Costumes, parties and musical chairs

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The Big Party

It has almost been a year since we set foot in Italy for the second time as a family and as my regular readers will know, we have had a lot of experiences; one of those being kids birthday parties and I have to say up front- I’m not a fan.

Our first invitation to an Italian birthday party was in the very beginning of our stay here. We were driven up to a magical villa in the rolling Tuscan hills: prosecco was flowing, local cheese for the tasting and kids were running wild in the forest-like-yard, it felt like a movie set. Fast forward to present day and I now know through suffering a few parties that in fact our first birthday party was not the ‘norm’ and I can honestly say I much prefer the Australian system of dropping the kids off and picking them up at a set time instead of all the suffering you go through standing in small community halls with little ventilation, listening to inappropriate English music blaring at full volume, kids shouting, running, screaming, laughing and crying for up to 4 hours straight: my idea of hell.

My friend Sue emailed me a few weeks ago telling us it was her son’s birthday and he would love it if we all came, oh and by the way it was a costume party!

Hang on, I thought, this is new? I also must explain Sue is a mad, funny English woman who has been living in Italy for the past 30+ years and has keep a lot of her English sensibility, not to mention her passion for a good party with no community hall in sight. We were going!

The theme for the party was History which got the boys excited. It was planned that the boys and I would go over for a sleepover the weekend before (also happened to fit in with our book club boozy meeting), then we would pop out to Emmaus and see what we could find in the way of costumes. When we arrived at Sue’s that weekend she had already whipped up Matteo’s Roman solider costume and it was brilliant to say the least. I knew then that I wasn’t leaving until we figured out and made the boys costumes with her. I know my weaknesses and costume design is one of them.

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Alex’s costume basics

Emmaus was as fabulous as ever, the boys fell in love with the place and then proceeded to tell me it was the best place for movie props (they would have spent a fortune if they were on their own…a fortune being 50 euro and that would buy LOTS!). Anyway, Alex wanted to be a Greek solider and Max Caesar or someone in a toga. It took Max all of two seconds to find a white sheet (beautifully pressed) some red ribbon, a ring and presto he was done for the grand total of 2 euro! Alex on the other hand wanted the costume to be as authentic as possible… twenty minutes later, lots of discussion, disagreements, excitement and jumping he was sorted for the grand total of 18 euro.

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Middle of costume making with Sue

It was back to Sue’s place for gold spray-painting, cutting, designing and heated discussions between Alex and Sue while I meekly tied Max’s toga, pinned on some ribbon and then proceeded to sew (again took me about 5 minutes, minus the sewing).

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Max’s quick costume design

I know Sue is a good friend because she put up with Alex’s pedantic ways and after making two soldier costumes she was still looking forward to the party. I, on the other hand, was exhausted!

The following Sunday I bravely borrowed Shelly’s car while she was off working in NY and drove us up to Pistoia. Just another experience to add to my list and one I don’t want to do very often as driving in Florence is a little freaky, especially when you’re not use to driving on the left-hand side of the road and in a manual. I kept on yelling out “Am I on the right side of the road??” 

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Let the fun begin

The party was a huge success all due to Sue’s fantastic organisation and constant supply of party games (something Italians do not do). Musical chairs is now know to all that attended the party as a very scary and dangerous game due to the misfortune of a poor girl attending. She was having so much fun when the music stopped she slipped and missed the chair and by some crazy bad luck, managed to fall and splinter her ankle bone! The poor girl ended up in hospital waiting to get a screw put in her leg. I will never play musical chairs again without thinking of this day and feeling weak in the legs.

You know it has been a great day when the boys pile back into the car at dusk, fall asleep in the back seat (even when mum is looking a bit freaked out behind the wheel) and say they don’t need any dinner because they ate too much cake. I think it was the perfect way to end our birthday-party experiences in Italy. Happy 11th Birthday Matteo!

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Some of Vienna’s food and wine

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Firstly, I would like to say thank you all so much for your concern and I’m sorry to cause concern… we’re all good but reminded that life takes us around unexpected corners! I am looking ahead to our last 9 weeks in Italy and right now I must complete the Vienna experience as I have been informed Vienna is an up-and-coming holiday destination for a few bloggers out there.

