moving forward

Back in May, to mend a battered heart, I fled to Italy with a mission to explore the University of Gastronomic Science in the tiny town of Pollenzo. I have this intensely vivid memory of walking by myself between the school’s old walls on that hot spring afternoon and pebbles crunching under my feet. The smell of spring, where everything is absurdly fragrant, gave me the same sense of euphoria I get everywhere. I simultaneously realized two things; I could do this and that “this” had already begun. It just took my brain a little longer to catch up.

When I got home I spent a month filling out my application, writing 26 essays questions and working my way around a maddening Italian government. I submitted my portfolio like I had hit the red button in the oval office. All I could do was wait….I HATE waiting…

Move forward 7 months… The morning of knowing finally came…early. I sat in my kitchen with Kudra flopped over my keyboard when the email arrived…Twenty-five people were accepted into this program. I was given the random number 198.  I opened the list. 23, 455, 199, … I scanned the list and my heart pounded in my chest….then I saw it, 198. I had to blink twice and look again. Was I really in? Holy Shit. Here we go.. Deep breath.. I am moving to Italy. I am quitting my job, leaving people I love, paying for this how? I will figure it out! I AM MOVING TO ITALY!

Now it is December 22. Winter Solstice. Each day I try to complete some small step forward. I occupy myself with other things but there is no doubt, I am moving away. For one year. People move to other countries or across their own country all the time. I wasn’t doing something extraordinary, but to me, it is everything. An old soul recently told me that my life is a movie waiting to be made. I think life is an ever-changing, slightly maddening, always moving picture show. I am going to have a kick-ass sound track.


Rocky Mountain High

I am two days home from another beautiful visit to Montana. I always look forward to my trips out, even the 10 hour drive through beautiful country-side. This time, I didnt drive out alone but  had 2 friends, Molly and Steve join me, neither having been up to Glacier. Molly was a little nervous about the free-spirit adventure but I was so excited to show them all my favorite places and hoped my excitement would rub off.  Perhaps Molly had foresight for the 8 foot grizzly that decided to greet her on the trail! Lucky it was just saying hello! and not YUMMY!

For me, there were 3 highlights to this trip.

1) Hiking up to the Hidden Lake Outlook. I have been up there several times but i have never ventured all the way to the look-out (read pansy-ass). This year i decided i HAD to do it! after a short rest with a couple visiting from Florida, i was rewarded with the most stunning views. After i came down, i read that the trail only climbs 450 feet?! WTF?!

(yes there is a bear in there!)

( you cant get insanely $$ gas if the temperature is over 80 degrees. God i love Polebridge!)

2) Spending a night in Polebridge with my dear friend Greg and renting a kayak to float Lake McDonald Creek. After a couple beers at the Northern Lights in Polebridge, Greg and i ventured back to his family property for a fat bonfire and good tunes. We also saw a bear, keeping my record at 100% for bear sitings!

The next day we packed up slowly and headed down to Apgar. I know that this little adventure was very nostalgic for Greg, having lived up there the majority of his life. Everywhere we turned, he had a story from his youth. It was awesome wandering down memory lane. I cant imagine a greater place to grow up! We rented a kayak and tooled around the lake for a bit, had a light lunch and a quick dip in the crystal clear lake. Then we ventured down McDonald Creek. I last floated this creek in 1998 and had such fantastic memories of it. It was just as perfect this time! the flowers still bloom out of the weeds under water, the creek is still the most intoxicating turquoise and the fish can still be seen in depths of 10 feet. We jumped off some rocks, me on the lower level, and after we pulled out, hid the kayak in the bushes and trekked back to the car about 2 miles down a beautiful tree-lined bike path.

That evening, we enjoyed a farm to table meal at the Belton Chalet. We were RAVENOUS and started with a glass of wine that almost put me under the table. We quickly consumed duck and wild mushroom crepes and fresh hot bread. I had Veal with Farinata(!) and fig compote. Greg had scallop and prawn raviolis with chipolte cream sauce YUM!!! we rolled out of there and stopped by the Hungry Horse Dam. As the sun set, we were the only people around and Guitar Man played softly on the stereo.

