lemons out of control Thursday, Apr 12 2007 

The Amalfi Coast is known for it’s old world beauty and elegance. High cliffs plunge dangerously into the sea while quaint towns rest on the terraced hills. In every possible square of terraced land, you will find an ‘orto’, a vegetable garden full of tender lettuces, cherry tomatoes and herbs. Further up the hill you will find row after row of lemon trees. Their are at least 6 or 7 varieties. The most famous is the somewhat long ‘sfusato amalfitano’. This is the most potent for making limoncello, the slightly sweet lemon liqour that’s been the digestivo of choice in this town for ages.
Lemoncello was one of those drinks you drank ‘when in Amalfi’, as this was where you would find an authentic recipe. But now it has become popular and imposters are showing up in droves. Like anything good, the lemons are grown and cared for and made by someone who knows with the actual peel of the lemon and not from powder as some you find.
My old friend, Giocondo Cavelieri, whom I have always called the ‘jovial gentleman’ as that is his name, took me up to see an extraordinary lemon garden today at the end of the only road that goes through Amalfi. We walked and walked, then climbed and climbed tiny little stone steps (full of nettles sprouting from the cracks) until we reached a terrace to sit down. The entire valley was full of lemons, covered with nets. In this particular micro-climate, lemons grow all year round. They were perfect specimens drooping like jewels from the trees. True lemon yellow in sunlight is mezmerizing contrasted with the fresh and shiny green leaves that can also be used in cooking. The favorite dish here in Amalfi is to melt Scamorza cheese between two leaves on the grill. One could make an entire meal with lemons..lemon risotto, tagliatelle al limone, grilled fish with lemon and fresh herbs, salad with thinly sliced lemon inside, lemon sorbet, etc. which is just what I plan to do
when some friends of mine come here in June on a sailing trip.

When I come to Amalfi, I feast on spaghetti alle vongole and lemons, lemons, lemons. Just the smell of them can almost send me over the edge. And that’s dangerous around here.
If I fall into the sea, let me come up for air and fresh anchovies, fried and salted (with
a squeeze of limone, per favore), that I can eat like the flesh off with my teeth like a
typewriter and throw the tiny bones to the cats.

Stay tuned. Someone I know will be shaking up a little culture and cuisine overlooking the neverending sea. Martini with a twist anyone?

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Connecting Cuisine and Culture â€ºFlorence Tuesday, Apr 10 2007 

After four months of being away for the winter, the flying hotel brought me to my home away from home. I flew over the alps with awe and appreciation and dropped down amongst the green hills of Florence. I was met by surprise and whisked away in a green 1950’s mini cooper with squeaky brakes. It wasn’t long before ‘Il Fico’ had taken us down the garden path to enter the center of town on a prohibited street, since discovered. Telecamera’s had already been placed to discourage from going further. A moment of refection brought a sigh. Two minutes later, we’re backing up a one way street at Roman speed and we were almost crashed into more than once. Hand gestures and words like ‘creatino’ and ‘imbecile’ were flying.’Welcome back!’ Says, Il Fico, laughing. I am aware that my previous nine days in retreat were preparation for returning to chaos, which in Italian is ‘casino’. Also the word for brothel.

We found a legal way in and decided we should grab a coffee at Cibreo Cafe. Fico finds a spot right in front, perfect for the mini, yet.. it’s a ‘passo carrabile’. Prohibited parking. It’s
basically a passage way for someone to enter and exit. But one knows that with the mini, one can get away with things, almost like having a small child. It’s cute. He also prides himself on getting out of sticky situations. It’s safe to say he creates sticky situations to get out of. I am delighted to see old friends at the cafe. Hugs and kisses are given all around. Josef is still his cheerful self, but Isidoro is luckwarm this morning. The absence of Franca is noticeable and my heart skips a beat. No one could have predicted that she would have thrown herself in the Arno last december. Tears well. I miss her. May she rest in peace.

Niether Fico nor myself drink coffee, which for me is a tragedy. Especially because Isi is un ‘artist d’ caffe’. His coffee is soft, not bitter, rich and lovely. We share a pot of green tea instead. Fico eats all of his breakfast and half of mine. The favorite was Duccio’s torta pastiera, an easter dessert with wheat berries representing spring fertility. We make
a quick dash to the market.

Mercato San’t Ambrogio, a stone’s throw away, is my all time favorite market. I navigate
skillfully, while saluting everyone I haven’t seen in a while. But I had to stop at Giorgio’s.
Old and grey, he’s the contidino’s, contidino. He gave me a bunch of his arugala as a present. He call me ‘cara’. ‘Ciao cara’..Hello dear. Welcome back. Come and see me tomorrow, I’ll have some fresh eggs for you!’

Coming back to Florence is like visiting a good looking, yet, crazy friend that you love because they don’t pretend to be anything more than they are.

Fico and I race to the car to find a man yelling at us for parking in front of his garage. He
had called the vigili and they were on their way. Sliding into the mini from one side, we
managed to get the car started and all of our packages and ourselves stuffed in before the police came. Josef came running. ‘Fabio wants to see you! Aspetta! Wait! Alfonso comes out and he see’s me for the first time..’Sorella? Dove vai? Where are you going sister? You haven’t even said hello! I heard you were here, and you didn’t come to find me. I was jealous!’ ‘Sorry Alfo!’ I said, ‘we have to move! The vigili! The vigili!’ Fico drove down a one way street the opposite direction of course and we were scott free. We laughed all the way to via del parlascio where we ate agretti (a grassy sort of succulent vegetable one see’s only in springtime) with lemon and ex. virgin olive oil, fresh bread and bacala’. It was Friday.