As I said before, the cafe scene is big and bursting with avid food lovers, I have also never seen so many signs in cafe windows stating they are vegan friendly- this is something new to me. Of course, you are always going to have average food shops in the city centre where tourism is at its peak, however, if you just take a walk to a neighbouring suburb you won’t pay half as much and no doubt get something home made and delicious. Take for example our neighbourhood of Neubau: plenty of cafes to choose from at very reasonable prices. We settled on this one called Ulrich which was situated in the St. Ulrich Piatz just off Burggasse and just happens to be the new ‘hip’ place.

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Hip new cafe/bar

We loved the outdoor seating and the relaxed atmosphere of the place. What we did find was they tend to ask you if you have a booking. We never did. However, most of the tables outside were pre-booked but we were told if we were gone before the booked time then they were happy to accommodate us. We figured an afternoon beer won’t take all evening to finish so we sat down and enjoyed the atmosphere. Our server here was a lovely guy who use to study in Bologna last year…and how did we find this out? We kept answering in Italian! 

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Flat nuts – the perfect beer snack

We ordered beers (I had a Weissbier and Nic had the local Zwickel beer) and a bar snack, then sat back and enjoyed the afternoon along with everyone else. I have to say Nic and I both enjoyed Austrian beer much more than the wine. We are big red drinkers and favour a full bodied Shiraz which is very different to the Austrian reds we tried. They were very sweet, light and fruity. I think next time we will try more rieslings and definitely more beer. Our bar snack was delicious, the bread was crisp and house-made from whole wheat flour served with extra virgin olive oil and a dukka mix of crushed nuts, sesame seeds, salt, cumin seeds and a hint of chilli: absolutely delicious and very morish.

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Fruit and veg vendor

Another of my favourite places to walk around in Vienna was the Naschmarkt, this is a wonderfully massive food market. You will find anything from food stalls, produce stands, restaurants, cheese vendors, old guys selling pickles and sauerkraut right out of the big barrels…and pretty much anything else you can think of that is food related. The first shop we came across was an Asian grocer so we stocked up on supplies to bring back to Italy (and sadly left them on the train!!) and then we found white asparagus. Big, fat, beautiful white asparagus, I love the stuff and can’t get enough of it at home as the supply is very small and very expensive. Another reason I love to stay in apartments is the fact that I can cook with local products, so I purchased a big bunch of white asparagus and served it for dinner and breakfast the following day. I would of been in heaven if I had brought my truffle salt too… But I managed to buy some mini brats wrapped in bacon that tasted pretty yummy, so breakfast the morning after the markets was pretty delish and gave us plenty of energy for a day of sightseeing.

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Poached egg with sauteed asparagus and bacon wrapped mini brats

 

Another one of my favourites in Vienna was frittaten; pancakes seasoned with herbs, cut into thin strips and served in a rich beef stock. I can understand why this is popular with the locals, it is full of flavour and the texture of the pancake works beautifully with the  rich flavours in the broth.

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Frittaten

 

I’m not sure I want to post this next picture but Max absolutely LOVED his cordon bleu. The kid has not stopped eating since his 12th birthday and Vienna was his mecca for large plates of meat! I have to say I did try a piece of his lunch this day and it was very yummy, however, my tuna salad was made beautifully and the right choice for me. What I am trying to say is if you have hungry pre-teens then Vienna is your town.

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Giant cordon bleu

Right that’s it, I cannot possibly end this with that picture so here is one more delight you can have in Vienna- pastries 

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Mango and pineapple pastry, apple and sultana and jam filled pastries

By the way, the mango and pineapple pastry on the left was my favourite and if you need a few cake recommendations I hear the esterhazytorte and the dobostorte are delicious…and how could I forget the classic apfelstrudel!

Easter memories

Today is the last day of school for the kids, they now have a week off to enjoy Pasqua (Easter) and shovel in as much chocolate as possible! If you think about it, what teacher in their right mind would want to turn up to teach a class of 20 plus kids on a sugar high!?

‘Buona Pasqua’ and ‘Aguri’ were shouted from kids and parents alike at school pickup today, I even got a few hugs and kisses from mums which made me stop and realise, yes it really is Easter! I have seen the beautiful Italian Easter eggs in the shops and made a mental note to buy some but up until today I’d just put Pasqua off.

You’ll be happy to know I have spent the morning purchasing Easter eggs for the boys (and yes Pam, I did remember to buy some from you!) and coming up with a Sunday Easter lunch menu. Of course it is not set yet but one thing I do know, lamb will be involved (not quite sure how it will be cooked) and potatoes…which then makes me think I should make a Spring salad of grilled asparagus, fava beans and garden picked peas tossed with some burrata, parsley, lemon and lots of cracked pepper. I shouldn’t write when I am hungry!

