Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 2: Positano

Pretty Positano:
After a relatively quick flight to Naples and a terrifying drive to Postiano, we finally made it to our perfectly picturesque destination. We checked in to our little albergo, Hotel California, located just above the town center and the Piazza dei Mulini. We were quickly greeted by the proprietor, Mama Maria, and her handy helper Antonio, who both made us feel immediately right at home. We also soon found out that this particular hotel was used for scenes in the widely popular movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, staring Diane Lane. Towards the end of the movie when Lane's character, Francis, travels to Positano to meet her beau, Marcello, she spots him on the balcony of our hotel.


The balcony closest with the doors open is the one
they used for the movie! 
Our room was right next to the one used for the movie!
After taking 1000 + pictures fueled by our excitement for just being there, we finally started to get a little hungry. Maria informed us of a quaint little restaurant just up the street that overlooks the water and we gladly took her advise. Literally just steps outside our door was Ristorante & Bar Bruno. The atmosphere was relaxed, much like most of Positano, and although we were eating a seemingly super late lunch, there were several couples seated outside along the terrace overlooking the sea. Mom and I, in anticipation for what was to come later that night, decided on ordering a few small plates just to hold us over. 


We chose an Italian style shrimp cocktail, gamberi in salsa rosa, and thin sliced prosciutto with fresh slices of mozzarella cheese. The shrimp cocktail is a typical primi plate or appetizer on the coast, usually served with this mayonnaise based pink sauce, which tastes sort of like a sweet and spicy aoli. Mozzarella making is also popular on the coast and most restaurants serve the cheese on an array of different dishes. And of course we couldn't give up the chance to have fresh bread with olio and aceto -- olive oil and vinegar (balsamic) with a big glass of house pinot grigio. 

Notice the Missoni bag in the
background -- shopping started early.
I didn't really want to share, but decided I couldn't leave my poor mother hungry. This late lunch was pretty pivotal however, as I decided that I would never go with out bread, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar for the rest of my life. This simple pleasure is by far one of the most delicious combinations out there, comparable to a PB&J or Forrest Gump's "peas and carrots". 

After lunch we regretfully went back up to the hotel to unpack and get situated. The rooms were pretty large but modest in decoration, which perfectly accompanied the grandeur of the view.


After relaxing and recharging, we were ready to explore Positano. Our guide with Cooking Vacations, Melody, picked up our group from the hotel and took us on a little tour of the town. We stopped by the main square, Piazza dei Mulini, walked the winding streets down to the Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta, and finally arrived at a little delicatessen called Vini & Panini. Melody introduced us to Giovanni and his wife Daniella, the owners of the shop, and gave us a little background on the types of plants native to the area. Positano is of course known for their incredible lemons, but there is also another variety called chiedri or in slang pane di limone. This type of lemon is massive in size but has about the same amount of actual fruit in it as the other lemons do, but the fruit is protected by a large layer of white soft crust, just beneath the rind. This pane or bread between the rind and the fruit is actually not bitter like in most lemons and can be eaten along with the fruit and used in different dishes. 



May is also strawberry season and more particularly, wild strawberry season and many of the desserts made around this time of year incorporate this delicious and fragrant berry. As we approached the doorway to the store, the smell of strawberries was almost intoxicating, lofting all the way to my nostrils from a few baskets sitting outside. Seriously? Have you ever literally smelled a strawberry from feet away? Amazing! 

We then went inside and Giovanni explained to us some specifics of meats, cheeses, and wines of the area. Giovanni speaks almost no English, but I pretty much understood everything he was saying just by the emotion he put into each word. He told us about a cheese called provolone di monaco, a cheese that is soft like provolone but tastes like its been aged for over a year like a sharp parmesan. We also sampled a red blend "Furore" by Marisa Cuomo vineyards that was so smooth but somehow hardy at the same time. Most of the wines of the Amalfi Coast are blends of the more unusual grape species; at least not ones you've probably heard of over in the states. Falanghina, fiano, and greco di tufo are white grapes known to this ciff drawn coast. Aglianico, piedirosso, and coda di volpe are reds that are also widely grown in this reigion called Campania, home to the thriving cities of Naples, Salerno, and Sorrento. 

After our talk with Giovanni, we headed down to the dark sanded beach where we arrived at the restaurant, Tre Sorelle, for our welcome dinner. The restaurant, like most in the city, is family owned, passed down from "three sisters" who cooked from the sea and also from the heart. We indulged in crispy calamari, citrus ceviche, fresh pasta with mussels and clams, butter poached fish with thin sliced potatoes, profiteroles and lemon delight. What a way to start our cooking adventure!





