Friday, September 30, 2011

Italy: Picnic near Pienza

What's better than lunch in a great Italian restaurant? How about a picnic lunch in an olive grove, with a million Euro view. We drove along the rolling and winding roads of Val d'Orcia in southern Tuscany looking for the perfect picnic spot, and we found it. The photo above was our view while we ate, though it only captures part of the panoramic beauty that surrounded us. The food was a tasty collection of things we had bought over the past few days here: olives, wild boar salami, buratta, Parm Reg and gorgonzola cheeses, prosciutto, a couple of different breads, and a Brunello di Montalcino that we had just picked up ... in Montalcino.

After our leisurely feast, we kept driving along the surreal landscape of the crete senesi. Below is a photo of a well known tiny chapel near San Quirico d'Orcia. Must paint that again soon.

A shout out to Christina and Mark, a fun Canadian couple that we met at our villa. They had just formally "committed" to each other...Wishing you years of bliss!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Italy: Firenze!

Bursting with its glorious Renaissance art and architecture, Florence welcomed us with warm sunshine yesterday. We strolled all day throughout this historical city, visiting the palaces, tombs and churches of the the Medici, the original banking power family of the Renaissance. Ghosts of Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici, and artists such as Donatello and Michaelangelo followed us throughout the buzzing stratas and piazzas. We started and ended our day up at the Piazzale Michaelangelo that overlooks the city. Bathed in orchres and terra cottas, this Firenze skyline shows two of the most famous landmarks in Florence, Giotto's Tower and Brunelleshi's Dome, which tops the gorgeous Florence duomo. We people watched, drank wine and listened to the street musicians while the sun was setting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Italy: Flavors of Italia

Click to enlarge!

photos, Dan & Diane 

Ahh, the flavors of Italy... We got a bit adventurous at lunch yesterday, indulging in classic Tuscan dishes such as beef carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef from the local chianina cows) and wild boar ragu with pappardelle. Both were outstanding! Before that, we ate a spectacular crostini with melted brie (I know, French, not Italian, right?) with a generous drizzle of truffle honey, which was so good that I bought a small jar of the honey right then and there from the restaurant. Not cheap, about 25 US dollars for a very small jar, but how could I possibly resist?

Postscript: By the end of the trip (between the four of us) we sampled an obscene amount of wine, shameful amounts of various pizzas, a few other wild boar ragu dishes, langoustines (baby lobster), octopus and several pasta con vongole (clam) and mixed seafood dishes, a spicy wild hare cacciatore, a duck in a gorgeous sauce, veal saltimbocca, fettuccini in a mushroom sauce, porchetta and cipollini sandwiches, gorgonzola mashed potatoes, gnocchi, lasagnas, and various filled cannellonis, and finally, the dolce (sweets)—ricotta filled cannolis, thin olive oil raisin bread, biscotti, ultra thin anise flavored wafers (the flavor of a biscotti, but almost as thin as a potato chip), a few cold and refreshing gelatos (though regretfully, not nearly enough; we met a couple who had two cones each every day!)... and... and... I am sure I am leaving something out. Hungry yet? It was all simply molto delizioso!

We toured the Monte Rinaldi vineyard in Rhaddi in Chianti and sampled their offerings of chianti wines. The last wine we sipped was an incredible vin santo dessert wine—wine of the saints. The grapes for this wine are dried for 6 months, concentrating the sugars, before starting the wine making process. Sweet and not for everyone's taste, I am sure, this particular vin santo wine was amber in color, thick and syrupy, but not too cloying in sweetness. It was very similar to my favorite 20 year old tawny port—nutty with a drop of butterscotch flavor—and I was wishing that I had some gorgonzola, toasted walnuts and a juicy pear to enjoy with it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Italy: Tutto Toscano

Now that we've settled into our vIlla apartment in Tuscany, and we've become (a bit) more comfortable driving our big Fiat around the winding roads, we've been exploring our little corner of this scenic region.

Sunday was a bit of a recovery day and we hit the road mid-afternoon. We had just enough time to explore Castellina in Chianti (where it was raining) and then Monteriggioni, where we caught some beautiful late afternoon sunshine.


