As some of you already know from my previous blogs, I started my own tradition when it comes to the holiday feasts. So, what theme did I choose this year you ask? Italian. I am
actually surprised I haven't done it sooner. After all, my trip to Italy back in 2002 inspired me like no other vacation has ever done. I'll admit that I originally had no desire to go and my arm had to really be twisted. I knew nothing about the country,
the language barrier scared me, and even though I was previously not afraid of flying, our tragic 911 attack had just happened and the thought of being in the sky for that many hours made me nervous. As I mentioned, I knew basically nothing about the country
and its history. I knew of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the David statue, gondola rides, the Pope lived there, and the Coliseum. And, I only knew of that because of the movie Gladiator. Go ahead and laugh, it is what it is. Finally after a promise of a gondola
ride, a trip up the leaning tower, and a whole lot of peer pressure from friends and hubby, I gave in. I went out the very next day and bought a Learn to Speak Italian kit. Boy, that workbook was fun let me tell you. LOL!
We started in Venezia (Venice) where I never did get that promised gondola ride. The friends we went with deemed it too expensive once we got there and it really was too much to
swing for him and I alone. Hindsight I would have done it regardless. Anyway, that struck a nerve with me and I had quite an attitude the remainder of our short stay in Venice. It was a pretty town, the mosaic artwork in St. Marks was gorgeous, and there was
lots to see but it was probably my least favorite city of those we visited.
Next stop was Firenze (Florence) and I absolutely LOVED this city. All of the marble artwork was just breathtaking. My highlights there were Santa Croce, David, The Duomo, and I
also got to see where Elizabeth Barrett Browning once lived.
Next up was my beloved trip up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were only there for a day and it was a short trip but the feeling I got when I reached the top lessened my disappointment
over the gondola experience.
Off to Roma (Rome) we went. I don't even know where to begin with this city. There was so much to see and do and we had a blast. Our friends were not as excited about all of the
sites to be had as we were and they moved on to the next city while we stayed for five days. Even though this was originally planned, I didn't foresee how much of a welcome break this would be from them. Never again will I travel to a foreign country with
other people. Everyone just has different tastes and what they want to do and there is not enough time to do it all. They were more museum-y type people and museums bore me to no end. I like to get out and mingle among the locals and that we did while in Rome.
Oh, we saw all of the major attractions and visited a lot of the places where my beloved Audrey Hepburn was filmed in Roman Holiday while doing it too. The Coliseum was not near as big as I had imagined but it was quite something. I had goosebumps the entire
time I was standing in it and I have them now just thinking back. The inside of the Vatican was absolutely gorgeous too. When we left the Sistine Chapel, the streets were lined with people. The police were everywhere and they were barricading the main road.
We knew something big was about to happen but no one knew what. The police wouldn't tell us a thing and they were acting very strange. We hung around for what seemed like forever and then suddenly helicopters started flying overhead and here came all of these
black limos with men holding machine guns hanging out of them. My terror must have shown in my face because at that moment one of the officers leaned in and said, "your president has arrived". Okay, so I would have been a lot more excited if it was Regan instead
of Bush but it was still kind of neat to be able to say that I visited the Vatican on the same day as the president.
Next stop was Napoli (Naples) but it was really just a stepping stone for the day trip to Pompeii. I take it back about Venice being my least favorite city. Naples definitely was.
Maybe I was just wore out from Rome or maybe from being away from home nearly two weeks at that point but the town seemed trashy to me and there wasn't much to do. I'm glad we were only there long enough to access Pompeii. I didn't know the history of Pompeii
and it was a rather sad place but very interesting too. We spent the entire day walking around and it was an experience I will never forget.
