Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Ecstasy of Italy Part II

After leaving way too much money in Germany, the two food hounds headed to the Dolomites in Trentino, Alto Adige or Sud Tirol. Even though it was still August and full-on Italian vacation time, it was nice to be back in Italy where the food is always good even when it is bad, and the wine, oh God the wine; finally back to real heavenly wine! Menus were in three languages although we did not need it, it was nice to see that Italy was catering to travelers and making life a little easier by offering other languages on the menu without having to fight to find out what you were ordering from people who did not care to even try to speak English or another language for that matter (and I am talking about two towns where the tourism is heavily Italian, Madonna di Campiglio and Pinzolo).

Once again food and wine was a joy and the days were filled with stupendous hikes at 2500 meters, mushroom photography, grappa tasting and of course, the can’t-live-without, spritz-campiglio-style!

One of the greatest tragedies of Campiglio, especially for one who has grown up with the place over 40 years is to see how the ultra rich manage to destroy the simplicity and true nature or personality of a place; just look at Cortina and what is has become! Campiglio should be left as a place for skiing and summer trekking, hiking and nature, a place for casual dress, simple genuine food to fill the huge appetites fueled from the vigorous outdoor activity the area has to offer.

Unfortunately, the “locals” who are not willing to pay massive prices for a slice of carrot cake, are outnumbered by the twits who could care less about how much they spend, all they want to do is be seen never really looking at the price, paying and leaving the locales with the idea that it is OK to charge high prices. Kid you not, two glasses of Prosecco and ONE slice of carrot cake was 18 Euros!!! This translates into 4 Euros for the cake and 7 Euros a glass for the bubbles, insane and offensive to those who work hard for their money. With this come the changes from rustic mountain, simple and real, to false refined BS, shops selling Rolex, furs and lots of useless things for people with nothing better to do with their money than buy more “stuff” and fuel a false atmosphere.

The outdoor sporting goods stores abound with prices to match. With a bit of preplanning regarding clothing (buying it for much,
much less in Milan), Campiglio can be sojourned without spending a fortune although, the “ovini” (gondolas) to the mountain locations are not cheap but hey, that is one fee we are happy to pay to have the opportunity to see vistas worth millions and to listen to the sounds of silence. Pinzolo is a good option for lodging for those who wish to save some money with Campiglio only 15 minutes away and not to ignore and brush aside is Pinzolo’s Dos del Sabbion.

Some exceptional meals, superb lodgings with breathtaking views from one’s hotel room may be had at the Hermitage chalet hermitage in Campiglio. Their (stube-hermitage) Stube Restaurant is expensive but memorable and half pensione affords one a glimpse of the talented chefs and pastry chef (beware, bottled water is 7 Euros a liter).

Ah Italy, alive, sexy, passionate, and expressive how else should one end a vacation except in ecstasy?


Monday, October 20, 2008

Family Recipe

Golden Piglet is going to share with all of us his secret family dessert recipe shortly. I will do my best to translate it and convert the measurements...most of them not precise but a spoonfull of this and one of that. ;-)

The Agony of Germany Part I

Gosh, where to begin…? Snow White had made a trip through Germany in 1977 with a female athletic group for two months. She remembered the German people to be at that time, very warm and friendly, open and hospitable. The towns were all clean and people seemed happy and made the effort to communicate in English or other languages. Upon returning after 30 years, Germany for her, was filled with frustration, gouging parking costs, horribly expensive everything and finding places to eat where the menu was in something besides German was not a happening event except Baden-Baden and Munich. One would think that a big city such as Dusseldorf would be full of fun restaurants and places serving dinner past 7:30pm; not! Getting dinner in “on time” or better said, German-time was a serious issue, had it not been for the gallery-type malls with food courts, starvation was the name of the game. Yes, there were numerous street cafes but not for a serious meal and if you tried for one of those it was always Italian food. Around 5 pm one could always find people stuffing down large ice cream dishes and after taking in the scenery, one realizes there is a love affair extraordinaire with Italian food but German style of course (so do not expect exceptional Italian fare).

One of the worst meals was a steak house, American style (a franchise) serving the worst wine on the planet and steaks to boot. Good Lord, they do not have a clue about wine and should not even serve it in that country. Parking was another depressing issue; at most of the hotels it was € 17/day! Internet was 8-12 Euros/hour and, bottled water was 4 Euros for half liter. Not even in Italy does one pay that much for water unless you are in some of the ritzier spots.

Probably the worst offense in a way, was the lack of any other spoken language besides German; the unwillingness to show they might speak another language as well. All menus posted outside restaurants were in German of course, but not even a note in another language saying ask for international menus or have a second language underneath the German of the dishes offered. Even in smaller towns in Italy there is, at the very least, a second language on menus. OK, she understands the German pride thingy but in Europe all the countries are similar in that aspect and let’s face it folks, German is a very difficult language to master even for a German. Hum, interesting how few countries speak the language versus French for example. So is this a pride thing or is this part of the opening of the borders or is this a burnout on tourism?

