Man, do I love the bad puns in my titles or what? Probably about as much as I love posing rhetorical questions to my readers…
Roughly twelve days ago, I was as proud of myself as Arvind Mahankali when he successfully spelled knaidel to beat Pranav Sivakumar and secure the championship title during the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee (apparently, this particular Indian-American knows a thing or two about Jewish comfort food). Why was I so pleased with myself, you ask? Well, I thought that I had finally caught up with our stories on the blog. And then a whirlwind of activity commenced in a flash as Jen’s sister arrived for a visit with her boyfriend. We had such a nice time traveling and eating with them (really, is there anything else you would want to do in Italy?) that now I have a ton more to write about. Additionally, we left them to their own devices while we embarked on a rewarding road-trip, which I cannot wait to tell you about. So, now once again – I am behind the times again faster than you can spell prosciutto.
When I was looking ahead toward the next 5-8 posts, I realized that I would be remiss not to step back and mention our visits to Pisa and then Massa in northern Tuscany. When I last wrote, I detailed our trip to Lucca (HERE). During the drive home we detoured to marvel at the Torre pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa) before getting back on the road. We hadn’t traveled too much further when our perfectly timed Italian stomachs told us it was time for lunch (at first I thought our three stomachs growling in unison was a tractor-trailer honking furiously at me). I was more in the mood for a leisurely lunch than a quick stop at an AutoGrill (picture a rest-stop along the NJ Turnpike with better food and espresso). I turned to my trusty “TripAdvisor” cell phone app and searched for a restaurant near us. I discovered Il Fatty (yeah… you guessed the translation; The Fatty) in the city we were approaching. With a name like, “the fatty” – how could you go wrong?! I took the exit toward Massa and headed into the center of town. Continue reading You “Massa” Check Out This City (Massa, Italy)→
No, I didn’t wear one myself, but only because we were already half-way through our trip before I came across a store that sold them. Real men also eat haggis (sheep’s heart, liver and lungs encased in it’s own stomach) – I did do that! Of course, so did my two-year old daughter… and she probably had more than all of us combined.
A scenic shot of the River Dee in the Scottish Highlands
Since living abroad, we’ve been able to get in touch with most of Jen’s roots. Her father is Italian (hence us living in Italy) and we’ve gone to many of the places where he has or had family. Since he grew up in Africa, we still have that left to do. Jen’s mother grew up in Ohio, and having crossed that off the list multiple times – it was time to go a bit further. Diane’s lineage is a mixture of Irish (we went to Dublin in March, HERE) and Scottish. Now, it was finally time to go to Scotland! And since Jen’s parents and sister were here visiting us, we would all embark on this adventure together. Continue reading Scotland – Where Real Men Wear Skirts→
Recently, Jen’s family came to visit (HERE) and since we’re not the type of family that does well sitting still, we planned a couple trips within their trip. One of these week-long sojourns was an impromptu visit to Civitella in the Abruzzo region- Jen’s nonna’s (grandma’s) hometown. The official name of this gem of a village is actually, Civitella Messer Raimondowhich is home to less than 900 residents. Jennifer and Jessica grew up going to visit their nonna and family friends in Civatella during many of their summers abroad. Since I had never been to see such an important part of my wife’s family history – I was excited to go.
Civitella Messer Raimondo – the place where it all started!
I don’t know who was more excited… Jen to see her parents or Jen’s parents to see their granddaughter. It was close, but judging by the suitcase of presents exclusively for Julia, I would give the edge to Jen’s mom, Diane. Of course, this suitcase (along with the 42 other suitcases Jen’s mom, dad and sister brought) got lost somewhere over the Atlantic and didn’t arrive for another two days (the airline had to hire a Mack truck to deliver everything in one trip).
Julia playing with Nonna on Day One
As you’ve no doubt surmised from above, Jen’s family came to visit recently. They wanted to see the country they love, their second home that has been overtaken by three squatters, their kids and their granddaughter (not necessarily in that order). And we were thrilled to see all of them. Since the timing was right with their work schedules and nursing school (Jen’s sister, Jessica had just graduated), they were able to stay a full month. We had plenty of down time relaxing and plenty of time on the go-go-go. Since so much happened during this month, the story of their visit will most definitely be broken into a few posts.
Jen, Julia and I spent a few days exploring France – from the French Riviera (blog post HERE) to Côtes du Rhône (first blog post HERE). I knew that the dining experience would be different than what we’ve grown accustomed to while living in Italy, but I think I underestimated just how different it would be.
