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Easter Colomba baking adventures: sending Pasquale the Italian leaven to a 3 days boot-camp [1st Steps]

Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.

The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got  from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.

Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong  flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.

Before we start:

you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.

Step 1 : Thursday evening - toughen up IMG_7224 take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.

Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.

Step 2 : Thursday night- Pasquale rolls with the punches

take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!

now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option.  Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. IMG_7226 Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…

IMG_7228 Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world

After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. IMG_7234To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).

IMG_7236  Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!

repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!

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step 3 / 4 / 5 : knead 50gr of leaven with 50gr of water and 100gr of 00 flour for a couple of minutes.
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after 3/4hours (or up to 8hours if needed), it should have doubled in size.

While you’re  nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.

for the next steps you will need:

- 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour)
- 185 gr. soft butter
- 135 gr. cast sugar
- 200 gr. tepid water
- 6 egg yolk
- 15gr honey
- 4gr salt
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 orange peel
- 300gr of candied orange peel

columba pasquale paper tin 1kg
Bakery bits Colomba tins

 

End of the adventure now published there 

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Speaking Japanese without hardly saying a word…

Just landed in Tokyo and as my friends predicted, people do not speak so much English, but seem to understand basic indications and overall are unbelievably helpful.

There is a tangible sense of modesty, and people who don’t master English well enough and feel confident with it just wouldn’t dare speaking. At the difference of Paris where this translate into “I don’t understand therefore I couldn’t care less”, people seem to give it a try here!!

I mean, last night after a long trip, a lost suitcase, and surviving the underground maze, I wandered around the Shibuya neighbourhood trying to find the apartment when I found a policeman who walked around with me for a full 15min until I was safe at home. I just couldn’t believe it….where else in the whole world?

I’ll keep you updated on how it goes, but just wanted to post this hilarious video by a Japanese / American comic artist who was educated in Japan and made a mock Japanese 101 video. Magic. (For those who want more, his blog: http://kentanakalovesyou.blogspot.jp/)

Photos will come later, I’m busy fua-kin for now :)

madesimo chalets

How to spot an Italian ski resort?

How to recognise an Italian ski resort and differentiate it from its neighbours from France or Switzerland at first glance?

First things first, look at women’s blow-dry. If ladies look like they’re coming straight out of the hairdresser no matter how much snow and wind there is through out the day: no doubt, you’re in Italy.

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Last summer when coming back from 2 weeks in Tuscany I was stunned by how pretty, and above all stylish, Italian grand mothers were (see the article “fashion lessons learnt from Italian grannies“). Guess what? it applies on the slopes more than ever.

Second clue? are people throwing their skis and poles on the floor nonchalantly, creating an ocean of eclectic boards, Prada shoes, Gucci goggles, gloves and so forth outside of bars and restaurants? if yes, you’re in Italy. (note: if they’re meticulously organised, you’re in Switzerland)

Extra clue: if people around you can telephone while skiing AND gesticulating….where else? Italian skills will never cease to amaze travellers….

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snowed phone booth london

A Weekend in London [wintertime]

 

London's sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it
London’s sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it. Photo taken by the Metropolitan Police on a foggy day.

hurrah we passed Valentines’s time and its lot of heart-shape Krispy creme and 50-stomething bearded men holding balloons (dear please please no), but fact is, London is rather romantic, ALL YEAR ROUND!! a couple of ideas for a long weekend

this article is a follow up on the summer version of this post

# 1 : Brunch, Afternoon High-Tea and GastroPub dinner – indulge with comfort food

When the weather goes chilly a cosy warm up is de rigueur, my favourite afternoon tea award goes to the Sketch : a very stylish, Michelin-star place, with a large collection of flavoured teas and lovely finger food….what else do you need?

Alternative options: recover from any hangover after a long and boozy night out with The breakfast club brunch, that now counts 5 locations, the Smith of Smithfield (and their Spitalfield sister that will reopen in March) , or the Hawksmoor full English breakfast where you can easily feed a young elephant .

There’s quite a few fabulous chimney warmed cosy gastro-pubs in London where you can watch the snowfall (or the rain poor but it sounds less glam), Time Out is always there to help.

