Aglio e Scalogno

Aglio e Scalogno
Aglio e Scalogno: Garlic and Shallots at the Christmas Market in Florence

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You must visit B&B Giglio Bianco in Florence !

Here are some photos from our stay at B&B Giglio Bianco in Florence. This "home away from home" is located in the Oltrarno district, about a 10-minute's walk south of the Ponte Vecchio. Each night as we walked back to the B&B, we felt that we were leaving the madness and chaos of Florence behind us (wonderful though it can be) and that we were coming "home" for the evening.

Varinia and Edoardo were excellent and caring hosts. They offered us a cell phone to use while we were in Florence; our bed was very comfortable and the room adorable; Edoardo gave us a lovely bottle of wine to enjoy in our room upon our arrival; and the breakfasts were beautifully-presented, and we were offered anything we wanted.

We also enjoyed two of Varinia's "special dinners," one of which followed a cooking class that Varinia taught just to me! Varinia and I made two luscious types of pasta (pumpkin ravioli and tagliatelle with vegetables), talking and laughing and drinking wine in her cute, intimate cucina.
Check out the pictures of some of the courses below!

There are hundreds of places to stay in a city as large as Florence, but I am thrilled that I chose B&B Giglio Bianco. It was not a long walk to the hustle and bustle (and there are tons of cute shops along the way, plus the best pizzeria in all of Florence!), but this B&B offered a quiet, comfortable and safe refuge from the crowds and craziness that you find in the center of the city. We got a wonderful night's sleep each night, delicious and healthy (and mostly organic!) meals, and two new friends in Varinia and Edoardo. Visit to see more pictures and book your stay or your cooking class with Varinia and Edoardo!

I miss you, Varinia and Edoardo !

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Magellan's Vinni Bag

The Vinni Bag from Magellan's ( worked like a charm on my most recent trip in Italy. I used the Vinni Bag to transport a very special bottle, because once I inflated it, I could tell how well-made a product it was and how securely it protected the bottle inside. When fully-inflated (which is soooo easy to do!!), it is very plump and firm. I used it while in Italy to transport my favorite bottle from town to town and then placed it in my checked luggage for the trip home. My suitcase was international carry-on size, so there was not a lot of extra padding around the VinniBag, yet it still protected my purchase perfectly. Now I can enjoy my special Italian treasure! I highly recommend this product and look forward to using it again and again on future trips abroad! Thanks, Magellan's, for offering this unique, useful, and high-quality product.

Here I am holding my inflated Vinni Bag in my room in San Gimignano, Tuscany.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mi manca il bel paese

Back from 12 memorable and exciting days in the Bel Paese. Listening to Elisa and drinking a Sangiovese, but it's not the same. The streets outside here are not narrow, not historic, not cobblestoned... They are wide and new and devoid of the special spirit that touches my soul when I walk through an Italian town.... any Italian town.......

I think the only cure for the sadness and hollowness that I feel is to start planning my next trip to Italy. I'm sure in the coming days and weeks, I'll embrace the joys that the mountains here do provide - the playful snowshoes with my dog Drew, the sun-kissed sparkles in the air as I cross-country ski across fresh-fallen snow, and the dreams of springtime with its promise of emerging sprouts of garlic and tulips. But tonight I'm feeling nostalgic and a bit empty....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Leavin..... On a Jet Plane

Headed to the Bel Paese domani (tomorrow). Non vedo l'ora! I can't wait!

3 nights in Lucca, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in San Gimignano, 2 nights in Orvieto, and 1 in Rome. Cooking class in Florence, wine tour of the Chianti region, 2 hour stop-over in Montalcino - oh my GOSH, I can't wait.

I will try to update this blog while I'm there and let you know about the B&Bs and hotels I've chosen, and about all the fun Christmas festivities. I was reading the Lucca newspaper on-line last night, and they are setting up an ice-skating rink in the main piazza. The Christmas shopping season is well-underway in Lucca, and everywhere else, I'm sure.

I hope all my friends and blog readers have a safe and happy first half of December. Feel free to post to this blog and share your tips and insights! Happy Holidays!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Magellan's new Vinni Bag for wine transport

Here is another product I'm taking with me to Italy to product-test - the Vinni Bag from Magellan's. According to the Magellan's website, the Vinni Bag is "an air cushioned ride for your prized vintage. More secure than bubble wrap, the inflatable (and reusable) Vinni Bag seals fine wine, spirits, or other fragile or large items in an air-filled chamber, protecting it from the rigors of travel. Made of PVC, it inflates with just a couple of breaths, safely securing the bottle inside, and has a clear panel on the front for easy inspection by airport security. " I look forward to trying out this made-in-the-USA product! Check back to see for my review of this product.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Meals on the Go in Italy, Part II

Here is the mug. The handles fold down for easy packing (and you can stuff socks or other things inside the mug, too). I already know that wine tastes fine out of titanium :-)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meals on the Go in Italy

Here is the Rick Steves picnic set of utensils - 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 knives, and a corkscrew - all carry-on compliant. I intend to use this set to have some picnic lunches and some quiet dinners in my room while traveling in Italy this December. This set is available at I'll let you know how it works.