 I will also be making hot cross buns as I try to make them every year. I thought I’d share my recipe just incase anyone wants to give it a go. I adapted this recipe about 5-6 years ago when we were living in Virginia (USA). I’d completely forgotten to make the dough the night before and so I needed a recipe that would work in half a day. It worked so well that I have used this same recipe ever since. It will be interesting trying it here as I have no measuring utensils, they don’t sell dried mixed fruit and my oven won’t be able to cook a whole batch in one go (and what’s the bet I burn the first batch).

If in fact I manage to deliver the goods on Good Friday I am sure to post a picture or two, but in the mean time here is a throw back to when Alex was only three and in real need of a hot cross bun…

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And another gem a few Easters back when Max didn’t really want to share with his baby brother…

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With friends coming over for Sunday lunch and an egg hunt in the works I’ll be interested to see how this year goes, after all we cannot miss the blowing up of the cart by the Duomo, it’s a Firenze Pasqua must!

Buon Pasqua everyone and remember dark chocolate is good for you xx

HOT CROSS BUNS (LEXINGTON 2008)

1 cup milk- hot

2TB yeast (a lot I know)

1/2 cup sugar (castor)

2 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted butter- cooled

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1tsp all spice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

4 eggs

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cup mixed dried fruit

1 egg white

 

In large bowl (something that will hold heat like stainless steel) put milk and sprinkle yeast. stir to combine and leave for 5 minutes.

In small bowl put sugar, salt, cinnamon,nutmeg, allspice together and then stir into milk.

Continue stirring and add butter and eggs, one at a time.

While still stirring gradually add flour stirring all the while in the same direction.

Once flour is all added kneed for 5 minutes on your bench, it will be a little tacky but try not to add extra flour.

Place back into a well greased bowl, cover with glad wrap and leave for 45 minutes to rest.

Once rested knock back and add fruit, kneed for 3-4 minutes till well combined and elastic.

Place back into greased bowl and put in a warm place to prove. Let double in size (about 11/2 hours)

Knock back, and proceed to cut into 24 balls. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and roll dough into balls placing them on the parchment paper 1/2 inch apart.

Once you have all the balls rolled, cover tray with glad wrap and put in a warm, non draughty place until they have doubled in size.

Slash the tops of buns with sharp knife in an ‘x’ pattern, wipe with egg whites and then bake in a pre heated oven on 400 (200c) for 10 minutes then turn the temp back to 350 (180c) for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and place on cooling rack then put on your x glaze which is a mixture of 1 1/3 cup icing sugar, 1/2 tsp lemon juice and 2-3 Tb milk. stir until a glossy paste and spoon on. Leave to set and then eat and enjoy!

 

 

2014 Best Australian Bloggers Award- Peoples Choice

It came to my attention the other day that the Best Australian Bloggers Awards were being held and I thought I would like to give it a go. This year abroad in Italy has been one of the most memorable times in my life. I have loved documenting our events, sharing our stories with all my fabulous readers and thought I might as well give it a shot.

If you have enjoyed reading my posts I urge you to please help me by voting for Italy take two in the Peoples Choice awards. All you have to do is click on the link below, go to page two of blogs, look under ‘i’ for Italy take two and click. Two minutes of your day! Voting closes on the 5th May, 2014

Thank you in advance for your support and continued reading, I love writing and it makes it all the better when I know people appreciate it. Another fellow Aussie blogger has also entered the competition and I love reading her posts so if you haven’t already met Bronwyn pop on over to Journeys of the Fabulist and also give her a vote too! You can vote for as many blogs as you like, at the one time.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BAB2014

 

Thank you so much for your support!

Camilla

New York, New York

A view from the Empire State building

A view from the Empire State building

I was so excited to finally be visiting New York. I lived in Chicago for 6 years and then a year in Virginia and never managed to make it to New York. So, when my hubby announced there was a History conference (RSA) in NY this year I was hell-bent on going over with him and bringing the kids with us.