Afternoon tea at the Sketch

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
For guaranteed brownie points with a girl, you could check out what’s on at the Royal Albert hall or the  the Royal Opera; with a little bit of organisation and advance-booking you could bag a  top quality performance at relatively affordable prices. Tip: for best value, pick any of the amphitheatre seats, they all have quality views.

Alternative options: Jazz night & dinner at Rooney Scotts in Soho, ballet at the English National Opera, modern dance at the Sadler’s Well in Angel

Ice-skating in a  magical location is slightly cliché but still, a rather cool date, you’ll fall, laugh, and warm up with a hot-chocolate after-wile. From November to January, pre-book at the styli Sommerset house (central) , the classic Tower of London (East) or the west-based Natural History Museum, and avoid the crowds of the Winter Wonderland fair. 

London is simply beautiful by itself and in the winter, when sunset comes early you could take advantage of a dry day if any, to go walking around. From Sloane square to South Bank for example, watching the sunset on Embankment bridge.

#3 : No romantic weekend without some cuddling

My favourite cinema in the whole world goes to the Aubin, THE Shoreditch based maxi-hipster cuddly place. Faaaaaaaa-bulous Sundays.

Alternative options:  The Electric cinema  - get the front row double beds. Or for a different kind of cinema experience, pretty unique to London, you could check what’s on at the Future Cinema, even though I think they’re recently become way too steep.

 #4: Do things together will bring you closer

Fine, Sauna and Spa are a little bit cheesy as a romantic time for two, but yet it’s a marvellous. Always check out what’s on offers before you book. I recently tried those 2 and it was fantastic. at the Chelsea Club, ask for a  Japanese bath.  The St Pancras hotel spa has luxurious”journeys to …”, I don’t know if I came out of there “firm, purified, enlivened, from the nape of the neck to the tips of my toes” but  definitely came out of there with  numb  legs.

Why not learn something new? like how to make a cocktail, a.k.a. a socially acceptable way to have cocktails on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I have no problem with that. The London Cocktail club have a good beginner overview course, but that lacks a little bit of hand-on practise. Someone’s whispering to my ear that Harvey Nicholls’ bar actually has great master-classes.

#5: the WOW factor

London Royal Observatory

how could would it be to go Start gazing at the Royal Observatory, on the  meridian zero? get on their mailing list or keep checking the website for new event

For other good views of the city you can try the National Portrait gallery Restaurant with a view after, you could plan it following an exhibition, after the Thursdays / Fridays late opening.

and the 2nd part of the evening? I would favour a speakeasy type of place over a club. You two can chat over a delicious Manhattan (sorry! meant London dry gin!). The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar has basically invented London cocktails, with their signature over-the-top impeccable service; however my favourite remains the Calloh Callay at the heart of Shoreditch for their unbeatable friendly atmosphere (booking essential Thursday-Saturday).

Fresh winter run along regents canal with a friend!!!
London runners map

Where People run

tokyo running map

When visiting a city, I always try and include a long run in my planning. It’s a great way to have a good overview of an area, mingle with the locals, and capture the atmosphere: nothing like running in Manhattan along the Hudson river to capture the empowering NY vibe…

Planning a run in a new city may take a little bit of prep, and one doesn’t always have a local friend to guide them. Where do people run? how cool would it be to use the tracking apps at an aggregated level to actually visualise the answer to that question?

Those 2 blogs have done it for us, using data from Edmondo – I’m all excited and planning my next run in Tokyo now :) happy geeking and running!!

http://barsukov.net/endomondo.html

http://flowingdata.com/2014/02/05/where-people-run/

London NYE fireworks

Happy New Year

Our "galette des rois" French traditionally eat on Epiphany day

Happy New Year!!! 

What do you wish, hope and work toward in 2014? I just googled “top 10 2014 resolution” …erg, pretty appalling stuff: ranking at the top, the utterly depressing “loosing weight and living healthier” according to the great women you should know website, oh boy!

