Friday, December 29, 2017

Revisiting Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
Nov. 18 through Jan. 31, 2018
218 West 57th Street (in the old Lee Art space)
The Downton Abbey Exhibition

For Downton Abby fans, you're in luck! There are three floors of painstakingly re-creations of sets, costumes and life in the Grantham's home, on exhibit in New York City. It previously had a global tour and after New York, it travels around the US in 2018.
The dining room.
Whether it's the elaborate table setting in the dinning room...

...or the bell ringing board notifying servants of some drastically needed help with a button that has popped off a dress...

The bell ringing board.

...or the chaotic preparation of a meal down in the kitchen...

Mrs Patmore's kitchen.
...the exhibit immerses you into Lord Grantham's household and daily life. With the use of CGI: clip-loop footage and holograms of several of the main characters guiding us along the way, as well as scenes from the show, it's a stunning exhibition of detail and depiction of life during post-Edwardian England. Whether downstairs...

Mr Carson's pantry.

...or upstairs...

Lady Mary's bedroom.
...the sets are quite amazing. But it's Anna Robbins costumes that are stunning.

The hard work put into these creations is quite remarkable and authentic looking. The biggest challenge to the exhibit, and I must say they handle it pretty well, are the crowds of people. So you have to make reservations, which are available every half hour from 10:00am to 7:00pm. And as usual with anything popular, especially in New York, be prepared for a lot of people. If you're patient enough, you'll enjoy it all. And there is no rush to get you out. You can spend as short or long a period of time in the exhibit as you like.

PS...there is supposedly a feature film version of Downton Abbey in the works with the original cast.

Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess    photo credit: Downton Abbey
         “You’ll find there’s never a dull moment in this house.”
                             -The Dowager Countess, Violet

Saturday, December 23, 2017

SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: With Luca & Lorenzo of LovexFood - Cooking Class in the Chianti Hills, Florence, Italy

Luca & Lorenzo           photo credit: LovexFood

Via Vecchia Pisana 22
Firenze, Lastra a Signa 50055
Tel: +39 348 606 9987 or  +39 328 900 6773

On my most recent trip to Florence, Italy, to do research for a feature article I'm writing for Passport Magazine, I booked a cooking class just 15 minutes outside of the city in the Chianti Hills. 

photo credit: LovexFood
The class was going to focus on making pasta. I had wrestled with preparing homemade pasta years ago and in a flour-induced panic, I gave up midstream and dashed out to the store to purchase packaged pasta. I never tried again, until last week. But LovexFood is more than a cooking class, it's an opportunity to witness two Italian men share their passion for cooking and their love of life. 
photo credit: LovexFood
Both Luca & Lorenzo learned how to cook from their grandmothers. The recipes and tips are simple but sublime. While explaining very clearly what they were creating, we all shared stories of our lives, careers, where we were from and cooking habits. Their passion and love for what they do clearly is felt in the dishes that have been handed down from family members. With classes of up to 8 people, I was in a group of just four, which really gave us a chance to share and experience a lot. Along with my friend Bud, we met Michelle, also from New York City and Anthony, from Venezuela.

Luca met us at the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence and we were whisked off to Lastra a Signa. Even though we had a drizzly day of rain the week before Christmas...
...their home was warm and inviting. With their tree already up and decorated and a roaring fire burning in the fireplace, morning coffee a spread of taste treats were offered.

This class is a total hands-on experience that even novices can handle.

Arthur:  Luca & Lorenzo, how long have the two of you been sharing your passion for cooking and life, through your company LovexFood?
Luca & Lorenzo:  We grew up in families in which cooking is the best way to show the love you have for someone and we always enjoyed sharing our passion for cooking with family and friends.
In 2016 we decided to turn it into a job in the way we can do it with people coming from all around.
We love to travel, we are tourist as well so when we are on holidays we love to spend some time with locals doing authentic activities. Our experience is exactly what we expect when we are on vacation.

photo credit: LovexFood
Arthur:  How did the concept of LovexFood evolve? Did one or both of you come up with the idea?
Lorenzo :  We both worked in fashion for several years. I was a designer for the visual merchandising department for a worldwide fashion brand and Luca a brand ambassador for a luxury brand.

