Nice, France, Imperia, Italy and Olive Oil School Part 3

This is my 3rd year in a row (lucky me!) attending Olive Oil Taster’s school at ONAOO in Imperia, Italy. This is my second year of a 3 year Professional Olive Oil Tasters Course.

Imperia, Italy is located in the northern part of Italy about an hour and a half south of Nice, France. A group of us have been attending together since the first year and have become friends and a support team on this surprisingly difficult journey. I have flown in to Florence, Milan and this year Nice to get to Imperia. I had never been to Nice and was looking forward to enjoying our short stop on the way home.

First stop is London Heathrow where I meet friends from Toronto and Hong Kong…of course there is time for a glass of Champagne at Prunier it doesn’t matter that it is 7:25 am! this is how we roll baby!!

There are some great shops and restaurants and I really love to stop by Fortnum and Mason because you can enjoy a perfect cuppa and you can browse their pretty shop. I want to buy everything but, settle for a box of Princess Grey

We land in Nice to meet our last travel buddy from Vilnus, Lituania. The pastries in the airport are stunning. Oh wait! a stop before we get on the train for…you guessed it Champagne. Even on the train we celebrate the glory of being here!!

While everyone else gets settled in their rooms I must say hello to this pretty little town!

“Buonasera Imperia!”

The old olive tree by the port

Ok, now that we have arrived we either need a nap from the “red eye” flight or wait…coffee and something dolce!! Yes, but remember if you are in Italy you can have a macchiato which is a coffee with just a spoon of crema but, don’t order a cappucino after breakfast. They will give it to you but, they will be shaking their heads the whole time. Italians only drink cappucino at breakfast.

This is such a cute little seaside town. You arrive in Porto Maurizio which is glorious town on the water but, we take a taxi to it’s sister city on the other side of the river called Imperia Oneglia.

After we check in to the Hotel Rossini which is a great little hotel that has comfortable accommodations and a nice breakfast bar. Everyone who goes to to ONAOO stays here because you can walk to school everyday.

An apperitivo at Gusto and of course when you have a drink they bring you something to nibble on.

Time for dinner I chose not to have a nap and hold out as long as possible and now I am hungry as a bear (un orso! in Italian) we are disappointed because our favorite little pizzeria is closed for renovations. It is the middle of Feb and a good time since there are not many tourists but, we are bummed none the less. We head over to a great little pizzeria and pasta place. I recommend the pasta over the pizza but, all of it is good and cheap. The pasta is made and brought to your table in giant fry pans! The wine is good and we meet more friends.

The first day of The Professional Olive Oil Tasters course and there are people from Norway, France, China, Lituania, Canada, US, Taiwan, Switzerland and Italy. We start with a few tastings. I am constantly amazed at how complicated and difficult this is for me. I never come to the table thinking I am good, I have nailed this. Why? well because you are smelling for defects and fruitiness of the oil to begin with. If you smell something you need to taste it to assess the oil. You swish it all over your mouth and smile wide and suck air to the back of your throat. You sometimes need to do this a few times and make sure the sample gets right to the back of your tongue where you taste bitterness (a positive attribute of good oils) and also to get the sensation of pungency or the peppery kick that can make you cough (this is also a positive attribute and when it makes you cough this is a good thing!)

I am tasting for perhaps a subtle defect or even multiple defects which I need to define as a number to give it a strength value. I need to determine which defect it prevalent and then which others are present. If the oil has no defects I am tasting to see if I can determine if the olives are ripe or were they green (usually this part is detected in the smell )  what do I think the oil tastes like? cut grass, tomato leaf, artichokes, green almonds etc… this is not easy I have to define the level of fruitiness on a scale, I have to define the bitterness and pungency on the scale and if there are defects they also need to be defined. There are over 2000 cultivars of olives and they taste different. In Italy what makes them so special is not that they make the best oils in the world BUT they are the only country that has over 500 cultivars within it and this diversity can make some remarkable oils.

Professor Servili spoke with passion and excitement about the chemistry of olive oil and why is is just simply unique in the world of oils – there is no other oil in the world that has sensory analysis, none! and it is truly remarkable in its powers . I cannot believe how interesting I find even the chemistry and milling aspects of this glorious product.

Yay! Lunch at Gusto a few minutes from school. We always enjoy the local specialties like Trophie “tro-fee ay” which is a typical pasta served in Liguria made with pesto (this is where Pesto is from!) green beans and potatoes, or lasagna bolognese or lasagna with pesto.

Day 2 – we tasted 37 different oils some with defects, some great and let me tell you if you are always looking for and describing defects at the point of identifying good oils you really will struggle to find the good characteristics that define spectacular balanced oils. Then we have a mini test with 6 oils to identify which are the pairs. Once again not as easy as it seems you start basically by smell and only taste after you think you have it correct.

Once again I am sad it is over so soon!

We have another year of 4 Skype tasting classes and then next year is the scary part. We are tested to see if we pass and it is a low proportion of people that pass. I am freaking out already because I really want to pass.

We always have a beautiful dinner at the nicest restaurant in Imperia Oneglia at Salvo Cacciatore.

The Procuitto is sliced so thin it dissolves on your tongue like salty candy floss!

A salt cod and potato croquette

Truly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had! Anchovies, pepperoncino, olive oil, breadcrumbs lemon juice and zest!

Fresh ravioli with herbs and a drizzle of their own olive oil. A lovely mild Taggiasca typical varietal of this area.

You must stop into Crema di Gelato at least once if only to look at how spectacular their desserts are!

who am I kidding! I can’t just look.

We check in to the West End Hotel at night and start walking to find a restaurant for dinner. We are lucky and find a wonderful one.

For now back to Nice for dinner and tomorrow a full day of exploring and eating. Valentines Day!

A cute little restaurant we just stumble upon!

Hot brie cheese with honey.

The most beautiful tiny baguette, they really do understand great bread in France!

Arugula, chicken breast and potato puree with TRUFFLES!!!

Steak and frites!

Steak tartare and a fresh salad. It is an enormous portion!

On the way home we stumble across  the Nice Carnival parade at 11 pm at night!! crazy but wonderful!