No. It’s rainy and cold out there, so let’s start 2014 with enjoyable perspectives at least. Here are a few notes and ideas I jotted down in my (random) preparation for this new cycle.

1. the UK travel hot list by the Guardian: going around Britain more is definitely on my to-do list for 2014 – even if I confess I may wait for a little bit more sunshine.

the mortorcycle diiary
2. the 20 best travel book of all time, selected by the Telegraph. Reading is the cheapest way to travel, escape, learn. I set myself a soft-objective of 25 books this year; starting with “For Bread Alone”, the first part of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography, translated to american by Paul Bowes. A tough journey.

3. the top 10 surf schools, by the National Geographic. Just back from Morocco for a short surfing break, I’m studying this religiously and hunting forums: the quality of surf coaching is clearly not the same all around the world, surfing and sport trips in general are the ones that require most preparation….

4. Clean up your Instagram! I was looking for some refreshed list of travel instagrams to follow, but didn’t find anything truly mind boggling so here is my own top 10:JR

  • JR: artist until he finds a real job. We hope he doesn’t.
  • José Lourenco  [@joselourenco]: Portuguese photographer and “visual artist” and has a very  witty original approach to instagram
  • Marygribouille: Normand graphic artist and illustrator, she posts daily lovely pieces or her life and fun illustrations
  • Nicole Warne’s blog feed, GaryPepperGirl: following models can sometimes be slightly over the top but she stays away from the main pitfalls of fashion bloggers and does travel a lot. Her boyfriend is also conveniently a fashion photographer, so thank lord we don’t get selfies in a mirror but beautiful coloured outfit in stunning locations.
  • Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist: Because he’s the reference street fashion photographer (ok, I can say that safely so long as Bill Cunningham doesn’t have an instagram account!)
  • Vogue International: the fashion forward reference
  • The National Geographic: for outstanding quality photos and comments
  • and-during-a-trip-to-london-for-an-nbc-interview-they-took-a-picture-with-the-famous-platform-9-at-kings-cross-station-kings-cross-installed-an-actual-9-sign-and-a-half-Murad Osmann globe trotting with his girlfriend and the model, Nataly Zakharova, in a very original “follow me” photography series
  • The Royal Opera House: A touch of beauty in a ruthless world. Not only this is one of the best operas in the world, but they do put some effort into their instagram feed and social media visibility in general, trying to make it appealing and endearing to the general public. It works, thanks!
  • The Russian ballet dancer, Maria Kochetkova. Her instagram feed is fun and sober, plus she does travel a lot with that cute hipster cool look

5. what’s the world like in 2014? The economist publishes their annual guide covering economy & politics, but not only. Check out the app or the paper magazine format. Well worth it. My n#1 source of information has also started releasing a “traveller’s briefing” app that I’m really excited about. Available only for a few countries for now (Brazil, Britain), but I’m sure they’ll keep adding to it.

6. The Time Out London cultural calendar is always a useful tool to keep at hand, in addition, the Art Fund has done  a little selection of great exhibitions coming up. But what to look forward to in 2014? Vogue asks us. My choice goes to a selection of fashion oriented exhibitions :

Kate-Moss-by-David-Bailey-for-Vogue-Paris-August-2013-18Dec13-David-Bailey-NPG_b_592x888

Hello, My name is Paul Smith is currently at the Design Museum; Isabella Blow’s Fashion Galore at the Sommerset House; from February, the National Portrait Gallery will focus on the work of photographer David Bailey in Stardust, featuring more than 250 images; The Glamour of Italian Fashion will open at the V&A in April; and The fashion world of Jean-Paul Gaultier will be the first major retrospective his past 35 year of creation at the Barbican starting in April amongst others.

I wish you a fantastic 2014, whether travelling around the world or in your kitchen but learning, discovering, talking, experiencing, venturing and adventuring, always.

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Christmas in Normandy

Merry Christmas one and y’all! 🎅🎄

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I come from a French Normans family and this is where I traditionally spend Christmas. The whole period is a culinary feast and each family has their own tradition (or should I say obsessions?), mostly revolving around food; mine this year was a perfect fruit loaf quest that I will describe in another post.

