Izzy Eats: The art of raising a gourmand, one bite at a time

Stirring tales of eating, cooking and foraging in my never-ending quest to provide, great-tasting (local and organic whenever possible) EATS for me and my boy(s).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paris - Eating In

For me a trip to Paris usually means a scramble to eat as many fabulous meals as I can.  This time was slightly different, given my many and various food limitations, which is one reason I chose to stay in an apartment, allowing me the ability to prepare meals at home -which we did for all breakfasts, most lunches and some dinners.  Going to the French market is always fun for me and Izzy got a kick out of helping me select the ingredients for our meals..from gorgeously sweet grape tomatoes to sparkling red currants.

Arugula Salad with Tomatoes and Chickpeas/Green Beans Vinagrette

As you can see, I didn't really do any heavy duty cooking but more of an assemblage - salads, pate, bread and fruit - and one pasta dinner.

Red Currants Snack

Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes,Cucumbers and Tinned Fish

Steamed Artichoke, Rabbit Pate, Duck Rillettes, Beet Salad

Our new Italian friends wondered where we would eat better, in Italy or in France.  They were certain the food is better in Italy.  What do you suppose they will say now?

Monday, July 25, 2011

From Praiano to Paris - weather or not...

A rare moment on a carousel in the Marais (note the winter hat)

After our eleven day Italian idyll, we left the brilliant warm sunshine and spectacular scenery of Praiano for my heretofore favorite city, Paris.  I toyed with the idea of remaining in Praiano and canceling the trip to Paris but it was impossible.  Our apartment was already paid for and we couldn't change our flights. Besides, we had to go to Paris to get our train to London.  So to Paris we went and there we were met with an autumnal chill and days of rain. Izzy wondered aloud as to why it had been "summer in Italy and it was now winter in Paris". I wondered the same.

I didn't expect much from Paris, simply some days of meandering, a few good meals, a bit of  frolicking in Place des Vosges,  Jardins du Luxembourg and Les Tuileries and perhaps a visit to a small museum or two.  I also wanted to shop, for Izzy, myself and my friends.  Hardly got to do any of those things as the weather foiled most of our plans, except for eating and shopping, of which we did far too much.

Whenever we stepped outside, the sky would darken and the drops would begin falling.   I had no choice but to duck into the nearest shop.  We spent an inordinate amount of time in bookstores, clothing shops and whatever else crossed our paths.  Izzy began to amass a collection of Tintin books, which entertained him during my forays into clothing shops and shoe stores.
Tintin au restaurant
And so we spent our days in Paris, scurrying in and out of shops, escaping the rain, enjoying occasional bouts of sunshine and a few other activities...

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Room With A View (and then some) - Our apartment in Paris

Whenever I visit Paris, I try to stay either in, or near the Marais ( 4th arrondisement), where I lived many years ago.   It was, and still is, my very favorite place to be.  This time I selected a little apartment on the Rue des Tournelles, just a few doors down from where I lived way back then.  Among other essential features like free Wifi, the apartment offered a classic Parisian street side view.  And as Izzy later discovered, a bit more...

We were playing scrabble in the living room the other evening, when out of the blue,  Izzy looked up at me, with quite a grin on his face and asked, "Why is the lady across the street cleaning her apartment completely naked?"

Why indeed!  It wasn't even particularly hot out (in fact, au contraire) yet there she was, with her backside to us, washing her dishes.  Together we giggled over this and Izzy suggested I photograph her for the blog (not a good idea, I explained).  He continued to glance over at her and we watched as she turned toward us to sweep the floor. Eventually she realized she was being watched and disappeared into another room, only to return in her pajamas.  

Of course I was then left to explain why she might have been cleaning in the nude.  I could have chalked it up to a, "Only in Paris" occurrence.  However I had to confess that on sweltering days in New York City, long before he was born, when I lived on the 9th floor and the shades were drawn, I had been known to do some cleaning, similarly clad.  And so I told him that it was likely she was most comfortable that way and probably didn't realize that all eyes were upon her.

He hoped to catch another glimpse tonight but clearly, she was on to him and didn't make an appearance.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leaving Praiano - was it meant to be?

