Wednesday, August 24, 2016


This is the town of Amatrice, which was devastated at 3:30 a.m. European Central Time.  So far 124 people are known dead, and there will be more, since they are having a hard time digging through the rubble to save those that are still alive.
The earthquake hit the central mountain areas of Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche.  Dr. C. and I spent last night in a hotel at the Rome airport; the earthquake woke me up out of a sound sleep; for those of us used to this in California, it felt like a shaker that went on for about 30 seconds.  There was no damage that was reported in Rome, and we headed for Spello (central Umbria) at 11:30---there was no damage that we saw along the way, and when we got to Spello (a medieval town) there was no damage that we could find.

 Our family's wine bar is fully functioning, without any damage, and the apartment that we are staying at is just fine.  The reason is that these buildings, although medieval, have had a seismic retrofit.  We have heard from friends that there hasn't been any damage of note, in the towns around here, Assisi, Todi and Orvieto.  There will be aftershocks, and that will be devastating to the areas that have been the hardest hit.
How can you help?  I'll update this page, but right now the best bet is donating to the Red Cross.  We aren't able to donate blood since we haven't donated here before and they need the blood immediately.  This weekend was going to be the celebration of the pasta that Amatrice is famous for, pasta all'Amatriciana.  I have no idea what will happen now, but pray for the people who have been affected by this tragedy.  I'll be back with an update here and on my Facebook page.  Until then ciao and buona notte.
Update:  Go to this link for ways to donate:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

'Merica, You Are Beautiful

Oftentimes, I think that we take our country and it's beauty for granted; I know I do.  Dr. C. has always wanted to go to Yellowstone, and so I decided we'd celebrate our anniversary by going to Yellowstone for 6 days.  I really didn't want to think on this trip, or do the driving around this vast National Park, so I did something I never do, and booked a tour; yes, that's right, this introvert was getting on a 40 passenger bus with 33 other strangers---I did it for love, since it was our 45th anniversary.  (If you are interested in doing this, click here for the website)
We flew into West Yosemite, Montana (check another state off the visit list) and shuttled into the park to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, our first overnight stay.  The trip included everything, even gratuities.  We were assigned a tour guide, and driver, who took us out every day.  This park is so large that it would be impossible to see it all, but we hit all the highlights.  Our first day out, we visited Old Faithful (across the parking lot)  Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes or so, and early in the morning the crowds are smaller.

After the eruption, we headed to the Grand Prismatic Spring.  It's a geyser basin with this incredible thermal spring. 
I didn't take this photo, since it's impossible to get an overhead shot. 

There is steam everywhere in Yellowstone, since you are walking on a super volcano.  We spent the days in the caldera.
This was our limo for the week
Day 2 had us out in the valleys, seeing Bison, and other animals. 

Not the most attractive animals in the world
A trip to Cooke City, Montana and there is a Hoosier Bar (not open)

Can't imagine what it is like in the winter, since there is still snow on the high elevations in August.

Beautiful waterfalls

Capturing a rainbow

Teddy Roosevelt loved Yellowstone, and camped somewhere near this place

Stagecoach ride; the kids on the top loved it!
The gate at Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

More thermal pools

Our last day, we were treated to a ride in these 1937 buses that have been refurbished; it was a blast!
What I loved most about this trip was getting to spend it with Dr. C, but I came away grateful to those visionaries who knew that this diverse wilderness area should be preserved for future generations. 
We covered all the high spots in the park, and had a great time.  We met people from all over the world, not only were they on our bus, but they worked in the restaurants, and hotels. Our weather couldn't have been better, in the mid to high 70's during the day and cooled down to the 40's at night. I highly recommend this trip: the wide open spaces, beautiful scenery and the opportunity to see an unspoiled wilderness were all highlights for us.  This year the National Park Service is celebrating it's 100th anniversary, and we should all celebrate the fact that these beautiful parks have been preserved for all to enjoy. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Taste of Sicily, My Way

When the world as we know it, takes a turn, as it did yesterday in Nice, and last week here in the US, I head to the kitchen to put my head in another place.  I'm not ignoring what is going on in the world, but sometimes it's so horrific, I need to get away from the noise, and replace that with something that soothes my soul, and that is what cooking is for me: therapy. 

Next year I will be going to Sicily to curate a tour, to decide whether I think it's a good bet for my students, friends, and colleagues.  As I've been thinking about Sicily this week, I think of the typical Godfather references, the Mafia, the salt pans of Trapani, the wines from Mt. Etna and the bountiful seafood dishes.  

There is so much in Sicily, food-wise, it continues to be influenced by so many other cultures that the foods are hard to describe.  Today I made Caponata, a condimento, served either hot with a main course, or cold with wine and cheeses as an apperitivo.  I'm not exactly sure how I will serve it tomorrow night, but it's going to be delicious either with the swordfish from Catalina Offshore, or the cheeses from Venissimo.  Since the eggplant is coming in at Specialty Produce, it was time to take advantage of that, too. 
Caponata is an example of agra dolce, or sweet and sour.  For this version I am using balsamic vinegar (instead of the typical red wine vinegar) and golden raisins instead of sugar.  I like the balance these give to the otherwise robust ingredients.  
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 ribs celery, chopped, including the leaves
8 cups chopped eggplant (skin on)
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons capers packed in brine, drained and chopped if large
1/4 cup Spanish pimiento stuffed olives, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
salt and pepper

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium high heat and saute the garlic, onion, and celery for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.  

Add the eggplant, and saute until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes.  

Add the tomato puree and vinegar, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, add the raisins, capers and olives, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 
Add the parsley and basil, season with salt and pepper.  The caponata is actually better served the next day, after the flavors have gotten to know each other.  

Wishing you a great weekend from San Diego, but dreaming of Italy. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Letter to Pete and the Laurel Diner

Dear Pete,
No one does breakfast the way you do.  I'd read about your diner on Road Food and when our daughter bought a house nearby, we had to come and try your breakfast.  We'd read about the lacy thin crispy hash browns, and the home made hash, but we had to see and taste for ourselves.  Unfortunately, we are now addicted: me to the Kiki and my hubby Dr. C. to the hash with two eggs over easy, our daughter to the Western omelette.  I haven't even tried anything else on the menu---why mess with perfection? 
Let me start with the Kiki:  shatteringly crisp hash browns layered with crispy bacon(or sausage) perfectly cooked eggs, cheese, sour cream and scallions---when they ask if you want toast, it would only interfere with this tower of perfection.  I dream about this breakfast, and since we live in San Diego, we only come a few times a year, but when we do come to Connecticut it's full on breakfast time.

Dr. C. loves the hash, which is made in house, instead of coming out of a can.  When he orders it, he knows that Pete will cook it with a crispy crust (the way it should be) and then two perfectly cooked eggs adorn it.  Homefries are crispy, and well seasoned on the side.  Toast?  I don't think so!

Our daughters' favorite is the Western omelette, with onions, peppers, and ham, griddled, then folded perfectly into eggs, with or without cheese, and turned to perfection onto the plate.   No one at Cordon Bleu ever did it that well, seriously.

Thanks to Pete and his staff for making breakfast fun again.  The Laurel Diner has been in Southbury since 1949, we are probably your biggest fans.