Bonjour!

Our last day and it is a glorious morning! the hotel is located on the Promenade des Anglaise and wow what a view of the Cote d’azur (you will see later why they call it the blue coast!)

We are taking a walking food tour and I am excited and hungry.

The tour begins in the old flower market.

Look at the amazing variety of glace fruit in this beautiful shop window.

Bottles of olive oil….it is lovely to see the beautiful oils however, clear bottles and light are the enemy of olive oil.

Citrus fruit trees!

Olive trees

glace fruit- they are super sweet, too sweet for me (except I love the chestnuts)

These were some pretty chestnuts from in Imperia!! YUM

candied flowers – perfect on a cupcake!

giant artichokes!

saucisson with cognac and wine!

Hazelnuts and clementines …reminds me of childhood Christmas table.

Breads

pizzelle

Gorgeous cakes and perfect macaron!

Cheese and truffles! heaven.

so many salts to choose from!

we shop at the market and stop for breakfast. An orange beignet (donuts!)

orange fougasette bread. I loved it.

une noisette cafe! a typical coffee – with just a splash of milk.

A local speciality is a sweet cake make from swiss chard, pine nuts and raisins called Tourte aux Blettes. Very good!

A few moments on a Sunday morning to stop in this  pretty little church. I say a blessing and send good thoughts for a friend who has recently lost her Mother not far from here.

Our last stop is a cute little shop created by the owner of L’Occitane. There are many local olive oils and other food products.

We set up a small table at the back of the shop and enjoy the best goat cheese I have ever had, some tapenade, pizzelles, glasses of perfect rose and fig syrup and water. It has been a perfect tour and our guide Dorothy has been wonderful!

This is their selection of medium oils (which we all think is MILD…we are hard core!)

Tapenades!

chocolate covered olives….I don’t know!

Of course Lavender!! we are in the south of France.

A pretty olive tree in the middle of the city!

Climbing many steps to get to the view  of the city.

We hike up to the remaining part of the castle and are rewarded with a phenomenal view!! I absolutely have fallen in love with Nice!

An aperitif on the beach after a spectacular day.

A fancy Valentine’s dinner at Jan.

Love potion!

Warm bread can you smell it?

A perfect mouthful of crab and mozzarella foam.

Salmon

One perfect ravioli

A perfect fillet mignon.

candied cucumber and pomegranate ice

cheese, nuts, grapes and dried meat

a gorgeous panna cotta  with chocolate and fruit to dip in shaved chocolate sand.

Dinner at Jan a Michelin star restaurant for a special Valentine’s meal. I am sorry my sweetheart is not here with me however, I am grateful my olive oil dream team and I are enjoying a wonderful evening.

Life is filled with wonder and excitement. How lucky am I to learn new things meet new people and experience the joy of discovery and travel!

I count my blessings as I fall asleep… very very full!

Habanero Chili Oil and Fire Paste – Honduras

I just came back from Honduras recently where I learned how to make this Habanero oil and Fire Paste from my friends Cathy and Randy. This is seriously hot stuff but, if you have a taste for heat this is the oil or paste you can add to your favorite hot dishes. Randy calls the paste Peanut Butter!! Ya, just a bit different!….I added 1 tsp to a  pot of tomato sauce and it was hot enough for me. You could do this with any chilies you like or you can use a variety for a medley of flavors.

Step 1:Freezing the Habaneros, also called Scotch Bonnets makes them easier to handle. Cathy just cuts off the tops and slices them in half. If you want to remove the seeds and membranes it will reduce the heat a wee bit (we are talking Habaneros!)

Step 2: spread out evenly on an un-greased tray and bake for 12-15 hours on 170 degrees F. It must be a low, slow drying out or you can burn them. Turn them every 6 hours or so just so they do not burn.

Step 3: once they are dry, use a wooden spoon to crush into flakes.

Step 4: add the flakes to a Mason jar and top with olive oil to cover. Let sit for a few weeks to months (Randy leaves his for a few months to get really hot!) Strain for the oil and use the “peanut butter” sparingly for a different level of heat in foods. Use cautiously!!

A few food shots from Trujillo, Honduras. If you find yourself in Trujillo you must go to Mermaids Restaurant at Campo Del Mar!! awesome Fish and Chips and Chicken Sandwiches. Nautico , Luisa’s and Caravida Club Cafe all on the beach road!! and Hotel Casa Alemania in town.

Mermaid’s is a gorgeous spot right on the beach at Campo Del Mar Beach Club. You can spend the day playing at the beach and enjoying a great meal, swimming in the pool or visiting the animals in the rescue sanctuary or see the botanical gardens!

Here are some lobsters fried in a batter at Nautico Restaurant on the beach road.

fried chicken won tons

Nachos

Fried  Tostones (plantains)

My favorite beer is an ice cold Port Royal!

 

Imperia and Milan, Italy – Professional Olive Oil Taster Course – Part 1

Imperia, Italy consists of two districts, Porto Maurizio and Oneglia which lie on either side of the River Impero.

Porto Maurizio is to the west of the river and is a beautiful port, an hour from Nice, France.

Even in early February the Italian Riviera shows her beauty and signs of spring are everywhere.

On a warm afternoon everyone is out on the patio enjoying lunch and a glass of Franciacorta. (Prosecco’s elegant cousin)

The ancient olive tree at the water’s edge in Imperia Oneglia is always ready to greet you.

The town square with it’s shooting fountain is the central point to meet.

Imperia Oneglia is located 20 minutes walk away from Oneglia. The area is known for the cultivation of flowers in greenhouses and for their olives. It is once again why I come to Liguria. I am lucky enough  to be here to take another course at O.N.A.O.O. which is the Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio Di Oliva. This is an association of unbiased Olive Oil Tasters from around the world.

A visit to Il Melograno Restaurant (the Pomegrante) never fails. Their pizza is great and the restaurant is always busy.

This was the Furbacciona – mozzarella, salty cooked ham, brie and pear!

or would you prefer a great pizza with pomodoro (tomato) sauce! This is what good pizza is meant to taste like and their house wine is affordable and excellent too.

My first day at school.

