Hello, my name is Linda and I’m an Instagram food addict

Yeah, I post my food on Instagram. Then I eat it. Still counts as sharing, right?

Instagrams of somebody else’s dinner. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.

What’s your opinion?

Food styling meals for Instagram – Food & dining – The Boston Globe.

Tripe? Truffles? Tastings? It’s a Barolo Trifecta.

The annual Tripe Festival. Of course! What else would make the already virtually impassable winding mountaintop roads of Barolo, Italy narrow even further with cars parked haphazardly along both sides? On the sunny October Sunday afternoon of our visit to the famed Marchesi di Barolo Winery it was the tripe festival. Who could’ve guessed? We add our van to the line-up, then walk to see what all the fuss is about.

Tripe is popular here, so popular that hundreds of visitors come to quaint Barolo, population 750, to sample Zuppa di Trippa, tripe soup, made with local favorites, Nucetto chickpeas. Or salame ‘d Tripa ‘d Muncalé, Moncalieri’s tripe salame. Still not satisfied? How about Rustia, a tripe spread? Clearly a whole lotta people here love tripe. They amble from table to table, tasting fork in one hand, hunk of crusty bread in the other, jam-packing the narrow lanes of this medieval town perched on a hilltop in the famed Barolo wine producing region of Alba.

Barolo

Unimpressed by the overhead banner that heralds A Tutta Trippa! (Everything Tripe!), we head straight to the Cantina Marchesi di Barolo, the lure of our private truffle dinner and wine tasting overpowering any other gustatory alternative. Not that tripe even makes our short list. We’re game to try lots of new foods in Italy, and the group has ventured well outside their culinary comfort zone both here and at Salone del Gusto. But tripe? Not so much.

In Italian terms, the Abbona family, who own the Marchesi di Barolo Estate, are practically family. It’s a six degrees of separation kind of thing. My good friends, Josh and Jen Ziskin, owners of Ristorante La Morra in Brookline, MA, used to live in….wait for it…..La Morra, Italy. Josh trained at the well-known Ristorante Belvedere, and learned to make, among other dishes, amazing agnolotti, which are part of the northern Italian menu offered nightly. While there, Jen babysat for Valentina Abbona, daughter of the owners of the winery. Got it? Four degrees of separation later, I’m greeted with kisses on both cheeks when we run into the Abbonas during a night out in Monforte d’Alba.

Linda and Jonathan Plazonja with Anna Abbona of the Marchesi di Barolo estate.

On Jen’s endorsement alone, the always gracious and equally beautiful Anna Abbona and her staff ensure that our visit to the winery is magical. We begin with a guided tour of the cellars, both old and new. In the private cellar, behind a wrought iron gate, are some of the first Barolos bottled, dating to 1839. Drinkable wines begin with the vintages bottled in the 1920’s. A signed Giuseppe Verdi manuscript is displayed with other Italian memorabilia, while several shallow, faceted sterling silver tasting cups hang at the ready to sample the famed Barolo wines.

Abbona bottles Barolo bottleIt’s October in Alba, and that means truffle season. So when Anna asks, “Would you like the truffle supplement?,” my answer is a resounding yes. Our four-course tasting features many of Piemonte’s heritage dishes: carne crudo, vitello tonnato, and a 14-hour Barolo-braised Fassano beef. But the risotto with fonduta and shaved white truffles steals the show. Rich, creamy, decadent beyond all our expectations and delicious.

Ah, but how are the wines, you ask? We are after all at a legendary winery. Well, even after almost a week of sampling wines at Salone del Gusto, Marchesi di Barolo’s offerings do not disappoint. First up, a delightful Arneis, the classic Piemontese white, whose intense flavors are the perfect complement to the carne crudo (veal tartare, served two ways). From there, a minerally Gavi di Gavi 2013, a lovely complement to the vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce) .

