Food, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

An Idyllic Find in Southern Oregon

A friend recently sold her home in tiny Jacksonville, Oregon. She and her husband are downsizing and moving north to be closer to her daughter. When she expressed concern about figuring out what to get rid of and how to pack it all up, I offered to help. She gladly accepted and we coordinated dates for me to fly up for a week of sorting, purging, packing and playing. (After all, all work and no play just isn’t an option).

The view through the trees as a rainbow appears over the Rogue Valley.

She picked me up at the tiny airport in Medford … six gates and ONE luggage turnstile … and gave me a bit of a driving tour as we headed to her beautiful home overlooking the entire Rogue Valley.

I was gobsmacked! We drove through Jacksonville and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was positively idyllic. I even joked that it was a bit like Stepford (a reference to the movie, Stepford Wives). We laughed about how true my comment was.

For the next five days we enjoyed coffee and fresh pastries her husband picked up each morning from a local bakery. Each day we tackled a different room. We dug into cabinets, closets and every possible hiding place in her kitchen, dining room and bedroom, making tough decisions about what goes and what stays. We made a run to Goodwill, donated boxes of dishes to a niece and piled more items for another Goodwill run.

Her husband spent his days in his office, making his own tough decisions about books and memories. When he wasn’t packing his own boxes, he was bringing up piles of items from downstairs … more decisions. 

The Carefree Buffalo welcomes you to browse.

But it wasn’t all work. By mid-day each day we threw on a light jacket and headed to a favorite restaurant or nearby destination. That’s when the true flavor of this charming location came through. The shops in Jacksonville are packed with fun, unique items that called to me. I picked out an adorable Lazy Susan to take home as a souvenir … and promptly realized it was too big for my small suitcase. Thank goodness The Carefree Buffalo offered shipping!

We called home and had her husband come meet us for drinks and dinner one night at their favorite restaurant, The Bella Union. A table out back offered shade under the thick canopy of vines supported by steel I-beams. Fountains softly gurgled as the waiter delivered icy cold cocktails. My pear martini is a local favorite since this is pear orchard country.

Dancin Vineyards
The picturesque vineyard includes plenty of food and drink options.
I tried several wines.
The stone-fired pizza is delicious.
There are plenty of options for a wine lover.

Over the weekend, we had a reservation at a local winery, Dancin Vineyards. A solid menu offered lunch choices including a delicious stone-fired pizza. We sipped and chatted and I marveled at the view under blue skies as the waitress described where the grapes from my wine grew. 

All the way over to the red barn.

“From the red barn to the road, right over there.” She pointed across the property to an adorable red barn just beyond rows and rows of perfectly laid out grape vines. It was all I could do not to swoon. 

Desserts … why choose just one.

We found it impossible to choose a single dessert from the menu, so we just got one of each … it was indulgent and ridiculous and FUN!

The next morning we were back to the task at hand, but with our afternoons packed with a little more local sightseeing I left feeling rested and accomplished and filled with memories.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Having a local show you the secrets is a great way to explore it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Arizona, Food, Road Trip, Route 66

The $100 Hamburger – Road Version

A road trip burger destination needs a great road trip car.

Years ago, private pilots, when asked where they were flying for a day trip, would often respond, “To get a $100 hamburger.” It meant they wanted to get up in the air and fly anywhere. Halfway through the day they would land at a little airport, pop into the ubiquitous cafe and have a hamburger before flying home. The hamburger was often nothing special and cost $5-$10. The day, though, cost fuel, time and hours on the engine — about $100 worth. It has become the way to describe a day trip with no real destination in mind. Some airport cafes are actually serving up burgers that are delicious, rarely are they worth $100.

This weekend, Greg and I were both wanting a hamburger. We didn’t want fast food. We thought about making one at home. We talked about places to get a good hamburger. Then we remembered Delgadillos Snow Cap on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona.

We’d been there before. We even blogged about that burger when we drove Route 66. Our mouths were watering just thinking about it. We had the obvious answer to our question. Delgadillos!

What does a hamburger on Route 66 have to do with a pilot’s idea of a $100 hamburger? Well … Delgadillos is about three hours away from where we live. We figured driving three hours each way for a hamburger made about as much sense as spending $100 and several hours to fly somewhere for a burger. Thus, our road trip for a burger is a lot like a flight to nowhere. 

