Is it Italy or Eataly? :)

I’m pretty sure it should be Eataly.  We’ve been in this country for nearly a month and the most amazingly wonderful part that I’ve found about Italy is the food.  Maybe it’s because the fall here is like everywhere else and there is so much harvesting going on, but there’s also no doubt that Italians know what to do with what they harvest.

Mushrooms of all sorts abound this time of year, the porcini being the most abundant, but beautiful chanterelles and some others I can’t identify are in all the markets and in recipes on the dinner table.  And of course there is the truffle harvest that was in full swing until recently.  The olive harvest is in full swing also and we’ve  been roaming the groves with owners as the trees get stripped of olives and sent off to processing for the first press.  This is not cooking oil, no way!  It’s meant for dredging across meals as a tangy finish or on some bruschetta with a bit of salt as an appetizer.  It’s sharp, with a surprising bite if you’re used to the olive oil in the US.  Unfiltered and cloudy, a whole variety of tastes explode from it.  Stunning in the first taste, it’s now a favorite that I will dearly miss when the tins we purchased are gone.

We stopped in and had a tour of the modern Marfuga olive oil facility that processes for such expensive outlets as “Willie Sonoma”, but then toured the groves of Azienda Olivicola with Roberto Venturini and his dad and that’s the oil we’re packing for home.

IMG_0781We also toured a private olive oil museum at Il Mandorli with Mama Wanda where she had these old wooden presses designed by none other than Michelango.   This photo shows two of four pressing in a row, which may be the largest ancient processing plant of its kind.  The presses would screw down and press the olive mash that was crushed by the huge stones further on down the room.  The mash would be filtered out through reed mats and  the oil drained into urns set under the spout holes you see at the bottom of the wood structure.

What a gal Mama Wanda was, dropping the preparation of a big birthday celebration to give is a tour of her entire property with a never ending monolog about everything from making marmalade from the famous local black celery to the ancient methods of olive oil processing.

Not that that sort of drop everything hospitality isn’t typical in Italy.  When we first arrived at our place in Umbria, we drove the VERY short distance to Bruno to find the bakery.  Louise rolled down the window and asked an old gal where it was and she signaled to follow her as she walked over a small bridge with us in our Fiat following close behind, stopped traffic by standing in the middle of the road, and pointed down a side street to the best bakery ever.  Not a second thought about inconvenience or hauling her quite ancient bones around to help a couple of strangers find some good bread.  Italy at its finest.

Lagotto_RomagnoloMeanwhile, back to the mushrooms and truffle hunting.  Although the Lagotto Romagnolo dog is a breed that has only recently (100 years!) been specifically bred for truffle hunting, even chihuahuas are used to sniff out the valuable delicacy that can sell for as much as $3000/pound!

The Lagotto is a VERY cool dog in many respects though and makes a great and very loyal companion.  In Italy, as with most of europe, dogs are welcome anywhere, and the Lagotto is a pro at hanging out.  They weigh about 30 pounds and have a fuzzy tail and a face that can’t help but draw a smile.

They were originally bred to hunt waterfowl, so their coat is “waterproof” and they don’t shed.  They do like to dig a bit though, so any owner better give them a designated sand box or some such if you like your flower garden.

It’s a great pleasure to be in such a dog friendly culture that inevitably results in such well behaved dogs.  They’re everywhere.  A family walked into the restaurant last night with their dog and the hostess didn’t miss a beat in taking a chair from the table so the dog had a space to lay.  The owner unfolded a small blanket and the dog settled in like the part of the family that he was. As natural as could be.  At fairs dogs are everywhere, all on leash and for the most part extremely well behaved.  When they get a bit excited and bark, no one gets excited and everything calms back down.