Ancient tower - Praiano

Neither one of us wished to leave Praiano but sadly it was too late to change our plans.  We were resigned to leave as planned, far too early on Sunday morning - by taxi at 6 a.m. to catch a 9:20 flight from Naples.

Getting up at 5 wasn't as bad as I thought and Izzy awakened easily.   It was getting the hotel staff up to help assist with dragging our luggage up the stairs that proved challenging.  In fact, when I told them of our early departure, they seemed quite surprised that anyone would consider leaving so early. They made our early departure seem unheard of and were unsure as to how I would manage.  One suggestion was that they carry my baggage up the steps in the late evening, leaving it near a locked gate (no thanks).  I was baffled as to their response and as I was recounting this tale to some other hotel guests, a kind fellow from Australia offered to wake up and carry our bags for me.  He said he was going kayaking and needed a wake-up call anyway.  Ah the kindness of strangers.  With that settled, Izzy and I went off to our room.  On our way, N., one of the hotel family, stopped me to let me know that HE would be getting up to help with our bags.  I was skeptical but he insisted...so I canceled with the Australian and we went off to bed.

The morning of our departure, Izzy and I put all of our bags outside of our room, walked up to the reception area (locked) and peeked around for someone to help us.  Nobody was there but I figured N. would arrive shortly.  Meanwhile we walked up all of steps in search of the car service - not there either. We walked back down and still nobody had arrived to help.  I sent Izzy up and down a couple of more times in search of the car service  and still nothing.  At that point I began to fear we would miss our plane.  I also began to see the error in taking an early flight from Italy.  I had no signal on my phone so I couldn't contact the car service and there was no sign of N. to help with our luggage.  Little by little, Izzy and I inched our luggage up a few stairs at a time, until we got it to the reception area (not even halfway, mind you).  Our car was scheduled for 6 a.m. and it was 6:15.  All remained quiet as Izzy and I pricked our ears at the sound of each passing car.  Finally we heard a door slam.  We ran up the steps to meet Giovanni, our driver.  He apologized for his tardiness and came down to carry our luggage (phew).  We piled into the car and we were off.

Turns out my worries of lateness were unfounded.  The car service had booked us at 6 but it didn't take us very long to get to the airport, even with a stop along the way for Izzy.  It seems the early wake-up and winding roads = car-sickness for poor Izzy.  Our driver was most sympathetic and helpful with the clean-up, which more than compensated for his tardiness.  Not only that but he is an excellent driver, taking extra care along the narrow coastal roads.

In the end, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and boarded our flight - destination Parigi-  on time.  As we settled into our seats, I finally began to relax and the fact that we were really leaving this magical locale began to sink in.  As the plane took flight I stared out at the shining blue sea and wished we had remained as we were earlier, stuck in Praiano, baggage and all.

Arrivederci Italia.

p.s. When we arrived in Paris, I received a very apologetic email from N., from our hotel in  Praiano who had set his alarm to help us with the baggage but never heard it sound - apologies accepted; we love you anyway!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons - Loll: Of our days in Praiano, Italy - Lemon Groves and Locanda Costa Diva

Night falls on the lemon grove
We arrived in Praiano a week ago and here we have stayed, nestled amongst lemon groves in our most adorable hotel,  La Locanda Costa Diva.  It is in fact, a restored farmhouse and the rooms seem to be built around the lemon, olive and other fruit trees which grace this cliffside retreat; the entire property boasting spectacular views of the sea and other local scenery.

Praiano is a small, quiet village along the Amalfi Coast - an easy distance (along narrow, harrowing roads) from its more boisterous neighbors, Positano and Amalfi.  At first I wasn’t sure how Izzy and I would fare here, as there is little more to do than go to the beach and figure out our next meal.

For our first 4 days we befriended a traveling mother and her teenaged daughter from Calgary, also at the hotel.  It was nice to exchange tales of our daily adventures with them, breakfast time or dinner each day.  Once they left I wondered if we would find some other travelers to entertain us, as many of the other rooms here are occupied by honeymooner types. In fact one evening, we heard some loudish music emanating from a room below ours and Izzy went to peek out over the balcony only to discover a couple in their private jacuzzi (not as private as they thought!).

