What I did on my Spring Vacation. (The short answer: I ate.)

Formal introductions are forthcoming

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Home again! 

After an all-too-brief visit, Lucy, Max, and I returned home to find things not quite the way we left them. (More about that later.) My time spent with Zia was wonderful, though the weather, much like that area’s like the internet service, wasn’t at all cooperative. One had me wishing I’d brought my Winter coat and the other had me seriously considering driving the 30 miles to get access to free WiFi at the nearest McDonald’s. As a result, there were no walks on the beach with Max and I only showed Zia a couple of your blog posts. I couldn’t get them to load on my iPad and this was the first time I brought my iPhone to Michigan. My experience with WP on the device is really quite limited. Even so, I wouldn’t necessarily consider an iPhone’s displays “Zia friendly” and I did much of my reading alone. And before anyone thinks I’m picking on my Cara Zia, I wouldn’t call the displays “John friendly” either. You should have seen me trying to “Pin” or “Like” one of your posts. (I don’t know how you do it, Eva!)

You may be wondering, with it cold and damp when it wasn’t flat-out raining, what does one do in rural Michigan? Well, I can’t speak for others but we cooked … and we cooked … and we cooked again. True, I did take my daily walk looking for morel mushrooms and ramps but returned home empty-handed each time. (Not to worry, I came prepared.) So, with several great meals prepared and, as the title suggests, devoured, I thought I’d share a couple of the recipes today, with a promise to post the rest in the weeks to come.

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I can count on two things whenever I arrive at Zia’s home. Once I’ve unpacked the car, there will be a Manhattan waiting for me. (Zia is the original “Hostess with the Mostest”.) With my thirst quaffed, Zia will then get to work on the traditional Bartolini risotto.

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Made with fresh mushrooms and chicken gizzards, this dish has long been a family favorite. In fact, there were relatives that traveled hundreds of miles and, upon each and every arrival, asked for a risotto dinner. Of course, not everyone likes chicken gizzards, so, just tell them that the offending bits are nothing but a few dried mushrooms. More about that, and the risotto recipe, will be shared in a future post.

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Although most lunches were simple sandwiches made with the Italian lunch meats and bread I brought with me, there were 2 notable exceptions. On Sunday, like always, we had brunch after Mass with a few of Zia’s neighbors and fellow choir members. (Yes, Zia is a member of her church’s choir.) The 2nd time was when I prepared Asparagus in the style of Milan, Asparagi alla Milanese.

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There will be no future recipe for this dish because it is so very simple to prepare. Season fresh asparagus spears with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. Place the spears on a heated barbecue, hot grill pan, or baking sheet that’s placed in a hot (425˚ F, 218˚ C) oven. Meanwhile, fry an egg or two per serving and season with salt & pepper. If, like us, you like your yolks runny, the eggs should be prepared sunny-side up or over easy. And that’s it. When both the asparagus and eggs are cooked to your liking, arrange a serving of asparagus spears on a dinner plate, place the eggs on top, and, if you like, garnish with a bit of grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It couldn’t be easier but it sure is a great tasting light lunch or fantastic primo piatto.

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Now, we just didn’t spend all of our time eating lunch. We did work for our suppers, too. In fact, Zia’s pasta board got quite a bit of use over the course of my visit. One day, we made ravioli and linguine.

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Using a filling of ramps, fresh spinach, and goat’s cheese, Zia and I spent the afternoon making pasta pillows. That night, we feasted on these very same ravioli, prepared with morel mushrooms in a white wine sauce.

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Those recipes will be coming your way.

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Another day brought out the pasta board again and we spent the afternoon making gnocchi.

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That night’s dinner was probably the best of my entire visit. Our primo piatto was gnocchi dressed in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce.

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That night’s secondo was grilled rack of Spring lamb, while contorni of grilled asparagus and a tossed salad rounded out the meal.

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Later that night, I surprised Zia with cannoli that I’d brought from my Italian market. Recipes for the gnocchi, gorgonzola cream sauce, and lamb will soon be posted, too.

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Lastly, I could hardly go home for a visit without bringing something from the fish monger. This visit I brought whiting, merluzzo, with me.

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Rather than risk ruining them on a grill with which I’ve had little experience, these little fishies were prepared with the Bartolini breading mixture and baked, with excess breading mixture placed on the baking sheet, roasted, and used to garnish a platter of hand-cut linguine aglio e olio with baby artichokes, spinach, and ramps. The merluzzo recipe was already shared HERE

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To make the pasta dish, place 1/3 cup olive oil in a hot pan over med-high heat. Add red pepper flakes, to taste, along with chopped ramps. Sauté till ramps are soft, add 2 to 4 bulbs of diced Spring or new garlic, and continue cooking for another minute. Add the trimmed and quartered fresh artichokes, a half cup of white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce to a soft simmer. Allow the artichokes to braise until soft and the sauce has reduced, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta until two minutes shy of package directions or, if using fresh, until the pasta is a bit firmer to the bite than your prefer. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and add to the frying pan along with  a handful or two of fresh spinach. Toss to coat the pasta and continue to sauté the pan’s contents until the pasta is cooked to your liking, adding pasta water as needed to maintain the sauce. To serve, garnish with breading mixture that remains on the baking sheet that was used to roast the merluzzo. Of course, if merluzzo isn’t on that night’s menu, your pasta may be garnished with grated cheese or bread crumbs toasted in a bit of olive oil.

