We’ve been back for a while now

Hello!

Look, I have found my way back to the bloggersphere and things have changed a little in the few months I have been away. That kind of sums up the whole reason for me poking my head back in for a visit. Now that we have been back in Sydney for a few months, and are settling into the Australian way of life (which is a lot faster), seeing old friends and adjusting to living in a big city again, my attention has been drawn to a few things I really miss about our year in Italy.

Of course this is to be expected. However, what surprises me most is the feeling you get when you arrive home and for about a month you feel a little off kilter then someone says, ‘Does it feel like you were ever away?’ If I am honest, I really do have to stop and think about it…’did I really just spend a year in Florence?’

I know I did because I am finding things quite a bit different here, for example…

I learned to appreciate the beautiful flavour of the Negroni while living in Florence and I used to drink them at the bar they originated from. In Italy there is no measuring out exact quantities of alcohol and here in lies my problem. Nic and I went out for a drink to our local watering hole the other week and I decided I wanted a Negroni. In my head I was thinking I was getting one of these…

Italian Negroni

Italian Negroni

When in fact what I got was a glass full to the brim of ice with just a hint of red colour floating around. I really missed Italian bar culture on that occasion.

We went to the shops to buy ingredients for a pizza a few weeks ago, we had everything covered until we thought about the cheese. Gone are the days of buying three fresh, soft, delicious mozzarella balls for a couple of bucks. Instead you have the choice of one large (not really that large to be honest) rubber-looking ball pretending to be mozzarella that will set you back about $7.50 or a bag of pre-grated yellow cheese…pizza Aussie style, I dreamed of PizzaMan that night.

Anyway, it isn’t all bad. As I was heading out the door for an early morning run last week I did remember the rolling hills of Tuscany, passing by the odd vineyard on my run and thinking life didn’t get better than this…

Rolling hills of Tuscany

Rolling hills of Tuscany

However, I must have forgotten how beautiful Sydney is. As I was coming up over the second hill on my run, turning right to go under the beginning of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then trotting down the steps next to Luna Park, I pulled my head up to take in the beautiful Harbour view and thought to myself…not bad at all!

My morning view in Sydney

My morning view in Sydney

Italy the Baker family does miss you; however, I think you’d love it here… Just b.y.o cheese and booze! 

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Caffé Desiderio

Italy take two is a blog I started writing just over a year ago, highlighting my families trials and triumphs of moving to Florence, Italy for a year. I am conflicted on many levels, as our year has come to an end. On one hand I am happy to go back to Australia and re-start my life of cooking, seeing friends, walking on sandy beaches and enjoying the Sydney lifestyle, while on the other hand I am sorry to see life as I have known it for the past year being wound up and put away as a memory of the past.

The boys and I flew back to Australia a week ago and I find myself sitting at my parents’ home in Tasmania by the heater on this cold winters day, looking out over the hills of Launceston and thinking to myself…I have so much more to say about our life in Florence, places to tell future travellers about and photos I want to share. So while I am now back in the land of Oz, I want to dedicate the next few posts to the favourite places and spaces I have grown to love about my year living in the Tuscan hills in a small village called Ponte a Mensola.

A beautiful summers evening

A beautiful summers evening

Food as many regular readers will know, is one of my favourite topics to photograph and talk about. It doesn’t have to be the latest gourmet meal I’ve eaten or a restaurant that’s in all the travel magazines, it just has to be good, honest food that tantalizes taste buds and makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook, or at the very least be cooked for.

Caffé Desiderio is situated in the small town of Settignano (take the number 10 bus all the way to the last stop) and was the place we chose to have our last family meal together. The owners, Michele and his lovely wife, are wonderful hosts, who are extremely welcoming and have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Tuscan food and wine. Not only can they cook delicious, traditional Tuscan food, but they also source the highest quality ingredients that make even the simplest of dishes taste divine. I have eaten at Caffé Desiderio a few times throughout the year and have always looked forward to a return visit. It is here that I must mention Michele’s unique understanding of Italian wines. His wine list is big and bold; and for anyone who thinks they know about Italian wine he is the man you need to meet. Michele speaks beautiful English and can stand by your table for hours talking about how each bottle was crafted. For our last night we lashed out on a beautiful 2010 Barolo that Michele paired with our meal and with each sip it kept opening to new levels as the night went on.

