Monday, September 27, 2010

Harvest Time

Traveling always gives great amounts of material and pictures to blog about so it's always a bit difficult to summon up the writing juices when I get back. But we did come back to find that Wife's tomato and pepper plants were full of fruit and needing to be harvested and processed.

We have all kinds of different varieties this year thanks to the prolific grower from seeds that is Cabinet Lady. Each year she gives us a mix and it's interesting to see what they all are.

These little cherry tomatoes are incredibly sweet

Some of the larger tomatoes along with four different varieties of pepper (three of them hot peppers)

A couple of middle of the road varieties - I think we have six in all

For storing I like roasting them best. Gets rid of the moisture and concentrates the flavor

I split them in half and then squeeze out the seeds. No need to skin them. After the slow long roasting the skins become a non-issue in my opinion.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and a little olive oil
Then roast at 220 degrees for 2 to 4 hours depending on the size of the tomato.
Most of the water should be gone.
Then I put them in either plastic containers or plastic bags and freeze them.

I made a simple pasta sauce with some of them pureed in the blender with a little chicken stock base, and water. Then added that to some sauteing garlic and black pepper. Very good. Lots of tomato flavor but the slow roasting gets rid of a lot of the acidity.

The peppers I just dry. Here in New Mexico the air is so dry that you can just leave them out. It takes about 4 weeks. Then I usually break them up and store them in the freezer until ready to use.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All Hail and Tremble before the Might of the New Micro Demi-Diety

Congratulations to a new United Million Mile flyer

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

France & Itally - The Gastronomic Posts - Part 2 Italy

This was the first time I had spent any time in Italy since I was in college and I was in no position financially to be doing gastronomic experiences in those days. There is a lot written about Italian cuisine – about it’s simplicity and how it is all about the ingredients. It’s one thing to read this or hear it on the television and another thing entirely to experience it. The basic food that you ate, the fish, the meat, the pasta, all had very distinct flavors. It’s difficult for me to describe. The best adjective that comes up is everything tasted clean. Like there was a clarity of the product that was not muddled up in anyway. I’m not talking about by adding sauces or anything like that. It’s that if you take a piece of grilled meat here and one in Italy, the one in Italy would have a more precise and cleaner taste. Maybe it’s the whole question of the hormones and additives put into raising animals in the US. I don’t know. All I know is that we were impressed and enjoyed it a lot.

The second big impression was the pasta – it was great. I couldn’t get enough. And the simplest preparations were the best. I kept saying to myself, “how can they do this?” It is so different (and in my opinion better). There may be some Italian restaurants somewhere in the US that make pasta like this but I’ve never found them.

The wine was great and never that expensive. It was rare for me to be spending more than 30 dollars (restaurant price) for a really nice bottle of distinctive wine. Here it is rare for me to find something really enjoyable for under 30 dollars. That being said, Italy (and France) are expensive so you make it up with the rest of the meal.

Last overall impression before going into specifics - vegetables or the lack thereof. We were kind of shocked that it was very difficult to even find veggies on the menus where we ate. You are supposed to get these as side dishes but usually what was listed were potato or bean dishes. We were somewhat vegetable starved by the end of our week.

So now my city-by-city highlights tour.


We ate lunch at a place recommended by #3’s friends A & A one of home comes from Turin. The stars were Agnolloti del plin – a ravioli filled with a very savory meat filling and just brown butter for the sauce, and a long pasta with clams.


We ate dinner at a place recommended by our B&B host as the most local Tuscan and liked it so much we went back the next night. The stars


An onion soup and a tomato soup both thickened with bread. The vegetables really came out. Less meat stock flavor than the French onion soup version


Fried eggs with truffles – eggs and truffles, what more can I say?

Grilled octopus – so tender and tasty even 2 and Wife loved it


A risotto with pears and black pepper – I don’t even know how to begin to describe this. First the risotto itself was so smooth and silky, not like anything I’ve had stateside. The black pepper was really pronounced. Not sure what the pear was doing because it was not fruit tasting at all. Not sure I’ll ever try to make risotto myself after this.

Main Courses

Stew of Wild Boar with polenta – So tender yet so much rich flavor.

Grilled Pork – Incredibly simple, thin strips of pork, grilled with that wonderful clean flavor I’ve spoken of

Steak Florentine – Just great grilled steak


Alba is the home of the slow food movement, the white truffle trade and central to the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions. We ate dinner at a place again recommended by the next B&B host. #2 and I both did the tasting menu. There were two preparations that were so simple, yet so good as to make one wonder how the heck they do it.


Steak Tartare – Literally some rough chopped steak, olive oil, salt and pepper. How could it be as good as it was?


