Words & Music #7

They sat for a while listening to the sounds of the evening.  The whitecaps, gray with night, were hushed and nearly forgotten but the rumble of a distant train, the honk and squeal of automobiles and, underneath it all, the music of the cafés, each melody distinct–an accordion riff as ripe as Paris, an abandoned singer with the rain of Pissarro darkening every phrase, a battered hound of a piano–and each whisper, each shout, was a story that did not need words, just beauty and gravity.

-N.M. Kelby, White Truffles in Winter

Foodie Tuesday: Venetian Sunsets

Thanks to recent heavy rains and a storm surge (which seem to be going around, these days), more than half of Venice is under water.  I thought today would be a good time to revisit and celebrate La Serenissima and her many culinary wonders.

My first visit to Venezia was on a misty November day in 1995, with a group of girlfriends from the Italian high school I was attending at the time.  I fell in love with Venice immediately and eternally, although I am embarrassed to say that my first meal in Venice as a seventeen year old exchange student probably consisted of pizza and Coca-Cola.

A couple of years later, I escaped the tedium of my college life and returned to Venice on winter break.  My American friend and I were tired, cranky, and hopelessly lost in the Dorsoduro.  I had nearly fallen into a canal earlier that day, and both my ego and right hip were badly bruised.  Rain began to fall as we found ourselves surrounded by schoolchildren on their way home.  A girl of about ten was walking close by my side in the narrow calle, and I was surreptitiously taking advantage of the shelter of her umbrella.  As my friend tried to (not so gently) pull me out of the girl’s way, the girl admonished him, “No, no, la tenevo proprio sotto! (No, no–I was keeping her under my umbrella on purpose!)”

The view from our suite on the Grand Canal.

I returned to Venice this February with my husband for the second leg of our European honeymoon, my heart nearly bursting during our ride, via water taxi, to our hotel.  We stayed in a nine-room palazzo on the Grand Canal, and upon learning that E. and I were on our viaggi di nozze, the proprietors upgraded us from our small interior room to a suite–a suite!–overlooking the Grand Canal.  Every day we’d throw open our shutters and gaze in awe at the sun glinting on the water as Venice began her day.

Fish fry at the Rialto Market.

We spent many hours happily perusing the Rialto Market, wishing we had a kitchen so that we could cook some of the bounty we admired: silvery fish, purple-tipped artichokes, and overflowing baskets of lettuces and radicchio.  One sunny morning, we were fortunate to discover an Italian fish fry about to take place in the market’s adjoining piazza.  Fritto misto and white wine at 11:00 am?  Yes, please!

Every day we’d get happily lost for hours in Venezia’s dreamlike, labyrinthine calle.  No matter how many museums we visited, however, or how many times we stopped for cicheti, E. and I always made it a point to return to our hotel before sunset.  We’d sit on the terrace, sip a cocktail, and watch the sun set over the Rialto bridge. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the Aperol Spritz?

Like so many Italian inventions, the Aperol Spritz (or just “spritz,” if you’re Venetian) is simple, elegant, and unlikely to ever go out of style. Aperol is a lower-alcohol cousin of Campari, tasting of bitter and sweet oranges mingled with rhubarb and various herbs.  Some might argue that the Aperol Spritz is a decidedly summertime cocktail, but oranges are a winter fruit, after all, and Prosecco is never out of season.

My heart is never far away from La Serenissima.  As these autumn days grow shorter and we lean ever more sharply into what portends to be a harsh winter, I will continue our honeymoon tradition of an Aperol Spritz before dinner.  And I will dream of Venice and her sunsets.

Aperol Spritz
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash club soda
Pour over ice, garnish with a slice of orange, and let yourself be transported to Venice at dusk.

Stormy Weather – October Recap

This morning, life outside my Brooklyn window looks surprisingly normal.  Car horns are honking in the street, and pedestrians are walking in that clipped, hurried way that seems indigenous to New Yorkers who have somewhere to be (damn it).  And, most welcome sight of all, the skies are blue and the sun is shining for the first time in days.  The storm, at last, has passed.

Underscoring the car horns, though, is a steady refrain of ambulance and police sirens.  A couple of nearby trees are lying on the ground, their roots exposed, upended by the storm.  The  traffic congestion is due to the fact that there are no subways running, and we don’t know when service will recommence.  Entire subway stations are submerged, and the tunnels linking Manhattan and the outer boroughs are flooded, which is pretty much my greatest nightmare come to life.  In short, we have a long way to go here in the Apple before life is really back to “normal.”

Hurricane Sandy showed little mercy to our beloved New York City, and we’ve all seen the footage of the wreckage that once was the Jersey Shore.  We were lucky, in our little corner of Brooklyn, to have been spared so much as a power outage, but it’s sobering to know that flooding, fires, and wind damage have wreaked havoc on the lives of our neighbors.  Today is the last day of October, so here’s a little monthly wrap-up.  May the month of November bring speedy and complete recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

In October, I….

Wrote about: Wine.  Words & Music.  The Hustle (doot doot doot doo doot da doot doot doo!).

Watched: This lady.  Obviously.

Played: a little too much (way too much) Cat Bowling.

Read: this memoir about a home restoration in Sicily.  While this book was not exactly riveting, I enjoyed reading about my new dream destination and its lemon groves, sardines, inky wines, and Moorish architecture.

Listened to: a lot of the Nat Cole Trio.  The effortlessness and insouciance of Nat Cole’s singing and playing utterly belie how HIP he was.

As I type, the sky has become overcast again.  However, the sun is stubbornly poking through the dark gray clouds, which seems to be a metaphor for the indomitable spirit of New York City and New Yorkers themselves.  New York City is battered, but not broken.  Here’s to brighter days ahead.