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We started our meal with a selection of antipasti to wet any carnivore’s palette: cured meats, pickled vegetables, delicious marinated prunes to accompany the fennel-studded salami (so, so good!), just to name a few. It’s about now that you wish your kids didn’t have a developing palette and empty bellies, alas we did share and they loved every last bite, especially the cured meats.

Antipasti

Antipasti

Now I could talk about every dish with glee, however, I think you should just go and experience it for yourself and enjoy the wonderful selection they have on offer. The menu changes regularly and there are often wine and food nights for a set price. You can checkout Caffé Desiderio’s Facebook page for up and coming events and you might even be lucky enough to try the donkey ragu pasta Max spotted on the menu the night we dined.

I  have to admit I was a little stunned that he was so intrigued to eat donkey; however, I was also wondering what the flavour was going to be like…

Donkey pasta

Donkey pasta

It was delicious, morish and reminded me of wild boar a little. Max devoured it before I could take a second bite and then tried to eat my delicious, robustly flavoured tomato pasta! It was here that I pulled out the promise of dessert!

I’d like to tell you I have photos of the créme caramel and cassata cake, however, I was too busy polishing off a plate of eggs served with chorizo and lardon that tasted as if there was a party in my mouth. It is here I leave you with a photo of the lovely Michele himself and (hopefully) an eager desire to pop Cafe Desiderio on your list of ‘places to eat’ when you arrive in Florence, I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed…oh and FYI they make the best coffee too!

Michele

Michele

Day trip to Pisa

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Alex adjusting the bell tower

One of the best things about living in a European country is the fact you can do ‘day trips’ without the travelling taking up 90% of your time. If you have ever been to Australia and wanted to ‘get out of town’ for the day, the travel side of things always seems to be longer and more painful than the actual ‘trip’.

I wanted to take a leisurely trip to Pisa with the boys, reasons being;

a) It really is just an hour up the road (on the train)

b) I know we have been before when Alex was younger, but he really didn’t remember it and I wanted him to see it again

c) I love this beautiful little town with its relaxed atmosphere, vibrant student buzz and of course the food…I have never had a bad meal here

Last Saturday the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky so we decided to jump on the bus and head to the train station for a relaxing stroll around Pisa. I know the city gets lots of attention and I myself love to look at the leaning bell tower, walk on the ever-so-green grass surrounding the cathedral and bell tower. But what is most wonderful about this town is the fact that tourists (I’m really talking about the hoards you see in big groups like in Florence) make a bee line to the bell tower, a bee line to a couple of other churches, then hightail it on out of there leaving Pisa’s beautiful streets free for you to wander around without being crushed to death by a pack of Germans/English/Japanese or whoever tourists.

Now I am sure there are 101 things to do and see in Pisa, however, whenever I go all I want to do is wander the streets, look in shop windows, lay on the grass and eat, so here are a few snaps I took to inspire the more relaxed visitor/tourist and also to pass on a great place for lunch!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

I couldn’t believe it when we were crossing the river, one of the boys piped up and said ‘Don’t you think this looks like Florence?’ Ummm NO!

The Arno in Pisa

The Arno in Pisa

I also love going to Palazzo della Carovana which was built-in 1562-1564 by Giorgio Vasari. It is a great feeling to stand in this large, open piazza and take yourself back to another period in time. They just don’t make buildings like this anymore.

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It was about this time when I needed a rest from strolling and to feel the grass (I found out later that I had strep throat on this weekend, so now I know why I wasn’t feeling in top form!)

Get mum!!!

Get mum!!!

Nic has been to Pisa several times and was telling me about this one trattoria he went to that had great, flavoursome food and was run by women. We walked past it on our way to the bell tower and I loved the small square it was on, so we decided to lunch at Al Signor Mimmo, situated on via Cavalca, 44. This is an address you will want to write down before you arrive in Pisa!

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We started lunch with the caponata (a sweet/sour eggplant, caper, vegetable dish). This is one of my all time favourite ways to eat eggplant and I have to say this was one of the BEST caponatas I have eaten…even the boys got stuck in, much to Nic and my disappointment.

