Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anti-Black Friday

Jess and I had an 'anti-Black Friday'. We avoided shopping altogether! Maybe the fiasco she experienced year scarred her indefinitely. It involved something along the lines sitting in parking lot traffic on Hwy 101, miles from the Gilroy outlet exit, long lines out the door in freezing temperatures... all at 1a.m. in the morning. All that misery to maybe save a few bucks? No thanks!

Instead, we went to see Angie and her team compete in the regional cheer competition at the Santa Clara University stadium nearby. The whole cheer thing was new to me and it was very interesting to watch the girls perform their moves. You could tell that these teams had really spent lots of time and effort into perfecting their routines. There were jumps and flips and pyramids. The amazing thing was there was even a category for girls as young as five years old. It was non-competition, but they were really adorable doing their little routines.

And her team succeeded to making it to the nationals held in Florida in two weeks. Go Angie!!!

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm back in the Bay Area for what's looking to be like a couple months. I'm waiting for my Italian work permit to come through . While I'm sad that we're back to the LDR (long distance relationship) thing and having to be apart for the holidays, I'm also making the best of it and relishing my last days in beautiful California.

And I have lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. My family and friends who are dear to my heart, and their good health. My good health. Having found a man who adds lots of joy, love and laughter in my life. These are the things that are important to me.

To celebrate, we got together and cooked up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. (But first we started the day with a good hike at Rancho San Antonio... fight the calories first, hehe!) Here's Long's masterpiece - roast turkey flavored with lots of his favorite ingredient: bacon.

Our dinner took 1/2 a day to prepare, but it was fun working in the kitchen together. And we were definitely hungry by the time we could finally dig in.

Long and Jess try their luck with the wishbone.

Guess who ends up with the larger piece? Hope your wish comes true, Jess!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's for Dinner

For starters, scampi cooked in the oven, lightly seasoned with salt and some olive oil, sprinkled with some fresh Italian parsley.

These were huge about 7 inches long (and pricey). There were only three because the person in line before us snapped up the rest. The taste is sweet and yummy, but still not as good as the gamberi rosso (red prawns) from Sicily. Now those were really amazing.

The main dish was branzino (European sea bass) cooked in a salt shell. First spread a layer of coarse salt in the pan. Place fish and drizzle with some olive oil. Cover with more coarse salt. End of recipe!

This simple and healthful way of cooking results in a surprisingly tasty dish. The fish is moist and tender, almost like it has been steamed. The taste is perfect, just enough salty, but not overly.

Best of all was the cute chef who prepared the meal. He even expertly deboned the fish before serving it. ;o)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Federico Gets Baptized

It was my last weekend in Milan, I was fortunate enough to attend Stef's nephew Federico's baby baptism. The event started off at a church in downtown Sondrio, where a Sunday afternoon church service dedicated to baby baptisms was held. There were about 6 couples with new babies to be baptized in a Catholic ceremony. The pews were packed friends and family supporters. I didn't really know what was going on (it was all in Italian) but I did manage to admire the pretty sculptures in the church.

Here is the proud family and the little guest of honor in his mummy's arms.

After the ceremony, we headed over to a restaurant about 15 minutes drive away. We were a party of about 30, and a nice room with a warm fire had been reserved for us. There was of course lots of yummy things to eat...

We stuffed ourselves with appetizers of cheese, meats, octopus salad, smoked salmon, grilled vegetables, and even the Valtellinese specialty, sciat. These are actually bite-sized fried balls of cheese and they're good eaten fresh when the insides are warm and gooey. Then we were served huge slices of this delicious cake. I'm not sure what it's called, but it was a white cake drenched with some type of liquor syrup and topped with fresh whipped cream and profiteroles (cream puffs). It was not overly sweet and just really good.

After all that eating, it was time to do some vocal exercises. A friend pulled out his guitar and led the kids and adults in a fun sing-a-long. I didn't know the words to most of the songs so I was able to get away with just listening. Overall, it was just a nice warm gathering, perfect for celebrating little Federico's milestone.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tortelli di Zucca

More cooking? Yup, but it's only because we like to eat. ;-) This weekend's project was handmade tortelli di zucca. We had some pumpkin (zucca) given to us from a friend, Andrea's, family garden, and so what better way to use it than to make some tortelli.

Now, I had to know, what exactly is tortelli, and how is it different from ravioli? Well, according to Stef, tortelli is folded over so there are only 3 exposed sides, while ravioli is cut/exposed on all 4 sides. Oh. There also specific reasons why different fillings are made with different types of pasta. I'll have to research that one day.

So let's get started. Step 1, roast pumpkin pieces in the oven for about 1 hour. Let cool and smash with a fork. Add grana (grated cheese similar to parmagiano reggiano), crushed amaretti cookies and eggs. Mix to form the pumpkin filling.

