mercredi, décembre 31, 2008

Cinque Terre Revisited

Top view of Vernazza

We are, as you can see, devoted to the SIL. Visiting Cinque Terre in the middle of winter, can you believe it? When we left the house it was -4ºC. I really expected the worst on our way there and guess what? They were not joking in my old Geography textbooks when they blabbed about maritime climates and how they never get too hot or cold. Nearly 10ºC it was at La Spezia when we arrived and at some point during our trek between the villages I nearly stripped down to my push-up bra. In the middle of winter.

The Ladies in Hub's Family

We parked at La Spezia on this trip. Not easy finding parking near the train station but if you managed it, you can park for 0,76 cents an hour. The train to the Cinque Terre comes through more or less every hour and you can buy the tourist tickets in the station itself. We paid more than 40 euros for 4 adults and 3 children and some may be interested in knowing that unlike on our last trip last summer, nobody controlled our tickets in the National Park area on this trip. Maybe nobody works between Christmas and the New Year, maybe they just don't work during winter.

If you need the WC or a quick bite, there's a McDonalds and Chef Express in the train station and the sandwiches looked quite good in the latter.

We took the train to Coniglia. At the train station, you would want to take the shuttle bus that brings you up to the village on top. The trek to the next village Vernazza starts from there. It usually takes about 1,5 to 2 hours and be prepared to work the thighs during this trek. There are parts of the trek that just keep going uphill. The Babies walked really well, in fact Baby Boy led the way most of the time, making me pretty nervous as there are stretches of the path that plunge down into the sea from the side - if you are not careful.


Room with a view


We lunched at the Gambero Rosso in Vernazza. Michelin didn't recommend any restaurants in the region. But I think Le Guide du Routard mentioned this one. In any case it looked pretty good from the outside and we didn't want to eat pizza or Foccacia so it had to do.

Gambero Rosso

The cover charge was 3 euros pax. Pasta dishes 10-15 euros and mains 15-21 euros. I had Spaghetti ai frutti di mare to start and had to send it back because the pasta wasn't cooked enough! I like pasta al dente but not cooked? But the guy had good service sense, later on he would offer us a bottle of white wine to make up for it. The house wine was good, by the way. In the region, the different vineyards usually send their small harvests to the cooperative that will then make the wine for everyone.

Grilled Catch of the Day

The adults all had the Mixed Grill of the day. Una Dorada, one scampi and one prawn per portion. This restaurant I must say is good but expensive.

After lunch we had ice cream in our favourite gelateria just in front of the marina. Then we visited the church and it was really quite charming with stone walls and a wooden ceiling. And we noticed that there were rooms to rent everywhere in the village - but no hotel which explained why we couldn't find any on the Net.

Lover's Path Manarola-Riomaggiore


Took the train to Manarola and walked to Riomaggiore, watching the sun set along the way. A truly lovely day. Felice Anno Nuovo!

lundi, décembre 29, 2008

1st Tooth Lost

Baby Girl (finally) lost her 1st milk tooth - for good.

She was jumping on the trampoline when it dropped out of her mouth. She couldn't find it again.


Does it mean that the tooth fairy wouldn't be able to give her a coin for it?


What do you think?

samedi, décembre 27, 2008

Venezia Revisited

SIL wanted to visit Venice so off we went to the beautiful city. We'll never tire of Venice, it's really gorgeous, though I wouldn't want to live there, I have a bit of a phobia for water and I do not see how I could live in a place filled with tourists and no big supermarkets.

View of Venice from our parking

We would spend a night and 2 days in Venice though the cost of parking the car was exhorbitant and Hub grumbled quite a bit about it. Not that you have much choice. There are only about 3 car parks and whether you stay 2 hours or 24 the cost is about the same (e.g. 22-28 euros).

Cathedral at St Mark's Square

It was sunny when we were there - but also very very cold and windy. MIL and the Hub both had to buy gloves and bonnets upon arrival, they wouldn't have survived otherwise.

