Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Road Again

We're off on a road trip! It's been awhile since the last road trip but we decided on our destination today. We're driving down to Bari in the Puglia region to ring in the new year with some friends there.

At first I balked at the distance. It just seemed so far. But a quick google search showed that it's only an 8 hour drive and closer than the Bay Area - Las Vegas route that I've done countless times. Alright then!

We leave tomorrow morning and will be back after the new year. Hope you have a fun and safe New Year!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After Christmas

Hope you all had a good Christmas filled with lots of love and laughter. Mine involved lots of eating and of course presents. The kids were really excited. Can you tell from the picture?

The day after Christmas is la festa di Santo Stefano or St. Stephen's day. It marks the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men. We all wished Stefano and his cousin Stefania "auguri" or best wishes. One thing I learned here... when in doubt, say auguri. It fits all occasions including birthdays, Christmas, weddings, baby births, etc.

It is also Stefano's nonna or grandmother's birthday. This year she celebrates a whopping 96. Auguri, nonna!

Here she is with her four nipoti or great-grandchildren.

Yes, more sweets to be eaten for the holiday season. Good thing we did some cross-country skiing this morning. The fresh air was great and I was happy to find out that what little technique I picked up last year is not lost.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Christmas

This is a sweet poem of a little boy and his tiger friend.

Click to view larger.

I hope you all have a blessed Christmas with your loved ones. Stay warm and safe. And don't forget to give a hug to your favorite person.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Party

We had our annual company holiday party on Sunday. This year it was held at an agriturismo farm called La Barcella, in the outskirts of Milan, about 1/2 hour from where we live. It was surrounded by farmland so it really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The food was good, which is not always the case at events like these. The appetizers included a very tasty selection of affetati or cold cuts, pancetta or bacon wrapped asparagus, various little savoury pastries and many more. I quickly lost count, but there were supposed to be 6 appetizers. Needless to say, I was already full before the primi or first dishes arrived. I forgot to take pictures of the rest of the food but they were all surprisingly good.

As always, there was an animatore or entertainer who kept the kids busy with fun games. But this year, there was one also for the adults. She called people up to participate in various contests and games like, guess the different sounds. It reminded me of the variety shows that I'd see on tv on Sundays. I found it all rather annoying but I might have been in the minority. There was also a lucky draw with several buoni or gift certificates up for grabs, but lady luck wasn't on my side this time.

One of the highlights was meeting the triplets again. See their proud father, S, being super-dad with two in his arms? The last time I saw them, they were newborns at the hospital two summers ago. How they've grown.

There were lots of children around, and amazingly, quite a number more on their way in the early part of the new year. Everyone was excited of course when Babbo Natale or Santa showed up to hand out gifts.

Let It Snow - Gridlocked

It's Monday afternoon and the snow has started falling again. The temperature in the last few days have been as low as -8C (17F). Looking out the window at work, we can see the gridlock caused by the white stuff. The office is rather quiet now as people have left early in order to actually make it home at a decent time tonight. I remember when we used to live in Abbiategrasso and it took us over 3 hours to get to work one morning because of the snow. There's a good chance we're walking home this evening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

December Birthdays

Is it just me or are there alot of birthdays in the December time frame? We've been surrounded with friends' birthdays in this past two weeks. Mine included!

Yesterday we celebrated M's birthday. He's also my next door cubicle neighbor at work. Since I was in the holiday baking mood, I decided to whip up a batch of chocolate cupcakes the night before. For some reason, cupcakes are not that well-known here. Strange! They were very well received even if esthetically, there was much room for improvement. The reason for that being it was getting late, and between dinner, washing up, a long work day, and more washing up... well, I was getting a little tired and grumpy. S can attest to that. At the end of the night, I was ready to throw the chocolate icing on the wall. But luckily he was sweet enough to offer to wash the last bowl so the wall was spared. Phew.

I used chocolate cupcake recipe from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook (thanks YL!) and they turned out exactly as described: a chocolatey, closed-crumb cupcake that was just delicious. I want to try one of her cakes next.

