Happy 2012! We have exciting news…

We are back in Amsterdam after a wonderful two week visit in Louisiana and Florida with our family and friends for the Christmas holiday.  Our second year together in
Europe brought many adventures in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and of course The Netherlands.  And we added a few “new” countries to the list…Scotland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite since every destination has been unique in its own way.  Our travels over the last two years have bought us to more places than I ever imagined I’d visit in my entire life.  But we’ve only scratched the surface with all the amazing places yet to be discovered.

Which leads to our latest update:  Another year in Amsterdam!  G is now officially a Dutch employee and we are excited about another year of European Adventures.  Here are a few highlights from 2011…we’ll see where the wind blows us in 2012.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness in Twenty Twelve!

R&G

Vernazza, Cinque Terre ~ Italy

The last two days in Amsterdam have been beautiful crisp sunny days.    Days like this are rare as October tends to be a generally wet month leading up to the very soggy months of November and December.  We rolled our clocks back this past weekend and the days are now terribly short.  So when the sun peeks out, your spirits are lifted and you soak up every moment of golden goodness allowed by the ticking clock…because you know it’s only a matter of time before the typical fall Dutch weather rears its dreary head.

And that’s what I woke up to early this morning.  Clouds of dense fog hovering in the street as if perfectly placed for a Halloween party.  The sky is so grey I find is hard to believe the sun could actually exist beyond those layers of gloominess.  And you wonder if any minute now, the rain will begin to fall making you a wet mess on your bike with no way to seek cover.

But that’s not what this post is about.  While trying to perk myself up with my morning coffee, I read about the devastating rain storms which struck Vernazza just a few days ago.  It immediately put my “dreary” morning into perspective. To many people, it’s another freak accident procured by Mother Nature.  I realize there are natural disasters occurring at any given moment around the world.  But when you read about a town where you spent time and created memories, it tugs at your heartstrings in a completely different way.

Courtesy of the Wandering Italy Website

Before moving to Amsterdam, I heard small bits about the Cinque Terre region of Italy.   Once I moved here, it didn’t take long to meet handfuls of people who raved about the amazing hiking trails, picturesque villages, and breathtaking views.  We spent two [short] days in Cinque Terre during our summer holiday in Italy.  We stayed in Monterosso al Mare and made the round trip hike to Vernazza on the last day of our vacation.  The heat was in full swing by the end of July and I was happy to be burning the countless calories I had consumed in Lake Como, Florence, & Tuscany.  The hike exceeded my expectations and I made a mental note that this was a place I wanted to revisit in my future travels.

Cinque Terre (The Five Lands) is composed of five small villages nestled in the cliffs and overlooking the Mediterranean.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, & Riomaggiore. Due to the topography of this area, it’s difficult to reach by car.  The suggested mode of transportation is to hike (some are more of a leisure walk) from town to town.  Trains also run frequently along the coast line; however, I think it robs you of an experience unique to Cinque Terre.

The damage caused by the storm and landslide are still fresh.  While clean up is the immediate focus, I have faith that rebuilding and recovery will follow close behind.  And hopefully the tourists will too.  Just like New Orleans, it’s just too beautiful and unique to let it become a ghost town—as some Vernazza residents already fear.  

Click here to read more from travel expert Rick Steeves’.  And here for a before/after slideshow.

I am awestruck by the force of Mother Nature and what she can do in mere moments.  Just a few months ago, we walking around this area snacking on pizza and gelato before hiking back to Monterosso.

Click here or here for clips on You Tube. 

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Nero Pasta con Frutti di Mare e Salsa Fra Diavolo

You don’t need Google Translate to decipher this tasty dish.  Just as our holiday last summer to northern Spain left us craving more of their culinary delights once we returned home, our recent return from Italy has been no different.  We haven’t wasted anytime popping open bottles of wine, using rosso pesto on everything from sandwiches to pasta, and savoring the sweet honey on fresh bread.  Now it’s time for the squid ink pasta.

As many people know, squid excrete a black ink as their defense mechanism to confuse and elude predators.  As many cooks know, it’s a wonderful element to add flavor and color to a variety of dishes, pasta being the most common.  The flavor is described as “briny and seafood-y”.  Big surprise there.  And naturally, best paired with seafood.

Amsterdam has been nothing but a daily soggy mess for over a week.  But we managed to hit the fish market to grab some fresh squid and clams during a brief dry moment.   The recipe is really easy and takes under 30 minutes to prepare, especially if you buy seafood that has already been cleaned.