I'm also going to bring my Snow Peak titanium mug that I use for backpacking. Should be great for wine. Here is the link:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sea to Summit TSA compliant Pocket Soaps

Sea to Summit has come up with a very clever solution to the new 3-oz rule, where all your carry-on liquids have to fit in a quart-sized zip-lock baggy and be in containers 3 oz. or smaller. They have developed little containers of dry soaps - hand soap, laundry soap, conditioning shampoo, shaving soap, and body wash. The soap is in the form of 50 separate "leaves" in each "pocket," so you can use them as you need them. They are also phospate-free and paraben-free and biodegradable.

I'm going to try the laundry soap, hand soap, and conditioning shampoo on my December 2009 Italy adventure, and I'll let you know how well they work for me. Here is the link, though they are also available at REI and other retailers:

I'm also going to use the Rick Steves travel clothesline to line-dry my laundry: This item can be ordered directly through or you can find it at most specialty travel stores.

I'm getting so excited! I leave Dec. 2 and arrive in Florence on Dec. 3. I have 3 nights in Lucca, 3 nights in Florence, 2 in San Gimignano, 2 in Orvieto, and 1 in Rome. On the agenda: sightseeing, wine tastings, a private cooking class, a private Chianti tour, Orvieto Underground tour, and some holiday shopping, not to mention the consumption of lots of great food and wine. I'm going to try to update this blog while I'm over there, so keep an eye out for that!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Check out the new La Contadina website!

Giuliana, the founder/owner of La Contadina Travel and Tours, has just launched her newly-updated website, It contains more itineraries, more photos, and updated/revised information all in a user-friendly webpage format. We hope you like the new site!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day by Day, "My Private Italy" tour itinerary

Day 0 - 1
Depart US/Fly overnight to Italy. Tour begins at Pisa airport, so you may fly either directly into Pisa, or fly to Rome and connect to Pisa by air or by train. At the Pisa airport, you will be met by "La Contadina" tour guide Marybeth (“Bettina” while in Italy) and by filmmaker Steve McCurdy. We will embark on our first adventure right from here by visiting the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa in the Piazza dei Miracoli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.* From here, we will transfer to Lucca (greater Lucca area pop. 86,000; pop. within medieval walls 8,000) and our centrally-located, 4-star hotel. Time to settle in, stroll in the heart of this proud Etruscan city and enjoy a welcome dinner at one of Lucca’s finest restaurants. A mini language lesson for those interested.

Day 2
Breakfast and a quick morning stroll atop the ramparts to get our blood flowing before our drive to the ocean to visit the Cinque Terre, a string of 5 isolated, rugged villages clinging to the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. Let Steve show you some of his favorite spots he filmed for “My Private Italy,” as we search together for the best pesto, the most flavorful wine, lemon-flavored honey, local olive oil, and locally-made handicrafts in this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Park*. This is a day to admire the colorful architecture, breathe deeply of the sea air, and get some exercise as we climb and descend the often-steep and always-quaint village streets. Enjoy a little wine education courtesy of Bettina during dinner together on the coast before we return to our peaceful retreat in Lucca.

Day 3
Breakfast together and then off to Florence for the day! One could spend a whole week in Florence, or perhaps a lifetime, taking in the wonders of this world-famous city. It is not our intention to show you all of Florence but rather to expose you to the grandeur and magnificence of this cultural mecca, visiting some top spots along the way (incl. the Ponte Vecchio), to show you some hidden gems (good places to shop for leather, fun local trattoria for lunch together, best gelateria, etc.), and of course, to pose with the replica of Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza della Signoria. Dinner on your own tonight in Florence (we will happily make recommendations), and then we return to Lucca to pack our bags!