Back to the food though, and of course the wine.  For much of the trip we’ve stayed at Il Casale Grande, an agriturismo, in a small apartment with kitchen for $350/week.  There’s a winery down the lane that fills our jug for $1.50/liter, a bakery even closer that opens every morning at 6 with warm breads, focaccia, and a hugh rack of sweet stuff, and a locals’ restaurant with a wood fired oven that easily fits 10 pizzas at at time, and they need it!  Those guys can crank out some pizzas!  Plus there is a wood fired grill there roasting up lamb and the huge kilo sized Florentine steaks.  Yup, you can’t get a Florentine T-bone that weighs much less than a kilo and they cook them only about a half step past raw.  They cut like butter though and taste scrumptious.

We also spent time on the rough and remote Cinque Terre coast where seafood rules.  There are five small towns literally glued to the cliff sides of this rough coastline, with tiny harbors if any at all where the boats tend to be hauled up into the town square when the weather gets rough, which is does in a big way during the winter.

During the summer months these little towns IMG_0409get crammed with travelers, but in the fall we pretty well had them to ourselves with our choice of restaurants and easy strolling along the coastal paths.  It’s a wonderfully relaxing setting and yet again, food ruled the day as this photo of a little snack we had for dinner attests!

Octopus, lobster, scampi, fish, mussels, clams, and squid, all in a broth I wanted to take home with me but instead soaked up with a whole loaf of hot bread and topped with yet another great house wine.  The dish is cooked and delivered to the table in a terra cotta urn that is then dumped out into the bowl.  Yummmmm!

It was only slightly embarrassing when the two of us polished the whole bowl off as a table of 6 ordered the same dish.  Light weights!

What a feast!  And of course with the standard dog attendees.  This time it was a huge Cane Corso.  What a dog!  Mellow and enormously confident.  Nothing fazed him in the slightest.

Viggo-Ears-n-TailIt’s said they are the original mastiffs and this one certainly looked the part.  Stocky like a fullback and obviously quick and intelligent.  I was just thankful that he didn’t want to join us in our feast because I’m not sure I could have said no.

Again though, as with so many of the dogs we have been around on this Italian vacation, he was a perfect gentleman.

 

 

I need to come back to that section of coastline.  IMG_0483It’s ripe for exploring in the very capable, small offshore boats that the fisherman use to ply the waters there.  The boats are like huge lifeboats, double enders with lots of working area for barrels of nets and line.  The anchovy fleet goes out every evening with lights as they circle tighter and tighter and then set nets under the lights to haul in the anchovies.  By morning the boats and their catch are clean and secure back at the harbor, the fishermen in bed, insulated from the tourism of the day, and ready for another night on the water.

The only thing missing is the bocce court and they seem oddly to be missing all over Italy.  It’s like they forgot that bocce was such an important element in learning how to argue successfully.  So far the only court I’ve found has been at our agriturismo.  Other than that I get nothing but semi-blank looks as I ask Bocce?  Strange but true and it sounds like a mission that needs accepting by a bocce aficionado such as myself.  As I watched the Monterosso fisherman huddled around a tin table playing cards amongst their hauled out boats, I couldn’t help but think about what a good addition a bocce court would be.  Perhaps it’s time for a bocce renaissance.

I’m not sure I can make a thorough list of all the towns we’ve visited, most of them small walled hill towns in the Umbrain valley, but here’s an attempt.  Rome to Florence, then Monterroso and Vernazza on the Cinque Terre coast, then a train to beautiful Siena to pick up the Fiat, and on to musical Spoleto, Norcia (great deer and wild boar salami!), Montefalco (deep, flavorful dry Sagratino reds), Pissignano, Bastardo, Bruno, Assisi, Trevi (locavore food fest), Orvieto, Civitta, Spello, and a wonderful birthday 5 course meal that Louise had arranged as a surprise with Paulo, a Michenlin starred chef, at his wonderful Locanda Cacio Re restaurant set in the remote mountain village of Vallo di Nera overlooking those amazing mountains on the way to Norcia.

Paulo has agreed to join us in Florida sometime soon to teach a small group some of his talent and tricks, so you’ll be hearing more about him soon.