Step 2, mix flour and eggs and knead to form the pasta dough. Let rest for 1/2 hour before making the tortelli.

Now pull out the pasta machine, or if you're a purist, roll out the dough into thin sheets. Stef was the master of his Imperia pasta machine. His mum and me were put to work forming each tortelli by hand. The important thing is to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped between the filling and the dough, or else they will break apart during cooking. Finally, use a small cutter to trim the edges with a pretty pattern.

Ta-dah!!! Now I'm just waiting for dinner time.

Sunday Morning Hike

It was a beautiful day outside, although a little chilly, and we had no excuse to stay indoors. We went on a hike about 3 hours long, 2600 ft elevation gain. Yes, I was huffing and puffing, but the scenery made up for it.

The fall colors were amazing! And we must have burned off some calories from his mum's birthday celebration dinner the night before. Think lots of yummy little pasticcini pastries. :)

Another Weekend

Stefano's mum had cooked another big lunch. We needed some exercise so we decided to go swimming that afternoon at Bormio Terme. Bormio is a mountain town about 60 km (35 miles) from Sondrio.

The nice thing about this place is that the swimming pool is filled with thermal water that comes from the Cinglaccia spring where it gushes out at a temperature between 37°c and 40°c (98-104 F). We swam laps and then relaxed in the outdoor pools while taking in the beautiful mountain scenery. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Before heading home, we decided to drive to Livigno, another 20 miles away to fill up the tank. Livigno is a special duty free area where the Italian VAT exempt from all its goods. The reason at the time (in the 1800s) was justified by the difficulty in reaching Livigno during the winter, for up to six months a year, and the century-long history of poverty in the region. The various states, therefore, wanted to make sure people would have an incentive to continue living in the area so that they could still claim it territorially. Even if this is not particularly true now, the roads are good, there's less snow now and the people are not that poor, the duty free tax status continues. Diesel here costs around 0.78 euro/liter, while outside it costs anywhere from 1.20 euro/liter upwards. It is cold though. I took this picture as the sun was setting.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dolci Sardi: Papassini

This weekend was highly productive. We set out on a mission to bake up a batch of Stef's favorite Sardinian sweet: the papassini. And oh boy, does he take this very seriously. The process started out a month ago while we were in Sardinia. We had to go to this special store in Sassari called a drogheria. (I just looked it up and it means 'grocery store'). This place looked about 100 years old, and inside we picked up some special 'secret' ingredients that can't be found outside of Sardinia. It just so happened that when we arrived in Sassari that afternoon, we found all the shops closed for the afternoon until 5pm. It was too far to the beach and so we ended up sitting on a bench outside for an hour or so waiting for the store to reopen.

Ok, so about the 'secret' ingredients. This recipe is from his grandmother in Sardinia, and he's guarding it like it's National Security. I'm not even supposed to look at the actual recipe, although I did sneak a peek here and there. hehe... Anyway, since I can't spill the beans, I'll just give a rough account what went on.

First, chop the nuts - almonds and walnuts. If you're fanatic, do it by hand. Otherwise, throw them in a food processor.

Mix the flour with eggs, sugar, lard and baking powder to form a dough. Add in chopped nuts, raisins, orange rind, anise, and some other 'secret' ingredients. Lay to rest for a couple hours.

Resume preparations by rolling and cutting out the dough. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool overnight.

Now they are ready for the glace topping. Prepare glace with sugar, water and egg white.

When the consistency is just right, spread on each cookie carefully and sprinkle with silver and multicolor dragees (sprinkles) .

Now allow for the glace topping to dry out. Look at them and wait patiently, wondering when these papassini can finally be eaten!!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Hunting in the Woods...

Since we're on the hunting theme, look what Stef's mom found in the woods this week.

Pretty impressive, huh? She's pretty proud of her find. It's hard work too. She spent 2 days hiking with her friend hunting for mushrooms. I'm not sure how they know which ones can be eaten and which ones are not. But I'm told they've been doing this for years.

They tasted pretty good in the tomato sauce with pasta at lunch today.

Chestnuts in the Fall

This happened a couple weekends ago. I was sure I made a post about the castagne, but it's lost! It was chestnut season and the woods next to Stef's home was full of chestnuts that had fallen from the trees. We went out for an hour each on Saturday and Sunday and just picked up a bunch. Two hours and we had about 11kg (~22 lbs) of chestnuts, ready to pass out to our colleagues at work the next day.

Well, not so quick. In order to preserve chestnuts to eat in the next days, they must be made perfectly dry after they come out of their husk. Any maggots that are inside will come out and not spoil the rest. We had to inspect each one for holes before putting them in bags.