I feel very lucky to have a wonderful friend living on Long Island, and even luckier that she was willing to have us stay for the week! We went into the city everyday for four days and walked our legs off. I remember the first time I came out of Penn Station and my eyes boggled at all the bright lights of the massive t/v screens that are pretty much in your face attacking every sense. Seeing a couple large screens on the sides of buildings near Penn Station was just preparation, however, for Time Square…OMG! I thought it was going to be a small corner of Manhattan when in fact Time Square takes up about 4 corner blocks. I want to give you an idea of the great time we had visiting NYC and pictures tell the best story. However, I have reserved all the food pictures for another blog seeing as there is too much to say about the food we ate, drank and drooled over.

For now please take a look at New York City from our perspective and if you have never been or are planning on going then take note: Manhattan is very big so work out the subway (not scary at all), buy a good pair of good walking shoes and soak up all the atmosphere around you. On every street there is something new to discover, I swear the city never sleeps.

Time Square

Time Square

Proberly the BEST toy store I have ever been in (of course it was in Time Square), this Transformer was just one of the many giants around the store, excitement all round.

Alex and Transformer

Alex and Optimus Prime

It was freezing while we were there but nothing was going to stop us, especially when the sun came out. I am jumping for joy AND trying to keep the circulation pumping around my body seeing as it was like walking into an ice storm on the way back over the bridge. Totally worth a visit though, not everyday is going to be -10 in the wind!

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

A stroll through Central Park is wonderful, especially with such a beautiful city backdrop, I’d love to see it when all the leaves are on the trees (another reason to go back).

Central Park

Central Park

Walking across the park brought us to the Met where we spent a couple of hours, we could have spent a couple more. However, I really, really wanted to go to the Guggenheim which was just up the road and there are only a certain amount of hours you can coax kids to look, learn and appreciate art. The Guggenheim was as good as I imagined it to be, I love the building as much as the art inside, although, I think the collection in Venice was  much more breathtaking.

Guggenhiem #3 and check out my very cool new flares!

Guggenheim #3 and check out my very cool new flares!

Daunia walked around with us for the first couple of days and didn’t seem to mind us oohhing and ahhing at the sights. She was even patient enough to take us for a stroll around the waterfront where we got to take a look at Lady Liberty. I had to laugh at my naivety, when she pointed out the dot in the distance as being the Statue of Liberty. After a good giggle and the wind ripping into us, I took a snap of the family and Daunia with the statue way off in the background. Note to self, next time we will ride on the Staten Island ferry for a better look!

Baker boys and Daunia with State of Liberty off in the distance

Baker boys and Daunia with Statue of Liberty off in the distance

I also highly recommend a stroll on the High-Line; the boys loved the Natural History Museum and a must is the 9/11 Memorial site. It makes you stop, think and reassess the things you think are important in life.

New York is full of life, bustling streets with 101 things to do and see. Daunia very kindly sorted us out with a night at the theatre, we went and saw STOMP which was better than I was expecting and a lot funnier too. The days were long and jam-packed with sights so it should not surprise you that on the train ride home to Long Island  the boys chilled out.

Long Island train ride

Long Island train ride

Next time it’s going to be all about the food, so stay tuned.

 

Successo coniglio

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When I go out for dinner here in Italy there are two ingredients I usually hunt down on the menu coniglio (rabbit) and carciofo (artichoke). These are two ingredients I don’t cook with a lot…and if I am really honest I would tell you I had never cooked coniglio, until last night. Artichokes are always classed as ‘a lot of effort’, I’ll make them on a day off or I’ll just eat them out. I am not sure why I have such an aversion toward them but I am guessing it is because I was never shown what to do with them as an apprentice. It wasn’t until I came to Italy, had a ton of time up my sleeve and kept looking at them in abundance at the store that I finally decided I’d give them a smashing red hot go…THANK GOD! So far I have boiled, roasted, made risotto, blanched and marinated them, and every time I try something new it works!

I learned one of life’s lessons with artichokes: they look scary and difficult but if you tinker around with them and have an open mind, you soon work out they are pretty easy to work with, taste amazing fresh and have loads of different cooking methods to explore.

Rabbit on the other hand was a different story and like most things I rant about there is an actual story to this as well. It goes back to when I was a little girl living in Darwin with my family and dad offering to cook dinner one night: ‘Mum used to make the best rabbit,’ he said. ‘I’m pretty sure I can remember what she did…’ Famous last words.

Now I was only very young but this memory has stuck in my mind to this day, you see that was one of the only dinners I can recall when I said I just wanted to go to bed (and skip dinner). ‘NO’ were my dad’s words and then something along the lines of: ‘I’ve worked all bloody day on this sauce, and you will eat it!!’