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So, there you have it. We cooked, we chatted, we worked out the kinks in a recipe or two, and we spent a very nice time together. And, best of all, there are recipes to share for anyone that’s interested. Would that I could end this post here and now but, alas, there’s a bit more to tell.

Late on the night of my arrival in Michigan, I received a telephone call telling me of some storm damage at my home. Thankfully no one was hurt and there wasn’t any structural damage. Since a picture is worth a thousand words and our friend Celi has challenged us all to post a view from our back porches, here’s mine.

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"This is as close to indoor plumbing as I'm ever going to get!"

With the exception of a potted palm that died under the most suspicious of circumstances in the living room, this is about as close to indoor plumbing as Max will ever get.

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That green thing is not some prop from a 50’s sci-fi thriller. It’s a trumpet vine that the wind knocked down, blocking the path to the garage and alley, not to mention landing atop a few roses. (Hopefully the dog run’s fence took the brunt of the force from the falling vine.) Here’s the view from the porch landing above.

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Believe it or not, buried within that tangled mess are the remnants of a wooden trellis.

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As you can see, mine is a typical city yard here in Chicago, made even smaller because of the 2 car garage and dog run … um … and the now-fallen vine. As of this writing, I’m waiting to hear from a few landscapers for bids to remove the vine and haul it away. On the plus side, once it’s removed, there’ll be space for a clematis vine and another rose.

The Kitchens are open again, with a new recipe, Baked Haddock, coming this Wednesday.

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174 thoughts on “What I did on my Spring Vacation. (The short answer: I ate.)

  1. What a wonderful feast!! Your Zia’s traditional Bartolini risotto looks delcious, I couldn’t help but laugh at your suggestion of telling people who don’t like chicken gizzards into fooling them to belive it’s dried mushrooms. It’s certainly a case of what you don’t know wont hurt!

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    • Thanks, Lisa. The risotto recipe is truly something special, though I never realized how special until I moved away. You just don’t see “Risotto with Chicken Gizzards” on many menus. As for the mushroom trick, that was one my Mom used — and to great effect!

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  2. Welcome home John!! I did wonder about the photo Celi published: could not quite make it out [Methinks all of us are relating to the waterlogged farmy and being virtually electrocuted!] : you know I’m glad you were not at home during the storm as you could not have helped an iota! So good luck with the landscapers who daresay will all be busy for weeks and want an arm and a leg!! And look at the positive side: you can draw up a new garden plan 🙂 ! Sorry about being washed out at Zia’s also, but all that food sounds so moreishi, especially that risotto !!

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    • Thank you so much, Eha. Considering the amount of damage some homes received, not to mention poor Oklahoma, this is really quite minor. WIth no one hurt and no structural damage, I was very lucky. And though I would have preferred it a tad warmer and drier during my visit, we sure did put our “indoor time” to good use. I think we were both surprised by all the food we prepared. 🙂

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    • Fly on the wall? We would have given you an apron and you could have helped out! There are no free lunches! 🙂
      And I agree about the damage, Maureen. Considering how many have suffered tragically these past few weeks, this was nothing but an opportunity to change a flowerbed a little. I’m very fortunate and have already started researching season-long bloomers. 🙂

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    • Thank you. With the weather so poor, there really wasn’t much to do but cook, though I didn’t realize just how much we’d prepared until I got home and wrote this post. 🙂

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  3. There was a story behind the photo you sent to Celi! I was so happy to see a pic of Max, I didn’t even think about the circumstances. Your Spring vacation sounds delicious… and afternoons chatting over the pasta board preparing dinner, wonderful. I agree, WP via smartphone is do-able only to a point. Similarly in Australia, as soon as you venture outside main areas internet coverage still in the dark ages.

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    • It was a very nice holiday, EllaDee. My Zia is game to try anything. if I suggest we try something, she’s all for it. We really do enjoy our time at the pasta board together. Australia, being so vast and relatively sparsely populated, would definitely have areas of poor internet coverage. Though there are many advantages to country living, internet service certainly isn’t one of them. I’m just glad my cell phone works. For a number of years, my cell phones wouldn’t work in that area — and I tried 5 companies before finding one that did.

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  4. Welcome back – we missed you! So sorry about the storm damage, but at least you are being optimistic about what comes next. It was nice to get some shots of your view, I feel like I could be sitting looking out your window with you (with a glass of wine in my hand of course) helping you decide what to plant next. It looks like you and Zia had a wonderful time together, I love to see the closeness and love that the two of you share and the fact that she still gets enormous pleasure out of cooking and eating with you and her loved ones. I haven’t had breakfast yet, but those asparagus and egg would go down a treat right now 🙂 Hope you get settled back in ok and thta it doesn’t take too long to sort things out in the yard.

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    • Thanks, Tanya, for the welcome and your concern. That evening’s storm must have been a good one. Some of the streets in this area were completely blocked by fallen tree limbs and homes were damaged by fallen trees. I really am quite lucky that nothing was damaged other than a vine.
      Yes, Zia and I do enjoy spending time together in her kitchen. You should see us when I bring my stand mixer. We’re a veritable ravioli-making factory, laughing every step of the way. RIght now, the farmers markets have tables covered with asparagus. Saturday morning, I bought a couple bundles, a dozen duck eggs, and made the asparagus with eggs dish as soon as I got home. Guess what I’ll be having again tomorrow? 🙂

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  5. Sounds like a wonderful trip even if the weather was not quite as cooperative! Spending time with close ones makes the weather not as significant! And the food you enjoyed making and eating looked delicious! Good luck with your storm damage!

