Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A visit to a winery - Castello Verrazzano

While we were in Florence we wanted see some of Tuscan countryside and also to visit a winery, so we were delighted when our waiter one lunch time gave us a brochure for a winery and informed us that in fact we could be picked up and taken there. the winery was Castello Verrazzano.

It turned out this was the same family that the bridge in New York is named after, in fact they contended that it should not have been called the Hudson River it should have been called The Verrazzano river as apparently he was there first.

Castello Verrazzano
We phoned the number provided in the brochure to request the executive wine tour, which included picking us up, tour of the winery lunch with tasting and bringing us back to Florence. Unfortunately we wanted to go on Monday and they did not do the executive tour that day, but the woman we were talking to said that she came right by our apartment every day on her way to work and she would pick us up and take us there, and then drop us off at the bus to get back.  We jumped at the chance and for 28.00 euros each we would get a "light lunch" and the tour and tasting.

Gillian (an expat who had married an Italian) picked us up as arranged at 9:30 and drove us through the beautiful countryside to the winery.  She was very informative and told us a little about the winery and a lot about living in Italy.

The winery itself is beautiful, built on a hill top with several levels of buildings including the family home. We were a little early for the tour, so we hung out taking hundreds of pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Part of the gardens

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cantinetta dei Verrazzano

We were looking for lunch one day and the foccacia breads in the window  Cantinetta dei Verazzano drew us in.

We were greeted by an exuberant waiter who spoke English with a slight American accent. It turned out his father was American, but he was born and brought up in Italy.  He was a big sports fan and was cheering for the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, we tried not to hold this against him.

The inside of the restaurant
Our waiter said he would bring us a selection of different breads and sandwiches, so we put our trust in him and his choice of wine.

We received a platter of cut up sandwiches and foccacia breads my only complaint was that they were cut in to 3's and there was 4 of us so dividing was a little difficult.  I think we all agreed that our favourites were the zucchini blossom foccacia and the pea sandwich.

Zucchini blossom foccaccia
The wine he brought was also good, none of us noticed that the wine had the same name as the restaurant, in fact this restaurant belonged to Castillo Verrazzano a very old winery in Tuscany.  So when we asked if he could recommend a winery for us to visit, of course he could and he gave us a pamphlet for the winery, and I am very glad he did.

Again for dessert he said to trust him again and he would bring a selection of tarts, I must say he was a very good salesman.

One plate of tarts
The second plate of tarts
We disagreed on our favourites here, I was definatly loving the chocolate, but they were all fine.  As I am writing this I realize I was still tasting at this point as it was on the first day in Florence, and I could taste even the very delicately flavoured zucchini flower foccacia.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thngs to in Florence #2 - Sit in outdoor cafe in a Piazza

Sitting in outdoor cafes in Piazza's is one of my favourite things to do in Italy, in fact any where.  If you sit in one of the main squares you will pay a premium for the drink, but I think it is worth it, especially if this is the only time you will be there. The people watching and soaking up the atmosphere is worth the little extra you may pay.  In Paris have a coffee on the Champs Elysee, it will probably be one of the most expensive coffees of your life, but you will always remember it.

In Florence we decided to have a bottle of Prosecco in Piazza della Signoria over looking the Pellazzo Vecchio.

It was a beautiful sunny warm lunch time and though none of us was very hungry we decided to look at the menu for something to eat to go with our Prosseco.  Then prices were indeed horribly expensive, but it was just so darn pleasant we decided to order any way.  While we were waiting for our food, we received two plates of appetizers and two bowls of nuts and snacks for free!

One of the platters of appetizers

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Things to do in Florence #1 - Walk up to Piazza Michelangelo

One of the things that was on our agenda to do in Florence was get up to Piazza Michelangelo to see the view looking over the city and to visit a Church. Our starting point was The Pitti Palace which is situated just over the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river Arno.

Ponte Vecchio

There is a very complicated ticketing system at the Pitti Palace there are several things to see and you have to be careful to get the right ticket.  We got the one for the costume gallery and to both Boboli and the Bardini Gardens, so that we could walk through the gardens up to our destination.

Pitti Palace
The costume gallery was wonderful, clothes through the ages is one of my old loves, as a child I used to study books of clothes through the centuries and my favourite museum was the Victoria and Albert which has an amazing collection.  This was a very good collection, and they were displayed in style rather than age.  For instance there were dresses from the 20's displayed with a dress from the 60's that had a similar design.  We all enjoyed this (but no pictures allowed) and then we went out to the gardens.

