Have you ever dreamt of chucking it all and living in Italy? …creating a vacation rental where you could entertain guests from all over the world? …harvesting olives and producing your own olive oil? …writing a book while sipping cappuccino (or vino) from your terrace in the Umbrian countryside? Or would you just like to live like an Italian for a week or so? If so, this post is for you!
But, first, let me introduce you to Joan (a former Coca-Cola executive) and her husband, Roger Arndt, (a retired Delta captain). They are living the dream. During a 3-week trip to Italy in 2001, Joan and Roger got bitten by the Italian ‘amore’ bug and the rest is history.
…or, rather, a humorous memoir called “Italian Lessons” which Joan penned about their adventure. It wasn’t always the sugary substance dreams are made of — no, sometimes, there were nightmares. They had to sell and dispose of much of their belongings in Atlanta (that was the easy part compared to what they faced in Italy). There they had to find the right property, open bank accounts, get driver’s licenses, hire contractors, meet the neighbors, the merchants, etc. and negotiate with everyone…all in Italian! Yes, there were times that tried their patience. But never their sense of humor. The trials and tribulations of uprooting life as they knew it in the suburbs of Atlanta and taking on the project of a lifetime is a fascinating and, oft times, humorous read that will leave you wishing you were in their shoes (especially now that the frustrations are behind and they are sitting back and enjoying the fruits of their labors).
What they created from the 12th century colonial convent they found a few years ago is really the stuff dreams are made of. It has been totally renovated to exacting modern standards. A separate air-conditioned residence, called a self-catering vacation rental villa, houses 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, living room and a large and fully-equipped kitchen. Rental of the villa offers access to an oversized pool, tennis and bocce courts, BBQ, laundry facilities, fax/PC, DVD/VCR, satellite TV and many other contemporary amenities. And did I mention a terrace, garden and up-close view of the olive groves? And, best of all, they want to share it!
Since life and everything that follows starts with our mothers, so, too, does my friendship with the Arndts. You see, our mothers became friends when they both moved to the same development in Boca Raton. When Joan wrote her book, her mother gave a copy to mine. Mine knew right away this would be something her daughter, Joan (yes we’re both Joan), would be interested in so she gave me an autographed copy for my birthday earlier this year. I read it, felt an immediate connection to the author though I’d never met her and only met her mother a few times. After all, it was my dream too. So I wrote and introduced myself. They liked what I’d done at FOODalogue. I liked what they’d done at LeVigne. I knew after the reading the book that it was not like other international rentals where there is always a level of uncertainty. Here, one could be 100% comfortable that everything would up to standards and furthermore the Arndts are American-born and speak English, Spanish and (now) Italian so communication would not be problem.
The Special Offer to FOODalogue Readers
Joan and Roger are offering a 10% discount to published rates if you book and mention FOODalogue. To paraphrase “The Godfather”…now that’s an offer you can’t refuse!
Additional photos, rates, and property details including floor plans are available on their website, LeVigne. Joan and Roger are like long-lost friends, only you haven’t met them yet . They love company and will be as involved (or uninvolved) in your adventure as you wish and offer by prior arrangement: airport transportation, pre-arrival shopping, an arrival dinner, discount shopping and introduction to local artisans, a cooking demonstration and dining experience by an Umbrian cook at the property. They can also help with arranging day trips. LeVigne is 6 miles from Perugia, 10 miles from Assissi, 76 miles to Siena, 98 miles to San Gmignano. Florence is 105 miles and Rome 112.
Arrivederci, amici. Send me a postcard!
Note: “Italian Lessons” is available on Amazon. (See sidebar link.)
Red cabbage has never been part of FOODalogue’s kitchen repertoire…that is until I visited Germany on our recent Culinary Tour Around the World. I’ve been a fan ever since. If anyone has any other tasty uses for red cabbage, I’d be happy to try them. Send me links.
Red Cabbage Slaw*
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 diced apple
1/4 onion minced
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (I use Splenda brown)
Saute onion, apple, cabbage till it begins to soften, add S&P, caraway seeds, a few cloves, and a sprinkling of bacon bits (one of my pantry favorites). Add a little chicken broth to continue the cooking. Finishing Touch: Just before serving give the cabbage a few dashes of cider vinegar and toss.