Veal

Next up, a delicious and fruity Barbera d’Alba Peiragal 2012, which takes its name from the soil composition of the nearby sloping hills. To accompany the brassato, the star of the show: A big, oaky Barolo del Comune de Barolo 2009 made exclusively from a blend of the various Barolos from the historic vineyards at the winery. It’s 100% Nebbiolo and 110% yummy. Finally, for desert, a sweet and fizzy Zagara Moscato d’Asti.

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M di B dessert

Sated, we stumble out into the street as the bluish-grey light of twilight casts its shadows on a group of men singing lustily near by. They are accompanied by two accordions, a clarinet, and other assorted instruments. Their joy is infectious, and a crowd soon gathers, singing along on the chorus. I wonder if they are singing an homage to tripe. I catch every other word; just enough to recognize a bawdy street song about loose women, the men who love them, and star-crossed romance. Universal themes, even at a tripe festival in a mountaintop town in northern Italy.

Singers

Barrel plaque

Barrels

 

 

 

 

 

 

New deets! Salone del Gusto 2014.

Big news from Italy! The official countdown to Salone del Gusto 2014 starts on June 9. That’s when the long-awaited Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Slow Food itinerary of workshops, tastings, and programs will be posted online. We’ll want to reserve immediately, to ensure our place at the most sought-after events and workshops.

If you’ve been thinking about joining us, it’s decision time. If you’ve already signed on (lucky you!), time pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite wine, buff up your reading glasses, and settle in to imagine yourself at one of hundreds of perfectly curated programs designed to satisfy your every craving for wine, cheese, chocolate, olive oil, coffee, and so much more. Once your choices are made, we’ll sign you up.

Over the winter, I’ve been tweaking the trip itinerary, and am pleased to post the updated details here. By design, our experience will be an intimate, immersive one — I’ve booked only ten rooms, and five are already sold. If you’re on the fence, the time is now to call with questions.

So, take a look, and I hope to hear from you. It promises to be an epic trip.

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Just a thought.

Once, a friend returned from a trip to Italy and brought me a pencil. She pulled it out of the bag, and handed it to me, unwrapped.

“It’s just a thought,” she said, as I turned it over in my hand. It was a singular pencil, made of wood and wrapped in elegantly patterned turquoise, white and black Florentine paper. I brought it home and put it on my desk.

Tomato can full of colored pencils

Twenty five years later it’s still there, in a San Marzano tomato can that does double duty as a colored pencil holder. And every day in the ensuing years, each time I look at that pencil, I smile. I am reminded that someone thought of me, however briefly, however far away, and marked that “thought” with a token.

I’m big on “thoughts.” Until my friend used that particular word, I really didn’t have a name for the impulse, the effort, or the act of thinking of someone else while I went about the business of my life. Now I do, and I try, as often as I can, to mark that thought in a meaningful way.

Take it from me. We’ve all gotten into the very bad habit of letting popular culture dictate our enactment of “having a thought” for us. We act on birthdays, Christmas, weddings, graduations, all of the usual experiences that have given birth to clichéd Hallmark moments. Me, I’m for making my own moments. And having my own thoughts. And marking them as I choose to. Hallmark and the calendar be damned.

Since the “pencil” moment, I’ve tried to mark the occasions when I’m thinking of someone. One year, I made challah bread (yes, challah bread) for Thanksgiving. I made a few extra loaves and delivered them to friends on the day before with unpasteurized honey and salted butter. Another, I collected handfuls of the fresh herbs from my garden, tied them in twine, and passed them out at yoga, to my friends who join me often on the mat.

photo copy

When my high school senior son asked three over-burdened teachers and his guidance counselor to write a last minute recommendation for him (“Yeah, sorry, it’s due Friday”) he took a page from my book. By heaping an additional recommendation upon the several hundred they were already writing, he realized they were expending extra effort on his behalf. In return, he made them cookies. Not just any cookies. Mammoth chocolate chunk cookies. It was a simple, thoughtful gesture to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me.”