The people attending this class were from all over the world. I enjoyed the company of people from Taiwan, Switzerland, Italy, Corsica – France, Norway, Japan, Canada, Lithuania and Hong Kong. These are all people passionate about good olive oil in so many different areas.

Olive oil school is mostly about tasting bad olive oil and learning how to identify subtle defects by the nose and the mouth. We tasted over 30 different samples on this day.

 It is not as easy as you may think.

A dinner at Salvo Cacciatori. An elegant restaurant in the heart of the city always makes for a wonderful evening.

Some glorious anti-pasti. Thinly sliced Parma ham, fried squid,  perfectly tender octopus and potato croquette. Everything done to perfection!

Thinly sliced veal in a delicate jus.

I enjoyed the blue potato gnocchi with artichokes, bacon and slices of Parmesan.

A pineapple flower with mango sorbet and a cold semifreddo with a hot dark and bitter chocolate poured over it!! wow. Great wines and wonderful company made for a delightful evening.

You simply must visit the pretty Crema di Gelato shop near the square. This was a killer coconut gelato.

you will have to try a new one every day!

Honestly, DECIDING is the biggest problem you will have at this shop!

On Valentine’s day your selection was even more spectacular than normal!

Perfect little gelato cakes for two!

Piccardo is a beautiful old Pasticceria that serves great coffee, lunches, pastries and gelatos.

Sit down or stand at the bar to enjoy your coffee. There is no take out here!

Carnival is an opportunity to try BUGIE (boo-gee-eh) A fried dessert with powdered sugar.

Look how pretty my machiato espresso is for Valentine’s day.

This is how we ate every day at lunch! Prosciutto and mozzarella.

The typical oil found in Liguria is Taggiasca a mild and buttery oil.

This is also where Pesto is from and this is a typical dish of Trofie (tro-fee-yeh) which is pasta, potatoes and green beans.

Hey, this is a cute Italian boy I fell in love with at lunch. His name is Milo.

Pesto Lagagna which is out of this world.

Orecchiette with broccoli.

A medley of vegetables, eggplant, frittata and mozzarella and tomatoes.

Un cafe to finish…or do you prefer un doppio (a double!)

Breakfast at the Hotel Rossini is always fresh and delicious!

So much to learn.

This is the typical set up for tasting oil. Samples, sparkling water, a spit cup and some apple to cleanse the palette.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

When I wake up early I watch Italian cartoons to learn more Italian. Peppa Pig, Olivia or my favorite Calimero la pulcino tutto nero! (Calimero a little black chicken)

This is a great little place on the boardwalk that makes some really excellent pastas

They bring you the pasta right in the pan. This was spaghetti, tomato, parsley, mozzarella and hot chili flakes done to perfect and it is also a  really good value.

My friends said the pasta vongole…do you think they liked it? YES they did!

A quick stop in Milano demands you see the Duomo.

Right next to the Duomo you need to see the Galleria which is an exquisite building housing some of the finest designer stores and coffee shops.

 Eataly is simply a must for anyone who loves good food!!

 Cacio & Pepe, a Roman dish that is made with 5 ingredients. Pasta, Pecorino cheese, water and pepper (sometimes a bit of butter) makes a great pasta. Although it is a simple dish, it shows the mark of the chef like the simplicity of making a perfect omelette.

 This is the after photo! Do you think I liked it? YES I DID!!

Eataly has people making fresh pasta of every shape and style.

The finest selection of meats and fish.

An entire case of Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses.

Salumi and cheese.

Some really really excellent breads.

One last gelato. Nocciola (hazelnut) or a nice Mandarin sorbetto?(which I had)

Milano International Airport

 

Even the Milan airport has fantastic food and shopping. You can buy gorgeous designer clothes, premium chocolate, foods like oil, pastas or wine.

 One final stop on my way home at London Heathrow.

 

A stop at Fortnum & Mason means a great cup of tea.

and a Blueberry Eton Mess. A dessert of blueberries, chantilly cream and meringues. YUM!

A glass of house champagne at Caviar House & Prunier and my first taste of caviar.

A shrimp salad.

Fish and Chips with mushy peas and of course they are served with salt and malt vinegar.

Bye Europe see you soon!!

 

University of California at Davis Olive Center – Master Milling Course and great places nearby!

For those of you that are unaware, I am a crazy, passionate lover of all things OLIVE! I have cooked with some exceptional olive oils over the years and I have also been an uninformed consumer at the mercy of a salesperson who may or may not have always been more knowledgeable than myself. This year I decided to get serious in my olive oil education. I went to Imperia, Italy to become a certified Taster at ONAOO. I have done a lot of reading and research and most recently I attended The Master Milling Certificate Course at the University of California at Davis. I am certainly not an expert by any means but, I can say that I will continue to learn and discover what makes this amazing fruit so captivating! If you have a passion or desire to learn about Milling this is a great course.

The Welcome sign is outside of the Lucero Olive Oil tasting room in Corning, California….more info on Lucero if you keep reading.

Let me share a few hi-lights from an incredible week in Davis, California and the surrounding area. I love the University motto “Let there be light!” and this beautiful setting was as much a player in the course as the teachers, growers, millers and passionate participants. The course was held in the magnificent Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science facilities.

Before we get to the course let me share a bit of the surrounding area and the amazing array of exceptional products being created in this part of the State of California.

In nearby Napa at the Oxbow Public Market there is a beautiful collection of stalls and stores providing unique items and great quality local products from fresh produce, to wines and olive oils, fine chocolates and artisans of every kind!

Ca’Momi Napa Valley is a wonderful Italian restaurant and also sells some greatwines and really delicious Italian pastries.

Anette’s Chocolates provides an impressive selection of fine chocolate.

This was a beautiful box of pasta I found in Oxbow Produce and Grocery. That’s parsley pressed into the pappardelle .

Napa Valley Distillery is a micro-distillery producing small batch spirits and an everything else you could possibly need to create amazing cocktails including natural flavoured syrups, bitters and other culinary ingredients. The store is a beautiful step back in time. Meyer Lemon Liqueur!!

These are just a few places and this market is definately worth a stop!