With that said and a look of ‘geez girls, not much longer’ from my mum, dinner was finally served to us around 10pm. It was rabbit with a beautiful sauce (I don’t remember the sauce, only mum’s instance the sauce really was good). The rabbit was inedible, tough as old boots, you couldn’t even stick your fork in it. Tarsh and I ended up going to bed without any dinner after all.

The years after this episode were haunted by the thought of no dinner (I ate everything, all the time) and eating boots. I was never going to eat rabbit again. Thankfully at some stage in my life, not sure when, I was reinstated with a new found love of rabbit. I love it! Can’t get enough of it when eating out, however, I was never game to try and cook it myself because I had years of dad saying, “I don’t know what happened? When mum made it, it melted in your mouth”

I was not about to suffer the same fate as my dad so I decided to just ignore it…and then Max found a fondness for coniglio. When we first arrived in Italy he was shopping with me at the Coop and spotted the coniglio. “Oh mum, rabbit! lets have some for dinner tonight,” he said and started to toss a packet in the trolley. “Umm, no I don’t think the oven is big enough for rabbit Max, let me go home and make sure”

Pathetic I know but there was no way I was going to fail at cooking rabbit when we both loved it so much. We have now been here a little over 7 months, eaten lots of coniglio and I have been thinking…

It wasn’t until I had a dream the other night, in which I was making a rabbit braise with white wine, lots of garlic and serving it with mash potato that I decided enough was enough, I’m going to make a rabbit dish.

OH MY GIDDY AUNT!

I cannot tell you how delicious it was AND it was not tough (silent cheer from the crowd). Dad I am sorry to bring this up after all these years but there was a story to tell as to why I never cooked rabbit and finally I can put this chapter to bed. This rabbit tasted so delicious I can now see quite a few coniglio dishes garnishing our table. I did look up quite a few recipes and thought I would go with one from Saveur magazine, however, I forgot to pick up the bacon and didn’t have the right beer in the fridge so I decided I’d follow my dream instead. There is no recipe, just a method so if your game grab a pen and paper and jot this down because it is a winner.

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Flouring the rabbit

I am not sure how it is anywhere else, however, you can buy rabbit here all ready cut up into bite size pieces (nice). Some I made a little smaller just so it would go around the four of us. Once I was happy with the size I threw a bit of plain flour, salt and pepper over the pieces and lightly coated them in flour and then browned them in a frying pan until golden (approx. 6 min). Once the pieces were all browned I added them to a baking dish with fresh, whole cherry tomatoes (about 8 of them). I wanted fresh cherry tomatoes instead of using tomato paste because I was after a light, Spring flavour instead of a heavy wintery one. Once that was done I then sauteed diced onion, celery, carrot and parsley in the frying pan with a whole bulb of garlic just cut in half and thrown in.

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Bringing the wine and stock to a boil

Once I was happy with the veggies it was time to add a good slosh of white wine (approx. 3/4 cup) and then same again of vegetable stock. Once this was brought to the boil I then added a good chunk of butter (approx. 2 tablespoons) and then poured the wine, veggie mix all over the coniglio and whole tomatoes so it was just covering.

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Covering the rabbit and cherry tomatoes with wine, stock and veggies

I then covered it with baking paper and foil, popped it in a 180 degree oven (on fan) and cooked it for 40 minutes. Once it was cooked I then removed the foil and added a tin of fagioli cannellini, mixed those in, tested the seasoning and adjusted it then re-covered it with paper and foil and left it until I needed it that evening (it rested for about 5 hours).

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Adding of the fagiolli

I took Max to basketball practice that evening and when we came home, I popped the rabbit back into a hot 180-degree oven without a lid and let it reheat for a further 30 minutes while I made a pot of creamy mash potatoes. The house smelt fantastic and had me praying for success. 

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Spring rabbit with bursts of roast cherry tomatoes

Max was the first to offer up his approval and then Nic and Alex followed suit- I could breathe! The meat was tender, juices were mouthwatering and the effort very minimal. I will make this dish again and then some. I loved how the tomatoes kept their shape and then burst their sweet flavour into your bowl when pierced with a knife. 

So there you have it, living in Italy has taught me to stop being scared of two items I have kept out of my food repertoire for the past 20 odd years. What have you been avoiding because it all looks a bit hard? Reward is in the game of chance, especially when it tastes as good as the rabbit!

