Friday, March 30, 2012

Lost in Venice!


Venice is a never-ending maze onarrow passageways and winding  side streets. One can quite easily meander into a trance-like state only to find themselves completely and utterly lost in the beauty of this floating city.  We arrived at the train station a little tired, but eager to find a hotel and our first taste of the venetian cuisine. 

     A very short twenty-four hours to explore and fill our senses and bellies with as much cultural nourishment as Venice had to offer; made all the shorter when factoring in the time spent deciphering the map. We decided upon a small "Locando" found by chance down a side street. It had a lovely roof terrace where we had our first glass of vino to fortify ourselves before heading out.  As I was keeper of the camera, I eagerly set to capturing as much of our surroundings as my little Olympus could hold. Several stops for a Spritz here, a vino and cicchetti there. 

During the day, navigating Venice was a simple matter of mental landmarks. "Map, shmap. Easy peasy," I said. The shop with the quills and inkwells here. The violin maker on the corner. Sometimes that landmark was a poodle or mutt, but no matter. My navigation system worked great... until nightfall. When the shops shuttered their windows and the doggies went home, we were lost! That's when keeper of the map had the toughest job as many of the smaller streets were not listed.  

In my mind, getting lost is part of the fun. Knowing that at any time you can simply utter the magic word and be found again is comforting. That magic word is "Taxi" and it works the same in almost any language and country. One is never lost when home is just a taxi cab ride away, right? BUT... in Venice, that word can cost you 100 or more and there's still the matter of finding your way back from the Vaporreti station. Whoops. Ok so with that revelation, the keeper of the map was not so happy with me or my system. Somehow, we did find a restaurant still serving dinner. We had fantastic seafood risotto and found our way back eventually. The next day, we awakened refreshed and ready for more Venice. After a little pastry and cafe  we checked out of our locanda. They offered to hold our small bag until later that afternoon. Perfecto! 

We made our way to the Rialto fish and produce market. It was amazing! I've never seen a market more beautifully displayed. Ocean creatures of every sort. Squid in ink, fish of every color. Grandmas vying for the fishmonger's attentions, cash waving in the air.  I snapped more photos of fish and produce at the market than gondolas. Food is my thing  and this market was my heaven! I longed for a kitchen, my favourite chef's knife and some more time, but the clock kept ticking.  

We left the market (reluctantly on my part) and happened upon a quaint restaurant, Cantina Do Mori. We had unknowingly saved the best meal for last as this is the oldest restaurant in all of Venice. We had a lovely carafe of house wine. Pasta e Vongnole for Gary and the Seppie Col Nero Con Polenta for me. So delicious. Definitely a meal to remember. 

Feeling  rather proud of ourselves for finding such a great hidden gem, we made a wrong turn on the way back to our hotel and once again were lost in the maze. A ten minute walk turned into over an hour of switchbacks.  Somehow we made it to the station in time for our train back to Milan. Twenty-four hours was not nearly enough time to see it all. I have a feeling we'll return someday soon.  Ciao Venezia! Until next time. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Tough Mudder May 7, 2011

First Mudd!
     I'd be lying if I said completing Tough Mudder didn't feel like a religious experience. I've never prayed so hard in my life. Most of the time I was actually praying for my life. "Please don't let me die on this mountain. Please God." I didn't realize I was begging out loud and not in my head, until the guy climbing several feet ahead of me turned around and said, "Dude...You're scaring me."

     I've done some pretty crazy things in my life. I've bungeed in New Zealand, jumped from a perfectly good plane and finished a triathlon in pretty good time. But, this was crazy on a-whole-nother level. It was fun, excruciatingly painful at times, but fun. We laughed a lot in spite of the pain.
My best friend/hubby.
I guess the best part was, I got to do all of this with my best friend. He never let me quit. He encouraged me and lied to me when I needed it most. "This is the last climb, really. No more uphills after this one." Thanks honey.

     I learned a lot about myself, my limitations. Really. Trying to pull a guy who outweighs me by at least 80lbs, up a half-pipe ramp, was really dumb. I can admit that now. But this race was different than most. It wasn't about the individual competitor, it was about the camaraderie. It wasn't about who finishes first, but helping each other through the battle, together as one. No man left behind. I witnessed complete strangers stop to give encouragement to someone in need. Sharing a bit of their strength, helping to carry the load. I saw grown men and women breakdown and cry. Whether it was from the pain of complete muscle fatigue or the exhilarating high of being a part of this amazing kinship, only they know.
Team Unaccompanied Minor
For those few hours we were soldiers.

 From the moment we sang the national anthem beneath the great symbol of our amazing country, charged down to the base of the mountain and came face to face with our first obstacle. Tough Mudders have raised over one million dollars for the Wounded Warriors Project . In this time of war, I couldn't be more proud to have had the opportunity be a part of that.  It was a life altering experience and a life lesson I will not soon forget.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ramps/wild leeks. Garlicky in flavour. Grill or saute.

I love Spring! It is truly my favorite season of the year.  I don't even mind the showers. Which in New England are inevitable, although today it's more like freezing rain. I'm not sure if being born in Spring has anything to do with it, but I think it's the anticipation that gets me giddy. When the first flowers begin to emerge, I can barely contain myself. Already, I'm dreaming of my favorite foods; Ramps, morels, fiddleheads and favas. And the dishes I will create with these amazing ingredients. Recipes are literally percolating in my head.

Recipes to come as soon as I can get my hands on the ingredients.

Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi w/ sauteed ramps and fiddleheads, garlic roasted morels and sundried tomatoes

Balsamic glazed Filet of Salmon w/ english pea Risotto

Fava Crostini with shaved fennel and pecorino

Crispy fried Baby Artichoke Chips with Fava puree

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No more excuses..

