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36 hours in San Francisco

For a belated birthday Merrill and Marisa took me to San Francisco for one night. It had been a long time since I was there to just wander the streets, stop in small shops and enjoy great food.

We checked into the Fairmont Hotel, dropped our bags and started walking. We walked down to Gump’s for old time sake and bought a few special gifts for those April birthdays. Then since it was a perfect 75 degrees we headed to The Ferry Building. The shops in the Ferry Building are all unique, along with specialized food vendors, there is something for everyone. Lunch at THE SLANTED DOOR at the far end of the ferry building is always a treat. Everything we ordered was delivered hot and perfect to share, try the green papaya salad and crispy imperial rolls.

After a big lunch we headed out to walk along the Embarcadero to the Fishermans Wharf and down Pier 39, a lot of tourist and trinkets and trash. After a quick walk along the pier we headed out toward China Town. When we reached China town decided it was time for a little shopping so we called an Uber and went to Fillmore street. The real shopping started we went in and out of small interesting shops. Could not help myself, the shopping for grandchildren was contagious as we explored one store after the other.

We walked back to the hotel to complete our 20,000+ steps for the day, 8.9 miles. Quick change of clothes and a cab to dinner at “OCTAVIA”, 1701 Octavia street. This special neighborhood restaurant is small, but offers a nice selection of small plates to share. A jewel and worth making reservations if you have an extra evening.

My friend Joanne Weir had recommended Octavia and so when she suggested our breakfast should be at TARTINE, 595 Alabama, I knew we were headed for another great meal.

This was the amazing breakfast egg sandwich I had on a soft bun. We watched the bakers taking loaves of fresh bread from the massive ovens while we ate breakfast, it made me wish I could take some home.

Since we only had an afternoon left to explore before we had to catch a flight home we took off walking to “Hayes Valley”. Fun stores, interesting restaurants and people watching. Found a great store called “Outdoor Voices” nice workout things in soft colors.

Lunch was back in the Financial district, BARBACCO”, 220 California Street. They have lovely salads and simple Italian fare, the room is sleek with a lot of stainless and glass.

Time to hike up the hill to the hotel and back to the airport for our flight home. Sometimes the best way to enjoy a city is limit yourself to 2 days and just start walking.

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Curry seafood salad

This salad was a good way to use al the crab we use to catch while boating with friends in the water around the north west.

3/4 cup of fresh cooked crab meat

3/4 cup of shrimp.  I wi

 

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A few days in Italy spending time with friends

Carl and I flew into Milan and then took the speed train to Florence. Just a note, if you want to do this plan ahead. You will need to get to the main train station in downtown Milan to catch the train. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours. We took the shuttle bus for $8 each instead of 120 euro taxi. The bus is fast and very clean.

We arrived in Florence, walked a couple of blocks and picked up our rental car. Our friends live close to the beautiful resort, Costello di Casole in the Siena region about 90 minute drive from Florence. Since we were staying with friends our days were planned around where our next lunch was. We fixed dinner at home and talked about what the next day would be. 

On the first afternoon we drove to the village of Volterra for a great lunch at Borge Pignano, villapigano@ borgopigano.com, if you are any where close this hotel and restaurant is a must. The grounds/ gardens and amazing pool carved into the rock is a perfect hideaway.  Manager Angelo Pais is there to take care of every detail and the chef created an amazing lunch.

The next day we drove to Siena, wandered through the streets and after a visit to the Duomo, a must if you are in town. Then we had lunch at a charming 75 year old restaurant “Osterisa Le Logge, Via del Porrione 33” just off the main square.  The food was the old style of local dishes, all perfectly prepared and served. 

After these great 3 hour lunches our simple low key dinners on the outside deck watching the sunsets was the perfect way to end the day. Ready for the next day adventure to explore a new village and share another lovely lunch. We drove to the village of “Colle de Val d’ Elsa. Our lunch at IL Frantoio was clean simple Italian fare. This is the village that you will find the famous Lotti terra-cotta cookware lottiterracotte1926@gmail.com. This village is also the place you will find the famous stared restaurant a”Adalfo”. 

The last night we had dinner in Castillo di Casole, they have a menu with many American favorites in the bar with an Italian flair. The next morning we headed north, the area of Parma is where we have long time friends that welcomed us for a short 3 days of food, conversation and exploring new restaurants in the region. After dinner at home and a good nights sleep we headed to the town of Cremona. We visited the Museum of Violins, lunch at a The Tavern La Botte just down the street was a nice local restaurant with lovely home made pasta and soup. After wandering through the town of Fidenza where our friends live and a couple hours of rest we drove to the town of Busseto to a great fish restaurant “L’ Araba Fenice”. If you are in the area this is an excellent choice for dinner, no fancy decor but excellent food. 

