Vasari Corridor with Alexandra

The boys and I had a wonderful opportunity very few people get to experience in Florence on Friday, we got to cruise the halls of the Vasari Corridor with the lovely Alexandra and E,  and what a combination they are!

E (Italian Art history guru/prof.) and Alexandra (Florentine tour guide extradonair)

E (Italian Art history guru/prof.) and Alexandra (Florentine tour-guide extraordinaire)

Firstly I have to point out Ross had his family over for a beautiful Italian vacation where they toured the streets of Rome and Venice. However, when they settled in Florence for a few days we got to meet the gang and spend a few hours with them hanging out at the Vasari Corridor and eating cake in a very beautiful Airbnb apartment where we celebrated Miss P turning 4. What a day!

E was in the Uffizi bright and early with Ross’s family showing them the highlights of the collection while the boys and I were busy at home scoffing hot cross buns on Good Friday morning (as you do!). We were to meet Ross and our tour guide, Alexandra, at the doors of the Uffizi gallery so we could then embark on our tour of the corridor.

Part of the Vasari corridor situated on top of the Ponte Vecchio

Part of the Vasari Corridor situated on top of the Ponte Vecchio

For those of you who don’t know, the Vasari Corridor is an elevated passageway that stretches over 1 km, joining the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti (across the river Arno) via the Uffizi. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century for Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The corridor was used by the ruling family as a means to walk safely through the city, above and removed from the citizens of Florence. Alexandra also went on to explain that the corridor was pushed to be finished in time for the wedding of Cosimo’s eldest son (the future Grand Duke Francesco I) to Giovanna d’Austria of the imperial Habsburg family, which made the art of discretion and walking above the streets of Florence an absolute necessity in the eyes of the Medici.

Looking through one of the many windows of the corridor...views to-die-for

Looking through one of the many windows of the Corridor…views to-die-for

The boys and I greeted Alexandra with a million questions about living and working in Florence while we waited for Ross and Miss P to join us. In this short window of time I had the great pleasure of being ‘cursed’ by an old gypsy lady. She was annoyed I wouldn’t empty my purse into her cup and proceeded to accuse me of being a part of the worlds oldest profession-nice! Good to see she was not sparing the kids of her foul thoughts. With that out-of-the-way and my life apparently hanging by a thread Ross and Miss P arrived and we went on to meet the rest of the gang at an entrance to the Corridor which is situated in the Uffizi.

Entering the Corridor was like entering into another world, a world of quietness. As soon as we closed the door on the rest of the tourists it felt like we were separated from the rest of the city. I could see how this would of been appealing to the Medici family. As soon as the tour started Alexandra’s enthusiasm took us all off to another part of Florence, back to the beginning of the 16th century when she was telling the tales of the Corridor’s wicked past. There is something enchanting listening to a person who loves their job and is passionate about the art and history that hang on the walls of the corridor. We couldn’t help but be swept up. Of course E had her favourite paintings to talk about too and we all listened with hunger, the kids asking questions feeding their knowledge just that little bit more. I now know more about the Greco-Roman gods than I ever thought possible!

One of the many beautiful views from the corridor

One of the many beautiful views from the corridor

The tour takes about an hour and you can’t help but be in awe of the power the Medici family must have had as they walked these corridors secretly listening to the voices on the streets all those centuries ago. The walls are lined with fantastic art works from Florence and abroad; you are but a hair’s breadth away from paintings that were painted some 300 years ago.

The last 100m of the corridor leading into the Pitti Palace

The last 100m of the corridor leading into the Pitti Palace

The end of our tour came with the last 100-meters of the corridor  leading into the Pitti Palace out-of-bounds, instead you are lead out another doorway into the Boboli Gardens (situated at the back of the Palace).