There is no question that Germany has suffered greatly since the borders and walls went down and truly no other country except Germany could have absorbed the financial blow of taking on that extra weight. The country does not have that clean feel anymore of 30 years ago and the cities are dirty with trash and graffiti around, the attitude is distant and cold from those who serve you in eateries or hotels making one feel truly unwanted. The prices for a cruise on the Rhine were terribly expensive and the timetables impossible to figure out. An espresso anywhere was 4 Euros and a simple breakfast was 8 Euros! The fun portion of the trip was Munich and Monschau one being a nice city and the other being a quaint tourist town as well as, a short stay in Augsburg.

Spending the night in Augsburg was out of necessity and turned out to be a reasonable stop; the first good meal they had of German fare. Munich was still the easy and friendly town that she remembered except there were five times more the number of tourists than 30 years ago. The shopping is much better than in Dusseldorf, the food is fabulous and the eateries are fun, busy and friendly. Hum, go figure Munich is considered by many as that “southern town” full of “southerners!”

Monschau is an amazing jewel on the northwest edge of the country in Belgium. This town is nice in the summer, green and full of quaint stores, hotels and cafes but even better in the winter becoming very cozy with idyllic scenery and a Christmas market; a pretty winter wonderland. A day trip here to pick up the infamous mustards senfmuehle ground and created at the mustard mill in Monschau as well as a stop in the artisans barn where a multitude of shops are combined under one roof was on their plan that day. Here one can find great crystal and glass and fabulous carved winter scenes for Christmas. I hope we can make a trip back to this spot during the winter.

Another day trip took us to the outlets outside of Amsterdam where some of the better shopping can be found. Next door to the outlet center is a town where we ducked into a typical Dutch bar serving unbelievable weisbier. For true beer lovers hand job alley and weisbier, this is the way to go! Here at this tiny little bar in heavy Dutch style, we drank WeisBlanche, unfiltered almost white beer, which was ultra refreshing leaving on the tongue a hint of lemon. If you have never heard of this beer trust me it is time to try it anywhere in Germany although I found this Dutch version outstanding. In fact, all through Germany, we opted for weisbier unfortunately for those used to wine only, beer is not only filling at meals and outside of meal time, but the liquid continues to ferment in the stomach making life difficult when you need to fit back into your clothes. In fact, I was interested to learn what a “beer belly” is; those big pregnant men you see all over the country. Beer once it is ingested goes into the stomach and continues to ferment and if you tend to drink lots of the stuff, you are in constant fermentation and thus, the big belly (or in other words, full of gas)!! LOL
A few comments on the “autobahn,” which she had always heard was so exceptional…let me tell you after driving the autostrada in Italy in a downpour and being able to see, she can only say the Germans and their technology missed on this one; the Italians have patented an phenomenal asphalt for rain. The road in Italy may not be super flat as they are in Germany but when it rains you can see and the noise of the tires on the road is much less as well as, the fact they pour the road in squares so there is a constant, “thunk, thunk.” Since the Germans love to drive their monster machines fast, when it rains they continue with that same love affair and since you cannot see a damn thing while raining on the autobahn, “me thinks” that Italy has a lot more pregi than we give it credit for. Of course, the Germans drive mostly German cars and all big and mostly Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes. Granted they have a hell of a lot more space than Italy as a country but folks, what are the Germans and Americans going to do without petrol for their monster cars and fast driving?????

Sunday, October 12, 2008


After having a slow leisurely day in the city, soaking up Spritz’s, colors and architecture we floated to our restaurant outside of town, at the top of a small hill overlooking the undulating lush green river valley of Vicenza. Musing over what it was that was making her feel so comfortable in this city and why she felt she could live in this historic city center, acknowledging with respect such Venetian grandeur, she finally cries; “Ah hah,” having realized what it was about the place. This city is compact for a city yet elegant, wealthy and clean and, very well maintained, almost a miniature of the best parts of a city packed into one compact parcel.

There is a s
ense of welcome, the feeling one might have in their own living room and an ease with which one may move in the city. The streets are direct yet every angle, every corner has something to be uncovered and discovered. The history is multilayered with remnants from Roman, Gothic, Baroque Renaissance and Neoclassical eras all within comfortable reach of the ordinary person.

Back to the trattoria they discovered while spending a few days in this neat city.
Al cavallino is a lovely restaurant situated at the very top of Creazzo overlooking the river valley of Vicenza. The ambient is warm and welcoming, the owners proud of what they do and what they offer and how it is presented. Sipping Venegazzù they pondered the flavors of the wine along with bites of sformato di polenta and melted asiago and funghi, little morsels of Puzzone di Moena with green apples all meant to dip into a tiny dish of limpid fragrant honey from the altopiano of Asiago and drank up the view of the surrounding areas.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Between Courses...

