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Posts from the ‘food’ Category

from sea to mountains

along the Tyrrhenian Sea


Where to start?  At the beginning, in the rain near the coast …

I suppose I should clarify a little bit about our trip.  As much as we may have liked to take a month or more and do self-supported touring, logistics and time constraints made it impossible at this point.  Instead, we opted for a supported tour through VBT – and the entire experience exceeded our expectations ten-fold.  I cannot recommend them highly enough; everything was seamless and amazingly well organized, and we had cultural experiences that I doubt we would have been able to plan or arrange on our own.  Five gold stars to the amazing folks at VBT!

warm-up ride & rainbow near Agrihotel Elizabetta

After leaving Florence, we began our cycling from Agrihotel Elizabetta in Collemezzano.  We met with our trip guides/leaders, Andrea and Lucca, both native Italians who fitted us with our bikes and gave us our route maps and cue sheets.  Although we never really rode with them, they would prove to be indispensable friends over the course of the trip; always entertaining, helpful and generous beyond description, doing everything for us “behind the scenes”.  Our first afternoon was an easy (25 km)  warm-up ride in the area around the agrihotel, just so we could adjust bikes as necessary and become familiar with their cue sheets and route directions.  The weather was cool with scattered showers, but we felt the rainbow was a very good omen.

Our second day, and first full day of riding, took us down to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea on a blustery morning.  We approached the coast walked the bikes across a stretch of shoreline, before entering some beautiful maritime pine forests on our way toward the coastal foothills.

walking the beach
guess who? (caught in the act)

Our route today (68 km/42 mi) was to take us up to the medieval village of Casale Marittimo, a beautiful village dating back to the fifth century B.C. (Etruscan) perched high in the hills, overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape filled with olive trees and vineyards.  The climb was fairly easy and extremely lovely, even through we encountered a few showers.  The vistas were amazing.  Luca and Andrea met us just before entering the village with a spectacular picnic lunch of vegetable salads, breads, cheeses and fruit.  (I was already beginning to love these two guys… ;))

the route up to Cassale Marittimo

One of our favorite aspects of our daily route plans was the option to choose from various distances and additional loops.  Mark and I opted to ride an additional 10 km loop that basically circled the hilltop near the village – which was really fun, except for a last (thankfully short) stretch of steep climbing.  But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Probably.  😉

After lunch we rode up and into Casale Marittimo.  And were simply blown away.  It was incredible – from the narrow cobbled streets and stone buildings, to the geraniums in the window boxes and the tiled roofs.  An Italian couple (residents?) approached us as I was taking pictures in the village and kindly and enthusiastically pointed us up toward a little lane where they promised we would have a stunning view for photographs.  It would be the first of so many friendly encounters with incredibly hospitable people we would meet.

entering Casale Marittimo
the narrow streets of the village
the hidden viewing spot we were directed to by a kind village couple
I kept asking myself: can this be real?
the most fun streets to ride – ever!

We (rather reluctantly) left the beautiful village of Casale Marittimo, and headed back down toward the coastal town of Cecina.  On the downward slopes, we really began to get the classic Tuscan views – from the silvery-green olive groves, to the tidy rows of grapes, the graceful lines of cypress trees and the warm golden tones of the stone and stucco houses.

the Tuscan landscape en route to coastal Cecina

As we arrived back near the coast in the town of Cecina, the sun was beginning to break through, and we had our final treat of the day … the G.O.D. (Gelato Of the Day).  This stuff is so incredibly delicious … nothing compares.  I also think it is official law in this region: if you cycle, you must eat gelato.  And I am very happy to be a law-abiding visitor.

gelato: part of the (legally) mandated RDA for cyclists

back at the coast, with the skies clearing ... Cecina


#330daysofbiking Day 86: blackberry days

summer woods

To my dear Canadian friends – Mary Lou, Darryl, et al – I wish you all a happy Canada Day.  And I am ever grateful to you for sending a blast of cool, dry air down from the Great North; it is appreciated more than you will ever know.  If I could somehow share through the interwebs, this blackberry gelato is for you guys. 😀

Had a beautiful road ride, the weather being so much kinder today.  One of those crisp summer days where once you start riding, you just don’t want to head home.  The landscape is lush and overgrown in that flush way of summertime.  And what always tells you that July is here?  Blackberries – ripe and juicy on the cane.

