Friday, October 31, 2008

Take-Out, Italian Style

Our meal tonight is take-out Italian style. After the segway tour, we are ready for dinner. Since the restaurants have not opened for the evening meal, we decide to stop by the Super Mercado for take-out. There we purchased Proscuitto di Parma, Salami, Porchetta, several cheeses, fruit, olives, olio, and aged balsamic vinegar. Behind us in the check-out line was a young man from Alabama who quickly picked up on our southern accent. He is an Auburn graduate living in Florence. After a stop at our neighborhood bakery, Il Forno, for bread we head to the apartment. Add a little vino and you have everything you need for a delicious meal.From the look of this table, it must have been good!

Touring Florence Via Segway

If you are looking for a unique way to see Florence, try a segway tour. After 15 minutes of training you are motoring around the city as Roberto tells you about the sites of Florence. For me, the segway was a challenge. As we moved through the streets, my concentration was on the segway, not the scenery. As for Kenny, he loved it.

One of our stops was at the Wild Boar Market. The story goes that if you place a coin in the boar's mouth and it falls through the grate on the first try, you will return to Florence within the year. If the the coin falls into the grate on your second attempt, you will return to Florence in one year. Looks like Kenny and I will be back in Florence soon because we both were successful on our first attempt!

Thanks Roberto for showing us your city!

Lunch at Il Tocco di Bacco

For lunch, we hit the streets in search of classic Tuscan dishes and we found some at Il Tocco di Bacco. The sign outside announced today's specials, Lasagne and Ribolitta. House wine was our first course - stored in a keg and served in ceramic pitchers. I had the Ribolitta, Italy's version of southern vegetable soup and cornbread. Ribolitta starts with minestrone made with white beans and seasonal vegetables and day old bread is added to the soup to create a very thick, hearty meal. I was disappointed in the Ribolitta. It was served lukewarm and lacked flavor. Kenny ordered the Filet with Chianti Sauce. The filet of beef was sliced about 3/4" thick, cooked to medium rare and smothered in a thick wine sauce that was a perfect compliment to the beef. This dish was a winner. The beef was tender and the sauce tasted as good as it smelled.

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the best collections of art in the world and is a "must see" if you are in Florence. We followed the guidebook recommendations and made reservations before leaving home. With Rick Steve's book in hand, we took the elevator to the top floor and read our way through the rooms. Plan to spend at least 2 hours admiring the works of the world great masters.

Wine at Cardillac

After visiting David, we hitthe streets in search for wine. With map in hand, we head towards our apartment. Along the way, it begins to rain. This slightly alters our search to not only include wine, but a dry place for drinking. Just as the rain increases, we notice a neon "BAR" sign. This must be the place we are looking for! They even have the door open for us.

Our host at Cardillac is Ivan. His first question is "Have you voted?" We, of course, say "Yes" and ask in return for wine - white and Nan and me, red for the guys. Ivan is a handsome young Italian with great command of the English language. Our conversation quickly turns to politics and the upcoming presidential election. It seems as though we have not escaped from all of the hype of the election.
As is usually the case, one drink calls for a second. With little or no sleep for the last 36 hours, the alcohol hits hard and we stumble down Pepi to our Italian home. Before heading in for the night, we make a stop at Il Forno, our neighborhood bakery, for dinner -- pizza and bread. We take the food to the apartment and add another bottle of wine before turning in for the evening.

P.S. If this doesn't make sense, don't blame me! It is the wine's fault.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


After checking into our apartment at Ciompi Palace, it's time to check out David at the Accademia. We followed the suggestions in every travel guide and made reservations in advance. There was no line and the gallery was not crowded. The first room you enter is a large gallery of paintings. The paintings are not considered by many to be great, but I loved them. Their enormity, detail and age make them a must see for me. I am constantly amazed that these massive paintings have survived for 500 years or more. As I look at the paintings my thoughts focus on the size of the wooden background on which they are painted and wonder where they were painted and how.