Look how beautiful our work stations are!
Luca:  A colleague told me about a friend that was doing a cooking class with people that came here visiting Tuscany… I shared the idea with Lorenzo and we started thinking about it…usually we cook for friends, so, why don’t we do it with other people?
Arthur:  I know Lorenzo, you are from Milan and Luca, you spent your childhood in Livorno, which is on the Tuscan coast and you spent time on the Amalfi coast, where your mother is from. Your recipes are those of your Grandmother’s and other relatives; so is your cooking a type of fusion of the two areas or do you take turns sharing your recipes?

photo credit: LovexFood
Lorenzo:  My relatives are originally from Emilia Romagna, the land of the fresh pasta and from Tuscany. I grew up in Milan. 
Luca:  Yes I was born in Livorno, in Tuscany. My father is from Sicily and my mother from the Amalfi coast, so I spent a lot of time there.

With their babies - Juno and her daughter, Joy  photo credit: LovexFood
Luca & Lorenzo: Our food background, it comes from north and south, which are very different for several aspects like food, traditions, dialects…our way of cooking is just bringing back what we learned from our grandmothers and relatives.

For this aspect we are fully Italians and we strongly defend our food heritage, it means that we fight like an old couple deciding what to do during the cooking class and that means - compromise.

Arthur:  The two of you are a couple, how and when did you meet?
Luca & Lorenzo: We meet in a fashion party during the Florentine Fashion week in January 2008, we fell in love and we started sharing our lives together.
Arthur:  What do you see in the future for LovexFood? You’re both perfect for the screen, and your personalities are very you ever dream of having a television show?
Luca & Lorenzo:  In the beginning we never thought about it but a lot of people have suggested the possibility…YES why not?? It sounds like a new exciting experience!! 

Arthur: While I was visiting, you brought up the idea of a cookbook?
Luca & Lorenzo:  We are editing our family recipes with the help of a new American friend that enjoyed our experience. We are working on that…so probably yes.
Arthur: And you have a second home on your property. You mentioned that you might turn it into a bed and breakfast. Is that a real possibility?
Luca & Lorenzo:  We recently bought a new property near by our place and we’re thinking that we can involve that for the next LovexFood project and one of the options is giving the possibility to rest in our property even some nights. The Tuscan countryside is a magical place and will be a memorable experience spending some time here and why not, cooking something together?!

Pastas we made in our class were: ravioli with pumpkin filling, bow ties, tortellini, rigatoni and potato gnocchi. We also learned two different sauces. So easy and simple, even “non-cooks” would be able to master these mouthwatering recipes. 

One was an olive oil, butter and fresh sage sauce and the other was a speck, brandy, chopped arugula, and cream sauce. 

When all the food was ready, we sat down to devour our creations at a beautiful and tastefully set dining room table and local Chianti wines were served at the meal. 

Did I mention the wine kept flowing and flowing and flowing?

We tasted the olives from their very own olive trees and their olive oil, which had a light and deliciously peppery taste. 

photo credit: LovexFood
And keeping things fresh, the eggs we used for cooking came from their own chickens - Regina, Pisola, Tosca, and Mimma. And the herbs used in their dishes are all from their garden. Can it get any fresher than that?

Plus dessert –  a light and not too sweet, tiramisu that we all helped to create! On the bottom of the dishes are cantucci (regional biscotti) dipped in Vin Santo and then topped with homemade marscapone cream and a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

The 6 and a half hours flew by. Honestly, I didn’t want to leave. And if the men do open up a bed & breakfast, I'll be one of the first to book a reservation.
After enjoying Luca & Lorenzo's cooking class at their farmhouse, my fears, frustrations, and failure happily disappeared. Their knowledge, simple explanations, and patience fueled me to run back to New York City and recreate their delicious and traditional family recipes.

Our gang - Bud, Lorenzo, Michelle, Anthony, myself with a very full tummy and Luca!
Guys, any final words you'd like to share?

"We would like that people understand that ours is an unconventional cooking class...we share with people our what our families shared with us...spending some hours cooking with people as we are friends...usually we shake hands when we first meet you at the station...then we say goodbye with an Italian strong hug!!" 

PS...We can't forget their 20 year old neighborhood kitty that keeps watch over the property! 

Fino alla prossima volta!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lewisburg, West Virginia - The General Lewis Inn, The Greenbrier River Trails, The Lewisburg Ghost Tour, The Irish Pub, and The Jefferson Dining Room - Part 2

Continuing with our family reunion in Lewisburg, West Virginia, our home-base for the trip was the historic General Lewis Inn.