*This recipe makes 2 servings. No measurement = to taste.
ground meat (I used turkey)
1 teaspoon mustard
sprinkle of caraway seed
a little chopped garlic
S&P to taste
shredded cheese (I used a yellow cheddar)
Mix ingredients and shape into burger. Grill, pan cook, or put under broiler.
Scratch that. Let’s make it This Month‘s Best Food Post. While it will make it far more difficult to narrow down just one post per month, it will leave me time to start moving items from my drafts list to my published list — and to create the many ideas that are currently colliding with each other in my head. Yes, it’s like a high speed, multi-lane highway up there. It’s rush-hour traffic 24-7.
Italian Lentil & Chestnut Stew
Next Best: the end of May
I’d been thinking recently about how to use Tequiza beer in cooking. (For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is produced by Anheuser Busch and combines the flavors of lime, agave and tequila). It’s very refreshing on a hot summer’s day and though I don’t drink it often, when I do…I really enjoy it!
Back to cooking. Because of the lime and tequila flavors, my mind naturally went to something Latin-inspired and the other day I came up with a dinner muy rico! Hats off to Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Peru…I used flavors from all of their kitchens (cocinas). And, I actually kept a note of what I did so herewith…a recipe! For two.
Adobo Shrimp Enchilado (spicy)
shrimp (I used 6 per person)
1 packet Sazón (or adobo seasoning)
aji amarillo (or hot sauce) to taste
2 tbl minced chorizo (Spanish sausage)
1 garlic clove minced
2 tbl onion minced
2 tbl green pepper minced
1 sm can tomato sauce
sliced stuffed green olives & capers to taste
1. Marinate shrimp for about 30 minutes with a blend of olive oil, 1 packet Sazón (adobo and annatto flavored seasoning), squeeze of fresh lime juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of Aji Amarillo paste (or splash of hot sauce) for a little heat.
2. Saute onion, green pepper and garlic. Add minced chorizo (about 2 tbl). It adds flavor and color! When it starts releasing its oil and color move to the side of the pan.
3. Add the shrimp on high heat to sear and then remove.
4. Add 1 can of tomato sauce, adobo seasoning, stuffed green olives, and capers and cook on med-low for about 15 minutes until flavors meld and it cooks down a bit. Add a drop of cider vinegar and put shrimp back in for last few minutes.
Tequiza Beer and Cilantro Rice
Pulse and set aside:
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 tsp olive oil
a squeeze of lime
1/8 green pepper minced
1 clove garlic minced
1/4 onion minced
Fold in 1/2 cup of rice and saute for a minute or two before adding 1 cup of liquid (3/4 Tequiza and 1/4 chicken broth). Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
• Finishing touch: a squeeze of fresh lime and a sprinkle of crumbled Mexican cheese.
• I also made Platano Maduro (sweet plantain) which I halved and baked in the oven for a little figure-friendly take on the classic frying. It was a perfect complement to the spicy dinner.
Lastly, lucky me, this dish meets the red, white and green criteria for this month’s Royal Food Joust challenge. I’m off to enter it on the Leftover Queen’s website…
Flatbread is getting a lot of buzz these days…and deservedly so. It’s so versatile!
This Mama Cooks! (on a diet) gave a shout-out to FlatOuts as one of her favorite food items for her Weight Watchers’ Momentum plan. (See? I told you it was good for you and figure friendly!)
And, for you purists out there who want to make your own flatbread, check out Chef Jeremy’s post The world is round and bread is flat. You’ll get the recipe to make it at home and tips from a professional chef.
Meantime, here’s 3 more varieties of flatbread pizza that pack lots of flavor to go along with the 5 Tasty Flatbread Pizzas that are Healthy for You I published last week.
You want flavor? You want levels of it? Try this Spanish chorizo-date-Mexican cheese and cilantro oil pizza. Chorizo is so pungent that it can tend to overwhelm a dish so when it’s not the intended star, but just a flavor enhancer, I use it sparingly (here I used about 1-1/2 tbl minced). I also like to mix it with figs or dates for a counterbalance of taste, like when I made the chorizo and fig empanadas for a food challenge.
Method: Pulse fresh cilantro with olive oil, S&P, and a squeeze of lemon. Brush it on toasted flatbread. Grind 1-1/2 tbl chorizo with 2 dates, fold in crumbled Mexican cheese, and spread on top. Add a sprinkle of mozzarella and hit the oven or broiler till it starts to bubble.
