Saturday, August 29, 2009

Off the grid for a few days

Garrett is traveling to Sienna and Montignoso Massa and then to a few more places in Tuscany with friends. He'll be back online early next week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Adventure of Unknown but with Some Guidelines

Sometimes everyone just needs a break. We all get to that point where we can go no more...and if we do it's likely we won't be productive nor successful. After World Champs this year I was finished. My mind and body wanted nothing to do with swimming nor even anyone associated with it (I realize that may sound harsh but I always tell it like it is).

So off I went, on an adventure of the unknown. There were a few things I did know however...a few things I would make sure to do and stay true to.
1. Fun. I had had enough of seriousness, enough of focusing, I was determined to kick back and try not to care about anything serious for a while. Enjoyment and relaxation were a must!
2. Learn about food and cooking in every way possible and figure out ways in which my new-found knowledge can help me improve my diet and preparation of healthy food.
3. Engross myself in the Italian lifestyle and culture. Essentially try to live like an Italian...
4. Maintain a decent level of fitness and not gain ANY weight.

With great satisfaction and assertion I can say that all of these have been accomplished. I feel much better about things than I did after World Champs. Weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm really happy here...I even feel at home:) My brain power in the kitchen has grown exponentially and my excitement to get back in the kitchen at home and work on some new things has reached new levels. Living like an Italian has been a true wonder and delight. I've made a lot of great friends here, have several Italian families who say they've adopted me and several Italian mothers who call me their Italian Momma haha. Fitness, Pshhh that was easy. I do push-ups and dips throughout the day. When the feeling strikes me I go for a moderately long run, and even get in the water to swim a few times a week. I am eating a lot but it's less frequent than when I am training. My weight is exactly the same, and if I do say so physique still looks pretty darn good;)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Smells Abound and Love was All Around

Sniff Sniff... I'd venture to say that smell is often the most overlooked sense. Those of you who don't use your shnoz piece to its fullest are missing out like a sail with no wind. A deep inhale through the sometimes booger plagued cavities of our nostrils can often make the grass seem greener, food look and taste more succulent and delicious, the ocean seem more tranquil and appealing, and even love seem more passionate and earth-shattering (trust me, I've experienced these). So go ahead...take that deep're likely to find some new and brilliant treasures!
When I stepped out of the car in a small parking lot outside 'Prosciuttificio "Valle Oblita"' This factory is set just outside Norcia, which is a very famous town for Prosciutto, and is set atop a huge hill which overlooks a beautiful valley. I immediately knew I was about to enter into a world my nose had never experienced. Waiting to greet me were two guys, Tony and Paolo, who looked as excited about Prosciutto as I would've been when I was five and my Mom turned her back with the cookies sitting on the get the point. After a warm greeting and a small conversation, through the translator and friends who was traveling with me, we cruised into a building that was exuding smells that had never entered my nose before.I knew I was in for a treat. I'd always wondered what the real deal with Prosciutto was. Today was the day for me to get the skinny on the fatty/salt cured pig legs (eat this in small amounts...definitely not good for high blood pressure). First we entered into a cold room that was filled with recently cut pig legs which were salted and laying on large racks. Tadaaaaaaa the white jacket was I felt like I was really getting down to business (all official and everything)! The first step of the process is to run the legs through a machine which both sprays salt on it as well as presses it to squeeze most of the blood out from between the flesh and skin...sounds tasty right? Next these legs get hung on racks which will be moved into an enormous refrigerated room. I am not kidding when I say there are thousands upon thousands of Prosciutto's hanging everywhere.There are three steps in the curing process which go from cold, to cool, to fresh air (in it's entirety it takes about 14 months). Have you ever walked down a hallway and continually taken a deep breath in until you walk into a room which has a different aroma? Maybe the temperature changed or the humidity level was different too. Now you can somewhat picture my experience walking from one room to another. The smells in here are strong. However, I think the beauty in scent comes from the subtleties. You know what I'm talking when you cook bacon and you can tell when it's done cooking by the sharper scent it exudes...or when a slight rain or storm is approaching and you can smell a hint of dust or dirt in the cool summer air which has been kicked up by a slight breeze. As I perused through each room the scent subtly changed. As the temperature rose and the meats were older, the scent became more soft and almost sweet. What a sniffing wonderland.

