Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Genova, Old Port District

While making their way towards Portofino, they made a command detour to Genova and its famous aquarium. Never having set foot in this crowded and busy city with a suspended highway winding through, she was invariably curious to have a glimpse and get a feel for this famous city.

Although pushed for time, they headed to the old port district finding parking in some un-godly spot hidden on the wharf and from there, had a nice walk (800 meters or so) to the “fish tanks.” The old port provides a smorgasbord for the senses; full of all those typical odors from a maritime environment making a port, a port and inundating the senses at once.

The smell of saltwater permeated the air; the sing-song clinking and clanging of sailboat rigging tickled their ears, and the heady odor of rotting fish and fish entrails mixed with diesel, rust and boat paint warmly greeted them; ah yes, the “bouquet” of a port.

The boardwalk was wide and welcoming, splattered with Africans selling knockoffs, benches semi occupied by locals soaking up some “rays” and people watching, generally just enjoying the sun and fresh February air. Approaching the old galleon replica, fishermen littered their path with old yet precious nets stretched along the boardwalk as they darned away, repairing, chattering and selling the morning’s catch. Their boats dock just below the boardwalk and from there they hoist up the boxes and crates of fish to their trolley carts with suspended balances ready in the blink of an eye to open up shop and sell their wares in this open-air make-shift market bursting with spontaneity and life.

The galleon provoked images of Columbus, what it must have been like oh so many years ago; too bad Italy did not finance him, they certainly missed out on the chance of a lifetime! All around the harbor were floating palaces, sleek (longilinea) boats just begging to go out in the open water.

Once she entered the aquarium, she was astounded with the presentations, the tanks and exhibits. Being a tad jaded as if no one can do a better aquarium than the one she visited in San Diego, this was a real experience of interaction, not just a display of fish. There was a marvelous grouping of huge tanks as well as, a nice representation of miniature tanks with massive amounts of attention dedicated to detail. Most impressive were the exquisite displays of jellyfish; almost unreal in their jewel-like, filmy delicate “skirts.” The dolphins are a sit-down-and-stare-at time eater, always a fascinating and fun world in which to lose one’s self; entertainment arrives by the boatloads from the sea lions, a cleverly interactive tank as well as the penguins.

Loaded up with smiles and “oohs and ahs” they headed to the car for the wicked little tunnel tour south towards Rapallo. Yikes what a terrible road from Genova south, loaded with trucks hauling containers, two lanes only and all tunnels; makes that beer all the more meaningful upon reaching destination.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Little Pearl, Portofino

Taking a little time out from the daily grind and after all the rain and snow, they decided to dash over to Portofino for a stroll, photos and a cocktail. Portofino is a tiny pearl tucked away on the Ligurian coast not far from Genoa, next to Santa Margarita Ligure and Rapallo; a little fishing town, now a haven for VIP. Little did she know this was a place for “whoop-dee-doos;” once she spotted Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermés, Ferragamo, etc., she realized this was way out of their league pocket-wise (although, not out of her realm of taste). Of course for these two poor “street bastards,” visiting a town such as this in the off-season is their habitual MO, nevertheless off-season does not lower the prices of absolutely anything in this fabulous town (as it does in other places where normal folk forage).

They arrived late in the afternoon, just in time to catch the last of the setting sun reflecting against the pinks and yellows of the walls along the harbor. The wind was picking up, the tide coming in and only two bars out of a ga-bunch of them were open as well as just two restaurants; it was Monday so it is possible more were closed because it was Monday, but then again, these folks make so much money during those four months of the season, who the hell needs to stay open in the winter? They are probably sunning it in the Bahamas or Caribbean!