Finishing Touch: I garnished with a ‘salad’ of capers, stuffed green olives, 3 grape tomatoes, a dash of the cilantro oil and a squeeze of lemon.
I recently was the lucky recipient of a raffle on Foodie Blogroll and received a package of ‘Italian Essence’ products from Ditalia. One of the products was Spreadable Parmigiano Reggiano…so how about a Pear Pizza with Gorgonzola and spreadable Parm?
Method: Toasted flatbread. First layer was the spreadable parm and then I added crumbled gorgonzola, sliced pears, arugula, a touch of crumbled bacon and pumpkin seeds.
Finishing Touch: A drizzle of honey and lots of black pepper.
This last pizza flatbread is sort of a Margherita and was the perfect brunch accompaniment to grilled asparagus with a poached egg and lots of parmigiano.
Method: Toasted flatbread covered with Spreadable Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh tomato slices than were pan-roasted.
Finishing Touch: A sprinkle of Tuscan & Sicilian Herb Mix (olives, capers & oregano) and a sprinkle of Sicilian Sea Salt w/Blood Red Orange Zest, both part of my gift package from Ditalia.
So there you have it…the versatile and tasty flatbread pizza. The added bonus is it’s portion-controlled. It’s up to you to make it tasty and satisfying!
The first nomination is Italian Lentil & Chestnut Stew by Sophie, a nutritionist and registered dietician, who writes Mostly Eating in the U.K. I discovered Sophie’s blog this week because of a Facebook link posted by Gourmet Worrier in Malta.
(I love that a blogger in Malta got a blogger in Florida to look at a blogger in the U.K. And I love that I finally saw something of value in the whole Facebook thing…just before I was ready to ‘pull the plug’).
Anyway, I was immediately taken with this recipe and Sophie’s style of presentation. It’s a very interesting recipe, with a surprise ingredient.
You can visit Sophie and see the recipe by clicking here. Enjoy!
It may not be pizzeria pizza, but…
I’ve been on a flatbread pizza kick — and depending on what you top it with, I’m thinking it’s within the realm of a healthy meal. Note this brand is 90 calories, 6 carbs, 9 grams of dietary fiber, 9 grams of protein, 0 sugar, 0 trans fat. Less than 2 slices of bread. The only thing I’m not sure about is the sodium (310 mg per).
Until recently, I’d been wishy-washy about doing flatbread pizzas at home because that’s just the way they turned out — wishy washy, always seeming to be weighed down by the topping. Then a friend mentioned she toasted the flatbread up in advance of layering — helloooo, why didn’t I think of that? I am the one writing the food blog, right? Oh well, I guess one can always learn. So, ever since, I’ve been on binge creating different varieties. Pre-toasting made all the difference. The topping doesn’t weigh down the crust and they come out crispy like crackers. You can even cut it and hold in your hand if you like.
The first one I made was a ‘light margharita” with tomatoes, fresh basil and a light sprinkling of part-skim mozzarella. Before serving it, I drizzled a little olive oil and ground some black pepper over it. Unfortunately, I ate it before I even thought about photography so [not pictured here].
But here’s a few varieties I’ve done recently. Note: The flatbread is toasted first, then layered, and then put under the broiler for a minute or two to finish.
Mediterranean. Layered with roasted red pepper hummus, chopped raw spinach, sauteed sliced mushrooms, halved grape tomatoes, about an ounce of leftover leg of lamb diced, and a sprinkle of feta cheese. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, S&P and oregano.
Tuna Salad-My Way
Hold the mayo…hold the sliced bread but do toast a flatbread and brush it with pesto when it’s nice and warm. Top with tossed salad of tuna, capers, calamata olives, pepperocini, slivered radicchio, olive oil, lemon, a splash of hot sauce, a generous sprinkle of black pepper, salt & garlic and pan-warmed tomatoes. Finish with a drizzle of Meyer Lemon olive oil (or olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon).
Spinach & Porcini on a Spinach Flatbread. Layer with marinara sauce, sauteed spinach, garlic and reconstituted porcini mushrooms, low-fat mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmigiana. My finishing touch was a heavy sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
Grilled Asparagus & White Cheese(s). Sauteed garlic and sun-dried tomatoes folded into part-skim ricotta, low-fat mozzarella, and parmigiana. Layer flatbread and add grilled asparagus and julienned radicchio. The finishing touch here was the radicchio and lots of black pepper.