Monday we hit two of the bigger towns of Tuscany: Siena and San Gimignano. The above photo shows part of the Campo in Siena. Hard to believe they cover the path around this piazza with dirt every year and race horses around it, part of the Palio di Siena. It's a crazy, fast and dangerous race that occurs just twice a year, in which ten horses and their colorfully clothed riders, each representing the different city sections, race once around the Campo... bare back!

We pulled into San Gimignano just after 4 and made our way up the long hill from the parking area to the Piazza da Cisterna, the center of this town. Dan and I came here in 1993 - did I mention that Monday was our anniversary? Back then, we knew little of this town and its towers. We were naive enough to drive right up into the town center, and then lucky enough to get a room overlooking the piazza. Today we strolled to the top of SG, the rocca, for a spectacular view of the surrounding land and some of the surviving towers (pictured above).

While in San Gimignano, we bought a precious fresh porcini mushroom. How precious? Try 35 euros a kilo, or about $23 a pound. With it, and cremini mushrooms, I made a killer mushroom risotto back at the villa, which we washed it down with some local Chianti. Ideally it would have been with a Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, but we weren't thinking. The meal was finished off with biscotto and Vin Santo, the dessert wine of Tuscany. Another priceless day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Italy: From Positano to Poggibonsi

We've certainly seen some wide and varied landscapes on this journey through Italy—serpentining canals of old Venice; the über fast and chic city life of Rome (amazingly juxtaposed against towering ancient ruins); the casusl seaside groove of the Amalfi coast; and now we are in the rural countryside of Tuscany in a beautiful villa named I Melograni del Chianti, which is run by a charming, multi-linguistic woman named Serena, and her husbandYellow ochre hills filled with vineyards and olive groves are punctuated with rows of columnar cypress trees, all standing guard like loyal soldiers. This rooster woke me up this morning!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Italy: Ancestors from Pico, Italy

We drove from the winding Amalfi coast towards Tuscany and along the way stopped in a litle town in between Rome and Naples called Pico, in the Casserta region. This is where my Italian great grandfather was born in the late part of the 18th century. His son Anthony immigrated to Beverly, Massachusetts and his son Rudy was my father. We had done some research and found out that there is a street named after this ancestor of mine, and I was delighted to actually find this "Via Carnevale" street sign! Below is my twin brother David (whose middle name is Anthony, by the way) and me under the street sign.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Italy: Positano and Capri


We hired another boat for the day and cruised the coastline, in the other direction this time, over to the isle of Capri. We stopped for a swim and later visited the famous blue grotto—splashy neon waters of aqua blue set in a little cave at the base of a monstrous cliff. We had to hop into a smaller boat to get into the grotto, making sure to duck our heads upon entry! We had another delicious seafood lunch of calamari, shrimp and anchovies, then strolled around people watching and window shopping. Frosty limoncello granitas helped to quench our thirst in the warm Mediterranean sunshine. On the boat ride home with the golden rays of the setting sun behind us, the captain served us cold limoncello, cranked up the Italian music and we had one of the most beautiful and memorable cruises back to Positano. We spent our last night in this charming village making merry with a lovely (and wild!) group of 3 English women that we had met earlier, Zoe, Greta and Di. We drank "posh Italian wine" and ate the delicious foods that they prepared for us. Good food, good people, heaps of laughs, all in a beautiful setting. Today we say goodbye to the coast and drive to TUSCANY!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Italy: Positano, Amalfi and Ravello

We hired a boat for the day and cruised along the Amalfi coast to the town of Amalfi. Along the way we stopped and swam in the beautiful Mediterranean sea, then once we arrived in Amalfi we took a short bus ride up to the town of Ravello. There we had a great meal that included a lovely caprese salad (mozzarella and tomatoes), local wine and this gorgeous pasta tasting plate. It was the kind of restaurant that served their foods family style and the cuchina mamma would come over and squeeze your cheeks as she posed for photos with you. She did, and they still hurt.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Italy: Positano

This is our early sunrise view from our hotel on the sunny coast of Positano. We got here by train and very winding roads (thanks to a hired driver) along dizzying, perilously steep cliffs and then headed straight down to the beach for a much needed relaxing afternoon. This entailed walking down many, many, many steps (phew!) but it was worth it. For the record we walked a winding road back up to our hotel, not the straight steep path. Along the way up we bought local wine, fruit, cheese, meats, olives and bread, and had an evening picnic under the stars on our hotel's rooftop deck. Priceless!