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    • Thank you so much. Yes, the time spent with Zia was certainly time well-spent. With so may people displaced because of some truly horrific storms, my “vine problem” is really nothing. I hope to get it pulled and out of here before the weekend. Fingers crossed!

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  6. I cannot wait for those recipes especially the risotto and of course the gnocchi! And your pictures are great. The light at Zia’s must have been lovely despite the weather. Lets hope summer comes soon so she can warm up. I love the shot of her beautiful hands, such history in hands. Have a great sunday and thank you for the Teaser. NOW I see what you mean about the vine falling, I do hope you can get someone to help you with that clean up project but so sad that it fell. Thank you for the shout! love celi

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    • Thank you, Celi! Your comment about the lighting gave me a good chuckle. A few of those shots were taken on my car’s hood. I had to keep moving the car to keep it in the setting sun’s light. Another was taken with the dish on a tree stump in her yard. Others were on her stovetop, under the hood light. And all the while, Zia sat patiently and waited for me to get “the shot.”
      Sorry I wasn’t more clear about the vine. Since then, I’ve been able to create a path under it and we can get to the garage and alley now. More importantly, Max can get to the back gate when he’s on patrol. It drove him nuts that he couldn’t get to the gate to bark at anyone or anything moving in the alley. Tomorrow I’ll continue calling places to get some help. WIth a little luck, all will be back to normal by the weekend. Have a good morning!

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  7. Yay! The roses are back! I can’t wait to be formally introduced. Your visit sounds great; there’s nothing better than time in the kitchen with like minded folk. And pasta pillows sound so lovely, I think I’d like to sleep with one under my head.

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    • Thank yo so much. Yes, I decided to clear a spot for another rose earlier and this one is perfect. Love the colors. It was a wonderful visit and we cooked up a storm! Best of all, Zia has enough gnocchi and ravioli in her freezer to last until I come back in a few weeks. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Lisa. Yes, with the weather so poor, we’d little choice but to cook. The weather had better improve by next visit or we’ll both be dieting for the rest of Summer. 🙂

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  8. Having spent three days in Oklahoma, three TORNADO days in a row, I can feel your pain. Not for sissies, the weather these days

    Lovely vacation, I have to say the asparagus with the fried egg is calling my name – simple and delicious, I’ve never quite had it this way, I had asparagus with the usual diced hard boiled egg on top. Nothing beats a runny egg yolk, though – it is a sauce in itself

    Glad you did not have excessive structural damage, and that no one was hurt. We can repair damage.. it’s a pain, but doable.

    Great post John, and I’m with you – the iPhone and the iPad is pretty tricky as far as interacting with bloggers go

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    • You know better than most, Sally, how bad things have been for those poor people in the Heartland. This vine is nothing but a nuisance, in comparison. From what I’ve heard, the night of the storm, some streets were blocked by falling limbs in this area and some homes damaged by falling trees. Even so, it’s a far from what Oklahoma has endured.
      Do try the asparagus! It is such an easy yet tasty dish. I went to the farmers market Saturday morning just for asparagus and duck eggs. Guess what I’ll be having again tomorrow? 🙂
      Thanks, Sally, for leaving such a nice comment and expression of concern.

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  9. Welcome back. Sounds like a nice trip despite the ill weather. I don’t know why, but I am so pleased you honor Zia the way you do. Sorry about the trumpet vine… a climbing rose would be nice!

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    • Thank you so much, Dave. I’m glad you enjoy these “vacation” posts. Believe me. I enjoy the time spent preparing and cooking food with Zia. It will be hard to top this last one though. We surprised each other with the meals we prepared! 🙂
      Considering the other damage in the area and elsewhere, the loss of a trumpet vine is really nothing. I remember all too well the damage your property and area sustained last year. This is really nothing at all in comparison.

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  10. Glad you are back safe and well. You certainly ate like a King while away! I loved the picture of Zia – such practiced hands. Looking forward to your new recipes. I hope the storm damage gets sorted quickly.

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    • Thank you, Maria. I love the shot of Zia’s hands, too. That image could just as easily have come from my memory. I vividly remember as a boy watching Mom & Zia use a fork to give ridges to gnocchi. With a little luck, I’ll have the vine out of here by the weekend. 🙂

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  11. Absolutely wonderful food and recipes. Each and every dish you’ve described is on, or is about to go on, my list of favourites. I thought the aglio olio with artichokes and spinach was genius. Great post, John, and great to have you back in internet land:)

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    • Thanks, Roger. This is what happens when I go to the Italian market the day before I leave for Michigan. I brought it all with me and together we decided how to use it. It will be hard to top this trip. Maybe I should try a different store … 🙂

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  12. I loved your post today! Can’t wait for some of those recipes! I live in the Ann Arbor area and also went morel and ramp hunting on some family property north of here. Even when you don’t find much, it’s always a good time. Oh, and as we speak, I have my first batch of chèvre draining from raw goat milk! Yay!
    Also, I am so glad there wasn’t a lot of damage to your home!

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    • Sorry that I missed your comment …
      I read your post about morel hunting and you were very successful. I wish I could have said the same. I envy you your raw goat’s milk. I just can’t get any raw dairy of any kind. It makes such a difference in taste when making cheese of any kind.
      Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. Enjoy that chèvre. Yum!

