Posts from the ‘food’ Category
We didn’t get rained on. Of course. Because we brought rain gear.
Number 2 in the Utilitaire Winter Cycling games … and I’m having a hard time deciding how to log this one, but will settle on #6: Any Store That Is Not A Grocery Store. Basically a run around town, from hardware store to bike shop (yes, again) to coffee, to groceries to cupcakes (!). Mileage: 21-ish. Rain: none.
It began with a trip to the hardware store, because we needed some new axe handles. We do a lot of chopping around here, you know. Well, maybe not me as in we … but still. Can’t have those ax heads flying off the handle.
Then we got to head over the bike shop because I had forgotten a thing or two when I was there the other day. It was exciting. We got to witness a really amazing explosion … (Charles, my bike guy has a great sense of humor with these things; he made the video).
From the bike shop, we stopped and met Grant for coffee. He was killing some time before heading to work, and we were just … killing some time. And trying to test our fate with the rain gods.
We hopped on the Greenway and stopped for some groceries, and then headed over to Chattanooga Cupcakes for some desert for later on. And while I doubt that I burned enough calories to even eat the sprinkles off of one of these things, I just cannot resist …
We got home just as the first drops of rain arrived. Perfect timing.
When I thought about today’s ride, I often wonder what the bird’s-eye view of our route looks like. We wind our way on less-traffic’d roads, hopping on the Greenway whenever it works out, and taking what sometimes feels like a rather circuitous route. I know I could go on Google Maps or Map My Ride and officially map this thing out in an accurate way, but I decided to just doodle it. Obviously not really to scale or accurate, but close enough. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look as chaotic as I thought it might.
So two of twelve completed, ten remain. Bikes: 2. Rain: 0.
The week has gone from cold-ish and grey requiring jackets and gloves, to warm and sunny with flip-flops and sleeveless shirts. Such is March. And it has been back on the bike with, well, perhaps some renewed enthusiasm – although I still have snow on the brain.
The big excitement of the week:
- having Dillon home for spring break and getting to ride with him (although he is much too fast for me these days)
- seeing the publication of several of my photos, including the cover photo, for VBT‘s 2011 Italy Bike/Walking Vacations catalog (and yes, with permission and compensation – thank you, Chaipel)
- coconut cupcakes 😀 #FTW!
For #330daysofbiking, I have reached Day 316. Two weeks (?!) to go ….
Although I am tempted to rant about our local grocery store choices (or more accurately, lack of choices…), and the disappointing assortment of over-processed, over-packaged convenience foods within our horrid chain stores – we have no Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, EarthFare or anything remotely decent within a 25 mile radius – I will spare you my whining. My family is weary enough of my complaints. But I like to cook – and I like to cook real food. Food “from scratch” as we used to say, rather than out of a box or a freezer case.
And today as I was heading to the grocery store on my bike thinking about all of this, wishing I had a decent grocery store/market within riding distance, I was reminded of a wonderful 3-minute video I had seen earlier in the week by the amazing people at Streetfilms: Moving Beyond the Automobile (Vimeo).
Of course it features the incredible cycling infrastructure improvements of the Big Bicycle Cities (NYC, Portland, SF, etc.), but what really struck a chord with me were some of the statistics about the exponential increases in ridership when safe, protected cycling infrastructure is provided to the public. The old, “if you build it, they will come …” idea. Tenfold. One-hundredfold. Exponentially.
As (my hero) Rep. Earl Blumenauer so perfectly states:
“People shouldn’t have to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk … “
He goes on to talk about the need to give people safe and accessible transportation choices of all types – choices that will reduce the demand for using the automobile, which can ultimately save people time and money, while improving their health and “ultimately enriching their daily experience.” I couldn’t agree more.
So I cycled to my poor-excuse-for-a-grocery-store and got the gallon of milk. And a few other items of “real” food. And I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a bike lane, or even a little bit of road shoulder, to easily cycle to some Real Foods store … Maybe someday.