Don’t knock the hustle.

It’s happening.  October is drawing to a close, and we’re entering that time of year when everything seems to accelerate mercilessly.  My schedule through the end of the year is, happily, packed with lots of great gigs, like this one, this one, this one, and this one.  I’ve also been hired by a composer to record his (very challenging) original music in December, and I’m happy to have locked down a New Year’s Eve gig, as well.  Throw in a smattering of swing and country music gigs around town, and, well, my palms are sweating just thinking about it all.  Oh, and did I mention that I’m also doing postproduction on my first solo album?  As soon as that’s finished, a whole new phase of busy-ness will begin.

Lest I sound ungrateful, please let me be clear: I am so thankful for my full-to-overflowing calendar!  Not too long ago, I was waiting tables full time, attending school full time, and doing gigs whenever and wherever I could squeeze them in.  My calendar was full then, too, but not with things I really wanted to be doing.  In between attending classes and feeding the proverbial thronging masses at the restaurant, I dreamed of being able to focus exclusively on music and leave the constant hustle behind.  Ha!

Now, faced with a schedule of symphonies, swing bands, studio sessions, and completing my own record, I find that everything–and nothing–has changed.  Gone are the endless subway commutes to Brooklyn College, and these days, the only dinners I serve are at my own table.  But that old hustle has been replaced by a new one: spending countless hours at the computer doing networking and correspondence, hauling my cumbersome PA system up and down subway stairs, and many other mundane tasks.

Here’s what I wish I’d known back when I was a waitress/student/aspiring singer: the hustle never goes away, it just transforms.  And if you keep hustling, you’ll be transformed, too.

Words & Music #6

My days had passed in silences with flurries of thought in a landscape that changed slowly.  Note by note the music brought a sense of time back to me.  Each pause was charged with anticipation of the next note and the slow revelation of a tune…I did not understand the words and did not need to.  The sadness was clear in the tune and the singer’s tone and in the expression of the listeners, as was the beauty shared between us.

–Rory Stewart, The Places in Between 

Foodie Tuesday: Veni, Vidi, VINO

As many of you know, I had the immense good fortune to spend nearly a year living in northern Italy when I was 17.  I fell completely, irrevocably in love with la bella Italia, learning to speak Italian, forging lifelong friendships, and eating and drinking with (occasionally too much) abandon.

One of my Italian host sisters, Cristina, is a sommelier.  Her dual citizenship means she’s living the dream of splitting her time between the U.S. and Italy with her husband and young son.  Cristina was kind enough to offer some tips and insight into exploring the varied and wonderful world of vino Italiano.  

What makes Italy’s wine and winemaking philosophy unique?

 As [is true of] most of the Old World wine philosophy, Italian wine is made to be enjoyed with food.  The whole experience of wine is never meant to be by itself; there is always food with wine, and this food has to be specific to the region and type of wine.

To give you an example, last year I went to a Wine festival in Valtellina, north of Lake Como.  For something like $15 we had access to 20+ wineries, each serving at least 4 different types of local wines in these Roman-era cellars, which you could only reach by walking down several flights of stairs.  Everywhere there was free food served to accompany the wine: salami, prosciutto, cheese, bread, etc.

Many Italians keep “house wine” on hand, often traveling to wineries to bottle their own sfuso.  When it comes to everyday wine drinking, what are your favorite red and white varietals, and why?

My answer depends on the season.  This summer all we had in the house was Vinho Verde from Portugal. It’s a wonderful light, crisp, and slightly sparkling white wine. It goes great with almost anything you eat, especially BBQ and spicier summer foods.  Now that the seasons are changing I am finding myself drawn to light-bodied Pinot Noirs from various regions. As the weather gets colder I will try to get some good Tuscan wines on sale, as well as Argentinian and Spanish wines.  All under $12 of course.

Brooklyn Wine Exchange; Photo from the Village Voice

Unfortunately, nothing compares to vino della casa (house wine) that you can get sfuso directly from the local vineyards, so I just resort to buying great wines at affordable prices.  Fortunately, there are a lot hidden treasures in the best wine shops.
*A word from Hilary: If you happen to live in Brooklyn, you will find no better resource for wines both exotic and familiar than Brooklyn Wine Exchange on Court Street. They even have a “$12 & Under” table of affordable, delicious wines from around the globe.

Are there any Italian grape varietals that are perhaps not well known but deserve wider appreciation?

I would say there are a lot of varietals that are not well known outside of Italy and definitely deserve attention.  Some of these are not necessarily grape varietals, as much as location-based varietals.  To name a few: Tocai Friulano from Friuli, Lugana from Lake Garda region, once again Franciacorta wines,  Sauvignon from Italy (known as Sauvignon Blanc in other regions), Muller Thurgau, Pinot Bianco (much better and much more interesting than Pinot Grigio in my opinion), Lagrein and so many more….

Autumn is here; what are your favorite varietals for fall’s heartier braises, stews, and pastas?

Fall is a great season for wine drinking (not that the other three are bad) because it is warm enough to still enjoy whites and rosés, while it is already cold enough to open up those mouth-filling reds.  Of course, I can never go without a nice Prosecco for all those holiday gatherings with lots of appetizers.  I also enjoy Pinot Noirs in the fall because they can be light but comforting at the same time, while pairing very well with all the roasted turkey and poultry of the season.  I also like to change things up a bit sometime with a nice rosé.  I can also assure you that bottles of Rioja will be always present in my house, along with Valpolicella, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and Tuscan reds.

Cristina, grazie mille for your time and expertise!  Now, let’s all raise a glass of Italian wine and toast autumn’s arrival!