 

Peggy Guggenheim Museum – Venice

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Days have run away from me since my last post. I brought the wonderful gift of a head cold back with me from Venice and it has slowed me down somewhat. Mix that with mum and dad’s arrival in Florence and more washing than you can poke a stick at and voilà, this was my week! I am happy to report the sun is actually shining and warmish (words cannot describe how happy this makes me), the head cold is almost gone and I spent a wonderful day with my mum and dad cruising downtown Florence, which is something I haven’t done in quite a while. However, I need to put my Venice weekend to bed but I just had to mention our last stop in Venice because I would have to say it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Firstly, the art work Peggy Guggenheim acquired over her lifetime is jaw dropping and viewing it in what was once her private home; in rooms she frenquented daily, looking at old black and white photographs of her ‘living’ in the house with Picasso, Pollock and Miro surrounding her is just staggering. It’s like peeking into a life you could only dream of (if you dreamt really big!).

The house itself is perched right on the edge of the Grand Canal with breathtaking views, while on the other side there is a magnificent garden to roam and wander through at your leisure, full of sculptures and some you could interact with.

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Peggy Guggenheim Museum gardens

We all loved playing around with the above sculpture. You will have to take a visit for yourself and tantalise your senses with this staggering collection of art.

I have a photo of my younger self standing in front of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain about twenty or so years ago, so I am quite chuffed I have another Guggenheim I can add to the collection. Here’s hoping I’ll get to the one in New York next month too!

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Peggy Guggenheim Museum 2014, Venice

And just to show you what a wonderful area our Airbnb apartment was situated in, this was our street/canal. We were a few more steps down on the right while the Peggy Guggenheim museum was directly across the canal- Perfetto!

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Gumboots

Yesterday was a day full of fun jobs to do and I was in two minds about going out to do them, then realised I didn’t have a choice. The rain has been keeping everything damp, wet and muddy in this neck of the woods and I wouldn’t be seen dead without my trusty duck umbrella heading out the door.

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I would like to say the sun has shone through but let’s face it, Italy is either heaving with rain or snow this week. We have had a trip to Venice planned for about a month now and as I read the weather repots I get more and more nervous it will be in flood when we head off tomorrow morning. I even had our Airbnb host email me and suggest gumboots for our arrival. On that note, I caved in and went shopping for gumboots. This was not something I ever thought I would buy in Italy, however, I could have done with a pair about a month ago walking along our river dirt track.

It took me all morning to track down 4 pairs of boots (it seems Alex is in no-man’s land when it comes to shoes, too small to go into adults and too big for kids!). With the help of my good friend Liz and her adorable 2 year-old daughter (seriously, shopping with a cute kid really does get you places here) we eventually found a pair for Alex. Hence, we are ready for any weather conditions Venice can throw at us.

The boys got home from school yesterday and were pretty excited about their gumboots, I mean let’s face it after two weeks of wearing partly damp shoes anything dry looks good! They asked if they could go out and play in their new gumboots and I said of course, see you in a few hours. It was dark when I stepped outside to call the boys in,

“Come on mum, another 5minutes…pleeaasssssee!?”.

Nic was due home any minute so I said fine and proceeded with dinner not thinking anything of it, after all it was only a light rain and they seemed to be having fun playing with the neighbours’ kids. Nic came home and made us a delicious Campari on ice as we discussed our days activities; it was round about now, after my second sip when the boys came giggling up the path and opened the front door.

Not only was there mud all over them, they had left a mud trail all the way up to the house, on the patio and exterior walls. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement!  The floor was caked in mud as they made a b-line to the bathroom…I was not impressed. Not only am I trying to get clothes dry for a weekend away but it was explained to them that the clothes they were wearing HAD to be worn to school the following day as I was still waiting for others to dry for the weekend (Italy in winter is full of fun bits no one tells you about, like washing can take up to three days to dry). I couldn’t even recognise what clothes they had on under all the mud, I was exasperated and after they were bathed they told me they had ‘cleaned’ the bathroom, it looked like this…

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Needless to say I marched them straight back in with cleaning detergents and let them know they were not eating dinner until it was spotless! It took a little while for them to agree on what was ‘clean’ for them and clean for mum, however, they did do a good job in the end. Lucky for them today is clear blue skies and the washing has an actual chance of drying before tomorrow. As for the boys, well when they come home from school this afternoon they have a bit of a job ahead of them cleaning off their new boots, how long do you think that will take them?