The Grotto at the Bobbli gardens

The Grotto at the Boboli gardens

Here the voices of tourists and clicks of cameras suddenly brought you back to reality of today’s Florence. Once the grey doors closed and the sun was beating down on us the tour was over and we were left with all the wonderful stories and tales that filled our heads. Alexandra was so warm and friendly it just felt like she was a very knowledgable friend who you wanted to keep talking with over  coffee. I can’t recommend Alexandra enough for a tour of Florence and especially the Corridor. If you are coming to Florence and interested in the history of the city then I urge you to contact Alexandra, book a tour and relax in the knowledge your mind will be full of stories from the past. After all it is hard to walk the streets of Florence and not wonder what was going on when the Medici reigned.

Alexandra’s contact details are:

email a.lawrence@theflorentine.net

cell +39 333 8689 458

 

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…

Image

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

Image

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!

 

 

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).

IMG_1305

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.

IMG_1309

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

IMG_1291

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?

 

 

 

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.

 

Asparagus foraging

Wild asparagus

Wild asparagus

I’m back! Our plane got in yesterday from New York and I am still on a high from the trip; however, a couple of days before we left for our US adventure Shelly and I went wild asparagus foraging. It was so much fun, so I want to tell you about it before I get carried away with NY.

Has anyone else foraged for wild asparagus? The season isn’t very long and you know when it has started because a lot of the older folk start walking up into the hills, carrying plastic bags and walking around the fields with their hands behind their backs, bending over inspecting the ground. Shelly and I weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for, or where to find it, however, the day before we went forging my landlady pointed out that we had two wild asparagus growing in our garden: perfect!

I didn’t know where to find it, however, Shelly had asked an elderly Italian guy what to look for when foraging asparagus and he pointed out a spiky bush and mumbled something about ‘look out for this stuff,’ and then hurried back into the fields (I think the locals would rather we didn’t know about it…makes sense really).

With the minimal information gathered (but  plastic bags forgotten), we set out on a beautiful Thursday morning walk with the sun beating down on our bodies and hope in our hearts. We were wandering around one of our old haunts talking about what we should be looking for, when all of a sudden we stopped, scanned the nearest area and, lo and behold, I spotted one lone asparagus! I’m not going to lie, we were excited. Shelly couldn’t yet see them, however, when I spotted another and another she soon caught on and we were off with our hands behind our backs and our eyes glued to the ground.

wild asparagus foraging

wild asparagus foraging

At first we just grabbed all that we could see not really looking at quality. It wasn’t until we came across a few brown-red ones with a very crisp ‘snap’ that we decided some of the ones we were picking might be a little old and gone to seed. However, that didn’t stop us from looting more from a farmers field! As you can see in the photo above they are very easy to miss and shoot up on their own around the small prickly green bush that Shelly is holding back.

A big batch under an olive tree

A big batch under an olive tree

We were wandering around in this field for about an hour happily picking away when we heard a dog barking. Our first thought was to ignore it, that was until the barking came closer and closer. For a few minutes Shelly and I thought it might of been the farmer coming to shoo us off the property, fortunately, it was just an elderly gentleman walking his dog up our road.

He knew right away what we were doing and complimented us on our forage. We had a small chat with him and then he started breaking into words Shelly and I didn’t recognise, we had a feeling he was giving us a recipe for the asparagus but that was for the ‘too hard basket’, so we gently said goodbye and took our stash further up the hill.

Of course we were buzzing with excitement and dying to try the wild asparagus, so I offered to cook it for lunch. After finishing our walk in the hills I popped a pot of water on for some poached eggs. Once the asparagus was washed and trimmed I simply melted butter on a low heat, added sliced garlic, asparagus, salt and pepper and gently sauteed until cooked.

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

The smells were fantastic and the asparagus darkened to a very deep green as the stalks became tender. Once they were cooked, I poached a couple of eggs, added a generous sprinkling of truffle salt and finished it with slices of pecorino cheese. The end result was fantastic!

