Monday, 20 July 2009

Summer Sojourn to the Sea

I am still floating along in an Italian reverie, so lovely was our annual holiday in Levanto. This time, we invited our friends Marc and Nathalie to join us on our summer sojourn to this most perfect of Italian Rivieran towns. Marc and Nat are fellow native-Montrealers though we only met after both couples had relocated to Calgary and discovered our mutual love of yellow Labradors. I have previously blogged about how thrilled we were when they moved to Geneva with the Royal Bank of Canada.

Still for all of the years that we have known each other, we have never holidayed together. Factor in one high-energy 6-year old (J), one anxiety-ridden Labrador (their Ben), one Labrador afraid of Ben's red collar (our Murphy), two previously self-avowed non-beach people (Marc and Nat), and it would be difficult to predict the success of the holiday. Well it was a smash success!

It is hard to put into words why we are so passionate about Italy, and so particularly attached to this part of it. It's the soft ochre tones that cause Levanto to glow at sunrise and sunset, it's the passion of the small restaurant owners who take such pride in their seafood, and who delight in offering limencellos at the end of a perfect meal, it's the easy days spent on the beach, wondering through town for a foccacia lunch with an ice-cold glass of white wine, it's the gelaterias open until the wee hours of the morning, it's the coconut man on the beach hollering 'Allo, coco bella coco' and rinsing perfectly sweet crunchy slices of coconut in fresh water before handing it to you with a smile and a 'grazie'. This year it was also the glass of champagne shared with old friends on the balcony of our apartment watching the sun set over the Mediterranean.

I like this picture though blurry because it captures some of the colour of Levanto

We hiked Cinque Terre again for our 4th year, and I experienced one of those perfect life moments. The temperature was well into the 30s with little breeze, and we had walked from village #5 Riomaggiore to village #4 Manarola. We had eaten a fanastic lunch at the same restaurant in Manarola that we had with my family last year. We were not far into our walk to village #3 Corniglia when we really began to heat up, the dogs were panting heavily and our energy levels were waning.


All beach access in the villages prohibits dogs so on we soldiered. About 10 minutes later, we encountered a small cove with cliff divers and a small path that wound down to a ladder into a little grotto. Well we sprinted down, Nat, Marc, and J stripped down to their skivvies (clever me was wearing a bikini under my clothes), and we threw ourselves into that amazing water with abandon; Murphy and Ben were in close pursuit. The water was utterly delicious and we frolicked for a long time. That perfect moment was only marred when Marc stepped on a sea urchin and received multiple spears into his foot...he is still removing them.

The little grotto we discovered outside of Manarola

Together we 5 also explored more of the coastline near our own beautiful beach by boat, and we found another lovely little grotto at which we spent two long leisurely afternoons swimming and snorkling, and feeding bread to fish. At times it felt like we were swimming in an aquarium.

The little grotto up the coastline from our beach

J was in heaven indulging in two of his favorite Italian pastimes, pesto and puffo. Pesto, of course being the dish which traces its' birth to Levanto's region of Liguria. Puffo, on the other hand, is the most vile blue flavour of gelato, sigh a waste, when he could have been having strachiettella or bacia flavours. His cousin Jordan would have been proud.

Me and Nat

Marc and Nat got our passion, they understood it, they shared it, and they were as enraptured. So reluctant were we to bid goodbye to each other at the end of our trip that we all trouped back to our house in Geneva late Saturday and C2 whipped up a seafood risotto that would have made the restaurants in Levanto proud.

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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Summer Means Pesto and Lots of It

Drying the basil

We're preparing to leave this Saturday for a week of fun and sun in our favorite Italian beach town of Levanto. Levanto is in the region of Liguria, perhaps most well-know for it's port town of Genoa and the spectacular heritage site of Cinque Terre, but for us, it's all about being in the birthplace of pesto!

The Hendricks family are serious pesto afficianados. No jarred pesto for us! I first discovered its' pungent deliciousness in my early 20's at a small italian restaurant across the street from my apartment on rue St. Mathieu in Montreal. After C2 and I hooked up, we made regular summer pilgrammages to the largely Italian Jean Talon market to buy armfuls of fragrant basil. We would spend the rest of the day lovingly picking and rinsing the delicate green leaves before making enough quantity to freeze and enjoy all winter long.

We carried the tradition through our years of living in Calgary routing out basil wherever we could find it, and passed our love of it onto our son J. Fortunately, Geneva's markets are full of basil beginning in early July, and this past Sunday, I picked up several bunches at the Ville-la-Grande market. We spent part of a hot afternoon that day making and freezing a couple of months worth. For the record, years ago, we used to be more purist and made our pesto using a mortar and pestle, but now use a food processor which cuts production time dramatically.

Here is our recipe for pesto:

Several bunches of fresh basil, picked from the stems, rinsed and dried
Several handfuls of pine nuts toasted in a dry pan
6-7 cloves of garlic
3-4 large pinches of coarse sea salt
good olive oil

Add all ingredients except olive oil into a food processor. You may have to do several batches depending upon quantity. Work in small batches if using a mortar and pestle.

Add a little olive oil and pulse food processor a couple of times. Press the on button and add more olive oil from the top feeder until mixture resembles a wet paste. Stop as necessary and push basil stuck to sides of food processor back into mix. Add more salt to taste.

Freeze pesto in ice cube trays for about 8 hours then remove cubes and freeze them in a freezer bag. One or two cubes will do for a dinner for 4-5 people.

Personal Tips:
1. Pesto is best served on a pasta with ridges which better hold the sauce such as penne rigate or farfalle (bows). Add a little of the hot pasta water to the pesto in a large bowl to thin the pesto a bit and mix the cooked pasta directly in same bowl.

2. We do not add parmesan cheese to the original mixture as many recipes call for but rather in copious fresh amounts when serving.

3. Serve with grilled chicken on top.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Boys of Summer

Here are a few photos depicting some of our early summer experiences so far...

Well, if you're going to give me a hose...

Why bounce on it when you can read on it?

There has got to be a way to make money out of all those cherries we keep picking!

OK, well if I can't sell them, I might as well share them with my best pal.

Sunflowers, June 20

We are literally surrounded by sunflower fields this summer, they are on every corner in our village.

Same sunflower field about 10 days later.

Sunflower heaven!