The Olive Press in Sonoma is worth a drive. The store is set in Sonoma’s first olive mill. They are known as the most awarded olive oils in the nation and are proud to share some of their best with you in the beautiful tasting rooms here and also at the Oxbow Public Market. They have a wonderful selection of oils, vinegars and many other great olive products. You can purchase there or they produce an online catalog and will ship anywhere! The other part of their store focuses on their wines.

I drove quite a distance to see Lucero Olive Oil in Corning, California but, they also have Napa and Portland, Oregon locations. They provide a great selection of award winning olive oils, vinegars, mustards and a few other items that you can buy on site or through their fantastic catalog  which you can have shipped anywhere!

A stop at the Davis farmer’s market is a great place to find things like the tri-tip sandwiches at Buckhorn or Fat Face Popsicles where you can get flavours like black sesame, peach lavender or kaffir lime and avocado.

These are the biggest persimmons I have ever seen!

everything looked so delicious!

Now back to the class! This was a very intense course, filled with great information regarding the processing of olive fruit from picking to bottling.

Olive 2Bottle Mobile Services provided us with a view to the process from start to finish and they created some very interesting dialogue about the four oils they produced using different parameters of two very different varietals of olives.

We toured three various sized mills and spoke with the Miller’s of each. This was an amazing glimpse into the operation of Yolo Press. Mike is literally a 1 man show. He hand picks each of  his 200 trees on his small 6 acre farm and does every aspect of his business by himself. He sells exclusively in his community and is just an amazing and very entertaining teacher.

delicious and buttery and complex.

We then toured the beautiful, medium sized family owned Bondolio farm. They currently grow 10 acres of olives but, their state of art processing facility is equipped to handle expansion and is a no waste facility. They are producing an award winning blend of Sicilian Nocellara, Biancolilla and Cerasuola varieties of olives.

Lastly, we toured the large scale operation at Seka Hills in the beautiful Capay Valley in between Sacramento and Napa. They harvest 82 acres of high-density groves.

 

They produce wines and grow organic vegetables.

skin care products of all kinds and nice smells!

 

Honey and olive wood so smooth you simply have to touch it when you see it!

Vinegars and so many other products .

We did some blind tastings to help the class identify a few common defects that could be in olive oils and we tasted some delicious oils that were perfect extra virgins with no defects.

We tasted the oil that was milled a day earlier with different parameters to identify hits and misses.

Lastly, I cannot leave this event without commenting on how superb the lunches and snacks were that were provided each day. This was first class, great quality in all aspects.

 

fresh salads with candied nuts and beautiful dressings.

grilled vegetables, polenta cake, black rice with apples and cranberries and always artisan breads.

Come on! This is definitely a place I will take another class at.

PS did I mention the people in the class were as interesting as the material covered throughout the week.

WOW!!!

Hawaii – Oahu – Waikiki

We recently came back from a glorious vacation in Hawaii and after the first stop on the Big Island we spent another week on Oahu in the heart of it all – Waikiki Beach. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with it’s iconic rainbow mosaic on one tower and it’s sheltered lagoon off the beach. This has been a Hilton property since I first came here when I was 15 years old. I can remember walking through the shops in the marketplace and at that time Don Ho was a featured act. I can still hear “Tiny Bubbles” being sung.

This is my favourite spot on Waikiki Beach in front of the glorious pink hotel The Royal Hawaiian. On our last visit we stayed here and I still think it is the best spot on the beach to people watch.

When we first arrive we head to Tropics Bar & Grill to enjoy some cocktails.

Hawaii Five-O is filmed on location here some of the time and so they have some libations that are named after the character’s.

I had a frosty Danno Banano! sweet, cool and delish on a hot evening.

We also tried the Poke Sampler (POK- eh) while the sun sets. I ate this in almost every restaurant. Fresh Ahi in various sauces….so good!

There are many cookie stores with several varieties of shortbread specialities. Honolulu Cookie is the largest and has many locations. They are packed conveniently for taking home and are quite yummy. I think I like the coconut shortbread the best. Go in, they have samples!

I saw an ad for Island Olive Oil while I was on the plane and just had to find out if they were actually growing olives and producing their own oils here. I am passionate about using high quality extra virgin olive oils and have recently been certified as a taster so I had to go in. I discovered that they do not grow olives in the islands. This is a tasting bar much like many all across the world but, with their own Hawaiian influences. They have focused on flavoured oils with many local fruits and they do have a small selection (4) of Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Spain and California. They said olive oil is a relatively new oil for many people locally and they struggle to imagine how to use it but, they are getting the word out slowly. They also cater to a very large Japanese population of visitors who are crazy about olive oils.

Malie Kai sells some truly spectacular chocolates and it is worth seeking them out.

Early morning over the lagoon and my Acai berry bowl with homemade fruit and nut bar. I am totally addicted to this too.

While in ABC Stores I find my dear friend and extraordinary artist Carolyn Quan’s artwork on some local Maui Blanc – Pineapple Wine. We pick up a bottle and find it to be really nice and very different with definite pineapple tones to the light white.

Big Pete had to sample a few local ales!

Big Island Candies is another large cookie and candy store located in the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Such a pretty store.

 

Lupicia was tea store with the largest selection of teas I have ever seen. Each silver canister can be opened to smell the tea and of course they wil let you try the teas.

 

 

They had beautiful tins and gift boxes with every tea you could imagine!

 

 

They also sell bags of teas.

 

Just look at all the large bulk boxes of different teas!! Just mind boggling.

Aloha Gelato had some really great quality fresh made gelato.

I had to stop in and have a Shave Ice from Lawson Station. I had the woman make it half the size they normally make them (just imagine how big they are!) Mine is melon and lilikoi (passion fruit) It was good but the best I have ever had was in a small shop in downtown Kona.

We really enjoyed the free Ukulele (OO-KOO-lel-ee) lesson at the small shop in the Sheraton Hotel. Paul did a very good job training and it was really fun. They also have some truly exquisite instruments there to buy. I will have to save my pennies.

We were walking down Kalakaua Avenue which is the main drag on Waikiki and we stumbled upon the Farmer’s Market at the Hyatt Hotel. Yummy produce and every imaginable Hawaiian specialty.