Apple(s) & Cheddar: Layer with Dijon mustard, thinly sliced apples (2 types), walnuts and cheddar cheese. The finishing touch was a radish-apple slaw that was dressed with a little oil and fresh lemon — and lots of fresh ground pepper.
Taking it to the next level was one of my first posts. I’m a firm believer in finishing touches. Cooking and plating are just two-thirds of the equation; the third is finishing touches. Consider taking your next meal to the next level before serving it.
(in my opinion)
I’m announcing a new event called This Week’s Best Food Post which, as I write this, is still in a nascent stage. Like many of you, there are lots of blogs in my Google Reader and I get quite a few via email as well. I scan them all – stopping here and there to read on or leave a comment. So I thought it would be fun to announce each week the one that most piqued my interest. Blogging, I’ve learned, is a lot about community and I’m hoping this event will have a twofold benefit: (1) to pass on some really good stuff you may have missed and (2) to perhaps help promote another blogger (whether they need or it not). Consider it in foodspeak ‘just desserts’ for a job done well.
I’m thinking weekly. I’m thinking no criteria…sometimes I’ll add a comment and sometimes I’ll just provide a link; some ‘winners’ will be based on creative cuisine, others for writing style or for photography – whatever speaks to me. Don’t forget, it’s IMO. And, it could be anyone from Mark Bittman of The New York Times…to you!
Parting Notes…Stats…and the Round-Up.
What a trip! I’m breathless. I’m exhilarated. And, yes, I’m ready to move on. With twice-a-week posts to support this event, I haven’t had the time to enter some of your challenges and, except for a few random posts, do much else here. My draft folder is full and begging to be published.
However, the response was so favorable and many of you expressed sadness at the end of the event so we may do this again. Next time, we’ll take a different route and perhaps change it up some…but not right now. Not for a while.
Meantime, thank you, merci, grazie, gracias, danke, dzieki, etc. to all of you who kept me company along the way — especially to those of you who participated in the round-ups and helped make this such a successful event. Thanks also to my arm-chair readers and commentators. All of you played a valuable role as well and I’m grateful. This was a real community event. I hope besides entertaining and informing, it benefited the BloggerAid organization. When we started the tour, they had about 100 members. Today, 3 months later, they have 230. I am in NO WAY taking credit for that increase — the administrators and many of the members have been working tirelessly to bring awareness to the effort — but I do hope A Culinary Tour Around the World helped in some small measure.
A few statistics about the event:
• We visited 13 countries.
• We presented about 130 recipes.
• My most constant travelmate was Cindystar. One entry separated her and Brii. You gotta love those Lake Garda gals…I do!
• Russia garnered the most comments.
• France, Portugal and Russia tied for the most blogger entries.
• FOODalogue received about 450 comments!
And, now, the round-up for the Deep South.
Abigail from Mamatouille in Japan joined us at a few stops. For The Deep South, she offers up her “Georgia Peach” 91-year-old grandmother’s recipe for black eyed peas. She serves this with corn bread and turnip greens.
Val of More Than Burnt Toast in British Columbia, Canada entertained us at many stops on the tour with her imaginative virtual adventures. This time it was New Orleans where she got the inspiration for “Low Country Crab Cakes” served with corn maque choux and remoulade sauce. She also made a Red Velvet cake, but she didn’t send us a piece.
Brii, in Lake Garda, Italy, chose to go the ‘creole’ route for this destination and prepared an interesting roast lamb with black beans. She also made cornbread. Brii says her family is going to miss her once-a-week culinary experiments…and FOODalogue is going to miss Brii!
Rachel, our Crispy Cook in Schuylerville, NY, made a gluten-free sweet potato pudding. It had all the goodness and concentration of the potato without the distraction from a crust. And it apparently was appealing to more than the family.
Holly of El Hajii in Honolulu did a Southern barbecue smoking up various cuts of pork, prime ribs and salmon, all of which were rubbed down with a beautiful looking spice mix before hitting the heat. You’ve got to check out the process on her blog. Presented here is a pulled pork sandwich.
And, last but not least, my constant travel companion, Cindystar of Lake Garda, Italy. Cindy helps end this tour with these beautiful Mint Julep cocktails made with champagne…so cleverly presented in front of an Uncle Sam hat.
I take a glass and toast all of you!
Over and out.