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Greek-Dolmades-recipe-Stuffed-Grape-Leaves1One of the bi-products of the wine-making biz that keeps us busy on weekends in our vineyard in El Penedés, the wine region of Catalunya, is the proliferation of fresh grape leaves on our vines. (Duh!) In May or June, grape growers undertake the labor-intensive process of “leafing” and “suckering” the vines, which means that you remove all of the stems that have no fruit, and you also snap off big leaves that are casting shadows on the baby grape clusters. The leafing also gives the fruit more air and minimizes the possibility of icky mold growth. (“Sin miedo!” our local helper tells us: Snap off the excess growth WITHOUT FEAR!)

Last year, during our first season with the white grapes that are now slowly fermenting into “cava” (Spanish champagne), we were pretty thoroughly focused on getting all of the steps right. This year, I had the wherewithal, with the help of daughter Stassa, to collect a few of the largest grape leaves and tuck them away in a plastic bag for later use, after we recovered from the very hot and sweaty leafing process!

My motive? DOLMADES! I had read up last year on the quickest and easiest way to stuff your own grape leaves, guided by Martha Stewart and a dozen other on-line cooking websites, many of them Greek-oriented. And then I promptly forgot it. So while the leaves were still mostly green and supple, I consulted the Internet once again, and I went for what seemed like a fool-proof and remarkably rapid method of preparing the grape leaves for stuffing: blanch them for a few seconds in boiling water.

It worked pretty well, and the results were tasty if a bit chewy. The stuffing process itself was less laborious than I’d anticipated, and it helps if you can make it into a fun assembly-line process in the kitchen.

Here’s how…

First you go in the vineyard…

vineyard

Filling: I used some leftover risotto

risotto

Steam:

steam

Blanche:

blanche

Stuff:

stuffing

Enjoy!

finished

They came out a little chewy but I’m working on it…

“Kali Orexi!”

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Tove-Lo-Talking BodyTove Lo might have caught your ear this time last year with her slow building hit, “Habits (Stay High)”, an ode to marijuana self-medicating. I’m all for some green but the track just didn’t tickle my fancy. So I took no interest in this artist with the odd name, who reminded me of another emo, indie pop Lorde – no thank you. Well, I’m owning my bad judgement because I was wrong and if you were at this year’s Boston Calling you might have caught Tove Lo tearing up the stage. What changed my opinion on Tove Lo? Her second single, “Talking Body”. Released in January of this year, the track has gained popularity on top 40 radio over the last few months and I guarantee it will have your feet moving this summer. The lyrical content and musical composition seamlessly flow together to create a mid-tempo bass, heavy groove with the sexiest, catchiest hook you’ve ever heard. After hearing “Talking Body” I listened to the rest of her album and was not disappointed. Check the track below and get your summer groove on.

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It’s not always easy being a vegetarian in Spain. Because I also eat fish and seafood–and I live in Barcelona, which is smack on the sea–it’s a challenge, but it’s not impossible. In Madrid, I would call it impossible. There is a big deli there, for instance, called El Museo del Jamón.  Generally, all over Spain there is a general suspicion of those who do not follow the cult of the slaughtered cow and pig. That small club would include both my husband U.B. and me.

So, we greet with joy the discovery of an extraordinary Spanish dish that is not based on meat. And there is a family of soups whose ingredients have never been near a pig.  The chilled soups are a refreshing thirst-quencher in the parched southern reaches of Spain’s Andalucia, where summer days can be broiling.

GAZPACHO

Everybody knows about gazpacho, the perfect chilled tomato-garlic-and-vegetable first course on a hot day, and in Spain it is as readily available in the local grocery store as orange juice.  My family slugs it down right from the carton if we’re on the road, and it’s one of our daughter Stassa’s favorite after-school snacks.  Still, nothing beats the homemade version, which is not difficult to make in either a blender or a food processor; recipes abound on the Internet.  Crucial to its success is the crunch factor of the accouterments that you add when serving gazpacho at your table:  diced green (or red) pepper and cucumber, little cubes of fresh tomato, and crispy croutons of bread that have been toasted with olive oil.  I like a sprig of rosemary or basil in mine.

 

 

SALMOREJO

Salmorejo from gildedfork.com

Salmorejo from gildedfork.com

The other tomato-based soup that has not found the international fame of its cousin gazpacho is called salmorejo.  A search for the etymology of the word led me nowhere, but it almost certainly has something to do with salt (“sal”) in spite of its being not exceedingly salty.  When I plug the word salmorejo into Google translate, the English translation is…(fanfare): “Gazpacho!”