Macadamia Nuts right from the farm.

Big lines for hot food like Kalua Pig.

Fresh whole or chopped fruit right from the farms. Beautiful pineapple, papaya and bananas.

Rambutans and Lychees.

Fresh Mangosteen!! wow I bought 1 to try and it was sweet and delicious. $3 for one but, they say it has miracle properties.

I have to say I had never seen fresh nutmeg before.

Look at the size of this breadfruit. I have never tried it.

We always go to Roy’s for dinner at least once. This one is located right across the street from one of my other favourite hotels The Halekulani Hotel.

Edamame with salt and spices to start.

A delicious carpaccio and salad.

Fish sampler and rice. Makes me think of the fish song by the Andrew’s Sister (if that doesn’t date me!) “I want some seafood Mama!”

Once I discovered this little stand I ate here every morning. I loved everything I tried. I had a Mana Green bowl, Acai Traditional bowl, Pitaya bowl and they were all so so good and the line was always 20  people deep.

This was the Acai (A-sai- ee) Extravaganza bowl (OMG!! so good!)

A Pitaya smoothie (pitaya is dragonfruit) look at that colour! and a Dr Green smoothie so healthy as well as tasty.

This picture isn’t that clear but this Pitaya bowl is the most incredible pink you have ever seen. I had the Super Green smoothie with kale, spinach, mint, apple, lemon, banana, spirulina and apple juice! The little bottle is a Supergreen, ginger, chia drink.

A great Truffle burger and garlic fries at Rum Fire in the Sheraton Hotel. I do love a good burger.

Not a bad view from your table either! We even saw some green sea turtles.

 and a walk back to the hotel.

A happy Aloha Friday with a big fat full moon and a grand fireworks display. The fireworks happen at sunset every Friday night at the Hilton and a huge gathers on the beach to see it.

On Friday’s and Saturday’s you simple must make a point to stop into the very beautiful Halekulani Hotel and go for a tasty cocktail at the House without a Key to see the former Miss Hawaii Kanoe (Kan-O-ee) Miller. She is there from 5:30 – 8pm and is such a pleasure to watch. I love the traditional Hawaiian music played on the outdoor patio under the beautiful tree with the waves crashing along the shore! HEAVENLY.

Plan a visit to Hawaii it never disappoints!

 

Hawaii – Waikoloa – The Big Island

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Hawaii. I have been several times but there is always something new to see, discover and taste. For the the first week we stayed on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort near Kona. Hawaii is the youngest and largest of the island chain. They have one of the most active volcanoes in the world and many black, white and even green sand beaches. I love the Big Island because there are some amazing things being grown and artisanal foods being created here. I have been to a Vanilla PlantationCoffee farmsCocoa farms and each year someone is introducing something new.

It is always fun to look around food markets in any city and this little market was just a short walk from the hotel.

Make sure you get 100% Alaea salt when you are there.

I collect a few things: olive oils, vinegars and salt from all over the world. When you are in Hawaii buy some REAL 100% Alaea salt sometimes called Hawaiian salt. It is an unrefined sea salt mixed with red alaea volcanic clay which is rich in iron oxide. It is expensive and difficult to find unless you are in Hawaii but, it is a lovely salt with the benefits of containing many minerals.

Look at that Black Lava salt.

Kona coffee is grown in this area and is considered one of the best. The small area that grows this delicious coffee is ideal because they have sunny mornings and cool or rainy afternoons, mild nights and mineral rich soil. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world (1lb was $39.99 US$) but, it makes a great gift to be enjoyed when you get back home and you simply have to try it.

At the local market I found some papayas which are a smaller variety and the avocado which is giant in comparison. I learned to love papaya with fresh lime juice squeezed over it here on my last visit and now that is the only way I like it. Try it!

They love the cookie on all the islands and you can find these shortbread cookies in stores and there are many cookie shops that have many varieties.

A look in the fresh fish case shows a variety of POKE (pronounced POH-keh) is a raw fish salad, often made with Ahi. I think I ate it everyday at every restaurant we went to. Love it!!!

Honestly, they will put Hello Kitty on anything!

We ate at every restaurant at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort. These are some of the ones we loved. I liked the Kamuela Provision Company the best and I am sorry I didn’t take any pictures of our fantastic sunset dinner but, it was our anniversary and I was just enjoying the company of Big Pete in this most beautiful setting right next to the ocean.

The little ice cream shop near the lagoon was a nice place to stop by in the afternoon. They served some local made ice creams that were exceptional.

chocolate coconut macadamia nut

Kona coffee toffee – yum!

I also had the coconut strawberry swirl on another day which was pretty nice.

I loved the Nutty Hawaiian Latte (hot or iced is great!) from Waikoloa Coffee – how pretty!!

I became addicted to the Acai berry bowl for breakfast. It is like a smoothie with granola and bananas mixed in.

Kirin is the Hilton’s Chinese restaurant and there was such an extensive menu to choose from but everything was quick, perfectly prepared and delicious.

An icy cold beer is perfect with fried foods.

crispy spring rolls

pork pot stickers

General Tsao’s chicken, beef tenderloin with green pepper, spinach and garlic and sticky rice.

and a beautiful view!

We had a lovely lunch at Merriman’s a short walk from the hotel. I had been to a Merriman’s on another visit to Kauai and also liked it.

An Arnold Palmer (lemonade and iced tea) and a Lilikoi iced tea (lilikoi is passionfruit)

fresh fish tacos

A Greek salad

Caprese salad

Fantastic fresh fish and chips with these great spicy Tuscan fries.

A beautiful resort in one of the most spectacular places on earth!! This 62 acre resort has something for everyone to enjoy.

Every day ends with a full stomach and a beautiful sunset.

Next….Waikiki beach on Oahu!!

Florence and Villa Campestri in the hills of Tuscany

What can I possibly say about Florence that a million other

people haven’t said before me.

