Pantelleria Sunday, May 6 2007 

Elemental. That’s what I call Pantelleria. All 32 sq. miles of it all on it’s own in the Sicily channel between Trapani and Tunisia. Swept in wildness from constant strong winds, it breathes the scent of all things Medditeranean; fennel, rosemary, mertle, caper, fig, olive, cactus, lavender and grapes. Everything here grows low to the ground as if taking cover..hiding to survive. ‘The island is ‘strong’; what the Italians mean by ‘forte’. A person can be ‘forte’, but it’s said more in context of personality. The island dictates what you do. We are subordinate.’ says Giovanni Matta. ‘It decides what you do and what you don’t do. The wind will chew you up and spit you out. If you can handle it, then you can stay’.

Once out of range of the wind, plants are nurtured in the rich volcanic soil. The roots drink
up the night’s humidity and survive without even being watered. An ancient tradition covers small vulnerable plants with cactus leaves, creating protection and a succulent environment for the plant to thrive. It’s a tough love approach, but the concentrated flavors speak for themselves. Vines are dwarfed and olive tree branches are trained to hang low weighted by rocks tied on strings. Stone walls terrace the land and within these borders, ancient agrarian customs still live. There is no fishing.

I don’t profess to understand anything, but what I picked up on my sense radar by spending 5 hours roaming around with a friend of a friend. He took very good care to show me the best views of the island such as the lake ‘specchio di venere’ (mirror of venus) with the sea beyond. It wasn’t hard to appreciate her beauty. She’s like a woman who doesn’t shave her legs. She’s a bit wild but her essence is pure. I have been a fan of her wine for years. Grapes are dried to raisins, then pressed into what’s called a ‘passito’. ‘Passito di Pantelleria’. It’s a bit like a kiss on the lips. Sweet, but soft and smooth like honey.

I saw caper bushes that looked like bonzai trees.I had only seen them growing out of rocks and sides of mountains; never cultivated. The caper is a plant with round sturdy leaves and
plump buds before flowering. It presents itself usally cascading from a rock wall. Once the buds are harvested in can be brined or left in salt. The sea air and particular climate of the island makes for coveted capers. No Mediterranean dish would be the same without it.

I had taken an early flight from Pisa to arrive in Trapani at 7:30 am. I took the 8:45 to Pantelleria and stayed for half a day and caught the last flight back. It was rather dream like but I travel willingly in an out of strong territories without much a do.

I fall in love easily. But it’s not hard when the essence of a place is so tangible it practically welcomes you with open arms as if it was waiting for you. I ingested it through my eyes and through my feeling body..but I left without even tasting a thing. The sea air and smells of fresh herbs stimulated my appetite but there was no way to stop and eat anything even though we had an invitation from a wine producer. The timing was off. Instead we roamed
the small island dotted with stone houses and breathtaking views. I left hungry to return and hungry to eat something!

Wine maker Francesco Spadafora, picked me up and took me to Virzi; his estate with 600 acres of vines an hour west of Palermo. He brought me a grilled prosciutto sandwich with a sprinkle of aged pecorino and a dash of lemon. It was presented in a pot with a lid so it would stay warm. A proper glass was brought to drink water from. Hail to the virgo Prince!

I crawled into bed for a late afternoon rest to sleep off the lack of sleep the night before. I hardly remember closing my eyes. I awoke to spendor and a glass of Francesco’s first ever single variety Grillo. It grabbed my attention like that of a Monarch. Rich..elegant… I bow to Francesco for his great effort of leaving things be and listening to what his wines want to be instead of forcing them.. and to introducing me to Giovanni for an afternoon roaming the wilds of low-lying Pantelleria.

Jnane Tamsna, my dear Sunday, May 6 2007 

JNANE TAMSNA- my home away from home in Marrakech. The road winds through the Palemeraie to the village of Duar Abiad. Beyond the communal well
surrounded by colorfully clothed women, a flock of sheep and the odd local
soccer game, bouganvillia fall over the earthen wall where the tall palms
inside look noticeably healthier than the ones randomly growing about.

Past the gate and the gate keeper, looking anything like St. Peter, until he smiles.
He’s recognized me. If heaven believed in reincarnation, I imagine it
could feel somewhat like that. ‘Oh. It’s you. Back again eh?’ I entered the garden
paradise of Ethnobotonist Gary Martin and his renowned Designer wife
Meryanne loum Martin.