Today we’re off to a hillside castle a friend has for sale, so who knows what the future might bring. :)

But first, the weather here is starting to turn towards winter and I’m getting a bit anxious to get back to the Bungalow and that great, sunny beach.

Be well and enjoy.

I had a fellow tell me to live life like it’s a movie you’d like to watch.  So far, so good. :)

mas tarde.

Best Friends Sanctuary

Angel Canyon

As I left Mexico this time for the long drive east to the Bungalow, I drove north past Tucson to spend a week volunteering at the Best Friends Sanctuary, an incredibly beautiful 3700 canyon in Kanab, Utah that has been turned into a No Kill shelter for animals of all kinds.

These are the folks who rescued so many of the dogs from Katrina and also many of the dogs from the Michael Vick dog fighting kennel.

A group of friends got together back in the ’80s and bought the canyon and they have been rescuing everything from dogs and cats to horses, mules, pot belly pigs, birds, and little furry bunnies ever since.   All in the national park environment of that canyon.  It seemed a little odd to be “volunteering” to take very cool dogs on long walks in the likes of Angel Canyon.  Kind of like volunteering to win the lottery.  It’s a bit of a given.

I got to see the “Running of the Pigs” while I was there, which is definitely something they need to put on YouTube.  The little tanks don’t get loads of exercise, so they feed them each meal in two separate locations.  First, they head up the hill for a snack and then barrel ass back down the hill for the main course at their pens.  Suddenly a herd of pot belly and teacup pigs of all sizes came tearing down the hill like a pile of boulders, hot on the trail of their next course.  It was a total hoot to see, along with the two lunkers following up in the rear, sauntering down the hill, resigned to a second course of leftovers.

National Geographic took notice when the folks at Best Friends stepped up during Katrina and they produced a long running TV show called DogTown, which featured the dogs and the sanctuary.  That put BF on the map and they get loads of visitors every year which is an enormous help to their mission.

I spent a week walking and working with dozens of the over 300 dogs they have, but Yogi, who was rescued as a puppy swimming for his life in the flood waters of Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was the one who touched me the most.  He’s HUGE! and old and a bit lumbersome now.  A big American Bulldog who has recovered from mange from the Katrina water, but still nearly 10 years later he’s got some rough skin issues that give him that total junkyard look.  There’s no doubt that Yogi has been through the wringer, but he’s come out smiling.

Yogi!

The first thing he did was bust the sunglasses that I’ve had for many years and that was just while I was clipping him up for a walk.  HI!  and with one flick of his huge head, the glasses were toast.

He’s a bit mouthy, and with that big mouth and his interest in lovingly, but a bit excitedly chewing on ya, he can put most folks off a bit.  I got lucky and solved it by giving him a stuffed duck to carry around instead.  Then he just turned into a muffin, calmly mouthing the duck while I massaged those old worn bones.  There are few things more rewarding for me in life than giving an old dude like that a little comfort and he seemed to appreciate it to the fullest.

The whole experience at Best Friends was great fun and there were lots of families arriving daily to spend their vacation with the animals in this wonderful setting with side trips to Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon.

Angels' Landing

Best Friends home in Angel Canyon with places like this incredible rock amphitheater was enough for me though, so I just settled in and had a great time and chowed down on their great $5 vegetarian lunch buffet.

The picnic tables at the base of this wall give you some idea of  the size of the wall.  There’s a stream that carved the rock as it ran along the bottom of the wall that is now used for irrigating that beautiful lawn in the middle of nowhere.  I spent many an hour there lounging on that lawn with a number of great dogs.

One of the true highlights of it all was a private 2 hours I got to spend with Ann Hepworth, the horse trainer, as she worked with Jake who was a big rambunctious mule that was a new arrival.  Ann is a Parelli trainer, meaning ”horse whisperer”, meaning that she is an empathetic ally with the animals she works with.

