24 November 2011


Fabrizio and I are grateful for our readers here and guests who have visited and are yet to come. For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving we wish you a bountiful time together with the ones you love and a round of Genepy to aid in your post turkey dinner digestion.

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Click on the arrow for a mini tour of life at Bella Baita. Make sure to turn up your speakers to hear the music.

23 November 2011

To Frankfurt, Germany and Back

The view from the pedestrian bridge, Eiserner Steg.
There are times our work takes us abroad and for a few days last week we were in Frankfurt, Germany to present our friend Enrico Bernards's digestivi to local Germans merchants interested in discovering some new Piemontese specialties as possible additions to their enterprises.
Fabrizio and Enrico ready to taste away
It was another interesting experience in a lovely setting, meeting a variety of interesting people. As it was a small intimate affair I didn't snap many photos of the meeting, but found myself snapping away as we made our way around town. I thought I would share some of the photos of our time in the city instead.
I'm sure you won't mind.
Emma Metzler House where we showed our wares
Old town Frankfurt and the Eiserner Steg foot bridge 
We had lovely autumn weather to stroll about town and take in a bit of the flavor of Frankfurt. 
Fabrizio and Marla

The lovers locks on the Eiserner Steg 
If you are not familiar with this tradition, as I wasn't either until recently, it is quite popular throughout Europe these days. Lovers put their names and special date on te padlock and attached to a special bridge to symbolize their enduring love.  You can read more about Love Padlocks here.
Romerberg Square, Old Franfurt town center
Getting ready for the Christmas market
German meat selection
What's Germany without a sausage stand? or many
European Central Bank, museum  and Occupy Frankfurt
 Frankfurt downtown has many high rise buildings blended in with the old historical center and is known for being Germany's financial district and a main part of the hub of European banking. there was a small encampment of protestors that didn't seem to be making too much of a loud fuss, more of a constant reminder, that all is not well for everyone these days, in the current gloomy economic climate.  

Extraordinary modern architecture (Italian)
The skyline at night is special. We enjoyed it from a look out point atop another shopping mall just a few doors down from this ultra flashy one.  
Frankfurt skyline by night
We stayed in a friendly modest hotel a few blocks from the downtown and just across from the main train station.  It was quite convenient.  I found Frankfurt to feel friendly and safe.  
Opera House
Multi colored red light district

Even this area was quite low key.
Lunch at Vinesso

We had lunch at a charming neighborhood bar and restaurant, on the other side of downtown, Vinesso. We had met the owner the previous night and had time to stop in for a quick visit.  They are carrying some of our local digestivi, Genepy and Serpoul, to name a couple, to serve as a tasty finish to an authentic Italian meal in the heart of Frankfurt. The cozy restaurant filled up with hungry patrons while we were there and seemed to be a favorite where many people knew each other or stopped by to introduce themselves and say hello, as was the case for us. We always meet interesting people when we travel.
Wine from home here in Piedmont
Home again, home again, jiggety jig.....

12 November 2011

Cavours own Caterina Bruno's Watercolors at Tutto Mele

Last Saturday we made our way over to Cavour for the 2011 inaugural day of "Tutto Mele",
 in spite of the rain that threatened to ruin the day and force streams and rivers to flow out their banks wreaking all kinds of havoc. Instead, it was just mildly annoying that the steady rain put quite the damper on the event, so that some of the vendors didn't even open their booths while others struggled to maintain a happy face. Not an easy life working seasonal fairs or the open air markets. We had stopped on our way to do our weekly shop at the Pinerolo market and what is usually the biggest selection of vendors, was but a mere ghost of the normally thrumming Saturday market. The market border still had a fair amount of food and produce vendors as the show must go on as produce doesn't last well till next market day, but the entire inner market of clothes, nick knacks and sundry had stayed away due to the torrential  pounding of rain we were receiving. I don't blame them at all.
One of my favorite local varieties
I must say that I was surprised at how many people did turn up to "Tutto Mele" in spite of the weather, but it was a rather meager offering if you are trying to sell some food or products that you have lugged from far away and are now standing outside trying to stay warm and dry. Fat chance!
There was one group that seemed to be unfazed by the weather, and that was the racers in the Apple Run. I kept noticing all these sporty, hardy types strolling around in bike shorts, sporting tanned and appropriately bulging legs like it was mid September. Following along with the tanned legs,  I found myself at the starting line where all manner of warm up activities were taking place in the steady down pour. I must say more power to them as there were literally a couple hundred runners ready to do a mini marathon.