Caponata

Caponata

We all decided on pasta for lunch and were not disappointed. Nic had spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies (it was awesome) while I couldn’t go past the medley of seafood with cavatelli. The seafood was super fresh and the pasta cooked to perfection, not to mention the flavour of the sauce it was tossed through. I was in heaven and I have to say, it takes a lot for me to say that when it comes to seafood pasta as I have had some pretty ordinary ones in my time…this was DIVINE!

Perfect pasta

Perfect pasta

While Nic and I were busy with the seafood end of things, the boys both jumped on the cinghiale bandwagon. They know we are running out of days when they will be able to order wild boar pasta so they did not hesitate when they saw it on the menu. I tried to bribe Max for a taste but he refused, thank goodness Alex loves mussels otherwise I might not have got a taste, it was VERY good!

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Alex thinking, how am I going to keep mum and dad away from my bowl?

Desserts were all home-made and looked delicious; however, we finished  our meal with an espresso and decided to meander on back to the train station with our full bellies and fond memories of this beautiful town.

Tips for Pisa:

Arrive before lunch (no stress if you take the train)

Walk on the grass around by the cathedral, costs nothing but brings you great joy

Walk off the beaten track where the streets curve round and people say buongiorno to you

Go to Al Signor Mimmo for lunch and don’t fill up on the deliciously morish salted fried bread when you first sit down because it only gets better

Italian BBQ

The Spring weather has been an absolute delight these past few weeks and with this comes one of my favourite food activities – barbecuing!!

I was put onto a very good local charcoal maker from a friend of mine whose Persian husband highly recommends it; and I have to say it has a delicious smoky flavour we are enjoying. I am not an expert on Italian BBQing but what I do know is when I BBQ in Italy, there is always plenty of food with fantastic flavour and I really don’t have to do anything to the food except enhance the flavour that is already there.

Last night was a beautiful evening for a spot of grilling so I am going to show you my ideal Italian BBQ when the weather is deliciously warm and begging for us to sit outside again while stoking the Weber.

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We first started with peperini dolci, these wonderful small peppers have a sweetness to them that intensifies when lightly grilled. We then marinated them with thin slices of garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes, extra virgin olive oil and a good splash of vinegar. Left to marinate while the other food’s cooking, they are a treat worth waiting for.

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Once the peppers are marinating it’s time to put the sausage on which usually takes about 5 minutes longer than the beef steak and if you have never tasted grilled Italian salsiccia then you really need to book a flight to Italy and find someone with a BBQ!

The sausage is delicious, extremely flavoursome and very, very morish. As for the bifstecca, I pay a little more and by the ‘Naturara’ beef which is hormone free, bursting with flavour and on the more expensive end of beef (the one in the photo cost me 15 euro), BUT an absolute bargain for any Australian buying quality beef. For example, if  I bought the same cut and size in Sydney from my butcher (excellent quality also) I would be looking at paying about $30-$40 for the same piece.

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While the meats were resting it was time for Alex’s favourite: grilled cheese.

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It is called tomino and it is like a mini brie with an extra tough outer rind that allows the heat to warm and melt the middle while keeping the outside intact and offering a lovely BBQ-ed flavour to the cheese. And because this is Tuscany, you can also buy tomino with a layer of speck for added flavour (no vegetarians for dinner tonight). I have to admit this is one of my new favourite foods too and I really have to limit us to one per four people, because if it were up to Alex and me, we would have a whole one each… I mean just check out that center:

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That is pure heaven!

With all the foods resting and the cheese cooked to perfection it was time to eat. Nic had whipped up a delicious pesto potato salad and a rocket and parmesan green salad to accompany all our wonderful barbecuing. To say this was a feast is a bit of an understatement and the fact that my only job was to sit down, sip wine and wait for this all to appear on the table…well that was a true delight for me.

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What is your favourite food to grill? I can only answer this question if I’m allowed at least 5 different  things because I haven’t even talked about pork yet!

Spring in a bowl

I think it would be very easy for me to sit here and list all my favourite foods I have enjoyed this year and no doubt bore you to tears. No one wants that. However, one of the best foodie tastes I have had this year (and I am putting it right up there with truffles) is the creamy, delicious, succlent, mouth-watering delight called burrata. I was first introduced to it on a pizza at PizzaMan (awesome pizza in Florence). The pizza was thin with a smearing of tomato sauce and mozzarella melted into the crust, then topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, rocket leaves, dollops of burrata and lashings of olive oil: HEAVEN!