Samira has a skip in her step as she comes to greet me from the cab..
‘My darling Peggy, how nice to see you, we missed you!’ As I walk
up to the front door I run my hands through the rosemary hedge to
release that familiar smell that says..’you are not forgotten’. Rosemary
is for remembrance. I remember too, my visits here over the years
as if I have never left. I watched it grow from dirt and mud to a thriving
oasis in only 6 years. A seed goes in the ground, it gets watered and viola
it grows and green covers the earth.

Other faces come to greet me, Brahim the Maitre’D, Ne Ne from Chad,
an exquisite waiter, Neima the personal house keeper of Meryanne
and Habiba the oldest cook. We are happy to see each other.

I never count things. I have no idea how many trips I have taken in
the last 15 years of my business between Italy, Morocco and Sicily.
I know that over 1000 people have attended my programs, but I
don’t count. Every trip is new and it seems as if it’s the first. I can
hardly believe though, that maybe it’s been perhaps, in the neighborhood of
300 in all. I settle into a place and it’s like I belong. Do you count
how many times you’ve gone home to visit your family in the last
years? Who’s counting? Does it make a difference? All I think is,
here I am again. Have a changed? It’s a barometer for my growth.
Where I am still stuck? Do I still have the same reactions to things
or has my tolerance increased? Has my heart opened any more?
Not to mention, it’s good to be with people who love you.

Whisked away into my room, I know them all by heart. I’m in Taupe.
Not Tuareg..not Blue..not Edward. I am the one with the mosaic tiles
that Thaiz likes best. Thaiz and Edward are the children of Gary
and Meryanne now away at Kings Boarding School in Canterbury.
I still bring them Baci chocolates from Italy.

Everything works with ease at Tamsna. There is grace. They work
in harmony and whatever needs to happen, seems to happen with love
and no exaggeration. It suits my nature. I don’t like a choppy response.
There is a talent to transition from one thing to the next, which requires
attention. It can be a dance. I am not a big fan of being precisely on time.
I love it if I’ve been lucky enough to move at the right pace for that to happen, but rushing and stressing is of no interest to me.

The patio is pristine with vases of olive branches falling over themselves.
The tables are set with calla lilies and herbs from the garden. It’s a beautiful
day and the lavender is giving off a violet perfume worthy of delighting
the Gods, but in this case it’s only me. The palms shade the tables and the
other plants at her feet. She’s the mother tree and every palm in this palm
dessert tries to nurture what’s around it. Dates are produced and harvested
in the fall. She produces with very little nourishment, something dense
and substantially sweet.

There are delicate greens growing in the garden, along with fennel and her fronds, an allspice tree and rows of thyme and marjoram. Birds are happy here.
Water flows through an intricate path of ditches that reaches patches of produce
and momentarily floods them, like a good long drink of water. Dampness
in the garden is a sharp contrast to the warm breeze in the trees above.

I brought yet another group to experience the divine movements of the hands
when infusing steamed couscous with olive or argan oil. Baijah also shows and
explains the basic techniques of Tagine and how many different ways to prepare
them. We show how to cook the egg mixture for chicken pastilla in a spice
broth. The correct way to make a pot of Moroccan mint tea.

We are served our meals in the garden under the palms. What we have made
comes looking delectable and even though someone else serves it for us..
we are eating our own cooking!

to be continued….

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?

Connecting Cuisine and Culture ›Florence 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..

Thursday at The Kitchen Thursday, Dec 7 2006 

Kate and I met at The Kitchen for lunch today. Culture meets cuisine even
right here in Boulder, Colorado. Luckily, since The Kitchen is ‘good enough
to eat’, I saw a handful of other food people..food people? People who love
good food. Kate said,’I’m having the gnocchi with winter squash and sausage, can you think of anything more perfect?’ Some snow still on the ground, I thought, No. But I’ll have the phesant salad with chestnuts and
dried figs, because dried figs take me back to the fresh ones I picked off the tree this September in Tuscany, and the ones I wanted to pick from the wild trees growing from the rocks on the side of the road going up to Imlil in the Atlas moutains..but they were gone..maybe they were coming on my plate!

Hello world! Thursday, Dec 7 2006 

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