In Abruzzo: Arrosticini on the Range

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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This article first appeared in DreamofItaly.com

 

If you’re a fan of spaghetti westerns, you might recognize the location of Ristoro Mucciante, a barbecue-delipicnic spot on Campo Imperatore in the region of Abruzzo. This is the area Italians call “Little Tibet” because of its similar mountainous terrain, but also because of the geography of spirit that the area invokes.

In 1970, Campo Imperatore was the site for a series of westerns, including one called They Call Me Trinity whose star, Bud Spencer, just died this past June. For those who are too young to remember, “spaghetti westerns” were a genre popular in the 1960s thanks to director Sergio Leone’s film-making style. The term was coined by American film critics because most of these westerns were produced on limited budgets and directed by Italians. Think A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Today, what’s left from this era is a log cabin rising out of nowhere, nearly 5,000 feet above sea level at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain, and there are always scads of cars and motorcycles in the parking lot. And that parking lot? Filled with BBQ grills and coals ready for cooking the local favorite, arrosticini (lamb skewers) that you can buy inside. What’s going on here?

This is the home of the freshest Abruzzese farm-to-table street food imaginable — and the locals make regular pilgrimages out here, hauling their salads, side dishes, tablecloths and kids for a picnic experience like no other. On sale besides the lamb skewers: a variety of sweet and hot pork sausages, gorgeous thick beef filets, three or four different kinds of local cheese (Pecorino is my favorite), homemade bread and an assortment of chips, cookies, sodas, beer, wine and soft drinks. Just add the ambiance — and cook your own meat!

And because it’s well situated between Castel del Monte and the resort at the top of Campo Imperatore, a lot of tourist traffic passes by this curious place as well. Why? For film buffs, this area is famous, having provided backdrops for films like The American, The Name of the Rose, and Ladyhawke. As for Campo Imperatore, its historical claim to fame is that from August 28 to September 12, 1943, the local hotel served as the prison of Benito Mussolini until he was liberated by the German armed forces.

Today, the Campo’s Rifugio Campo Imperatore (www.refugiocampoimperatore.com) is the main accommodation of its namesake ski resort and is a good starting point for hiking on the western slope of the Gran Sasso. There’s even a notable observatory here which, since 2001, has been home to the international program that led to the discovery of some 61,000 asteroids.

Back to the Ristoro Mucciante: it is owned by brothers Rodolofo,

Rodolfo at work!

Roberto and Gianni, who grew up in nearby Castel del Monte, the grandsons of a butcher. They still raise some 500 sheep in the area and their next project is working to earn a “biologic” (organic) designation and complete the vertical integration by raising all the plants their sheep need to eat.

Rodolfo and his brothers do not do this fulltime; in fact, Rodolfo is an accountant by profession. But they are very happy to work with their parents, keeping this unique tradition alive. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s clear they do this as much for love as for profit.

“This is the best work in the world,” says Rodolfo, with a grin. “When people ask me what they should see in Abruzzo I tell them Castel del Monte, Calascio and Santo Stefano di Sessanio. But first, see Ristoro Mucciante.”

Ristoro Mucciante

Localita Madonnina

Castel del Monte

(39) 0862 938357

Open daily from May 1 to October 31, 9:00 a.m. –

8:00 p.m. Open on weekends during the rest of

the year, weather permitting.

— Linda Dini Jenkins

And here’s a video I shot with Rodolfo last May, in a raging wind storm. Thanks to Melissa Vice and Cucillo Conad for their hard work!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gwqr5mejaxb5y9j/Ristoro_Mucciante_2016.mov?dl=0

 

Buon viaggio

 

 

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Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 3, 2017 | Category: Salem Stories, Travel Stories, Uncategorized

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Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash — Leonard Cohen

 

I’m always excited when April comes around, because I can officially come out as a poet.

People who know me well know that I teach poetry at Explorers (Lifelong Learning Institute) at least once a year and that I always offer the option to facilitate journal writing on our tours. Introducing the poetry of travel, and encouraging travelers to make poetry from their travel journaling are favorite activities of mine.

I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a program at the Salem Athenaeum last month called The Writers in Your Neighborhood and, unbeknownst to me, Tim filmed my part of the program. The first :10 is missing, but the rest of the 7 minute reading is captured here for your enjoyment.

Herewith: a few poems derived from travel and the places that travel and memory take you.

Bon viaggio!

https://youtu.be/koF1cQmXg_E

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Italia in 2018! Who’s in?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 | Category: Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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I spent a college semester in a small town in Italy — and that is where I truly tasted food for the first time. — Alton Brown

 

Just a quick blast so you can start planning your 2018 Italian adventure with Travel the Write Way!

We are planning two tours next year — as always, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. Both will feature optional journal writing exercises for those who want to better capture their travel experiences.

While dates and details are not available yet (but will be forthcoming by the summer), here’s something to think about:

May 2018

Roma!

