Sandi is blogging from the WhistleStop Cafe kitchen. It's all about good home cooking; food, family and fun. Thousands of posts . . .

~In the south and around the world.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Full of Memories and Pasta

We are stuffed full of memories and pasta. Today is the day we leave Montisi.

Gail has another group of lucky travelers to fill this villa, her second group of 3 weeks. She will have a wonderful time~ but never again a week like this one.

This has been a chance to live with friends for a week in a breathtakingly beautiful spot. Montisi is a warm and welcoming Tuscan town; they have opened their arms to us. The townfolk may be able to find a table again in the morning at the cafe, Even Roberto may miss us invading his restaurant in the late evenings.

In a funny way I am excited to get back to London, where we can down load these cameras and see what photos we have. I will go back and fill in some photos on the posts I have tried to do 'on the road'. There will be hundreds!

I will carry memories of pasta and poppies... I can't wait to catch up on the blogs!
Ciao y'all~

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Montisi GTG

You have read about our Slow Travel Get Togethers. We have been to Brevard, Palm Desert, and Savanah. This time Slow Travelers came to us in Montisi!

Thursday night we had a party at the villa. PalmaBella (and her assistant Brad'll Do It) outdid herself once again with the preparations. She had an antipasto misto table that was incredible. We had platters of cheeses, and meats- her famous gorgonzola with apricots, artichokes and a 'California' crab dip. There was enough food for all of Montisi. The limoncello tiramisu was perfetto.

The music was by Liz and Pino... what a fun evening. All of us joined in with a little singing and even some dancing.

I am not sure, but I believe there may have been some who were overserved. But, you know, 'what happens in Montisi, stays in Montisi'.

For those of you who couldn't make it... we missed you!

Ciao y'all!

Cooking in Cortona

Today was the day for our cooking lessons in Cortona. Alessandra is another Slow Travel 'friend'... I have never met her up until today. She is also the owner of a great shop, il Girasole where you can find beautiful linens, Etruscan jewelery, and gifts. We have been looking forward to real cooking lessons, y'all know I love to cook! The day started with a trip around town to pick out our supplies~ the vegetable market, the meat market for fresh cuts- and a little banter with the butcher, the bakery, and the wine store. Everyone in town had to approve our cooking plans. The menu was very Italian .
We made our own tagliatelle with ragu di funghi, risotto alla milanese, arrosto di champagna al latte, and carciofi saltati. Which is pasta with mushroom sauce, risotto with marrow, roast beef with a creamy gravy, and artichokes. Tiramisu for dessert!
We all had a turn at the pasta machine. This is not a sit back and watch-someone-else-cook kind of a class. No fancy machines; flour and eggs on a wooden board and lots of kneading. Now I have no excuses not to use that pasta machine at home.We cooked all day in Alessandra's own cucina, much more efficient than mine! We wandered across the street to pick some veggies from the neighbors' garden, and he even brought us some of his wine. At the end of the day we enjoyed the fruits of our labors... and the company of good friends.
There was no extra room for gelato today. I may not eat again until tomorrow. We did find some time to shop at Il Girasole... a few momentos of our day. This cooking class has been a highlight of my week!

Ciao y'all,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Art with Liz

Today we learned to look at the Tuscan countryside with different eyes. We are having art lessons! Our teacher is a woman with the patience of a saint, and the sense of humor to keep us laughing. Elizabeth Cochrane is a friend of Gail's, and a fabulous artist.

Liz is a artist who lives in Montisi. She has been painting Tuscan landscapes for more than 15 years~ both water colors and oils. Several people went home with one of her paintings!
I only went home with a water color 'corrected by Liz'. It is still good enough to frame. I'll show the finished product later. Poppies and olive trees... A memory of our week in Tuscany!

Ciao y'all,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ballooning over Tuscany

Today has been an amazing experience. One that I will remember forever!

This year I turn the big 5-0. My present to me was a ride in a Hot Air Balloon over the hills of Tuscany. Robert and his wife, Liz, offer Ballooning in Tuscany from Montisi.

We had to be up at the crack of dawn, but it was well worth the early wake up call. We were very much a part of the flight team, getting the balloon inflated and ready for lift- off.

The feel of the air rushing up, the sound of the blast of the flame, the silence of the perfect moment. We saw the green and golden hills of Tuscany from a different view.

Pictures will never do it justice, but it is a moment I will never forget! Jerry and Paul had the video camera running, in case I need a reminder. I'll post pictures when I get off this dial-up!

Ciao y'all!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pino's Tuscany

Today we had the most fun. We went on a tour of the countryside with Pino~ our personal guide. Pienza is my newest favoritists town. It is a charming combination of old and new. The views of the hills of Tuscany from the city wall are amazing!

Pino is charming and funny. He knows everything about his beloved Italy, and is happy to share it. He knows so much about the wine and olives in this area, and he kept us entertained. We nearly walked ourselves to death up and down the streets of Montepulciano. The weather has been perfect!