(here I'm covering the flesh with a pork fat mixture which will help preserve the meat)
Everywhere I turned there was more and more and even more Prosciutto. It was absolutely absurd. In total this plant cures and sells 800,000 kilos of Prosciutto per year. (This small pick is inserted into the Prosciutto...then smelled in order to tell it's ripeness)
Directly following my trip to "Valle Oblita" I went with my lovely hosts (if you're reading this...thank you so much for an incredible day!) to their mother's house. Rita was her name...and lovin' was her game. Rita was without question the most charming and delightful woman I have spent time with in Italy. She didn't speak a word of English but her demeanor and body language said it could tell her intentions:) When I entered her house she gave me the biggest kisses on my cheeks and neck...we're talking legit kisses here was nutz haha. The lunch she prepared was absolutely to die for. Her homemade tomato sauce was without question the best I've had in Italy and maybe the most delicious I've ever had. Paired with this was unbelievably succulent and flavorful beef. There was also Prosciutto, salad, bread, watermelon, cantalope and gelato...mmmmmm.The second time I walked in her kitchen I noticed, to my utter surprise, that she had a leg of Prosciutto just sitting there on a stand waiting to be cut. I pointed to it with a suprised and excited expression and without hesitation she cut me off a few perfectly thin can tell she's done this before. Wow. Long story short...she ended up giving me the whole Prosciutto leg when I left. I told her (through my translator), "I have nowhere to keep it and I can't possibly eat it all myself..." She wouldn't take no for an answer, saying, "you keep it with you until you leave and enjoy it whenever you want...It's my gift to you." So I walked out with a 20 pound Prosciutto wrapped in celaphane...ridiculous. (Rita showing me some love after giving me the cute)
Just another day in Paradise:) Seriously.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sicily Part 2...Can Life Get Any Better? :)

Sicily was packed full of swimming, fishing, eating, sleeping, dancing and listening (only three people around me spoke any English, so much of the time I was listening to Italian haha).(The one squid I actually caught!!)
The first night we were in Sicily Giusseppe, his Dad and I went squid fishing about seven miles offshore. The weather was beautiful with a slight warm breeze and one-foot waves. We were fishing in about 1,000 meters of water. The process involves dropping a thin cable down about 600 meters. This main cable has a has a light attached at the end that is also wrapped in beef. Slowly this gets brought to the surface and as it does the squid follow the blinking light. Each of us has a thin cable which we held in our hands and reeled in. Our cable had a big hook on the end with some beef and a light as well. We would drop our lines about 100 meters and slowly reel them in jigging them around on the way up. Long story short, Giusseppe (the Sicilian fishing champion four years in a row) caught 15, his dad caught six and I caught one at the very end of the night. I was a bit annoyed. What was I doing wrong? I was doing exactly what they told me to do... After a while Giusseppe made me switch lines with him so he could prove to me that nothing was wrong with my line. Within five minutes he caught a squid...Argh:( It was a great time either way.(Little stinker...when I was cleaning this one it's huge eyeball popped black juice all over my shorts haha)
(Within two hours of catching the squid it was on our plate...doesn't get much more fresh than that...mmmm it was sooo good too)
The days were spent cruising to different beaches and coves on the coast of Sicily and the Islands which are about 13 miles off its coast. The islands were truly remarkable. This was definitely the clearest most blue water I have ever been in and I was relishing every minute of it. There was one point when we were cruising from one island to another that I said to myself, "It's official, I will be having a sick boat on the Mediterranean absolutely asap!" As some of you know one of my dreams is to have a boat and cruise around the world...the Med. will surely be one of my first stops!(Delicious Occhiata)
Cliff jumping was a very common activity and I jumped everywhere that looked feasible. I always checked to make sure it was deep enough before climbing the rock faces and plunging into the perfect water...but Wow was it fun! Nothing was too high (probably seven or eight meters at the most) but I had a blast.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Keeping it Rolling but Staying True to My Goal