As far as I can tell (after hundreds of tastings), salmorejo, whose origins are in the Andalucian city of Córdoba, varies from its more famous cousin mostly in the inclusion of a higher proportion of bread amongst its ingredients, which renders the soup a slightly lighter shade of red, and considerably thicker, than your average bowl (or glass) of gazpacho.  The ingredients list is also shorter, focusing on vine-ripened tomatoes, green olive oil, garlic and bread.  It is often garnished with cubes of ham and hard boiled egg.

AJO BLANCO

Ajo Blanco from Mercado Calabajio.

Ajo Blanco from Mercado Calabajio.

An unsung cousin to the red chilled soups is little known outside of Andalusia, and almost completely unheard of outside of Spain.  The secret of the creamy white, refreshingly chilled ajo blanco or “white gazpacho” summer soup seems to be well guarded.

U.B. and I first discovered ajo blanco in the swank restaurant of one of Spain’s most charming paradores, a converted fourteenth-century Moorish castle in Carmona, outside of Seville. Since my lactose-tolerance is not high, I at first shied away from the white soup in spite of U.B.’s swooning response to it. Only after asking the waiter, “Que es esto?” and hearing the list of ingredients, did I dive in and become a life-long fan.

Ajo blanco is more than the sum of its parts. In fact, the ingredients at first seem to be seriously at odds with each other: Bread. Almonds. Olive oil. Grapes. Vinegar. And of course garlic (ajo).

 

Here is a recipe, freely adapted from a version that I found at EPICURIOUS.COM:

Toast several slices of country bread without its crusts and soak in a cup of ice water.

Toast about a dozen sliced almonds in a skillet until golden, then grind them in a processor with one clove of garlic.

Squeeze the bread dry and add it to the almond/garlic mixture, along with half a pound of seedless green grapes.

Process until smooth then put it into a bowl and mix it together with 3 Tbsp. of wine vinegar, a half cup of extra virgin olive oil and two cups of ice water.

Strain it through a sieve, forcing as much bread through as possible. Add salt and cayenne pepper, and chill well, at least one hour.

Serve the soup with freshly toasted croutons and more green seedless grapes, cut in half.  I know it sounds weird, but trust me.

Once while traveling around the south of Spain, we came across a thicker, dip-like version of ajo blanco, which is usually a rather thin soup. Quite a surprise and just as yummy.

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Tremblant

There is something for everyone at Tremblant, Quebec’s most upscale mountain resort destination. The skiing and riding is superb, but what really makes Tremblant worth the trip is the charm of the pedestrian village, the après scene, and the myriad of activities available to those who don’t get their thrills on the hill. Join the worship of everything maple syrup, go shopping, get your spa on, experience dog sledding, ice skate under the stars, and enjoy the diverse cuisine. Tremblant is a great choice for couples, families, and singles looking to mingle.  Teeming with Brits and Europeans, there is always “a party on the patio” regardless of what the temperature is.

I love the French chic that is evident everywhere you look in Tremblant. Here skiers and riders step it up a notch, maybe several notches actually, with what they wear both on and off the mountain.  Paging Dr. Zahivago: Real fur is the big story at Tremblant and the fashion forward are mixing it up a by wearing furs of different origins at the same time. Not your ‘80’s neons, yellow, pinks, and graphic prints stood out boldly against the snow and metallic touches were everywhere. The hottest accessory is the knit hat with an oversized pom pom, with spikey fox or raccoon fur poms being the most sought after. Tremblant boutiques cannot keep these hats in stock right now and remember fashion fans, the bigger and higher your pom pom, the closer to god.

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dabin bloodless

This track blew me away on so many levels, the first being that I did not believe it was the bass heavy, synthesizer enthusiast and producer Dabin, whom I discovered via Pandora last summer. The track is unlike any of his previous work, which tended to be on the heavier side of the electronic music spectrum. Dabin brings his signature electro style to Bloodless with impeccable melodic instrumentation, but with a softer touch. It is filled with screaming synthesizers, hand claps, ominous horns and an interchangeable bass line that gives you enough time to let it all out on the dance floor, take a break and start all over again. The composition of the track, combined with breathy vocals provided by guest feature Sarah Lee – not to be confused with the cake – conjoin in an effortless, electro dance production. I give Dabin’s new sound five stars and look forward to hearing more from this illusive DJ. His newest track was just featured as a premier on the popular Euro based UKF, which could be a real sign to rising recognition. Give Bloodless a listen below and see if you agree.