Rome & Abruzzo in the Springtime

Spend 4 nights in Rome, the Caput Mundi, the center of the universe. We’ll enjoy at least one food tour, a wine tasting experience and lots of time to see the city of Fellini. Be transformed by this place that is both ancient and modern, sacred and profane.

Then we’ll drive east, to the city of Ovid — Sulmona — where we’ll spend 4 nights in the heart of the Abruzzo region. We’ll have wine tastings, an olive oil experience, a cooking class, and visits to several nearby hill towns. We will eat and drink exceedingly well here in the heart of the Valle Peligna, and you’ll feel like a local by the time you leave.

 

 

October 2018

Piazza Garibaldi: Sulmona among the mountains

Le Marche & Abruzzo Food & Harvest Tour

We’ll begin with a 3-night stay at a secluded (and now very famous) agriturismo near Urbania in the Marche, about 4 hours from Rome. Private cooking class and truffle hunting included. It’s a great introduction to this wild and wonderful part of bella italia. Heck, you might even see a cinghiale!

Then we’ll head down to the Abruzzo, where the beautiful city of Sulmona will be our base for 5 nights. After visiting the highest ruined castle in the Apennines, walking through the town where Madonna’s family hails from, checking out the silver filigree in a city made prosperous by the wool trade and touring and tasting at the oldest winery in Abruzzo, you’ll still have time to relax, eat well and bring home lots of memories. And don’t forget the confetti!

 

There’s something for all Italophiles, foodies and wine lovers on these trips — punctuated (no pun intended) by an optional opportunity to do some writing to capture the moments.

Think about Italy in 2018 and join us!

Buon viaggio!

 

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Happy Anniversary, Cucina Abruzzese!

Thursday, March 2, 2017 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

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It was one year ago this month . . .

First, a huge box arrived. It took two of us to drag it into the kitchen. Like the “important award” box in A Christmas Story, the box said in bold letters: FRAGILE. Only this box really was from Italy.

Inside was a cornucopia of all things Abruzzese. There were wheels of pecorino cheese, and there was grated pecorino cheese. There was a well-used chittara and an antique rolling pin. There were many kilos of Pelino confetti. There was salumi — sliced and whole — of every description. Prosciutto, guanciale, mortadella. There were the famed protein-packed lentils of Santo Stefano. There were books and brochures and CDs and recipe cards and display pieces galore.

We already had the wine: a gift from Pietrantonj of their fabulous Montepulciano. We filled in the selection with Trebbiano and Pecorino and our favorite: the piquant and rosy Cerasuola. Of course, Prosecco was involved as well.

Novelia with her chitarra

Vicky and I went shopping in Revere for the right “OO” flour for the pasta, bread crumbs for the shepherd’s balls, and passito for the sauce. We bought many pounds of sausages. We bought garlic and carrots and celery and olive oil and dozens and dozens of eggs. And Novelia gave us orders about what to buy so she could make her famous chocolate cake. We found the secret ingredient (no, I’m not going to tell you) in the North End.

A few days later, armed with pots and pans and serving dishes, we headed off to the first of four cooking classes.

Participants snapped this opportunity up faster than we ever imagined. And four

Amalia Cardelli, all the way from Santo Stefano

friends offered their rather large kitchens and dining rooms for the events. Two in Salem, one in Winchester and one in Danvers. Men and women, old friends and new, came from all over the North Shore — even one from Rhode Island, one from Pennsylvania and one from California — and were delighted. And boy, did we eat well! Mangiamo bene!

And to top it all off, Marco Malvestuto, filmmaker and man about town in Sulmona, was here to capture the moments on video. Herewith, I give you Cucina Abruzzese a la Marco.

Enjoy! And let me know if you want to do it again in 2018!!

Buon viaggio!

 

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On the Road Island Diner

Monday, February 20, 2017 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips

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In Utah: Behind the Zion Curtain — (I can’t take credit)

 

I apologize for the radio silence. January was a trying month. Some friends rented our places in Sulmona to avoid being in the USofA to witness the events of January 20th and we treated them to an earthquake, a massive snowstorm and a nearby avalanche. They’re still talking to us, but it’s harrowing to hear these things from thousands of miles away and feel utterly helpless. Thankfully, our “Italian family” kicked into action and made a very enjoyable week for them, despite not being able to move their car for the duration. They even had to buy a snow shovel.

Then, of course, there was January 20th, about which I shall not speak here.

Early February found Tim and me and his mother in Park City, Utah, where we met up with his sister who had arranged for us to stay in her friend’s gorgeous condo in Deer Valley. Luxury. It took us two days to figure out how to turn on the showers (they were all different, with multiple showerheads in each one) and we’re still not really sure how the light switches work, but it’s the closest thing to an Architectural Digest-quality habitation that I’ll ever get to! Of course, while it was snowing like the dickens back East here, Utah received just a few inches of new stuff while were were there, and reached temps of nearly 50 degrees for most of the week. No. Climate. Change. Wait. What?