We went on a tour of the wineries and the Tuscan countryside. After enough wine tasting~ I'm just glad I wasn't doing the driving!

Here I am in the Tuscan country, dealing with a dial up internet and a 8 minute limit... now that is a challenge.

Ciao y'all,


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Slow Baking

We have been using zucchini for cake and bread for years. In fact... in the south we will use zucchini for just about anything. Once you plant a few seeds you will have squash out the ying-yang by the end of the summer.
This is the newest challenge for the Sunday Slow Bakers from Gina DePalma's 'Dolce Italiano'. This zucchini cake calls for Extra Virgin Olive Oil rather than butter. It makes a moist and delicious cake.
Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze
1 cup walnut pieces
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 cup EVOO
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350°
Grease and flour a bundt pan. Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast them 12-14 minutes. Cool and chop, then set aside. Grate 2-3 zucchini squash and set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients. In a large bowl beat eggs, add sugar and olive oil and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract. Slowly add dry ingredients, mix on medium until smooth. Add the zucchini and nuts on medium, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes until done. Allow to cool.

To mix the glaze: combine the juice and sugars. Whisk until smooth. Brush over the warm cake, using all the glaze.

While we've been here in Montisi, we have been tasting olive oils. Good thing I baked this before I left. Now I can buy more olive oil to bring home!

Boun Appetito y'all!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Back Roads

We are driving the back roads today from Florence to Montisi. We will head along to the Prada Outlet. Not that I need any REAL Prada in Alabama. One of those purses the gypsies were selling in Florence would have been just fine.
We are planning lunch in Sienna at Il Campo, I am stopping at the bakery for some incredible almond cookies. The Duomo in Sienna is absolutely breathtaking. I wonder if I can paint my bathroom to look like black and white marble?
Montisi by this afternoon! Palma and Brad have been in Rome, Jerry and Paul have been in Lucca... we will all be together with Gail and John in the villa by this evening. Good friends, Good food, Good wine... in Italy. I am beyond excited.

Ciao y'all,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bella Italia

It was just a quick hop and we flew into Pisa from London. Seeing the leaning tower for the first time is just an awesome experience. I couldn't resist a pair of those leaning tower boxer shorts. A little shopping, a lot of pictures, and we were off again. Pictures to follow... of the tower not the shorts!
A beautiful drive to Florence in our rental car. It is not the tiny smart car I had envisioned, we are in a hot little Alpha Romeo. Thank goodness there is plenty of room for luggage. We have a tom-tom named Thomas-Thomas (said with an Italian accent), who will keep us from getting lost. -I hope!

There is nothing like a cappuccino over looking the Arno River. The coffee tastes better... I think it has to do with the chatter of Italian voices in the background.

There is so much to see in a few days. The leather shops near San Lorenzo and Mercato Centrale are calling us first. We are planning lunch at Trattori ZaZa where they have a 3-soup plate with bread and vino. We will spend some time around Ponte Vechio and wandering the streets of Florence.

David is waiting for me!

Ciao y'all,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Back in London!

If you've visited our blog very often, you know that I have made several trips to London. It helps to have family here! This trip is just a stop off on our way to Italy.

London is a fabulous city! It is not known for its 'British' cuisine~ but you can get some great international food. Tonight we are going to one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Knightsbridge Signor Sassi. The Italian food may not be as good as we will have tomorrow night, or when Palma is cooking for us in Montisi... But we will enjoy it just the same!

Next stop Pisa!

Ciao Y'all,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lula is off!

Lula is traveling again. She has managed to sneak into my bag~ I'm not sure how because there wasn't enough room to squeeze in even one more pair of capris.

I wonder if we will run into that Travelocity Gnome?

I don't think the gnome has ever been to a small Tuscan city like Montisi. Maybe he's in London or Florence... if we hang out at some of the most touristy spots. LuLa may just have to be content hanging out with us at the villa. I hope she doesn't make a scene!

Ciao y'all!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

To Slow for Baking

It is Sunday~ but I have not found the time for my Slow Sunday Baking. This week the recipe from 'Dolce Italiano' was a Hazelnut-Grape Tart.

The truth is... I started off on my search for the nuts. I quickly learned that Piggly Wiggly does not carry hazelnuts. They are not on the snackin' nut aisle, or near the peanut butter. Apparently, you can bake with pecans, or pecans. They do carry the tiny bags of walnuts and almonds for anyone determined to branch out.

So I just gave up.

If you are interested in visiting the rest of the Slow Bakers; there are plenty in the kitchen... Baked Alaska, What I Really Think, Old Shoes New Trip, Postcards From The Trail, Destination Anywhere, In and Out of the Garden, and Keep Your Feet In The Street.

I have already made my recipe for next sunday. Zucchini is not a problem in Alabama!
Y'all enjoy,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Packing light

I am finally headed to Italy! This has been a trip that I've been looking forward to for more than a year. My sister and I are joining friends for Gail's Great Escape in Montisi. I am going by way of London, then on to Pisa. We will spend a couple of days in Florence... where we can hit the leather markets and pig out on 'cinghiale'.