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  13. Welcome back! Sounds like you had a terrific time. Sorry to hear about the damage, but thank goodness it’s not worse. Love all the recipes. You’ve reminded me it’s been ages since I’ve made gnocchi. The risotto recipe sounds like a winner – eagerly awaiting the post where you share details. 😉 Really fun and entertaining post – thanks for sharing your vacation with us.

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    • Thank you so much, John. It was a fun trip. Zia and I really do enjoy our time together in the kitchen. It had been a long time since we made gnocchi, too, and we were surprised at how good they were. It looks like I won’t be buying them anymore. Ours were so much better.

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  14. What a wonderful time away with your Zia….this post has left me feeling very hungry. I will be awaiting all the recipes, but especially the one for the gnocchi.
    Welcome back! I missed you.

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  15. Who could ask for a better vacation, than to spend it in Zia’s kitchen! It all looks and sounds so wonderful…Hubby spent last week in Paris, and it was 45 and raining buckets, every day. I think you had a better week than he did 😉
    When you hire a landscaper to get rid of the trumpet vine, try to get him to sign a promise to come back and get ANY roots he misses…that’s a plant that won’t go easily! Be awful if an errant shoot ate your new clematis…

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    • Thank you, Marie. It was a very nice visit. Frankly, if the weather had been better, we may not have had the time to cook. Things worked out just fine.
      Believe me, I know all about those roots. I’ve got little trumpet vines popping up all over my yard and in the neighbors on either side of me. I even found one in the alley. That’s why I want the vine pulled and not tied back up to the garage wall. I thought they would draw hummingbirds. In the dozen years since I’ve planted them, I’ve not seen one hummingbird in my yard. It’s time for a change.

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  16. I’ve missed you!
    I love her hands!
    the food looks simple, but elegant!
    and she can sing too!
    there is nothing like famiglia …

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  17. Oh, you’ve had just the most fabulous holiday! Lucky Zia, lucky you.. your food adventures trump any restaurant we visited in Italy. I’m so looking forward to seeing these new recipes and I hope your yard gets back in top shop quickly! The weather has been dreadful here, but at least very little wind. I suppose if the rain stopped and I decided to ride my bike again, I’m sure the wind would pick up to a gale force:) xx

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  18. What a perfect vacation John, bookended by Manhattans and cannoli! The ravioli looks perfect and delicious. My mum cooked us chicken gizzards when we were growing up, and although I loved them, I haven’t touched them since. Your simmering pot looks great, and I’m tempted to give them a burl after all these years.

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    • And those are some bookends, too, Saskia! 🙂
      Long before blogs were born, I’d moved to Chicago and realized unless I learned some of the family recipes, I’d rarely eat them. This risotto was one of the first I attempted. It took a few phone calls and a couple failed attempts but I got it, finally. I hope you’ll like the recipe and it convinces you to give gizzards another try. Life is too short to go without chicken gizzards. 🙂

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  19. I am glad you had a chance to spend time with your Zia. I got a new phone and found that it won’t download the videos I put in my post. Have to go to the YouTube site to see it on the phone. Sorry to hear about the damage to your home. The food in this post looks wonderful. Can’t wait for the future recipes.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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    • Thank you so much, Francine. We had a wonderful visit together.
      So sorry to read that you cannot view you own videos. Is there a software upgrade or app that will help you to do it? I certainly hope so.

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  20. I guess you did some eating on vacation! Wow, I wouldn’t mind a vacation like that. Sorry to hear about the storm damage but glad that it was minimal (that is a strange looking creature on your trellis. Zia sounds like the perfect hostess & I’m guessing that she was thrilled to see you, rain or shine.

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    • Thank you, Diane. You’re so right. Zia would have welcomed me no matter the weather. We do have such a good time together and making pasta is the highlight.
      The worse paart of the damage is turning out to be getting that vine removed. I cannot get a company to return my calls. I’ve tried 4 companies so far and will try No 5 tomorrow. At least we cleared a path under it and we can get to the garage and alley. Who wants to walk to the end of the block to take out the garbage? Not me! 🙂

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  21. Boy, did you eat and eat well! Every dish looks fabulous and it sounds like you and Zia had a wonderful visit and lots of quality time together cooking, eating and visiting. So sorry about your wind damage. These storms lately have been quite damaging and all last week and the week before we had trees being cut in our neighborhood from a big storm. That rose is gorgeous! What a color. Welcome home and hope you have a great week, John.

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    • Thanks, Betsy. I spoke with Zia yesterday and neither of us realized just how much we had cooked until I started to list it all for this post. We were always busy with the task at hand and never looked up to see the whole picture. I don’t know what we’ll do next visit but we’ll have to go some to top this one. 🙂
      There were so many downed trees in this area and the suburbs, Betsy, that this vine is really nothing more than an inconvenience. I’m very lucky that no one was hurt and no real damage done. This, too, shall pass. 🙂

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  22. I love your recipes AND your lively chats!! It’s like sitting down with a glass of wine (or coffee, depending upon the time of day) with a good friend. We all love Zia !! John, this is truly a memorable post – wonderful photos and recipes!! And we’re all soo sorry about the damage. But – as you said, now you have room for Clematis etc. My Clematis is looking FINE this spring! I was thinking of posting it on my next blog !!