Thin Spaghetti with butter, oil and sage leaves – The simplest and without a doubt the best pasta we had the whole trip. Again I have no idea how such a simple thing ends up being so good.

Main Course

Braised Rabbit – Yum


After wine tasting we went to a place in a small town nearby for lunch. This was our least favorite of the trip. Only one dish really stood out and that was an antipasto of rabbit livers on a bed of salad greens.


One of my favorites because Wife and I found this whole in the wall place with fish in the window during our walk and figured it would have good fish. We were not disappointed. (#2 and 2B had gone off on their own and found another great little place but I don’t have what they ate). When we went in they had an English menu but there was no other English speaker to be found.


Pasta with lobster - Wife loves lobster. So you’re thinking you get some pasta and a little lobster meat in it right? No, there’s a half a lobster on the plate (Atlantic lobster with a big ass claw) covered with pasta and a great sauce.

Pasta with clams and mussels – same sauce, different shellfish. Best clams of the trip and great pasta too.

Main Course

Red Mullet two ways – Red Mullet or Rouget is a small fish very popular from the Mediterranean. I had mine Livornese style with was lightly stewed in a fish broth/tomato sauce while Wife had hers fried.

One last eating note in Italy – we got back from Genoa on the train around 8 PM to a town around 30 minutes from Alba. We needed to back and leave early the next morning. So we decided to see if there was anything close by the train station. We found a local pizza place. Pizza was ok but I ordered spaghetti carbonara. It was not like I think of it classically because it had a ricotta type cheese it. But it was so hot and fresh and good that #2 and I devoured every last strand.

France & Itally - The Gastronomic Posts - Part I France

I originally had not planned on focusing on food for my writing of this trip. However since wedding girl #3 specifically asked that I go into all the gory details I will relent.

I dedicate this section to #2 who in preparing for this trip indicated that she had no preferences on where we should go or what we should do, that she was willing to go where ever everyone else decided with one exception – food. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that her goal was to have the best eating experience possible.

As #2 is a military officer and Air Force in specific, she addressed this issue with ruthless efficiency and commitment. Any flagging energy or enthusiasm on the part of the rest of us was met with discipline and a required recommitment to the mission. She approached the exercise with the same strategy as the Air Force did in WW II and Vietnamese War; saturation bombing leaving no area of consumption avoided – full meals, tasting menus, street food, snacks, etc. Of course in any such mission there would be casualties. There were members of our team whose digestive tracks may never recover. Casualties ran as high as 50% on any given mission. But persevere we did. And I believe Captain #2 would agree that we accomplished the objective.

Rather than go meal by meal, I’m dividing this into two sections France and Italy and focusing on the high points from each.


I am a real Francophile, having studied in France and developed deep comfort and facility for being there. There was a time in the 80’s and early 90’s where it seemed that there was a deterioration of the qualities that made eating in France such a pleasure. That seems to have changed. From what I’ve read and what I experienced on this trip, there seems to have been renewed commitment to the quality of ingredient and preparation. We didn’t do much “high” dining in France. Most of the time we were just stopping in cafés and brasseries along our walks. But I was much impressed with the quality of the basics; the bread, the cheeses, and the charcutrie. On to details

France got off with a bang before #2 and 2B arrived with the lamb shoulder event in Paris with 1A, a preparation that matched the wonderful lamb I had in New Zealand last year. This is also where I found the place that had the tête de veau and where #1 had here beloved moules frites – steamed mussels with French fries. In fact there was hardly a day we were in Paris that we didn’t take the opportunity to eat frites.

We had lots of wonderful charcutrie – pâtés, terrines, sausisson (dry cured sausages) and country hams in the cafés and at the chateau. Bread is a big deal in France more so than anywhere else I’ve gone. Both in Paris and the country, you never fail to see people bringing the fresh loaf home for either lunch or dinner.

No discussion of the French eating experience would be complete without discussing the pigs roasted at #3’s wedding. They were brined so they almost tasted like hams and they were stuffed with chopped pig meat as well.

Our grand repas (meal) at the L’Espadon at the Ritz, a meal worthy of going into detail. I think Wife and I both agreed that this was one of the best meals of our lives. We started with a trio of amuse-bouches to go with champagne chosen by our sommelier (who was just great). There was this cream of broccoli in a tiny circle of crisp wafer, a tiny fried croquette of mushrooms on a spoon and a little bowl that had a thin layer of foie gras covered by a layer of passion fruit purée.

The next course for Wife was small filet of rouget with a sauce that was based on foie gras. Mine was a single large ravioli with a soft egg yolk within. This was surrounded by some escargot (out of the shell) and some chanterelle mushrooms and a very light sauce. With both these dishes all the components melded to create a complete flavor. In fact with mine, eating components separately was disappointing but the combination exquisite. The pairing with the rouget was wine from around the Bixarete section of France while mine was paired with a Sancerre, a sauvignon blanc from the Loire area.