No Spitting Sign in Public WC at St Mark's Square

We walked. For hours and hours. Didn't take the boat at all this time. The babies walked really well though after a few hours they finally realised something was amiss and started to ask to be carried. Hub and I took turns and now have sore necks and backs. So much for not bringing the stroller along.

View from Osteria Anice Stellato

We had lunch in a lovely restaurant (Osteria Anice Stellato) off the beaten track that was mentioned in the Michelin guide. It specialises in seafood dishes and is really good. Venice is one big tourist trap so you do not want to be unprepared when it comes to eating. Or you'll regret it like we've often had.

Mix of Seafood Antipasti

We started out with a mix of their seafood antipasti and I would recommend the Sword Fish in Curry and the Sting Ray in Walnut Sauce. The pasta dishes were also good and Hub and SIL both had the Seafood Risotto that contained tiny pieces of seafood in a delicate broth. MIL and myself we had the Fried Scampi and Calamari (lightly deep-fried but still a bit too much) and I kept eyeing the neighbouring table's Spaghetti alle Vongole that looked really tasty with the clams out of their shells in what looked like a nice garlic-wine sauce.

Fried Scampi and Calamari

On our second day we visited the Museum of Modern Art in the 18th Century-built Palazzo Grassi. I've never been one for the Modern Art (though I've enjoyed the Guggenheim), as it's often obvious and yet not so at the same time so you usually have to depend quite alot on the explanations given by the artist to understand what he's up to. And I nearly had my cards and phone etc demagnetised because I entered this room without first reading whatever was written about the exhibit (wanting to figure it out myself first)!

Palazzo Grassi

We wanted to visit the Grassi Palace because François Pinault bought it in 2005 to house his private art collection (so we've been told). But in fact he is only just preparing to exhibit them next June in another Venetian building La Mer des Douanes. In any case I think I'll stick to the Impressionists, they're still my favourite.

Love the marble façade

We left Venice in the late afternoon - without having done any shopping once again. SIL and the Hub made a potent military marching combination. Too bad for MIL and myself, we were quite set on buying a few of those Murano glass jewellery to give away as presents and it was frustrating to have to leave empty-handed.

Osteria Anice Stellato
3272 Fondamenta de la Sensa
Tel : 039 041720744

mercredi, décembre 24, 2008

Christmas Celebration

Scampi on Tagliolini

Petite Fleur had it right when she said that the French love their oysters. We live in Italy and it's not easy finding them here though for Christmas Esselunga has imported some from France (au prix de l'or) so I was able to offer the traditional Plateau de Fruits de Mer for our Christmas celebration.

Raw Oysters

As far as I could remember we've always started with Foie Gras and Smoked Salmon on toasts for our Christmas Eve dinner followed by a Cold Seafood Platter made up of whatever fresh seafood we could find e.g. oysters, lobster, crab, prawns, scampi, shells, mussles...

Cooked Prawns, lobsters, crabs

This year, we had 2 types of Foie Gras from the South-West of France courtesy of MIL and SIL, Scottish Smoked Salmon, raw oysters including les plates de Belon (served with buttered bread, shallots in red wine vinegar, lemon juice...), cooked lobsters, crabs and prawns. The scampi I prepared them so that they would go nicely on a bed of tagliolini pasta. We had Dom Pérignon Vintage 2000 Champagne and a few bottles of very good wines both red and white to accompany the meal. For dessert I made Mille-feuille Mascarpone with Red Berries.

Dom Pérignon Vintage 2000

Excellent Coteaux du Layon (a sweet white wine)

This year, I received a book written by Barack Obama (translated into French) from SIL, Harumi's Japanese cookbook from MIL while the Hub didn't get me anything - but made a casual remark about giving me carte blanche to buy myself a new diamond whenever I want it. He also said that since a big diamond is a major purchase I should go to a reputable jeweller like Cartier for my ring so as not to get fleeced (he knows I like to buy things on the Net). Having said that there is no Cartier in these parts and it breaks my heart to pay for anything from Cartier knowing they usually cost at least 20 to 50% more than anywhere else. So we'll see. In any case, I'm not in a hurry. I'm really just happy to know that he wants to buy me a new diamond. Next year, we would have been together for 10 years! If I double the size of my diamond every decade (meaning he still feels that his naggy fat wife is worth his hard-earned money), that'll cover the symbolic representation of our relationship. Otherwise we all know that it's how we live our quotidien that really matters.

