Friday, April 30, 2010

Great Food and Food for Thought for Calabria

It's Guido here coming to you with photos of some delicious food mixed with equally well thought out ideas:
Meet Vincenzo (Enzo) Grisolia and Angela Sangiovanni. This couple is the creative force behind Vigri’ Restaurant in Scalea that we mentioned a couple weeks ago.  I wanted to share more about these guys because of the fantastic restaurant they operate, and because Di and I are attracted to the advanced community development philosophies that Angela helps to champion with the group Scalea Libera.  Angela recently ran unsuccessfully for a city council position where she and others in the organization were proposing changes in the community that would support better tourism developments and support efforts to clean up ugly trash dump sites near streams and other important areas, discourage graffiti, promote alternative energy programs, and protect the seaside environment. The actions they support are similar to things we did back in the States and we would be interested in helping as volunteers for cleanup projects, etc.  It will be a good year before our language skills are such that we can realistically hold conversations with the group.

As our challenges just to survive lessen with time and language skills, this sounds like a good fit for our life here as pensionati.  One thought that’s already occurred to us, and other expats here, is that the area focuses its tourism efforts on Italian tourists mostly for the month of August.  There are actually some mid-size resort properties that do not open until July.  We think the community is missing a great opportunity to market themselves to the UK, northern Europe and the US.  This would expand the total tourist season by 3-5 months which could keep people employed much longer.  There is a huge infrastructure of housing and businesses along the coastline that is mostly empty 10 months of the year – including when the weather and sea temps are perfect.  It should be mentioned to those who are not aware--this is a part of Italy that did not enjoy the economic boom of tourism and industry that enriched the North.  This has helped to preserve the area for (we hope) more balanced development than has occurred elsewhere.  I hope we can update you more on Scalea Libera in the future.

I wanted to feature the Vigri’ Restaurant  again with more detail too.  I enjoy working a camera and getting a chance to hang out in an Italian kitchen with a true gourmet chef was fun for me.  I said earlier that Enzo creates wonderful meals at Vigri’.  What I didn’t mention is the artistic presentation of each platter that leaves his kitchen.  The food is as wonderful to look at as to eat, and for such reasonable prices.  I did learn a lot about kitchen logistics, but of course, the important work of creating the special sauces and mixes happened earlier and remain a secret!
Appetizers and salads:

Primi piatti (first course pasta dishes):
Tagliatelle alla norcino (pasta w/ pork),
                                                 Mezze maniche con seppie e fave (pasta w/ cuttle fish)

                                                 Secondi piatti (second course fish and meat dishes):

                           Tonno alla marinara con olive e capperi (tuna with olives and capers)

                           Costatina di maiale alla griglia (grilled pork chop)

Sorry, but I messed up the photo of a gorgeous chocolate torte.

Enzo and his staff work fast, hard and efficiently, but they have some fun too.   
                                                                               Franco and Chef Enzo

                                                                             Lucia, Vincenzo and Giama

I probably have spelled Giama’s name wrong, so mi dispiace.  She is the lead server, backed by Angela who also runs the register.   After just a couple visits, she remembered that I preferred a small bottle of vino rosso Verbicaro over their standard bulk vino locale.
If you read the Vigri’website, you see that work lunches on weekdays are €10 with either water or ¼ l. wine, and the more extensive Sunday lunch is €20.   Here are some neighbors from Santa Domenico Talao enjoying themselves last Sunday.  

I just wanted to share this with you.  Enzo and Angela run a fine business along the seaside in Scalea and they are involved in good, sustainable community development planning.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fiume Argentino

We knew that we were living in a National Park (Parco Nazionale del Pollino) but I have to admit that coming from Oregon, I didn’t expect it to be as beautiful or as wild as our forests.  This post will show how my thinking was a bit off.  We haven’t learned a great deal about the natural history yet, but knowledge will come with time spent and effort expended.  Nature doesn't give up secrets casually. The small area we've explored so far is beautiful and still mysterious.

We parked our car in Orsomarso, about ten miles east of Santa Domenica Talao.
We really didn’t know how far up the road the trail started, so we could have parked much further up the road.

It started like our Santa Domenica river walk does, with small gardens in town that slowly give way to forest.  There were signs of tree harvest on a small scale too.

Then, we were very surprised by the breathtaking Fiume Argentino, the Argentino River.  The color of it was bluer than the sky was that day.

We found a very well kept little arboretum not far up the road, which delighted me because I have been trying to identify the famous Castagna (chestnut) trees since we moved here.  

The path was stone.  I had to laugh as I thought of how difficult it would be build such a thing in the Columbia Gorge (cost, ADA, etc.).  We had fun identifying plants and ate lunch there.  No other visitors were around.

People who love the woods built the pedestrian bridge across the river--we could tell.  The flowers were familiar--the trees were not.

The walk ended (it could have gone on much further) at a waterfall.  There was a sign at the bridge to the waterfall saying that it would be safer if you cross one person at a time—because the stringers holding up the bridge are too small—according to ranger Doug.

We turned around knowing we would most definitely come back to explore further up the trail.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Restoration Fun

The seed of inspiration to create a blog of our Italian adventure came from my extended entries in our Restoration Diary thread on the Scalea Forum.  We directed the restoration of our main casa from Oregon (I had never even frequented blogs until I found Art and Barb’s while surfing for real estate in Italy).  After we bought our casa, a smaller one below us was put up for sale which we also bought. We were very relieved because we realized we needed room for guests and a storage area.  Now we've saved some money and it’s time to restore #14.

We could use your input into a couple of decisions we have to make.