You must come to experience this most beautiful and iconic city. Do all the touristy things like climb to the top of the Duomo and experience the spectacular views, go see the treasures held in the Uffici and then drive out to the hills of Tuscany to experience the contrast. We loved the chaos and magic of the city each day and then drove 45 minutes out of town each evening to stay in the hills of Mugello at the Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort. If you don’t know by now I am passionately in love with exceptional extra virgin olive oil and I had wanted to visit Villa Campestri for the last year.

It truly was the best of both worlds.

Set in the hills of Mugello just outside of Florence The Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort is a beautiful villa built around an 800 year old fort. It is peacefully set among the olive groves with beautiful vistas in every direction.

We went to see the Palazzo Vecchio which is the town hall in the Piazza della Signoria. The walls have magnificent frescos that depict the battles and victories of Florence over Siena and Pisa.

I took this picture through a gun turret on the tower.

It is worth the climb up to the top of the tower to see the view of the city including the Duomo.

Set on the Arno River the Ponte Vecchio (which means Old Bridge) is now mostly jewelry stores.

Time for an espresso and a tiny cannoli near the Ponte Vecchio at The O Cafe.

The Duomo is free to go into the chapel however, you need tickets to climb to the top and also to visit the Baptistry across the road. The best thing you can do is to buy a Firenze card online before you come to Florence. It is a card that lets you into all museums and buildings, plus gives you free transit for 3 days. You will go straight to the front of the HUGE lines!! These lines typically have hundreds of people waiting so do yourself a favour and buy that card! My neice Stephanie gave me that good advice!

The Baptistry across the road from the Duomo.

Make a point to have gelato. I had one everyday! If you climb all the places with all those steps you won’t gain weight either! Find places that make their own Artisanal/homemade gelato like this pretty shop called La Strega Nocciola. They made beautiful gelato I had Tangerine and Strawberry….YUMMY!!!

This is one of several Enoteca Salumeria Lombardi locations. Wow what a store! Prosciutto, cheeses and everything else a girl like me would want!

This is their selection of balsamic vinegars…some of them are hundreds of Euros for a tiny bottle.

Olive oil.

Migone sellls beautiful Florentine desserts.

Gilli was the perfect place for a glorious afternoon of people watching and eating.

Look how pretty that lasagna bolognese is!

Always time for a macchiato and a cantucci cookie

I love all the Pinocchios.

Just a pretty display in front of a clothing shop on this fine Spring day.

This is my friend Anicio’s kind of store. A store full of espresso makers.

It is worth the grulling, claustrophobic climb to the top of the Duomo for the sensational view of the city.

Each day after walking in the bustling, crazy, busy city of Florence I was so happy to return to this pretty hotel. The Pasquali family runs it with passion and warmth and they make you feel so welcome.

Even the walk from the parking lot is divine!

I felt like Elizabeth Bennet when I opened my window each morning (of course I would be Elizabeth Bennet she gets Mr. Darcy!!)

Coffee and homemade cantucci cookies and breakfast were so nice on the back patio.

They sell some really beautiful items in their lobby.

Look at my breakfast including their own olive oil.

Giant pots of lemons and oranges in the main courtyard.

This is their frantoia (Olive mill) where they press and blend their beautiful Cosimo extra virgin olive oil. If you can’t get to the resort they do ship worldwide.

This is the building we stayed in.

A pool with a killer view of the Mugello Valley

Tins of their Villa Campestri Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is buttery and gorgeous.

They make their own honey too.

Everything is developed to help people try and experience olive oil, their own and two others. This is a case of their tasting trays and spoons.

The restaurant has two olive oil focused menus the help people see how to balance and pair food with the exceptional olive oils.

Such a nice dining room and the staff are so nice and very helpful.

This was a magnificent cheese plate paired with glorious combinations of cheeses, oils and TRUFFLES!! I was truly in heaven. (I LOVE truffles!!)

Pinzimonio is a great thing to try at home with some different super premium oils. You really can taste the different oils and see which ones you like with which vegetables.

A tiny perfect mouthful of Robiola cheese and a drizzle of gorgeous olive oil.

Bolognese is super concentrated sauce with very little tomato and very strong meaty flavour. So delicious!

Warm chocolate lava cakes with olive oil…you would be amazed!

Paolo Pasquali is passionate about his farm, his commitment to producing exceptional extra virgin olive oil and helping get others to see how glorious these good products are.

Paolo has created his OliveToLive system for storing three different olive oils at the perfect temperature, sealed from light and oxygen to keep them at their optimum freshness. He has partnered with many Michelin star restaurateurs providing these machines to restaurants that want the very best for their customers.

When you try the three oils their beauty is clearly displayed in his tasting glasses. You hold the glass in the palm of your hand and swirl it around to warm it with your body heat, breathe the aromas, then taste the differences. You will absolutely taste the differences!

They also make a great house wine. We tasted a few bottles just to make sure.

My friend Wesley who was in my class at Olive Oil school in Imperia allowed me to join his cooking class where we made typical Tuscan sauces/toppings. We made 2 kinds of pesto, bolognese sauce, a sausage and porcini sauce, a Tuscan pate and a fresh bruschetta. We were so full that evening we thought we would explode.

The Spanish Piqual oil was the perfect oil to pair with my carpaccio.

The buttery Villa Campestri Oil was perfect with the peppermint pesto and the buttery pine nuts (crazy! I would never have thought of making pesto with peppermint! but it was so good.)

A potato stuffed ravioli with bolognese.

A slow braised beef stew with polenta triangles and potatoes.

Just a perfect mouthful of olive oil infused chantilly cream and a single chocolate dipped corn flake. WOW!! I honestly never had a bad meal at Villa Campestri.

You know you wan to come here.

Climbing the steps to the Belvedere…just working off my fantastic dinner from last night.

What a view…what a city! I will be back!!


Genoa, Italy and a bit of the Cinque Terra

Genoa and Vernazza

After we left Imperia we headed out on our journey towards Florence on the A10 (or as my husband called it the IA10 – for Italian Autobahn 10) with a quick stop in Genoa and then and once we left Genoa we only had time to stop at one of the five towns which make up the Cinque Terra (Five Lands).

As always there are magical things to discover in Italy and lots of delicious things to EAT!