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    • You’re always so kind in your comments, Cecile. Thank you. We did have a wonderful visit, with our best times spent working in the kitchen together. Zia remains my best source for any Italian cooking questions. Take that, Wikipedia! 🙂
      I hope you do post your clematis in bloom. I’ve 3, the most spectacular had to be trimmed back this Spring, That trumpet vine had sent out runners behind the clematis and they sprouted. Eventually they would have overtaken the clematis and killed it. Early spring, I cut back the clematis, before it “woke up”, and dug out the invading trumpets. This is why I want that vine pulled out and not reattached to the garage. It has sent out runners throughout my yard and rosebeds, as well as my neighbors. It is time for it to go!!!

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  23. We just got back from DC (and yes, a lovely visit with a mutual friend, post to come), and I’m just catching up. Thank you for the shout out John, I do know what you mean about being user ‘friendly’ — I’m starting to experience size issues myself, most recently I’ve had to remove my near-sighted prescription glasses to be able to read anything, large or small. No reading glasses yet, though! But let’s just say I’m not holding my breath, it’s likely closer than I think!!!
    That gnocchi is TDF! My absolute favourite, of course most restaurants use more cream than Gorgonzola and we usually send it back (we like a good bite of Gorgonzola). I’d love a taste of yours! Zia is very fortunate to have you cook with her, but then again you are very fortunate to have her wealth of knowledge and cooking expertise to draw on. I’m sure your visits are filled with wonderful memories, laughs and tears. Your story makes me miss my dear mother very much, we had such a special relationship.
    We’re just arranging a trip to your neck of the woods in late July early August and I’m hoping we can meet! I’ll email you the details.

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    • Thank you so much, Éva. Despite the trip, your DC adventure sounds wonderful. I ned to get over there!
      Funny you mentioned too much cream in the gorgonzola sauce. I mistakenly added a pint of cream to the sauce and had to let it simmer and reduce to the right consistency. Lucky my Zia is such a patient woman. 🙂
      And did we ever have a good time in the kitchen this time around. It was really special.
      I do hope you can make it to Chi-Town this Summer. I can’t wait to meet you and JT. 🙂

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      • I’m so sorry about the damage to your vine and rose bush John, I’m sure it’ll be the perfect opportunity to plant that new clematis — they have such gorgeous blooms!

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        • Thanks, Eva. I love clematis and one that I have has large white blooms. I’m hoping to find one that will, also, bloom all Summer. And then I get to go rose shopping! YAY!

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          • They are indeed beautiful vines, and I’m always so amazed at how robust they grow back each year after the very drastic pruning they must endure. Sadly, I’ve not enough of a green thumb to attempt roses so I’ll leave it to your expertise and admire your photos on your blog.

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    • Thank you, Anne. Her hands in the photo fascinated me, too. I remember watching Mom and Zia’s hands countless times in my youth, as they made pasta or gnocchi. ThHat picture could have been taken 30 years ago,

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  24. The best vacations are always the ones that are spent with the family – eating, dancing, partying, joking……looks like it was a very fulfilling and a happy vacation. And the food looks incredible. I love the asparagus and eggs idea – my breakfast for tomorrow 😀 welcome back!! Sorry for the hit that your yard took, but I am so glad it wasn’t anything that serious.

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    • Thank you, Minnie, You are so right. At one time, I would have done all I could to avoid my family while on vacation. Now, I’m a bit older and, hopefully, wiser, and I can’t get enough. This one was particularly nice — and filling! 🙂
      You’re also right about the vine in the yard. It’s more inconvenience than any real damage. In the end, no one was hurt and that’s all that matters.

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  25. It certainly looks like a great time away although I’m sorry the weather wasn’t better for you. I get so stressed out when I can’t get wi-fi. The last time I was away I had to ‘hot-spot’ the phone to my computer. My 8-yr old did it for me. Then somehow, when I was connected the wires, I pressed down on the circular button on my i-phone as the cable connected to the computer. Don’t ever put your finger on that button! It disabled my whole phone. I couldn’t switch it on again. I had to take it to the Vodafone store after the holiday and when he fixed it (who knows how?), I had lost all data including every downloaded app, photos, instagram, twitter, videos, messages and all contacts. And it wasn’t backed-up. The guy in the shop felt so sorry for me (was probably thinking I was the worst of the techno-phobs) said he would give me a free 20-minute lesson on how to use my phone. Tragic! Anyway, of everything pictured here, two things stand out (actually make that three). These are the meals where I would have loved a seat at your table. 1. The gnocci with gorgonzola. 2. The ravioli with the mushroom filling. 3. The lamb that you have cooked so perfectly pink xx

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    • Thank you, Charlie, for your kind words and iPhone warning. I’ve never heard of that occurring and I’ll think twice before I ever touch that button, with or without being “wired”. That’s absolutely frightening! I’m going to back up my devices before heading to bed. 🙂
      You certainly did pick 3 stellar dishes. I was so afraid of messing up that lamb! Shooting a good pic for the blog became secondary. I know how Zia likes her lamb and I would not have forgiven myself had I overcooked it. I finally relaxed after that first slice. Whew!

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  26. There’s nothing wrong with a trip that only involves eating, good company and good conversation! I’m excited to try your simple asparagus recipe, never had with eggs- and runny eggs are the best! Glad to have you back!

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    • You’re so right, Tanya, and we sure did test that hypothesis! 🙂
      I hope you do try the asparagus. It’s such an easy dish. It’s just a shame that locally grown asparagus will be gone when mid-summer’s heat arrives. It’s just the light kind of meal that I gravitate towards when the temperatures rise.