I have been eagerly looking forward to the holiday for several weeks as usual, the bubbly Champagne, the roasted chestnuts, the smell of the decorated tree and the glitter in my grand-parents eyes. And I got just that, wonderful family-time 🌟💝

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Moroccan pampering

when we decided to book a trip to Morocco for New Year holidays, my first thought was “great, I’m getting an argan oil refill!”  Last time I went there it was to Rabat for my friend’s wedding and we spent quite  a lot of time taking care of ourselves, as good brides & bridesmaid should do ;)!! Local production of henna, lemon, olive & argan oil, avocado, rose water, cloves….and a secular tradition of  hammams and sea salt scrubs make of Morocco a great destination for pampering.

I wanted to share here a couple of great natural tricks; I guess the product can be found almost anywhere, albeit at rather steeper prices!!!

my 2 absolute essentialsRose water is  my absolute favourite,  sprayed on a hot day or just in the morning applied on a cotton on my eyes…. it beats  the smell of any beauty shop product and it’s naturally allergy-free.  It’s said to naturally prevent against wrinkles, not sure if it does but it’s definitely pleasant to use.

Argan Oil. When I used it the first time, I wondered why I had ever been buying such expensive moisturising serum and hair masks. The trick is to use a very small amount on the tips of your hair overnight, tie it in a plait to avoid greasing everything and wash it with a gentle shampoo in the morning…silky and fabulous especially for long and dry hair  or sun-damaged.

Another great use is to massage your feet with argan oil and sleep with cotton socks on….scrub them in the shower with a loofah mitt the  next morning…and tadahhh, you’re party-heels ready! it’s also said to be good for your face skin but I find it doesn’t feel very nice, it’s oil after all.

Last trick a friend gave me recently is to use a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and argan oil on brittle nails, apparently it does marvels following too many shellac applications.

 

417771_88630318_ghassoul_H131214_LRhassoul clay is another traditional and typically Moroccan natural remedy. It’s especially great for oily hair as it’s really quite hard to find a cure that cleanses without striping.

- rhassoul clay

- rose water

- 2 egg yolkes

mix until you get a not-too-liquid-not-too-thick mixture and apply on your hair roots. Once a month, apply more warm water and massage the paste on your scalp. Then rinse completely.

20130101-235649.jpgand last but not least: green tea! packed with anti-oxydant, preventing halzeimer, “flushing” excess calories…I read just about anything on green tea; only one thing is sure, in Morocco it’s THE social drink, any occasion is good enough, any time of the day. Sit back and enjoy.

I could carry on endlessly with black soap, other oils and clays, henna, honey & honey combs, vanilla, clove, eucalyptus etc etc…but I guess at this point, better just pay a visit to your local hammam, or a weekend in Marrakech

 

want to read more?  sorry the good sources I found are mostly in French sorry

http://www.artetsaveurdumaroc.com

http://www.bladi.net/secrets-de-beaute-des-femmes-du-maroc-la-feminite-dans-tous-ses.html

http://www.letangerois.com/secrets-de-beaute-marocaine

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Season’s greetings!!

Tonight mulled wine is spreading a spiced scent around the house, raisin bread is baking in the oven and I’m wondering what size of tree to choose… Christmas approaching, marking the end of that depressing post summer autumn season very rightly named “fall” (mostly rain fall in London actually…). It’s the search for the perfect wooly hat, the guilt-free hot chocolate with marshmallows, the ginger-man baking and the feeling of excitement….love all of that!!!

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Where’s the next race?

Two half-marathons and a full one a year has been my diet for the past few years.

Royal-Parks-half-marathon-2012I ran the Royal Park half every year in the past 3 years and very much appreciated the friendly atmosphere, and the world class sight seeing. It’s a fantastic race to enjoy with friends, but it’s not one for a good time! This year was very warm and sunny, perfect London autumn day really

I didn’t make it into the NY or London ballot this year and was looking for a flat European marathon to sign in or spring 2013.