She talked about how sensitive horses are.  Obvious stuff really.  If they swish their tales because they can feel a fly on their butts, imagine what a set of spurs does to them.  Imagine what getting jabbed with some spurs would do to you.  Not exactly a friendly approach.

Using lots of kindness, empathy, and patience (good watchwords for the planet), it was amazing to see what Jake was anxiously interested in doing for her in no time at all.

While he was cranking around a big round pen, he’d notice a slight motion of Ann’s hand and he’d turn and come right to her.  It was clear that he was pleased to be with her.  We walked around the grounds of the stables as she would urge him to find the next thing she wanted him to put his nose on, which he eventually did every time.  You could see him thinking it out.  Hmmm, it’s not that post, but maybe it’s this flower!?!  Yes!!  But all the time with that prey mind ready to bolt or revolt.

Ann said he was totally raw and untrained, but it was hard to tell that from what I was watching.

Mules are far harder to bond with and “train” than horses, which I could relate to because Anatolians like my old buddies Murray and Ben are sure the mules of the dog world in that respect.

Murray

 

 

 

 

Benjamin

 

 

 

 

 

Horses are prey animals, so they react differently than dogs which come from predators, but watching Ann work I started to think that Anatolians might be a bit different than your typical dog.

Ann and I talked about Anatolians and how raising them with the sheep for so many generations might over millennia instill some prey instincts into them.  It would explain a lot, like why they can be so aloof.  It’s not a matter of being too cool, but being a bit wary like a prey animal.  Just like Jake, they don’t want to get too close too quickly and they will make you pay long and dearly for one harsh word or action because as a prey animal they couldn’t afford any other responce.

With all dog training moving quickly to positive re-enforcement and the similarity of those methods with the Parelli system, it almost feels like we humans are starting to get the big picture.

Be nice.  It makes everyone’s life simpler and more fun.

Anyhow, if you ever get a chance, definitely go to Kanab, Utah and check out Best Friends.  Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon are so close that it’s easy to see a lot of the most amazing geography in the west.

Kanab is also where nearly every western was filmed, so the town itself is like a museum of westerns.  There’s even a place called Ambush Gulth because it was the sight of so many staged ambushes.  It’s a great area and I’m anxious to get back soon.

Rob

 "There is absolutely no evidence that life is serious"
Ogden Nash (1902 to 1971)

					

Labor Day on the beach :)

The section of beach along Indialantic, Melbourne Beach, and on down to Sebastian Inlet  is heaven on earth at this time of year.  Air temps in the low to mid 80s.  And the water is about 80 too.  Perfect.

What a great place it was to land after that long trip on planes, buses, taxis, trucks, through Mexico, but starting up in Port Townsend, WA.  2+ weeks of bouncing through mexican farm districts.

The trip through Sonora and Sinaloa was great.  Farmers are easy to be around the world over and Mexico is no different, maybe better in a way.  Family means so much in Mexico, and friends of family are nearly the same in the deep and meaningful connection the Mexicans I know take for granted.  It’s a very comfortable world.

It was nice to land back on this beach though.  On Labor Day I was lounging around in the warm Gulf Stream water, catching waves on a hot new Toobs Joker bodyboard, watching a biplane give us all a half hour air show of flips and turns with smoke trails right over our heads.  Great show for folks on the beach.  Amazing show for those of us sitting right under him in the break zone offshore.  Cool beach.

I pretty much had the waves to myself, which is a great part of this break.  All beach break.  Spread out and catch a wave.  No need to hustle or snake or milk a wave and that brings what’s really going on out there back home.  Just playing in warm ocean surf.

I love this beach.

Rob

Navojoa, Huatabampo, Alamos, Obregon, Culiacan

I spend most of my time in Mexico in towns no one ever goes to much less ever heard of.  No beaches, no groovy bars serving sugary margaritas, no tourists.  Mostly farming communities full of the grandest folks.  Not much different than some small town in the US midwest farming belt.

