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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!