3) I got to celebrate my birthday!! After a very chill day on the lake, Greg and I made Lobster Tail Ettouffe. My friends Molly and Steve joined us as well as Greg’s mom Donna and Donna’s brother Neil and his lonnnnnnnggggg-time girl, Lisa. Donna, had taken a trip over to her friend Shirley’s house that morning and brought home the heaviest densest most fantastic home-made chocolate peanut butter pie i have ever tasted!!!

Home with fantastic memories again! Thank you for such a wonderful visit. Greg you are my old soul/ partner in crime. Until next time…

The future of food, with a taste of the past

At last we were heading to the heart of the matter. I didnt really think about it this way until we were 10 minutes from the campus and Sami asked if i was prepared.  But it all boiled down to the fact that i was in Italy to see if i wanted to participate in a 12 month masters program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the tiny town of Pollenzo, Italy.

I have always had a special place for Italy in my heart because it was the first country i visited outside of North America. The fact that i might call it home for a year is rather overwhelming! Stacey and Sami had to come along to make sure i was making the right decision.

We left Vernazza on the 6am train to make it to Pollenzo by 10:00. Our rather incompetent navigator, Emily, made me nervous. We arrived at 9:53, front door service! Nice driving Sami!

The open house was incredible! Being only one of two Americans in a group of over 50 potential students, I met with current students and professors, got a tour of the library, with subscriptions to every food-related magazine produced in the world, the Italian Wine Bank and dined on exquisitely produced foods right around the valley by local farmers. Sigh…any apprehension i had about this decision evaporated into a glass of fresh strawberry nectar.

While i was being consumed by my future, Stacey and Sami settled into our “room” in the castle. Did i mention that the school is located in a castle, which was built on first century roman ruins? um yeah…. Anyway Stacey luxuriated in the tub, Sami took a nap and i arrived with my head spinning and in need of a shower and a drink, which came complimentary with slippers and a robe.

That evening, we enjoyed an Italian wedding outside our bedroom window and a tour of the Banco Del Vino before dinner.

After being offered a  glass of nebiolo wine, we were set free in the undercroft. Slow Food believes it is possible to drink a wine into extinction so they are storing over 100,000 bottles of Italian wines, organized by region and type. My thoughts were three-fold; my friend Nicole’s penchant for wine and how much she would have LOVED THIS, the masters program includes 18 credits of wine tasting, and that it was always a permanently chilled in the cellars and in the hot summer months, i needed to get a job down here.

Around 8 we meandered above ground for dinner at Guidos, the school’s pre-fixe Slow Food restaurant. Stacey ordered the seasonal pre-fixe and i ordered the classic so we could swap. Sami ordered off the regular seasonal menu so that we could try a few additional items.We asked our waiter to pair our wines for us, as the wine list arrived on the table in three hardbound volumes; one for Italy, one for Piedmonte region of Italy and one for the rest of the world…. Nic, where were you?!

Sadly, my stomach sacked out around the third course but each dish was so beautifully presented and tasted, well it tasted like we thought it would, divine.

That evening, we slept between 1000 thread-count sheets like drug induced food-coma babies and awoke late to sunshine and a massive breakfast. I pocketed 3 jars of honey and a bottle of apricot nectar. Shhhh

About a week before we arrived in Italy, I found a private guide online. We wanted to explore the cheeses and wines of the region. We got really lucky. Corrine was fantastic! She had been born in the champagne region of France and moved to Italy 35 years before when she married a local wine producer. She was also an italian and french teacher and spent half the day, trying to set me up with her ex-husband. I didnt bite on that one… although after 3 glasses of wine, anything was possible…

First stop was Tre Donne, a 100 year old vineyard run by three sisters. We sat outside on the patio as Rosanna prepared our glasses for the Borolo. We enjoyed our wine with a pairing of local goat cheeses. She also gave us a quick breakdown of the wine regions, using her daughter’s puzzle map.
Corrine taught us to smell the wine with each nostril to experience it with the left and right sides of our brain separately. I was the only one who found the wine to be stronger on the left side but no one really knew what that meant.

Next we tasted a sparkling Moscato D’Asti paired with a local chocolatier’s Moscato truffles.

i fell in love with the glasses, Stacey fell in love with Rosanna’s daughter, who also tried to sell us a large rock for 100e.