They were formal Italian gardens not a lot of flowers, but full of statues and vistas.  We walked up the gardens ably guided by Connie and her guide book as to how to get to the Piazza Michelangelo.  It was quite warm and we took our time walking up.

Looking back at the Palace
At the top of the gardens you go left out down a winding street to the Bardini gardens.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Perseus Restaurant Florence

 We had asked the owner of the apartment we were staying for some recommendations for local restaurants, we also did research, Connie the old fashioned way in her guide books and Nancy and I on the Ipads and everyone pointed to Perseus Restaurantl .As it was very close to were we were staying we walked by one afternoon to check it out.  At the entrance we were greeted by a friendly waiter and a large glassed in cool room with enormous chunks of tbone steak hanging in it.

Steak in the front entrance
This is not a place for vegetarians, and as it turned out not for people with small appetites. We made a reservation for later that evening.

At 8:00 the place was busy but not full and most of the diners appeared to be locals.  Nancy and I decided we would share one of the steaks which it declared on the menu in English and Italian only came rare, and our waiter reiterated this.  Apparently the only way to eat the Florentine speciality Bistecca alla Fiorentina was rare, so rare it would be.  The waiter then said that he would send us an assortment of appetizers, he asked if we ate like Italians, I think I can say that the answer to that should have been no.

The first thing that arrived was a dish of beans with pork, which I loved (though still not tasting anything really) then a platter of assorted bruschetta.

Assorted Bruschetta
There was a liver pate which even though I had this horrible cold that did not allow me to smell or taste I could taste the very strong liver taste.  OK for me as I love liver not so good for some of my fellow diners. there was also one with lardo and anchovies on it. (more about lardo another day) as well as the traditional tomato and basil bruschetta.

We also received this beautiful large crispy flat bread, I am not sure what it was or whether we paid for it , but it had a wonderful texture. (it was all about texture at this point)

Then on to the main event, and the steak is quite an event, it comes to the table whole and then is cut apart by the waiter, as even Italians do not eat this alone. We told our waiter that we wanted to photograph it and he was very obliging.

Steak for two

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cooking in Florence - antipasto pizza artichokes

One of the main reasons for wanting an apartment in Florence was so that I could cook with all those wonderful Italian ingredients.  As it turned out there were many reasons having an apartment it was better than a hotel, and I got a stinking cold as I arrived which meant I could not taste or smell almost the entire time.  This took some of the pleasure out of cooking (and eating too I am afraid).  Never the less cook we would.

There was a supermarket just around the corner from our apartment and hunting and gathering there was a treat.

Wonderful looking artichokes in the market
The first day that we went I saw these artichokes and I had to cook them.  I cooked them my favourite way  served in a light lemony vinaigrette.

Artichoke hearts
There was of course an abundance of antipasto fixings, hams, salamis and cheeses.  So it was easy to put out platters of these and nibble as we had our pre dinner prosseco.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Apartment in Firenza (Florence)

There were four of us going to Florence for 5 days and we decided to rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel, like we did in San Juan.  We found the apartment on tripadvisor called Casa Iris It had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.

We were on the top floor of this building
It was centrally located with in walking distance of all the sites, but a little removed so that the local restaurants were mostly catering to locals.  Having a large living room to sit in the evening enjoying a glass of wine or emailing home, was much preferable to a hotel bed room.

The living room

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Things to do in London #4 -The National Gallery & Lunch at Covent Garden

The National Gallery is one of the Treasures of London, they have an extensive collection of art from all time periods and all over the world. It is situated on one side of Trafalgar Square with the Canada House to it's left and St Martins in Fields to its right as you stand looking at Nelsons Column.

View from the National gallery
I have been there many times and Nancy had been there previously as well, but there is always more to see and some favourites to re visit.  The audio guide has been voted as the best in the world and it is wonderful, and as the gallery is free you do not resent paying for it.  This time though we only had an hour or so, so we just hit a few of the high lites before walking 10 minutes over to Covent Garden for lunch.

Covent Garden is the historical site of the fruit and Vegetable market for London. In 1973 it was moved to a less congested area in London and the market as well as the grand open space around it was converted to a shopping and eating mecca popular with both tourists as well as Londoners.