A great experience the next day was the opportunity to visit a “Labyrinth  in the village of Fontanellato. This experience was something we don’t get to try figuring out how to navigate the hidden paths,in the U.S. something like this is known to most of us as a maze. Libirinto@francomariaricci.com, is created as a huge maze of paths winding through tall stands of bamboo. When you make your way to the end, if you get lost the have a help number posted in several places, you can enter the museum of the art collected owned and created by Franco Rocci.  You can enjoy lunch at the Labyrinth, but we suggest going to La Forcheta Ala in Fontanellato. Chef owner Chiuso Matedi is there to greet you and promises to bring you the best frito misto and Pizza in Italy. With great memories and a fond farewell to our week in Italy we headed back to the airport in Milan.

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First trip to Berlin and know we will return.

On September 12th we arrived for our first time in Berlin and all our expectations we met. We checked  into Hotel de Rome on the square looking out over the memorial created when thousands of books were burned. Now you can look down through a small glass window to a room filled with white empty book shelves to commemorate the event. The hotel is a great location for walking through what was East Berlin. The breakfast was beautifully presented each morning and the service was top notch.

The first day we wandered the area and got our barring. We had an early lunch at “Alpenstuech” known for their SCHNITZEL. The portions are very large so perfect to share. It was a short cab ride but worth the trip. Make reservations at info@alpnstueck.de. 

The next morning our guide Caroline, stummeline@web,de,  met us at the hotel for a walking tour. We headed to the area know as Museum Island and since it was a light morning rain it was a good time to see the museums, starting with the German history museum, the Pergamon museum, and a quick tour of the Egyptian museum. Then we started walking to understand the areas in the East and how the people lived during and after the war when the wall was built. We went toone of the many inside courtyards that have now tuned into shops and restaurants. Carl wears bow ties and we went to the famous shop called “Auebach” galleria and manufacturer, a dream shop for ties and crazy socks.

Lunch was at the KAUTINE a small lunch spot on the grounds of the Arcitecture school,  Joachimstrabe, excellent soup and small salads.  From there we wandered through the amazing Berlin Cathedral before returning to the hotel, my app said we covered 4.7 miles.. That night we had a dinner to remember at an amazing restaurant,  PAULY SAAL. +49 30 3300 6070. 

Pictured above a couple of the dishes served, it is a prix fix menu, but the choices are many and not that large. The pea shells were a gift from the kitchen filled with small sweetbreads next to a mini croutons.  Be sure to make reservations and enjoy every bite.

The next day Caroline organized a car and driver so we could get a better idea of the difference of the East and West areas of Berlin. We cruised past and around the Bromdenburg Gate, Check Point Charlie and the Jewish Holocaust Memorial which is a full block of granite blocks etched with names of those who lost their lives. There is a section of the wall still standing along the river so you can walk along and feel how it must have been for the people of Berlin. There is so much history you really need more than just a couple of days.

Standing in front of the piece of the wall still topped with barb wire, and the new apartment building behind.

Our last night in town and we had dinner at Le Petit Royal, owned by the same guy as Pauly Saal. Very nice simple menu, casual dining at its best. We really wanted to go to Bandol sur Mer, but not enough nights, next time. 

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Pea, mint and spring onion soup

We had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week cruising along a canal in France. The chef on our boat prepared this wonderful fresh peas soup, she was kind enough to share it with me. Now that I would like  to share it with all of you.

Serves 8 for first course

 2 tablespoons of  butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 bunch, about 8, spring onions or green onions plus a few extra for serving

2 white potatoes, cut into small dice

2 one pound packages frozen petite peas, 32 ounces, if you use fresh peas from the market they may need a longer cooking time since the starch is often much higher in fresh peas. I say use the frozen peas then you k ow the end result will be perfect. 

1 cup fresh mint chopped 

8 1/2 cups of vegetable stock

Heat olive oil and butter when melted add potatoes and chopped onions. Saute without browning, about 5 minutes. Stir in stock and simmer about 10 minutes until potato is tender. 

Stir in peas, bring back to a boil and cook 3 minutes until just done. Remove pan from heat add mint leaves. Allow to cool slightly then purée in blender or food processor. Serve warm with a Parmesan crisp along side and a few finely minced mint leaves on top along with a few chopped chives or fine minced greens from onions.