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  27. This sounds like a wonderful visit, John. I am certain Zia must have loved it, too. It made me smile to think of her in the church choir. She continues to have some wonderful interests from what I piece together through your stories. The recipes are all wonderful, but that risotto would have to be my favorite. While you were gone I’ve made the Wonton raviolis with the porcinis and goat cheese twice! 🙂 I was so proud of myself. And they were simply delicious. I hope the storm damage repair isn’t too cumbersome. The midwest storms seem to have been really erratic! Welcome home!

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    • Thanks, Debra. I am so glad to read that you’ve made and enjoyed the wonton wrapper ravioli. Once you’ve made a few, the process is a breeze. The gnocchi recipe is coming soon and this is one you and your Granddaughters can prepare together. Mom & Zia taught all of their Grandkids how to make gnocchi and some still make them, nearly 30 years later.

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  28. That sounds like a perfect vacation to me – lots of cooking and eating! I bet Zia really enjoyed your visit too.
    I love your asparagus recipe – it’s so simple and perfect. I bought some yesterday from the farmer, so I’ll try it tonight 😉

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  29. John I know there are some great jogging trails along the waterfront in greater Chicago area and from the looks of what you ate on your holiday, a visit there this week once, twice or three times this week might be in order. Just kidding!!! I am so glad you had a delightful visit with Zia and love that photo of her creating the gnocchi. I don’t know where to begin as there was so much happening in this post but I do believe your very simple dish of asparagus with parmesean cheese and egg is delightful and fresh morel mushrooms, yum!

    So what do rural Michiganders do on dreary and drizzling days? Cowtipping of course… LOL and then followed by of course lots of cooking and eating. Happy cooking and take care, BAM

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    • Buona sera, BAM! I think if I’d stayed another few days, I would have needed to install heavy duty shocks & springs on my car for the ride home. I really hadn’t paid attention to what we were doing until I started to write this post. It was quite a week and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

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    • Thank you so much, Elaine. Coincidentally, since writing this post, I read my fishmonger’s newsletter and he has fresh porcini for sale. I will definitely be stopping by to get some. I bet your risotto was wonderful and I hope mine will compare favorably.

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  30. Now that is what I call a gourmet holiday! Welcome back! Can’t wait for the gnocchi and gorgonzola cream sauce recipe. I’ve had something which I think is similar, in our -old now- local restaurant. Divine!

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    • Thank you. It was quite a visit, I must admit. That gorgonzola cream sauce is a snap to make and really delivers on flavor. I hope you’ll agree when I post the recipe.

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  31. Welcome home…thankfully you didn’t have any structural damage from the storm. You certainly ate well on your visit and I’m sure Zia was sorry to see you go. I know she must enjoy your company tremendously.

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    • Thanks, Karen. It was a wonderful visit and we did enjoy our time in the kitchen. Yes, Zia was sorry to see me go and I was to leave. The weather is warm now, though, and the roads free of snow. I’ll be back in a few weeks. Heaven only knows what we’ll do in the kitchen next time. 🙂

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  32. Wow John, it sure looks like you had a marvelous time with Zia! Wish I could have been there with you 🙂 The food looks awesome — looking forward to the recipes. I love all the photos except of course for the damage done by the wind. My favorite one is Zia making gnocchi!

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    • Thank you so much, Stefan. Your posts are some of those I so wanted to show Zia but couldn’t. They just wouldn’t load. Hopefully, since my next visit will not be over a holiday, the internet service will be more responsive. She does know you as the Dutch cook who not only likes Biba’s recipes but who has tried some of our recipes, as well. Next visit she’ll get to know you better. 🙂

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  33. Pingback: Outside my back porch… | Photographs and recipes

  34. Sorry about your vine and I am sure the hummingbirds will miss it. Your rose is lovely.
    Looking forward to meeting her in the near future. And you and Zia must have worn yourselves out! WOW. The risotto is on my MUST MAKE list for summer vacation. Last day of school June 17th. Isn’t that nuts to have to go back after the weekend on a Monday?
    But I love the variety and fragrant descriptions of your food creations. What a visit. Who needs wireless?
    Thanks for all your thoughtful and astute comments on my blogs.
    Ruth

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    • Thank you so much, Ruth. The vine was dealt with today, finally. The risotto recipe is coming and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do. It’s not like any other that I’m aware of.
      I really do enjoy your blog and admire your skill with a camera. As you know, I can’t get enough of your family photos and am grateful that you’re sharing your Grandkids with us. 🙂

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  35. Is your Zia looking to adopt? Or perhaps she would like to come to our house for a working vacation?

    Lovely post and photos. I just finished eating dinner – steak, no less – but I’m hungry all over again after reading your scrumptious blog.

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  36. Oh, how lucky for you to be able to spend such beautiful moments with your Zia. Treasure them John! Zia’s can be just as precious as mama’s and nonna’s! I just love gnocchi with Gorgonzola! Glad you had a great visit and welcome back!

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    • Thank you so much, Lidia. I do enjoy our time together, especially when we’re making pasta, or some other dish, together. You’re so right, too. The time is really precious.

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  37. Want a gorgeously, wonderful time you and Zia had together. I have gained a few pounds just reading and salivating over all the dishes you prepared. Looking forward to recipes, will skip the gizzard in the risotto though.
    Is that a new rose you acquired? Sorry to learn about the storm damage, but on the bright side, planning a new garden layout is very exciting. Hope you will keep up updated on the progress.