Inside the Market
Though very tempted by the large Paella stall, due to lack of seating we decided to opt for The Punch and Judy pub.

Large vats of Paella

Monday, June 20, 2011

Things to do in London #3 - Boat trip to Kew Gardens

We decided that we wanted to go on a boat trip along the Thames as this was something, although I had grown up in London, I had never done.  Our first idea was to to go to Hampton Court, but due to lack of research and Planning we were too late for the only boat of the day.  So we decided on Kew Gardens as the boat was leaving in 1/2 hour and anyway Kew would be a nice respite from Urban London.

Nancy waiting for the boat to start
The boat left from just below Westminster bridge opposite the London Eye, they seemed to be about every 2 hours, though the time varied based on the tides.  I did not realize how tidal the Thames is in London, but the time we were going the tide was very low and many boats were high and dry.

The first part of the trip takes you past many London land marks ably pointed out by our skipper, but further down the river you come across more and more large modern developments taking advantage of the river view.

Then past those we went along the route of the annual Oxford and Cambridge rowing race and in to a more rural landscape. There were some beautiful old houses with their gardens stretching down to the water as well as quite a few house boats.

The trip was about 2 hours and a little chilly in the breeze so we were glad to land at Kew and solid ground.  The weather was sunny with white fluffy cloud, lovely weather for a walk around the Gardens. The gardens are about a 10 minute walk from the boat and the route is well sign posted.

Kew gardens is famous for its glass houses and and Arboretum.  Sadly in October 1987 there was a hurricane that destroyed about a third of the mature trees at Kew, but as we wandered around the gardens there many trees that have been planted in the last 24 years that are filling the gaps.

The Palm house built in 1844

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Things to do in London #2 -Marks and Spencers and Italian lunch

One of the Most important things to do in London is to go to the Marble Arch Marks and Spencers to pick up underwear. They make Bras and underwear (knickers) in every shape and size, I along with Connie have an unusual bras size which in Canada is very hard to find, and often in only limited styles.  But here there are endless choices.

I did not take any pictures of the underwear department of Marks and Spencers, but it is vast and a joy to behold.  There are many other branches, but the Marble Arch store is the flagship and the largest. It is situated at the Marble Arch end of Oxford street close to the Marble Arch tube station and on many bus routes including the 159.

After an exhausting morning of shopping, Nancy and I were looking for lunch and wandered a little down Oxford Street when we came upon Bella Italia on Duke street about half a block down from Oxford street

It was calling to us as we off to Italy in a couple of days and it looked good.  On further research I have found out that in fact it is one of a chain and they have restaurants all over England.  We ordered a Pizza and salad to share.

Pizza peperoni piquant

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things to do in London #1 - Walk along the Thames

Though London is a very old city, things change, and some of them for the better.  the walk along the South Bank is definitely one of the things that have changed for the better in London. This is did not exist when I was a child and the views of London that can be had from this walk are priceless. They are in the process of completing a walking path along the Thames from the source to the estuary, But the part in downtown makes a wonderful way to spend half a day.

Houses of Parliament from the bottom of the London eye
The best place to start is at Waterloo Bridge which is very close to the London Eye across from  the Houses of Parliament. Walk along the South Bank past all the human statues and past the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre. Currently they have an exhibition celebrating the Festival of Britain which was in 1951 (Festival hall was named after it).  They are celebrating Summer in England and we walked past a row of bathing huts which used be on the all the beaches here in England.

Beach huts
We stopped along the way for a glass of prosecco to celebrate our safe arrival in London and the good weather we were enjoying.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Daring cooks challenge - Healthy potato salad

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

I love potatoes cooked in any way but potato salad really is one of my favourite dishes so this was a easy challenge, the only thing that made it a bit harder was trying to make it healthy, obviously that cuts out the traditional potato salad heavy with mayonnaise North American style.

One of my go to potato salads is one based on a recipe from John hadmuscin and is a pesto potato salad. In the original recipe he adds peas and yellow bell pepper, and though those both go well, I usualy make it with just potatoes and green oinion.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Florence update

Hell is being in florence Italy with a cold in your nose unable to taste anything.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Loving Florence

Have arrived in Florence but only an iPad no computer so can not blog. back to London an good internet on Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heading to Florence

We are heading to Florence tomorrow, hope the Internet is better I have so much to share

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lovely in London

Arrived safely in London with skirt and dignity in tact. Currently very flaky Internet.