Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mushroom & Cheese-filled Pesto Ravioli with Garlic Herb Bread at Chateau Papillon

Travel so often inspires me to cook, and the recent visit to Italy had yet to see expression in my cuisine due to a busy schedule--until this evening, that is, with a homemade meal of pasta and bread.  Today's cuisine de Chateau Papillon: Homemade pesto ravioli filled with mushrooms & cheese, with garlic-herb bread and, appropriately, Chateau Le Paws wine.

I started with a basic semolina pasta dough, made with eggs, bread flour, semolina, oil, and water, flavored with a bit of the last batch of last year's homemade pesto (which froze very well--now it's time to plant more basil in the Aerogarden!).  The dough had sat in the fridge for a couple of days, after providing some linguine the other night.  Lacking a pasta press, I rolled it out into thin sheets and gummed the edges with an egg wash--but I'm getting ahead of myself.  For the filling, I sautéed some finely-minced onions and mushrooms (or funghi, as the Italians would say) and then used the residual heat to melt in a blend of bufala Mozzarella and soft goat cheese, along with a tablespoon or two more of the homemade pesto.  This mixture went into the ravioli dough and then a pot of boiling water.  I served it with extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmesan, and some fresh basil out of the garden--the simple sauce let the flavors stand on their own.

The bread came from one of my most-used cookbooks, Bo Friberg's The Professional Pastry Chef, and thus required as all professional baking recipes do measurement of ingredients by weight.  30 grams of finely-minced garlic (about 5-6 cloves), several tablespoons of dried basil and oregano, egg, flour, a lot of salt... and several hours of rising.  Beth thought I bought the bread--apparently I don't bake fresh bread often enough!--and when I explained that no, I had in fact baked the three loaves of bread, she wondered how I'd gotten the "professional" slits on the tops of the loaves (just a sharp knife before the second rising).

Chateau Le Paws was the wine for the evening, one of our favorites and though not Italian (it's from California, if I recall correctly), it's very good and works with just about anything.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baby Bluebirds Growing Up & First Daylily of the Season

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds have been very busy raising their clutch of four babies, and have done a great job--though they've kept us busy, too, refilling the mealworm feeder up to four times a day!  Checking in on them this morning, it looks like the babies are almost ready to fledge; they're nearly full-grown (or, at least as full-grown as nestlings get) and feathered, with the eldest and largest of the brood showing a fair amount of blue on his feather shafts.

This is a great success story.  Last year, we had a pair of bluebirds nest, with their first clutch hatching only one egg; their second clutch hatched five babies, but a cat got the parents before the babies were grown enough to survive on their own.  (We saved two of the babies, hand-feeding and stabilizing them long enough to get them to a wildlife rehabilitator who nursed them to full health, then transitioned them to a wildlife facility in Winchester, VA, where they rejoined the wild.)  So it was really a great joy to see bluebirds again visiting our yard early this winter; perhaps the male was Harry, the offspring of our first clutch last year?

The only worrisome happenings have been the several hawk sightings in our yard the past couple of days, including one who buzzed the roof and which Chance chased across the yard.  I hope we don't have an opportunistic Cooper's or Sharp-shinned pulling up to the counter for a meal of fledgeling bluebirds!

Today also saw the season's first daylily blooms, from the oddballs which seeded themselves right up against the side of the house.  Our other patches of daylilies are in various stages of bloom prep, with one bunch putting up the blossom stems and the larger one still thinking about it.  (All but the seedings along the side of the house were gifts from generous gardening friends.)

The past few days have also seen the first hummingbirds of the season, scouting out the sugar water feeder and the salvia Beth planted for them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Paying Michael & Sam a Return Visit: On an Errand to Find Chance a Pink Bed, Part One

As packed as our March trip to Europe was--with visits to Frankfurt, Venice, Soave, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza--its brevity left so much unseen and undone even in the confines of northern Italy.  What to do, then, but to go back?  Watching air fares, I soon found an itinerary on sale, and under the extracted promise to return with the pink Italian leather dog bed for Chance I'd nixed on our original trip (we'd nowhere to put it!), I boarded a flight for another whirlwind tour of northern Italy.

I won't dwell upon the flight itself--I decided (with mixed results) not to use one of my remaining upgrades to business class since I planned to sleep through the flight--and after a rainy, overcast connection time spent in the lounge at Munich's airport, I was on the ground in Verona, where Sam met me at the train station.  We dropped my bags with a left-luggage counter and headed out for an evening on the town.

