International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know


chianti 8

Cooking like Italians means using simple, incredibly fresh, minimal ingredients.  But wouldn’t you love to know some secrets?  Well, ditto for me and my kids.  Thus a cooking class while in Florence (see “Spring Trip Part 5” post) was prioritized as a must-do activity.  The hubby? Not interested (in the cooking part, but definitely in enjoying the end results).

The Westin Excelsior knocked it out of the park with their recommendation for a class in the lovely Chianti home of Paola Paggetti (  The day began when her husband Mario Anichini picked us up at the hotel at 10 am for the drive to the home. Mario pointed out many sites in Florence and then beyond.  Some were ancient sites, while others included several wild baby boar dashing across the road!

We got started almost immediately. We spoke with Paola the previous day to decide on the menu:  Bruschetta, fresh pasta (sauce to be determined), a veal dish, and finally tiramisu. We would learn how to make all the dishes and then enjoy them for lunch.  Below, what the French call “mise en place” — everything in it’s place before one begins.

Paola organized the order of the dishes based on the time needed. For example, the tiramisu requires chilling so that was up first up.  And the meat required some time to cook so we got that going as well.

Above, Paola teaching Sam the delicate art of “folding” ingredients required for the tiramisu.  Below, the proud team with our finished dessert. 

During the entire “course,” Paola pointed out key takeaways, including discarding the “core” of garlic cloves. I never knew that; in fact, it adds bitterness if left in.  Likewise the timing for adding salt to a dish (if at all), and the reason.

Of course, the biggie is making pasta from scratch.  Three ingredients. Flour (a superfine Semolina – see photo), egg, water. And a million possibilities. No fancy pasta machine either; just our hands and very clean wooden boards. Of course Paola’s years of experience benefitted us. In the end, it is all about how it feels — the texture of the dough, etc. So simple and yet so necessary to try again and again. Mario captured us in our very serious mood of trying to get it right. We did ok!

 Below, the garden tour. Clockwise from upper left:  bearded iris; apricots; artichokes; lettuces; fava beans.

Below, Mario with a basket of just-picked fava beans.  We shelled them and enjoyed with a bit of salt and olive oil.  Delicious!

The secret to the excellent bruschetta was not only preparing the tomatoes but the bread as well. Paola baked thin slices of baguette in the oven until just crisp.  We spread raw garlic on the bread before spooning the tomatoes.  And one must eat this immediately!  We did. Along with the most excellent and simple pasta with the highest quality butter (which label is shown below) and parmigiana of course.  Also shown is one of two bruschetta platters, and the veal stew.

All set for lunch in the lovely dining room below.

Have I made pasta from scratch since the class?  No. But every time I open my cupboard and see my authentic “00” superfine flour, I am one step closer.  I have the recipe in detail.  I just wish Paola were here with me to provide her excellent guidance.  At least I can be reminded of her beautiful philosophy displayed in her home, seen below.  I couldn’t agree more.



International TravelThings I Love

FLORENCE! Spring Trip Part 5

florence 2

When it comes to travel stories, there’s likely an element of uncertainty.  We appreciate everything unfolding like “clockwork” and let go of anything that might not work out so well.

Thus, seeing our kids Sam & Hannah waiting outside our hotel in Florence felt like a victory!  Us coming from four prior countries (see previous posts here) and them coming from a few days in Rome (see below) required lots of coordination.  This trip was postponed from 2020 for obvious reasons, so the fact that it finally happened only enhanced the joy.  And it was the beginning of eight wonderful days together, first in Florence and then Venice.

Florence was the second stop on a 2001 trip for me and the hubby.  Those accommodations were at the superb Villa La Massa, a short drive away.  Having accommodations this trip on the Arno with the ability to walk virtually anywhere is an entirely difference experience.  While the Westin Excelsior “excelled” at taking care of all of our needs with very professional staff, the hotel is a bit “long in the tooth.”  Nevertheless, the location and aforementioned personnel more than made up for the smallish bathrooms.  The sweeping rooftop view is below.

The Ponte Vecchio below, a tourist must-see for sure, with the countless jewelry shops from end to end.   Built in 1345!

Son Sam definitely has the “foodie” gene and did lots of research for meals.  It is a pleasure to not be making all the decisions!  Of course finding good food anywhere in Italy is fairly easy.  And the gelato .. oh, my.  Some places get higher ratings than others, but it is difficult to discern.  Vivoli came highly recommended and did not disappoint.  One can just admire the longevity, having first opened in 1929.  We met a fellow American who ate there sometimes twice a day, every day of his Florence stay which was not short.  My flavors below (chocolate mint and coconut).

BELOW:  Repeat visit to Osteria Cinghiale Bianco

Hearing all about the state of hospitality in Italy with proprietor Massimo Masselli above; delicious pastas, ribollita and truffles below. 

I will be devoting a separate blog from our cooking class, which took most of our first day.  A phenomenal and fun experience!  Without question, the other “high point” of Florence was seeing Michelangelo’s David (again for the hubby and me).  This towering masterpiece stands 17′ tall.  David is simply exquisite.  It just takes one’s breath away. And it was created out of a single block of  marble. “How in the world” is all one can ponder …

What else did we do?  Walking, walking, walking.  A bit of shopping but mostly just the windows.  Photos.  And eating.  See for yourself with the included re-caps below.  Not much else is necessary to have a damn good time roaming around this gorgeous, delicious, and historic destination.