Day 4
This morning is our last breakfast in Lucca. We are going to get an early start so we can enjoy our drive through Tuscany and have time for a brief exploration of “San Gimignano delle belle Torri” (San Gimignano of the beautiful towers, pop. 7100), one of the best-preserved hill towns in all of Tuscany. In fact, San Gimignano has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site* and still has 14 towers remaining from the 11th-13th centuries. We will wander the hilly streets and, for those up to the task, climb the 54-meter high Torre Grossa for an unparalleled view of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Before taking off for Spoleto, Umbria, we will visit a famous gelateria (spring tour) and perhaps try the Crema di Santa Fina (orange cream gelato flavored with vanilla bean pods), or the famous Sorbetto alla Vernaccia, another specialty flavor found only here. You may want to pick up a bottle of local Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a lovely white wine made in this region since the Renaissance. We will then drive to Spoleto (pop. 36,000), check into our lovely centrally-located hotel, and call it a day – a great day!

Day 5
We get to sleep in a bit today! Breakfast at our hotel followed by an orientation to Spoleto and a free morning to do as you wish. You may cross the Ponte delle Torri (the Bridge of the Towers which began as a Roman aqueduct), or you may prefer to check out the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and the Casa Romana (Roman House). There are also plenty of shops in Spoleto selling lovely and affordable hand-painted ceramics, truffle oil, pasta, wine, and other souvenirs and gifts. Time for a nap in the early afternoon before we gather for our cooking class! Our renowned local chef will teach you to mix simple ingredients and create sophisticated dishes that will impress your friends and family. After our session in the kitchen we will relax and enjoy our scrumptious meal. We will stroll leisurely back to our hotel and enjoy sogni d’oro tonight (dreams of gold). Printed recipes will be emailed to you following the tour’s conclusion.

Day 6
For our last full day together, we will meet after breakfast for our day trip north to Bevagna (pop. 2,400) and Montefalco (pop. 5,500). These hilltop villages are lined with cobblestone streets and old shops. While in Bevagna we will visit a local winery for a wine tasting. On our way back, we will stop in Montefalco, and from the “Balcony of Umbria,” we will savor the panoramic views of the Umbrian hills and let the scenery gently revive our senses. After snacking on pizza we will shop for a wonderful local wine (Sagrantino di Montefalco or a Rosso di Montefalco) or other treasures. Back to Spoleto for our last dinner together and a night “passeggiata.”

Day 7
Arrivederci everyone! Transfer to Rome Fiumicino Airport and buon viaggio! For those of you extending your stay, you can ask to be transferred into the city from the airport. Thank you for traveling with us!

*UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. To learn more about UNESCO, please visit Briefly (and taken from their website), UNESCO’s mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.” A sub-mission of UNESCO is “to preserve humanity’s irreplaceable riches: its diversity and shared heritage.” To accomplish this, UNESCO catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. In particular, a World Heritage Site is a place of either cultural or physical significance and must be of "outstanding universal value." On our “My Private Italy” tour, we will visit 4 such sites: the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, the Cinque Terre, the historic center of Florence, and San Gimignano.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cinque Terre, here we come!

This is a great view of Riomaggiore, one of the 5 towns that make up the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. UNESCO has proclaimed the area a Natural World Heritage Park.

These 5 towns (Monterosso al Mare {the largest}, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) cling to the cliffs above the Mediterranean, and boast quiet streets (no cars, no traffic), lots of shopping, and great pesto and seafood. We'll visit the Cinque Terre and see how many different pestos we can find, and who can find the best Cinque Terre wine! There are also lots of shops in Riomaggiore that sell olive oil and locally made handicrafts, and the famous "Via dell'Amore," or "Path of Love," is a short hiking trail joining Riomaggiore to the next village to the north, Manarola. You are sure to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this excursion.

Here is a view of Vernazza taken from the hillside above, at dusk. Each village is unique, yet they are all rugged, coastal, and quite isolated.

Pesto Ingredients:
Send your favorite pesto recipes to us at !

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lucca, Tuscany - first stop on our "My Private Italy" tour!

This is a view of the medieval walls and ramparts surrounding the lovely town of Lucca in northwestern Tuscany. Locals and tourists alike stroll atop these walls and even ride their bicycles up there for fabulous views. We stay in Lucca for 3 nights on the "My Private Italy" tour, using it as our home-base for exploring the Cinque Terre, Florence, nearby Tuscan hilltowns, and wineries.

