across the road (instead of staying at my hotel) to the dodgy bar to drink even more dodgy wine (something I could never do at home in SA)… and love watching the diverse patrons come and go. Tattooed "chocca" fishermen types sitting around playing cards, young men playing that soccer table game…undispersed with housewives running to the bar to glug a quick espresso & well groomed ladies who park their bicycles, have a quick small beer, and off they go again!
This blog was created because I love eating, cooking, drinking and the whole theatre that surrounds good food and sharing it. What better place to experience this than one of the most interesting food havens of the world. A few months before your wedding…eating your way thru Italy…hmmm maybe not the best idea J I mean even Julia put on in Eat Pray Love didn't she? (my version.. Eat Shop Snog)..but then again she had no impending matrimonials and is 6 ft supermodel not a 5 ft midget! Everything was going really well on Operation Wedding Diet, until I found out where those pesky chocolate croissants were stashed every morning at Alla Lanterna…

I love the anonymity of being here. I'm not Jen from Deli on Main, just some little apprentice in the kitchen who has to do the dirty work and as far as they are concerned knows nothing about cooking. I prefer it that way.. its humbling to be taught things and best to act as if you know nothing so you will be shown their way of making it. (which most times is the best way & the way its been done for a very long time) On the streets I'm just another tourist who irritatingly is taking yet another photo of the narrow cobbled street (while the 100s of cyclists are running me over!) and yet to them looks like every other street with pretty flowering window boxes.

So as I write this now, I'm sitting on my first proper train, heading to the port town of Genoa, then Piedmont. It's my first train ride so I was pretty excited (yes nuts I know)… possibly after 6 hours on this train, I won't be so excited ha ha J My quest …the search (and learning to make!) the perfect Gnocchi and Pesto and no better than to learn in the place the dish originated from.

Most excitingly, (and thanks so much to Stefs mum for organising this!) will be spending time with celebrity Italian chef Juri Risso who has Ristorante La Bruceta in the small town of Cremolino. He is extremely well known and well respected chef and has his own show on Italian TV over here…I'm already having fantasies of how I can possibly get my chops on TV as the very fabulous and glamorous English speaking assistant …LOL! (Oprah interview" Jen and tell me how WERE you discovered?" Jen Celebrity Chef SA version of sexy Nigella " well Oprah I had a small appearance on a lunch time cooking program with Juri Risso in Italy …. ")

Well a girl can dream…In the meantime….so little time and yet sooooo much pasta… J
Arrivederci … next update from Piedmont xxxx

PS Returning to Fano before I come home end September to learn one more fabulous dessert at Alla Lanterna (didn't have time) and check on my kittens!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Update from Fano

Buongiorno from Italy again! Did not have too much to say for myself this last week as working at the restaurant and not moving around much. The hours, as I said before, are pretty gruelling so it's just been head down and getting on with learning as much as I can. When Stefano arrives, I will be doing a lot more travelling and hopefully I will sound more exciting then I do right now :)

However in the kitchen I'm learning so much about seafood and I am loving working in a restaurant that insists on freshness and quality ingredients. I love seeing all the fresh produce and the fish arriving every morning. Yesterday morning I did get quite a surprise when this 50kg swordfish arrived and I was saying…"um…well… I don't have to cut this up do I ?" J Instead I was given 40kg of mussels to clean – good grief there are no small quantities here!

This morning I dared to get up at the crack and headed down to the market at 6am with Flavio, who personally chooses everything each morning. I was amazed, that at this time of the morning, the market was buzzing with most vendors already set up by 6h30 and the first customers arriving…walking their dogs or on bicycle to buy fresh fish and beautiful produce.

During the last week besides the abundant fishies, I have also been learning to make some gorgeous desserts (I LOVE the Amaretto Frozen Mousse!!!) and assist with the bread making. Elide makes fresh bread for the restaurant every day – plain little rolls with sesame seeds, mini pizza rolls with tomato, olive oil & oregano filling baked inside, a sweeter loaf with nuts & sultanas and a huge yummy pizza bread with various toppings which is truly delicious (the onion, salt & olive oil one shown here) – I love making the breads with her every day but can't say I'm good enough to get a job at Vov yet ha J )

I will say however coming from a family who are huge animal activists in Port Elizabeth (please search for Animal Outreaches on Facebook and have a look at the amazing work my Dad & Mum do in and around the townships of the Eastern Cape)…. Wherever I travel there will always be a stray animal or two that I get attached to and want to help.