After a bit of shopping--we visited Caffee Cubino where Beth had admired the cups and china for sale in the window, where I picked up a set of hand-painted espresso cups and saucers for the great price of 10 euros each--Sam suggested a walk to the Castelvecchio, which we hadn't seen on our prior visit.  This small but impressive fortress was, if I understand correctly, built by the Romans as a deterrent against the Venetians and other aggressive neighbors and had changed hands many times over the centuries.  The late-afternoon sun really lit up the bridge over the Adige River quite well; the "magical hour" of photography came through and delivered.

Sam spotted the composition above; I'd stopped to photograph a pigeon sticking its head out of one of the little arrow slits in the fortress wall, and Sam remarked what a great photo it was going to make--referring to the shadows I only then noticed!

Michael is at the tail-end of his current job in Italy, and of course that has meant lots of little details which have  popped up.  The evening I arrived, Michael had planned to come and join Sam and me in Verona for dinner at their favorite pizza place, but he got stuck at the office late--then had the doubly-bad luck of a flat tire on his way to pick us up!  We ended up heading back to Vicenza, and as Michael had to work on Friday, too, we opted to eat in and enjoyed some great pasta at Sam's capable hands.

Friday morning, Sam and I set out to accomplish the one requirement of my entire trip: to pick up the pink Italian leather dog bed for Chance which Beth had spied out on our first trip.  And to be sure, the prospective costs of shipping for said bed plus the German coffee I picked up amounted to a decent chunk of my airfare (having sent Beth's friend Ursula a small thank-you gift, we're unfortunately all-too-familiar with transatlantic shipping costs!)--and instead of clicking on a web site to make an order, I got to go and visit Michael & Sam to boot.

The pupsters also got some fruit-flavored dog treats, and Neptune received a packet of "grasbits"--catnip and grass-flavored kitty treats. Sam and I hiked around Vicenza a bit, hoping to hook up with Michael as soon as he got done at the office, but alas, Michael got stuck at work again, so Sam and I caught the train for Venice on our own--after a stop for a cold glass of German beer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Traveling Home: Great Trip, But It's Going to Be Good to Be Back, Too!

It was a great few days visiting Michael and Sam again before the two return to the states in a few weeks, but now I'm headed home, and it's going to be great to see Beth and the Pupsters and the other pets again.  As I write this, I'm sitting in the Lufthansa Business lounge in Frankfurt-am-Main airport, cursing the Germans who seem to feel the proper temperature for an airport is somewhere around 30 Centigrade (86 degrees for most of my constant readers), and the humidity best likened to a sauna's.  Seems a bit weird, in that traveler's sort of way, for it to be mid-morning to me and only 4:00am back home.

Lots of good food and drink the past five days, and lots of good times with my great and gracious hosts in Michael and Sam.  Now, if I could only get some friends & family to move to the next few places I want to visit so I can have a hotel-free experience complete with seasoned tour guides, I'd be set.  Anyone want to volunteer?

I've got tons of photos, of course (above and beyond Verona's Castelvecchio, pictured above), which I'll work on processing as soon as I can and will post in bits and pieces--but priorities are as follows:

  1. Watch the series finale of LOST.  (And avoid spoilers!)  Yep, that is the absolute #1 priority for me--and let me reiterate to the majority who have already seen it: NO SPOILERS.
  2. Watch the series finale of 24, airing tonight.  I know 24 has really gone downhill, but I've got to at least see how it turns out.
  3. Rehearse my presentation for work; it's going to be tough to get back into the office mindset so quickly, but I've got a briefing and demo to several muckety-mucks which I had just barely finished up before going out of town--which now needs polishing and practice, practice, practice, before I get to brief the real audience on Thursday (and several people higher up my food chain on Wednesday).
  4. Process and post photos.
  5. Put together a real blog about the trip--and finish the blog from the March trip to see Michael and Sam, for that matter.

I'll sign off with the photo above of the view from the Castello Superiore in Marostica.  Ciao!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Adding Another Bird to the Chateau Papillon List: Tree Swallows

Although we've had several repeat visitors to the yard this year, including several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks last weekend and a pair of Brown Thrashers who've been picking through the mulch this weekend, as yet I hadn't been able to add another new bird to the Chateau Papillon list (not since a Great Blue Heron overflew us a few months back, anyway).  This evening, though, we got bird #55, with three Tree Swallows paying the cul-de-sac a visit.

The pond renovations are nearly complete, too, which I'm hoping will prove attractive to neotropics passing overhead with its many-layered depths and rock shelves--and once we add a few goldfish, I'm sure we'll see some herons coming to dine as well.