First let me say – rest assured, the Italy stuff is nearly over, I promise. But thank you for hanging in there, as this has really been the easiest way for me to share with my boys at school, some family and friends.
So … today would be the best cycling day of the trip – if there really could be such a thing? And I mean that by the cycling; the ride was spectacular. Today’s route would be roughly 75 km (46 mi) with some cycle-perfect climbing. We were leaving coastal Marina di Castagneto and heading to our next agrihotel, the beautiful Montebelli, in Caldana. More on that later.
Our ride took us up once again through the village of Castagneto Carducci (where we had taken a detour to see yesterday afternoon), and then up into the hills to the village of Sassetta – the name stemming from the Italian word sasso, meaning for “stone” or “rock”.
Although I am typically not much of a climber, this was a climb I absolutely loved. An scenic 8-10 km uphill with that perfect cycling grade … just find that comfortable gear, get into a rhythm, and enjoy the view!
You may wonder: why were all of these small villages built high up (and rather precariously) on the hill/mountain tops? We were told that long ago, the low-lying regions of Tuscany we fairly inhospitable; largely marshlands, malarial, not “healthy”. So to escape the unhealthy air, villages were built high in the hills, where the air was fresh, leaving the mosquitos and pests down below. It wasn’t until centuries later that the lowlands were drained, and the agriculture that we know today was introduced.
If I had thought the ride up was fun, let’s just say the descent was even more so. Long sweeping turns, the perfect grade, stunning views – and basically too much fun to stop, even for photos. Along the way we saw a number of people heading into the mountain woods with baskets. We guessed that they were mushroom hunting, as it was peak season for porcinis. (It almost made me stop …).
Once again, down from the hills, it was pleasant cycling through more small towns, vineyards and local agriculture. And, of course, the afternoon stop for gelatto.
Somewhere around the town of Bagno di Gavorrano, we came across this billboard. I figured you all could use a laugh by now … And let me say that Mark did not put me up to this. (No wisecracks from the peanut gallery, ok?).
A last little bit of uphill before arriving at the beautiful inn of Montebelli. And what is the end to a perfect day of Tuscan cycling? You probably guessed by now – a spectacular local, organic, delectable dinner. Buon appetito!
Today would be an easy day, kind of a rest day, before some bigger things to come. Our ride was a fairly flat 39 km (24 mi) loop to visit Fonte di Folana, a family-run olive oil mill, owned and operated by Di Gaetano Michele with his wife Bianchi Marina and their sons. It was a really beautiful place, with gorgeous views all the way out to the coast. The mill, however, was in the midst of an equipment upgrade project, which Michele explained was designed help preserve the polyphenols and vitamins during the pressing process, so I don’t have many photos from our visit – but the photos on their website are definitely worth looking at.
We did, however, have a spectacular lunch outside on their balcony … and I managed to bring home 3 litres (cans) of olive oil. I figured if I had to toss all of my clothes to bring this stuff home in my suitecase, it was well worth it!
Our guides Luca and Andrea offered up directions to allow Mark and I do to some additional riding upon leaving Fonte di Folano. So we headed out with a great guy we had made friends with from NY (“Paolo”) to ride an additional loop up to the village of Castagneto Carducci – which proved to be the highlight of our day. After all of the olive oil I consumed, I figured a bit of climbing was a probably good thing. 😉
We roamed the beautiful small streets of the village for a while, Paolo and Mark were very kind to indulge all of my stopping for photos. At one point when I was about to take a shot of some colorful laundry that was hanging in a little lane, a sweet old Italian woman popped her head out of her window above me and started laughing and giggling things in Italian … I simply knew she was saying, “Oh, you silly, silly American tourists – taking pictures of my laundry of all things?! Mama Mia!”. To this minute, I would have killed to have gotten a shot of her smiling, laughing face looking down at me. Live and learn (to react faster).
