Remember National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Chevy Chase movie where the aunt passed away on their family trip, which continued unfazed with the exception of moving her from the back seat to the roof of the car? I often think of this scene when vacationing with my kids and their kids. “You wouldn’t do that to Noni, would you?” A few have said no, but rather reluctantly for my taste!
When my parents were still with us, we would often take them along on family vacations. A rather beautiful condo in a very high end Palm Beach complex — think the Breakers — was offered to us. With three or four bedrooms, we could easily accommodate my folks. The management is probably still trying to rectify the amount of food that was consumed at the breakfast buffet, mostly by my stepfather. He was definitely from the “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing” school.
On a trip to Sicily with my mother and our Roman relatives, we stopped in Palermo en route to Favignana, a small island where my cousin Patrizia’s family had a cute cottage. The hotel we checked into in Palermo, vintage 1900 or earlier, had gigantic rooms, in my recollection, perhaps 20 feet by 30. There was a bed with bedside tables, sofa, coffee table, dining table, and a few miscellaneous pieces. There were six of us traveling, and my cousin Mondino booked a room and a bath. I questioned where we were all going to sleep. “E’ buona,” (It’s good) he assured me. Every piece of furniture opened to a bed, to my dismay. The small bedside tables converted into something resembling a sleeping accommodation; even the ottoman was designed to be a bed. Those Italians know how to design for a crowd, let me tell you. My mother and I never got over it, we laughed for years about the room the whole family stayed in.
The Italians are very generous about sharing their homes with friends. On a trip to Sardinia with my cousins, Alba, Patrizia and Anna, we were hosted by a family who had a beautiful place right on the water. We made dinner together — it was great fun, and certainly delicious, to share each others’ favorite dishes. I loved their rice salad, which we kept adding to like it was Stone Soup. What really stood out though was how much they know about food — Italians take cooking so seriously, their meals are such a big part of their daily thoughts and actions.
One of the exciting parts of this trip was, during the 15-hour boat ride to Sardinia, was watching the Italian families with their kids. They decorate their babies with Gucci shoes, gold bracelets, pierced ears, and the most beautiful clothing. They picnicked topside with lovely baskets of food in handsome containers. Wonderful aromas permeated the ship. The Italians en route to Sardinia had style like I have never seen.
A trip to Nervi, a village close to Portofino on the Italian Riviera but not so fancy, will always hold a place in my heart as one of the best vacations. Todd, my daughter Danielle and I stayed in a sweet hotel right on the sea. The food in this part of Italy, Genoa, is wonderful — almost as special as Bologna, to me. Of course, the seafood is amazing, and it is known for the wonderful pesto. We did not venture far from our little town. It had everything one would want. Including a Dolce & Gabbana store, way before they became famous. I bought a coat that, after 30 years, I still love. Would you believe the shopping area in town had an egg store — they only sold fresh eggs in handmade baskets. A sweet old couple were the proprietors. There was a butcher, a cheese shop, a store that just had every variety of lettuce in beautiful containers where you could create your salad to take out, accompanied by every balsamic vinegar and olive oil imaginable. My first intro to white anchovies was here. It’s funny what you remember about vacations. Not surprising that my memories are focused on food.
On a trip to Marche (one of the 20 Italian regions) which is in the middle of the country, we stayed at a cousin’s farmhouse. It was there that I had the treat of eating my first white truffle; the area is famous for them. (On another trip to Alba we had our first encounter with truffles in general.) My relatives insisted that I experience them right then, as they were in season. A little shaving of white truffle over some fresh fettuccine noodles in a light cream sauce? Delicious. My cousins also insisted that they make me the wild boar that is another pride of the area. They marinated the meat in wine and juniper berries, which we picked on their property, and slow roasted the meat for hours. The aromas linger for decades as I think back on those delightful days. It doesn’t get any better.
I was listening to an episode of a podcast (the NPR program called “Hidden Brain”) in the car the other day in which an Italian professor from Harvard Business School was talking about the tendency of experts to become rigid in their outlooks. She explained how people get lazy as they get smarter, more dogmatic, since they’ve invested so much to learn what they know, and then they don’t want to be challenged, and don’t want to consider new approaches. One of the things I love about traveling is that it keeps you fresh — it challenges your assumptions and reminds you that there are always new ways, better ways, to do things. This is wonderful!
Salade di Riso
Allow three cups of rice (I prefer jasmine) to come to a boil in six cups of water and a little salt and a sprig of thyme and rosemary and cook till tender. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
Add the following:
four hard boiled eggs eggs, peeled and chop roughly,
three tbsp. of capers drained.
Add some olives if you wish, but remove the pit and chop.
In the food processor, chop three carrots and a small red onion.
Place a small amount of fresh basil, chives, cilantro, flat leaf, oregano in processor and pulse a few seconds.
Place in a bowl and whisk in a half cup of olive oil and the juice of a half of a lemon and orange, tsp. salt.
I like a little honey or maple syrup to sweeten the dressing.
White anchovies are nice and any grilled fish or seafood can be added.
I make a bowl of rice and then place the seafood right on top and garnish the bowl with grilled zucchini, for a one dish meal. Buon appetito.