Soggy Apple runners

My marathon consisted of wandering around the town taking in the sights and trying to stay dry. There was the outdoor vendors selling salami and cheeses, ravioli featuring apple filling, vendors with the new olive oil and pesto, cases of Sicilian oranges and stacks of Sardinian pecorino rounds, and Caresu flatbread. Local vendors with polenta, and snails; indoor vendors with artisan beer, chocolate and all manner of hot tubs, kitchen remodelling options, ski clothes and lo and behold, a Tupperware dealer. They were frantically setting up as I stopped by to see all the new colors that Tupperware is currently offering and all the gizmos and new stuff that can be tempting when one is feeling flush with money. I  ended up with a catalogue to peruse and contemplate of what I can't live without. I must say I am a Tupperware fan having grown up with it and still have some of my mom's from the 60's. It does work well and certainly will most likely outlive me.
Caterina Bruno and some of her watercolors

Anyway, my favorite part of the festival for the past few years is my friend Caterina Bruno's watercolor exposition. We met in 2005 while we were both having our hair cut by a local favorite hairdresser, Nicola,  just before the Olympics came to us. Fabrizio and Caterina chatted it up and before you know it Caterina and Renato were at our house a few days later sharing with us her watercolors and getting to know one another. We feature some of her watercolors here at the B&B and it has been delightful to watch her style evolve over the past few years. Tutto Mele is a great opportunity to catch up with her, enjoy her latest flight of creativity and  imagination while staying warm and dry. A few years back she was in a couple of small deconsecrated churches and although lovely settings they were chilly, where as now Caterina's work is displayed in the town hall. A much better setting to really show off her work. This years work featured what she mentioned as her flying houses inspired by some children's stories.  I mentioned that they reminded me of the Pugliese "Trulli" houses as well as African type huts.
Flying houses

Caterina found that interesting and then pointed me to her calendars that she is selling for Domus-Onlus, an organization that raises money to support vulnerable women and children, both in Italy and Africa. Her exhibit in Cavour is located next to the ladies who are selling hand made dolls to raise money for Unicef. Caterina and another artist paint the faces on these dolls that come with certificates and names. I was given Claudia last year, who is a Waldensen girl in traditional costume. Her lovely face was painted by Caterina. They still have some dolls on offer if you get on over there. The calendars are priced at €5 and are a steal, as you not only have her colorful and whimsical paintings to enjoy each month of the year, you can frame the small prints afterwards to enjoy even longer and help others while doing so. There is still time today and tomorrow to get over to Cavour and pick one up or maybe even one of her original watercolors. If you miss that one Caterina will be in Torino from the 13 November through the 14 December, 2011 showing and selling her artwork and calendars as well. She will be located on Via Po 45, at the Chiostro della Parrocchia della SS. Anunziata. Torino is always a nice day out and Caterina will be happy to meet you. In the meantime you might want to stop at Cavour and pick up a few fritelle di Mele, or apple fritters, as they are always delicious fresh out of the fryer and no mess to clean up at home.