The next area we enter is a long hallway with Michelangelo's Prisoners. These unfinished sculptures show in detail how Michelangelo created his statues, working from front to back, pulling the characters from the stone. Starring at the figures, I can almost see the artist at work.

At the end of the hall is a domed area with David as the centerpiece. The scupture is massive. Even though I have seen pictures of the statue, I am blown away by the enormity and attention to detail. Michelangelo was commissioned in 1501 at the age of 26 to carve a large-scale work for the Duomo. Many consider this Michelangelo's greatest scupture, but for me, it is second to the Pieta at St. Peter's.

The label below the statue indicates that David has already slain the giant, but I tend to agree with the current curator that David is preparing for the battle with the stone in his powerful right hand. The right hand is huge and extremely detailed.

This was definitely a great way to start our stay in the beautiful town of Florence!

Driving to Florence

Driving in Italy is an experience. After renting the car at the airport, we head to Florence. Before we left home, I Googled all our destinations and printed off their wonderful color maps to guide our way. Our journey today is simple, drive from Fiumicino to the Auto Europe office in downtown Florence via the Autostrada. The Autostrada is mostly 2 lanes with the left lane for passing, or as many Italians call it, the "Mercedes lane" because it is used by expensive cars that drive very fast. As most of you can guess, Kenny loved the left lane.

After a quick stop at the Autogrill for cappuccinos and paninis, Edwin took over the wheel. It didn't take him long to get the feel of the Autostrada. The scenery for the ride was amazing. We had heard of the hill towns, but could not believe they were everywhere. From a distance, you could see an expanse of stone buildings on the tops of hills -- unbelievable! Along the roadsides were farm land, many freshly plowed waiting for the next crop. I expected to see a lot of cattle but saw sheep instead. Some of my favorite sites were small backyard gardens filled with rows of greens growing. I can't wait to get off the highway and explore these small neat gardens that provide food for those who lovingly tend them.

So with all this beautiful scenery, why am I posting a picture of a semi? Because it was the only good photo I got while riding on the Autostrada! And you have to admit a hotdog named "Wudy" is pretty funny.

With our Google map in hand, we exited the Autostrada outside of Certosa for our drive into Florence. With only two wrong turns on our part, we made it safely to our destination, thanks to Google!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Crossing the Pond

11:24 PM - Somewhere over the Atlantic
After months of planning, weeks of shopping and days of packing, we are on our way to Italy. It's 6 hours into our flight and I am watching a riveting program on how mattresses are made! Yes, that was one of Delta's choices for cabin entertainment and now I have cabin fever. It started with a depressing movie about growing old, followed by a movie in Italian and then on to The Simpson's before the latest entry of mattress making. One poignant moment came during The Simpson's when I happened to glance up at the screen and saw the "No Praying" sign on the screen as many of the passengers were asking God to calm the heavens for a smooth ride.

Now with 3+ hours to go, the boredom has begun. My iPod is dead. Before leaving home, I loaded some good movies, charged the iPod and purchased a battery booster in anticipation of a long ride. We were just getting to the good part in Shawshank Redemption when the battery died. That cute little booster I bought doesn't work and was a complete waste of money. So I pulled out the laptop to work on my first blog entry and that battery was dead. As a last resort, I pull out the notebook and pen and start writing to make sure I capture the pure anguish I was feeling.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Eggplant Antipasto

Last weekend, Pat and Sue hosted their annual fall party. This year's theme was Italian. Pat has recently retired and is spending all him time and money creating a beautiful Tuscan courtyard. Kenny and I were amazed at the transformation. The backyard is surrounded by a stucco wall complete with shuttered windows and a beautiful wood entry door. Along the back is a covered area with a tile roof. Plans include massive landscaping and a fountain.
As always, the food was delicious. I do believe Sue had been cooking for a week and my favorite was the Steak Marsala. For the occasion, I opted for a tradition antipasto. Since I had one last eggplant from the garden, I tried Eggplant Antipasto. Teamed with prosciutto, mortadella and crostini for a delicious appetizer. This is also delicious served warm over pasta.