Genoa is the capital of Liguria and the 6th largest city in Italy. It is a major economic center and because of it’s location on the water the large port is a place that many cruises depart from and has many shipyards. It is also the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

Since we were just there for one night we decided to walk along the water from our hotel. Just past the Genova Piazza Railway Station we happen to walk past a large open door to a beautiful garden.

I can imagine this would be gorgeous on a sunny afternoon. A bit of calm in the middle of a busy city.

There were big pots of flowering lemons and oranges everywhere. The blossoms scenting the air with their fragrant blooms.

After a 10 minute break we travelled on towards the waters edge.

It’s like the IKEA of food stores. My friend Brenda told me to go there and I am so glad we did. It is a beautiful store of fresh foods to take home or you can buy all the ingredients and they will prepare anything you want to take home or you can dine in. They have counters for pasta, pizza, meat, fish, desserts and of course an amazing coffee bar.

Let’s walk through the store.

WOW! even the packages of thinly sliced meats look pretty.

Beautiful produce: purple and white asparagus are in season and look at the purple artichokes.

A gorgeous selection of salumi.

A huge case of pestos…well, this is where pesto is from.

Gorgeous cheeses.

Isn’t that just the nicest looking bottle of yogurt!

Typical pasta from the region and boy do they have a selection.

 They have egg pastas, regular pastas, vegetable coloured and gluten free.

Nice big hunks of Parmessano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.

Burrata and buffalo mozzarella.

A nice selection of wines. There are lots of prosecco and champagnes I would be happy to sample!

chocolate

Torrone also known as nougat.

Preserved fruits.

All kinds of different flours.

This is their selection of olive oils and there are some pretty great ones on the shelf.

A Master at work. I asked Niko what he eats at home, he said everything except pizza!

The pizza Margarita was great and they always top it with a nice fresh drizzle of olive oil at the end. How can this ever be bad? tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, a bit of basil and oil.

I also had some pretty nice olive oil with bread, this is a oil made from Taggiasca olives which are a typical variety of olive grown in Liguria.

I had the tropfie pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans. YUM.

This is farinata which is a typical specialty of Genoa. It is a chickpea pancake and was delicious!

Made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt.

While we were eating Erin and her husband Morris walked by. Erin and I were both in the same class in Imperia together. What are the chances I would meet someone I knew in Genoa??!! This is a beautiful selection of seafood Erin started and Morris finished.

Wow! This is a McCafe (Yes, McDonald’s!) I had to stop to take a picture when we were walking by. I couldn’t believe this was a McDonalds.

The drive to the Cinque Terra has so many places you simply must stop the car to take a picture. I wish we could have stopped in every town.

 We stopped in Vernazza.

Such a pretty little town however, the best to get here is by train. We drove so we had to park far away, up on the hill and hike down into town.

Lemons grown in Vernazza.

We stopped at Batti Batti Focacceria for a quick lunch while in Vernazza, the food was simple but excellent and we were on our way!

so many choices and such a pretty little shop.

Terraced gardens show that every little bit of land can be used to grown something.

Such a pretty drive along the winding streets with the other towns visible in the distance.

On our way to Tuscany next.

 

Imperia Italy and Olive Oil School at O.N.A.O.O

I just came back from Imperia Oneglia, Italy and it’s close neighbor Porto Maurizio. Imperia is located on the Italian Riviera close to the border of France near Nice. It is a coastal town in the region of Liguria. I went there to attend a course at O.N.A.O.O. which is the National Organization for Olive Oil Tasters. It is the first worldwide school of Olive Oil Tasters and people come from all over the world to learn about olive oil.

The pretty town of Porto Maurizio is a lovely 30 minute walk from Imperia and on a sunny day it is glorious! There are rows and rows of sailboats and yachts as far as the eye can see.

Imperia Oneglia is also a pretty little town and the location of my course.

This is a glorious old olive tree located at the waterfront. Olive trees are truly incredible because they can live and produce fruit for thousands of years. This ancient beauty could possibly be close to a thousand years old.

Our class consisted of people from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, United States, Greece, France, Lithuania and surprisingly three people from Canada.

We had many interesting lectures with a variety of experts and spent lots of time tasting great olive oil and also quite a bit of time tasting olive oils that had a variety of defects.

This was the class favorite worst oil!! Actually it is so bad it is not fit for human consumption (lampante oil). You could smell how bad it was from 5 feet away! Oils that have defects cannot be considered extra virgin oils and typically get refined by solvents to strip away all the bad smells and tastes and then they get mixed with a small amount of virgin or sometimes extra virgin oils and then they able to be bottled for human consumption….ever wonder why some olive oils sell for $3.99 a bottle???

We went on a road trip to a frantoia (olive mill) and we were lucky to see and taste a very, very late pressing of oil.

We tasted and rated lots of oils from all over the world. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is produced from hundreds of different cultivars of olives and can be blended to create fantastic bottles of oils. When you buy super extra virgin olive oil think of it like you are spending money on a good bottle of wine…except it lasts longer and can be enjoyed for more meals than a single bottle of wine. Check for a harvest date and use it right away. Olive oil is unlike wine as it does not get better as it ages, so use it lavishly!!

lots of test oils to sample.

This is a typical tasting station.

This is the standard blue tasting glass. It is covered and warmed in your hand, then smelled and then tasted. In the end we had to do several smelling and tasting trials in order to be certified. It was difficult to do and no one left feeling confident that they passed. It is a very complex product and to become a proficient taster you must continue to taste lots of different oils. Too bad I guess I will just have to continue buying and cooking with this wonderful product!! I am happy to say that a week later I found out that I passed my test and am certified although I feel I have so much more to learn and discover!

Now on to the food!! What did I love to eat??

Look at that coffee machine! Even the gas stations have the million dollar machines. Now that is my kid of place to live.

Picardo is a beautiful old store that sells pastries, lunches and of course you must stop for an afternoon espresso. By the way, cappuccino is typically had for breakfast only. You must have an Italian coffee in the afternoon. I had this one with a nice little meringue and pine nut tart.

Il Melograno (which means the pomegranate) was a favorite pizza and pasta place right at the water in Imperia. We kept going back because the food and wine was so good.