We hopped in the car just before 9 am. We guessed that would put us at Delgadillo’s right at noon … perfect for that burger. We hit the road with a full tank of gas, top down under 91 sunny, beautiful degrees. 

Our route took us north on the back roads, through valleys with different microclimates evidenced by the change from Saguaro cactus-filled hillsides to pine-tree-covered mountains as we climbed to 6100 feet. We passed vast fields of golden grasses being munched by herds of cattle as we approached Interstate 40. 

On the west side of the historic part of Seligman, Delgadillo’s welcomes visitors.

Two exits west and the sign pointed to Seligman and Peach Springs! Our stomachs were growling. The clock was blaring 12:10pm. LUNCHTIME! Just off the exit there it was — Delgadillo’s Snow Cap!

We parked on the side of the restaurant and followed the painted roadway on the sidewalk to the door boasting a neon “Sorry, We’re Open” sign. Delgadillo’s is well-known for pranks and gags … the welcome sign fit right in.

Double checking the order.

We lucked out … there was no line. We walked up and a bandana-clad employee took our order – an oink (bacon burger), a choink (bacon burger with cheese), an order of fries to share and two chocolate shakes. Her eyes twinkled as she squirted me with mustard (it’s fake and I fell for it AGAIN!) We headed out to the patio to wait for our order and sipped the thick, delicious shakes.

The burgers and fries were PERFECT! The bun was crisp-toasted on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The burgers boasted an incredible grilled crunch. The fries included an optimal mix of crunchy and soft for dipping in the squeezed-out-of-packets ketchup and mayonnaise. We sat in the shade and devoured our lunch with glee as the lunch crowd filed in behind us.

Tanking up for the drive home.

Back into the car, top up in the heat of the day. One more fill up and headed home we chatted about how perfect the weather was, how light the traffic was and what fun it is to do something crazy and spontaneous — the road trip version of the $100 hamburger.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … sometimes you just have to jump in the car and go get a burger.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Road Trip

You Gotta Eat, Right?

Food … it’s what sustains us. When you Google food quotes, you’ll find a seemingly never-ending list:

Food is the ingredient that binds us together.

unknown author

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

James Beard

Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Of course there are tons of food quotes! We need it to live. It’s a part of everyone’s life and everyone’s culture. It can be delicious, awful, adventurous, familiar … but no matter what else it is, it is essential.

When you travel, food can be a challenge … or an opportunity. After all, not everyone prepares food the way you do (or I do). The good news is, I’ve never been anywhere I couldn’t find something to eat. In Morocco, the vegetables were spiced with cinnamon and the tea was mint. In the Galapagos, the fish was fresh and the desserts were dazzling. In Lima, we tried something we couldn’t really identify. The language barrier left us wondering if it was chicken and seafood, but it was delicious, nonetheless! Later that evening, we did find South American steak on the menu.

A hotel picnic can satisfy your craving for something familiar.

If you’re lucky, you have loads of memories of a waiter putting something in front of you that turns out delicious. If you’re not, at least you have plenty to laugh about. You can always grab a couple of familiar items from a local grocery store and have a picnic in your hotel room. We’ve done that more than once.

It’s starting to look like the rest of 2020 will be filled with road trips rather than international flights, but that’s OK. Regional food can be just as exciting as international cuisine.

Rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries in Arizona.

Hop in a car and drive a few hours from home and you are likely to find something on the menu that may surprise you. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What is this?” Then try the rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries! Walk up to a vendor at a street fair and try that bacon-wrapped meat on a stick. 

Meat on a stick is a staple at fairs and festivals around the world.

Your wanderlust shouldn’t end just because you’ve found a new place to visit, popped into a museum or dipped your toes into the water on a new beach. It should also extend to your taste buds.

After all … there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Taste some of it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food, Wine/Cocktails

Let’s Do Brunch … Virtually

Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.

So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.

Computer screen depicting participants in a virtual wine tasting.
The next best thing to being there…

This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.

As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.

Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.

Sign on a wall: "Winederlust - a strong desire to drink wines form around the world or just the wines from your neighborhood shop or even the ones you already have." Photo also shows a decorative card with wine glasses and wine shaped in the shape of a heart.
A sign of the times…

We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.