PARMESAN  CRISPS are quick and easy to make or you can buy them at a specialty grocer. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment or use a Silpat 

Grate 1 cup of Parmesan cheese,  divide the cheese into 8 long strips on prepared baking sheet. Place under broiler or in oven at 400 degrees for 1 minute or until cheese is melted and lightly golden. Lift from baking sheet while still warm and flexible, allow to cool and serve with soup. 

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Barge trip in France with Friends

Carl and I have shared barge trips with friends before, but each trip brings new discovery. We gathered 10 friends months in advance to share a week long trip on the FRENCH COUNTRY WATERWAYS barge Nenuphar. We have cruised with other companies before, but nothing comes close to the experience offered by this company. 

A little about our boat:    We had 6 large king size bedded rooms ensuite. The barge is very spacious with a nice outside deck where you will find your 12 lovely bikes stored, ready for your morning ride. The 6 crew members ar always ready to make sure your every wish is taken care of. Our amazing chef, Kim, prepared 3 wonderful meals using all the fresh ingredients purchased each day in the local villages. 

We were met at a wonderful hotel in Paris, Hotel Regina, 2, place des Pyrqmides, across from the Louvre. The barge company offered us a special rate so it made the pick up very easy.  On Sunday early afternoon we were greeted by our guide and driver for the week, Charlie, with a large bus ready for the trip to our barge moored in the village of TANLAY.  We settled in, had a welcome dinner and got the details of our week ahead. We were cruising the Canal de Bourgogne, while the boat heads to the first in a series of 36 locks we got on our helmets and headed out along the path on our bikes. After lunch while the barge makes its way through the locks Charlie takes us to visit a great winery and we have our first introduction to Chablis wine. The wine maker explains the difference between Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis, offering tastings of both. Later over dinner we will share our first of many bottles of French Chablis and other regional wines. While we were learning about the wine and how the vineyards differ the barge was on its journey to the village of LEZINNES where we would moor for the evening. 

The next morning some of us were up early for a hot air balloon ride across the fields while the sun was rising. The lovely quiet ride ended after about and hour we had a smooth landing, after a champagne toast we were back at the barge in time for breakfast.  Charlie was ready to take us to the village of Ancy-le Franc, we had time to wander this old village and learn about its history and visit the church that is the center of  every town.  Of course we were back at the barge in time for another great lunch and a bike ride to the medieval capital of lower Burgundy, AUXERRE. 

It was now our third day on the barge and we are settled into the leisurely pace of canal living. Some of us walk from one of the lock houses to the next waiting for the barge to pick us up others take off on their morning bike ride to explore small villages along the way.  Then before lunch Charlie takes us on a walking tour to explore the village of NOYERS looking in the shops for our next treasure or sharing a cup of coffee in a local shop.  Later in the afternoon some of us go to CHATEAU OF ANCY-Le-FRANC, an amazing chateau owned by an American who is in the process of rebuilding the many gardens and restoring the chateau.  The boat will spend the night in the village of RAVIERES.

The next morning we went to visit an 18th century forge, FORGES de BUFFON. This area was a large producer of steel during the 18 hundreds because of the location next to 2 rivers and the canal there was water for power and easy access to shipping to Paris and other parts of France. The barge continued through the locks docking at MONTBARD for the evening. We had the opportunity to enjoy dinner at the famous 2 star restaurant, LE RELAIS BERNARD LOISEAU in Saulieu. This lovely hotel and restaurant was about 45 minutes from MONTBARD, but Charlie was a great driver and after 4 hours of eating and drinking good wine we arrived back safe at the barge. 

  • Friday morning we were up early to go to the farmers market in Montbard to buy a few special things we wanted to have chef Kim prepare. We bought the sweet Tuscan melons that we never have in Seattle and huge white asparagus which Kim did a great job serving for lunch. We got on our bikes to make up for all the local pastry, cheeses and wines we had been eating, time to count steps. We met the barge several locks later and cruised to VANAREY-Les-LAUMES.  After our amazing lunch and the required afternoon cheese course Charlie took us to visit ABBAYE de FONTENAY.  That evening was a lovely captains dinner since we would all be going our separate ways in the morning. 

The story would not be complete with out mentioning that each day after lunch we were served 3 different cheeses and the same following our amazing 3 course dinner with simple green salad. The introduction to all these cheeses was a wonderful education,  some that we knew and other that we had never tried, but look forward to finding at a local cheese shop later. I have to add a couple of my favorite cheeses were Fleur de Marquis, Brillat Savarin and a lovely Bleu de Causse, but with 36 cheeses served in a week it was hard to remember the wonderful flavors of each. 