M had invited us for aperitivo to celebrate that evening. Now I must have mentioned this before, but in Italy, birthday celebrations are done a little differently. Everywhere else I've lived the birthday day boy/girl is treated to yummy meals/dessert/cakes/etc on their special day. And why not?! It's your birthday, and it only happens once a year. In Italy however, the birthday celebrant is expected to treat his friends to the yummy meals/cakes/etc. Huh? Yes, that right, the person pulling out his wallet is the birthday boy/girl. How wrong is that?!

(I'm still not totally on board with this by the way... I made S pay for my birthday dinner, haha)
In return said friends usually bring a gift for the celebrant, so all's well that ends well. But I think this custom tends to make people shy away from announcing their birthdays. And where's the fun in that?

Anyway, back to aperitivo. We had a blast as usual. The place was hopping and I enjoyed the Christmas deco. I got to see V, whom I've not seen for over a year.

And I think M secretly enjoyed our gift, even if his reaction might have suggested otherwise.
Tanti auguri, M!

Let It Snow... Part II

It's snowing again! On our way back to the office from lunch, there were a few stray snowflakes were drifting down. This is how it looked like when we got home.

And it's still snowing...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let It Snow...

It snowed last night! The first snowfall of the season in Milan. Just a nice dusting of white all over. Pretty to look at, but not enough to stop traffic. That's the way I like it. ;-)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Io e Luna

(or The Moon and I)

So after filling our tummies in Recco, you didn't think we were just going to stop there, right?

Of course not, because we had reservations for dinner that night at Io e Luna, the restaurant in Piemonte that we first visited with Uncle R back in May. The memory of that meal we had was so firmly imprinted our memories that we just had to return, and introduce it to D as well.

It was an hour and a half drive to Piemonte from the coast. And we still had a couple hours to kill, so we stopped at winery to pick up some wine, took a stroll in downtown Alba and browsed in a bookstore. Finally, it was almost eight and we could go have our highly anticipated meal. Yes, I was excited.

The restaurant is about 15 minutes outside of Alba, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We quickly studied the menu and ordered our food.

First came the 'pre-appetizer', if there is such a thing. The appetizer offered by the chef as a prelude to our meal. I can't exactly identify all the tasty morsels but there was insalata russa, russian salad. Not sure why they call it that but it's a kind of creamy potato salad with tuna. Needless to say, we licked the spoons and plates cleaned.

Oh, and then out came the second 'pre-appetizer'. I almost forgot about this but good thing I took pictures. This was cotechino, a fresh sausage, topped with a fried potato (I think) chip with a sweet sauce. Yummmm..

Then the brought out the bread basket, filled with an assortment of breads made in-house. There were grissini breadsticks, mini croissants, focaccia, and other breads. I had to stop myself from filling myself up!

All this while, we were washing everything down with this excellent barbaresco wine. Full-bodied, pricey but what an aroma and most importantly it tasted great with a good finish. Thanks to D for treating us to this.

Look at our happy faces. And we weren't even officially into our meal yet.

Then our appetizers came. My plate had from the left, some kind of tomato relish, then some quiche/frittata strips, followed by a mound of delicious steak tartare perfectly seasoned with (I think) some olive oil and parmesan cheese. Next, some pickled mushrooms and finally a quail egg topped with a truffle shaving. Mmmmmm...

S and D had the same appetizer. Not sure what was on the left but on the right was a roll filled with a leek cream and a poached (I think) egg, topped more truffle shavings. I had a taste and I was in heaven. At that moment, I understood the hype surrounding the truffle. I would've been perfectly happy to end my meal right then.

But then came my first dish, and it was a homemade gnocchi with a meat sauce. Simple, homey and satisfying.

S had the plin, which is a type of ravioli typical to the region of Piemonte. Also handmade and good.

In my mind, the real first dish star was the tajarin with foie gras that D had. This is another pasta found in the Piemonte region, similar to tagliatelle but cut really thin. I really liked the springy texture, much like the Asian noodles I know and love. This dish was just divine.

Another thing I like about this restaurant is the leisurely pace that the food is served. It is just right. Enough time to take it all in, but not so you start looking at your watch. And the service is just impeccable.