Catarina's 2012 calender and Waldensen hand made doll

09 November 2011

For the love of Fennel

We are well on our way to the long period of winter vegetable in the market. Thank goodness there are plenty of varieties of vegetables to enjoy all winter long. I must say that by February I am starting to long for asparagus, green beans, zucchini and all of the other veggies that disappear from the market during the winter and just a tad tired of  cabbage and cauliflower. Having said that, oddly enough, the winter vegetables are just starting to get underway and I am more than happy to see them and taste their fresh full flavors that seem to really sing when they first begin to appear.  The carrots are sweeter, artichokes, so tender that you don't even need to scrape out the choke, and fennel, fat, firm and flavorful. One of the advantages of eating locally, seasonally and simply prepared, is that food flavors seem to really come forward and shout out their tastiness. I think that your taste buds become more attuned to subtler flavors and nuances that can be lost in more complex dishes. Sure, more complex dishes are delightful and intriguing, but is a joy to indulge the simplicity of freshness and flavor-fulness as themselves.  
I offer you a couple of suggestions today for preparing one of my favorite almost year round favorites, fennel. I didn't grow up eating it, as I think southern Illinois was perhaps just a hair too warm and muggy for it to completely thrive or that it just wasn't one of my family's staples in the world of simple farm food. When I did come across it I found it wonderfully delicious, although not as common and plentiful as I found when I landed in Piedmont Italy.  I make it often in a variety of ways, braised with a splash or two of vermouth and then put in a shallow baking dishm sprinkled with a bread crumb parmesan cheese mixture and drizzled with olive oil on top and baked till crispy. I also like to shred it super thin, toss with a changing variety of fruits and vegetables, like, lemons, oranges, apples, and cooked beets and dressed olive oil and various vinegars to a make a refreshing winter salad that is a welcome change for my taste buds. 
Grilled fennel
My suggestion today for preparing fennel is a couple of, oh so easy, ways. First, if you have never grilled sliced fennel, I suggest you do so as soon as possible. I find roasting and grilling vegetables with just a kiss of olive oil and maybe, or maybe not, a squeeze of citrus or vinegar, sharpens and intensifies the  flavor of the fennel and worth trying pronto! 
My other revelation came this past Saturday when we went to nearby Cavour for their annual apple festival, "Tutto Mele", which you can see one of my previous posts about it here. I will put up some picture of this years festival soon. Anyway, Fabrizio and I decided to have a light lunch at a lovely little cafe on the town square and once again, the simplest of food can often be some of the best, at least that has been my experience in Italy. We both selected a perfectly cooked medium rare, thinly sliced roast beef with sides of vegetables. Fabrizio had the green beans and carrots and I had the fennel. Wow, what a simple but impressively tasty side dish. So tasty that I attempted to make it that night when I got home with good results. This isn't really much of a recipe, but try it cause I think you'll love the ease of preparation and satisfying results. 
Fennel gratin with roast beef
Shaved Fennel side dish/ Finnocchio al gratin
for 2 
1 large bulb fennel
parmesan or pecorino cheese
olive oil and butter

Either slice your fennel bulb as thin as possible or shave it even thinner with a mandolin, which is the preferred way.
Place your shaved fennel into a steaming basket and stem a few minutes till soft. I put a bit of salt in the water to season the fennel as it cooks. 
Once cooked, layer the cooked fennel with a touch of oil, a bit of butter and shredded parmesan or pecorino cheese and repeat.
Serve immediately. It reheats easily enough either in the oven or on top of the stove in a pan with a bit of water.
The remains of my take on fennel gratin
Are fennel bulbs part of your standard winter "go to" vegetables?

02 November 2011

No rest for the....


A woman's work is never done. A stitch in time saves nine. A penny saved is a penny earned. Ok, ok, what is the point I am trying to make?
When you own your own home, business or both, ones work is never done. I am sure many of you out there are all too familiar with that fact of life. If you are renovating an old building, then your job will always be open ended, of that,  I am sure. Here at Bella Baita, my hard working Piemontese man cannot seem to ever find an end point to his labors, nor can his father or mother. These are hard working people that don't really seem to enjoy the idle life. I say it keeps them going and it also makes it difficult to get away to enjoy other parts of life, but the fruits of their labor makes for nice improvements and finished dangling projects recede to the background.
New patio in the making from Grandfathers'  house roof tiles
After many years of sitting empty and  somewhat forgotten, my in laws have taken on  the renovation of Fabrizio's mother's childhood home and her father's and grandfathers nearby childhood home. Fabrizio has then, in turn, taken  some of the stones and beams from the old roofs and building and given them a new life in a new garden patio and various other "do it yourself", "fixer upper" projects, around our place.
Aside from the hard work, when all is said and done, Fabrizio actually thrives on working non stop, about which I was warned about from a fellow Piemontese friend. It is a wonderful feeling of salvaging materials that have survived scores of years and repurpose them to a new life.

Nonno Guistetto's  childhood home

It is a part of our view point of using what you have to make ones resources be less wasteful in our very disposable world. We try to live and promote an ecological and sustainable lifestyle that spills over into a travel ethos as well. It's just who we are, probably largely formed by parents who were the thriftiest of people from sheer need. It seems that lifestyle is coming back into fashion.  Anyway, I am sharing a few of our projects that are going on in our family at the moment keeping us busy and racing against the winter or rainy season lurking around the corner.
Fabrizio's mother's childhood home
What kind of projects do you have going on in your life?
Our renewable heat supply
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