     Been away for a month and in that time, I wish I could say I've been writing like my life depends on it. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I'm presently sitting here on my cozy couch, sipping away at a mug of green tea with lemon, watching the snow fall outside my window. Ever have one of those moments when the task before you is so mountainous, you feel frozen in place? That moment when there's so much to be done, you can't even find the courage to begin.  
      When I first began this blog, some of you may remember, I had just signed up for National Novel Writing Month.  The idea is to write 50,000 words of a novel, beginning on November 1st.  It was something I had always wanted to try, but never had the time, or the nerve to do it.  Well, I'm proud to say, I did it!  With a 30 lb. pack on my back in S. E. Asia, I managed to keep up with the grueling schedule of writing nearly 2,000 words a day.   It took two full days of speed writing when I returned home, but I hit 50K at last, one day before the deadline. It was quite an accomplishment for me. I savoured the moment of triumph when I pressed the submit button. So the  question I find myself asking is... now what? Where do I go from here? 
procrastinator |prəˈkrastəˌnāt; prō-|-ˌnātər|
 noun [ intrans. ]
    To delay or postpone actionput off doing something.     One who procrastinates.
    Could this be me? Should there be a picture of my face in the dictionary next to this definition? January has come and gone. Time to renew my resolutions. Time to get back in gear.    February will be better..I hope.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

 We spent the final night of 2010 at our favourite restaurant in downtown Portsmouth.  Cava is owned by our friend John Akar and Executive Chef, Gregg Sessler.   The e11even course tasting menu was a work of genius; beautifully crafted and meticulously executed.  Perfection.  

Maine Crab, pickled mango, hackelback caviar and basil seed

French Kiss Oyster, mint in Sparkling Cava

Semolina Dusted Day Boat Scallop w/ Artichoke and purple mustard

Long Island Duck Breast, blood orange, cress on Goat cheese pillow

Executive Chef Gregg Sessler

our fellow diners @ the chef's table George and Kaitlen

Vanilla milk poached Lobster, cauliflower, vanilla bean and chestnut

Chickpea Fries

Sirloin of Beef, Sunchoke puree, Black Trumpets and celery leaf

Whipped Brie, Huckelberry, Honey Comb and Hazelnut 

Hibiscus Jell-O, Pineapple, Lime, Marscapone

Chef Michael, Executive Chef Gregg Sessler, John Akar

Pistachio Cake, White Chocolate, Meyer Lemon

Monday, December 27, 2010

The weather outside is frightful...

As December comes to a close, we look forward to 2011 and the promise of a fresh start.  Many of us will make a resolution to lose weight, work less and sleep more.  I for one, plan to be more active in 2011.  I will stop taking life for granted and putting off the things I want to do; assuming tomorrow is promised to me.  I will write more, experience more, appreciate the little things in life more.   I'll begin with accepting and coming to terms with the cold, blustery climate we live in.  The northeast is braced for our first blizzard of the winter season.  It's freezing and a move to Florida is not in our future.   This calls for drastic measures.  Lots of layers, some hot stew in my belly and those little gel thingies that heat up, in my mittens.
When thinking of stew, nothing says winter survival like a steamy bowl of "N'awlins" Gumbo.   I pulled out the old crockpot and gathered my ingredients.

6 cps. of Stock (shrimp or chicken)
1 large Guinness (dark) beer
3 chicken breasts (skinless/boneless)
1 lb. med size Shrimp
2 bell peppers
1 med onion
lots of garlic
1 bunch of green onions (separate green from bottom)
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 dozen fresh okra pods (or 1/2 bag frozen/cut)
1/4 cp. leeks
6 slices of turkey bacon (or pork if preferred)
2 cps. Turkey Kielbasa or andouille sausage
1/4 cp. Worchester sauce
5 bay leaves
1 T.  smoked paprika
1 T. old bay seasoning
1 t. cayenne pepper
2 T. File` powder (ground sassafras leaves)

fresh thyme and cilantro
Salt and Pepper

Heat the crockpot at the highest setting.  Pour in 3/4's of the stock, worchester and bay leaves.  Saute` bacon, sausage and set aside, reserving the oil in the pan. Medium dice and saute` in same pan, leeks, onions, carrots, celery and bell peppers until slightly brown.  Add minced garlic and the diced bottoms of the green onions.  Sprinkle in old bay, paprika and salt/pepper.  Stir for a few minutes and add the remaining stock to deglaze the pan. Add mixture to crockpot, spoon in the roux, stir till dissolved.  Pour in the beer and simmer for an hour.  Add chicken to the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes.  Shred chicken and add sausage/ crumbled bacon, simmer for another 30 minutes. Finally add shrimp, okra, green onions, cilantro, cayenne and file` powder.  Give a stir and another 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 cp. Flour
4 T. Butter (room temp)

The Roux is the most important part of a great gumbo.  A well tended roux is the key.  Once you begin the roux, you must stir it till it's done; no phone chats or feeding the cats.  Begin with butter in a heated pan.  It should be warm enough to melt the butter, but not burn it.  You want the butter to sizzle until the frothy milk solids begin to dissipate.  Once the butter is melted and begins changing to a deeper shade, sprinkle the flour  while stirring with a whisk.  Once all of the flour has been added, continue to stir constantly, ensuring an even color and consistency (no lumps).  Don't forget to stir from the bottom and keep the sides of the pan clean.  If you see black specks at this stage, you must start over.  Once the roux is chocolate in color and even (you're looking for a consistency of creamy peanut butter), remove it from heat and place in a small bowl.

As I sit here, sipping a smokey glass of Pinotage in front of a blazing fire with, Coleman Hawkins playing softly in the background.  I realize, winter has its good points too.  Life is good... isn't it? See you in the new year.  Cheers.