Whenever I see it on a menu I order it without a doubt and think there is nothing greater. So when all the delicious spring veggies started popping up in the markets and begging me to buy them, I knew there was a salad I just had to make: spring vegetables seasoned with truffle salt and burrata.

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Fava beans, fresh peas and rocket leaves finished with parsley, truffle salt, burrata and olive oil

I could eat fava beans and fresh peas all Spring long and still want more; however, when they are paired with the creamy goodness of burrata and the peppery leaves of rocket, the taste just ignites your senses and you can’t say no! The only way you could make this even better would be to serve it with grilled asparagus…

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

And with that said, this would have to be my most favourite meal this Spring…

 

Ricotta doughnuts

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I have realised that Easter came and went faster than a speeding bullet this year and I haven’t posted anything about the food we ate. I won’t rehash the whole day but I must make special reference to the delectable ricotta doughnuts I made for dessert. I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolate seeing as the kids’ bedroom was overflowing with chocolate wrappers.

Of course, it helps if you have delicious, fresh ricotta at your fingertips, however, if you do not and regular store-bought is the only option then the lemon zest will help boost the flavour.  I wish I had a better photo of these delectable, morish balls, however, I have to confess these were made at the end of a very long and fabulous day of eating and drinking way too much so I was somewhat blasé when it came to the photo… I was also caught off-guard when I opened my icing sugar and found it had formed into one solid block, hence the lack of white powder elegance on the above balls. I was also supposed to make a lovely orange glaze to drizzle over these delectable doughnuts, alas I discovered that the oranges had never made it home (can’t say the same for the extra bottle of Prosecco). So I improvised and used pure maple syrup which worked a treat.

I love it when a recipe is very quick and easy, and I love it even more when I can improvise with the ingredients. I’m not sure we really needed these at the end of the day but I know I was pretty excited to eat them when they were fresh out of the oil. However, next time I will make the added effort to check my supply cupboard before I drink a bottle of prosecco and maybe even make a pot of lemon curd to serve with them…that would be really decadent!

Mini fried ricotta doughnuts

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar

3 eggs

8 oz fresh ricotta

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon or orange rind

In a large bowl add the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, ricotta, vanilla and zest.

With a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (approx 1 inch in pot) then gradually drop in heaped dessert spoon sized balls of dough and fry until golden. Repeat until dough is finished.

Drain balls on some paper towel then sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with either lemon curd, orange syrup, maple syrup or whipped cream.

Just be warned they are very morish!

A holiday in Vienna

This is a hard post to write. My blog is for me to remember the highs and lows of our year in Italy and Vienna was a holiday (slotted in with Nic’s history conference) that holds both highs and the lowest of lows for me.

Life has so many turns and bumps, when you have been clear sailing for a long time and thinking life just can’t get any better the bumps land hard and everything you know to be so turns into a series of free-falling, not knowing what to do or how to stop. I am going to talk about Vienna as the beautiful city it is, however, please excuse my lack of excitement and lack of cake photos…the wheels fell off my holiday before I could eat cake.

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We arrived in Vienna on Wednesday morning, bright and early as we had decided to take the overnight train from Florence to give the boys yet another travelling experience. The train is very easy and if you are short then probably a very comfortable ride, however, Nic and I were wishing we were a foot shorter when we laid on the sleeper beds.

We stayed in yet another Airbnb apartment and I have to say it was excellent. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision when booking it as it was a bit out of the centre, however, when we arrived and met our host we all thought it was perfect. The place was big, bright and beautifully decorated in a vintage theme. Asta our host was very helpful and left us to our own devices. Perfect.

In the museumsquartier

In front of the monument to Maria Theresa near the Museumsquartier

To fill in the day we decided to take a leisurely walk around the city centre also ignoring the tiredness that was creeping in. Vienna is beautiful, let me state this clearly. The city is very easy to walk around, however, if you would rather use public transport then you have trams, subway or bikes to choose from. I have to say the subway is the cleanest I have ever seen ( I’ve seen a few) and extremely easy to operate, people are very happy to help if you need it.

