Walking up to il Valle dei Mulini above Amalfi, one leaves the main piazza, her shops, the Duomo and her gelato behind. We find the entrance to the “valley of the mills” lemon grove to start our climb up. Luigi Aceto was waiting for us. A spry man in his 70’s with pinch-worthy red cheeks pokes his head out from behind a crate of lemons. Buongiorno!
The lemons from Amalfi are longer than normal – sfusato they call them here. He explains a bit to us about his lemons, their history and what makes Amalfi lemons so special. For one, they are grown on historic terraced grounds. He pointed out the terraced hills and said, “Do you see these dry rock walls? There’s no cement here . . . just hand carved rocks. This way the sun is not only infused from above, but from below, right at the root. [Read more…]
Islands Magazine, March 2013
Antonio the sailor insists I join him for appetizers on his rooftop patio overlooking centuries-old facades on the Mediterranean island of Procida…
When describing our culinary adventures, we always tell potential guests to “Expect surprises!” but it can be hard to explain the exact quality of unexpected moments that pop up throughout a trip.
When Natalie Beck, a friend of a friend from Boulder, pulled Peggy’s phone number out of her pocket and joined the 2010 Amalfi sailing program last June, the course of her European vacation was changed and she jumped head-first into an experience that she describes as “something out of the movies.”
“I was living by the rule of ‘Yes’,” Natalie explains, “No matter what it was, I decided to say Yes.” Saying yes became infinitely easier as she traveled with Peggy among new Italian friends. “I was treated like family by everyone I met, the whole time, because I was with Peggy.”
Watch Natalie retell a few of her favorite moments from the trip in this short video clip, filmed at Cafe Aion in Boulder:
Call it love at first sight. Call me a sucker as it happens more times that my fingers can count. Sometimes it’s romantic. Sometimes it’s not. But magic it is.
Being on a sailboat is one of life’s great feelings of liberation. Pulling into port has it’s own metaphor, right out of The Ancient Mariner. The going out to sea.. the coming home. There is a sending off and a welcoming back that is as potent as an in-breath and out-breath of a meditation.
Puttering into the port of Amalfi the first time with our Captain Antonio, I felt an unexpected experience of immense respect. The Port Master, Aniello Sposito, held his gaze with Antonio for the longest time until our boat had been steered into the proper spot. (If you know anything about boats, this is tricky at best, but risky as well with the neighboring real estate.)
At 63, Aniello is as nimble as an amphibian, jumping in and out of the water for tangled anchors, hopping from boat to boat to secure the fenders, tossing the ropes to the first mate to draw the boat up to the dock and to secure with sailor knots. I have been out of many ports where the marina guys do the same work, usually lazily and not with much presence. But Aniello was different. His work was easeful, skillful and dare I say? Sexy. His job is an opera del’arte a piedi nudi (a barefoot work of art).
In Amalfi, we found ourselves off the beaten path and in the kitchen of a dear friend’s mother, who taught us to make a traditional Pasticciotto Napoletano, Pastry Cream Pie with Black Cherries. Notice the way that she uses her hands—both to punctuate her speech and to mix the batter! Find the full recipe for this lovely (and easy!) dessert HERE.
1 lb of fresh white fish
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup black olives
2 cloves of garlic, smashed, sliced
1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
extra virgin olive oil
a splash of white wine
salt and pepper
to taste (remember the olives)
or: use a bit of crushed red pepperoncino for pizzazz!
Rinse the fish and set aside. Chop cherry tomatoes in half. Mise en place the extra virgin olive oil, olives, garlic, tomatoes, basil and fish.
Choose appropriate frying pan. Add olive oil, garlic and tomatoes. Toss around in the pan for 5 minutes. Add olives and basil. Let simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add fish on top of the sauce. Salt and pepper the fish, or pop it with the pepperoncino. Splash the pan with the white wine. Cook on low-medium heat. Put on a lid and let it steam for 5 minutes.
Check your fish for “done-ness” by touching it. If it springs back, it should be done, along with an aroma of cooked fish. Flip the fish if needed, otherwise turn off the heat and let it steam for another few minutes. Check for flavor balance, adding another pinch of salt if needed.
Serve the fish by spooning the sauce over it. Add a fresh leaf of basil for garnish.
Our first morning sail took us around to the south side of Procida, to see the panoramic pastel houses that grace the island, all bunched together like a bee colony.
Historically, the various house colors had a purpose. A sailor could spot his house from afar and see if his wife was waiting for him in the window.
Sunny with a bit of good wind, we calculated our sail to Ventotene, 16k away at 8-9 knots, to take 4 hours. Tony Tony, our captain, has a keen sense to head straight to where the wind is. An avid sailor, he rides the waves like captain Ahab rode his great white whale.
We are not talking huge ocean waves—but the Mediterranean can kick up some activity. The adventurous part of my culinary program is often accented with a few unexpected edgy experiences that keep our name valid. This undoubtedly puts a smile on some faces and a look of surprise on others.
Tony, our captain on the June 2010 ‘Sailing and Savoring Amalfi Coast’ sailing trip, breaks out into spontaneous opera while at the wheel.
His head fell into my lap with exhaustion, preceded by the rest of his Neapolitan body. He was wet and cold and the night sea water was rough and dangerous.
A fisherman’s trawling net was caught in the motor of our sail boat. A family of seven and a crew of three were with us on an overnight transfer from fire-breathing Stromboli in the Aeolian islands, off the northern coast of Sicily, to the great seaside city of Napoli. Darkness fell and the boat motored on. It was rough, our 46-foot Beneteau swimming upstream directly into the wind. Tough conditions for sailing in any case, but more pleasant to navigate if not been in a rush. We needed to get the family back, so we motored full-throttle. [Read more…]