Christmas Tree before the big rush to massacre wrapping paper

Baby Boy and some of his prezzies

Meanwhile, Christmas in Italy should not go without mention of the panettone, of course. To tell the truth, I do not like it, especially not the ones sold in the supermarkets. Our sole panettone this year came from an old pastry shop in Milan itself. And it contains all the dried fruit etc that I hate - but MIL loves it which is all that really matters. Auguri!!!

Panettone from OVA Milano

PS : BTW, I DO NOT like oysters. Though occasionally I have a craving for oyster omelette - or the starch and egg as I usually just leave the oysters in it on the plate. And I also do not eat smoked salmon - though I like cooked fresh salmon. Just in case people should start inviting me to their homes and serve me only that!!!

Season's Greetings

I have always said that one can say or do whatever one likes as long as one can live with it. Being at peace with oneself is probably up there with good health and happiness in terms of wishes for the near future.

So as usual, in the Christmas rush, I had my adrenaline up with shopping for family, friends, teachers, neighbours, cleaning lady and of course myself - and then after the climax, the low.

Near my house there is this roundabout and there's a beggar who stands there almost everyday with his windscreen cleaner even though the traffic light no longer exists (almost every traffic light in these parts have been or are being transformed into roundabouts) and no car usually stops for more than a minute near him.

In those days when there was still the traffic light, I would give him a coin or 2 now and then. Then when the roundabout came about, like everybody else, it became the mad rush to move forward and keep up with the flow and I never stopped any more.

In the past few days, I kept seeing him in my head. Standing there like an idiot even though he should know that nobody will even notice him now that we no longer have to stop. Every time I neared the roundabout, I would start feeling bad. Hub dismissed the guy as having missed some connection in the brain whenever I mentioned him - like that should settle everything.

This morning, I went to the post office. Drove on the roundabout and started to drive past him. Then I swerved to the side and stopped. Put on my warning lights. He saw me and crossed over immediately. I gave him a coin and wished him Merry Christmas. He wasn't so stupid that he was incapable of feeling happy and grateful. My coin would definitely not help whatever problems he may have in his life. But I hoped it made him feel a little less ignored for a while - and it certainly made me feel better for the rest of the day.

Roundabouts certainly help save electricity and improve the flow of traffic. But we still need to stop and take stock of what's around us once in a while or we would lose ourselves in it like everyone else. That was just my thought for the day.

Merry Christmas everyone and may you have a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year in 2009!

lundi, décembre 22, 2008

Fried Shrimp, Mozzarella and Bacon Rolls

Fried Shrimp, Mozzarella and Bacon Rolls

I had to clear my freezer and saw a packet of made-in-Singapore frozen spring roll wrappers. Found frozen shrimp, always have bacon in the fridge, bought some mozzarella, added a touch of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and voilà - Fried Shrimp, Mozzarella and Bacon Rolls.

But must double the spring roll wrappers for each roll (as the mozzarella gives out liquid when fried) and watch how you do the frying.

Flädle-Suppe und Spätzle


I continued with my German reminiscence today. Another staple for Sunday lunch when we ate out in Stuttgart was the Flädle-Suppe. It's a beef broth served with pancake strips.

The broth is best made the day before (e.g. with bone marrow and oxtail) so that the fat could be skimmed off and the soup filtered. Then heat up a pot with a little oil and brown some onions, a bay leaf or 2 and a few cloves. Pour the broth into the pot, add some celery and simmer for another 30 minutes or more.

