Posts Tagged ‘books’

Books to Whet Your Travel Appetite

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

I wish I could travel every month, but that’s not realistic. So to transport myself to a foreign land, I read books. Books can relate the author’s experiences climbing Mt. Everest, watching the Medoc marathon, or farming. As you might expect in these travel stories, there is usually also a focus on food. Here are a few of my favorite books:

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a fascinating story about climbing Mt. Everest. Obviously it is an experience few of us will accomplish personally, but you will gain an appreciation of the difficulty of this feat while getting a glimpse of this natural beauty. After reading this book, who wants to climb Mt. Everest?

Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno is yet another book on life in Tuscany, but it is different than the Frances Mayes style. Dario grew up in Tuscany and gives tours to Americans and other foreigners. These tours focus on historical tours around Siena combined with winery visits and great lunches. We are treated to an interesting mix of Tuscan history interlaced with a hilarious recap of many of the tours, as well as the characters that were his clients.

On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis provides a fascinating window into life in Northern France. Although it contains the common theme of rebuilding a home in a foreign land, it provides a beautiful description of the people, culture, and food of the region.

French Lessons by Peter Mayle is another book about France, but very different. Each chapter, broken down into the months of the year, focuses on a different food festival. The marathon in Medoc is one of these chapters, and this is not your typical marathon…it is a party. Runners drink wine and eat oysters during the race, and most dress in costumes similar to those worn on Halloween.

Dirt Under my Nails by Marilee Foster describes life in Sagaponak. Although this area is better known as one of the chic areas in “the Hamptons”, her perspective is as a farmer. Having experienced first hand the obnoxious wall streeter racing his Ferrari through this town, Marilee almost turns back time with a beautiful description of the natural landscape.

Worth Seeking Out…

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005
  • Two Roman cookbooks that will help you recreate your favorite Roman dishes are: Cooking the Roman Way by David Downie and In a Roman Kitchen by Jo Bettoja.
  • A mixed case of wine is a great way to find some new house wines for the coming year. Ask your favorite retailer for 12 different wines in your desired price range. If your retailer does not know the types of wines you like, then find a new retailer.
  • It is hard to find fresh fruit in N.Y.C. this time of year, but I have found the boxes of clementines to be juicy and delicious.
  • Grape seed oil is an excellent choice for those dishes where a subtle oil taste is preferred. For example, coleslaw recipes often call for vegetable oil, and although more expensive, I find grape seed oil to be a better choice.

Worth seeking out…

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003
  • DuFour frozen appetizers are an excellent and easy way to entertain, and the Mushroom Truffle Risotto are bite size and extremely tasty. Available in the freezer section of better supermarkets.
  • Since Jacques Torres left Le Cirque, he has opened a chocolate factory in Brooklyn. One item is an absolute must, his tin of Hot Chocolate. Available online at
  • Rizzoli just started publishing travel guides; and their first book features the city Florence. This guide goes deeper than the typical top 10 sites by highlighting many hidden jewels. Books on Rome & Venice will be published shortly. Available at most bookstores.

Il Borghetto

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

Frances Mayes heightened everyone’s interest in Tuscany with her book “Under the Tuscan Sun”. She eloquently described the beauty of the rolling countryside, but more importantly, she illustrated how the local people make Tuscany the special place it is. Florence and Siena are magnificent Tuscan cities, but to truly experience all Tuscany has to offer, I suggest staying in the countryside. Il Borghetto is a tiny gem located 20 minutes south of Florence, in the town of San Casciano Val di Pesa, in the northern Chianti region.

Il Borghetto is a charming country inn perched on a hill overlooking rolling hills of vineyards and cypress trees. This 74 acre estate dates back to the 15th century, however a massive renovation has transformed the property into a tranquil oasis. The stone buildings are painted in a typical ochre color with terracotta roofs. The rooms are all tastefully decorated with local antiques and fine linens. There are 3 double rooms, and 6 suites of varying sizes with spacious sitting rooms and kitchens. The property is lined with vineyards, olive groves, vegetable gardens and a magnificent pool.

While strolling the grounds, passing pomegranate trees and reflecting pools, I came across an Etruscian tomb dating back to 650 BC. Every step through these hills is a journey through history.

Outside the main building is a stone terrace with majestic views of the Tuscan countryside. A full breakfast is served here. Lunch and dinner are typically not served because guests are usually off exploring, but the kitchen can accommodate requests. We had the pleasure of eating a magnificent meal here that included stuffed zucchini flowers that were exquisite and a delicious lasagna. Il Borghetto also offers cooking classes, so you too can learn how to master Tuscan cuisine.

Il Borghetto is not just a country inn, but also a farm. The property includes 15 acres of vineyards growing Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese. They harvested their first vintage of Merlot this year. Rows of olive trees cover the grounds, a total of 25 acres. Three types of olives are grown: Pendolino, Leccino, and Frantoiano; and they are blended to produce a first rate extra virgin olive oil. Ask the kitchen for a taste.

Exploring the countryside is part of the joy of Tuscany. There are dozens of hill towns to visit, each with something special to offer. Cortona, Montepulciano, Pienza and San Gimignano are just a few.

But let’s not forget about the wine. Tuscany is one of the great wine regions of the world. Brunello di Montalcino is perhaps the most prestigious wine of the region, while Chianti is the wine most often associated with Tuscany. There’s also a new kid on the block, the Super Tuscan, that incorporates different grapes and new production techniques that have captured the world’s attention. Antinori, one of the premier wine producers, has been very successful with Super Tuscans. Tignanello, one of it’s best, is harvested just 5 minutes from Il Borghetto. So get out your calendar and book a trip to eat, drink and explore.