Three women friends, one in a casual relationship, one engaged to be married and one a longtime wife, met for drinks after work. The conversation eventually drifted towards how best to spice up their sex lives. After much discussion, they decided to surprise their men by engaging in some S&M role-playing.
The following week they met up again to compare notes.
Sipping her drink, the single girl leered and said,
"Last Friday at the end of the workday I went to my boyfriend's office wearing a leather coat, when all the other people had left, I slipped out of it and all I had on was a leather bodice, black stockings and stiletto heels. He was so aroused that we made mad passionate love on his desk right then and there!"
The engaged woman giggled and said, "That is pretty much my story! When my fiancé got home last Friday, he found me waiting for him in a black mask, leather bodice, black hose and stiletto pumps. He was so turned on that we not only made love all night, he wants to move up our wedding date!"
The married woman put her glass down and said, "I did a lot of planning. I arranged for the kids to stay over at Grandma's. I took a long scented-oil bath and then put on my best perfume. I slipped into a tight leather bodice, a black garter belt, black stockings and six-inch stilettos. I finished it off with a black mask. When my husband got home from work, he grabbed a beer and the remote, sat down and yelled, 'Hey, Batwoman, what's for dinner?''
Guess it is time to go make dinner, eh?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fritelle & Friends

While traipsing around with my girlfriend we stumbled on a wonderful bar/pasticcieria. They make superlative frittelle and cornetti/brioche/croissants and best of all, is that they do not care if you sit at the tables all day. Now for two gum-flapping gals, that is a gift from the gods (giggle).
Between espressos and chatting and a frittelle here and there, we managed to burn up a good hour and a half! She just called and wanted me to join her and family for pizza tonight…god what a difficult decision because I am a total lush when it comes to pizza. The problem was, they were not going to leave until 8pm and it is colder than you-know-what right now with a strong north wind blowing (been blowing for the last three days), which has dropped the temp 4 more degrees Celsius. So we are hovering around 1 at night and 3-4 during the day. The thought of getting dressed and having to drive to meet her and gang in the cold, at night, overpowered my pizza desire. So, I made a few trips to the wood pile and have the stufa roaring and made an extra trip to the gas station for diesel and decided to hole up for the rest of the day and evening.
Since I have to leave at “O-dark-thirty” in the morning for my flight, I decided I would be getting up at that un-godly hour to a warm room on my last day (burn that diesel baby)! Tomorrow if it is not as wicked cold as today, which from the weather predictions does not look like a great possibility, then we may go out for lunch to a town where all the “whoop-dee-doos” have little places. You know, the Valentino’s of Italy, the Camilla Parker Bowles…
Ciao, ciao

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pienza & Pecorino

If you have never been to Pienza, a town near Siena in Tuscany, I insist you make an effort to go. This warm, small and hospitable town is a true gem, a place to go when you want to “experience” the life around you versus flying through.

The beautiful, no, the stunning view from behind the cathedral at the bar overlooking the Val D’Orcia is enough to keep one spellbound for days. The warm sexy, soft yellow of the stone and yellow sand used in the masonry bestows this sense of “home.” There are quite a few places in town between those soft walls where one may rent a room and actually “live” the idyllic life. I can hardly wait until Spring arrives to go back and savor that life; spend a night or two there, eat at Il Latte della Luna for fabulous fresh pici al tartufo nero (loaded with truffles not just a sprinkle of them) or roasted duck or young roasted pig. Of course, La Buca delle Fate is another wonderful spot to feast close to that great ice cream and coffee bar.

There is a wonderful wrought iron shop in which to spend some time dreaming, imagining the house wi
th pieces similar and best of all is to wander the cheese shops. The pecorino cheese abounds in these cheese havens as well as, goat cheese specialties and they are stocked with salami, wines and culinary treasures. I can hardly wait to go back and wine taste, cheese sample and soak up the scenery, sign me up! ;-) I can see this town is going to be a monthly escape for me (giggle).

Unfortunately with this beauty and passion one has to take the red-tape-Italian-“sauce,” which covers everything here however it is worth it most of the time. Actually, time will be split half here and half in the states so the negatives will be supplanted by moving frequently between “zones.” :-))) I guess the hard part now of my daily decisions will be, “gosh, do we want to get that red for the cellar or, just for dinner?” Or, “shall we drive to Pienza or Norcia for cheese today?” Or, maybe take a few more days and go to Northern Italy for a cheese and wine run or even Milan for shopping depending on how desperately we need to see some city life. ;-)) You know, those “hard kinds” of decisions (giggle).

OK, back to Pienza and tour guide mode. If you do not have time to savor the town it is an injus
tice. The Piccolomini palace/museum is a stop worth doing and I suggest (strongly), the museum store! The store has books in various languages and has a lovely refined presentation and ambiance as well as fabulous gifts in the offerings. The store is quite unlike Italy; in that it is so nicely presented and lighted…hum maybe foreigners are behind it. ;-)) I could imagine how great it would be to cycle Pienza and the surrounding area, stopping to taste cheese at the numerous farms alongside the roads, to picnic and wine taste (hum, on bikes)? Then again, a driver would be great too so the wine tasting could occur in full force…giggle ;-)) A dopo!