We settled into a routine and each day we have come to appreciate our surroundings all the more.  Each morning, we sleep until 8 (or Izzy later if I don’t awaken him accidentally).  We make our way to breakfast at around 9 where a copious spread awaits us in the dining room.  There is plenty to fuel us for the day - yogurt, blood orange juice, croissants, rolls with jam and butter, fresh fruit cocktail, assorted farm fruits - plums, cherries, etc, cereals, cappuccino, tea and specially for me, rice milk.
After gorging on these delights we usually spend some time in dining room while I use the WiFi hotspot - as there is no free internet in the rooms (something that distressed me at first but is probably for the best as I am forced to limit my time at the computer).

After breakfast we usually meander back to our room and either take a bus on an excursion or go to the beach.  Each day there is some small discovery to be made.  Often, Izzy wanders along the paths created in and amongst the lemon groves, and takes great pleasure in snitching lemons (which we use in our endless bottles of fizzy water) and other fruits.

Lizards flit along the paths, surprising us at every turn and the hotel dog, “Billy” is our constant companion whenever we approach the dining room.  I think he must appreciate our truffle scent  (I packed truffle salt in our luggage as gifts and all of our clothing carries the aroma).

"Billy" rolls over for a scratch

The more we learn of this charming locale, the more we have come to love it. We have gotten to know our surroundings and the super-friendly and accomodating staff and we will certainly be sorry to leave here on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel Indecisions/Decisions: Where do we go from here?

 It has been four years since Izzy and I made our first journey to Europe.  Far too much time has passed since that trip and we have longed to take another one.  This year, in celebration of my one year cancerversary (Yes! June marked one year since I finished cancer treatment) I decided we would go on a long voyage.  Where we would go?  I wasn't exactly sure but I knew we would go to Europe.

At home I planned the first and last weeks of our trip.  We would start out in Germany where we would visit with Aunt B. and Uncle Rabbit in Altotting. This would be relaxing, or so I had hoped. At the end of our trip we would visit with our old Jersey City friends, Helen, I. et al. in London.  We would be gone for five weeks total.

With the first week and the last week of our trip  planned, we left Jersey City.  I spent that first week in a state of agitation as I tried to resolve the question of where we would actually go.  As I had packed far too much luggage, we were somewhat limited to places that would not involve too many train/plane transfers and other maneuvers that would involve carrying the luggage.  I had initially imagined a stay in just one place - renting a house or an apartment and exploring one town for a month. I mulled over places like Provence (been there), Apulia (saw great article in the NY Times about it) and Sicily (intriguing), Ischia (worried about getting around) a farmstay in the Sora (sounds wonderful) and Praiano - a small coastal town between Amalfi and Positano which seemed to have the most appeal.   I tried to book the farmstay as well as a week in Praiano.  At first this appeared to be the perfect plan but I began to worry about the luggage situation and felt that the traveling between place to place would be less relaxing than what I had intended.  In the end I  booked a ticket from Munich to Naples and we took a car service to Praiano where we would stay for 11 days.

Our flight to Naples was uneventful.  We found our luggage and our driver from Italy Limousine,  met us and whisked us off to Praiano.  He was an expert and I never once felt uncomfortable as we wound our way around the narrow main road of the Amalfi Coast.  The scenic drive was merely an introduction to the beauty of this area, where houses are built into the rocks of the cliffs. We arrived at our hotel, La Locanda Costa Diva, at about 8:30 p.m... We set our bags down and looked around.  I was relieved to find that I had selected a most beautiful and peaceful locale.  Perhaps I would finally be able to relax...

We have now be at La Locanda Costa Diva since July 7th.  This small coastal village is a quiet respite from life as we know it... to be continued...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Antics in Altotting: of biking, hiking and picking, or living the country life June 28-July 6 2011

For the 8 years since Aunt B moved to live with her Rabbit in Germany, I had a certain image of where it was she lived.  My mind’s eye envisioned a small, stand-alone house quite like the one she lives in, though hers is attached.  Here it is, on our final day.