D and I had the same second dish: the guanciale or pork cheek. Served on a bed of mashed potatoes with sweet pickled onions, it is tender and melt-in-your-mouth. Not to be missed.

S had the pork ribs (?) and that too was tender and falling off the bone. There was some kind of sweet (pumpkin?) puree in the onion skins that was good too.

D really appreciated the food. It was just funny watching him ooh and ahh with pleasure over each bite.

What comes after the end of the meal? Dessert! We were all stuffed by then, but of course could not pass up the dessert menu.

S and I shared the chocolate plin ravioli, in a cachi or persimmon sauce, with chestnut gelato. Firstly, the plin just looks chocolatey, right? But when we put one in our mouth, the insides were melted - the best surprise ever! And the persimmon sauce and chestnut ice cream complemented it perfectly.

D's torta ciocolata calda, hot chocolate cake, was warm and melted inside. So good. The plate was licked clean.

And if all that wasn't enough, they had to bring out the 'post-dessert', the piccola pastecceria, or small bakery. There was literally an assortment of 11 different miniature desserts. You could tell the chef had assembled them just minutes before. The white ones on the bottom left were creamy panna cotta set on a crispy cookie. There were mini tiramisu, creme caramel, cream filled cookies... we ate everything but unfortunately had to leave four pieces behind. There was just no more room.

So three hours later, we head out the door with full and very satisified tummies. We actually stopped and got to personally convey our compliments to the chef. He was young, couldn't have been much over 30, and painfully shy. What talent. Our second visit and we remain very impressed.

Goodbye dear girl

Today I heard the shocking news. The details are vague but she was in Africa on vacation and there was an accident. I did not know her well, but I will always remember her as the daring and adventurous girl who always lived life to the fullest. She was always off exploring exotic places. One day Tibet, another Alaska. My heart goes out to her parents, her family and her loved ones.

A life so full of promise cut short. We're only a month apart in age, and I'm reminded that our time here doesn't last forever. Must cut out the negativity, and be thankful for and cherish all the things I have. Live each day to the fullest.

Goodbye dear HN. You are an inspiration to many of us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Focaccia di Recco: Ristorante Alfredo

Sunday lunch time, we found ourselves together with D in front of Ristorante Alfredo in Recco, the birthplace of the famous focaccia col formaggio or focaccia with cheese.

Wait a minute, Recco? Isn't that on the Ligurian seaside? How did we end up there?

Well, the day actually started pretty early that morning, as we set out to the Serravalle factory outlet, about 1 hour from Milan. It was time for us to finally pick up some 'real' dishes, and there was a Villeroy & Boch outlet there. It's a good thing we got there around opening time. Apparently, a long weekend plus the coming holiday season means only one thing: shopping crowds. There was a short queue getting off the highway but we found parking easily and there weren't too many people around. Two hours later we were done shopping and ready to leave. If there's one thing I don't like, it's trying to shop when there are too many people around and it's a huge effort just to see what's on the shelves. By noon, the parking lots were full and there were people running around in the parking lots trying to reserve a spot from people that were leaving. It was that crazy.

We were congratulating ourselves for leaving the crowds behind and for a productive shopping trip. Nice dishes, check. Plus a couple other things. Birthday boots for me, check. Cast iron grill pan, check. Shoes and jeans for S, check. Shirt that D needed to change into, check.

And lunch? Well, we had these famous leftover paninos from the day before (they'd made a trip to the car show in Bologna with the guys and came back uneaten). Not very exciting, especially when someone suggested, why don't we go to Recco for some focaccia? It's only an hour away.

(And I thought only Malaysians were willing to go the distance for good food).

D had been here before with a friend and this was supposedly one of the best in town. First came the pizzata, a focaccia with tomato sauce and the famous formaggio, cheese. Not sure why it's called that, as it really has nothing to do with pizza.

Yum! The thin and light layers of dough with delicious but not over-powering layer of tomato sauce, and then the melted cheese hidden in the layers. Mmm... This was a local dish not found anywhere else.

Then we had the original focaccia col formaggio. Again, the thin layers of dough with melted cheese inside. It is made with crescenza, a mild tasting rich creamy fresh cheese, very similar to cream cheese.