For our main courses, Wife chose a Guinea Fowl that was combined with a piece of cooked foie gras. The chef pulled off a culinary miracle here because, she ate every bit and I have never seen Wife ever eat foie gras before! I had piece of turbot on bed of white beans and tomatoes. With the Guinea Fowl, Wife had a glass of a red burgundy while I had a white burgundy. Both wines were killer. The red (which is based on pinot noir) was very peppery in its flavor. The white had all the spicy notes one expects from a good white burgundy.

Then it was on to dessert. Wife chose a chocolate dessert that I can only describe as a thin, super light brownie with 10 2Bes more chocolate flavor along with a bit of ice cream. I had a grapefruit based mousse but it wasn’t really a mousse because it was much lighter, almost airy, and firmer. Plus there were these slightly crispy white accompaniments that I really am not sure what they were. There were dessert wines with these but by this 2Be we were getting a bit fuzzy from the wine – this was lunch remember. And there were two other desserts as well! We got these tiny little apple creams with small pieces of apple that just screamed fruit flavor and a little selection of cookies to go with coffee.

France finished up on our last evening at my favorite local place near the hotel with a selection of fish served family style with sides of frites, veggies and wonderful classic French salad – beautiful bib lettuce greens lightly dressed in this understated vinaigrette with a hint of garlic.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Few Last Euro Photos


View from our room at the Ritz Hotel onto Place de la Vendome

Our room

Wife enjoying the cafe life
Uh, this is actually for one :)

Oysters from Cancale - Mmmmmm

Not the cliffs of Dover but the French side

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Forza Italia - Picture Part 2


Walking up to the Duomo and the Tower

Pisa's Ecole Normale - Where the geniuses study
I can only assume that the half head of #2 indicates that's her genius component


The kind of place that doesn't even make it to the guidebooks


Our B&B in Alba - really nice, peaceful, and a great owner
2B looking very cool and Italian in the foreground

Tasting Wine in Barbaresco


Statue to Christopher Columbus
Honored even though they wouldn't pay for the voyage and he had to go to Spain for financing.

Main Piazza


Rouget (Red Mullet) two ways at the really cool, hole in the wall restaurant we ate at.

Facade of the Maritime Commission Building

Some giant terrarium thing in the harbor

One of the inner courtyards of a building/palace on the Strada Nuevo (Via Garibaldi)

Scenes from the really cool church we almost didn't go into

Return to France - Where our Hero Goes through Hell Only to Achieve Redemption

September 11, 12, 13 - Finale

A story of all that can go wrong, falling into the depths only to have our intrepid heroes redeemed in the end.

Saturday the 11th – A calm day with no hint of what was to come

Saturday was mostly a travel day. We drove from Alba to Valence France dropped off the rental car, successfully stamped our train tickets, and took the TGV train to Paris. Successfully managed to secure help getting our luggage on the train. Unsuccessfully managed to secure help getting them off the train. 2 and 2B are going to the hotel we stayed at originally but Wife and I are off to the Ritz where a client/friend has bought us a 2 night “gastronomic” package which includes lunch and a kitchen tour of their Michelin 2 star restaurant.

The Ritz is, well, ritzy. A lot more upscale then anything we would normally ever stay in. Once, we are settled, 2 and 2B came down and we decided to walk around and catch Paris by night. It’s been a while since I did that. Wife was having fun doing her photography with her tripod.

Sunday the 12th – The descent into Hell

On Sunday Wife and I had planned a trip by ourselves to the Norman coast. Plan was to take a train to Rouen (where I had first studied in France way back in the 60’s) rent a car and then drive to the coast. I was using a rental car placement agency which is very unusual for me. Some time between midnight on Saturday when I checked email before going to bed and 7 AM when I checked again, the agency sends me an email announcing that the office of the auto rental company being used is in fact closed on Sunday and that I did not have a rental car. We were running tight on time to catch our train. I called the placement agency quite upset. It’s not like this was a fact that just popped up. They basically told me to stick it that there was nothing open or available in Rouen or the Rouen airport and that I should put in a claim to get my money back. So I’m pissed about not going direct to a rental car company and we’ve got to make a decision. Do we go to Rouen anyway? I then on a whim got on line and found that I could in fact pick up a car from Hertz, my normal vendor, in Paris. So we decide to do that and drive to the coast.