Empty wine glasses, a plate ready for the wash, a partially consumed bowl of olives and three partially consumed wine bottles.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

Wine Tasting in a Worldwide Quarantine

With much of the world in a quarantine, companies are shutting down (permanently and temporarily) or finding creative ways to thrive. That’s the case with Schlossadler International Wines!  We discovered this relatively small wine importer at a street fair in March … just before COVID-19 forced us all indoors. What luck! At that street fair we ordered a case of wine and became a member of the club. Three weeks into the shutdown, an email popped up from Liza. Schlossadler had figured out how to do virtual wine tastings! WOOHOO!!!

All set up for our virtual wine tasting.

We chose one of the sessions featuring Italian wines, paid via PayPal and got our taste buds ready for a stay-at-home date night. Dale delivered our three bottles of wine just after lunch on Friday. We popped all three into the wine fridge, chilling the white and slightly cooling the reds. We moved a computer to our home bar so we could create a wine tasting atmosphere and logged in Friday night just before the 8pm kick-off. 

Schlossadler President Hans Fritsch stepped into view and welcomed us live from California. He introduced his team: Liza in Phoenix, Ema in Alaska and winemakers Patricia and Mauro Figaretto from Corte Figaretto in Italy (where it was FIVE AM the next morning!) 

A virtual warehouse tour kicks off the tasting.

Hans took us into the warehouse for a brief tour. Then it was time to taste the wines. We kicked things off with Secco di Corte, an indigenous white. Greg and I had created a little pairing plate of goodies to go along with the tasting and we nibbled as we listened to the descriptions of the wines. Patricia and Mauro’s described their vineyard and their boutique wines. In Italy, an annual production of 80,000 bottles is “boutique.”

Ema offered insights into the meaning of the import label and explained the DOCG band. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG), the highest official Italian wine classification.

The wine tasting begins.

We sampled the first of two reds and learned more about how Corte Figaretto blends ELEVEN grapes to create Bacca Nera. The mild red delighted us as we listened to Mauro talk about his grapes like a proud father and how they are picked by hand in two phases. About half of the grapes are harvested when they are perfectly ripe. The other half is done about three weeks later when the grapes are just overripe.

A few bites to nibble and pair with the wines.

Moving on to the star of the tasting, we poured a generous taste of Amarone del Valpolicella into our glasses. Patricia wowed us with the story behind the oak casks this wine ages in after the grapes are dried for four months. Mauro travels to France to hand select the oak used for his casks, insisting the care that goes into each cask makes a better wine. He must be right, because the Amarone was MAGNIFICENT! The deep, ruby red color and the fragrant nose tease just a bit as that first sip dances on your tongue and tantalises your taste buds. 

Once the three tastings wrapped up, Hans and the team at the California headquarters opened up the live chat feature and we “met” our fellow tasters, asked questions and bantered back and forth for another 45 minutes. What a delight. We’ve already signed up for another virtual tasting this Friday.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes you might have to explore some of it virtually. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food

The Essentials of Life

A friend shared a book with my husband recently that had an incredible concept in it. The book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, written by Pellegrino Artusi in the late 19th century talks about the philosophy of food as art. Why is art something to be admired from a distance as it hangs on a wall? Why can’t it also be an incredible dish shared with family and friends? 

Enjoying the aromas of a homemade dish.

Mr. Artusi explains that food and procreation are the two essentials of life, both of which should be enjoyed. Italians are pretty well-known for embracing those two essentials. There are a number of Italian phrases that speak to the lifestyle – la dolce vita (the sweet life), dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), and domani, dopo domani (roughly translated as “whenever”). 

As Greg was reading passages from the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr. Artusi. It struck me that our approach to travel includes those two essentials. In fact, I often pass up a chance to wander a museum in favor of a long, leisurely meal in a local restaurant. 

When I travel, I embrace local foods! Everywhere I go I try to find and taste local specialties. It’s something I call epicuriosity. Besides the flavors of a place, though, the people and their approach to life fascinate me. My wanderlust is seemingly bottomless. I crave the chance to explore new cultures and foods, be awestruck by the differences in architecture in cities or stunning vistas in the countrysides, and wander the ancient city centers of the world or explore neighborhoods.

It seems like the entire world is locked down right now due to COVID-19, but I am earnestly planning itineraries for more trips. My bucket list seems to get bigger with every trip. I am blessed with a husband who not only supports my limitless yearning to travel, but shares it. 