This is the facade of the Church of St. Michael (San Michele) in Lucca, Tuscany. The facade is reminiscent of the Cathedral of St. Martin (San Martino), a short distance away. Both facades feature columns that are all different from each other. Legend has it that the columns are different because, when the cathedral was under construction, the residents of Lucca held a contest to see which artist could make the most beautiful column. They couldn't decide and so used all of them to decorate the cathedral's facade. No matter whether the legend is true or not, both the church and the cathedral are breathtakingly beautiful. Our hotel, which is located at the geographic center of historic Lucca, is within easy walking distance to both these famous sites.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Choosing your squash blossoms for stuffing

This link is a great, short video explaining how to choose which squash blossoms to pick from your plant when you want to make stuffed squash blossoms. Many people don't realize that there are male and female blossoms on each plant, and because the females turn into your squash, you don't want to pick too many of the female blossoms. Watch this video to learn the difference!
And check back for a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms that I learned at a cooking class in Italy! The photo to the left shows me blowing the blossom open to prepare it for stuffing.

PS There is no difference in taste between the male and female blossoms.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Press Release Issued!

Here is our latest press release regarding our "My Private Italy" tour: Andiamo!

My Private Italy tour dates announced!

Our "My Private Italy" tour is scheduled for December 14-20, 2009. There are still spots available, but because we like to keep our tour groups small and intimate, we can't accommodate large numbers of guests. The tour price is 2300 Euro, but our Slow Travel ad offers a 10% discount for tour guests paying their deposit before November 1st. Please read more about this awesome tour in my September blog posting, or go to :

Truffle Trivia, as promised!

OK, here is the truffle trivia, as promised! This information was provided to us in an unforgettable cooking class in Spoleto, Umbria, at Il Tartufo - meaning, "The Truffle."

  • Store white truffles in damp towel, but store black truffles in dry towel.
  • Always use white truffles fresh, never cooked (the heat of the dish will release the flavor), whereas black truffles are made into sauces and salsas - they are never shaved fresh or raw on top of a dish.
  • There are two types of Black truffles - summer and winter varieties.
  • What should you pay for truffles? White truffles cost about 180 Euro/kilo. Summer black truffles cost ~150 Euro/kilo, and winter black truffles can easily cost up to 1500 Euro/kilo !
  • Other differences between summer and winter black truffles:
  • The summer type is the "lesser" type and therefore costs much less; the winter type is called "pregiato," which meach appreciated or prestigious. It is the more precious of the two types of black truffles.
  • Summer black truffles' surface is thick and abrasive/rough with bigger holes, whereas the winter black truffles' surface is smoother with tiny pores.
  • You should clean the surface of black truffles with a little brush to remove the dirt (also makes them weigh less so you pay less!) allowing you to carefully examine the surface. It could save you a lot of money and help you not pay for winter truffles when they're trying to sell you summer truflles (if you happen to encounter an unscrupulous vendor).
  • Summer black truffles are black on the outside but beige on the inside! Winter black truffles are actually black throughout, even a dark purplish black.
  • Black truffles, both summer and winter, have veins running throughout. The summer truffles' veins are larger and fewer, whereas the winter truffles' veins are very thin and narrow.

Now, you are all prepared to shop for truffles! Buon appetito!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Bottle Pocket - Better Than the Wineskin? Maybe!

Check this out! Are you always afraid that your wine or olive oil is going to break in your luggage? I've managed to bring home all sorts of bottled goodies without having them break, but I'm always on the look-out for an easier way. Well, last year, I blogged about the "Wine Skin," (,

. There is now another product on the market: the Bottle Pocket. It looks great for packing home that precious wine or olive oil ! I still might bring my paper wine tubes (similar to the one in this picture, though I get mine at the local "Tuesday Morning" discount store.) I've found that the combination of bubble wrap and the strong paper tubes really works. The Bottle Pocket adds another layer of protection - if the bottle should break, the Bottle Pocket will contain the leak. Hope this helps. Happy Traveling!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Truffle Trivia

Do you know all the differences between white and black truffles? between summer and winter truffles? Do you know how much you should pay for each kind?

Check back in mid-October for a post on "truffle trivia."

The information comes direct to you from the "people in the know," the chefs of "Il Tartufo," which means "The Truffle," a lovely historic restaurant in the heart of Umbria and one of the places where we hold our La Contadina cooking classes. Remember to come back and check out the blog!

pere al vino UPDATE

OK, you have GOT to try this! I made canned pears two ways yesterday - with ruby port wine and with pear brandy. Both ways are intoxicatingly delicious. I wish I had enough to ship a jar to everyone who reads this blog. You only add 1 tbsp. of the liquor to each 8 oz. jar, while the rest is packed with the sliced, lightly-cooked pears and the sugar syrup. Indescribable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

View our latest Press Release:

Announcing the new "My Private Italy" tour! Mid December 2009

Announcing our new “My Private Italy” tour, mid December 2009.