Off to the slopes with Fi!

There were many highlights to the trip, the biggest being that Tim got to celebrate his big “0” birthday the way he wanted to – on the slopes with his sister and niece (nephew was working). It’s not every day you get to ski with Olympians . . . He survived 17 runs in one day and was only mildly uncomfortable the next. Thank God for Aleve and hot tubs.

This area of the country is so beautiful that it’s almost unfair. We drove over to Sundance, up to Solitude, down to Salt Lake City and meandered a few times on Park City’s very chic Main Street. On the mountainsides we saw four moose and several herd of elk. (In fact, traffic was stopped in both directions on I-80 for two hours one morning to “relocate” a herd of elk.) On Main Street, the restaurants were wonderful and the shopping was great. So many artisans doing so many interesting things. From June – September, you’ll find the Park Silly Sunday Market, an outdoor emporium of artists, gourmet food stands, farmers and entertainers. But even with snow on the ground, Main Street has its own special charm.

And speaking of a special kind of charm, Tim’s sister took us to the Road

The Road Island Diner!

Island Diner —  “Justly Famous Since 1939” —  a classic Streamline Moderne Art Deco “diner car” restaurant located in the somewhat remote mountain city of Oakley. (His sister drives over there for the peace and quiet.) What a trip!

The original history of the place reads as follows . . .

 

In 1939 the nation’s leading diner manufacturer, the Jerry O’Mahony Co. of Elizabeth, New Jersey, rolled out of its factory diner number #1107 which it touted as its largest deluxe model complete with chrome glass showcased green Italian Marble countertops, Tiffany glass clerestory windows in a monitor style roof and hand laid quarry tiled flooring. The company showcased its creation in the 1939 New York World’s fair.

 After the Fair, diner aficionado Al McDermott purchased the streamlined-styled Art-Deco diner and had it towed to Fall River, Mass. where it operated with great success for 14 years. His moniker was “Justly Famous Since 1939”.

 Looking to serve more customers in Fall River, Al Mac purchased a larger Deraffle diner in 1953 where it still operates today.

 The O’Mahony was sold that year to a Greek immigrant, Tommy Borodemus, who was looking to expand out of his 15 stool 1936 Worchester lunch wagon which he had purchased with the $600 New Deal bonus offered to WWI veterans by FDR to counteract the effects of the great depression. Borodemus had the diner moved to the nearby seaside town of Middletown, R.I and renamed it “Tommy’s Deluxe Diner”.

 The Borodemus family opened the diner to much fanfare and passed down its operations for four generations. Countless memories were generated for the family and its patrons over the years. The diner was featured in many TV spots and on Charles Osgood’s CBS Sunday Morning, in 2006. With mounting competition from fast food outlets and restaurant chains, the family decided to sell the property to the Tim Horton donut chain.

A search began for a deserving home for this rare piece of Americana. Although other cities were considered, Oakley, Utah, was offered to preserve the diner’s history.

 In May of 2007, the diner was transported across the country weaving its way through designated back roads complete with state police escorts and pilot cars. It arrived in Oakley in mid July and began its complete restoration. Unlike the few remaining diners still operating on the east coast, thankfully little structural and cosmetic changes had occurred over the diner’s 73- year history. Those that did were replicated from old photos. What you see now is what you would have seen in 1939 as this depression-era pre-war diner was wheeled out of the factory.

 The tabletop remote jukeboxes, flat TVs and air conditioning are modern embellishments.

 In honor of this icon’s legacy it was named the “Road Island Diner” because of its origin and the fact that it was placed on the island in the road.

 

 

And if you’re interested in seeing the diner’s blueprints, the history of the cross-country trip or the restoration, just ask. There are books and photos galore!

Alex

Current owner Steve Butler and his nephew Alex (our server and alone worth the price of admission) are doing a bang-up job keeping the spirit of the old place alive while offering fantastic, high-quality food (and beer and wine) to match the surroundings. I had a tasty White Tuscan Bean Salad with Homemade Pesto; Tim had an excellent Reuben; and his mom and sister both had the Bullseye Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich for which they are rather famous. We shared a nice bottle of Cakewalk Pinot Grigio and they presented Tim with a dessert (hearing that it was his birthday) of a warm apple cake with cinnamon ice cream and a taster of mint ice cream.

This is a destination for anyone who’s going to be in the Salt Lake – Park City area. Getting there is visually stunning, the prices are right, the food is terrific and, well, Alex and Steve are a trip and a half. Steve also owns a catering business, Kumbayah Kitchens. Need I say more?

Thanks, Fi!

This is one of those places that makes you glad you’re part of this crazy human race. Take a stunning ride, have a sandwich and make some new friends.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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