Above at Osteria de’Cicalini and below at Le Volte Ristorante — so simple; so delicious.
Favorite meal alert below (if I had to pick) at Ristorante Belcore where we savored the classic “Bistecca alla Fiorentina.”  So good!!

Next post:  The crazy drive to and the how we spent our time in Venice.  Stay tuned.

Snippets from the RoadThings I Love



Let’s start with the gratitude first.  My family is healthy, we have everything we need and are employed.  For that we are truly grateful.

Sunday, April 19th, should have been the first day of our Italy trip — starting in Rome.  Obviously that could not happen.  In addition to traditionally traveling with the hubby after the normal end to tax season, we were bringing our kids to celebrate their 30th birthday’s — Sam’s last August and Hannah’s this December.  Rome/Florence/Venice/Milan — their first and our fifth trip to this magical country.

So how to soften the blow (which I know CANNOT compare to what many others are experiencing)?  Bring Rome home.

Italian tablescape: Lavender, lemons, tomatoes

My go-to cook for Italian food is often Lidia Bastianich, so I used her pizza dough and sauce recipes.   Along with the pizza, I composed a platter of caprese salad, proscuitto, parmesan chunks, etc.  For dessert, I searched the internet for a classic Tiramisu recipe and settled on this one.

Dough divided into three balls (15 oz each) after initial rise. Two were used.

Finished product
As good as it looks. I used Kahlua; no rum ..

When life hands you lemons, drink limoncello!  Cin Cin — Italy, we’ll see you as soon as we can …

A good Barolo with dinner – Elio Grasso 2008
Things I LoveThings You Should KnowWining/Dining


am having a blast with fall foods.  Pretty much every Sunday morning, the Hubby and I head down to the Studio City Farmers Market to see what’s in season.   We don’t linger like lots of families with toddlers in tow, but rather are in and out before the crowds get really large.  We have our favorite vendors with whom we chitchat for a few minutes and are on our way.


Delicious late-season plums
Such glorious colors! Love these sweet peppers


One of the delights is seeing what’s coming in and saying good-bye to others until next year.  To me, summer melon season is always too short. But having the good fortune of living in So Cal means never going without wonderful produce all year long, so absolutely no complaints!


I am so thrilled with my own Fuji apple tree!  The fruit is nearly ripe and plentiful due to netting and  sprinkling with ground pepper to keep everyone away!  
Small but delicious (below)


So what am I buying and cooking now?  Well, here’s a few items that are so delicious I buy them and then think about what to do with them.
The sweet peppers (shown above) became one of the ingredients in a frittata, along with onion, fennel, leftover corn on the cob, eggs and cheese.  Instructions follow below.



Saute onions in butter using cast-iron skillet; add fennel, pepper & corn – cook
for a few minutes; add beaten eggs (I used 9) and sprinkle with mozzarella; cook 
in the oven at 375 until set (20-30 minutes) 




Before cooking above; after below
 I cut the frittata into wedges (below); great to pop in the microwave
 for a quick and easy meal.
AS for the apples, I made a delicious crisp as seen below.  I skip any type of flour in the crust in favor of a dollop of vanilla ice cream later on.  The slow-churned flavors from Dreyers are relatively low-cal and terrific.




Directions: Mix the topping: 2 cups oatmeal, cinnamon, 1/2 cup brown sugar and enough room-temp butter to moisten the dry ingredients.  Chop the apples. Spread topping over the apples and bake at 350 until the top is brown and the apples are soft.  


The aroma in your house will be amazing!


Things I Love



Pretty much any home gardener will tell you that there are frustrations … most particularly going outside to pick something and all that’s left of what you had JUST SEEN is a half-eaten something. Wouldn’t it be lovely if one didn’t also have to clean up after those darn varmints???


Thus, one can only imagine the sheer joy I recently experienced when not only did enormous heirloom tomatoes stay on the vines (more about that later), but they actually ripened and were duly picked for use. Waiting and watching can be a painstaking effort and I freely admit to being an early picker.


My only Santa Rosa plum!

This season has not been without it’s “fruits” … I have been enjoying some delicious Sungold and Black Cherry varieties (shown above). But the big ones have not been a success in the past.  In fact, earlier in the season in my “kitchen garden” — so called for it’s placement just outside my kitchen door, with pots of tomatoes and herbs — my pesky perpetrators thought nothing of high-jacking tomatoes just about before my very eyes! The gall!!  My revenge? A generous sprinkling of freshly ground pepper. Everywhere.  Other than my sneezing, it proved a terrific solution.

First-year production of berries has been steady
Without further ado, I present a recent bounty of 6+ pounds picked at once with a couple more pounds left ripening on the vines.  Here’s how I multiplied them to enjoy at a future time while still maintaining that homegrown taste …

Top Row:  Saute chopped onion in good EVOO then saute chopped garlic briefly (I add shredded carrots for sweetness); add coursely chopped tomatoes

Middle Row:  Add good quality jar of marinara (Rao’s or Silver Palate are my faves) and simmer for an hour or so — I add salt, pepper and oregano at this point (all to taste); Tomato skins peel away easily after simmering
Bottom row:  Immersion blender (“boat motor”) is used for blending; Leftover scraps headed for compost bin


Two large batches of sauce above and separated for freezing below; to date 9 containers of 4-5 cups each!