On my first day here I discovered a small colony of semi feral cats who live in the alley behind the restaurant. There are about 15 of them, but I particularly fell for the very tame mummy cat and her lovely tabby babies… I was far away from any shops to get cat food and would never take anything I shouldn't from the restaurant, but was desperate to feed them. There was plenty of fish waste thrown in the bin that the kitties would love so I scrumaged in the bin (once again I mention how glamorous I am! J ) and hid the calamari from the bin in Stefs camera bag ….. it stayed there till that evening (and its hot!) and let me tell you dears in that heat, I still get a whiff every time I use the camera! LOL! In fact I haven't told Stef yet, but I'm sure he is reading this now and smiling shaking his head, because he knows what I'm like when it comes to animals. J Well needless to say they are all being fed very well now!

I miss my animals at home terribly… late at night when I finish my shift… I take my gelato outside and sit in the alley behind the restaurant on the step in the warm quiet evening… strangely enough, so far away from South Africa, I sit with the stray cats and this is where I feel most at home…

Till next time xxx

PS: 950 people read my last post from all over the world ... I can't believe it :)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Welcome to Fano, Italy !

After a very cool weekend in London (16 degrees you gotta LOVE those British summers !), I landed in a hot & humid Ancona - clear blue skies & sweltering heat - goodbye SA winter hello my Italian summer!

Cousin Linda kindly collected me at the airport, dumped my bags & off we headed to the beach :) Fano is a small seaside town on the Adriatic Sea, well known for its yacht building and woodwork (beautiful furniture, kitchens ect). We arrived at the main beach called Lido & I was flabbergasted at how packed it was on a Tuesday afternoon - forgetting its holiday time here.

Gorgeous bronzed bikini clad bodies everywhere & amidst them, 2 hours later, a wee pink Scottish lobster, looking every inch the tourist with camera around her neck snapping photos at anything that moved ! We sauntered to a lovely beach cafe called Chalet, which Linda says is packed & vibing on a Thursday eve) and had a cold drink & pizza - to return to our loungers to bask later - THIS IS THE LIFE!! not a lover of cold water & big waves, swimming in the warm Adriatic was a dream. The next day was spent doing the same - absolute bliss- and just as well as I had no idea of the work & long hours that awaited me at the restaurant on Wed :) (

So I arrived at work at 9 the next morning to find all the wonderful fresh fish being delivered & let me tell you it was PLENTY!!! Many different verieties which we don't get in SA. I also met the kitchen crue whom I immediately liked - so jovial, fun, friendly & crazy (you need to be a bit daft to work 15 hour days in a restaurant kitchen right ? ) Alessio & Andrea (both 33) - work like mad people - sooooo fast & productive, yet singing, shouting & swearing all the way! I learnt the swearing fast as its repeated... a lot !!! (I got onto Whatsapp with Stef and said what does "this" mean...and he had a good laugh :) )

What a didn't realise at the time is that I had started on a particularly difficult day, a. the owners Flavio & Elide were away catering in Rome & Elide is the ONLY one who speaks any English. b. there was a big funtion table that night - so rediculously busy c. had arrived in a heatwave of 36 degress with almost 100% humidity, however standing next to the old fasioned open coal grill made the kitchen around 40 degrees! (Picture above of Andrea by the grill, no comment on the rude t shirt :) and a grilled seafood plate below)
It was very interesting to see how we managed to communicate with my limited Italian & plenty gestures. First things first, all that fish needs to be prepared and cleaned fast in that heat...they were very kind to start me off on the easy little fishes. Some of the larger ones needed their heads cut off with a huge knive / axe and everyone but me stood back as they did this ... I think my face was quite a picture when all the revolting fish juices splashed all over my face when he whacked it :) they kept saying Scusa Jeneeeefeer Scusa ! while falling around laughing at me :)

So I donned my tight black latex gloves & started pulling the heads off the sardines & digging out the guts (100's of them !) Next only calamari where I think I was sticking my finger up its bum and pulling goodness knows what out..I hate to think!! YES chaps its ALL GLAMOUR here in a fishy kitchen :) !! Please disregard the lovely photo in the Weekend post ( - she is now a "make-upless", sweaty person sticking her fingers up fishes bums! :)

Speaking of bums, the lads have nick named me Jennifer Lopez - I think this is the only other Jennifer they have heard of. I have seriously strong doubts that is because I am as beautiful and more likely that my bum is just as big :) You have to say it with a strong Italian accent...Jeeeenifeeer Lopeeez... every time they say it I crack up laughing.