To end our trip we flew to Sicilia (Sicily). Palermo Sicily to be exact. Not sure why our friend chose this place other than I think he had intentions on diving but the water was
way too cold and there were no dive shops in town. Guess he didn't do his homework but I have no complaints. It was relaxing and peaceful there with minimal tourist. I did get quite a shocker though. It was mid afternoon and everyone went up to the rooms
to take a nap before dinner. I am not a napper so I bought a glass of wine and went and sat by the pool. I was lounging in my chair minding my own business when this couple who were sunbathing stood up, stripped off their bathing suits, and dove in the pool.
I was MORTIFIED! I do not like nekked anything and am probably the most modest person on this planet. Thankfully it didn't last long and they were back out, dried off, clothed again, and sunbathing in no time. I grabbed my wine and made a beeline to the room
before round two came.
Oh, was I supposed to talk about food in this blog? Hee hee. For the record I will say that it was that last day in Sicily where I had my best meal of the trip. For the record I
will also say that Italian food is one of my least favorite cuisines. I know, I know, go ahead and gasp already. I love the flavor of sauces and such but the pasta itself is a huge turn off. It's just a filler to me and it fills me up super fast actually.
Bread is the same and I have never cared for bread so pizza isn't overly exciting to me either. Authentic Italian food is different than our American Italian but it still consists of pasta and bread after all. One of the big differences I noticed is that meals
were eaten in courses and it was common for the meat to be separate from the pasta instead of in the pasta. Now some of this could have been due to the difficulty in reading the menus (learning enough of the language to get by and trying to read a menu are
two completely different things) but none of the pizzas we ordered had meat on them. They sold individual squares with meat at the little corner deli's so again, maybe it was just our inability to read the menu. We all shared a pizza that first night in Venice
and it was very plain. It was their nightly special and we went with it but all it had on it was cheese and four whole olives. I am an olive lover and my eyes lit up but OMG they should have put a warning label on it. Yep, they were not pitted and I dang near
lost a tooth. Lesson learned early on and I was careful the rest of the trip. My next attempt at pizza was at an outdoor cafe in Florence. The menu was oh so tough and communication with the waiter was even tougher. He had me convinced that the pizza I was
ordering was loaded with pepperoni. NOT! Instead it was a thick crust that was loaded with watery bland red sauce and LOTS of cooked spinach. It wasn't good at all. I gave up on trying to order pizza after that and just stuck to the little deli's that had
good food that I could see and just point. Hubby and I got turned around one night in Rome trying to find our way back to the hotel and we stumbled on this little place that I am guessing was like a sports bar and they had the most amazing marinated olives.
I also had some pretty amazing Carbonara while in Rome. I am ashamed to admit this but after ten days of hit and miss with the food, we were strolling around the Spanish Steps area in Rome and stumbled on to a Mc Donalds. Even though I eat fast food less than
a dozen time a year here at home, my craving at that moment for greasy American salty french fries was more than I could resist. At what was equivalent to 4 US dollars, I scarfed down that large fries like it was a ribeye steak and didn't feel one bit guilty
about how expensive they were. All in all we had decent food while there but it wasn't the highlight of the trip for me. Again, it just goes back to personal preference and pasta isn't mine. Instead, my highlight was all of the beautiful sites we saw and the
people we encountered along the way. The Italians are amazing people and in my opinion the most beautiful race of people in this world. Young, old, male, female...didn't matter. They were fit, extremely full of life, they had beautiful skin and hair, no stress,
and they didn't take any lip from anyone. Oh, and they were crazy talented in their scooter driving abilities. I kid you not we saw this one lady driving with two kids on the back and she had an ice cream cone in one hand, a grocery bag full of stuff in the
other, AND she was talking on a cell phone. Anyway, I mentioned the inspiration the trip had on me and the locals were a big part of that. Each city we visited had its own feel, spirit, and uniqueness. They were positively beautiful people and people I will
One of the first things I did when I got home was set out on a mission to find Italian things to redecorate my kitchen. Once again, I hit all of the antique malls around here and
took day trips to the ones in Missouri. It took quite a long time but I finally gathered enough little treasures to pull it off. I have a little of the typical wine bottles, grapes, etc. but most of my stuff is actually imported things from Italy and written
in Italian. I thought my "obsession" with Italian stuff would stop and that I would eventually get tired of it but here it is nearly ten years later and the Italian theme did not stop with the kitchen. We are still remodeling but my family room is also being
done in an Italian theme. I found a company that sells 5 feet tall David statue replicas and I cannot wait to display that proudly. Marble nudity is the only nekked I can handle. Ha ha. If I knew of someone that could paint my ceiling to look like Michelangelo's
Sistine Chapel, I SO would. Better yet, a huge mural of an old world city map of lets say Rome that covered an entire wall would be SUPER. This is how serious I am about my love of Italy.