After dinner, we slowly made the hike back up to our hotel, admiring the beautiful lights of Positano and still reeling from the amazing dinner we had just stuffed our faces with. Needless to say, I slept very well that night. The island of Capri is the next destination and I fall asleep crossing my fingers for good weather. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 1: London

London Calling:
After our nine-hour flight from Atlanta to London, my mom and I were defeated. I am exhaustingly afraid of airplanes so I usually take a sleep aid on long flights and thus was a little loopy upon our arrival. We went straight to our hotel, which was conveniently attached to Gatwick airport, where we would be taking off from to land in Naples early the next morning. Having been to London once before and loving every moment of it, I was surprised that I could rouse myself into getting out into the bustling city immediately. Instead, we took a little nap to rejuvenate and recharge. Thankfully, that helped put us right again and we finally headed out into city.

Unfortunately we didn't have too much time as we had a show to catch at 7:30. So, we caught a taxi to the Covent Garden area to do a little shopping. After getting caught up in the awesome boutiques and being metaphorically raped by the prices and the exchange rate, we only had a mere 45 minutes before we had to get to the theater. We wandered the streets looking for a quick-fix meal spot, but were only confronted with pubs crowded with young professionals enjoying happy hour. Frustrated, we found a telephone booth and decided to take a picture...

Hello? I'm hungry!

We walked a little bit further and spotted a few "blokes" walking into a tiny little Asian restaurant called Thai West. It was about as big as an English pea, but the food smelled good and our tummies were growling. 


We stepped in and two nice Asian ladies helped us with a huge heaping plate of fried rice with chicken and vegetables, drinks, and an array of sauces, all for just £4. The flavors were strong and the food was abundant. We quickly gobbled down the tender chicken with succulent yellow and green onions, peppers, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts, though it would have been nice to have time to savor each bite. The dish was slightly reminiscent of a coconut curry, but was milder in flavor and had a sort of soy twist. If we could have stayed longer, I probably would have eaten another plate all by myself!


After our short but sweet meal, we headed to the Apollo Victoria Theater just across from Victoria Station, where the musical Wicked is currently the act. Excited, mom and I grabbed some wine and took our seats low on the balcony, a perfect view. Many friends have told me how Wicked is their favorite musical and I quickly saw why. The story certainly provides an interesting twist to the traditional Wizard of Oz fable we all grew up with. The script was witty and the music, especially the voices of Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman, were incredible. Wicked definitely has a spot high on my list of top musical theater shows.



After the show and a couple of snacks later, we were on our way back to the hotel. With barely enough energy to get ready for bed, we managed to get entirely packed and ready for the second part of our journey. As I slept, I dreamt of Positano...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Italian Cooking Adventure: A Preface

Preface: 
The famous writer John Steinbeck was once quoted in Harper's Bazaar saying, "Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone." He couldn't have been more truthful in that statement. Positano, Italy is a small but thriving sea town set vertically into the cliffs of the lofty Amalfi coast. It certainly seemed surreal to be there and seems even more like some far off, distant fantasy now that I have gone. But, it wasn't just Positano that cast its dreamy spell over me. It was all of Italy; its people, its food, its ingredients, its culture, and above all, its charm.

I decided to break down my posts about my cooking adventure into days, where I will explain different meals I ate, dishes I cooked, and ingredients I learned about. But for now, here are just some basics:

  • I spent a total of 7 days in Positano, a short night in London, and 3 more in Rome.
  • My cooking, eating, and travel companion was the best chef and friend I know, my mom! 
  • I took 5 cooking classes with 3 chefs.
  • Most of the ingredients used in restaurants (especially in Positano) come straight from the gardens of the chefs themselves, just steps away from the stove and are largely organic!
  • I had no less than 2 glasses of wine, countless carbs, and a cup of gelato every day.
  • The "when in Rome" philosophy was in full effect 24/7.
  • Seasonality is incredibly important to cooking in Italy as well as regionality. 
  • The key to Italian cooking is simplicity and of course a little bit of Italian charm.

The best is yet to come! Ciao!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Arrivederci!

Unfortunately I will be taking a leave of absence for the next 2 1/2 weeks. I will be in Italy brushing up on my cooking skills so as better to serve you all some new and exciting material! I am headed to Positano and Rome, where I will be learning to make everything from tasty lemoncello and luscious mozzarella, all from scratch! I cannot wait to share with you everything that I learn! Until then, ciao!