I’m in Huatabampo now.  Where?  A few kilometers south of Navojoa.  Where?  50 kms south of Obregon.  Where?  a few hours south of Hermosillo, not that that’s going to ring a bell either.

It’s all part of the huge farming belt that is a sloping plains area on the west side of the Sierra Madres, draining out to the Sea of Cortez.  Before irrigation, the Sonoran Desert stopped the movement of agriculture from northern Mexico into the US southwest for 1000s of years.  The same rough desert that now kills the poor Mexicans as they walk north for days hoping for work stopped the cultivation of beans and corn from moving north for millennia.  Read Guns, Germs, and Steel .  This desert stopped human cultural development in it’s tracks and now it is a huge cornucopia full of the produce most of us eat everyday.

I’m certainly the only white guy in town, not that that means anything at all to the local folks.  The town is full of smiles and surrounded by field after field of everything from the Earthbound lettuce you buy at your local grocer to the beans that Mexico thrive on.  I’m just another guy here, although one who speaks lousy Spanish and makes up for it by bringing the cultivation of a grain back to this area that was eradicated by vicious ignorance 500 years ago.  Folks are happy to see me and understand the mission I’m on better than I do.

I spend my days meeting with salt of the earth farmers and touring lush organic fields and my evenings strolling the streets and eating great carne asada tacos from barbecue stands set under huge jacaranda trees.  The street food in these small towns is wonderful.  A town like Huatabampo doesn’t have any real sort of dinner restaurant that an anglo would recognize, but there is certainly great stuff to eat.

Chia seems to help in that respect.  The different stuff in the water effects our guts just like our water in the US effects the guts of travelers there.  We want to believe that water in countries like Mexico is bad, but it’s not, just different than ours.  I add chia to my diet all the time and certainly add extra when I travel.  It helps.  When a gracious farmer offers me a glass of ice water after roaming in a hot field all morning, it would be an insult to refuse it.  So I drink with him and thank chia for helping my stomach recover quickly.

I use “anglo” because gringo has a certain negative vibe.  Gringos tend to be dumb and clumsy about moving in the latin american world.  They want what they’re familiar with and aren’t too flexible.  They tend to be demanding and judgmental about not getting their check quickly.  It’s someone else’s fault that they can’t make themselves understood.  An anglo is hopefully someone who is ready to flex and learn something new about the food, the people, and the culture he find himself in.  Maybe a little more gracious about life in general.  The US culture seems to be dumbing down by the minute.  A bit of humility would do us well.  Plus gringo seems to be specific to US travelers and anglo accepts that it ain’t all about us.

I admit though that I link up to a VPN network that makes the internet world think I’m in Los Angeles and allows me to watch Netflix movies on my laptop at night.  It feels like forbidden fruit.  I devour HBO series like an addiction and I play music through Pandora as I shave in the morning.  I do steer clear of the news though.  It’s never good and never useful.  Never has been.  Morning Edition on NPR is an addiction I’m happy to live without.  I wish I had the strength to turn it off in the US, but here news is easy to avoid and it makes life oh so much simpler to understand.

Mexico is so full of wonderful people it’s a shame that so much of what others know is nothing but the bad stuff.  Yes, there are gruesome things happening at times, but that’s not much different than the horrors that happen north of the border.  In a way the violence in Mexico is not so random as ours and so not so scary.

There is certainly no violence here in Huatabampo.  I doubt there has been a murder here in decades.  If there ever was one, my bet is that it was due to love, not the crazy randomness of a culture that seems to have lost it’s way.

That said, I’ll be off to Culiacan soon, the hometown of the Sinaloa Cartel and also the home of two brothers with a big organic farm and a desire to bring chia back into the Mexican way of life.  Well worth the trip for me.

Be well and enjoy it.

Rob

Chia!

It’s been a strange path, but here I am about to cross the border at Nogales to start working my way down to Culiacan bringing chia cultivation back to the region it came from originally.