We will spend a Slow week in Montisi, using our villa as a home base to see Tuscany. I will do my best to post, but with dial-up it might be a challenge. Luckily I am traveling with two other bloggers. Jerry and Palma will also be blogging from Italy. You can get your fill of gelato and vino without getting on a plane!

Now back to the packing... I am the queen of black. It mixes and matches well, doesn't show dirt, and wrinkles just disappear. Besides~ wearing black makes me feel very Italian! I am getting 2 weeks worth into one suitcase. Especially since I am the one schlepping this bag on and off the train. It can be done.

Here are some 'professional' packing tips
* wrinkle free and mix and match are the key
* tiny t-shirts to long sleeves- layers make it flexible
* 2 pairs of comfortable shoes- and one on my feet
* use all sizes of ziploc bags for squishing things down
* no need to carry the whole beauty cabinet- just the essentials
* one light weight jacket that can fold into its own pocket
* pashmina shawls in bright colors for those chilly Tuscan evenings
* one camera with extra memory cards and lots of batteries
* I am leaving the laptop at home... I will be on the look out for internet cafe's!
* Most Important- an extra duffel bag the fold up into a tiny square. On the way home it will hold all the dirties and make room for olive oil, wine, limoncello and any other things that might sneak into my suitcase.
I'll have a carry on with my tiny purse tucked inside. That will meet that one bag rule.

Luckily I am meeting Holly in London! If I forget anything I will just borrow hers... just like when we were kids.
4 more sleeps and then I'm off y'all.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tagged again

Waynne is a fantastic artist and blogging friend. Y'all need to check out her blog, she also has an etsy shoppe with some fantastic stuff. She does the most amazing multi-media work.

Wy tagged me recently with the '6 things about you' tag. I have done this before about me, about Bill, about southern 'thangs'.

Y'all have got to be tired of hearing things about me! I do appreciate her tag though... So I will try something different.

How 'bout 6 of my favorite recipes?

Orange Bar-b-Q Shrimp~ a quick and easy appetizer with an orange cocktail sauce.

Deviled Eggs~ a southern favorite

Chimmichuri Sauce~ made of fresh herbs and is the perfect compliment to grilled chicken or pork

Peachy Pork Chops~ grilled with fresh Chilton county peaches

Glazed Salmon~ with a citrusy orange glaze

Hummingbird Cake~ for a piece of south in your mouth

Actually that sounds like a pretty good menu for this weekend!

Thanks for the Tag Waynne~
Y'all pop in and tell her Hi!
Sandi McBride reminded me that I left off the most important recipe of all...Fried Green Tomatoes. What was I thinking?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slow Baking

This weeks Sunday Slow Baking is another challenge from 'Dolce Italiano'. Biscotti di Lomone e Semolino~ for those of us in Alabama~ Lemony Cookies.
As I looked at the recipe with my grocery list for Piggley Wiggley, I saw Semolina flour. OH NO! After my last search for grappa I decided to skip the Pig and head straight to our Whole Foods. Bob's Red Mill makes every kind of flour... and then some.
These were really simple to whip up~ unlike some of these recipes which can be complicated. I think they would be just as good without the heavier semolina flour.
Lemony Semolina Cookies
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs EVOO
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs lemoncello
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Sift together dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl cream butter, sugar, and olive oil. Slowly add beaten egg and yolk. Add zest, lemon juice, limoncello and vanilla. On low speed add the dry ingredients. When smooth, wrap in plastic and chill until ready to roll out cookies.
Pre-heat oven to 325°
Break off 1 inch pieces of dough, roll into a ball. Roll balls in granulated sugar (I used some raw sugar from Whole Foods). Bake for 14-15 minutes. Cookies will collapse and become lightly browned.

These bite sized cookies are perfect for a Mother's Day treat. I'll be taking a basket full to Mom's today!
Happy Mother's Day y'all

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day~ not just for Mom

This is my Mother's Day tribute from my first cookbook 'Starting Fresh'. This is a special day for all of us!

A Piece Of Cake.
This cookbook is a tribute to the wonderful women who have been the ingredients in my life.
My grandmothers, who would be each the butter and the spice.
My own mother, a peach strong and sweet, who perished much to soon.
My mother-in-law, who having spent her life in the WhistleStop Cafe, is self- rising flour.
My sister who has been both the whisk that keeps me going and the stable source of my flame.
My delightful daughter (my son too) and my nieces, all the sprinkles, nuts and topping that have kept my life interesting.
My sisters-in-law who have shared their recipes for life.
My dozens of friends who have kept my strong shell from cracking.
All in all, life has not been a piece of cake... but still, so sweet.
For that I am always grateful.

Y'all don't forget to call and wish someone special a Happy Mother's Day!
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