Now I know what the real thing tastes like. It's actually quite commonly found even in Milan, labeled as focaccia di Recco. The pizzata was a nice added bonus.

To finish off, we shared a plate of fritto misto. The seafood was fresh and the batter was tasty.

We were quite satisfied with lunch! Then we hopped in the car for a short drive so they could give me a peek at the next town over, Camogli.

What a pretty town. It was cold and drizzly that day so S promised to bring me back on a sunny day.

Our day was far from ending at this point. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!

Another thing we accomplished on our busy Saturday was to put up our first Christmas tree together. Remember the tree we picked up at Ikea a few nights back? Well, a real tree is such a romantic idea! The smell of the pine, ahhh... But in reality...

1) It started raining just when we were going to pick it up from the lot, so S got wet while loading it in the car and all that.

2) We leave it in the garage because of the said rain until one day later when S lugs it up to our apartment after we get home. It was oh, around 1.30 a.m.

3) Two days later he lugs up the huge bag of dirt. Apparently here they don't do the tree stands with the water container.

4) We pot the tree and make a small mess of dirt on our terrace.

5) When we cut open the plastic wrapping the branches, we notice that our 'perfect' tree is actually two trees. There's a siamese twin growing out one side. Oops.

See what I mean about how it's a nice idea? And the imperfect shape adds to the charm, right? I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with a fake tree next year, but we'll see.

So Saturday evening after dinner, I threw a Christmas cd in the player to get the mood going and the end result was this:

Aww... not bad for our amateur effort, right? The lights are actually red sparkling LEDs. The lights took us only two different visits to Carrefour and at least one combined hour of dazed wandering in the Christmas light aisle. We tested countless sets of lights to see how they would look like and of course by then the ones we wanted were out in 'clear'. We're crazy like that. Actually by then the only lights left were red or blue. So red it was and actually they're not bad.

And I found my nativity set. It sure was a nice feeling... us, our tree, and Jingle Bells in the background. :-)

p.s. Can I add to the above?

5) At one point in the night, I went over to admire the tree and started shrieking. S came over to see what was up. There was a big worm wringling on the floor under the tree. I guess it had decided to get out to check out the new digs. Ugh!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Still a Work In Progress

Saturday was dedicated to all the house-related chores that had piled up over the past weeks. I spent the day vaccumming and mopping and scrubbing the bathrooms. For S, there was alot of drilling involved. Part of the alarm system that has been sitting in boxes for over 3 months has now been installed and verified working. Yay. I say part, because it's not all done. Sigh.

And the dining room light fixture that we got as a wedding gift is finally up. To be honest, I was initially doubtful as to whether I would like it. I mean, we didn't pick it. But it actually turned out pretty nice.

It fits our modern style of furnishing. And oh, that's the new dining table that arrived a couple weeks back. We had ordered it sight unseen from the Internet, and luckily it turned out pretty nice (plus it didn't cost a bomb). My favorite thing about it is the thin wooden table top, and the fact that it extends to easily seat 10-12 people. Perfect for the swinging dinner parties we'll be throwing. Um... ok, that does sound like alot of work, but it's a nice idea, right?

What's missing now are the chairs, a rug to 'define the space' (yes, I've been reading decorating websites) and some kind of buffet to store glasses and the 'nice' dishes that we don't yet have. Yeah, our kitchen cabinets are already maxed out and we're only still using the hand-me-down dishes.

About the chairs, we really love how the clear chairs look with the table, but I have to remind myself how uncomfortable they really are. It's not so much the plastic, but the fact that the seat is really narrow. Trust me, not that comfortable, and not practical at all. So while it would be so much easier to run out to Kartell 10 mins away and stock up on the Ghost chairs, we'll actually have to go shopping for chairs instead... arghh! Where to go? How not to spend an arm and two legs? I'd like to keep the look 'light' to keep the area looking spacious.

Friday Night

Kicked off the long weekend with Friday night aperitivo with some friends at Cafe Milano.

Things started to get a little wild towards the end of the night. hahaha

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