No Reservations

Photograph by Felipe Ordonez – http://www.travel.nationalgeographic.com

Birdsong pierces the thin walls

of consciousness

as the sun warms the tent.

Last night I slept in an olive grove

on a hill above Florence,

today it’s on to Sarteano by way of Siena

and the fertile fields of Tuscany.

Willing slave to adventure,

I go where Mistress GPS commands.

I make a choice

random points on the map

…here

…there

but what awaits me in between?

That’s the delicious mystery.

I drink it all in and it becomes part of me.

Waves crashing in a hidden cove,

forum steps where people gather,

painted walls of sun-warmed stucco,

stone bodies frozen in ecstasy,

arches that draw the eye upward in wonder,

and ancient streets long covered in ash.

Fully awake,  joyfully alive

I celebrate the journey.

~Kim Montes

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Around the World #2: Italy – Focaccia and Pizza

sliced focaccia

Freshly baked focaccia

Focaccia is a popular type of bread in Italy and can be found in bakeries everywhere.  Although the appearance and ingredients may vary, focaccia is usually dotted with wells across the top and seasoned with olive oil, herbs and salt.  The same dough can be used to make pizza base.

Although pizza is found throughout Italy, each region has its own specialties.  Pizza Napoletana traditionally has tomatoes and mozzarella and Viennese adds sausage, oregano and oil.  Pizza Capricciosa is usually topped with tomato, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, ham and olives.  Pizza Bianca has no tomato sauce and could have pesto as a substitute.  Wherever they are made, the best are baked in a wood fired oven.

 Dough Recipe

 4 cups of flour (I usually mix 3 parts all-purpose or bread flour with 1 part whole wheat)

2 teaspoons dry instant yeast

1 cup hot water

1 cup cold milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sift flour into a large mixing bowl to incorporate air and add yeast to flour.  Mix with a spoon.

Blend water and milk in a measuring pitcher and test the temperature with your finger.  It should be warm to the touch but not too hot.  Add salt, sugar and oil.  Mix liquid into the flour and yeast and stir well.

I use a Kitchen Aid mixer to knead the dough – you can also knead by hand on a floured surface until elastic.  You can tell when the dough is ready by forming a ball and poking lightly with your finger.  The surface should be smooth and spring back lightly when touched.  After kneading, place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in size.

This is enough dough for a large pizza and a loaf of focaccia.

Tuscan herbs

Drogheria Alimentari Tuscan Herbs

Focaccia

Bread dough

Tuscan herbs (a blend of rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, bay and marjoram)

Olive oil

Kosher salt

After the dough has risen, take one half and form a ball with a smooth top.  Oil baking sheet and place dough on the sheet.  Poke deep holes around the dough with your finger or the end of a wooden spoon and grind Tuscan herb blend over the top.  Pour olive oil into the holes and top the loaf with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

Bake at 450° for 12 minutes, until golden brown.

focaccia baking

Focaccia baking in the oven

Pizza

Form a ball with the other half of dough and roll out dough thinly for crust and place on an oiled pizza pan.  Spread pizza sauce and top with cheese and your choice toppings (suggestions below).

Bake at 450° for 8-12 minutes (depending upon size).

Top with any combination of the following:

Tomato/pizza sauce

Basil pesto

Shredded Mozzarella or Italian Blend cheese

Fresh mozzarella, sliced

Chopped or thinly sliced onion

Chopped bell pepper

Sliced mushrooms

Zucchini, thinly sliced

Sliced tomatoes

Fresh oregano

Fresh basil

Pepperoni, ham, sausage (if desired)

Red pepper flakes

Parmesan

veggie pizza

Veggie Pizza

Extraordinary Sites

Our family has had four Eurocamping adventures over the years and people often ask which campgrounds were our favorites.  Sometimes a campground is interesting because of its proximity to a beautiful natural area or a great city.  But other times a campground can be memorable and extraordinary.

Here are a few of the most memorable.