Here's the opposite view, looking back at the town from our boat cruise of the Amalfi Coast; our hotel (Casa Albertina) is the red one just to the left and a bit up from the center of the photo:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Italy: When in Rome...

We didn't see Fellini, Sylvia or Marcello at the Trevi Fountain in Roma, but we have found plenty of good food and wine! Shown here is a creatively constructed eggplant pizza, grilled calamari and cheesy gnocchi. We've walked and walked all over the city and had a one particularly memorable dinner at a casual local restaurant, Pizzeria Leoncino. Their pizza was ridiculously good— thin, crispy and slightly charred on the bottom from the wood fired oven. The tables were set up beer-hall style (so you could rub elbows with your fellow diners) with long rows of tables jammed together, and covered in green and white checkered tablecloths. We were lucky enough to have a sassy older waitress named Laura who poured the house wines into ceramic jugs from a big wine barrel. We're pretty sure she liked us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Italy: Venice to Rome

Today was a scramble day, traveling from Venice to Rome via train, but once we finally got to Rome we went to Vatican city to have a good close look at the spiritual center of the world—for Catholics anyhow. We had a lovely moment as we exited St. Peter's church when a rainbow appeared after a brief rain shower. Isn't this magical?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Italy: Venice

photo, Diane Carnevale

We had one more enchanting day in Venice yesterday that included palaces, prosecco, churches, gondolas, wine, gelato, seafood, wine and the ubiquitous molta touristas in the piazza. I did mention the wine, didn't I? I bought a gorgeous ostrich skin handbag (calfskin, really) ... my new Venice bag! I bought a red "Venice" bag 6 years ago when I was visiting Venice... Seems like a tradition, eh? This photo shows where were were waiting for our vaporetto (water bus) to take us to the train station. I love the pseudo Chihuly-esque glass ball sphere here, and the über cool wooden water taxi, which, by the way, is about the same color as my new handbag. Just saying. (see photo of bag below.) Currently we are on the high speed train heading to Rome. More from there, Ciao bella!
Click to enlarge!

photos, Dan & Diane

My new Venice bag!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

ltaly: Water taxi to Venice

photo, Dan Ryan 

Where am I? What day is it?
Well, I am in Venice and it's Saturday night.

Our journey from Boston was long and tiring with some unexpected travel delays in Rome, but as soon as we arrived in Venice and boarded our private water taxi boat ride to our hotel, all seemed extraordinarily well in our world. Molto bene, in fact. We embraced the wind, waves and salty fresh air, and after a quick nap we explored Venice until the wee hours. Getting lost and weaving over the bridges and through the canals in Venice is a beautiful thing indeed, especially with a glass of wine in hand!

photo, Dan Ryan 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Italy: Serendipity in La Serenissima

photo, Dan Ryan

I am in Venice today! I'll be in traveling through Italy for the next few weeks and will try to keep you all posted. As always, I'll keep a special eye out for tutte le cosa bella (all things beautiful)! I'm very excited to see all of the Bellinis, Georgionis, Veroneses, Titians and Tintorettos... and I think I hear Peggy Guggenheim calling me... and so is Vivaldi... or was that Harry? When one travels with an open heart and mind one never knows what sort of treasures one will unexpectedly come upon... Serendipity in la Serenissima. 

So perhaps there is beauty in these damn ugly pigeons after all.