Few windows bore signs of life from behind the green shutters along the port shores (except for a few on the top floors); it was closed up tighter than a button but still, one could imagine the beauty of Spring with bars, gelaterias and store fronts open, bubbling with signs of life and color. The few boats moored in the waters were just those of the local fishermen and one lone sleek sailboat (a mere 40 footer). The wind was cold and whipping around the bend of the cove but that did not deter these two nuts.
They settled into benches and chairs made for midgets with their knees at the
ir cheeks, outside suffering the cold so they could soak up the sounds, the smell of the ocean and the changing light on the castle above as well as, the church perched above the harbor. She had no idea how much of a haven for two-legged creatures with buckets of money this place was until she saw the prices on the drink menu; € 13,00 per concoction! When you walk away leaving 26 Euros for two drinks, one realizes the prices here will singe the hair off of one’s two rear cheeks.

Parking prices should have tuned her in at € 5,00/hour as well as, the fact the road is so narrow and small, cars must line up on the road coming into town in the summer before a lighted sign displaying parking availability as cars leave the structure. Yes, this is a small town, where you can walk from one end to the other in ten minutes (if not window-shopping) so, I suppose the prices work for parking. Clearly, city hall makes a nice penny on tourists she deduced while walking towards the harbor. They crossed over solid brass water grates and manhole covers; huge, thick pieces of brass and, polished! Ah yes, she forgot, this is one of the fabulous jewels of Italy where Silvio Berlusconi has another one of his homes, perched high above the harbor (poor guy eh)? (He has one on Lago Maggiore, one in Portofino, Costa Smeralda and an Island in the Bahamas, all the best-protected jewels of Italy and beyond).

After strolling by the ultra clean and pretty public showers, it slammed into her big time just how much money rolls through the place and, with all the water and electrical hook ups for boats (hot and cold water) she knew this was a great people watching trove. Her companion told her it seemed only boats of 10 meters and up moored there; she did not believe him until she looked at a few postcards. Wow, so this is how it is when you have buckets and buckets of the stuff to keep a floating palace in fuel.

Portofino is stupendous; truly a pearl tucked away along the coast with only one way in and out. It’s history dates back to 986 known as Portus Delphini and today is part of the club of I Gioielli d’Europa. Francesco Petrarca spent many a day (1300’s) in this glorious place along with his sailboat and where he asked to be buried.
Near here appears Portofino enclosed by luminous greenery; with a mountain barrier that repels the violence of the winds a silent respite in ecstatic quietness. Africa VI 845-847

The houses are long and narrow, the colors faded with many dilapidated facades lending more charm than ever to the scenery. Everything is small, streets, doors, and houses all squished in to the coastal hills
and mountainsides, such a lovely contrast from the California coast. She tried to think of a place in California to help describe this town and all she could come up with was a mix of Big Sur, Carmel and Sausalito and still this does not do Portofino justice.

Having retrieved their wheels they headed for Santa Margarita for dinner since the town on passing by while headed to Portofino seemed more inhabited with many more places open for business. Exploring this lovely resort was a few steps down price-wise from the tiny pearl but still not a place for “commoners.” Prices in the restaurants are not for the faint of heart. We ended up stopping at La Palma since the other place could not take credit cards due to “technical” difficulties. Suffice it to say, this is not a place to go for those looking for a great meal. Service was 15% plus cover so between that, the water and a ½ carafe of wine, € 30,00 went to waste, well actually into someone’s pocket.

Thinking about how difficult it is to find a bad meal in Italy she realized how easy it is to find those few bad meals in places frequented by money. What is it; do they just want to be in the surroundings so they never look at the money spent? Is food quality not on the docket because they are there to be seen and willing to pay the price of the chair l
ocation ( or boat location)? Seriously, the money spent for two cocktails and for the service and beverages at dinner equal at least 3-4 meals out of a basket from the supermarket. Maybe she is just envious, wishing she could wander these ports of call without a second thought to the price of a caffè or a glass of water ;-)

With heavy hearts, they headed for the car after dinner; wishing there was a way to remain and savor the change of air and soak up the idyllic lights along the coast. As they left the lights behind them and entered the endless cord of tunnels they decided they would be back at the end of March, beginning of April for a drink and more eye candy; a chance to see the place in it’s glory before the long lines of cars and people clog the tiny piazza along the harbor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Knock-Your-Socks-Off Bread Pudding Soufflé & Whiskey Sauce