Since most shops and businesses are closed each day between 12:30 – 3:00 pm, we were somewhat hard-pressed to find a place to stop for a cappucino or a Coke. We finally found a place that was open, and stopped. To discover that sitting at a nearby table was a group of young Americans, who we came to learn were travelling around Tuscany by car. They asked me to snap their photo, and very kindly reciprocated.
We (reluctantly) left this beautiful little village to head back down to the coast. The ride back was an adventure in itself, more like mountain-biking than road riding. The road was winding, fairly steep in parts, and the pavement was largely broken and rocky. But it was a blast! (And I was mostly thankful we were heading down on this road, rather than coming up it).
Throughout Tuscany there are countless religious shrines built along the roadsides. I was fascinated by all of them, but this one in particular was pretty amazing, simply because of its size. I would have loved to know what all of the symbols on the cross represented. Upon returning home, I discovered that couple of books have been published about these shrines throughout Italy and Tuscany – Shrines: Images of Italian Worship and Scenes and Shrines in Tuscany. I may have to put these on my wish-list.
For a rest day, we had a wonderful day of riding (and food, and amazing villages). And when it was all over, I did get a little R&R, poolside. 🙂
Today would be an easy cycling day … which was probably a good thing, considering that it (ultimately we) would be filled with amazing food and wine. We would be riding to our next hotel, the Tombolo Talasso Resort in the coastal town of Marina di Castagneto, and on our way, riding up into the hills to visit the tiny and beautiful village of Bolgheri.
We were told that the cycling Olympic gold medalist (2004) and two time World Champion Paolo Bettini is often seen riding these roads, and while I don’t think we ever spotted him, we did see some pretty incredible (and incredibly fast) guys heading up into the hills.
We arrived in Bolgheri late in the morning, allowing us time to walk around the village before enjoying lunch. Bolgheri had, for a time, been home to one of the most celebrated Italian poets and Nobel laureates (1906, Literature) Giosuè Carducci. While we did not find any books of his poetry, the little village offered some of the most famous regional wines, a small market selling pastas, olives and other Tuscan treats, as well as a shop filled with beautiful hand-painted pottery. We had lunch at a small restaurant in the heart of the village, and the porcini ravioli was to die for.
After lunch, we left Bolgheri to continue cycling along the slightly rolling and shady Strada del Vino “Costa degli Estruschi”. Basically, it is the road of famous “Super Tuscan” vineyards – names like Tenuta San Guido, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole, Michele Satta, Grattamacco, Guado al Tasso, etc. (I figure if you know your Italian wines, you will like know these names. I can only plead ignorance; to me, it was all amazing – the cycling part as well as the wine part.)
Mark and I took a little detour into one of the smaller vineyards along the way, and were treated to a tasting and picked up a wonderful vino rosso for later. Apparently, it was the height of the last grape harvest of the season – the Cabernets were ready. There were people gathering grapes in nearly every vineyard we passed, and at the Chiappini vineyard where we stopped, we got to see them loading the grapes into a big de-stemming contraption by the crateful.
We continued riding to our destination of the coastal town of Marini di Castagneto and our hotel. The Tombolo Talasso Resort was modern and very lovely, but I think we both preferred the more relaxed and simple atmosphere of the small rural agrihotels, like Elizabetta. But we had some time to relax and take a walk along the coast before heading off to one of the highlights of our trip – a visit to a local home where we would participate in preparing our dinner.
The best way to appreciate the Italian food, is by cooking and eating it … Cook with simplicity, with good and local ingredients, and mostly with the heart!
~ Chicca Maione
So, here we were – in Chicca’s kitchen. A charming and vivacious young Napolitan woman, and an accomplished cyclist in her own right, she invited us into her home and her kitchen to teach us some of the recipes that had been passed down through her family. It was remarkable. We gathered around her kitchen island, chopping parsley, crushing garlic, learning the stories behind her recipes – from pasta to baked fennel to semolina gnocchi. It was divine. And dinner was even better. Thank you, Chicca!