What can you do with these chestnuts? We cut slits into each one and roasted them on top of the wood stove in the kitchen. You can also cook it over an open fire using a special pan that has holes in it. Or you can boil them in water. According to his mother, back in the day, it was just chestnuts and water for dinner.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holiday in Sardinia - Part 1

We left Milan on a Sunday afternoon to catch the ferry scheduled to depart at 10pm. It was only a 1.5 hour drive to the port in Genova. The sun was setting as we joined the queue of cars waiting to board the ferry.

Before long the ferry arrived and it was huge! We estimated about 800 cars waiting to board. We were directed up the ramp into the parking area in a fairly orderly way. The cars are packed so close that there was barely any space to move between the cars to get to the stairway.

We made sure to remember where we parked and then went to look for our seats. All the sleeping cabins were sold out when Stef had tried to buy tickets a month before. I was told that ferry tickets in August had to be purchased in March. It turned out the seats were pretty uncomfortable. No wonder most people opted for just the passage ticket instead. Everywhere you looked, you could see people spreading out their sleeping bags to settle in for the night. On the stairway, waiting areas, hallways... Someone even had an air mattress. It just looked much more comfortable than the seats we had to pay extra for. I vowed next time we would set up a small tent so we could sleep comfortably!

Ten hours later, I was rubbing my sleepy eyes as we pulled into the port of Olbia. We had arrived. It was 8am in the morning. We stopped to check in at our agriturismo in Luogosanto, and then left to visit the town of Santa Theresa on the north tip of the island.

I was amazed to see the clear and bright blue water of the sea at the rocky Capo Testa. Sardinia is known for it's exceptionally clear blue water. The weight of the sand sinks to the bottom leaving just crystal clear water.

We spent the afternoon napping at a sandy beach nearby. Not bad for our first day on the island!

Catching Up

I haven't posted in ages! I want to blame in on our lack of internet access in Milan, but I can't. We still don't have broadband internet access at home, but that's no excuse. It's been 2 weeks since we got home from Sardinia. This is our second weekend at Stef's family house in Sondrio. Fall has definitely arrived here in the mountains. I wasn't quite prepared last weekend and had to layer up since I didn't really bring any warm clothes.

We had spent part of last weekend doing chores around the house. There was lots to be done since we had been away for 3 weekends and Stef is the 'man of the house' here. His mum had written a list: fix window, clean and install pipe for the woodstove, fix Tata's (the dog) doghouse, pick apples from the trees in the backyard, and cut the grass. I helped some. ;-)

We also visited his sister and two nephews, Luca and baby Federico. Federico is still the cutest little thing. Stef is very proud of him, happily pointing out how Federico has his uncle's blue eyes, ears, shape of his head, and of course he would have his uncle's intelligence too. haha.

We also found time before our big Sunday family lunch to go riding on the bicycle trail that passes through the valley. This is actually a really nice trail, spanning almost 45 kilometers, so that you could go on a 90km bike ride without having the share the road with motorists (except for a couple short sections, I was told). I really enjoyed the beautiful fall weather then.

Which brings us to this Saturday. We woke up this morning to rainy weather, so we're pretty much staying inside all day. I studied some Italian, ate lunch (spaghetti con vongole and fritata con papate) and here I am taking advantage of the broadband internet access.

I just uploaded a picture. Look who's making silly faces while picking apples. It was hard to reach all the apples so he used the 'shaking technique' a.k.a. grab on to the tree and shake it as hard as you can. I was skeptical but it worked!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

In Vacanza

Hello there from the island of Sardinia.  This is our 4th day here, and it feels like we've done a lot, including lots of down time on the beach.  It's beautiful here!  We're staying at a bed & breakfast outside of Palau, which is on the northern tip of the island.  We have this amazing view of the bright blue sea and the coast of Corsica (the nearby French island) from our window.  Ahhhh... bliss... 

I'll write more and post pictures when we get back.  Tomorrow we head to Alghero to see some friends Stefano met at the sailing school in Caprera.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka!

Sometimes I find it hard to motivate myself to write here.  It feels like I have alot more to say when I'm writing to someone, an actual person!  So I think I'm going to try this... posting excerpts from emails that I've written to friends or family.  So if you are reading my blog and realize that it is sounding pretty familiar, then lucky you, the email I wrote to you has been selected for the post of the day!  Haha...  *cheating*

Today marks 50 years of independence for Malaysia.  For the anak-anak Malaysia, how well do you know your sejarah?  There is an interesting but somewhat long summary from wikipedia ( ).  It's quite a different viewpoint from the way our textbooks are written, just not the way I remembered it while studying it in school.  It goes to show how easily even history can suffer from the bias/objectivity of the writer.

Can you tell I have a little bit more free time on my hands these days?  Back in Sunnyvale, I would at least take advantage of a quiet period and leave earlier.  Here, I'm stuck until Stef is ready to go, which is usually quite late.  I suppose I could take the public transport home, but I'm lazy.  Yes, it's my own fault!!  It's only a bus ride to Famagosta, then a couple underground Metro stops to Porta Genova, then a regular 20 minute train ride to Abbiategrasso where we live.  Then probably another 10 minute walk to the house.  I know this only in theory, because I can't get my lazy ass to actually do it.  Sigh...