I’ll point out a couple of the noticeable differences. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I have made many references to pranzo, or lunch. While the literal definition is simply, lunch – it should be modified to be more along the lines of, large meal in which copious amounts of pasta are finished with meats and salads and where the act of gathering is as important as the meal. Wine and grappa are a must. Since lunch is usually the “big deal”, that means we partake in a very light dinner. Whereas in France, dinner was the star meal of the day. Although, many of our days in France we also had a big lunch, and so our stomachs questioned our brains when we sat down to a second coursed-out meal at dinner time. Continue reading And I Thought Italians Eat Big Meals!→
Last week, we received a visit from our Uncle S. and Aunt Deborah who were traveling through Europe on business. They had planned a stop over visit us before traveling by train to their next destination. We had also coordinated with Jen’s mom, who was departing on the same day they arrived, which saved us a trip to the airport and allowed us to spend the day in Milano (never a bad thing). Whoever said planning is overrated never had traffic and a two year old to contend with.
Julia with her great-uncle S.
Julia was sad to see her Nonna leave, but excited to have new visitors to play with. She instantly recognized S. and Deb as they arrived through customs. Since it was early evening when they landed, we took them back to our condo and had a “light” dinner of bread, salami, salami piccante (spicy salami) prosciutto, cheese, a cannelloni bean salad, acciughe in salsa verde (anchovies in green sauce), insalata finocchio (fennel salad) and insalata caprese with some wonderful buffalo mozzarella. Franco and Claudia came downstairs to join the party and brought some additional goodies of their own. Of course, we had more than a bottle or two of some good vino along with grappa and limoncello to wash it all down. Continue reading Eating On Top Of The World→
Jen picked a wonderful restaurant in the heart of Verona, romantically hidden from site, lending the feeling of authenticity (as opposed to “touristy”). We were visiting the amazing city for the day (read all about our visit HERE) and had pre-selected, Ristorante Greppia as our place for pranzo (lunch).
The small street leading to Ristorante Greppia
We were instantly taken in by the charm and warmth of the restaurant. The wait staff elevated our excitement for the meal to come by extending great courteousness and hospitality (indulging me as I took photos with this blog in mind). Continue reading Eating Brains Will Not Make You Smarter!→
No, we didn’t oversell it in the title. This meal was
LEGEN…wait for it…DARY!
Like Odysseus who fought heroically in the Trojan war and embarked on a long journey rife with cyclops, lotus-eaters, sea monsters and hostile giants; we too fought our own heroic battle of hunger and embarked on a journey rife with wrong turns, communication challenges, unpaved roads and hostile baby cries. In the end however, it worked out better for us than Odysseus.
We decided to visit the neighboring town of Lecco and grab a bite to eat. When I quickly opened my browser and selected a restaurant from Trip Advisor based solely on someones comment “good food, family friendly” – we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We plotted our course in the GPS and set out to eat at Osteria Belvedere Montalbano, a thirty minute-minute drive.
Lecco – a lake town on the east “leg” of Lake Como
A panoramic of the lake that I stitched together – the view on our way to the restaurant
Thirty-five minutes later, we pulled up. To a house. This couldn’t be right. We tried again. Twenty minutes later we ended up in the woods. Hmmm??? Twenty five minutes later we pulled up again. To another house. How many Via (Street) Montalbano’s could there be?! Jen dug a little deeper and translated a few google posts. She discovered that the restaurant is in fact, in the woods. So we were right when we were in the woods??? We tried that route again and hit a dirt path that looked to be traveled only by horses. As frustrated as you are reading this, you can imagine our displeasure. We’d had enough… time to throw in the towel. Continue reading A Culinary Odyssey of Epic Proportions!→
What a wonderful tradition happy hour is! A time when friends can gather and join in a few post-work drinks and perhaps a little nibble to eat. We’ve always known happy hour to be a 5:00pm – 7:00pm (ish) time to partake in a few cocktails at a discounted price.
Caffè Mazzini – Our favorite Happy Hour in Como
We were pleased to find that the tradition of “happy hour” also exists in Italy and it’s even called the same thing (just imagine saying it with a funny little accent… drop the sound the “h” makes). However, it’s a bit different here.
Instead of discounted drinks and food, you usually pay the same price for the drinks (which always tends to be low anyways… between $4 – $6) but get a big bonus. ALL YOU CAN EAT heavy hors d’oeuvres – Italian style!!! Imagine a bar full of pasta, pizza and other wonderful treats. If you’re not to embarrassed to fill a plate – you can easily have enough for dinner. Continue reading Happy Hour – Although This One Was Unhappy!→