Eggplant Antipasto
1 large or 2 small eggplants, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 8-ounce package sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sliced green olives
1 teaspoon salt
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a 9x12 inch baking pan, mix the vegetables and olive oil. Cover and bake for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue baking for 30 minutes or until the eggplant is tender. Remove the cover for the last 1o minutes of baking. Chill and serve with crostini or crackers.

Simple Layer Cake

I will admit, I'm not a baker! Thanks to Granny and her cake plate, I have been challenged to bake. The problem seems to be finding the right recipe for the layers, a very important part to Granny's Chocolate Cake. My first task was to purchase new cake pans, 3 of them. The chocolate icing needs 3 layers. The recipe is based on Swans Down 1-2-3-4 cake recipe with an adjustment to the milk. This is my version.

Simple Layer Cake
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add eggs one at a time to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture alternately with milk and flavorings, beating after each addition until smooth. Baking: Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch layer pans, using about 2-1/3 cups batter in each pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans and finish cooling on racks before icing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dinner with the Morgans

Back in the day, small town newspapers had a social section that highlighted the activities of the local residents. The section was filled with articles such as this.

On Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Johnston and Mr. and Mrs. Kenny Coggin travelled to Buckhead for dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Steve Morgan. Appetizers were served on arrival in the kitchen as the couples chatted about the news from Newnan. Mrs. Morgan prepared a delicious Caribbean meal, beautifully served in a pineapple.
The table was beautifully decorated to celebrate the wonderful fall season in Georgia.

Coffee and dessert was served after the meal. Eveyone enjoyed an evening of good food and fellowship.

Thanks to Steve and Cheryl for a wonderful time!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dogs and Dawgs

Last Saturday, family and friends gathered at the barn to watch the Bulldogs and enjoy an old fashioned Weenie Roast. While the Dawgs were beating Tennessee we enjoyed chili dogs. We love The Varsity chili dogs. The Varsity is the world's largest drive-in restaurant and an institution in Georgia, with locations in Atlanta and Athens, home of the Georgia Bulldogs. Their chili dogs are delicious. Since they don't share their recipe, I tried to duplicate it. I will admit the results were not as good as The Varsity's, but it was tasty.

Hot Dog Chili

1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 - 28 ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup ketchup

Brown the ground beef and onion in a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until thick. Serve with hotdogs and top with mustard and chopped onions.

Turnip Greens - A Southern Favorite

We harvested our first turnip greens of the season yesterday. The recent rain has definitely had an effect on the garden. In just a couple of days, the greens have jumped from the ground and are ready for the first harvest. About a month ago, the seeds were planted, a mixture of turnip, kale and mustard. It was a slow start due to the lack of rain, but now they are flourishing. I've always heard that you had to wait until frost kissed the greens to harvest, but my desire to have some for dinner led to the decision to pick a "mess" for dinner.

Greens can be a real pain in the you know what to pick and cook. First of all, you have to pick a lot for a meal. When you think you have enough, then pick more! The greens were very young and tender so I was careful when picking to only get the tops and leave the stems. Wash the greens in a sink of cold water, removing them from the water to allow the grit and sand to sink to the bottom. You may have to do this a couple of times. Since I picked these while the greens were young and tender, there was no need to remove the stems.
Once the greens are clean, place in a dutch oven with about 3-4 inches of water in the pan. It will look like you have enough greens to feed an army, but trust me, you don't! Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring to until the greens cook down.
Now it is time to season the greens with salt, pepper, a tablespoon of sugar, and some fat. Traditionally in the South, we use fat back, also known as streak o' lean or salt pork, a fat cut of pork from the belly, back or sides, cured by salting. Fry the fat back until crispy and brown and add the drippings to the greens.
Continue to simmer the greens until tender. Since the greens were young and tender, they were ready to eat in about 3o minutes. Our meal was simple - greens, crowder peas and cornbread. Kenny topped his greens with Sweet Tomato Relish while I opted for the Green Tomato Relish and, if I say so myself, it was delicious!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sweet Tomato Relish