Friday, September 16, 2011


photo, Dan Ryan 

The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

And... I am flying to Italy today!
(In Italian, "butterfly" is farfalle. Just like the pasta!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tomato terrine

I'm ending my tomatopalooza week with a bang. When I saw the tomato terrine recipe in Bon Appétit Magazine (August 2011), I knew I had to make it before the summer ended. Looks like I'm just in time! The recipe was a huge terrine loaf—gorgeous, and a great size for a party, but way too big for 2 people. Instead I made two little single portions in my tall, baba au rhum molds. The yellow blossom petals are from my rudbeckia 'Autumn Sun' flowers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Green gazpacho

I know, I'm on a roll with the tomato thing, right? Truth is, once I get back from Italy it will be October (and no doubt we'll all be thinking about soups, pumpkins and apple pies by then), so I am cramming in all my summer food photos before I leave. It's turned out to be a tomatopalooza week. This gazpacho was made with all the usual suspects in a regular gazpacho; celery, cucumber, green pepper, scallions and cilantro. Then I added in the green zebra tomatoes—some were diced and some were pureed to make the the liquid element. I added cumin, salt and pep, and for heat I added Tabasco Tabasco, of course!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Green zebra tomato caviar

When I scooped out the green zebra tomatoes to make the mini watermelons (see yesterday's post), I couldn't waste all those luscious juicy bits from the inside, so here's what I did. I had seen Spanish chef Jose Andres do a similar treatment on one of his cooking shows, and if I remember correctly he called it tomato caviar. With a dash of sea salt, pink peppercorns and olive oil it was quite fabulous!

 photos, Diane Carnevale 

Serious yum!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mini watermelons

Aren't these little mini watermelons just darling? Fooled you! Actually, they are small green zebra tomatoes that I hollowed out and filled with a delicious tomato aspic. The watermelon seeds are white and black sesame seeds. They made a lovely light appetizer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scottish Highland cow

I've always been enchanted with these Scottish Highland cattle. The way their long hair falls across their eyes like a too-cool-for-anyone teenager makes me smile every time. I painted this cow intending to make it have a dark, old world sort of feel, and the yellow background was only intended to be an under layer of painting to give it warmth, but then I decided I liked what was happening on canvas and just let it be.

+ + + 

See also this highland cow painting that I posted on November 18th.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Zucchini + squash carpaccio

Zucchini and summer squash carpaccio with chive oil 
and pink peppercorns— 
Tic-tac-toe anyone? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mango chutney with attitude!

Our neighbor Mark shared some of his very excellent homemade mango chutney with us recently. It was sweet with a gingery bite and even had a dash of curry—chutney with attitude! Mark is a physics professor, so I have visions of him tackling a recipe in a very scientific manner—you know, armed with safety goggles, black rubber apron, juggling test tubes and making a control recipe before experimenting with variations. I jest. But I do have it from a very good source (Mark's S.O., Maggie, who is also a fabulous cook) that Mark does a very thorough job of reading through any sort of instructions before getting started. Here is the mango chutney recipe that he used. 

I added yogurt to a bit of Mark's chutney to make a dressing for a salad of grilled chicken (mango chutney glazed) and steamed carrots on bed of greens. This was actually made from leftovers from the Indian dinner shown below—grilled chicken, a healthy dollop of Mark's awesome chutney, a cooling cucumber raita, and a crispy lentil pappadum. If you've only ever had store bought jarred chutney (think Major Grey made by several brands...who was that dude, anyhow?), I highly recommend you try making it fresh; based on Mark's delicious chutney there's no comparison. Thanks Mark!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Wind in the Willows

"Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing—about—in—boats; messing—" 

One of the most delightful books I have ever read is the annotated Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Graham. What a story teller! All of the characters are mischievous and heaps of fun, but Rat and Toad are my favorites—Toad because he is a natural bon vivant, and Ratty because he's a die hard epicurean. Just listen to this—Rat description of a typical lunch for a boating excursion on the river ...

The rat fetched a wicker picnic basket... "What's inside?""There's cold chicken inside," said Rat, "cold-tongue-cold-ham-cold-beef-pickled-onions-salad-french-bread-cress-and-widge-spotted-meat-ginger-beer-lemonade — "Oh stop!" cried Mole in ecstasy. "This is too much!""Do you think so?" said Rat, seriously. "It's only what I always take on these little outings."