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Photos-of-Amsterdam-by-Michael-Matti-4

Photo by Michael Matti

Overall impression: Go for the architecture, the inspired shopping, creative and friendly atmosphere and the trendy dining. A must in Amsterdam? The enchanted 9th Street District for its swirl of everything amazing.

EPISODE:

I love vintage and I really love European vintage. European fashion from a previous era tells a story that more contemporary fashion rarely does. Owning the original version of a fashion moment is more inspiring to me then the “easy get” of that mass produced look today.

My favorite spot to source unique and envy inspiring pieces is Episode. Episode is a small chain, but you can’t hold that against them as they are all about budget friendly, quality merchandise that is organized with dewy decimal precision. The focus on grouping like merchandise together is a godsend when time is tight – and your husband’s patience is growing thin. Their mens collection is just as fabulous as their ladies.  If you’ve never “been into vintage” or found vintage to be too much work, Episode will convert and spoil you.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MY VINTAGE BINGE:

The tuxedo jacket with tails of my dreams – €30.00 (euros) and a heavily metal grommeted ’80’s jacket done in buttery soft suede – €25.00.

Amazing fur accessories: muffs, collars, boleros, hats, scarves, gloves. Sorry PETA but I bought bags full and I certainly wasn’t alone. Everybody is buying and wearing fur in Amsterdam, and with prices that start at €10.00 and topped out at about €50.00, you can see why. The fur coats were all in the €100.00. range and would easily go for much more in the US.

An epic, embroidered lederhosen, with incredible leather braided suspenders. I am obsessed with the buttons, the pewter buckles, and the embroidery. Super flattering and completely unexpected, I can’t wait to wear this with a killer pair of high heels. At only €35.00 , I now wish I had bought more.

VISIT EPISODES ONLINE

LAURA DOLS VINTAGE

My spirit animal has got to be the magpie. Its bad rap for attraction to shiny things hits close to home, because I too am absurdly attracted to everything that glitters – especially vintage. Indulge your inner magpie while in Amsterdam and be sure to visit Laura Dols, located in the heart of the 9th Street District. This sweet, well curated two level shop is filled with a wide range of girly party dresses that will have you feeling ready to go get flirty. Sequins, beading, and feathers embellished on silks, satins, and all varieties of polyester from the last 5 decades boast impressive quality. What did I bring back to my nest? The diaphanous, white belted dress with a subtle metallic sheen, very Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat”.

VISIT LAURA DOLS VINTAGE ONLINE

STOUT LINGERE

lingereAttention all femme fatales: for unabashedly feminine lingerie, a stop at Stout is a must when visiting Amsterdam’s 9th Street District. Don’t let its unfortunate name fool you; this small but incredible boutique is for grown up ladies, who need something more stimulating than Victoria’s tired secrets. All 50 shades of exquisite underpinnings are offered and well displayed. Sexy, bold, sweet, classic, naughty…whatever your personal taste, this is an upscale shopping experience that will surprise and delight you with its wide range of European brands. I’m always impressed with their selection of beautiful bras, panties, teddies, swim wear, accessories and other items that will help you break hearts and get your groove on.

VISIT STOUT ONLINE

Lorena AutoriLorena Autori, who has starred as a guest chef at Boston’s own Rialto Restaurant, offers private cooking classes in her home, which is located in an historic building in the very center of the drop-dead charming medieval hill town of San Gemini.

After we reached Lorena initially via email, she first let us choose our menu well ahead of time from a wide selection of tantalizing options.  We selected things that our daughter would eat and also dishes that we felt that we could later prepare at home.  Lorena was delightful to chat with while she performed wonders in her kitchen, during the very little “down time” we had…as she worked us quite hard!  And had a lot of fun.

Together we whipped up some amazing delicacies, including gnocchi made from scratch (JUST the right variety of potatoes, peeled after boiling, and pushed through a ricer), a special Umbrian version of pesto, polpette di pollo (chicken croquettes), vegetarian stuffed peppers, batter-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella, and an awesome lemon cream tart. (She even contributed on her own a special local dessert that she thought our daughter would like, since there wasn’t enough time for us to bake two desserts.)

The whole cucina italiana experience with Lorena, while intense and focused for almost four hours, was an absolute delight. And then we ate! Buon appetito!

