Saturday, January 9, 2010

Catching Up - Venice Day 1: November 27, 2009


We arrived in Venice the night of the 27th and were quite hungry after our long train ride. However, our first order of business was to find our hotel and drop off our luggage. Thankfully, our hotel was especially easy to find since it was located directly across the grand canal from the train station and there was a bridge very nearby.

After our experience with the first hotel in Rome, we were a bit nervous about our Venice hotel which Woodley had also found online. However, we were pleasantly surprised in every way possible! The room was lovely, the staff was very helpful, the breakfast was decent and it didn't smell a bit! Here are some photos of our room:

The view from the door.

The desk.

The bed.

The restroom.

After admiring the room and unpacking a bit, we headed out to find dinner and to see Venice by dark. We ended up eating at a restaurant recommended by the hotel. It wasn't our favorite place, due to the loud music, but the seafood risotto was very good and we were thankful to finally be fed.

After dinner, we continued our walk towards St. Marco's Square which Woodley was eager to locate and show me. The signs around Venice were sometimes quite odd (check out the signs on the left and right):

Before we left Venice we even saw t-shirts for sale with two signs on top of each other giving directions to the same place but directing you in opposite ways so I suppose the locals find it amusing as well.
One of my favorite things about waking around Venice was the beautiful shop windows which often had been simply stuffed full of glittering merchandise. It was often quite impressive how much could be fit into one shop window.

After many twists and turns through all sorts of narrow windy streets and alleys we finally made it to St. Marco's Square. Since it was late, there wasn't too much going on and it felt quite peaceful.

On the way back to our hotel we went by a little restaurant which opened out onto one of the canals and looked very romantic.

After my first walk around Venice I decided that I liked it quite a bit and I was excited to discover more in the days to come! I especially enjoyed the absence of motor vehicles and exhaust!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Catching Up - Tuscany Day 4: November 27, 2009

Our last morning in Tuscany dawned damp and foggy. It was hard to believe that the evening before we could see for miles along the crests of the hills below us. Now it was hard even to see the first row of trees below the house. The view out of our bedroom window was still gorgeous though!

After we packed up our suitcases, I ran around the house one last time to capture a few more photos. The rustic house looked even more cozy against the foggy backdrop.

All too soon it was time to pack into the car and head to the train station in Arezzo. We said a sad goodbye to the house and the beautiful scenery and hopped in the car.

The ride down the dirt road into town was just as bumpy as usual but we held on tight and were quite thankful that this would be our last big shake for the trip.

Woodley's parents had to be at a meeting in Rome in the afternoon so they dropped us off at the train station about an hour and a half before our train was to leave. We found our tickets, took a glance around the station, and found an empty bench on which to wait. The bench was located in the main station but was next to an open door so it was quite cold. We were a little hungry but since we didn't see any restaurants, we made do with cookies from the magazine salesman.

When our train's platform was finally announced, I decided it was time to find the ladies room before heading out to the platform to board our train. On my way, I was shocked to see a door to what looked like a cafe with a variety of food options and plenty of tables around the corner and just a few feet from the station door we had been sitting near. Sadly it was now too late to enjoy the warm building and food options and we were frustrated that we hadn't done more investigating before we settled ourselves down on our bench. We were even sadder about our missed opportunity when we realized that there was no dining car on our train. In the future, we're going to be sure to do a full investigation before settling down in train stations.

Despite that small trouble, we made it onto the train without difficulties and about 4 hours later we arrived in Venice!

Home Again - To California!

First of all, Happy New Year! I can't believe it's already 2010! It looks like I didn't get around to posting much in December. Shortly after my last post I was kept very busy helping out with Nicola and Matt's wedding. After that we flew to Oklahoma City, OK to have Christmas with my mother's side of the family where there was no internet access - at least at our house. Finally, we flew back to San Jose, CA but then left again to spend New Years Eve with some of Woodley's family members down in Big Sur.

Wow! It was a lot of traveling! But now we are home again and I can't wait to start catching up on the news. I was amused to see the title of my last post since Woodley and I now consider ourselves to be back home again, but home in California this time.

Since we've been on the road so much I haven't been posting any recipes for quite awhile but I have had this one saved away since November and am excited to post it now. It is a Pear and Dried-Cherry Crisp with Nutmeg-Walnut Streusel from that is delicious and a bit unexpected. The interesting thing about it is that flavor comes entirely from the pears, dried cherries, nuts, vanilla, nutmeg, and orange. There is no cinnamon or nutmeg here which gives it a completely different but absolutely delicious flavor which stands out from other crisps and cobblers I've had in the past. As it baked, it filled the house with the most amazing scents. I thought the combination would make the perfect home scent for the fall if you could bottle it up and sell it.

Since it features pears and dried cherries so heavily it's a bit dense and I think it works best when served over vanilla ice cream. The recipe yields 12 servings and fills an entire 9x13 inch pan. Although we absolutely loved it, there was no way the two of us could finish it all before we needed to toss it. If you have a smaller family and want to try it out, I would highly recommend halving or quartering the recipe.

Alright, enough babbling, here it is:

Serves 12

For the Streusel:
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, room temperature
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts {I didn't have any walnuts so I used pecans instead - it turned out perfectly and since I like pecans so much better than walnuts, I'm glad I made the change and would repeat it}

For the Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried tart cherries (9 ounces)
4 1/2 pounds ripe Bosc pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Making the Streusel:
1. Whisk the flour, sugar, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Add the butter and rub in with fingertips until the mixture begins to clump together.

3. Mix in the walnuts {or pecans} Note: The streusel can be made a day ahead. When it is ready, cover and chill it until it is time to finish the crisp.

Preparing the Filling and Assembling the Crisp:

1. Place the first six ingredients: sugar, butter, orange juice, orange peel, vanilla, and salt in a medium skillet. Stir over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.

2. Add the cherries, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the cherries soften and the liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

4. Toss the pears and dried cherry mixture in a large bowl.

5. Spread the pear-cherry mixture into the prepared baking dish.

6. Sprinkle the streusel mixture over the pear-cherry mixture.

7. Bake until bubbling and golden, about 1 hour; cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Mmmmmm yummm!