A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

Helluva Weekend in Italy

Posted: September 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Calabria, Italy, Meals, Unexpected Adventure, Work | 4 Comments »

Saturday morning we were up early-ish to feed the chickens the slops leftover from dinner last night in the restaurant. We haul two five-gallon buckets up the hill to them, then dump this old food into the center of their pen. The chickens flock to this stinky pile, pecking at it, walking over it, having a grand time. They seem to prefer rotten tomatoes and old bread, but dislike eggplant. In return, we collect from them five eggs.

It was raining, so Halbe and I wore our waterproof jackets. We discovered a more appropriate name would be “waterproof for two hours” jackets. From the expansive garden we harvested tomatoes, carrots, and chard. All were used in the dinner that evening for the 40 or so guests and workers eating.

Our work done, we retreated indoors. We wrote a few entries for the site, read. I finished a silly mystery novel, and Halbe practiced piano. We read a few Roald Dahl kids poems to each other. We had lunch with Grasiella and Sylvia, two of the women who work in the restaurant. Grasiella is Italian and speaks zero English. We learn a lot in attempting to speak with her. Sylvia is from Argentina, so she and Halbe talk in Spanish, while Grasiella and I watch, then Sylvia translates into Italian for Grasiella, and Halbe into English for me.

We head out to the field again — I harvested the wrong kind of tomatoes in the morning. I’m pointed to the correct row, and begin the second tomato harvest for the day. They need a particular kind to prepare their tomato sauce (salsa pomodoro).

Dinner was pasta with a thick pesto sauce. Secondi (second course) was fuori di zucchini (fried zucchini flowers) and a green patty of some sort with cheese in it.

Desert was hands down the best gelato I’ve had — Italy or anywhere. It was nocciola (hazelnut) with a touch of chocolate. Smooth as taffy, creamy, not over-sweet, packed with flavor but not overpowering.

The gelato maker is an industrial machine that would look at home in a wood shop classroom. Like in ice cream preparation, the ingredients are cooled while being turned, forming the pliable, frozen material. With gelato, there is the additional step of continually stirring and crushing the material, creating that exceptionally smooth texture. Here I am, eyes half-shut in ecstasy, as I sample the gelato straight from the solid brass and steel blade/beater used to do this crushing and mixing. I’m thinking of getting one for the home. Seriously.

After eating our meal, we help clean up the kitchen, then head for bed.

Sunday began in the same way: chickens, light chores, weed pulling. It’s Sunday, the traditional day off. We hadn’t received any direction from the hosts, who were out of town, so we took it easy. Halbe packed a bag for the beach, and our host’s brother drove us down to the beach in Zambrone called Marinella (little marina?). Gorgeous beach, and just a handful of people. We swam in the Mediterranean and continued the futile efforts to tan our pasty torsos and thighs.

The return trip to the house was difficult. Probably due to some communication breakdown, we understood the instructions from our host as “take the first left to get home.” So we took the first left. We began the long hike up from the sea to the hilltop. Forty-five minutes and several kilometers pass. We don’t recognize anything. We’re dripping with sweat, hungry, and only a packet of Saltines between us. It’s clear we’re lost. So what do we do? We keep going. Who knows, right? Maybe it’ll work out.

Eventually we get to a vista where we spot, in the distance and on a different hill, a radio tower that we think may be same radio tower we vaguely remember from the night drive when we first arrived here, a week ago. We ask directions but, unfortunately, everyone is speaking Italian. The Saltines are gone now. We decide to walk back down the hill to the beach and try to find a road that can take us up the radio tower hill. We find the road (fourth left, for the record), and it’s steeper than the last. The sun pounds down. The refreshing beach and sea are a distant memory (did I mention we’re still in our swimsuits?). We slog up this hill over the next hour. And, eventually, we make it back, take cold showers, and collapse into our beds.

But the day wasn’t over.