Sauté

Add Chianti

Add tomatoes and seafood of choice

Mmmm, squid!

Nero pasta, al dente

Mix it all together...

...and enjoy!

There are several great recipes on the web using squid ink pasta, we just happen to choose this one and somewhat halved the recipe to accommodate two people.

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) black squid ink pasta (regular pasta can be substituted)
  • 2 lb whole baby squid (or 1 lb cleaned baby squid bodies or pre-cut rings)

[we also added clams; I think any kind seafood will pair well if you don’t prefer squid]

  • 1- 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, use the best you can find
  • 1/2 c Chianti Wine
  • Olive oil as needed
  • Garlic, 2-3 cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • Lots of crushed red pepper flakes for heat

[we love heat and added a chili pepper as well]

  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Garnish:  Fresh or dried parsley and/or grated parmesan

Preparation:  Before you begin anything, clean and prep the squid by gently but firmly grabbing the “head” of the squid and pulling away from the body. This should remove all insides including the ink pouch. Careful to not break the ink pouch, it will get EVERYTHING black. Next, rinse out the squid body and pull out the “bone” – it runs down the body of the squid and looks and feels like thin clear plastic. It should come out in one clean piece. Next, gently tear off the “flaps” on the body and this should bring all the skin with it. You are looking for a shiny, white, clean squid body which you then cut into rings, rinse one more time and set aside. Want less mess and a time saver?  Buy cleaned squid or pre-cut rings (we did!).

Next, cook pasta to al dente, drain and reserve about 1/2 c cooking liquid. Meanwhile sauté garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes in olive oil, careful to not burn garlic. Add wine and bring to a boil, reduce by about half…add tomatoes, simmer, adding salt and pepper as needed (to taste).

Add squid to tomato sauce, along with drained pasta and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer, tossing frequently, and turn off heat before mixture nears dry (and before seafood becomes tough). Squid, like shrimp, cook within minutes and will be tough and chewy if you overcook it.

Garnish with crushed red peppers and chopped parsley, serve immediately (preferably with your favorite Chianti Classico!).

Eet smakelijk and Buon Appetito!

En route to Varenna, Lake Como

 

[July 9, 2010]

Day 2

A quick breakfast, a stop at the local bodega for provisions and we are on the road—Lake Como or bust!  It wasn’t long before we hit the Swiss border and we could sense the Italian Lakes getting closer.  While August is typically a busy month for many Europeans to take holiday, it was quite obvious several were getting a jump start in July.  Nearly every other vehicle from The Netherlands, Belgium, or France had in tow either a camper, a set of bicycles, a roof box, or all of the above.

Once through the queue and across the Swiss border, the scenery was lush and mountainous.  Quite a change in topography having come from the Dutch “low lands”.  Driving through the Swiss Alps also meant navigating long dark tunnels (usually backed up with traffic) in order to slice through the terrain.  Day 2 of this stop-and-go traffic was again unkind to G’s feet enduring several crawling hours of clutch-brake-gas-clutch-gas-gas-clutch-brake-clutch-brake-gas-clutch-brake.

As signs for Lugano were appearing, we were soon rewarded with our first glimpse of the Italian Lakes with sunny views of Lake Lugano.  Lake Lugano splits the Swiss/Italian border and soon after crossing we had some extremely narrow and winding streets with high stone walls which no U.S. SUV would have cleared and retained both side view mirrors.  Continuing east-ish, we wriggled down the hill to reach the ferry landing at Menaggio on the western shore of Lake Como.  G brought the car to the queue while I purchased a ticket to cross the lake on the next ferry to Varenna.  Having been sheltered in the cool A/C of the car for several hours, I nearly melted when I went to the ticket window.  WOW, it’s hot here.

We were the last car to squeak in on the ferry and the cool breeze during the ride across was more than welcome as we stood on the deck and soaked up the panoramic views as we crossed the heart of Lake Como.  In about 15 minutes we arrived in Varenna.  Our next challenge was managing 10 hairpin turns (G calls them switchbacks) to whirl up the hill and reach our apartment.  We were both a bit nauseous from the twists and turns; but when we walked in, the views to accompany our home cooked meal were more than worth it.

Ciao,

R&G

*pardon fuzzy fotos from moving vehicle*

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