I’m not sure if it was because we have been living in Florence where you can feel the grime and dirt of past centuries peeling off the buildings, but Vienna seems incredibly clean, bright and new. It was like they had just painted all the buildings ready for the tourist season.

We were hungry after our city tour and it was getting late so we decided to look up a traditional eating spot in our travel guide. Of course the two we thought sounded good were on the other side of the city. The first one was gone, replaced by a craft store (must have been really good!), however, the second restaurant (Figlmüller) which was just around the corner was an excellent first choice for experiencing Vienna, afterall it is all about the schnitzel!!

Max AFTER he'd eaten

Max AFTER he’d eaten

This place was fantastic and the schnitzel excellent. All their schnitzels are bashed out to 34cm of pure deliciousness. The crumbing light, crunchy and morish. Our server recommended a salad to share and this was actually one of the highlights of the trip. The four of us couldn’t get enough of it, the dressing was a perfect combination of sweet and sour. The potatoes were Nic and my favourite, while Alex couldn’t get enough of the carrots…as for Max, he was loving the 34cm schnitzel!

Wiener Schnitzel

Wiener Schnitzel

We rolled out of the restaurant feeling very happy, satisfied and up for a little more walking. Vienna has a wonderful cafe and food scene that I wasn’t expecting, I will have to do a photo journal post just so you can see what I am talking about. Now though I will take you on a photo journey of Vienna so you can see what I mean when I say it really is beautiful. As for museums I can highly recommend the Kunsthistorisches Museum which contains an amazing collection including one of the world’s largest collections of Old Masters.

A side view of Hundertwasserhaus

A side view of Hundertwasserhaus

If you are up for a hike just outside the city centre, then go and check out Hundertwasserhaus, a beautiful apartment building designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This was a favourite of mine.

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While Nic was at his conference the boys and I checked out the Belvedere which is another dramatically large palace that was commissioned by Prince Eugen of Savoy.

Alex loved petting the fish

Alex loved petting the fish

A view of Vienna from the top of the  water animal zoo

A view of Vienna from the top of the Haus des Meeres

And if you are travelling with kids then I highly recommend a morning spent at the indoor water animal house, the Haus des Meeres. Lots of animals to look at and fish to pat and monkeys walking by…not to mention the view of Vienna from the top of this somewhat very ugly building.

A rear view of the palace from the gardens

A rear view of the palace at Schloss Schönbrunn from the gardens

On our last day we headed out to the Scholss Schönbrunn, which is the former summer residence of the imperial Hasburg family. This place is incredible, from the ballrooms to the gardens. The day was easily spent wandering around the grounds and palace rooms.

I will leave you here and write about the food scene next, something that deserves its own attention.

 

Foraging in the country

As you well know I love to take walks up in the hills above Florence and it is also the place where Shelly and I foraged for wild asparagus a few weeks ago. After our asparagus foraging Shelly and I wondered if there was anyone we knew who would be able to take us on an expedition in the Tuscan hills.

Alessandro digging up  wild carrot root

Alessandro digging up wild carrot root

Alessandro was our man. His beautiful wife is another fellow up at I Tatti with our husbands and so we thought seeing as he was Italian and a man of the land we could pick his brain a little on what he knew about foraging. As it turns out Alessandro knows a lot about everything and anything in the great outdoors of Italy and he was more than happy to take us on a field trip.

After we dropped his lovely wife at work for the day, the three of us and Alessandro’s adorable 9-month old baby drove out behind Fiesole to a rundown monastery he knew of. It took us about 25 minutes from Fiesole in the car and when we arrived the views were breathtaking.

My dream working space

My dream working space

I find it really hard to believe that such a beautiful building could be left to slowly decompose with the sands of time. I couldn’t help but look at the monastery and think it would make a magical B&B or a fantastic cooking school retreat where guests could come and learn the secrets of Tuscan cooking while taking in the breathtaking views sweeping off to the right. Yes, I could see myself running a very nice business here indeed!

View from the field to the right of monastery

View from the field to the right of monastery

The field before us looked like many we have walked past on a regular basis, however, it wasn’t until Alessandro started talking about the different tracks, flowers, bushes, birds and plants that the field came alive and the day started to get interesting. Here are just a few of the things I learnt on this day…

This was a hedgehog hole where it would be furrowing for food, Alessandro knew this because of the size of the burrow (very small and narrow, very easy to step in and twist your ankle).