Chia used to be worshipped by the Mayans and Aztecs because it was such an important food, but the Spanish Conquistadors would have none of any religion other than Catholicism and if chia was part of the religious ceremonies of the “indians” of the Americas, then it had to go along with those funny mushrooms that the hippies starting flocking to in Oaxaca after they resurfaced back in the 60s.

So chia, perhaps the most nutritious food source on the planet, was almost totally eradicated over 500 years ago.   They did such a good job of it that none of my Mexican friends had ever heard of chia when I started bringing it up last year.

I’d read Born to Run and chia kept on coming up as the source of the energy that the Tarahumara used to run so fast and so far.  They mix chia with pinole (roasted corn meal) and run like the wind and just keep on running and running all day long.  I was there in Mexico and running again and I needed chia!  The thing is, I had to have a friend coming from the US bring it to me because it was unknown in Sonora, even though it had been gathered there many centuries ago.

Well, one thing led to another and my buddy Curt from Alaska and I drove the first load for planting down into Sonora last May and now I’m off to meet with and bring seed to farmers throughout Sonora and Sinaloa.  Chia is back!

 

 

Get me to the beach!

I’ve been in dry, dusty, mountainous Mexico for weeks and I’m ready for the beach!

It’s pretty cool here though and I read Born to Run about barefoot running and the Tarahumara Indians just south of here in the Copper Canyons which is some of the most remote wilderness in the world.  80 year old guys can run 100 miles non-stop!  A fellow called Caballo Blanco has organized an annual race in the canyon that draws the best ultra marathoners in the world and ALL the prizes and money goes to the indians.  There were over 80 internationals and 300 indians in the race this year.

So I’ve been running and thinking about doing the race next year.

Still, it an’t the beach and I can’t wait to get back to that warn Gulf Stream water!

See you at the beach!

Kite boarding at the beach!

A big storm front blew through the last couple of days making for some gnarly surf and now it’s sunny in the high 70s and blowing about 30 knots.  The kite boarders are in heaven.

The beach is transitioning to its winter beach and that means lots of carve outs and lots of shells and maybe a doubloon for the lucky treasure hunter.  Checking out the McLarty Museum down near Sebastian Inlet is a real eye opener about the Spanish Galleon fleet that sank just south of here in 1715.

Bungalow Dogs – Peso

Peso was the first Bungalow dog, well before the Bungalow turned into a beach house for everyone else.  She had an overbite that kept the tip of her tongue sticking out and she was the runt of the litter which made her even more nuts about food than the standard unhinged beagle.  Not just food either.  Boxes of Sudafeds out of my mother’s purse, lit cigarette butts on the street, a quarter pound of chocolate covered espresso beans at our Christmas party.  Any food within reach was always and forever fair game in her eyes. She got in the food bin once and nearly exploded!  We always needed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide around because you never knew when she’d eat something that needed to come back up in a hurry, like those espresso beans.

Still, she was one seriously adorable dog and everyone on the beach knew Peso.

When we redesigned the villas at the Bungalow, we definitely did it with dogs and their owners in mind because it’s not easy to find a nice place on the beach that not only allows dogs, but actually caters to them.  Now at least there’s one place that we know of that does.  :)

See you at the beach!

 

Big surprise storm at the beach!

Wow!  It blew about 30mph for a few days, which is no big thing, but then it cranked up here at the Indialantic Boardwalk and topped off at 80+ last night with fierce rain squalls hitting like clockwork.  It knocked the power out and knocked down one of our big bird of paradise.

Because we’re the last building before the ocean, the only thing we share the transformer with is the turtle lights, so we’d normally be the last to get repaired.  So I drove over to the FPL service yard this morning at 7 and plied the boss with a bottle Hechiza chiltepin pepper hot sauce I brought back from my months in Mexico.

An hour later a truck miraculously arrived and we were back in business with cheers from our Canadian guests and the newlyweds who just check in.

Nothing like a good hot sauce!

Here’s what the surf looked like from time to time.