Image

Camping Castel San Pietro above Verona

Camping Castel San Pietro (Verona, Italy)

Imagine camping in the ruins of the ancient city walls high above Verona.  What could be more exciting?  The tent sites are fairly small, but there is an extensive network of wooded terraces with enough space to set up a tent.  The views of the city are incredible and we enjoyed the covered picnic shelter for dining al fresco.

Camping in Budapest

Camping in the Buda Hills

Zugligeti Niche Camping (Budapest, Hungary)

Located in the hills above Budapest, this campground was once a historic tram terminal and the station building now houses an on-site restaurant offering authentic favorites such as goulash.  The owner is friendly and helpful and greets guests with a welcome drink and free breakfast.  Nestled in a wooded setting, the campground is fairly convenient for public transport to the city with a bus stop right outside the entrance.

Luxury camping in France

Luxury Camping near Chambord

Camping Chateau du Marais (near Chambord, France)

This campground is far from roughing it.  On the grounds of a chateau less than 1 km from magnificent Chateau du Chambord, this site is in a beautiful setting and features a water park, tennis courts and mini golf.

camping above Florence Italy

Camping Michelangelo above Florence

Camping Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Camping Michelangelo offers the best views of Florence and rates are a steal for staying in the city.  With a terrace restaurant, store and the city of Florence a short walk away, camping under the olive trees is convenient and memorable.

A Taste of Home and Distant Lands

One of the most enjoyable things about travel is the opportunity to try new foods in the places you visit.  Each flavor becomes a reminder of a particular moment or place.

I remember sitting at a long table with a new acquaintance and a room full of locals at Pizzeria Bella Napoli in Verona, Italy.  The decor was unremarkable, but happiness brightened the atmosphere.  With every bite of the pizza from the wood-fired stove, we ingested the joyous spirit of the family gatherings and graduation celebrations taking place in that back street eatery.  Our new friend was a colleague’s cousin whom we had met only that morning and she had graciously guided us around the city.  She was pleased to share secret spots such as a wishing well and this well-loved pizzeria.

Other meals have also imprinted upon my memory:  a breakfast of migas in Mexico; simple black beans with Salsa Lizano at Moon Shiva in the cloud forest of Monteverde; our wedding feast, surrounded by family and friends who had lovingly cooked their favorite dishes from countries around the world and brought them to be shared by all.

On our recent trip, I discovered Alsatian and Swabian regional specialties such as Tarte Flambee and Maultaschen Soup.  The Tarte Flambee was a simple French version of pizza with a paper-thin crust, a variety of toppings such as smoked salmon or fresh vegetables and sprinkling of fresh cheese.  Maultaschen is a Black Forest favorite similar to ravioli with a spinach and pork filling in beef and onion broth.  This soup will always remind me of a special day in Stuttgart, spent with a long-lost, newly re-found “cousin-in-law” and her family.  At the end of our trip we met once again and my new cousin presented me with a special gift:  a book of Swabian recipes to awaken memories of our first meeting and to celebrate our new friendship and the beautiful Schwarzwald that she calls home.

Salmon Tarte Flambee

Salmon Tarte Flambee

Schwäbische Maultaschen

Schwäbische Maultaschen – A Black Forest Tradition

At home,  family food traditions include Pizza Fridays, waffles on Saturday, Papa’s pancakes on Sunday.  My daughters look forward to dinners when they return home and enjoy inviting friends to share from time to time.  My regular shopping safaris take me to supermarkets in Chinatown, the family-owned Lebanese deli, the local farmer’s market and the large specialty grocer to hunt for new and interesting ingredients.  And sitting down at my table is a journey to distant places and a celebration of a small circle of family and friends at the same time.

As we traveled through Alsace, we stopped to visit a winemaker that is a fervent devotee of biodynamic viticulture.  Surprisingly, the showcase at the entrance highlighted each variety and vintage, proudly displayed with a glass container full of the rocky soil that the grapes had grown in.  Biodynamic growers use very specific and spiritual growing methods and interfere as little as possible with the natural fermentation process.   As a result, the wine becomes a unique expression of a particular place and growing season and biodynamic viticulture views the vineyard as an interconnected, living system.

Food and wine, family and friends – an interconnected, living system.  I like that.