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Did you know orchids grow wild in the Tuscan countryside? I did not and what was most strange was the fact that there was one in this field in early April. They are usually seen anywhere from September on. Isn’t it beautiful?

Wild orchid

Wild orchid

We tasted wild rose hip that was very sweet, tangy and full of white seeds. It almost tasted of those fruit straps that you can buy for kids snacks, but with more flavour. Apparently they make a jam with the berries but after eating one I though it would be a lot of work for little reward so I stuck with picking them off the tree and eating them a-la-natural.

Wild rose hip berries

Wild rose hip berries

One of the most interesting facts we learnt was one regarding these golfball size, brown almost tumbleweed like balls.

Zespa womb

Vespa womb

The story goes something like this…When a local wasp (vespa) is laying its larva, it drills a tiny hole into the stem of a tree and inserts its larva before flying off. The tree then protects itself by growing and covering the said tiny hole with small twig like branches that form into a ball around the larva deposit. This then provides a place for the larva to grow and feed from the tree. When the larva hatches, the vespa flies out of its coocoon and eventually the twig ball gets blown off by the wind. Isn’t mother nature just the most amazing, magical power there is? The tree’s protection enables these wasps to grow.

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Way too many vespa pods on the ground for my liking!

The only freaky thing about knowing this, is how many little tumbleweed balls you then see. There are thousands of these pods lying on the ground all over Tuscany!

A wild carrot plant...yes it's the black speck in the middle of the picture!

A wild carrot plant…yes it’s the black speck in the middle of the picture!

My final tip/tale I have for you is about wild carrots. I have seen these wiry, dried looking sticks in the field near our house and never gave them a second thought. However, Alessandro told us that when the new shoots start to grow and the top starts growing little white flowers the wild carrots are ready to be eaten. Hares, boars and deer love them and when they are in season the root of this plant looks and smells like carrots.

Dried up wild carrot root

Dried up wild carrot root

The one Alessandro pulled up for us to take a look at was old and dead, however, you couldn’t help but notice the shape of the root. I am now waiting with bated breath for the new season’s wild carrots to appear. I know humans don’t eat them but I just want to see the root.

There is something wonderful about looking out the window into the surrounding fields and actually knowing there is a whole ecosystem out there buzzing about. Now that I have just a small insight into the local land it gives me even greater pleasure to walk around trying to spot the things pointed out to me on this wonderful day up in the hills with Alessandro and Shelly. Maybe now I’d have a better chance of survival if I ever got lost on a hike.

What do you know about the natural surrounds where you live?

 

A Spring Brunch

The day could not of been more perfect on Sunday just gone. E, Shelly and I had worked out that it was a rare Sunday we were all in town together and so it was quickly decided we should have a brunch. These events seem to work better for us when no great amount of time can change the plan, a day and a half of planning was sufficent.

Shelly announced her backyard should be a perfect destination, I announced I’d just read some great food blogs lately and I was eager to make some new food and E was also up for some spring cooking- the day was planned! At 10am on Sunday morning as the sun was peeking through the clouds Shelly sends a photo of her backyard saying maybe they needed a lawnmower?? E and I on the other hand were throughly excited with the prospect of sitting in a buttery looking yellow field, what do you think? Although, if little miss P (aged 3) had decided to walk off without her big sister then I’m afraid we might have lost her!

The butter field Shelly calls her backyard

The butter field Shelly calls her backyard

Sitting in it felt like something from a period movie. In fact all four kids thought the field an absolute delight and we only saw them when food was brought to the table. Perfect!

Talking of food, I had recently read a delicious post from Italy on my mind about Sicilian cauliflower fritters. Her photos looked beautiful, the flavours sounded wonderful and I thought they would be perfect for a brunch addition. I made them Sunday morning and I have to tell you it was very hard getting them out the door as I LOVED them! A very easy and tasty recipe perfect for brunch, they tasted so good all the kids ate them as well as the adults.

Cauliflower fritters

Cauliflower fritters

Granted my photo isn’t as pretty, however, I was getting myself in the weeds with remaining cooking jobs and needed a quick snap before I forgot.