I could call this blog, in search of my life at home and abroad. We do, you know, just that. We are always searching for what makes us feel alive. What makes us tick.

I barely got a rest before I was off with Kathryn who had to stop and get a cork for her
oil receptical in her car. A real part was out of the question. Kath is my oldest friend here.
She was married to Marco and had three children. A classic ‘American marries Italian’ story. Marco doesn’t drive. They are no longer married. Her story is long and requires a book, which she will write. She’s one of the SWW’s. I’ll explain later.

We drive out to a villa outside of Florence. We’re going to a gathering, a last night with
David Whyte the poet and Lori de Mori, the food writer ( an other SWW mate). They have just spent a week with 32 people from around the world offering their gifts of poetry and food-culture immersion all around Tuscany. Lori’s books are luscious. ‘Italy Anywhere’,
‘Savour Tuscany’, ‘Savour Florence’, and her new one, ‘Beaneaters and Bread Soup’ photographed by her award winning food photographer husband, Jason Lowe.

I was put on the grill straightaway for vegetables. David was grilling Tuscan chicken with rosemary. It was the most poetic chicken I have ever eaten. There was of course bistecca fiorentina, three inches thick and red as raw meat. Side dishes were plentiful. I was too jet-lagged to notice what they were..not! I was too busy dancing. Our friends, the band ‘Musicale di Bacco,’ were playing. I had to dance the ‘pizzica’ which takes a lot of energy. Not to mention the gypsy waltz. Their music comes straight from the heart. Brothers Pinuccio,Francesco and the dark and swarthy Rocco and their sister Ariana, play trance gypsy music..their life must have been festive down in Basilicata.

By the time I got home, I slept well. I wasn’t too jet-lagged to remember the fresh strawberries and cream that I couldn’t stop eating.

Day 2.

The bells woke me and I stumbled down from my nido (nest). It looks eye to eye with
the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. I made myself a cup of tea and waited for Nik. Nik is
a wine master from England. Thank goodness we overlapped, he had to leave the next day. He’s also a philosopher. Nothing’s better than discussing philosophy while sipping a knowing glass of wine over a spicy minestrone with tuna from Cibreo. Am I there again? It’s just
that good. 5 times a day for different reasons wouldn’t be too much. Rushan, a Sri
Lankan native, who works across the street at the restaurant (Cibreo) delivers two bunches
of Calla lillies. ‘From Alfonso’, he says. Che gentilezza.

Again I pop into the market and cruise for more succulence. Heather (the other SWW) and her husband, musician Ian King are coming for dinner..but wait! Fabio has given me the eye. Come to the Teatro (www.teatrodelsale.com) at 11:00. There’s a surprise. He pulls out a tray of tiny capaletti made by a friends mother in Parma. ‘Don’t be late’. He says. Eating at the long table after a show is so much fun..but can i make it? I manage and the little cappeletti in brodo slip down my gullet with ease. Wine from Alto Adige.

Day 3.

I wake up to a house full of calla lillies. It’s Easter! Buona Pasqua! The bells are in continuum. I prepare a lovely breakfast with fresh bread, Sicilian mandarin marmelade, yogurt, fresh strawberries, pears and apples, aged goat cheese and an organic chocolate
nut cake I found at the market. Fico comes two hours late. e normale. Jack comes too.
Jack (russel) fits in the bicycle basket. Easter is a good time to discuss life. We discuss
working together, traveling and San Giusto. Fico has a marvelous villa in Radda in Chianti.
Future programs will be held there, focusing on incorporating a mindful lifestyle beginning with yoga and meditation in the morning, market visits, some cooking and eating together, walks, exploring the countryside, writing and wine courses, including poetry with known poets. It’s a perfect venue.

Fico and Jack move along and Alfonso comes and whisks me away on his motorcycle.
We travel the medieval roads up above Florence that take us into the Chianti countryside.
It’s so intoxicatingly beautiful we have to stop and rub our eyes. What a beautiful day.
We end up at Lori’s house in Ferrone in the afternoon just in time for tea. There we find
David and Lori cooking again. This time in her wood-fired oven. Inside I spy a leg of
lamb, roast potatoes and..yorkshire pudding. A Yorkshire Easter in Chiantishire.
We can’t stay unfortunately..yet our mouths are watering. Alfo has a ‘spasimante’
he has to visit. (an admirer) and I have yet another dinner date with Fabio and Maria.
It’s Sunday and we are going to one of his favorite hole-in-the-wall trattoria’s in Dudda.

I only arrived 36 hours ago and my feet have hardly hit the ground.

Tomorrow I’m off to Amalfi. Gastronomic research is in order for a sailing trip in June.

I am writing this because 15 years of designing, directing and leading culinary adventures
is great fun, but I never seem to have time to talk about what happens inbetween, which
is often more interesting than what happens during. But only sometimes..