We’re practicing social distancing for the health of our friends, family and neighbors. We know this crisis will eventually pass and we will once again pack our bags and head off to explore some new corner of the globe. In the meantime, we’re using this time to try some new dishes and enjoy our togetherness …  La dolce vita!

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. It will still be there and I still plan on exploring it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel, Walks, Wine/Cocktails

Spring Is Festival Season

Springtime is festival time. When the weather turns warmer, we all want to get out into the sun and soak up some warmth. What better place to do that than a festival?

Everywhere I look there are ads for weekend events … art shows, food festivals, wine tastings, church bazaars, neighborhood yard sales … there really is something for everyone. 

Warm sunny days bring visitors outside to enjoy a street festival.

Greg and I recently spent a few hours at a combination wine tasting and art show outside Phoenix. The 16th Annual Fountain Hills Wine and Art Festival was one of several in the metropolitan area on a sun-filled, blue sky weekend in March. For just $10, visitors can sample wines and spirits while browsing among more than 100 artists under the warm summer sun. 

Ferricreations sculpture

We chatted with Barry Ferich of Ferricreations, his hands blackish gray from working on a new piece of art fashioned from steel cable resembling a women’s hair … or the branches and leaves of a tree … blowing in the wind. Art is in the eyes of the beholder! He shared how he got his start crafting pieces out of found metal parts from building sites like wrenches and sockets, and stories behind his inspiration.

Imported wine tasting

We sipped wines from wine importer Schlossadler, who served up tastes of amazing red wine from Italy and Argentina to us. There were others, but we love Italian reds so we opted to stick with what we knew so we could move down the Avenue of the Fountains to try other offerings. That we came back to buy a case speaks to the quality of the wine and the friendliness of consultant Liza Smith.

We wandered past a writer/illustrator, painters, photographers and woodworkers showing off stunning examples of craftsmanship. We admired a bronze sculpture and swapped jokes with the artist.

Elysian Desert Distilleries offered up samples of Carefree Bourbon and Chakra Vodka … delicious.

Carefree Bourbon

All the while, we chatted easily about life and plans and how the weather makes it so easy to get out and enjoy these events. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, often right in your backyard. Have fun exploring at a festival!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel

Boston’s “Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour”

A quick google search of food quotes and travel quotes shows how closely these two things are connected. That’s one of the reasons I try to take a food tour or cooking class everywhere I go. Boston was no exception.

The bread bakery stop was a tour highlight.

There are a myriad of food tours in nearly every major city in the world. Boston’s includes many in the Italian food mecca known as the North End. Here in the shadow of the famous “Old North Church” where lanterns illuminated Paul Revere’s warning of the British invasion from the steeple, you can sample everything from pizza to pastries. I decided to go for food and humor and booked the “Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour.” 

Anthony was born and raised in the North End and explains he is one of only two TRUE natives operating a food tour here. Others, he scoffs, came here 10 or 12 years ago, but didn’t grow up here and don’t know the neighborhood stories. 

The menu at Umberto’s

The tour didn’t disappoint! Interspersed with tales of families who have been in business for generations, he walks us to Umberto’s for a slice of pizza to kick off the tour.

Inside Polcari’s Coffee

From there it’s off to Polcari’s Coffee — a very European-feeling general store where we were surrounded by the smell of coffee and spices while we sampled a classic piece of Italian candy.

Sandwich at Monica’s Mercato

A few blocks up the street we came to Monica’s Mercato Pizza. It wasn’t pizza we sampled, though, it was a hearty slice of a classic Italian sub. The flavors lingered deliciously on my tongue as we made our way to the Old North Church listening to Anthony’s stories of the neighborhood and how he got his nickname, Flash. 

One of the bakery cases at Modern Pastry

Next stop – the bakery! The tour description promised a cannoli, but Anthony had warned us that our cannoli would not be the typical bakery version. His Pops had made fresh ricotta cream filling the day before, so we would be getting the homemade version of the classic Italian treat. Never fear, the bakery case at Modern Pastry included dozens of cookies and pastry options. Our sample was something Anthony called an Italian macaroon. It was a shiny doughy ball filled with almond paste … WOW!

Key ingredients to making Italian bread.

A couple of doors down we turned up a little alley and came to a small flight of stairs into the heavenly aroma of baking bread. The list on the wall  of Bricco Panetteria shows what goes into true Italian bread – culminating with passion. Clearly, from the flavor of the slice of authentic Roman pizza I enjoyed, this bakery includes a generous portion of that essential ingredient.