In the meantime, cook a pancake from a batter that you would have prepared at least an hour before. Do it like a French crepe - only thicker. Cut it into strips and add them to the soup before serving.

The soup was followed by another Swäbisch dish - Spinach Spätzle. Very easy dish, I usually just fry some bacon bits and diced onions in butter, add in the spätzle when they are fragrant, stir a bit. Add in more butter, toss in a pinch of salt and pepper and before serving, melt some cheese in the spätzle and then serve hot.

Spinach Spätzle

Very nice once in a while but not something you would want to eat all the time. Heavy the spätzle is.

dimanche, décembre 21, 2008

Christmas at Castelvetro

Jesus in the manger

Today being another nice day, Hub suggested once again that we go out for a walk. We decided on Castelvetro as it's a lovely medieval village not far from our place. I grumbled all the way there as I wanted to stay at home.

I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival to discover the whole village transformed into a life-size creche. There were stalls in front of the town hall and people manning them were all dressed up in costumes from another age! There were gnocci fritti and hot red wine, for example, and they were being cooked by costumed men in old pots on a fire. There were also demonstrations of wooden barrel making, silversmithing, a tiny zoo with a donkey, piglets, sheep, feathered fowl. We bought a few pancakes that we were told were a Modenese speciality called Borlenghi. They are a kind of thin crispy pancake, flavoured with garlic, meat, rosemary and seasoned with parmesan cheese, produced by cooking a semi-liquid mixture of water and flour on a steel plate.


We also visited a museum run by the Dama Vivente Society where they had reproductions of costumes from the Renaissance period. In the same building there was also the village's balsamic vinegar facility and they allow visits on most Sundays. The church also had a cake sale with raffle prizes and at 5pm there was to be a concert. But we didn't stay for it as the Hub as usual, wanted to go for a walk but after a short while would be tired and wanted to leave.

3 Kings on their way

Renaissance costumes on little dolls

Castelvetro's Communal Acetaia

Best Gelateria in Modena and Café Concerto

X'mas creche ice cream cake at Slurp!

The weather was really good this weekend for the middle of winter. Though we woke up at noon on Saturday and only had a few hours of daylight left, Hub insisted that we go out to enjoy the good weather.

Casa del Babbo Natale

We started out at Slurp! - Opla buys their ice cream birthday cakes from them and they told me that it's the best gelateria in Modena. Then E (who lives nearby) told me the same thing. I was skeptical at the beginning, believing that K2's the best, but since I've tested Slurp! I now only swear by it.

The ice cream counter

Just the variety of flavours available is amazing all on its own. My favourite flavours are stracciatella and Mandarin orange. And they don't charge you extra for whipped cream. Prices start at 1 euro though we've never managed to eat for less than 3-4 euros per person each time we were there, we almost always have a second serving each.

After that we walked to Modena centro. There were lots of people in the streets as there were street performances, Christmas stalls, antique stalls etc. I must say that Modena is lovely seen in this light.

Café Concerto

As usual, within a few minutes of walking, the Hub suggested that we buy ourselves something to drink in a café. It's very frustrating going out with people like that. There were so many things to see out there and all you ended up doing was trying to catch them from the window of your café. And paying for drinks that cost at least 5 times what you would pay for when you get them from your supermarket. This time round we were at the Café Concerto - a Modenese institution.

Beautiful marble exterior of the Duomo, but doesn't it look like it's sinking?

I was told they have daily lunch buffets at 15 euros pax. Made a note in the head to try it out in the New Year. Lovely place with high ceilings and a view of the marble Duomo and its tower. I ordered gnocco fritto stuffed with ham and it came nicely presented and only slightly more expensive than the one sold at the Formigine pool.

We window-shopped, looked at the stalls, enjoyed the street performances and on the way back to the car, Hub tried to get us to stop for another drink - this time at an Irish pub. I said yes because I was hoping that they might do pub food, but I suspect that it would be a futile hope and anyway couldn't find out since it wasn't open yet.