We can not say enough good about a week spent in slow motion cruising along the French Country side. French Country Waterway has several beautiful barges to choose from, whether you want to gather several couple or just join others go to their web site or call Effie at 1-800-222-1236 and they will send you a brochure.

Thank you to the great staff and all our friends for sharing a very special week. Renee and Carl

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Italy a visit in Chianti/Tuscany

In April 3 girl friends and I went to Italy for 10 days of drinking wonderful wines, sharing wonderful local cuisine and shopping.

We flew into Rome and took a train to Florence where we spent our first night.  (If you have business class seats on the train you are welcome to use the private lounge in the station while you wait for your train to depart.) We stayed at the Hotel de La Villa on Via de Tornabuoni. The hotel staff was very helpful, the rooms are not large, but the location was good. We wandered the streets watching the crowds and buying a few simple things at the famous Santa Maria Novella only a couple of blocks from the hotel. We joined friends for a perfect dinner at FUOR d’ ACQUA, on Via Piscana, well know for the freshest fish in town. Our waiter was willing to help us share several dishes starting with a large antipasti platter then fresh pasta and fish that had just come to the restaurant that morning. 

The next day  we were up early and headed to Angela Caputi across the river on Via S. Spirits 58. Angela Caputi has wonderful fun jewelry that you will want to buy. She makes everything in house so they can help you with whatever strikes your fancy, must do. We also stopped by an amazing fabric store VALLI on Via Della Vigna Nouva, if you sew or want to buy fabric to take home this is a must.

We rented a car and ventured out to the country side. We were staying in a lovely castle, Castello Della Paneretta in Barberino Val d’ Elsa. Make sure you request a GPS in your rental car to find your way around the area,  finding the small wineries makes you feel  like you are on a scavenger hunt.  After getting settled in this lovely estate we ventured out to the CoOp to buy snacks and something for breakfast.  It was April and we had planned on warmer weather, so just be prepared since the wineries are often cold and the wind catches you off guard.  Once again we were in the car looking for our restaurant for dinner. We ate at ‘LA TOPPA” in the village of San Donato about a 30 minute drive to the area of Poggio. The restaurant is local owned with the mother making the pasta by hand, we knew we were in Italy.

The next morning we toured Cantine Bellini/llPazzo, this winery is closer to Florence, so we had quite a drive. We were in the Rufina area and this winery makes Chianti,  Chianti Classico,  and  nice vin Santo wines. They gave us a wonderful introduction to the difference between the two Chianti wines and the grapes grown to produce their products. Many of the wineries in this area also produce wonderful olive oil. You will taste great  differences in the oils depending on the soil the trees grow in and how the oil is processed. Some are very mild while others have a wonderful pepper finish.  After a special lunch prepared by Maurizio and his family served with their wines, we headed to an area across the valley called Pontassieve. 

The winery Castello del Trebbio, is also family owned and Alberto welcomed us even though we were late. Castello also produces a Chianti and Chianti Classico wine using only the grapes they grow. Their Lastricato, reserve Chianti and a lovely white Pazzesco Chianti gold were a special treat. 

After spending the day tasting wonderful Chianti wines we rushed back to our home base and took a cooking class at Paneretta Agriturismo about 100 meters from our home base. Chef Massimo  showed us how to make very traditional bread soup with tomatoes, vegetable stock,  and a touch of basil to finish, and also simple stew using beef cut into cubes and boiled vigorously for almost 2 hrs.  Then we all got our hands into the dough to make a batch of biscotti with whole almonds and chocolate chips. Our dinner wines came from Castello Della Paneretta where we were staying.  A lovely woman, Angelica, from Florence was there to help translate for us. Angelica Turi gives walking tours and guides guests troughout the region, http://www.itialianfootprints.com or angelicaturi@yahoo.it

The next morning we were guests at Querceto di Castellina a lovely property just out side the village of Castellina. Jacobo along with his family have created a beautiful winery with a nice kitchen for cooking classes.  They also offer rooms and apartments for rent.  Info@ Querceto.com, contact Jacobo Di Battista. Many of their wines are not sold in the U.S. so we took advantage of the opportunity to ship wine and olive oil home, I loved the SEI and FURTIVO wines.  