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I think a quick dip in the river might do the trick. Will I look back on this post and have a chuckle sometime next year? I think not, it will only make me think of all the washing I had hanging all over the house!

 

Carciofi e pecorino risotto

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Carciofi risotto prep

Living in Italy over the winter months is a wonderful eye opener for people who like to cook seasonally. I love being in a country where seasonal produce is abundant, in-your-face and cheap. Don’t get me wrong Australia has all the same foods, however, you also have a regular stock of summer, spring and autumn produce that can at times be cheaper than the in season fruit and veg and that can be really annoying. 

The vegetable I am thinking of when living in Italy in the winter months is carciofi (artichokes). They are everywhere you look bundled up in bunches of 4-5 for 2 euro a bunch…I cannot remember buying them that cheap in Sydney in winter or am I wrong Sydneysiders? Have I forgotten?

I love eating artichokes and this month I have loved experimenting with them in the kitchen (when they are this cheap you don’t mind making the odd mistake, it’s when they’re 2 euro each that you start to treat them like gold!). I had a couple of carciofi left over from a previous meal and they had been in the fridge for longer than I thought was a good idea. Fortunately, they were super fresh when I bought them so the extra few days in my fridge (instead of on the back of a truck being transported from one end of the country to another) didn’t seem to matter. 

I was in the mood for a risotto and I’d had a craving for anchovies too, however, when I suggested to the boys we have an artichoke, anchovy and pecorino risotto for dinner I got more than a few curled lips and ‘Oh come on mum, that doesn’t sound good at all!’. To be fair, if I told Alex I was making a chicken risotto with beans and candied bacon he would of asked for all the toppings without the rice because he hates the texture! I don’t get it. Anyway I wanted to try it out, Nic was excited so I pulled a couple pieces of lasagne from the freezer that I’d made the week before and decided I’d reheat a meal for them and cook a delicious one for us. Everyone was happy.

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Once the carciofi are stripped down to the tender leaves and the stem is lightly peeled leave them in cold water with half a lemon squeezed into the water to stop the carciofi turning a dirty brown colour. After the onion is chopped finely and the garlic thinly sliced, saute the onion with butter (not very Tuscan but very yummy and risotto isn’t Tuscan anyway) on a low heat until transparent.

Whack the temp up to medium and then add chopped carciofi, garlic, a good pinch of salt and two roughly chopped white anchovies for added richness (of course not necessary if you hate anchovies!). The smells are wonderfully sweet and savoury you could just eat it as is.

After the carciofi has been coated in the buttery onion, garlic and anchovy flavours add risotto rice and stir to heat up the rice while the vegetable stock is simmering on the stove top (approx 2 min).

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Adding of the rice

It is important to warm the rice before you add the stock because once the addition of liquid happens the rice activates immediately and the cooking process begins- warm rice, hot stock equals a perfect start to cooking a great risotto. Now there are a million different opinions on how to cook risotto and I am not here to tell you this is the only way to do it. I am not one to stand over the risotto pan and stir and stir until my arm is about to fall off. The approach I take is more for the cook who has to do more than three things at once: add a generous amount of stock to the rice, stir to stop the rice sticking on the bottom of the pan, make sure it is on a steady boil (though not going crazy) and then walk away to do something else. Stir occasionally in the beginning yet keep an eye on it so it doesn’t run low on stock. Taste the rice grain for ‘bite’ and then top up the liquid as needed. Once your happy with the bite of the rice (meaning it is cooked to your liking), stir a few times then take it off the heat and add very generous amounts of grated cheese, in this case I used a local pecorino (An aged pecorino has a much sharper taste which pairs beautifully with the fresh flavour of carciofi, parmesan is also lovely, however, it has more of a creamy flavour).

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Risotto almost finished, just folding in the cheese

A lot of tasting gets done at this point; fold in the cheese, add some fresh thyme, check the seasoning, maybe add a little more cheese (can never have to much) and then serve.

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Carciofi e pecorino risotto with white anchovies

I loved the flavours in this dish and the texture of fresh carciofi is a million times better than anything you get in a can, so if you see a bunch of carciofi at your fruit and veggie shop this winter and you have never bought it before, take the plunge. Buy it and make a delicious, heart-warming risotto, it’s really not as hard as you think.

Note: I hate that the photos are not bright and full of colour, however, I photograph at the time I need the dish and evening light really isn’t the best for food photography, I apologise.