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    • Thanks, Norma. This was a wonderful visit and we enjoyed working together. You can just as easily make the risotto without the gizzards and you’ll still enjoy the dish.
      Yes, that’s a new rose, Iceberg Burgundy, and has such a rich color. Once I get things settled in the yard, I’ll formally introduce her to you all.

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  38. I cook chicken gizzards for Rory (furbaby), but telling me it’s mushrooms wouldn’t get me closer to trying it. Although I’m sure it is delicious to those brave eaters. I will however have a double serving of that asparagus. I love poached eggs on my asparagus! And you can keep the chilly temps! And such beautiful gnocchi!

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    • Thanks for your kind comments. Don’t worry about the gizzards; you’re not alone. Frankly, I’m surprised to see how many people in the Comments enjoy them. I would have posted the recipe earlier had I known. 🙂

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  39. What people would pay for a cooking tour such as the one you experienced. 😉 Seriously, I think your Zia could have a very successful little business for those cooking types (like ME) who would pay hand over fist to cook alongside her and eat like THAT. Sorry your return home was a bit surprising. Good luck with the landscaping.

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    • Thank yo so much, Geni. Zia will enjoy hearing of your comment. I think she might prefer that I conduct the class while she enjoys a glass of wine with the students, supervising. 🙂

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  40. Everything about this makes me feel happiness. Well, except that storm damage. (I feel your pain on that one). What a wonderful trip, and with such amazing food. Again. You’re a lucky, lucky man John. I’m so glad you shared this with us. Thanks.

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    • Thanks, Sarah, and, yes, I am lucky. This time with Zia is really wonderful. And even the storm damage was more inconvenient than anything else, although one of my roses may feel differently about that. 🙂

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  41. I am drooling!!! Oh the food you made and ate, I would be in heaven!!! I don’t even know what my favorite would be. I’m glad you had a good visit. It’s too bad the weather didn’t cooperate. That’s always so frustrating on a vacation. At least you had unbeatable company and again so much delicious food. I’m happy and full just thinking of it! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kristy. I wonder if the weather had been warm, whether we would have had the time to cook so much. We really did take advantage of the cooler temps and Zia has a well-stocked freezer to show for it. I don’t know what we’ll do next visit. 🙂

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  42. I think I just gained 10 lbs just looking at all those delicious photos. That juicy lamb looks amazing! You must of had to walk to Ohio and back every day just to burn off all these drool worthy meals 😉

    Isn’t it funny how we grew up unplugged without Wii’s or email and now being somewhere with spotty connectivity is frustrating? PS: I use my iPad more than my computer and compose all of my posts on it ^_^

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    • Thanks, Cam. We really did cook up a storm last week. I was kind of surprised when I wrote this post and saw it all listed.
      When I remember having dial-up at home, it was a miracle! Now it’s like using a rotary phone and having to wait for the dial to return after each number. Heaven forbid the number your dialing has 8′s and 9′s in it. I’ve used my iPad for many things but I’ve got broadband at home and there’s no problem accessing the internet. In Michigan, I’d have to drive 30 miles to get to a free WiFi spot. Without it, I’m left with “Edge”, which some consider to be 2G. If a post is full of photos, it will time out before it loads. Talk about frustrating! Going “unplugged” though, once I got over the shock, was really quite nice. I wouldn’t be able to make a habit of it but, for a change, it was OK.

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  43. Looks like you had a wonderful time. I simply love the picture of zia’s hands making gnocchi. They remind me my nonna’s hands. You are right: a picture is worth a thousand words.

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    • Thanks, Francesca. It’s a favorite of mine, as well. I’ve seen those hands, and Mom’s, countless times over the years making pasta and gnocchi. That image could just as easily have come from my memory. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Celia, it’s good to be back. With fresh asparagus from your garden and your chooks doing their part, that asparagus dish will be phenomenal. I made it with fresh duck eggs 2 weeks ago and really love it. I hope you will, too. 🙂

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  44. If Zia is the hostess with the mostess, this has to the post with the most! Oh my goodness — the morels, the risotto, asparagus, spring lamb, fresh pasta — all of which must be on Heaven’s table. Each spring I long for the familiar flavor of morels, my mom and I would hunt for them on our farm in Missouri, loading plastic bread sacks some years. She would dust them with flour, fry them, and stir them into white country gravy to serve over biscuits. It’s the only mushroom I prefer over a porcini. John, whether in the heart of a busy city or rural Michigan, cooking with Zia would be the preferred activity. You are a lucky guy to still have her, this post made my heart smile. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Judy. We really outdid ourselves this week. My next few visits will pale in comparison. We just cannot keep that pace. 🙂
      What special memories you have of foraging for morels. Mom and Zia wee little girls and they’d go mushroom hunting in Detroit, though the Detroit back then is a far cry from the Detroit of today or even of my youth. Neither Mom nor Zia would ever dare pick mushrooms later in life. Grandma knew which to pick and they were too young to retain the knowledge. And yes, Judy, cooking with Zia is a special treat. We do enjoy our time spent in the kitchen together.

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    • I’m so late to respond. I hope you made it to work all right! I kinda know what you mean. Some nights, after having enjoyed a perfectly good meal, I get on WP and read some fantastic recipe that hits me just the right way. Suddenly, my meal doesn’t seem quite so satisfying. 🙂

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  45. Sorry John that you hit the nasty weather we had in MI earlier this spring. I hope at least you did enjoy visiting Zia and did find lots of the wonderful local asparagus. Nothing like fresh-picked MI asparagus, that lovely purple green with the nice close-packed tips. I just much on them raw sometimes. Yum.

