October 2023 News from Elizabeth
Cookies, Sandwiches & Travel Tips
This SNL clip keeps popping up on my feeds. I laugh every time. But these days it also makes me a bit sad. When is it going to be sweater weather in Rome? I want to wear my jackets. Is anyone else looking forward to cozy season?
In the meantime we are enjoying what now seems to be never ending summer. The photo above could easily have been June, but was this past weekend up in Umbria. There were tomatoes still growing in the garden and lunch was most definitely under the pergola. The shift in seasons has definitely affected how and when we plan our tours. I mean, we never considered leading food tours in July and August because it was just too hot. September though seemed safe and also meant less tourists. This year? All bets are off since the season - both heat and number of tourists - stretched into September.
I’m hoping October will cool down a bit because besides sweater weather, I’m ready for soup season.
Sophie and I are in full gear leading groups from farm to meal and to all the small towns we love in between. This past month Sophie has been in Puglia and I’ve been in Parma and Sicily. Next week we lead a tour together in Puglia. Yay!! These days the chance to lead a tour together with Sophie seems like a treat, since we usually do them on our own.
I’ll be heading back to Sicily this month, but have decided to get there a few days early. One reason is that I just love being in Sicily (who doesn’t?) Also if I go on a Friday that means that Domenico can come with me and spend the weekend before the tour starts. It also gives me time to visit new places that might be fun to include in our tours. This time I’m going to a farm outside of Noto to have lunch, see what they grow and maybe even have a cooking lesson. Just in case you were wondering? Yes, this is how I research my tours and yes, it’s work. All joking aside, for every 10 places I visit, we end up - for one reason or another - including one if we’re lucky. There are a lot of interesting farms and producers out there, but very few of them are set up to welcome guests or even have time for it in their busy agricultural calendar. It’s a huge amount of work for farms to welcome us into their homes and most just can’t manage it. But in the meantime, it’s a joy for me to visit and doing research is definitely one of the perks of trip planning. Another thing I’ve realized is that in Italy - and especially Sicily - it’s always good to have a plan B (or even C and D).
And speaking of plans: we are continuing to announce new trips for 2024. Yesterday we sent out an email about a new week in Sicily in April 2024 with Sophie. And there are still a few spots left for her tour to Puglia & Basilicata in March and May. And if you’d like to join me in Parma there is one spot left on each of the tours there in May & September.
For the updated list of our tours visit this page for the full list of our tours for 2024:
And if you have any questions or would like to receive a brochure just write us here:
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WHERE' I’VE BEEN
It’s high season for our tours so I’m almost constantly on the road. Over the next 10 weeks I’ll be spending 5 of them out of a suitcase. Since I spend so much time away from home, I try to make my hotel rooms as ‘home-like’ as possible. Here is my list of what I take to make any place my own and how I pack it.
Suitcase: I never ever bring more than a carry on plus a backpack. My carry on of choice is from Away. It’s called The Bigger Carry-On and it fits in an awful lot. I also use their packing cubes, which I love. It makes packing and unpacking so much easier. (when I’m forced to take a low cost flight I use the slightly smaller Away carry on which meets strict Euorpean size restrictions).
Backpack: While I was photographing my last two books I bought this backpack for my camera gear. It’s since become my favorite pack for traveling. Since it’s made to protect camera gear, it has extra cushioning, and my computer fits right in. I also love the bottom section which works equally well for that extra set of Veja’s or the 3 kilos of cheese I’m usually lugging home.
Cross Body Bag: My new favorite item when traveling is the Uniqlo Round Mini Shoulder Bag. Although you can fit tons of stuff in it, I love it when I’m in transit since I can stash my wallet, passport and phone near to my body, but within easy reach. And if I’m only allowed one carry-on (my Away) plus one personal bag (my back pack) this fits into the back pack while I’m boarding. (Don’t ask me which color I have, since I have multiple versions).