Today is also my 9th year anniversary as a loyal and faithful employee of Maxim.  Ahhhhh!  How did that happen?!  9 years is a long time. 

Lastly, today is the last work day before we leave on our 2 week vacation on the island of Sardinia.  It should be interesting and fun.  I've never spent 2 whole weeks on vacation before (trips back home to Malaysia don't count - it's not the same).  We're driving to Genova on Sunday and getting on the ferry with our car for a 10 hour overnight trip to the island.  From there it will be beach-hopping and more beach-hopping.  Finally we will meet some of Stef's sailing friends who live there. 

Ok, my stomach is growling and asking for lunch.  Will it be pasta again?  (Probably). 

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Arredamenti Provera"

I took this picture of our living room last weekend. Stef's cousin saw it and his comment was "eh, arredamenti provera...", poor man's furniture! It is true, we have yet to buy a divani (sofa), but you can see those Kartell chairs!! They are the clear chairs in the corner that Stef bought some weeks ago. These are apparently designer chairs and they don't come cheap. Fortunately a friend of his had a relative working at Kartell so he was able to get these for a good price. They look pretty cool but I must say that they are made for people with slim posteriors only. The seat is not very wide...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Blues

Ciao, how was your weekend?  I'm so weekend-lagged.  We spent the second weekend in a row in Sondrio.  Actually, the cool and fresh air and the slower pace is very nice.  Up until when we have to come back to Milan.  We don't leave till after Sunday dinner, around 9.30pm.  And it's a 2 hour trip so it's past midnight by the time we get to bed. 
Anyway, this weekend we had Stefo's best friend and his wife visiting.  We had a fun time hiking on Saturday.  It was the first time I got to see and touch (and taste) a glacier up close.  Sunday, we had the famous Valtellina pizzoccheri dish, prepared by his mum.  It's this dreadfully sinful pasta dish made with buckwheat pasta, potatoes, cabbage, a load of cheese and a even bigger load of fresh butter.  Yikes!  It's good, but definitely wins hands down in the calorie and cholesterol-busting category.   
Ok, it's time to try and start the work week.  Next week we are off for our long-awaited vacation. 

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happy Hour in Milan

Yesterday evening we left work at a decent hour (before 7!) and enjoyed Happy Hour in the Navigli area with some friends.  The street was lined with different bars with seating spilling out into the streets.  If you're ever in Milan and on a budget, this is how you can fill your tummy for cheap.  The cost of a drink ranges from 5-8 euro, and this entitles you access to an all-you-can-eat buffet spread.  There might be a selection a cold cut meats, finger sandwiches, crostini, chips, pasta and rice.  The food may not be of the highest quality, but it is decent enough and good value for money.  Not a bad way to spend the evening with friends.
Cin cin!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

By Popular Request

People are saying, nice pictures, but where the heck is the guy?! Hehe... I guess I have neglected to post any pictures of my man. I dug through all the recent pictures and found only one of us together. Here we are with his 1-month old nephew, Federico. We're smiling big, but the little bambino was fussing away. Isn't he pretty big for only 1 month?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend in Valtellina

This weekend we are at Stef's hometown in Sondrio. Well, before the weekend I actually went to work for the first day on Friday. Most everyone was still on vacation so there were only 6 or so of us in the whole office. I set up everything for my pc and actually got some work done.

We left the house around 9pm and arrived 2 hours later. This was my 3rd visit here. I slept in his sister's room as usual. The next morning after breakfast, we took off for a short hike at Val Poschiaviana. It is high in the mountains where a dam is located. The scenery was pretty cool with the clouds and the glacier visible high up near the peak. The water was a strange color supposedly because it is glacier ice melt. It turned out to be a beautiful day with the sun peeking in and out.

After that Stef craved pastries from Pastecceria Berta in Morbegno, 1/2 hour drive away. The cream puffs there are phenomenal. We picked up a selection for dessert later. And of course a couple to tide us over on the drive home. Yummy.

Now it's lunch time again. Pasta with pesto made with basil from the garden. Will write more later.

What's for Dinner

It's not pasta every day, or I'll be packing on the pounds! We usually have salad and tomatoes from Stef's mother's garden, bread, cheese and some meat, either some prosciutto or bresaola. Actually this is pretty similar to what I eat in California too (minus the prosciutto).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ferragosta in Milan

How to celebrate August 15th if you're stuck in the city:

Step 1. Cool off with only the best gelato in town.

Step 2. Seek out the only other people in town. Play tourist and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Duomo di Milano

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Piazza La Scala, right outside La Scala theatre.
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