My friends recommended the Rome marathon in March 2014, even though I’m  afraid it cold be a bit hilly, or the Vienna marathon in April 2014; but I’m increasingly tempted by several less conventional races:

- the  Marathon du Medoc in France in September. It sounds like  a very fun run, lots of food, good wine and landscape

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- the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Spring in the French Alps: the other end of the  spectrum in term of sport performance; it seems to be an extremely demanding race, saying it’s hilly is an understatement and even the most seasoned  of my friends struggled, but the challenge is appealing….

otherwise it’s little sister in Aletsch claims to be the “most beautiful half-marathon”, running along the Aletsch glacier: tip-top !?!

- the Great Wall of China Marathon: I promised to do it before my 30th birthday. It is a commercial organisation but it does give a unique opportunity to run on parts of the Great Wall..up and down stairs which I would rather do before my knees start hurting!!

any recommendations?

a useful calendar:

http://www.marathonrunnersdiary.com/races/europe-marathons-list.php

Advanced Style

Fashion abroad….what I learnt from Italian grannies

Advanced Style

One stunning thing you will note when travelling across Italy is the fashion sense of elder ladies. Not only in the Verona Opera arena, but in the streets, while grocery shopping or taking the train. What makes Italian grans so classy?

The answer lies in good old rules: timeless basics in neutral colours, statement pieces, and the “dress-up” touch, in particular earrings. I like padded jackets, for it gives a great shape, and a patch of colour, to catch the eye. Some do not hesistate a second pulling a trendy accessory: my train neighbour was wearing studded loafer on the way from Pisa to Florence, and rocking it!!

We could all use a refresher.

Dacia Maraini, author, 77 years old, born in Florence
Dacia Maraini is one of the most famous Italian “feminist” author; she was born in Florence, in 1936; tweed jacket never gets wrong, timeless pearls and matching the ring with the eye shadow in her favourite colours….
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born earlier in the 20th century and spent most of her working life wearing a scrub; that didn’t deter her from wearing pearls and bangles, even approaching a very honourable 100+ years old.
The most famous Italian actress of incredible plastic still looks gorgeous at 79. Statement jacket to shape the silhouette, more pearls and colour blocks. Because she can.
The Missoni couple, or the “colour geniuses”, were probably the proof that zigzag patterns and colours can work, always, if matched with a lot of taste and tact, and they look so cute together! Rosita doesn’t hesitate either wearing bold accessories, security chains and multilayer necklaces, and at 82 she looks fantastic.

a very trendy blog on the topic : http://advancedstyle.blogspot.co.uk/

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Cheese refueling in Cantal

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

Charles de Gaulle

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France’s landscape is truly diverse. Not all glamorous but it sometimes feels nice as well to just immerse oneself into the deep countryside, enjoy hiking  volcanoes, canoeing in stunning rivers and …. eating a lot of cheese!

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Garda sunset

Perfect-issimo weekend on the Garda lake

Day dreaming on a Monday morning is nothing unusual but today particularly…just back from a perfect-issimo romantic weekend around the Garda lake.

It started with a perfect kite surf session on the Garda lake; the refreshing mountain water was very welcome as city temperatures reached 37+! check out the kite schools and offers there, beginners should hire the full equipment and take lessons but more advanced and independent surfers can just get a “lift” with one of the school to access the kite zone.

A friend also recommended staying at the Reamol Hotel, which I may try next time but it seems quite demanded in high season. As I always have a special endearment toward agriturismo places in Italy (basically B&B lofted in olive fields or vineyards), I opted for the

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Borgo di Calmasino held by a lovely Italian family, an oasis nested in the middle of vineyards.

The day carried on with a perfect sunset and aperitivo on the beach, and al fresco sea-food based dinner at Giuly, where they didn’t have oysters forks (yes i’m picky) but they did let us drive safely home and finish our lovely bottle of wine at home – thanks folks.

