Tuesday, June 30, 2009

4th of July and the Red, White and Blue!!

Getting ready for the 4th is never easier. Check out the dollar stores or aisles in stores. I just got some great items for my 3rd of July BBQ. For a buck, I got red and blue buckets from Target that I will be using to serve my Red White and Blue ice cream.

I just take these cute little buckets and fill them with waxed paper (since they are metal) and fill with a scoop of homemade ice cream. For the red, I made Strawberry Mint, White is Vanilla Bean, and Blue is Blueberry Cheesecake (MY FAVORITE) and all of these recipes are low fat!

So I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July holiday. Don't forget to break out the RED, WHITE and BLUE!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My favorite places in Italy

My good friend John is heading to Italy in a few weeks and so I thought I would put together some of my favorite places:

One of my favorite memories, is upon returning to my hotel one evening, I turned into a piazza, where a woman was singing beautiful arias. I settled down on the steps with the other listeners and enjoyed the music among the renaissance buildings.

A visit to Piazza San Marco is a must, but you should go early before all of tourists ships and buses come in for the day. This is a must if you are visiting in the summer. Visit the Doge's Palace and St. Marks Basillica and clock tower. Then get a water taxi and have them take you down the Grand Canale, there is nothing like it. Stop at the one of the open air markets to get some fresh fruit. Experiencing seafood or fish in Venice is another treat. One of my favorite restaurants is Al Conte Pescaorwhich has typical venetian cuisine and specializes in fish.

Ristorante Al Conte Pescaor S. Marco,544/A Marco, 544 / A 30124 Venezia 30124
Venice Tel.: (+39) 0415221483 Phone: (+39) 0415221483

Murano is a must see while in Venice. This island which is close to Lido has wonderful glass museums and also demonstrations on glass blowing. The city owned Museo Vetrario, offers a centry by century tour of Venetian glass making. The island itself is a great way to see what the locals are up to and try out one of the restaurants for lunch or an afternoon snack.

Verona is a nice place to visit after visit after Venice. Verona is a beautiful rennaisance town, however, it does also have a roman ampitheatre where they stage concerts and operas. You can visit Juliet's balcony. Lovely town.

Well as they say, all roads lead to Rome. Don't forget to see Trevi's fountain and drop your three coins in there for luck. It's been such a long time since I have visited Rome, however, while there, a trip to Naples is a must. Try the pizza when in Naples, since I think they have some of the best in Italy. Next go to Pompeii, the museum is incredible and seeing the ruins and frescos takes you back in time. If you have time, try to make it Sorrento and Capri. The beauty of Sorrento on the sea and the lush tropical flowers on the island of Capri are at the height of beauty in the summer.

Osteria is another place to check out. It used to be the main port in Italy 2000 years ago. It has the most well preserved ruins with beautiful mosiacs. Click on the link for recommendations on what to see and where to get a bite to eat.

From Rome, take a leisurely trip to Florence, stopping along the way to see the Tuscan countryside. I just love the beauty of the hills, and in summer you will see fields of poppies and sunflowers along with the many vineyards. If you have a chance, contact my friend Patrizia, at her Chianti Kitchen, which is located in Siena. The Chianti Kitchen offers cooking lessions and Tuscan Tours. When I was last in Tuscany, she took me on a wonderful two day tour. We vistited several wineries, visited Montepulciano, and stayed at a Argiturismo Poggio Etrusco. We had lunch with her friends and owners of Avignonesi. I had such a wonderful time enjoying a 5 course meal with their family overlooking the vines and fields of sunflowers. Some other sites to visit are Sienna, there is a wonderful place for gelato called Gelateria Kopa Kabana - Via dei Rossi 52/54.
San Gimignano is a place that can't be missed. As you wind around the country roads of Tuscany, you will suddenly see the beautiful towers rising up above the city. If you manage to stay there for a day, make sure that you have lunch or dinner at Trattoria Chiribiri, this is a small Italian restaurant where they have excellent tuscan food at low prices. After San Gimignano, it's on to the Chianti region. Greve in Chianti is a wonderful small village where I had stayed in a villa and hiked the countryside. If you can't stay overnight, make sure you at least make a stop in Greve, and go to Le Cantine. Located in an old wine cellar, Le Cantine offers cheese tastins and over 1000 wine tastings. It's an innovative way to taste wines since you basically load a card that is used at the wine tasting stations. There are a few of these in the United States, however, none on the scale as this one. So spend a day tasting wine and enjoying the culinary delights of Greve in Chianti.

Plan to stay 2-3 days in Florence. I think Florence is my favorite town. Get tickets online in advance for Uffizi, the art work is spectacular and most of it has never traveled outside of the city since the Medici's required this when they originally gave it to the city. Climb to the top of the Duomo for breath taking views of the city. Stroll along the river and check out the street vendors and shops on Ponte Vecchicio and Michangelo's David. One of my favorite restuarants in Florence is Osteria Cafe Italian. Wonderful food and a place the locals go.

From Florence you can take a short train ride to Lucca and Pisa. These two beautiful cities will have less tourists. I recommend stopping in Pisa in the morning and then go on to Lucca, have lunch at one of the many Trattorias and take in the slower pace.

Summer Wines

I love to have wine with my meals and when entertaining. I mostly drink reds, however in the Summer, most of my favorite reds are just to heavy for the heat. I thought I would share some of my favorite wines for summer.

I was lucky enough to be out on the West Coast for the last three years and tried to get up to the Central Coast. One of my favorite wineries that focuses mainly on white wines is Laetitia, located in the Arroya Grande Valley. My two favorites which aren't very expensive and great when chilled on a hot day or serve with appetizers are their Estate Pinot Blanc which is crisp with a hint of papaya and blood orange. The other is their Estate Pinot Gris, which has wonderful citrus aromas. You can purchase these wines from there website: http://www.laetitiawine.com/.

Another of my favorites is made right here in the Midwest. It's Wollersheim's Prairie Fume. This is a very light crisp, semi-dry white with hint of citrus and peach. Perfect with fish, salads and appetizers. This also is an inexpensive white that can be purchased from their website: http://www.wollersheim.com/. If you are in Wisconsin, you should check out this winery. They also sell some good estate grown wines.

The last few wines that I am recommending are organic wines from Mendocino, California. If you ever are up in the Napa or Sonoma wine area, take some time to head up to Mendocino. It's a beautiful drive through orchards and redwoods. Once you get to the coast, you might think you are back on the East Coast since it is a rugged terrain with cliffs and beautiful views of the ocean. Emily, Greta and I met Marth, one owners of Girasole at Uncommon Ground's farmers market (if you live in the city of Chicago, be sure to check this out).

Martha was such a delight and it was great talking with her about the happenings in the Mendocino area. I still have the little bee sticker she was handing out. Girasole, is a family owned vineyard hace been farming organically since 1955 (Organically Certified since 1979). Check out there website for more information about the winery and organic farming, http://www.girasolevineyards.com/. The two wines I tried were their new release Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is medium bodied with wonderful flavors of vanilla and nectarines. Perfect for a summer day or evening!

To finish off, Girasole's Pinot Noir, is a delightful red with aromas of spice and oak. Not too heavy, but can hold its own with whatever you're grilling. The best thing about these wines, in addition to being organic, is that you can purchase from Whole Foods for a great price. So pick up one of these great wines, pour yourself a glass, sit back and enjoy the summer...