Okay, so back to the food. I said earlier that I was surprised I hadn't done the Italian theme yet but it makes sense to me now after reading back over all of this. My "obsession"
with Italy has nothing to do with the food which sounds kind of funny coming from a foodie. In my defense, I was nowhere near a foodie back then. So, I had decided on Italian but what? Soup, salad, and bread were a no brainer but what could the main dish be?
I wanted it to be special and all and not just another every day dish seeing how it was Thanksgiving. I searched AR recipes high and low, I combed through all of my Italian cookbooks, Googled, and looked every chance I got but nothing was jumping out at me.
Hubby is usually not much help when it comes to specific dishes but I took and shot and threw it out there. Almost immediately he says, "Chicken Parmesan". Wow! I had never made it before and wasn't even exactly sure what it was off the top of my head but
it sounded like a winner to me. I immediately started searching for recipes and found some that sounded good but I wasn't sold on the idea. Chicken seemed so boring and every day to me and I mumbled my concerns out loud and before you know it, Veal Parmesan
is mentioned. Veal? Neither of us had ever tried it and we both love beef so surely we would like it. Yes! Veal would be perfect. Once again I went to town looking for a recipe and I found a winner. Emeril Lagasse's Veal Parmesan it was. Now that I had picked
the main course I could get more specific with the sides that would compliment it. I spent nearly the whole weekend working on the menu but finally made my choices and got my list written out. After all was said and done, it dawned on me that I had one small
problem. Where was I going to find veal? After some discussion we realized this had the potential to be a huge problem. I had read the reviews on Emeril's recipe and a good number of people had used chicken instead and all had favorable results. Instead of
trying to search for a different recipe altogether that would compliment the sides I had worked so hard at planning, it made more sense to cross out the veal on my list and change it to chicken. Sighs. I went to work the next day with list in hand so that
I could pick up everything after work and I'll admit that it was eating at me all morning. That Monday was busy as heck too and I caught myself gazing into my monitor but completely zoned out in another world contemplating over this veal/chicken business.
I was too busy to dwell on it and knew I would just have to get over it already and make the most of the chicken. I buckled down in my work and what do you know? I came across a drivers file whose name was Richard. RICHARD'S Country Meat Market baby! It was
too early to call but I looked them up online and sure enough they carried veal AT TIMES. It seemed like an eternity waiting until the store opened but sure enough they had it. I nearly let out a squeal over the phone. In my excitement I almost forgot to ask
how much it was a pound but remembered just as I was hanging up. HOLY MOLY! It was nearly $16 a pound!!! My mind was racing and I was looking over my weekly menu trying to cut corners in other places but I couldn't and the irritation kicked in again. I didn't
let is show at work but I was irritable the rest of the day. It was Thanksgiving after all but it had literally been one thing after another this year including our hard drive crashing just three days prior to that day and then after pecking away at hubby's
laptop for a day, our less than two year old router went out which meant we were looking at the expense of a router on top of a new computer. GRRR! As I parked my car and started walking up into Walmart, a light went on. Ding ding ding...traditional turkey
dinner. Now granted there would be a ton more leftover (too much for just the two of us actually) but look how much a traditional dinner would cost. HELLO! It might have just sounded like a good excuse and I maybe could have done a traditional one cheaper
but whatever...it worked for me. My cell went off at nearly that exact moment and it was hubby asking if I needed help shopping at Wallie. I informed him that I had it under control and that I had resorted back to plan A and that it would be more helpful if
he went to the out of the way specialty meat market and picked up the veal.