Our friend, Marshall, was kind enough to share with us his late crop of tomatoes. It is a real treat to have tomatoes in October. Since there were more tomatoes than we could possibly eat, I decided to try my hand at making a tomato relish. My first batch didn't include peppers. For the second batch, I used the few remaining sweet banana peppers from the garden. The result was 18 jars of a wonderful, sweet, spicy relish to serve with peas and greens. Thanks ,Marshall!

Sweet Tomato Relish #1
8 pounds tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 pounds onions, finely minced
3 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or until the mixture has thickened. Pour into sterilized canning jars. Wipe rims with a damp cloth. Adjust prepared lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yield: 12 half-pint jars.

Sweet Tomato Relish #2
4 pounds tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 pound onions, finely minced
8 ounces banana peppers, seeded removed and finely minced
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or until the mixture has thickened. Pour into sterilized canning jars. Wipe rims with a damp cloth. Adjust prepared lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yield: 6 half-pint jars.

Spicy Southern Cornbread

In the South, we love our cornbread! Traditionally, it is a very simple recipe, consisting of cornmeal mix, eggs, buttermilk and oil. For this recipe, I decided to break tradition and add some spice to the cornbread. Cornbread must be baked in cast iron bakeway! I am lucky to have cornstick pans from my grandmother and Kenny's grandmother, a wedge pan that belonged to Granny and skillets that belonged to Mama. This recipe makes a lot of cornbread. You can use a couple of large skillets or do as I did and pull out all your vintage bakeway - 2 cornstick pans, 1 9-inch wedge pan and 3 6-inch skillets. This recipe makes a lot!

Spicy Southern Cornbread
3 cups cornmeal mix
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs, beaten
1 - 14 oz. can cream-style corn
1 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 can green chilis
1/4 cup chopped jalopeno peppers
1/2 cup mayonaise
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat cast iron bakeware with oil. Put the pans in the oven while it is preheating. In a mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Spoon mixture into the pans and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pans.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Day in Retirement

Last night I had dinner with some friends from Arbor Springs and they all wanted to know what I had been doing. That is a hard question to answer. During my working days, I spent my day dealing with the technical problems common to all elementary schools. After work, I rushed to the gym and then home to fix supper and prepare for the next day. In retirement, my day is so different. Here's a look at my day in retirement.

12:36 AM - Kenny and I head to Wal-mart for Prilosec. He enjoyed the tacos and salsa at 8:00 the night before, but the spicy food isn't agreeing with him. I always wondered who shopped during the early morning hours, now I know!

1:15 AM - Time for bed!

7:30 AM - Libby is barking. After I drag myself out of bed at her insistence, I remember that the subscription to our payroll program has expired and today is payday. A phone call to the software company is futile - they don't open for a couple of hours. After a quick breakfast, I head to the gym by way of the gas station. Wow, gas is only $3.49! For the next hour, I watch Nip Tuck and sweat.

9:30 AM - With a cappuccino to go from Espresso Lane, I'm off to Wesley Woods to hang pictures. Mama and Daddy moved in March from a 3 bedroom home to a smaller apartment. Many pictures were hung last spring, but there are still lots more. Today 2 decorative fans, 4 plates, 1 clock, 2 molds and 10 pictures are added to the walls of their beautiful new home. Kenny comes by at noon with lunch from Sprayberry's.

12:50 PM - Time to deal with payroll!

1:15 PM - The Church's website is still not working! This has been very frustrating trying to find a solution but by late afternoon the issue is finally resolved. Now I need the time to update the site.