Verona was truly hot and sweaty but the picturesque city made up for it. As opposed to the tourist-packed Venice, the crowd is kind of flocked around Juliet’s breast under the balcony and therefore relatively easily avoided. We met up with local friends for a gelato on Piazza San Zeno, on of the city’s saint, facing the Basilicata, in which crypt, according to the legend,

L’ultimo bacio dato a Giulietta da Romeo by Francesco Hayez

Romeo and Juliet were married (!!). We stayed a throw-stone away, at charming (and AC’ed, thanks god!) B&B San Zenetto (they also take bookings on airbnb). So I slipped on my 2-inches red soles (try that in 37 degrees, balancing on cobblestones…) and off we headed to the open-air roman arena. Even after having done my due-diligence, read the history of the arena, reviews, the full libretto of the very bloody Il Trovatore (well done me as there’s no subtitles)… it IS a mind blowing, and mmm, yes : pitch-perfect evening…(did I say that already?)

Mi sono innamorata…

Mi sono innamorata...

Those dry biscuits are a torture: Cantuccini; they’re so delicious I could wake up at night to have one…Tuscans also have a version with chocolate chips to die for; then add Chianti Vin Santo (sweet desert wine) to the equation…mamma mia!

The photo was taken at the Ristorante il Chiasso on the Elba Island (Capoliveri)… definitely the best dinner / atmosphere of my last trip with  full on pasta al nero di sepia, pesce al forno and desert…yum

Se qualcuno ha la ricetta dei cantuccini al cioccolate…farmi sapere!

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Italian crush

Just booked two week in Tuscany in June! after a time-consuming benchmarking exercise comparing different language schools in Firenze, Milano, Roma etc etc, I finally opted for Viareggio. For the  past few years, I have enjoyed participating in the LSE summer language classes, it’s a nice way to meet people and to get a serious kick-start to a new language. But this year, after having followed the Italian Cultural Institute weekend courses, I felt like I deserved a treat: a new language yes, but while enjoying the  sun, beach-runs, & local wines….that’s about as good as language-acquisition gets! 

I have a love & hate relationship with languages, as a teenager,  the first holidays I worked the whole summer to finance was a full time Spanish immersion in Barcelona; when I arrived in London, I signed up straight away for speech improvement classes; and generally, the more I travel and work surrounded by people coming from various horizons, the more I want to learn to speak to them in their native speech. But speaking languages is at the same time extremely gratifying and unbearably frustrating. As fluent as one will become, it’s a never-ending process, what’s worse: one has to constantly fight against their own memory, which is – perversely – trying to off-load and forget as much as it can…

a friend recently told me his 10 years-retired mum, despite her career as an English teacher, couldn’t speak to his American wife, for she has forgotten most of it! Can’t blame the Brits for hating languages….

 

http://www.alfredocassano.com/buyitaliangestures.html
http://www.alfredocassano.com/buyitaliangestures.html

PS: for Italian-as-a-second-language speakers, any easy good audio-books to recommend? (pls not Harry Potter)

Central Park

Snowed under in NYC

magnoliacarrie The weekend schedule has been a bit reviewed due to the Nemo-snow storm; but it does make some room for a girly nail painting afternoon, sipping coffee and eating magnolia bakery peanut butter cookies indoor and lamenting on Carrie B’s conundrum (dateable men in NYC are either taken or gay for those who’re not familiar).

On Friday, no cab were running, except for the snow ploughs, shame as I really wanted to go to Brooklyn and check out on the surf bar…but it will be for next time!

spotted-pig-outside1 The alternative plan wasn’t actually bad at all as we sought comfort at the Spotted Pig, the most adorable snow shelter one can think of, and chatted around a cocktail and a burger. I know it’s not a hidden gem, it’s #24 on the zagat, but yet, I loved the gastro-pub ambiance, the snowed christmas trees outside and the decorative little pig-lamps!

Two other gems worth mentioning, still in the same area as we stayed in the West village most of the time:

please don’t look at the website of the Piccola cuccina restaurant before you go as it’s kindda ruining it all: it’s great authentic food (very rare in NYC), and above all the owner has a cracking Sicilian accent; don’t expect a stylish place, go with Italian friends who talk loudly, it’s more fun.

in a typical NY style, café Cluny is a nice little place, but French by name only. That being said the “French” toast with maple syrup makes a great brunch!

until next time,
XoXo

I love new york, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because i belong to it.- Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

 

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