We gathered a big bowl of berries from the canes out back, and Grant and Matt had helped me concoct a blackberry gelato recipe … it is delectable! Guys – you could be the next Food Network stars (heh heh!). The perfect summer evening treat after a day of riding.  Really, I would share if I possibly could ….

homemade blackberry gelato

Bicycle Blackberry Gelato
  • 3 to 4 C fresh blackberries
  • 1-1/4 C granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 C whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 C fat free powdered milk
  • 1 C light cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place blackberries and 3/4 C sugar in a heavy saucepan, and heat over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and berries begin to break down and soften.  Remove from heat and press through a fine mesh sieve or food mill.  Discard seeds.  You should have approximately 2 C of blackberry puree.  Set aside and cool.

Place milk, remaining sugar and powdered milk into a heavy bottomed 3-1/2 quart saucepan.  Bring to barely a simmer over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce heat to low.  Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and beat until thickened, approx. 2 minutes.  While whisking, slowly add 1 C of the hot milk/sugar and whisk until blended.  Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and increase heat to medium.  Stir constantly until the mixture thickens slightly (like a custard sauce) and registers 180’F on an instant read thermometer.  Remove from heat and strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl.  Stir in the light cream, reserved blackberry puree, and vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours or overnight.

Pour into container of a 2-quart ice-cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.  Ripen in freezer for additional 2 hours before serving. Best served after a very fine bicycle ride … serves 4-6 hungry cyclists.


bowl of berries

#330daysofbiking Day 66: peas and the perfect storm


On a day filled with rain and thunderstorms, I think there is no nicer place to be than inside your favorite bike shop.  Friendly conversation, camaraderie, beautiful machines …

Finally got in to pick up my road bike, which had been in the shop having a front derailleur-ectomy – or transplant, actually.  A few weeks ago while out riding,  I managed to have the perfect storm of mechanical failure.   (Please forgive me here, if I don’t use proper bike lingo/terminology – I don’t know this stuff).  I was down-shifting, and my shifter cable broke … which caused my chain to make a sloppy transition, splaying one of the links … which, in turn, caught on the front derailleur and totally bent it out of shape.  Charles, my most-awesome bike guy/mechanic, tried valiantly to repair it – but in the end, it needed to be replaced.

So today’s ride was a quick spin on my newly repaired-and-good-as-new bike … basically up the road and back. Oh well.  Ross and I had talked about trying to take an evening ride, but thunderstorms and winds are rolling through and I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Since there are no nice riding pics today – you shall get some peas.  LOL.  And an easy(-peasy) summer recipe.

Right now, the garden is full of lettuce and peas.  Late yesterday I finally crossed the pea-picking off of my to-do list, and came in with several bowls of sweet green peas along with a few bags full of lettuce.  Tonight’s #projectdinner was a very easy Japanese Mame Gohen (rice with green peas), some roasted mixed mushrooms, and ginger-dressed garden lettuce.  Light, perfect for summer … and basically no effort; throw it in a pot/rice cooker and let it take care of itself.

Mame Gohan

Mame Gohan — Cooked Rice with Green Peas

  • 1 C Sushi rice
  • 1-1/2 C green peas, shelled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs sake
  • 1/2 tsp Katsuodashi – or 4-5cm piece of Konbu (dried sea kelp)
  • 1-1/2 C water

Rinse the rice and place into a rice cooker.  Add sake, salt, water and Katsuodashi (or Konbu).  Place peas on top – don’t mix.  Turn on the rice cooker, and when finished, turn into a bowl and toss the peas with the rice.  Serves 4 as a side dish.

truthfully, when they're young and fresh out of the garden, I love to eat them raw-in-the-pod the best!

#30daysofbiking – Day 2: bicycle dinner party/picnic

I consider it my catering van...

Big Dummy: a better kind of "catering van" ...

Day 2 of #30daysofbiking … Another glorious weather day, beautiful balmy evening.  Sons Mason and Ross are home for the long Easter weekend (while sons Dillon & Grant are off recording with The Band).  Decided to plan a lovely dinner picnic, transported by bicycle to a great little picnic spot along the local greenway.  Didn’t know if it was going to come together until nearly the last minute, due to Mark and Ross driving home from Johnson City … fortunately, it all worked out.