We have developed a new itinerary featuring some of the places highlighted in Steve’s film, “My Private Italy,” and we’ve also included some old favorites from the “Postcards from Italy” tour itinerary. Plus, there are a few surprises included that we just can’t mention ‘til we get there!

We are planning to stay in Lucca, Tuscany for the 1st part of the tour, with day visits to the Cinque Terre (5 villages clinging to the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean, and famous for their pesto and their wine), to Firenze (Florence), a major art and cultural city in Italy, and to Santa Luce, a darling hilltop village. Lucca, founded by the Romans, was later encircled by a series of pink-brick ramparts (construction began in 1544), which are now a favorite place atop which both locals and tourists like to stroll, gazing down into the city and out over the surrounding mountains. It's a lovely place to stay for 4 nights, and you will have some free time to explore Lucca on your own and find some souvenirs and do some Christmas shopping :-)

Santa Luce and the Cinque Terre are featured in Steve's film, "My Private Italy." A copy of this film is available on DVD to those interested in booking the tour. Just send us an email and provide your mailing address.

Starting this tour in Pisa also affords us the opportunity to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa before we head to Lucca - an added bonus not to be underestimated. You can see a picture of me on top of the Leaning Tower on a blog post below. Climbing the marble steps once climbed by Galileo is a very powerful experience.

Then we head to Spoleto, Umbria for the last few nights of our tour. Spoleto is where we have our fabulous cooking class (it is SO much FUN!). Spoleto is a hilltop town in Umbria that boasts fabulous restaurants and a lot of Roman sites (an ancient "teatro," or theater, and the famous "Bridge of the Towers," which began as a Roman aquaduct. That's also where my favorite ceramics shop is located. I plan to buy a few more coffee cups this time - the perfect spot for Christmas gift shopping.

Spoleto, by the way, is featured in another of Steve's films, "Postcards from Italy."

Following our precious time in Spoleto, we transfer to Rome and our tour concludes upon our arrival at the airport, about noontime. Some tour guests like to stay on at the end of the tour and explore more of Rome on their own for a day or two. I always stay myself for a day or two to do some shopping (my favorite bookstore is there!) and exploring. There is still so much to see!

This tour includes a wine tasting, the cooking class, all transportation including airport pick up and drop off, all breakfasts, and either lunch or dinner (more dinners than lunches), and wine with dinner. Tour starts in Pisa and ends in Rome. Let me know what you think! Cost is 2300 Euros, plus airfare (which is about 1/2 the usual cost right now!).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Tours Scheduled!

We are announcing a December 2009 tour as well as a spring 2010 tour to Italia! Dates will be released soon. With these super low airfares, we just can't resist planning some new tours to our favorite destination. Check out for more information in the coming weeks, and also note that the La Contadina website will have a fresh look soon. We are revamping and updating the website to better serve your needs!!

New Venice Film Clip from Steve McCurdy

Please view this recently produced short clip on Venice, Italy, by Steve McCurdy. You'll be buying a plane ticket shortly thereafter!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

pere al vino, and so much more!

Hi everyone,

It's early fall, and it's the season to break out my copy of, "Conservare frutta e verdura," a book in Italian (of course) about preserving your garden's harvest by canning, drying, etc. I stumbled across a "pere al vino" recipe last night, and it's one I've got to try with all the pears that are dropping from my pear tree. Basically, you quarter the pears, core them, soak them in sugary water and lemon juice, then cook them in red wine before canning them. Yum! If they turn out well, I'll let you know and post the "ricette."

I also just received, "The Complete Book of Garlic," a huge volume containing - you guessed it - everything you want to know about growing, harvesting, tasting, and cooking with garlic. I've ordered 4 new kinds to grow next year, including "Italian Purple" and "Lorz Italian." I'll let you know how they taste!

Hope everyone has enjoyed the summer!!
PS Sept 21: I just received my 20'-long fruit tree fruit picker and a cool harvesting bag. I feel like a real orchardist now :-)

Don't Just Dream It - Do It ! Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It !   Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!
L to R: Marybeth, Giuliana (owner/founder) Steve (filmmaker)

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours
Giuliana, on the right, leading a tour in Umbria

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide
Steve taking a self-portrait in Italy

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Italian Club of Salt Lake

If you're in Utah or coming for a visit and are interested in events related to Italian culture, music, or food, check the Italian Club of Salt Lake (ICSL) website for information: .

The ICSL also offers wonderful Italian language classes in a fun and comfortable setting at Raw Bean Cafe', at 611 South West Temple (great access off I-15). I'm the coordinator of the classes as well as a student, and believe me, the classes are great!