Next onto preparing for the lunch & dinner and with such a big menu, I honestly don't know how they manage to make all the special sauces, stocks, desserts, clean & prepare all that fish...but they do! I'm desperately trying to to my jobs, while simultaneously keeping one eye on Alessio to see what he is putting in all the secret sauces and trying to understand what they are saying!! (oh dear not a bloody clue at this point!).

That night besides from a full restaurant, there was a table of 20 having so many different plates of food my mouth was gaping open. The waitors come roaring in (jacket & tie this heat nogal!) shouting orders in stucatto & the kitchen staff shout back louder! Alessio has every gas burning on the big hob bubbing with sauces & risotto & he loves throwing the pots & pans around making as much noise as possible. Its just as you would imaging a crazy Italian kitchen would be!! I find no matter where I stand I'm in the way - getting mowed over by the waitors - so I queitly retreat to the corner with my eyes on stalks & help pack the dishwasher - the only place I could be of use at this point as I have no idea what is going on!

By 11pm they could see I was about to fall over & told me to head to bed. They still continued to clean the kitchen SPOTLESS till 12h30 & returned at 8am with smiles ready for a new day. I was absolutely amazed at the level of hard work from the staff & of the responsibility while Flavio & Elide were away in Rome. Extremely long hours & relentless heat, excuted daily with a great attitute. Deli on Main was a walk in the park compared to this!

I would like to mention that during this week of long hours I have eaten pasta every day & delicious gelato every night after my shift & still have managed to drop 2kgs - girls this might just be the best wedding dress diet ever ha ha :)

I have consumed the most delicious seafood pastas I have ever tasted. Alessio & Andrea take great pride in continuously offering me tasters of everything they make. I am constantly scuttling around the kitchen, poking my nose in every pot & scribbling everything in my notepad like a little inspector :)

Today is first day off and spent much of it resting my aching bod & lieing on the beach. I have found even the little bars on the beach serve the most wonderful espresso (Caffe Saccaria) & freshly baked baguettes ...which I'm eating now as I type this....laden with olive oil grilled melanzane, courgettes, pesto and pine nuts.... I'm one happy girl (except to say I miss my Stef).

See you all next week with more news from the Italian kitchen...

love Jen ...intrepid traveller and soon to be fabulous cook ! xxxxx

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pps: sorry can't find the spell check on this blog thingy

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Working Very Hard !

Hi Everyone !

Ill be updating my blog on Monday after my first week in Italy. I am currently working extremely hard ... 12 hour shifts in a very very busy kitchen, so no time till Monday on my day off ... Ill see you soon. Love Jen xx

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Engaged in the Karoo!

The Karoo is a very special place for Stef & I, although I believe many would miss its beauty preferring the more tropical landscapes of other parts of South Africa....but me the arid scrubland, scattered by the many majestic mandarin aloes....the peace of watching the winter sun dip behind the mountains, is simply beautiful.

It has been written many a time about the Karoo that "the silence is so pure that you can hear God think...the stars so near that you can reach out and touch them"

A special friend allows us to visit their slice of paradise whenever we feel the need for the most pure form of tranquility. Nestled deep in a valley, which is all their own, lies a beautiful farmhouse, absolute phones, radio or television. Your radio is listening to the birds while sitting on a soft sofa on the wraparound veranda & your television is an indoor fireplace which just begs you to sit & enjoy a glass of wine (or 2 or 3..oh dear :) )

It was in front of this fireplace that Stef asked me to marry him .. I'm a very blessed & happy girl :) (no more details except to say it truly was the most magical weekend ever!)

We had a fabulous time cooking comfort winter fare...Stef had requested my slow cooked lamb curry (for his birthday) & I insisted on his "brodo" (Italian for broth) with artichoke filled ravioli and parmesan. Drop us off anywhere & we will make great food together! I'm already wondering how I will keep off the pounds while eating & cooking my way thru Italy, as I don't want to roll down the aisle in November :) (the bride will not be big fat & wide! :)

So my friends, it was the perfect time to be together before the exciting & crazy 3 month adventure ahead ...I leave on Thursday - ITALY HERE I COME!!

arrivederci e ci vediamo presto!