A gorgeous crescent moon poked over the horizon, and a bright planet floated nearby. It was dinner time, and the staff were taking the day off (Sunday). It was just Johnny, the host, to cook for the 10 guests, and Halbe and myself to help him. I loved it. I’m living my dream of working in a restaurant. Johnny is a cheerful guy with decent English. We practiced our limited Italian and shared stories as we plated and served the meal (faije pasta with creamy pomodoro, salad with sesame dressing, thin-sliced veal with an incredible brown sauce, pastries for desert). We drank Birra Moretti (Italian beer) as we worked, and the laughs were plentiful. Johnny particularly liked our story of the six men trying to help us read a bus schedule in Tuscany.

Around 10, as the last guest drowsily pushed away from the dinner table, we finished cleaning and bid “buono notte” to the kitchen. Bodies exhausted, minds baked, and skin humming red with sun kisses, we tumbled into bed. We were asleep in minutes.

Pizza Night in Umbria

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Meals, Umbria | 5 Comments »

I was surprised at the number of people outside this late on a Tuesday night. Older people, too. A dozen men and women with gray hair, sitting, talking, playing bridge in front of the bar, all orange in the light of the security lamp above them. Two men passionately argued, or maybe passionately agreed. Anger and enjoyment in Italian still sounds the same to me. Heads craned to watch Halbe and I pass.

We rounded the corner of the bar and went down a small hill to a pizzeria beneath it. Six or seven tables were setup outside. A large group filled a few tables pushed together. The rest were empty. We sat apart from the group and a teenage girl brought us menus. She said something to us in Italian we didn’t understand. We looked at each other, then hesitantly nodded at the girl. I may have said, “Si.” She left, then returned with glass bottle of mineral water. That’s one mystery solved.

Choosing from the menu was easier. Many pizza names looked familiar from pizzerias in the States. I selected a “margherita” (tomato sauce, mozzarella, 4 euros), and Halbe went for “prosciutto cotto” (thin sliced and smoked ham, mozzarella, 5 euros). We started with bruschetta mista (mixed bruschetta: slices of bread with tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, or melted cheese/sausage, or melted cheese/salami, 3 euros) and went for a half-liter (mezzo litro) of the house red wine (3 euros).

The pizza crust was cracker thin, but pliant, slightly chewy, and with a hint of salt. The sauce was on the sweet side, not sugary like white sugar, but with the sweetness of ripe fruit, or a fresh tomato. It played well with the bubbles of the crust, frozen into brown and black shells by the intense heat of the oven. The cheese was pleasantly creamy with the faintest watery pungency, like that of plain yoghurt, or dry hay. It became a bit rubbery as it cooled, and was arranged on the surface in cut circles, like pieces of pepperoni. The wine, surprisingly, was excellent. Warm, smooth, smokey, and best of all, cheap.

We listened to the large group (who turned out to be English on holiday). They took turns photographing one another. One stuck out her tongue briefly. She snapped it back before the shot could be taken, and uncomfortably chuckled and apologized for her behavior. It all felt very British.

A small dog begged at their table. The cook came out and shooed it away with a dish towel and a few sharp words in Italian. Minutes later it returned and gazed at us with hopeful eyes.

I’m envious of these thin crusts. I enjoy making pizza but I just can’t get the crust thinner than a bready half-inch or so. Any thinner and the dough splits apart. Meanwhile, at a tiny pizzeria in a tiny village, the pizza is almost thin enough to see through.

Sad, yes, but one day perhaps I’ll learn. Our current host has mentioned we may visit a pizzeria owned by a friend of his. Maybe then the secret of Italian pizza will be revealed to me. Until then, we’ll just have to enjoy the pizza from the countless pizzerias dotting this country. I think I can live with that.

Halbe’s first bread-making experience

Posted: August 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Meals, Umbria | 6 Comments »

Halbe's first foray into bread making - and it's vegan!

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve always been a little jealous of Devon’s ability to make bread. While in Umbria our host, Michael, asked us to make a loaf. Usually Devon would do this, but he’s baked at least 10 loaves on this trip for our different hosts and was a little baked out. I gave it a whirl. This is the result of my efforts and I’m quite pleased. It’s made with white and wheat flour, vegetable oil, soy milk and molasses (our host was a vegan). You can see the soy margarine in the corner of the picture that was smothered on each piece.