By the time we get the car, it is 10:30. We would have been in Rouen by 10:30 originally. So we’re way late. Then I make a mistake with the GPS programming and it sends on back roads to Rouen. Actually though Wife likes these but it adds another hour and half to the total time so we don’t hit the coast until almost 1:30 when we should have been there at 11:30. Our lunch takes us much longer than we anticipate and it’s after 3 PM before Wife can start wandering the coast and town taking pictures. The Hertz location is supposed to close at 8 PM and I’m worried about driving back to Paris on Sunday night anticipating a lot of traffic. So I mention that we need to be on the road by 5 PM. So Wife gets really upset with me for wasting our time at lunch and I’m feeling hard done because I’ve been just trying to improvise ever since I got the email canceling the car reservation at 7 AM. We clear the air and do get on the road…and the traffic is horrendous. GPS insists it’s going to reroute us for our own good but the changes don’t seem to do any good whatsoever. We’re trying to beat the clock but we don’t get back to the car location until 8:10. Fortunately there is still someone there and I can turn the car in.

We’re supposed to be taking 2 and 2B to the Hemmingway Bar at the hotel, a very famous place that you can only go to if you are a guest at the hotel. It’s 10:30 before we get back, have a chance to calm down and the kids come over. Well the bar is packed. There is one waitress and she basically says, “We have no tables open. You have to go away.” So we go to the other bar in the hotel where we pay a lot of money for some small drinks and very indifferent food. Thankfully the day is done.

Monday the 13th – Where redemption is received

We are scheduled for our lunch today at L’Espadon, the Michelin 2 star restaurant at the Ritz. We were thinking of trying to fit in a quick visit in the morning but after the events of Sunday decide that we are not tempting our luck. We sleep in, do some packing, go for a stroll and do some window shopping in the area, stop at a café, have coffee and read the paper for an hour, and then head back for our lunch.

I was a tad apprehensive especially after our disappointment with the bar the night before. This however turned out to be one of the best meals of my life. Our waiter, Dominique, greets us. He takes us down for our tour of the hotel kitchen. We are introduced to Chef Gros. He is attentive, warm, and friendly. Then it’s back up for the meal. The sommelier whose name I don’t remember is equally friendly. We decide to go with wine by the glass pairings and he came up with some spectacular ones for us. During the whole lunch (which was about 2 and half hours by the way), we could not have been made to feel more comfortable. Wife wanted to know if it would be incorrect to take a picture. Not all we are assured people do it all the time (and if fact there are two other tables where that is exactly taking place). This food was so good that it got Wife to eat foie gras (something she has never liked) and eat it with relish. I won’t go into all the gory details of each dish but it was fabulous.

So feeling like a couple of very satisfied cats and slightly tipsy as the size of the wine pourings was every bit as large as the night before drinks had been small, we took our cab back to the hotel where we had started our trip – back to reality. We met up with 2 and 2B. We went out walking, stop at a café for a coffee, walk some more. Around 9 PM we’re hungry again (didn’t think that was possible). We go to the same old school place we went to with 1 and 1A where I had the Tête de Veau. This is like going back 20 years. No softer fuzzy Paris here. I’m looking on the board where the food is posted. The waiter comes over and says, “you want meat or fish? If you want fish, you should get this and if you want meat you should get that.” End of story. We go with the fish recommendation. He’s telling me how they get their fish and how good it is. Then I notice they’ve got oysters from Concale, Brittany. My Dad has talked about these often. So the waiter is telling me how hard they are to get but the owners no some one from Concale so they can get them so 2 and I share some of those. It’s a very, very pleasant evening. “Monsieur would like to finish with a Calvados or some Armagnac?” Sure we would.

We’re sitting outside, Paris is around us, we’re already reminiscing about the trip. It’s been great.

Forza Italia - Picture Part I

After the onslaught of words, now the onslaught of pictures. This post Turin, Sienna, Monteregio.

Torino - Turin

This is the ceiling of the restaurant of the hotel we stayed at in Turin

A Church we Happened to Pass

We saw an open air market. You may be able to see if you blow this up that the butcher is splitting a side of meat with his cleaver.

It was the season for porcini mushrooms
Scenes from Torino's Grand Piazza

2 and 2B (the bio component of the Tim Tom GPS system)

Entrance to the Piazza

Entrance seen from inside the Piazza

Look across the river Po

Elegant Looking #2 Feet - a necessity for La Dolce Vita

Only draw back to the bio-electronic system is the bio component must be kept fed.

The Duomo - Cathderal

This i s not a great shot but just look at all those people in there!

This picture doesn't do this justice
The entire floor is covered with etched artwork. Incredibly detailed.

Going from the Duomo Piazza to the Main Piazza

The Main Piazza del Campo
Imagine this in the 13th, and 14th century when this city was a powerhouse based on money-lending.

The ruins of Montereggio