Whalechaser's Musings

No Matter Where You Go...
There You Are
Make the Best of It

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Romdraculas -- Firenze

An odd title for a blog post I know, but it marks another of the miraculous and fabulous days that I spent in Florence, Italy this year.

 The background story...it was the last day of my Sierra Club trip. We had already hiked over seven miles in a small village, ridden many miles back to Florence and now we were all set loose to go and see whatever we wanted with our last few hours of the program. I latched on to two other single women and toured the Duomo Museum and then munched a sandwich while we decided what to see next. Our decision was confounded some because it was the last day of the 'Big Bicycle Race' and it was ending right here in Florence. Just as an aside, I think it was pretty amazing that several days before when we were in Lucca, Italy, it was the beginning of the Big Bicycle Race. It was like we interlaced our trip around it and it followed us like a bad dream, creating traffic issues and detours all around. 

But we agreed that we would go see Santa Croce. It was another cathedral, and Lord knows I had already seen plenty of them on this trip, but she was insistent that this one was special and so I tagged along. She was right it was special..it contains the crypts of too many to list dignitaries and famous departed folks. But that for me wasn't the best part. Here is the best part.

As we walked across the Piazza to the cathedral I heard this fabulous music. It just overtook me. It was being performed by a group named Romdraculas and was just so delightful that I bought the only 2 cds they had for sale. I would have gotten more if they had them. They were that good. So her is my gift to you. They have some of it right here on you tube for you to enjoy. So go on, listen, close your eyes and pretend you too, are in the Piazza. Ah just sublime! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hiking to -- in Italy

I guess this is what happens when you wait too long to blog about your trip. You forget where you were hiking to, and what village you where in when you saw that beautiful whatever. So all I can say for sure is, this is still the Sierra club hiking trip in Tuscany. We had lots of great food, as you can see. The shops were really special and the grapes were ready for the pickin'. I had a wonderful time, even if I can't remember exactly where I was when I was having it.
I remember stopping for this shot...I just don't know where we were headed. The vineyards were brimming with luscious grapes
This shot was taken on the grounds of a cultural center that we toured and also had a lovely lunch of asparagus penne and apricot tart, see further down.

We were headed to an Etruscan burial cave on this particular hike.  Not many folks used this trail, we almost had to bushwhack.

These were a few dishes from our Agriturismo, they were all fabulous!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cooking Tour -- Florence, Italy

The cooking tour I signed up for on the Viator.com site was easily one of the best days of all 18 that I spent in the Tuscany area. What made it even nicer, is that I made all my reservations from the comfort of my home before I left. There was never a doubt about the tour being over-booked or cancelled. I actually reserved four tours this way and was very happy with each one. I did run the risk of having a rainy day, but that didn't happen -- so no worries! Because I got all four tours from the same agency, I got a nice discount on the last tour, which just happened to be the highest priced one, and so that made it all the sweeter.
OK, enough business talk and more tour talk!

We met outside the Santa Maria Train station and walked together to the Central Market.

If you have never visited a market in a European City then you are most definitely in for a treat. This is food selling at it's finest. The surroundings are not plush by any stretch of the imagination, at times you may actually wonder about cleanliness. Don't. Everything is just as it should be.
At these markets you get fresh, you get unusual and you get flavor-packed...then you have to do something with it!

This is a fresh ravioli shop.  Name it and they probably make it for you. You have to make the sauce and cook the ravioli...that was made...moments ago!

 If the stand that you are visiting does not sell absolutely fresh produce, bread, ravioli, meat or cookies, then chances are it sells the very best prepared food items.  This is Conti and here you can buy the absolute best balsamics, olive oils, ragus and crema's and other assorted condiments and accoutrements. I got so much stuff that when it came time to leave I had to tell them to ship it all to my home address, there was no room in my suitcases for all those goodies!

 I have heard from Europeans that the chickens there are 'yellower' than what  we have here in the states.  It looks like it may be true, but see, on the left are chickens like ours. On the right yellower chickens.  They also still have their feet -- which are definitely yellow!

 Meat markets. Lots and lots of meat markets.  All very expensive.  All very nice.

 Mushrooms of every conceivable variety. These flavor packed little morsels are so worth the cost, they can flavor and boost many dishes without being the star of the show.

 So we bought what we needed to prepare the meal and headed to the cooking school.  Which was very nicely appointed, very clean and efficiently laid out for five cooking teams.

I didn't see our chef actually buy these eggs, but look, they are dated. If it isn't fresh, it doesn't get used here.

 Here the folks I was working with were busily preparing the vegetables and the meat that would soon be our lunch...

 The chef explains how to 'throw' the meat so it has the right consistency and holds its shape.

 Here is the finished product -- baby meatloaf

 What is a meal in Italy without pasta? Not a meal!  We made the dough and took turns at running it through the hand turned pasta maker, in this case linguine.

 A couple in my group very proud of their creation: bruschetta!

 When we were all done playing with our food, we went downstairs to a nicely appointed dining area complete with wine racks, brick walls and vaulted ceilings to partake in the food that we made along with endless bottles of wine-- for those who partook. (that would be EVERYBODY!)

 First was the bruschetta and the pasta with vegetable sauce.

 Then the baby meatloafs

 Finally, the sorbet.  Yes we made fresh lemon sorbet!  It was so worth it!

When I got home I was asked to review the tour. I told them that it was one of the top five days of my entire thirty day vacation. Actually, it is almost worth going to Florence just to do this. Really. It is. true. Go. Have some fun!