Everyone liked it so much it was gone within a few days and our host brought half a loaf to his girlfriend’s to share. Even though she’s not a “bread eater,” she really enjoyed my bread. I have to say, I’m proud of myself! Now we have two bread makers in our family. Devon still has a hold on the pizza making market though. And we’ll keep it that way because he’s certainly got talent.

This Tea Is Horseshit

Posted: August 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Meals, Paris | 5 Comments »

Musee d’Orsay charges four euros for a cup of tepid water and a tea bag. This photo illustrates how we felt about this fleecing. Great museum, but we can’t recommend the restaurant. The food was “just okay” but expensive, and the overpriced tea pushed us over the edge.

The Paris “Hummer” burger

Posted: August 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Meals | No Comments »

We came across this treat while walking in Paris. The sign over the door said “American Restaurant,” and a visual menu was hung in the window to advertise their offerings (to, I assume, the illiterate). But it was the name that caught my attention first. A sandwich this brazen, this excessive, this laughable could only be named “The Hummer.”

I imagine the classically-trained French chef preparing this meal, weeping. Is this what Americans are thought to enjoy?

What I appreciate most about this image is how un-apologetically it has been manipulated. The identical tomato, cheese, and burger, closely stacked, seem to ask the viewer, “So what?” And the bulge at the top — What is that? What could that possibly be? This American does not want to know.


Posted: May 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Ireland, Meals | 6 Comments »

Halbe snapped this shot of a sodden Dublin pair, enjoying the sunshine/sidewalk on a Monday afternoon. Taken in Temple Bar.

We’re back in sightseeing mode, and have spent two days checking off items in Dublin: Guiness Storehouse, Trinity College, Long Library, Book of Kells, Temple Bar, St. Stephen’s Green, Ha’Penny Bridge, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Any recommendations of things to do or see?

Best meal for me so far: bangers and mash from Gruel on Dame Street.

Two sausages on mashed potatoes, covered with onions cooked in a balsamic vinegar. Hearty and delicious.

Since arriving, I’ve been living a fairly Henry VIII-style diet. Lotsa meat. Dinner the night before was a grill selection: thick cut bacon, steak, and more sausage, accompanied with potato wedges.

I haven’t seen the emphasis on organic and local food here that was near-omnipresent in England/Wales. We did eat at “Nude”, an eco-conscious cafe created by Bono’s older brother, but its €2.25 wheatgrass shots did not appear to be attracting many customers.

Next, we’re considering renting a car to visit the northern coast of the island. Next week we begin work on a commercial goat dairy farm in County Cork.

Faggots, peas, and gravy

Posted: May 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Meals, Wales | 1 Comment »

It’s lunchtime at the Big Pit coal museum. I’m a curious guy, so I ordered the faggots, peas, and gravy.

Faggots (I feel bad just using the word) does not mean the same thing in the UK as it does in the US. Here it means a meatball that includes liver (it also means a cigarette, or a bundle of kindling). How’d it taste? Mmm… like ground up liver. Not great to me, but I could see how if you grew up with it, it may be a comfort food. I was told it’s a pretty traditional item on the British menu.

Look-it that gravy glisten!

And we’re off! (Plus food trucks recap)

Posted: April 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Los Angeles, Meals | 9 Comments »


After a 6 day volcano-related delay, we are now off! We’re at LAX, waiting to board the 1:35 to New York.

We were a bit sick on our stay-cation, but made the best of it. We tried some of those new, fancy food trucks to see what all the “hub-bub” was about. They’ve popped up like mobile mushrooms throughout Los Angeles recently. Neither of us had taken part in this hot new trend, so we decided to seek a few out.

Some googling led us to the 5800 block of Wilshire where a bunch tend to congregate for the lunch hour. Two Korean BBQs, Haitian, and a truck dedicated to shrimp were among the options. Halbe had Kassama’s chicken brown stew for $7. Hearty and wholesome, it was our favorite thing. I had the “Bool Bowl” from Bool Korean BBQ. The beef was smokey and juicy, but I remembered too late that kimchi is not for me. $6.

Now we are sitting in terminal three at LAX and waiting to finally start our journey. Two days in the Big Apple then on an Aer Lingus flight to London. Take that, unpronouncable Icelandic volcano!

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