This recipe is a three-step process. The pudding base can be made a day in advance as well as the bourbon sauce.
Phase One: Bread Pudding ¾ cup Caster sugar or baker’s sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg 3 medium organic eggs 1 Cup heavy cream 1 tsp vanilla 5 cups New Orleans French Bread, in 1 inch cubes 1/3 cup top quality raisins. Currants may be used as well for a smaller raisin if desired.
The bread must be light and tender such as some of the French breads made at the super markets. If it is dense bread, it will soak up all the custard and the pudding portion of the recipe will not work. Baker’s sugar is not in many supermarkets but can be found at Ralph’s, not at Vons and Caster sugar at finer supermarkets such as Whole Foods.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square-baking pan. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Beat the eggs until smooth and then work in the heavy cream. Add the vanilla, then the bread cubes. Allow bread to soak up the custard. Place the raisins in the bottom of the greased pan. Top with the bread/egg mixture. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the pudding has a golden brown color and is firm to the touch. If a toothpick inserted comes out clean, it is done. The mixture of pudding should be nice and moist, not runny or dry. Cool slightly. Turn out on to a cutting board and gently chop. Leave oven on to 350 degrees.
Phase two: Meringue
9 Medium egg whites
¾ cup baker’s sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Butter six 6oz ramekins or use a large soufflé dish and dust with extra sugar. Beat on low the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Turn up to high and whip until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. The egg whites should be completely free of yolk and they will whip better if the chill is off of them. To test them, use a clean spoon; if the whites stand up stiff similar to shaving cream, when you pull the spoon out the meringue is ready. Do not over whip, or the whites will break down and the soufflé will not work.

In another large bowl, take half of the bread pudding and fold into it ¼ of the meringue. Add a portion of this base to each of the ramekins.

Place the remaining bread pudding in the bowl and carefully fold in the rest of the meringue. Spoon to dishes and top off or mound the soufflés to about 1 and ½ inches above rims. Smooth and shape tops with spoon into a dome over the ramekin rim. Bake immediately for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and using a spoon, poke a hole in the top of each soufflé and pour the room temperature bourbon sauce inside the soufflés. Serve immediately.

Use about half of the sauce for this and serve the remaining on the side or dress the plates before un-molding.

Phase 3: Bourbon Sauce
1 Cup heavy cream
½ Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp caster or baker’s sugar
1/4 cup excellent bourbon

Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch and water together in a small dish and add to the cream while whisking. Bring to a boil while whisking and let simmer for a few seconds, taking care not to burn the mixture on the bottom. Remove from heat. Stir in the sugar and bourbon. Taste to make sure the sauce is sufficiently sweet to taste and with a good bourbon flavor and has a nice thick consistency. Cool to room temperature.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Trillion Dollar Spending = Dog Tails to me.

The spending bill being presented to the Senate is not just 800 billion; by the time interest is calculated over the next decade, it will be more along the lines of $ 1.2 trillion representing an unsustainable growth of government!

This expansion will include the bail out of state governments from their own budget deficits, expand Medicaid, boost education spending, food stamps and unemployment benefits, build more federal buildings, provide more for public housing, construct climate change super
computers (thanks Gore, just what we need), erect trade barriers overseas, create refundable tax credits and make special interest payouts. This will not stimulate sustainable economic growth; the current package is a mass of spending with a sliver of targeted tax cuts.

An alternative plan should call upon a plan for change, to once-and-for-all put the nation's fiscal house in order, provide permanent tax relief for businesses and individuals, free A
mericans from the boom-bust economic cycle and to put the national debt to bed forever.

Did you know our current national debt is $10.7 trillion; this includes $4.3 trillion owed for SS, Medicare and other commitments, $6.4 trillion held privately, $3 trillion of which is held overseas and, (a big and), 40% of that privately held debt is due this year? The only way for government to pay that current debt, is to borrow more money. So, the U.S. is risking defaulting on it's financial obligatio
ns especially since the nation's creditors during this current economic downturn, may not be able to sustain the uncontrolled growth of spending, leaving the U.S. in financial ruin.

So now what? More dog butts for me.