Built in 1834 with additions completed in 1928, the Inn has 24 rooms and suites. My brother and I shared a double/double room.

I loved the spindle beds. They reminded me of my granny's. And there were comfy comforters but I had to let the Queen Bed Tester, Amelie,  try out my mattress. She clearly approved.
All rooms have flatscreen TVs and free Wi-Fi.
Everything was meticulously clean and what you see on the table below, in the orange bottle, is complementary West Virginia Spring Water. Very refreshing.
Plus they offered super soft bathrobes and slippers. Nice touch!
There's fresh coffee waiting for us early in the morning out in the hallway and downstairs...

... we have the Thistle Lounge and...

...The The Jefferson Dining Room, where we happily had breakfast every morning. But we'll get into the restaurant later in the blog. Outside we had a front porch perfect for drinks and catching up.

And in the back there are gardens... 

...a reflection pool...

...rocking chairs...

...and a patio...

with flowers!
So who was General Andrew Lewis? (Info lifted from the Inn's website) - "Andrew Lewis, for whom this historic Inn and the town of Lewisburg are named,  served as one of George Washington's principal officers in the Virginia Regiment during the French & Indian War and, in the words of George Washington biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, was unquestionably the hardest-working officer of the Regiment."
General Andrew Lewis
Once settled in, one of the many side trips we went on during our long weekend stay was a visit to the Greenbrier River Trails. 78 miles of former railroad winds through several towns in West Virginia offering hiking, biking and horseback riding. We chose to walk along the Greenbrier River. It was a great opportunity to connect with nature in peaceful and beautiful surroundings.

The Greenbrier River Trail is rated one of the top 10 hiking trails in the country by Backpacker Magazine. 

One evening, we also experienced the candle lit Lewisburg Ghost Tour. Although not as spooky as I was expecting, it actually turned out to be a fascinating historical expedition of the town.


And to get a taste (or sip) of the local nightlife, we slipped into The Irish Pub. Here I am in deep discussion with Josh. I had asked him, "What is the name of this Irish Pub?" and he answered, "The Irish Pub." Easy enough.

Josh and I

Actually, Lewisburg is Josh's hometown and he was kind enough to put together our amazing itinerary. And although he was hoping we'd get a taste of the traditional Irish folk songs, often being sung by its quirky owner, the night we dropped in there was a game of Medical Trivia being played by the WV School of Osteopathic Medicine students. But we did get to experience local brews by both Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company and the Mountain State Brewing Company.

And on the last night of our visit, we decided to have dinner in the General Lewis' restaurant, the Jefferson Dining Room. But first, we ordered smart cocktails at the Thistle Bar...

  ...and enjoyed them out on the front porch...

...till our table was ready.
A table for two in the Jefferson Dining Room.
The Jefferson Dining Room prides itself in running an ethical restaurant that is good for their farmers, their staff and the world. They serve fair trade organic coffee, real butter, real maple syrup and prepare everything from scratch. On their menu you will find locally sourced meats, eggs and vegetables.

After placing our orders, each of us were presented with our own little cast iron skillet filled with delicious homemade cornbread. Not too sweet, just right. For the entire table we ordered delicious Smoked Bacon Wrapped Dates. Sweet dates covered with crispy pork belly, served with fresh made toasted baguettes topped with goat cheese. And they were brought to the table on slabs of slate. Can you spell H-E-A-V-E-N?

Bacon Wrapped Dates
Highlights of the dinner were the hand cut Certified Angus Beef Prime Rib-Eye with the General Lewis Inn's french fries topped with fried onion rings and served with mashed potatoes and succotash that both Josh and John ordered. Josh's comment was, "It was melt in your mouth good. And the succotash was a great side to help slide into Fall." (I like that play on words.)
Janet ordered the WV Mountain Rainbow Trout - raised in spring water with no hormones or antibiotics.
Rainbow Trout
And I had the Heritage Pork Chop - Vernal Vibe Rise pastured pork with a port reduction. These chops were absolutely divine. And the added spice of cumin in the succotash really made the fall vegetables sing. Somehow we're missing a pic of Leigh-Anne's hand cut Filet Mignon, perfectly cooked and seasoned.
Pork Chops
And a fine bottle of medium-bodied Montepulciano completed a wonderful final dinner for the family reunion.

Family feedback in regards to the General Lewis Inn? We'd all come back and stay a heartbeat. As for Lewisburg and everything that Josh put together?...Fantastic trip!