This was their Speciale pizza. Prosciutto (the best, saltiest yummiest prosciutto.) onions and artichokes.

This was pear, brie and pecorino (no tomato sauce) Very good!

This was a ravioli with sage,chicken and ricotta (they called it “light meat”)

We went to this cute little restaurant and wine bar on the waterfront called Gusto many days for lunch and a cocktail or two after class. My new friend Liana introduced me to Franciacorta which is Italy’s finest sparkling wine in the style of Champagne. We consumed more than a few bottles of this wine.

This area is famous for pesto and Gusto made a fantastic pesto lasagna

and a very nice artichoke risotto.

We enjoyed a magnificent dinner at Salvo Ristorante Cacciatori right next to our hotel.

This is a restaurant that was opened by the grandfather of the current owners. They have been here since 1905 and the food and service is exceptional.

This is a typical dish of the area. The pasta is called Trofie and it is served with pesto, potatoes and green beans.

This was a beautiful fish with asparagus.

For dessert a coffee panna cotta with pistachio sauce and crumbles of meringue. Heaven!

Finally, I must mention this beautiful Gelato store on the way to my hotel. I had to stop by from time to time. Crema di Gelato was filled with the prettiest selection of wonderful icy treats.

So hard to pick just one.

Look at those cute little chocolate dipped ice cream sandwiches on the right.

I had the mint and chocolate this day but, I had a great candied chestnut gelato on another occasion that was also very very good!

Oh, and I can’t forget this excellent food and Olive Oil store located next to the Olive Oil Museum in Imperia. Carli is a very large olive oil producer in the area and this store sells EVERYTHING!

A quick bite to eat.

Sun dried tomatoes or some stuffed peppers.

Pesto, of course! This is Liguria.

Amazing gift boxes with a variety of oils and food products.

Come visit!

Next….I stop in Genoa.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver is a beautiful city and on a sunny day it is truly spectacular. Located in British Columbia, Canada on the west coast, right at the Pacific Ocean. Last week felt like Spring which was a welcome sight since it was minus 33 degrees C when I left home in Alberta. I spent days literally walking all over the city.  There are many places worth mentioning and discovering if you should plan a visit.

Giovane Cafe and Winebar makes a perfect first stop. Located in the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel right at the water’s edge in Coal Harbour. They have a great selection of pastries, breakfast items and excellent coffee for a quick meal.

I had a tasty breakfast panini, fruit and coffee.

They have an excellent selection of extra virgin olive oils and pastas and they have friendly, helpful people that are always willing to help you choose one to your liking. They will even let you taste them!

This is small section of their oils from the South and Central parts of Italy.

 

Giovanni and I were discussing our favourite oils from Sicily. He thought they were all the best since he is Sicilian but, he likes the Teraliva the best and I love the Mandranova Nocellara but, you can’t go wrong with any of them since they are all exceptional.

great vinegar, gorgeous balsamics and truffles

excellent cheeses that just came in from Italy.

Edible Canada at the Market is located at Granville Market on Granville Island. This store is located across the street from the market and has a little store in the front with a restaurant behind.

Okanagan Vinegar produces some fantastic vinegars and I always buy some when I am there. They have the best iced cider vinegar I have ever bought and their sherry and merlot vinegars are also outstanding…but you simply must try the iced cider apple vinegar, it is crazy good.

I tried some Noble bourbon maple syrup, really really delicious. I could just image it on pancakes or with a crispy slice of bacon dipped in it.

they sold Koko Monk chocolates that were filled with truly unique fillings like Blue Cheese or figs dipped in chocolate.

Granville market is worth seeking out.

gorgeous fruit piled high.

beautiful pastries, desserts and breads from Stuart’s

fantastic selection of vegetables for any cuisine you are cooking tonight.

fresh flowers are always a good idea.

ChocolaTas has the freshest, yummiest Belgian chocolates at Granville.

Oyama Sausage company makes the best charcuterie. They have wonderful salamis and saucisson with wine and cognac and lavender etc….

you can get lots of choices in fresh pasta and olives

Benton Brothers has an exceptional selection of some very fine cheeses. They are very willing to help you choose one you will like.

I can’t forget the phenomenal selection of fish and seafood since we are on the pacific ocean.

Have you ever tried salmon candy?? It is smoked and sweet and addictive.

I love the maple glazed salmon and it makes a perfect snack.

outside the Granville Market is a little store that hand makes brooms and this was the ultimate Canadian since the broom handle is a hockey stick.

A short trip across the Granville bridge and you can go to another gourmet store that sells excellent oils, pastas, fresh charcuterie and flowers. Lusso Verde is bright and pretty with friendly staff.

Thierry is a beautiful little pastry shop on Alberni St. where you can stop in for a piece of heaven and a great coffee or take home something wonderful.

They have so many good things but they are known for their spectacular macarons and chocolates. I bought a box with some of each of today’s selection: maple pecan, lime, vanilla and salted caramel.

Whole Foods on Robson is my kind of place for a fresh breakfast. I always get the ABC plus Kale. That is a Apple, Beet, Carrot and Kale juice and mixed fruits.

We had a wonderful dinner at Joe Forte’s. It was my first time at this landmark restaurant.

Sorry the pictures are bad but, it was very dark. The beef carpaccio with crunchy bites of flaked salt and a mustard sauce was soooooooo yummy.

I had my first oyster! Surprisingly good but, I have to say I don’t see the point of the calories if you don’t actually eat the thing and just slide it down your throat but, I can say I have tried it.

tempura crab

buttery sable fish.

a gorgeous tuna steak

Jinja Ramen on Robson.

Spicy chicken ramen was awsome.

You have never seen a prettier nut shop than Ayoub’s on Denman. They fresh roast daily and have a sensational selection of things to buy there or online. They will ship anywhere. I bought some fresh pistachios and the mixed nuts with lime and chili spice. Outstanding!

so

I love to eat but, I have also learned to love to walk it off. On this day I walked around the seawall that surrounds lovely Stanley Park and walking 8.5km helps.

Come visit Vancouver you will be glad you did.