Cozy Factor: I always travel with candles. I usually pack 6 tea lights. It’s amazing what one small lit flame will do to create ambiance. And I always have one small scented candle, usually Baie by Dyptique. (Don’t forget to bring a lighter)
Music: I’m someone who has the radio on in the morning, and general music on while I’m puttering around. This little blue tooth speaker connects to my computer and is awful cute.
Food: Since we give our guests several free evenings during the week, this means I’m on my own for dinner sometimes. Since the last thing I feel like doing is going out to a restaurant, I’m usually eating in my room. I have a special condiment pack (I just use toiletry bottles and containeres like this) that includes: A small bottle full of our own olive oil; salt; pepper; red pepper flakes. I’ve lately started including a small bottle of good quality aceto balsamico that I pick up while I’m in Parma.
Coffee: I need coffee first thing in the morning, so I always travel with a jar of instant coffee. But because I like to drink more coffee than I really need, I make my own mix of half regular and half decaf.
Flowers: I know it sounds insane, but if I’m going to be in a hotel room for 6 nights, one of the first things I do is run out and buy a bunch of flowers. It doesn’t have to be much. In fact, once while I was in Sicily, and it was a holiday and everything was closed, I went out and picked wild flowers from a random parking lot nearby They make me happy, what can I say?
WHAT I’M READING
Anyone have €41,000 to spend per night in a hotel? I didn't think so. But listing a room for the price certainly got the hotel the PR they were looking for.
Love this Amaro infused dinner. Note to self: use amaro more often in both cocktails and recipe
Did you know the oldest ‘country’ in the world is located in Italy?
Love Spritzes? Love Venice? This one’s for you.
You would be surprised how many people I know who have forgotten until it was too late to renew their passports. Yes. I’m talking to you.
Currently reading Stephen King’s latest
WHAT I’M EATING
This past week I was in Parma and one thing I couldn’t get enough of was Sbrisolona. This is a dessert served in northern Italy and it’s more or less the crumble atop any other dessert made with crumble. In other words: the best part. It’s more of a cookie than a cake and super easy to make. During the many meals during our tour it comes out at the end, sort of a special treat after the dessert. Since everyone is pretty full at this point, I’ve gotten into the habit of always have a baggie in my purse to stash away a few pieces for later. There many different recipes for this, but I love the ones with a bit of polenta (corn flour) which makes them extra crunchy.
200 gr all purpose flour
200 gr finely ground corn flour
200 gr sugar
200 gr almonds with skin on, roughly chopped
200 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 egg yolks
Grated rind of lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Butter a round cake pan (26cm / 10 inch diameter)
Place the flour, sugar, and almonds in a bowl. Using your fingers mix it all together.
Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the softened butter, egg yolks and lemon zest. Work it all together with your fingers until you form a rough, crumbly mixture. (don’t over mix, you don’t want the butter to melt).
Spread the mixture in the pan without pressing it down. You don’t want it to be smooth. Instead you want it to look all crumbly.
Bake it for about 40 minutes. Let it cool completely before transferring it to a plate. Traditionally it’s broken up into chunks with your hands.
I’ll leave you with one short video and a tip for the next time you’re in Italy, feel hungry, and want a quick, low cost, lunch. Rather than stand in an endless line at whatever trendy panino place has taken the internet by storm for an over-priced sandwich that is way too big, here is what locals do. You can go into any alimentari in Italy (they are the equivalent of delis) and ask them make you a panino with anything you’d like. You are basically buying a few slices of ham or cheese and a bun. The owners of the alimentari will usually happily assemble it for you at no extra cost. There are no bells and whistles like pistachio cream, pesto or truffle spread, but frankly you don’t need it if you’re already starting out with good quality ingredients. My favorite: pizza bianca with prosiutto cotto and a slab of fresh mozzarella. At the market in Monti, Massimo will happily smash a fresh fig bought at the produce stand next to his into a ciabatta with prosciutto. The combos are endless and for less than 2 euros you’ve got lunch.
I’d love to hear what you think: Would you prefer the simple panino that locals love? Or the super-loaded panino aimed at tourists?
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