1:30 PM - Time for tomatoes! Our friend, Marshall, has an abundance of late tomatoes and was kind enough to share with us. Last night I peeled, chopped and cooked some for Stewed Sweet Tomato Relish. Time to finish the relish!

Mid afternoon - As I stir the tomatoes, I make phone calls to 4 friends, something I rarely did while working.

4:00 PM - What am I going to do with all these tomatoes? After checking out So Easy to Preserve I decide to try Tomato Jam, but find that I don't have allspice. Thankfully Payton does and he is much closer than the grocery store.

5:00 PM - I stand back and admire the 20 jars of relish and 6 jars of Tomato Jam . But there are still more tomatoes!

5:30 PM - Kenny and I make a quick trip to the Veggie Patch for fresh corn and okra. The okra is sliced and the corn is cut from the cob and added to the tomatoes with chopped onion. After simmering for 30 minutes, the tomato mixture is frozen for vegetable soup that will be enjoyed on cold winter days.

6:45 PM - Baking time! The family reunion is Sunday and I'm taking Granny's Chocolate Cake. Since tomorrow we are having a Weenie Roast at the barn and watching the Dawgs football game, I decide to bake the layers tonight.

7:00 PM - Kenny cooks bacon for what will probably be our last BLTs for the year.

8:00 PM - The cake layers are cooling and the kitchen is clean! I'm ready for a warm shower.

8:30 PM - With a load of clothes in the washer, I sit down for the first time since my 20 minutes on the exercise bike this morning - that is if you don't count my time in the car and at the computer. The evening is so nice that I take my laptop to my favorite spot, the day bed on the back porch, and begin blogging!

10:10 PM - This entry is complete! It's off to the laundry room to put clothes in the dryer and stop by the frig for a glass of wine before heading back to the porch to make my grocery list and plan for tomorrow. Then maybe I'll work on my next blog entry, or update the Church's web page, or check Facebook.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts are a traditional snack in the south. Green or raw peanuts are boiled in salty water for hours until they are soft. For many it is an aquired taste.

On our recent visit to Jacksonville, we found them at Mary's stand at the Jacksonville Farmers Market. Unfortunately, the peanuts were not ready so we headed down Beavers Street to Papa John's. This is not your normal roadside stand. We were greeted by Dwight Champion who gave us a tour of the facility. They use large vats to boil the peanuts and then package them for sale. They are available frozen from Sam's Wholesale Clubs in parts of Florida and Georgia. Or you can order these delicious treats online at Dwight gave us a bag to take home. They are best served warmed in a microwave or crock pot. They were delicious!


Visiting Drew and Tom in Jacksonville, FL

Drew and Tom have a beautiful backyard. Their latest project is this wonderful outdoor kitchen. My pictures don't do it justice. If you look closely, you will see a comfortable sofa - perfect for a afternoon nap and a great place for watching football games.

Matthew and Barbara

Last weekend we traveled to Charlotte to visit for a family visit. It was our first visit with the newlyweds, Matt and Barbara. This is just one for the beautiful pictures from their July wedding in Mexico. Thanks Mike and Pam for the hospitality!

Food Blogging Events for October

If you are looking for a challenge, join one of the many online food blogging events listed below.

Grow Your Own
This is a twice a month blogging event for those of us who love to cook and garden. The next deadline for submission is October 15, 2008. Check out if you want to join in the fun.

The Seasonal Feast - Pears
Sheryl at Save Your Fork invites readers to create a dish that features pears as the main ingredient. The deadline for submitting your entry is Ocotber 24, 2008. For more information, go to

Presto Pasta Nights
If you love pasta, check out Judith's Presto Pasta Nights - - page. She is accepting submissions from October 11 - 18, 2008.

Eating with the Seasons - October
Join Maninas on for a search of foods in season for your area. For details, go to You have until October 15, 2008 to send in your seasonal recipe.