 

CONTACT INFO:
Lorena Autori
Percorsi con Gusto
Via Casventino, 4
05029 San Gemini
Italy ‬
Tel. +39.3347769989‬‬‬‬
PRICES & AVAILIBILITY:
Umbria or Boston – PERCORSICON GUSTO

 

ONE-STOP SHOPPING:
Doubting your abilities to communicate in Italian? Crack tour guide Alessandro Manciucca in San Gemini can book this for you, and arrange for a visit to a family-run winery, in a small Umbrian town.
Allessandro can be reached at www.dreavel.com

Artists at work at Estudio Nómada BarcelonaAn energetic young Dutch couple, Iris Tonies and Arnout Krediet, run an innovative art school called ESTUDIO NOMADA, located on one of the twisting stone streets in the heart of Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter.

The back wall of the school was built by the Romans; it doesn’t get much more historic than that!

The back wall of the school was built by the Romans; it doesn’t get much more historic than that!

The “nomad” studio offers workshops for individuals and families who want to spend a week or two exploring Barcelona and environs with creative local types who will show them local art destinations through the eyes of the artist.  Drawing and painting classes, as well as a museum visit or two, are included in the workshop in the city.  But that’s not all!  The school has just opened an artist residency program in a stunning historic macia in the nearby wine country of Penedés.  A day in this lovely setting, surrounded by vineyards (lunch and wine tasting included!), can be added to the workshop, which is hand-tailored for the visitor by Iris.  There are stops to sketch or paint the enchanting vineyards and olive groves, along with a visit to a fantastic family-run winery.  All of Spain’s cava, the champagne of Catalonia, comes from this photogenic region, an hour outside of Barcelona.

The price for this unique experience, all art materials and museum admissions included, is 50 euros per person per day in the city, and an additional 80 euros for the vineyard/art tour.

To see the lovely wine-country location, take a look at the website for Residency Mas Els Igols and be sure to check out the A.I.R. artist-in-residency.

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Estudio Nómada
Estudio Nómada
Carrer de la Palma de Sant Just, 7
08002 Barcelona
Spain
Tel. +34.622.689.032

 

PHOTO CREDITS:
Arnout Krediet | Founder @ Estudio Nómada
Facebook
Official Estudio Nómada website

 

 

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DerutaAlthough my partner U.B. and I are both artists with a keen appreciation of art history, when our family booked a week-long visit to Umbria during our ten-year-old daughter’s spring break this year, we wanted to do something other than the typical visit to churches and art museums.

We spent a memorable morning at a Craftsman Workshop in the famous ceramics town of Deruta. You’ve no doubt seen, or bought, some of the pricey and precious plates, espresso cups or soup tureens made by the artisans of Deruta, with their traditional swirls and griffon shapes meticulously painted on glossy high-fired porcelain. When we learned that we could make our own at the authentic, no-frills ceramics studio called MAIOLICHE ARTISTICHE GORETTI, we said, “Sign us up!”U.B. painted plateWe loved that it was off the beaten path of ceramic factories. The husband-and-wife team of Umberto and Vania were extremely patient with us beginners. Their passion for their craft, which has occupied them for 25 years, shone through. Umberto was delightful with our daughter Stassa, who modeled low-fire bowls, which she personalized for our dog and our cat. In the meantime U.B. and I focused on the fine art of centuries-old decoration of dinnerware. Vania made sure that we followed the rules, after we “pounced” the design with a bag of charcoal onto the unfired white plate or cup. If we put a stroke of light blue rather than a stroke of the dark blue on that wing of the griffon, she would smile and firmly let us know that, no, THIS is the right color for that feather on that wing: SEMPRE (ALWAYS)! Then she would scrape the stroke away with a sharp knife, and we would do it properly.

We thought that the €70 per person price tag for a half-day session was quite reasonable, and afterward we couldn’t resist buyingsome of the Gorettis’ own (admittedly more professional) serving dishes and bowls. But our own creations are our real treasures.finished pottery

www.ceramichegoretti.com

CONTACT INFO:
Via Vincoli 7/9
06053 Deruta PG
Italy
Tel. +39 075 971 0048
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Monstercat AcensionFractal has been a favorite of mine after continually catching my ear with his electro house tracks via Monstercat Records. Itvara takes the number one spot in my book. It’s a great track for both the underground and mainstream music listeners to enjoy. Why? The beat is effortless and the breathy lyrics are a great addition to the euphoric atmosphere of the track. It gives you that authentic electro house sound with a mainstream twist; the lyrics. What makes my heart really flutter is the ebb and flow of buzzing synthesizers mixed with funky guitar twangs. The sounds are very different and blend beautifully together. Itvara is a magical electric creation that takes you into a floaty bass-happy playground. It’s always fun to get a little weird…Fractal should bring out your best parent-dancing moves on the floor and get your tush moving on the treadmill at the gym with this track. Give it a listen below – you can even download it for free, legally if you really like it. I love Monstercat!

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