Undoubtedly due to the beautiful weather and school holiday, the greenway was packed with people – walkers, bikers, skaters, scooters.  Everybody out enjoying the beautiful evening.  It’s so wonderful to have a community gathering place – a place where we can all get outside for a while, out of our cars, and just take a walk, socialize.  Take a ride or have a picnic.  Or any combination of these things.

Our dinner next to the creek was lovely.  Our ride was fine.  Another great day of #30daysofbiking. 😀

Pass the salad, please.

Springtime dinner by bicycle: divine

Springtime dinner by bicycle: divine!

the others ...

the rest of the herd

bicycle soup


We’re having one of those beautiful weeks of fall weather – cool, crisp, sunny and vibrant.  Today’s Monday routine: catch up on the never-ending back-log of laundry, ship a package off to Mason at college, do a little grocery shopping, and try to find something to sooth a sore throat that has taken hold of me since yesterday.  The cooler temps always make me crave a bowl of soup.  So when the laundry was all outside catching the breeze, my bicycle and I headed off to the store.

This “Bicycle” Broccoli-Cheddar Chowder is a family favorite that I concocted many years ago, and the perfect simple supper for fall and winter.  I added “Bicycle” to the name, because you should ride your bike to the market to get the ingredients – and hopefully you won’t feel too guilty about the dose of comfort-food after a nice long ride!

One thing to note: this recipe makes enough soup to feed a small town, so you may want to consider halving it to get a quantity more suited for 4 people.  I always make plenty, and the boys around here manage to never let the leftovers go to waste.

"Bicycle" Broccoli-Chedder Chowder

Bicycle” Broccoli-Cheddar Chowder

(tastes extra delicious after a long ride on a cold day!)

3/4 C onion, finely chopped

1/2 C carrot, grated

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

butter or oil (scant, to saute vegetables)

6 C vegetable broth (may substitute chicken broth, as desired)

1 tsp salt

3 C potatoes, small dice (I prefer small redskinned “new potatoes”, leaving skins on, but you can substitute other peeled potatoes)

3 C broccoli, lightly steamed and coarsely chopped (can substitute frozen chopped broccoli)

1/2 C butter

3/4 C flour

5 C milk

2 C good cheddar cheese, shredded

Sautee onion, carrot and celery in small amt. of butter or oil, until onion is translucent.  Set aside.  In large heavy covered stockpot, heat vegetable broth and potatoes, and bring to a slow boil. Stir in onion/celery/carrots and cook over medium heat until potatoes just become tender.  Stir in chopped broccoli and let simmer on low.

Meanwhile, in separate large saucepan, melt the 1/2 C butter and add, stirring, the 3/4 C flour.  Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until bubbly and golden.  To this, stir in milk and bring to almost boiling, stirring continually until smooth and thickened.  Turn head to low, add shredded cheese, and continue to stir over low heat until cheese is melted and incorporated.

Carefully pour the cheese mixture into the large stockpot (with broccoli & vegetables), stirring to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer, uncovered, over low/medium heat until soup reaches desired consistency (it will continue to thicken).

Serve with a simple tossed salad, and crusty bread. (After a long bike ride!)  Enjoy!

10-12 servings

no impact experiment – day 4: food

garden bounty

garden bounty

Today’s focus was on food.  And I have to admit that it was a pretty dismal failure on my part.  Dinner last night was pizza and salad.  The lettuce was organic, but nothing was local.  I prepared the pizza myself, but used an “all-natural rustic crust” that I had purchased earlier at the Market, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to make my own pizza dough.  The cheese was not local, the tomatoes not from our garden…  Like I said, other than being meat-free, a pretty dismal failure from a “foodprint” perspective.

I know the key things to lessening our “foodprint”:  eating local, organic, seasonal food;  no (or less) meat cconsumption; avoiding packaged and highly processed foods; passive cooking methods…

So where does our household stand?  On a daily basis I do try to avoid buying food that has been shipped a long distance, or that is highly processed or packaged.  I don’t buy or prepare meat, although Mark and the boys tend to eat it sometimes at school and work, or if we’re dining out.

I really try to be mindful when shopping for food, but it is frustrating when the only organic lettuce I can find is stuck in a plastic bag.  Although we have a once-weekly farmer’s market, I didn’t do alot of grocery shopping there – mostly due to hours of operation and location. Same goes with the Amish market that is nice, but a 50-mile round trip.