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

The truffle hit your nose as soon as you sat down and cutting into the egg letting the yolk run through the asparagus was pure heaven. Not much talking was done while we still had food on our plates. The flavours all infused beautifully and enhanced the asparagus. To say we loved it would be an understatement. No wonder the Italians didn’t want us knowing the secret places to forage, it really is a wonderful spring treat if your lucky enough to lay your hands on some.

Finished with slices of pecoreno cheese

Finished with slices of pecorino cheese

 

Gladiator School, Rome

We are back from a fantastic weekend in the beautiful city of Roma! We left on Friday morning which just happened to be Max’s 12th birthday and figured the boys wouldn’t mind an extra day off school. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Max we caught an early, high-speed train down to Rome with our dear friends, E, Ross and the girls. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday if you ask me: good friends, Roman food and lots of fun. I’m not sure we will be able to top this year!

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

It was glorious, the sun stayed high in the sky all weekend and we were strolling the streets in t-shirts and jeans, we couldn’t have planned for better weather. It goes without saying we walked a lot, ate a lot and laughed a lot; however, what I really want to tell you about is the  Gladiator school.

I watched a video of it on the internet a few months back and it looked pretty cool, however, it seemed expensive. In hindsight I was completely wrong and it was really worth every euro! The boys and their friends were very hyped-up about their Saturday morning class (you really need to book in advance as it sells out) and feeling a little nervous as we headed out to the school to see what they were in for. I was blown away by the two-hour class. OMG! The gladiator teaching the kids was a scary looking guy with muscles as big as my head and thighs that could crush you in one sitting, not to mention the chest on this guy! We were all a bit stunned when we first saw him and the kids a little more nervous.

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman soilder

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman solider

It wasn’t until he opened his mouth and started talking that we all began to relax and enjoy the show. From start to finish he was an entertainer, inviting the kids to join in, listen, learn and experience all things Roman and gladiatorial. It started with a tour around the museum room where he explained all the military equipment used back in Roman times (the kids loved this). He then moved on to explain the history of the equipment used by gladiators, who became gladiators and the levels of different gladiators…I didn’t realise women were gladiators, however, we were told only the ugly ones! We were mesmerised by his knowledge, appearance and general enthusiastic approach to the class.

When it was time to go outside for the ‘practical’ lesson things only got better. In fact the boys had so much fun Alex came home saying “That was probably the best day of my life”. They were glowing from this experience and Max actually made a trailer of their time at Gladiator School which is better than me rambling on, check it out…

If you are heading to Rome anytime in the near future I urge you to check this place out. Gladiator School is for all age groups: I wished that I had booked a spot for myself when I saw how much fun the kids were having!

Morning walk

IMG_3271

The weather app on my phone told me this week will be sunshine and warmth. I was a little apprehensive as I lay in bed and looked out the skylight at the whitewash of cloud at 7.30am, however, by 9am the sun was shining, clouds passed over and there was nothing to see but deep blue sky stretching over the hills. The boys were at school, I had no plans for the morning so I popped on my sneakers, downloaded a podcast from This American Life titled: Somewhere in the Arabian Sea and head out the door.

IMG_3269

I love going for morning walks, especially when you have scenery like this to cast your eye over as you climb a steady pace up a surprisingly large hill.

IMG_3280

As I am walking and slowly stripping down to my t-shirt (a very un-Italian thing to do in March!) under the suns warmth, I am listening to a whole other world. They are talking about people working everyday jobs in the Navy, out at sea. These people are travelling the world, working and seeing more than they ever dreamt they would and here I am taking a casual stroll in the Tuscan countryside…

IMG_3281

As I am heading down a hill toward home, I smile to myself as I walk past the street where our friends came to stay when they visited a few months back.

IMG_3274

In fact, it is the same road that butts up onto casa di Boccaccio. Kathleen, I am sure you remember this stretch of road like the back of your hand!

IMG_3276

As my postcast comes to an end, so does the stretch of road that brings me back to our main square. An hour was filled with someone else’s stories and views of another persons country while I leave behind nothing but footprints, yet I’m full with memories.