Big cookie Thank you chocolate Chip Cookies

During the holidays, the self-consciousness that seems to overshadow these spontaneous demonstrations of affection wanes. Yesterday, the doorbell rang. To my surprise, my friend Kate’s husband, John, was behind the glass.

“Hi,” he said. “Kate sent this by for you.”

He presented me with a small bag and a card. We chatted, had a hug, and I went inside, impatient to discover what it contained. To my surprise, I found two lovely hand painted wooden Christmas ornaments. Oh, you say, that’s not a thought, that’s a holiday gift. Perhaps. But when you learn what the ornaments are, I think you’ll change your mind.

Under all that white tissue paper, a miniature plump pink prosciutto and a creamy white provolone, like the ones that hang in salumerie all over Italy, emerged. A sweet note confirmed that, it is, in fact, the thought that counts. Kate sent these special tokens to mark the first year of Morso Soggiorno, my immersive food travel business. Now, every time I look at them, I’ll think of Kate and her excitement for me. They’ll have a place of honor in my kitchen twelve months of the year.

Wooden Provolone and Prosciutto ornaments

All of this is a long-winded way of saying it’s always a good time, the right time, the best time, to let the people you care about know you care for them. Any small gesture will do. A pencil, a prosciutto, a provolone….un pensiero. A thought.

“The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.” –Thomas Jefferson.

Eat your feelings.

The college tour. Hmmmm. Is there anything better than spending a weekend away with an over-anxious teenager who’s trying to decide where to spend the next four years of his life and where you’ll spend way too much of your money?

I swore I would never do the college tour thing. It’s just one giant marketing grind, I said. They’re not going to suck me in, I said. But here we are, getting primed for touring three schools in 48 hours. We’re holed up in a sweetly appointed, centrally located one bedroom apartment in the Fruit Street section of Brooklyn. Thanks, airbnb.

Over the next two days, we’ll be guided around the schools by groups of zealous campus ambassadors. Nearly interchangeable, each and every one shares a carefully crafted personal narrative (I’m just like you!) in addition to a constant, blinding, effervescent smile that showcases identically straight, white teeth (proof positive that their parents’ investment in orthodontics is paying off handsomely). All three deliver startlingly similar proscribed messaging that goes something like this:

Of course our Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners will personally teach your incoming freshman! They live to teach!  A full 92.5% of our classes have less than 7 students. That may be true, I think snidely, but can they teach you the difference between ‘fewer’ and ‘less?’ And, our campus was used to film Gossip Girl! Ho ho! Forget grammar and syntax, that clinches it for me.

There’s more…..

Did you know? We offer a loaded gym, movie theater, and bowling alley under each dorm, and a 24/7 fully-staffed dining hall! We serve vegan! We serve vegetarian! We serve Kosher! All our services are accessible through an underground network of interconnected corridors! We wouldn’t want your student to have to go outside in his PJs. Why not, I ask myself. Half the kids in my neighborhood walk around in their pajama bottoms. In all kinds of weather.

And finally, just when I thought they’d gone missing, the skinny on academics:

We believe in a classic education! We’ll read the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original Greek so your student can feel competent engaging in dinner table conversation no matter what! So, where, exactly, do they expect “my student” to be eating dinner? And when did he become “my student” and not “my son or daughter?” Like a commodity, he’s just another cog in the pricey, competitive, higher-education machine.

All this walking and gawking and overly-exuberant marketing makes me hungry. Well, it makes me a lot of things, but since this is a food blog, I’ll channel my emotional investment into food. If you’re me, eating your feelings is a good thing. Any trip, anywhere, means a food tour. Once, when our older son broke his leg and we had to cancel a ski trip, we turned a few mid-winter days in NYC into a tour of Mario Batali’s restaurants. We hit ‘em all. In my mind, a good foodie experience is the silver lining in any black cloud. The antithesis of the absurd. Even college tour tsunami-absurd. Continue reading