We headed back to Castello Della Paneretta for a tour of the castle built in 1596 with the family still living in the house.  After a tour of the house and wine cellars we were served beautiful lunch and continued a long conversation about the use of the red varital Sangiovese grape. Their Quattrocentenario  reserva 2008 wine (100% Sangiovese) was the highlight of the trip.  We all shipped home several cases.  After a rest and nap, that evening we had a special dinner at OSTERIA 1126.  The road to the restaurant will make you wonder if you will every find the front door, and it is well worth the drive to Cinciano, Poggibonsi. We shared lovely beef carpaccio shaved paper thin, a starter of lentils with a soft mild goat cheese, and several main courses.  have They have an extensive wine list, with many of the wines of the region. Don’t miss the soft chocolate molten cake and ice cream.

The next day we headed back to our last wine tasting at Fattoria La Castellina, this wine store/ cellar are located together in the village of Castellina making easy to shop after tasting their lovely wines. One very interesting thing we saw at many of the wineries is the use of a glass vessel, a COLMATORE,  placed on the top of the barrels  to allow the wine to expand as it forments  during the first months in the barrels.  Fattoria also own and rent a large house, LA FERROZZOLA Agriturismo Hotel, Alberto Palazzo Squarcialupi.   After tasting wine at 10 am, we ventured over to visit a jewelry store, TOSCANACCIO,  Via Ferruccio 44, owned by Marco and hosted by his  sweet attention seeking dog, ToTo,    Several of the girls bought beautiful pieces that Marco created from stones he had found in his travels around the world – worth a visit if you are near Castellina.

  • We then drove about an hour and half to Cortona where we stayed at a friends house, Casa Spare, high on the hill with an amazing view. We had a simple lunch at Tuscher in the village – lovely bruschetta, one with chicken liver and another with perfect chopped tomato and plenty of local olive oil. Walking and shopping in Cortona is fun because very few cars are allowed and the many local shops offer nice products from the region.  We made an appointment with Marco at his wine shop, MOLESINI-MARKET, wineshop@molesini-market.com, for a tasting the next day at noon.

We ate a simple dinner in a small slow food restaurant, Taverna Pan e Vino, offering interesting pasta cooked to perfection.  I had fresh young local goat cooked perfectly.

The next morning we went into the center of town to their Saturday market and came away with everything from dried  mushrooms to hand decorated jeans jackets.  Now it was noon and time for an amazing introduction to wines we do not often see in the U.S..  Marco and his brother served a variety of regional  white wines and thouroughly explained their differences.   I fell in love with Monteverro 2012 Chardonnay and 2012 Paleo Le Macchiole red. We were able to ship cases of our favorites back to Seattle, most of which are not readily  available in the states. Marco is a perfect contact for those wines you cannot find. Just  remember Molesini.  We had dinner in the square at “Osteria del Teatro”  and walked back down the hill to where we had parked the car.

The next day we drove back to Florence to drop the car and take the fast train back to Rome. It was about a 2 hour drive and we could have just as easily driven to Rome, but did not realize that until we were already committed to returning the car in Florence.  We arrived in Rome, checked into INN AT SPANISH STEPS, Via Dei Condotti 85. We booked with Platinum AMEX and were given a nice upgrade. The hotel is one block off the Spanish steps – a good location.  The rooms occupy several buildings so our room was in a separate building 2 blocks away from our friends.  Both of the hotel buildings are lovely, offering a roof top garden to have breakfast or a late afternoon cocktail. 

We wandered the narrow streets shopping and enjoying all the hustle and bustle of this area. We had all spent time in Rome and had visited all the major sites so this time we just shopped and ate lovely meals. Dinner was at “ANTICO ARCO”, http://www.anticoarco.it, a little bit out of the way, but a great meal in a charming old house. We shared a pasta of pecorino cheese and black truffles, beautiful shaved asparagus salad and sea bass. Nice find.

Our last day in Rome was a holiday so the city was busy. We wandered the streets again and bought a few special things to add to our spring wardrobe back home.  Then we  had a perfect lunch at The De Russi Hotel in the garden. They offered a lunch buffet that was such a treat. One of the vegetables that we had seen in the market and on other dishes is AGRETTI, or Salsola Soda, it looks like sautéed chives but has a very mild taste.  Look for it. Reserve in the Du Rossi garden for lunch or dinner and you will have a meal to remember.  We walked back through the Piazza del Popolo up to the Borgese park area and looked out over Rome. 

We had a late dinner a couple of blocks from the hotel at Dilla, a simple local fun place.  We had a very nice bottle of white,  Le Vigne di Zamo 2012 that went well with the asparagus risotto and eggplant parmigiana. Next morning we headed home saying good bye to Rome until our next visit. While in the cab heading to the airport we realized only two of the girls got up early and headed to the Vatican for an early morning tour. It was really the only tourist attraction visited during the whole trip. It was about wine, food and friendship, a little shopping too.

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