With a great wine buzz, a bag of truffles and 4 bottles of wine, we headed out through small villages, vineyards and farmland, passed a sign for the Las Vegas Sexy Shop (which we never found) up a steep hill and into the drive of Francesca’s 300 year old farm and my Eden.

Swiss-born Francesca moved to Italy to raise sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, poultry, dogs and 6 babies. She makes her own cheeses, cured meats, olives, wine, preserves and i am pretty sure she has also discovered the cure for cancer. She is amazing! i was speechless but had the sense to ask if i could be her sponge when i moved to Italy. She didnt speak any English but after realizing i was dead-serious, nodded her head in quiet approval.We dined outside on onion fennel omelets along with her salami, olives, smoked bresola, at least 10 cheeses and her own wine, as a massive thunder storm roll over us. I much preferred the rapture i felt that day, thank you very much Harold Camping.

Completely blissed out, we slowly made our way back to TorinoWe walked into the small town of Cassello where ferrell cats are loved and Saras need H’s. We ate Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza and italian beers before dropping our little Fiat off. We think she grew to love us.

The following morning, Federico picked us up at 430am and we headed to the airport for home.

During the week,  I laughed so hard i cried more times than i can count. I had several of those moments where the combination of my friends, a perfect spring breeze and good food made me take pause and realize how truly lucky i am. I could not have asked for a better time and my heart is full and happy.

Now i need to get busy on that application!


From Mountain to Sea in 2 Hours-ish

As we wound our way out of the mountains, we decided to take what is comparable to HWY 1 along the coast from Genoa to Cinque Terre. The road was beautiful, narrow and windy. After promising Stacey a stiff drink, she agreed to take the wheel.

Several small seaside towns,

a slight detour,

and a train ride,

we found our way to Vernazza. It looked just as i remembered it from 7 years ago…nothing had changed and i was very happy to be back.

While standing in the center of town with our luggage, a gentleman walked up and asked Sarah Mooney? Now that is a small town! we wound our way up through the narrow streets and steep steps to our room, no view but we did have an elevated bathroom.

That night we dined on fresh seafood and local pesto, and another liter of the local white. I had stuffed mussels and Sami…well Sami had shrimp?

The following morning, I watched the delivery trucks maneuver down Via Roma with cases of wine, and produce

while the fishermen returned with their daily catch, making a cat or two very happy.  

After a hot chocolate that was thicker than pudding, we wandered down to the ferry. 

We landed on a rock, in the beautiful town of Riomagiore and walked the Via Del Amore. ohh la la

The air was heady with the Mediterranean Sea and jasmine blossoms as we slowly made our way back to Vernazza.

The local white from the day before was finally catching up to me, and i was hot and exhausted. The sea was calling my name. I grabbed my swim suit and jumped in…it was the MOST refreshing swim of my life.

The water was a cool teal blue.  I convinced Sami to make the grizzly hike up to the room to grab her suit and she agreed, best swim ever. 

That evening we decided to have a picnic with fresh mozzerella, pesto, sun ripened tomatoes and onion focaccia. We ended up in a tiny pizzeria that made Farinata to order!! I WAS SO EXCITED! we discovered this tasty chickpea flour flat bread in Torino and i was hooked. Our picnic was complete as we dined on the tip of the jetty watching the sun set.

The sun went down, I went to bed and Stacey made new friends with the most beautiful family in the world. 

We were up in the morning to catch the 6am train to Pollenzo, my future, And fancy gas-station underpants?


Into Thin Air

After bidding farewell to the beautiful city of Torino and our lovely friends, we hit the road for the Alps! We were so excited to explore the Aosta Valley, which contains over 70 castles, is the land of Fontina cheese and has the highest mountains I have ever seen.

We made our home in the perfect village of Fenis, where the view from our beds could only be matched by the one in the bathroom, and the food started showing its connections to its Swiss and French neighbors.

After dumping our car and bags off, we headed out to see what our lungs would do with a climb up to the local castle. Our guide spoke no English but after telling him i knew a minimum of French, that suited him fine and i became the translator of the italian/french tour…YIKES! We managed pretty well, with a great deal of hand gestures, as we explored the beautifully preserved castello complete with a fresco of Sir George and the Dragon, my favorite!

We wandered into town for some lunch of local meat (aka cow tongue((delicious!!!) and a beverage before exploring the vistas and local sites where all the houses are roofed with enormous slate shingles. This place was built to last!