The second dish I made for brunch was the kids favourite; bean nachos with guacamole. My boys love this dish and as I popped it on the table I soon found out it was a favourite of a few adults too. You can’t really go wrong with kidney beans sauteed in a cumin, paprika, tomato sauce and drenched in melted cheese on crispy corn chips. One of the guests at the brunch was floored to be served nachos in Florence…and yet I didn’t hear any complaints!

bean nachos

Bean nachos

E made a delicious asparagus and orange salad and a divine dish of sauteed poatoes finished with red onions, mini capers and sweet peppers which was an instant hit.

Asparagus salad & serving of the eggs

Asparagus salad & serving of the eggs

It was a feast for all the senses and just in case you were wondering where the eggs were (seeing as it was brunch), Guy made a delicious pot of tomato-poached eggs that never seemed to end. With all the food ready to go and prosecco being poured like water from a tap, I can honetsly say it was an extremely memorable afternoon. A feast for the eyes as much as the stomach.

My third contribution to brunch was inspired from blogger, the seasoned traveler, who posted a delicious looking piece about phyllo cups filled with lemon mascarpone and fresh strawberries. I thought it was the perfect sweet to bring for Sunday brunch, however, as I looked through my cupboards I realised I didn’t have anything to make the phyllo cups in. I then decided to add an Australian touch and serve the lemon mascarpone on mini-scones. Because I didn’t have the yummy crunch of the phyllo I need to ramp up the mascarpone so I made a lemon curd and folded it through so there was an extra kick of tang.

Strawberry and lemon mascarpone scones

Strawberry and lemon mascarpone scones

Lunch was over, the scones were devoured in seconds and we were all sitting back feeling quite fabulous (the tap of bubbles hadn’t stopped yet). It is hard to feel anything but happy when you are sitting in a field of yellow.

Shelly relaxing in her backyard

Shelly relaxing in her backyard

Coffee was offered around about an hour later and the sun was really warming us up so I suggested I’d like an affogato. This was met with a lot of agreement, however, no one had the inclination to get the gelato. A further conversation of our favourite flavours of gelato then got the wheels turning and my darling husband and friend offered to fetch the gelato if someone else made the coffee, this was the end result…

Gelato for the kids

Gelato for the kids

Mascarpone and caffè gelato with a shot of coffee

Mascarpone and caffè gelato with a shot of coffee

I have often said I love our year in Italy and it is gatherings like this that make it so special. We all feel like we are still living in a dream, and for now I am quite happy to keep it that way.

 

 

New York Eats

As promised a post all about the food we devoured in New York. If I was to be fair, I’d start the food post in Amsterdam, our first pit stop before the NY-leg of our flight. As you all know we have been living in bella Italia for the past 9 months and we have had some incredible food, this I do not deny. However, being an Australian family we have a strain in our DNA that enjoys engaging in foods of the Asian variety. I would almost consider saying that some types of Asian cuisine could be called ‘typical’ Aussie dishes because we all eat them so often.

Once we had passed through passport control in Amsterdam, we had a couple of hours to kill in the airport before our NY flight. We turned a corner in the airport and all saw the ramen noodle sign and instinctively all yelled out ‘NOODLES!!!’ It is true, we have missed eating noodles, noodle soup and any other form of the noodle variety so we decided it was the lunch hour and proceeded to order 4 bowls of ramen noodles, two beers and two bottles of water. What seemed like a pretty normal lunch soon jumped into the category of the most expensive bowls of ramen noodles we have ever eaten. Our lunch came to be AU$100.00!!! Welcome to your vacation Baker family

Roisin and I out front of the Fatty Crab

R and I out front of the Fatty Crab

Day one in New York began with a fabulous lunch for me with a very wonderful friend of mine from Chicago. It just so happened R had a couple of business meetings in NY the week we were there and so we got to hook up and eat…another one of our favourite things to do together. I was treated to a lunch at the Fatty Crab down in the Meatpacking District while the boys, Daunia and Nic headed on over to a burger joint on the Upper West Side.