First, we have two possible floor plans.  It’s important to decide soon because it influences where the plumbing and electricity will go.
Before I get into that,  I’ll give you a tour of the place--uh, as it is:

You get to it by going down the stairs seen behind the little Japanese maple in this photo.  When you come in, you see the little kitchen with fireplace.  The cabinets are gone and behind them is the wall we want to remove.

The ceiling needs to be removed and the wood beams restored or replaced.

The bathroom is currently a fright on the right as you enter and the door to the basement is on the left.

The soggiorno (living space) has a nice view of the sea through the doors leading to the terrace as does the bedroom. The wall with the photo of the Italian fellow is the other side of the one we want to remove.

Here are the two floor plans I sketched out after sweating out the measurements for a week (there is no such thing as anything even close to square in these old places):

Advantages of Floor Plan A: Plumbing gets to stay close to where it is.  Big living area.

Advantages of Floor Plan B: More space for hanging cabinets in the kitchen. Living space is by the fire.
Better entry?

We also need shutters for doors and windows facing the sea weather.  I can’t decide if I want brown wood colored aluminum as pictured here on the left (whose only advantage is that it’s practical) or go for turquoise wooden shutters like these.
You tell me.

The only vision that is completely clear for me is my vision for the bath.
I just love this sink (minus the white light thingies)

And the shower will be just glass doors at the end of the room (see pink nightmare photo above).  Don't know what kind of tile yet, except that I think large squares rather than small tiles.

Please leave a comment on your floor plan choice or anything else that comes to mind like what kind of things would you want out of the design if you were a guest?  What kind of kitchen, etc.

Friday, April 9, 2010

So Many Restaurants, So Little Time

Any discussion of what we are eating here has to include local restaurants as we eat out often. There are many restaurants in our area and they are all good – we have only run into one place here to which we would never return--good food is just what people make around here--they can't avoid a certain level of excellence at the start.  The food is almost all organically grown or caught, local, and in season.  Some chefs are a little better than others and some make you welcome in ways that draw you back--these are the finds that make going to new places interesting.  We enjoy finding those places that are more adventurous, serve unique meals, AND give the illusion (if not the reality) of having fun feeding us--the unfoodies from the American outback.

Just last Friday we were out doing a little shopping and sight seeing.  We decided to check out the village of Cirella (which has some old and picturesque ruins and is the furthest south we can see from our terrace).  We often just drive till we see a restaurant sign and turn in to see if they’re open.

Just a block off the beach Life Risto Pub seemed funky enough.  Long story short, Di had a great plate of deep fried but lightly battered shrimp and calamari, and I just had to try one of the hamburgers they listed on the menu.

It too was really good – veal burger on Italian bread with pancetta, lettuce and cheese.   I asked what the melted, still-gooey cheese was and heard simply it was tedesco (German).  As we left the owner bade us a buon vacanze and when I told him we lived in SDT (not on vacation), he wagged his finger and said we must come back and do more seafood.  We will!!  We’re finding that the fresh calamari here is not rubbery like the inner tube I tried in the US that turned me off, so I’ll keep trying.  Our lunch with drinks was €25 for both ($34).

Many pizzerias around here use a forno legno (wood oven).  Da Antonia, the largest local restaurant within walking distance, has great seafood and pizza.  Here’s a shot of our dinner being cooked one evening:

Di always gets a basic pizza margherita and I usually get a Calabrese version with some sausage and peppers.  I remember one of our language teachers in Tropea saying that “American pizza is just too thick and covered in compost”.  Last night we enjoyed grilled shrimp there.

Our off-season lunch favorite in Scalea is now Ristorante Vigris which is on the beach.  We will avoid the Scalean beaches in August given the crowds, but we love this little place now.   They and one other place this time of year offer €10 “work lunches” to attract locals to the reasonably priced good food.   Here is chef Vincenzo (his uncle lives in SDT) and staff:
Below is the secondo or second plate.  The first is pasta. You get your choice of two primi and secondi and either water or wine. They have a regular menu for summer season, or even now, but the special lunches that vary daily are fabulous and at a good price.

We’ve seen priests there (the holy men need good deals too).  Our last time just before easter, 13 priests went inside while we were on the patio.  Prosecco corks were popping and the laughter was loud as the men had fun.  We wondered if it was a “last supper” before the increased workloads of Easter.

We also visited the Vecchio Frantoio (old olive press) restaurant with friends recently.

Located near the city of Praia a Mare, it has reopened under new management.   The owner is personable and speaks some English.

This place offers just one meal each day that is built on what is seasonal.  They also boast home grown beef.   We gorged ourselves with the full-meal-deal of antipasti, primi, secondi and dessert. The secondi  included an actual 1” thick t-bone steak.  Such beef steaks, cooked medium, are rare in here where the norm is a thin veal bistecco. FYI, we are both starting to ask for half portions at restaurants with our pasta so we have room for the fish or meat dish. We enjoyed this meal and will return to see what meals are featured later in the season.

On Easter Monday (Pasquetta), we had a great meal on the terrace of D’Aprile  in Belvedere with friends from England and Ireland (photo is by Lesley Eastwell).  There were people swimming and trying to surf the larger than normal waves behind us.  Our first Pasqua here, we found that everyone heads for somewhere to eat with friends on Monday.  Many go to picnic in the mountains or along the local river, and all the good restaurants are booked in advance by large groups of families and friends.

It’s true.  Eating in Italy is great. Calabrian food is different from Roma, from Toscana, from Veneto, Bologna, etc. We’ll continue to explore (steal some recipes) and enjoy it all.  It’s getting used to mealtimes (long big lunches, light dinner at 8:00 or later) that is more of a challenge.  Prices here are 10-20% cheaper than we were used to in the resort community of Hood River, Oregon.  So MaryEllen, that concludes our answer to you about stores, eating and dining in our little part of Calabria.

Cooking as always (when not in a restaurant), Guido


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