We ended our first day with one of the richest cheesiest meals of my life, risotto with champagne, crepes stuffed with fontina and a polenta dish, with you guessed it, more cheese! The all-white meal put us all into a food coma and we headed off to bed. We did not partake in the under-fillet of pleasure that evening.

The following day, we headed up the valley to check out Monte Bianco, known as Mont Blanc on the French side. Stacey had read that the perfect time to visit was early, before the clouds and crowds roll in. She gets a gold star for that one!  The weather could not have been more perfect as we climbed into not 1 but 3 separate Gondolas, slowing inching their way up

and up and up…

At last we hit the top with views that spanned for miles in every direction. From our viewpoint, at over 11,000 feet,  we could see France, Italy and Switzerland and stand in both France and Italy. There was only one other couple with us, who graciously snapped a few photos of us having fun in the thin air.

As we took our leave, at least 100 students from Sicily emerged and took over. Again, gold star Stacey!

On our way back down, one of our gondola drivers (driver?) mentioned another valley we should venture up so off we went. WOW!!!

Waterfalls, meadows full of wildflowers, roaring rivers and well built houses dotted the valley floor while the mountains took precedence on either side.

For lunch we stopped at a beautiful Chalet, grabbed a table outside in the sunshine and were told, “we have no menus, only polenta, meat and fungi” we thought OK bring it on. We forgot to ask the price…note to self

We ended up with a meal that would have happily fed a family of 6 with wild alpine mushrooms, stewed rabbit, veal and sausages, and a vat of creamy polenta covered in bubbling hot fontina cheese. food coma number 2., at 75e YIKES!

After lunch, we headed out to find a small town down the valley that boasted a beautiful hot springs spa called Pre Saint-Didier Terme. The mineral springs had been discovered by the Romans and the spa had been built in the 1600’s. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!!! we were handed a robe, flipflops and and towel and sent out through a keyhole door into to a series of pools, saunas and steam rooms all with majestic views of the mountains and the setting sun.

not a bad way to end the day.

The following morning, we packed up the car , bid farewell to our Fontina producing cow friends and headed for sea level..

wait, where are we?

to be continued…


About a month ago, while tending to a bruised heart, I grew restless. I wanted to go somewhere to clear my head, when I came across an old bookmarked website for a  graduate program in Italy. My tax returns came in on the same day. These fateful cards could only mean one thing; a ticket to Italy! More fortune rained down as two of my best friends decided to come with me. With less than a month to plan our trip, we laid out the dates, locations, rented a car, contacted some friends i had made in Italy and were off.

Never having been to the NW corner of Italy, we decided there was more than enough to explore in the region. We began our adventures in Torino with the Alpine.

While traveling around Ireland in September, i met a couple traveling from Italy. After a short van ride and a couple pints of Guinness, we became facebook friends and said the usual, “if you are ever in my part of the world, dont hesitate to contact me!” Who knew it would be so soon.

Federico and Alice picked us up at the airport and became our personal guides for a couple of days, introducing us to Grom, which really is the best ice cream in the world. Everyday i had a grapefruit and coconut gelato.

On our last night in Torino, we hopped a bus and met  at Federico’s home for dinner.

they promised us THE BEST PASTA IN THE WOOOORRRRLLLLDDD. They didn’t disappoint.

What always astounds me, is that Italian food is so beautifully simple. Anyone can take tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and onion and make a sauce but what many people miss is the patience to make it well. Federico and Alice gave us the lowdown. Finely mince the onion and garlic  and saute them in a good quality olive oil until they are soft. Add diced cherry tomatoes and slowly cook them down until the liquid is gone. Then add your red pepper flakes and some perfectly sweet fat shrimp. Make sure your pasta isnt overcooked and add it, on high heat, to the sauce with a little more olive oil, fusing the flavors. DELICIOUS!

The second pasta we had was also tomato based but included a white wine reduction and bacon. What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing. Alice ended the meal with home made Cannoli.

The food, the company and sealed friendships will go down as one of my fondest memories.

The next morning, we hopped on the local metro system and located our rental car. With Stacey behind the wheel we quickly fell in love with our little black Fiat and headed north into the Aosta Valley of the Alps.

To be continued…