Is that not fabulous? This book is best enjoyed out of doors, if possible—languishing on the grass or in a hammock on a lazy summer's day—and preferably with and ice cold ginger-beer-lemonade.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rhubarb + strawberries

Strawberries plucked at the height of their ripeness and sliced to show their beautiful internal skeletal pattern; tart rhubarb stalks, sliced into ruby mezzalunas and sweetened in a thick sugar syrup; crème anglaise speckled with vanilla beans; thick balsamic vinegar; and pink peppercorns all made for a really exciting flavor combination. Sure, rhubarb and strawberries are classic, but I wanted to rethink the combo a little bit. Jasmine blossoms dance merrily among the scarlet gems in this, my ode to summer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The last hurrah of summer

photo, Diane Carnevale 

This is a section of my garden border now—the last hurrah of summer. Once upon a time this area was dominated by yellows at this time of year, but I've since moved the yellow flowered plants to a separate hot garden—filled with yellows, oranges and hot pinks. This border starts out as shades of purple—purple tulips, zillions of purple alliums, iris blossoms, and nepeta (catmint). And then it slowly... delightfully... magically... morphs into shades of pink by summer—purple coneflower (which everyone knows is really pink), huge rose mallow (hibiscus kopper king), and tall giraffe-like joe pye weed. The burgundy leaves of the heuchera (coral bells), ornamental dwarf peach trees, purple fountain and fireworks grasses all blend quite well with the prominent old-fashioned dusty pink color. You can't quite see it in this photo but there are two pink sedums flanking the large rhubarb leaves (also with pinkish undersides and veins) that are pinking up right about now. The bees are happily buzzing away and gathering nectar—their last hurrah as well.

photo, Dan Ryan 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Confetti salad

photo, Diane Carnevale 

This was fun, like confetti on a plate. I made long julienned strips of zucchini, summer squash and carrots, and dressed them all in a lemony, mustard vinaigrette. I'll keep  garnishing with flowers from the garden until Mr. Frost comes our way.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mangiare in Italia!

We have a guest blogger today — my husband Dan Ryan:

As some of you may know, we are planning a trip to Italy. There are so many things we're looking forward to seeing: We start in Venice, then go to Rome and Positano in the first week. The second week will be spent at an agriturismo in Tuscany, I Melograni del Chianti.

One of the great things about our weeklong rental is that it comes with a kitchen (pictured above) — and a barbecue — so we can have fun buying and cooking local foods. So many things come to mind: cinghiale (wild boar), porcini mushrooms, all sorts of pasta, and of course bistecca fiorentina with local beef.

Remembering that there is much more to do in Tuscany than shop and cook, I posted a question on about the best ways to shop; there have been several useful responses. A sampling:

Quality coops:
Meat and fish are excellent at all the local Coops; there's a chain called Punto that has a rosette for award winning Chianina beef that is as good as any I source from my local butcher
Hello rabbit:
Rabbit too is also very popular and if wild has a great flavour. Terrific in casseroles, grilled or roasted.
A few people chimed in after that comment and said that there are no wild rabbits in Tuscany, but there are wild hares; now you know.
I'd suggest you make good use of your agriturismo's barbecue rather than buying meat that takes a long time to cook and buy enough food for your first two days as shops and restaurants often close on Sundays.
There are also some differences in the store:
Just a quick note of supermarket etiquette that we don't have in the US. There are plastic gloves provided in boxes near the fresh fruits and Vegs, put them on to pick out your produce. Most (supermarkets) you are responsible also for weighing it on the scale, punching the correct item (it is all pictures) and then putting the price sticker on the bag. Think how lovely this would be in the US! 
 I think all of the pork tastes different too - much tastier.
And the figs!:
small sweet fresh green figs were flying off the stalls at the market in Orvieto this morning (Euros 2.50 a kilo). And if you're particular about your lettuces, they too are good when sourced from the market as many stallholders have their own smallholdings so they will have been picked late last night. 
So, figs, porcini and beef move to the top of the list, though maybe we'll have to save the wild boar for restaurant eating. There's more info in the thread, so please feel free to check out the link.

By the way, some travel trivia: This will be our fourth visit to Venice, and the fourth different way we'll have arrived there: Train (1993), Car (1999), Cruise Ship (2004) and now airplane this year. Here's a photo we took from the top of the Star Princess in 2004:

Buon appetito!