We grew a fair amount of vegetables in our garden, although I haven’t done much of any canning for several years now.   We ate most of what we harvested, although I still have a supply of squash we continue to enjoy.

My local grocery store of choice, Season’s Harvest Market, will frequently stock a few seasonal and local items.  Apples and cider from within our county have been the lastest and most abundant.  But some of the things – like a $2.99 almond/granola bar that was produced by a local in-home bakery – well, I just question where the ingredients came from?  Certainly the almonds were shipped in, and there was no indication that the ingredients were organic.  And given the price-tag, I just can’t justify buying one. So as much as I would like to support “local”, sometimes it is just not sensible or reasonable. (And I won’t even comment again on the imported bottled water from Norway that they still have on the shelves …)

I have found that I often tend to have “food-store envy” when I visit other cities.  Visiting my cousins in California last year, I was so jealous of the small fruit and vegetable stands that seemed to be everywhere, as well as the shopping choices that included Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.  Even where son Ross is in college, in Johnson City, TN, they have a great EarthFare grocery store, stocked full of organic and fair-trade items.  And although I know there are some “better” options in Chattanooga, I can’t justify making the drive on any kind of frequent basis.

It’s sad situation when the simple chore of shopping for food has become so complicated.  Trying to figure out how far a tomato has travelled to get into my salad, or determining if the corn in this product is GMO or not?  Can I actually find a locally-grown organic version of the cheese I want to buy?  Why can’t I purchase this vegetable without it being encased in a plastic bag?  It’s exhausting, frustrating, and I will admit there are times when I just give up.

From the Experiment Guide, I did find this pretty nifty on-line resource to help located nearby local, sustainable shopping choices – it’s called the Eat Well Guide.  I actually found several places that I didn’t know about, including one market in nearby Collegedale that might be do-able by bicycle(?).

One last thing from the Experiment Guide that I’d like to try: Cool Idea #3 – make-your-own food-scrap vinegar.

Food-Scrap Vinegar

Combine in-season fruit scraps and chop up coarsely.  Dissolve a quarter cup honey in one quart of water.  Throw the scraps in and cover with a cloth.  Let ferment for two to three weeks, stirring occasionally. (For more recipes like this, read Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Our pizza dinner ... not such a great "foodprint", but still pretty tasty!

Our pizza dinner ... not such a great "foodprint", but still pretty tasty!

Comments Off on no impact experiment – day 4: food

pumpkin days

pumpkin Xtracycle

pumpkin Xtracycle

It’s getting to be that time of year.  Turning leaves, sunny crisp weather, pumpkins, and happy bike days.  The picture above was from last fall … still waiting for this year’s fall color.

Made first batch of pumpkin muffins yesterday, and thought I’d share the recipe – a favorite.  I kind of took a couple of different recipes and tweaked them into my own creation.  Orange glaze is optional, but I love the mingling of the citrus and spice flavors.

October Harvest Muffins

1 Cup brown sugar

1 Cup white sugar

1/2 Cup canola (or veg) oil

3 eggs, room temperature

1-1/2 Cups cooked pumpkin (canned will do)

1/2 Cup water

3 Cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cloves

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 cup raisins

1/4 Cup quick-cooking oats*

1/4 Cup ground flax seed*

(* 1/2 Cup of walnut pieces would be a nice alternative, but my family is not big on nuts in baked goods)

Place raisins in small microwave-friendly bowl with 1 tsp water, cover, and microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Let sit and rest while preparing muffin batter.

In large mixing bowl, beat sugars, oil, eggs, pumpkin and water.  In separate bowl combine flour, baking powder, soda, spices, salt, oats, flax seed.  Add to pumpkin mixture and blend well.  Fold in raisins.  Spoon into greased muffin tins (or paper-lined tins), filling 3/4 full.  Bake at 375’F for 15 minutes, rotating tray halfway through baking time, until toothpick or tester comes out clean.  Remove to rack and brush orange glaze (below, optional) over tops of warm muffins.

Orange Glaze

1 Cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp orange zest

2 T (?) orange juice

Combine sugar and zest with orange juice, mixing well, until desired glazing consistency.

Bake some muffins, put some tea or coffee in a thermos, and head out on your bike …

pumpkin muffin

October Harvest Muffins (perfect autumn bike picnic snack!)