Little House On the Stinglhammer
The house has three floors.  On the first floor is a living room and kitchen, bathroom and backdoor which leads out to a lovely backyard.  The second floor houses a sitting room/office and the master bedroom and top floor contains the guest quarters.

During our stay Izzy and I shared the upstairs quarters.  Attic bedroom with street view, small bathroom and a room in which to leave our luggage.  The light (sometimes sun) shone brightly into our room each morning, awakening me earlier than I would have liked.  Though somehow not interrupting Izzy as he slept on.

Each morning Aunt B. prepared our breakfast - for Izzy, a bowl of fruit and yogurt, for me a bowl of fruit and tea.  On nice days we could have our breakfast in the backyard - gazing out at the large sunflower patches, mint and other assorted flowers which decorated the grasses. Chickens occasionally clucked by, stopped for some crusts of bread

Each day was a lazy one, in which we wouldn’t usually get out of the house until 11.  Should we go to market? Go out to lunch or have an adventure? Before any of that, we stopped at the local bakery to select our daily pretzel snack.  Sesame, poppy, salted or pumpkin seed?  Izzy and I favored the sesame seed ones which came pretzel-shaped or round, which I daresay are true kin to the bagel.

After our snack we chose an adventure.  Our first outing was a visit to the local Wednesday market in Neutotting.  There we bought some fixings for lunch etc. - head cheese, bread and other tidbits. That afternoon Brooke and Isadore went for a walk in the woods in search of frogs. 

Next day was bike riding in the fields and woods. We met some cats along the way.

Izzy and his new cat friend

One day we visited Burghausen - to see the castle

A highlight of our trip was blueberry picking at a nearby field where rows and rows of plump, juicy berries were ripe for picking.  Izzy, Brooke, Peter and I managed to collect about 10 lbs. of berries on our first outing.  Half were given away and we managed to eat 5 lbs. in 2 days.   They were a steady part of our diet and we liked them so much that we went back a second time to collect more so that we had extra to take with us on our trip to Italy.

Blueberry fields forever
Last but not least,  was our hike in the Bavarian Alps, worthy of a post all its own.

 So much more to say but have to get to the next part of our trip. Thank you Aunt B. and Uncle Rabbit for a most unforgettable visit.  See you next year :)!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 4th BBQ Celebration: Altotting

Uncle Rabbit grilled pork filet.  Izzy assisted.  He especially enjoyed fanning the fire.

There were roasted potatoes and salad too.

I contributed my version of German bruschetta - stale bread, sliced, grilled, rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped salami, basil and olive oil.

For dessert - Toasted Marshmallows!

The evening ended with sparklers - in the light, and later on when it got dark.

Happy Belated July 4th!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Splendid Eats In and Near Altotting: Birni's and Ming's

It has been nearly a week since we arrived in Altotting, a small village in South East Germany, best known for religious pilgrimages.  I have heard tell that the pious travel from far and wide, coming here to be magically cured - evidence of crutches left behind adorn the chapel where people pray, not far from a fountain purported to have healing powers.  I couldn't resist a dip but unfortunately have to say I haven't been magic as "the rash" persists (will come to that some other time).  In the meanwhile,  I have encountered some fine things to eat (other than Miss B's cooking), namely two restaurants, Birni's and Ming's Lounge.

Birni's, which is not actually Altotting but is instead in Neutotting (about 5 minutes away by car) is certainly a destination restaurant - worthy of far longer than a five minute ride to be sure).  They offer locally inspired and updated German cuisine - think airy foams rather than heavy sauces - in a lovely, light-filled setting, where wood, candles and flowers abound.  This is delightful experience not to be missed if you are within an hour or so.  Friendly staff only add to the perfect evening. 

Salad with crispy mushrooms from Birni's
Ming's is a more casual option but equally noteworthy.  This hip, Thai restaurant offers a nicely rounded menu of expertly sauced Thai dishes.  I thoroughly enjoyed my crisp duck with coconut curry and the other dishes looked equally tantalizing. Here too, service was warm and friendly.

Crispy Duck in Coconut Curry

Rest assured, that the next time you visit Altotting, you will be able to find something really good to eat.