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    • Thank you and yes, we took full advantage of the asparagus. Although I love them roasted, when this fresh, the less heat applied, the better. They are such a treat!

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    • Thank you so much, Mary Frances. Did you see my wonton wrapper pasta post? Surely you could make ravioli using wonton wrappers. It is much easier than you might think and with your skills in the kitchen, I bet you’d create some fantastic fillings.

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  46. storm damage is not what you want to come home to after a vacation! Though it looks like you ate like a King. That asparagus and egg has me laid out flat–swooning and delirious. Same story the lamb, the pasta. Glad it was a good trip, save the homecoming. Looks like you’ve been busy since what with the haddock and all 🙂

    Still not seeing your new posts come through. Will hit Follow again…

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    • Sorry that you’re still having problems following me and I’m very appreciative that you’re coming here without “being told”.
      Considering the horrific damage some areas have experienced, a downed vine is really nothing more than an inconvenience. Even so, it’s been handled and now I can get back to sipping lemonade in my yard — if it ever gets warm enough to want to sip lemonade. Have a great week, Liz.

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  47. Can’t take my eyes off the egg-yolk-doing-waltz-on-the-asparagus picture ! Sheer porn 🙂 And the gnocchis …. goddamn va-va-voom 🙂
    Happy to know that you ate like there’s no tomorrw during the vacation 🙂 I do the same.

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    • You are so sweet, Nusrat! Thank you. Truth be told, although we eat well when I go home, this trip was extraordinary. I guess the stars must have been aligned or something. I doubt we’ll ever top that menu — but it sure will be fun trying. 🙂

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  48. Despite the weather related problems, what a wonderful trip and even better food marathon you had, John! 🙂 I totally love your mushroom risotto and don’t you even get me started on the homemade ravioli and gnocchi, oh my gosh so wonderfully delicious!!!

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    • Thank you so much, Stefano. It’s always a good time when I can work alongside Zia in the kitchen. We really do enjoy each other’s company. This time, though, we outdid ourselves. I was a bit amazed when I wrote a list of all we prepared for this post. I really hadn’t paid attention but just kept working. 🙂

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  49. Wait, you ate and didn’t bother to tell me? I could’ve had all this wonderful food that looks so delicious and wonderful :). No my friend, having a food vacation is ALWAYS the best thing to do 🙂

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    • Having eaten my way across Italy a few times, a food vacation is the only kind of vacation, Kay. I know it was a good trip if my pants are snug as I board the plane — or get into my car — for the trip home. Believe me, this visit with Zia was a very good trip. 😉

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  50. I always love reading about your visits with Zia John 🙂
    I can’t wait for all the amazing recipes, expecially the gnocchi, that has been on my list of things to make forever!
    As for the vine it really looks like something out of a horror or Sci Fi movie! I am glad it is all gone now and I hope your rose will recover well

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    • Thank you, Sawsan. It’s unfortunate that her internet service was so poor this visit. I had no chance of showing her any posts, yours included. My next visit will not include a holiday so things should be better.
      We always do some cooking when I visit but this trip was one for the record books. Best of all, we made enough gnocchi and ravioli that she has some in her freezer for whenever she wants them. 🙂

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  51. A vacation full of relaxing and food is our type of vacation. Liz and I are planning one such get away in August to the coast for our first real vacation in a very long time…though some would say that our lives over the past few years have been a vaca. 😉

    Hopefully things weren’t too bad from the storm damage to your place.

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    • Anyone would need a vacation after all of the packing and unpacking you two have done over the past couple years. Get to the coast, sit back, relax, eat, and toss back a few. You’re sure to return home refreshed. And if your pants aren’t a little snug around the waste, you didn’t do it right.
      The damage has been dealt with and now I can return to fretting over what’s to be done about the lawn’s bald spots. Getting rid of Max is not the answer. 🙂

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  52. OK – now I know the vine story. That’s one HUGE vine! What a mess. Glad it’s getting hauled off. Definitely an eating vacation. What a feast! Those mushrooms and chicken gizzards definitely caught my interest. (I tried to deal with WP on an iPad while I was on vacation as well, but with very poor success.)

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    • That was the trouble, MJ, that vine was huge and top-heavy. A gust of wind hit it just right and it toppled. It’s gone now! Yes, Zia and I outdid ourselves. That risotto recipe is coming. It really is a unique recipe. I believe the major problem for my iPad was that the photos bogged things down. If the post had a lot of photos, the iPad eventually timed out. I’ll just skip those posts next time and see if things go better. OR I’ll just go unplugged again. That was real nice! 🙂

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  53. Great tasting food is part of an amazing vacation and looks like you had plenty of yummy dishes to celebrate a fun Spring vacation. Went to Florida recently and feasted on fresh oysters…6x in 1 week. I love to eat too.

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  54. Sounds like a wonderful vacation! I love getting out of the city for some quiet time (and yes, leaving my phone and other electronics turned off!).

    Your Asparagi alla Milanese looks divine, can’t wait for the recipe!

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    • It was a great time, Amber. I really do enjoy time spent with my Zia. Since it was so easy to prepare, there is no real recipe for the Asparagi alla Milanese. I did list the steps used to create the dish, however, under the photo. I hope that’s what you’re looking for and I’m here for your questions.

      Like

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