WOO HOO! I was pumped! I did have anxiety of screwing it up and we ate later than planned but I didn't screw it up and dinner was a success. Wanna know something funny though? All
of that anxiety, irritation, etc. and I didn't really care for it as much as I thought I would. Don't get me wrong, it was extremely tender, had a very elegant appearance and taste to it, and hubby absolutely loved it but it reminded me of lamb which I'm not
a fan of. He said no so maybe it was the thyme flavor (I've only had lamb once and it was overpowered with thyme) that came through that made me think that? Not sure but I wasn't nearly as partial to it as he was. Regardless, I am glad we got to try it and
that it added that special touch to the meal.
Another successful holiday feast has come and gone and again I have Allrecipes, the Buzz, and the dear friends I have made here to thank for helping turn my hatred of cooking into
something that is pleasurable to me.
Minestrone (recipe from one of my personal cookbooks)
Romaine with Garlic Lemon Anchovy Dressing (AR's)
Emeril Lagasse's Veal Parmesan
Spaghetti Olio e Aglio (recipe from one of my personal cookbooks)
Asparagus Parmesan (AR's)
Until next time...Vive Bene..Spesso L'Amore..Di Risata Molto (Live Well..Love Much..Laugh Often)
Soup Loving Nicole
PS-Doug Matthews if you are out there reading this....no need to fear. I did "Respect the Bird". I just did it the weekend before the big day is all. Plus if I remember right,
your wife is Italian so hopefully you will not be too awful mad at me :)
******Minestrone recipe added 11/28/11 for grannygigi******
3 garlic cloves
3 large onions
2 celery sticks
2 large carrots
2 large potatoes
3 1/2 ounces green beans
3 1/2 ounces zucchini
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup olive oil
2 ounces fatty bacon, finely diced
6-7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bunch fresh basil, finely chopped
3 1/2 ounces chopped tomatoes (I used canned)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
3 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese rind (I messed up here and didn't see the rind part. I ended up just adding a little more herbs and spices and then topped each bowl with lots of fresh
2 ounces dried spaghetti, broken up
salt and pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve
Finely chop the garlic, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, beans, and zuke.
Heat the butter and oil together in a large saucepan, add the bacon and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and onion and fry for 2 minutes, then stir in the celery, carrots and
potatoes and for for 2 minutes longer.
Add the beans to the saucepan and fry for 2 minutes. Stir in the zuke (I didn't actually do this until I added the spaghetti in the step below because I don't like it all mushy)
and cook 2 minutes longer. Cover and cook all the vegetables, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes.
Add the stock, basil, tomatoes, tomato paste, and cheese rind and season to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Remove and discard the cheese rind.
Add the spaghetti pieces to the pan and cook for 20 minutes. Serve sprinkled with freshly grated (I used fresh shredded) Parmesan cheese.
*****Spaghetti Olio e Aglio added 11/28/11 for FrackFamily5***** 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pound fresh spaghetti
3 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh parsley (pretty certain I used WAY more)
salt and pepper
Reserve 1 tbsp. the olive oil and heat the remainder in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat stirring constantly until golden brown then
remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and remaining olive oil and cook for 2-3 minutes until tender but still firm to the bite.
Drain the spaghetti thoroughly and return back to the pan.
Add the oil and garlic mixture to the spaghetti and toss to coat. Season with pepper, add the parsley, and toss to coat again.
Transfer the spaghetti to a warm serving dish and serve immediately. (I topped with shredded parm and fresh tomatoes were nice in it too)