The Fatty Crab is Asian influenced and the flavours were punchy and fresh which made for great sharing dishes. I would have to say my favourite dish was the pork belly on pickled watermelon, a brilliant flavour combo that melted in your mouth. Other dishes we ate were green mango salad, an Indonesian chicken dish, pork belly and cucumber pickled finger sandwiches and delicious stir-fried chinese broccoli. I am sorry I didn’t snap any pictures of the food here, it was more of a feast than a photo op. Oh and the fact I was a little jet-lagged didn’t help. A fantastic lunch that I highly recommend for anyone visiting New York.

Ruben Sandwich

Reuben Sandwich

Something I have always wanted to do in New York is eat a Reuben sandwich from a deli. I have seen it on countless TV shows, made hundreds (working in Chicago) but never eaten one. I fulfilled my request after the boys climbed up the Empire State Building and I wasn’t disappointed! It was especially delicious on that very cold, blustery day, the cheese just oozed down my fingers – heaven.

Eating in New York wasn’t all about trying the best new restaurants this trip. Of course I would have liked to, however, I was travelling with my family and the food I wanted to eat wasn’t necessarily the food my kids wanted to eat so there had to be a compromise and that was fine. It means Nic and I get to go back, just the two of us and make it a food-eating destination. To engage the boys on our museum filled-day (yes we got 4 hours of museum time if we planned the snacks right) we promised them a giant pretzel. It was a no brainer really, seeing as museum walking always makes me hungry and so Nic and I shared a pretzel while the boys polished off their own on the walk up to the Guggenheim (it was a perfect ploy, they cruised up the beehive staircase with a full tummy and no whingeing).

Giant Pretzels

Giant Pretzels

Of course, the typical hot dog was also consumed by the kids, however, I think I got stung when the guy told me they were $4 each! I then got into a heated argument with him saying that was outrageous, hence  no photo…and check out the price on the vendor where we got the pretzels from outside the Met $2 for a hot dog!!

Tiny fried pork buns

Tiny fried pork buns

Ok I think I need to move this along a bit otherwise I’ll be turning this into a book. Chinatown is a wonderful neighbourhood to visit in New York, the streets are filled with characters who whisper things to you like “Hey lady, bag,bag, Louis Vuitton,” or “You want nice glasses, good price.” But I wasn’t there to buy cheap, real/fake designer bags, I was after the food. The Lonely Planet pocket guide recommended a place called  Nice Green Bo Restaurant (66 Bayard Street, New York). It stated the restaurant is run down and basic but the food is awesome. How true it was. The above dumpling was my favourite, jam-packed with flavour and a good amount of pork and ginger filling too. Another favourite of mine was pork fried rice with fermented cabbage. It doesn’t photograph well but the flavour was fantastic, along with the spring onion pancake and plenty more dumplings definitely a must on your NY trip.

Our Chinese feast

Our Chinese feast

A trip to America wouldn’t be complete without a classic diner meal. Daunia took us to her local hang-out on Long Island called Mundays and we were not disappointed. I would have to say the boys’ chocolate and vanilla shakes were the best I have ever had. A big call I know, but they were delicious, super thick, flavoursome and, well perfect! Max ate a massive serve of a tuna club sandwich which in fact stumped him, while Daunia and Alex stuck with the classic grilled cheese and I had a burger that was fresh, juicy and perfectly cooked. We all loved this place and will make a bee line for it when we are next on Long Island.

America's finest shakes

America’s finest shakes

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I really do need to end it here, however I do need to mention our wonderful dinner at Momofuku which was every bit as good as I was told. I also have a special mention to a friend who graciously went out to his favourite Greek supermarket and then proceeded to cook us an amazing Greek feast complete with pork and chicken kebabs, pita bread, hot cheese, rosemary bread, delicious pork and mint parcels wrapped in pigs caul (absolutely delicious but can’t remember the name) and a few other items that made up our massive lunch feast.

llias our Greek chef

llias our Greek chef

Chicken kebabs with a delicious lemon, oregano and garlic dressing

Chicken kebabs with a delicious lemon, oregano and garlic dressing

Feasting table

Feasting table

Crumbs cupcake store also gets a big mention as it was Sara’s number one stop on her visit to New York and I am glad she pursued it as the cupcakes were very morish, fresh and flavoursome.

Right that’s it! I will stop teasing you with delicious photos and tantalizing dishes. We really had a wonderful time eating in and eating out in New York. What are your favourite New York hot spots?