Back on the neighborhood streets we passed restaurants, bakeries and a florist that may very well have been owned by some distant relative. As we stopped again, I noticed a familiar name on the sign at our next stop: Monica. Monica’s three sons each own a food shop of some sort in the neighborhood. At the pasta shop featuring her name, we tried a completely different kind of sub.

The Abruzzo section in the wine shop.

A number of my fellow foodie tourists and I pontificated about how simply changing the bread and condiments on a sandwich could so utterly change the flavors. Anthony warned us not to fall too much in love with this homemade mayonnaise-based dressing. This son was keeping the spread off the market. Our guide said he often tried to buy a jar to no avail.

A quick stop at a wine shop before our final destination left me dazzled with choices. This shop has an entire ROOM of Italian wines, sorted by region. It turns out the tour did not include beverages, but we were encouraged to pick out something we would like to sip with lunch. I left with a nice bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo to sip with my bolognese. 

Mama’s homemade pasta bolognese.

Finally we arrived at Mama’s house. Passing through the kitchen, we settled around the dining room table while Anthony asked Alexa to play some Italian classics while he opened our wine bottles. The rigatoni was brilliantly al dente. The bolognese light and flavorful and the company fun and lively.

Homemade cannoli caps off the tour.

As we finished our pasta, Anthony steps into the dining room holding a silver tray bearing the promised homemade cannolis. The tour couldn’t have ended on a sweeter note (pun intended). Pops’ homemade ricotta filling was not as sicky sweet as the bakery version. The shell crunched with perfection. 

We toasted Anthony and newfound friends before parting ways with very full bellies and bright, shining smiles on our faces. 

 Food, travel and laughs are easily three of my favorite things to combine. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … taste the flavors wherever your travels take you and don’t forget to laugh a lot.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel

A Tale of Cannolis

When I found out Greg and I would be spending a week in Boston, I started asking friends what should I see, do and eat there. I got a good variety of suggestions, but nearly every single person talked about either the North End’s Italian food scene or lobster and chowder.

20200114_131142
Boxed cannoli from Modern Pastry

For those of you who may not know, Italian food is my favorite. In fact, there is not even a close second. “OK,” I responded to the food suggestions, “what EXACTLY should I try in the North End?” The overwhelming response was, “Get a cannoli!” Then each person offered up a different bakery as the best option. A google search for “best cannoli in Boston” offered up a trio of bakeries, too. Faced with this dilemma, my choice seemed simple: Get a traditional cannoli from each of the top three bakeries and have our own taste test. 

20200114_131116
Bakery boxes are tied with string

Luckily, the day I snagged the cannolis I walked in, walked straight up to the counter at all three places and had cannolis in hand in short order. With my boxed and tied packages, I made my way back to the Convention Center where Greg was attending a conference. 

20200116_121317
Modern Pastry

As fortune continued smiling on me, I arrived during a rare break in his schedule. He was informally meeting with a pair of coworkers in the hotel lobby lounge. I walked up, got hugs from all three gentlemen and, grinning broadly, announced that all three were conscripted into taste-testing service immediately.

Hearing no complaints, I opened all three packages and we passed the cannolis around, taking big, flavor-packed bites of pastry and ricotta cream-filled deliciousness.

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Mike’s Pastry

The results: all three men chose the cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. This is, perhaps, the most famous of the cannoli bakeries and it’s fairly clear why based on the results of my unscientific study. I preferred the cannoli from Modern Pastry. I felt the shell was lighter and crispier. Mike’s, we all agreed, seemed sturdier and thicker. The cannoli from Bova’s Bakery was soggy. I had been warned to always get a freshly filled cannoli for that very reason. I didn’t specifically ask for one, so apparently got a cannoli that had time to lose it’s tasty crunch.

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“Mama’s” homemade cannolis

The following day, I had signed up for a food tour: “Boston’s Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour.” This tour ends at the home of our North-End-native tour guide’s mother’s house. Mama serves up true homemade pasta bolognese. Anthony, aka Flash, announced that “Pops” had whipped up some homemade cannoli filling the day before so we would also be presented with Mama’s cannoli. 

It was no contest. Mama’s was head and shoulders above the bakery versions! 

I believe one of the best ways to truly experience a place is through local food. Boston is no exception. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … taste the flavors as you go.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020