Keep the gravy train going baby! This past evening was another one for the books. I went to dinner with Giusseppe (my Italian manager as he calls himself haha) and the most famous chef in Norway, Gino Valente. Gino is originally from Italy but has lived in Norway for the past 50 0r so years. We dined at his restaurant in a wonderfully quaint and small town of Vasanello. Gino spends his time between Norway and Italy but cooks with famous chefs all over the world. He has produced 15 cookbooks and 2550 cooking episodes for TV.During the dinner we enjoyed fine Champagne, wines, seafood, pastas, focaccias and dessert. Sometimes I wonder if all these people I meet think there is something wrong with me due to the fact that I am sooo happy and excited about everything. Truthfully I feel as though I am living in a dream world most of the time over here...I think I am.(The stairway down to the wine cellar where we started the evening with Champagne and Parmesan...this area was carved out of the stone over 1200 years ago)
We talked extensively about my business ideas and about how I can continue to pursue a career in food and helping people live a healthier and happier lifestyle through better nutrition. Gino was really taken by my ideas and thought my future in the food world is very promising. He confirmed my belief (I was very happy about this) that you can make and eat wonderful food without much salt at all!
Now let's bring it back a second and pull everything together. Some of you might be thinking that some of the food I'm eating and cooking over here is not very some respects you are right. There is a lot more oil, cheese, fat, and in some respects salt than I would normally cook with or think is, to some degree, healthy. However, the point of this trip is for me to learn and be exposed to different methods of cooking and every kind of food I can come into contact with. I am learning cooking techniques and information about food that I will carry with me the rest of my life and that will help me help all of you live a healthier and happier life through better nutrition.
I guess you could say I am on a mission in pursuit of a goal out there on the horizon. And trust me, I feel very fortunate to be able to enjoy myself along the way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What a Night

(tasting the brilliant chocolate sauce I made...from my face you can guess how it tasted:)

(making tiny little Gorgonzola cheesecakes)
Ahhh I can barely contain myself right now! My legs are moving a 1,000 miles a minute underneath the table and I feel like I could throw this desk through the wall I'm so amped up. Tonight was so amazing. The kitchen was crazy. Everything is turned up to an extremely intense level...orders come in...I run around doing random tasks...the heat is turned up from the stoves, ovens, pasta boilers and from the excitement level too. Time flies, worries or outside life thoughts are completely out the window. I am completely and utterly engrossed in the task at hand which might be preparing zucchini flowers for a risotto, plating pasta with black truffles, grabbing things from one of the seven frigos (refrigerators), working the grill or even doing some dish drying when necessary haha.(carefully pounding out rack of lamb that was cooked with Parmesan, egg, milk and bread crumbs...oh and we also had pasta with wild rabbit and roasted veggies for lunch haha)
My general thinking about being a chef/owner of a restaurant was that it probably isn't for me. Not because I am afraid of the amount of work (I have zero apprehensions about workload...I'm used to it and have no problems sacrificing and putting in absurd effort) but because essentially if you are in the restaurant business you make your money when all of your family and friends are out enjoying themselves and having fun. However, this experience has somewhat altered my thinking and made me realize some things.
(I was in charge of making dinner for the staff...beef tenderloin with sage and Prosciutto! They loved it...Molot Bouno)
1. I definitely want to (and will) spend a ton more time in kitchens whether it is in Italy, France, Singapore, New York, Milwaukee, Austin or LA.
2. I have a ton more to learn about food and cooking.
3. The satisfaction that I get from making something delicious for others is unbelievable.
4. I've honestly never felt as fulfilled after a long day of work as I do after I finish in the kitchen...and yes it is very tiring.
(Pom Brioche dough)
I just had to give y'all a quick little update about the exciting world I'm living in. Oh...and one more they began harvesting the white grapes at Castello Delle Regine. Early tomorrow morning I will be going out and learning about the grapes and harvesting process. I'm sure I will be given some scissors and a sack too! Snip:)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sicily Part 1

(view of Messina as we arrive on the ferry.)
The air was thick with humidity and musky smells. Jolting left and right and finally to a slow creaking stop. I breathed a sigh of relief. "We are finally here," I thought. The long train ride from Rome to a little town in Sicily was complete. My mind had three thoughts scurrying within, in this order. One, eat. Two, shower. Three, get me on or in the sea as soon as possible. For those of you who don't know me, I can be a bit of a tyrant when I'm hungry. My patience is zero and I can at times be a bit "awnry" as my family would don't mess with me then;)(swordfish that was caught that morning...don't usually wear compressions socks haha, travel.)
I'm not quite sure if Giuseppe could tell I was famished and knew he needed to get me something to eat, or if food was on the top of his mind, too. Either way, we traveled directly to an ocean-front spot right near his house and enjoyed the local delight, Granita. It is some reduction of fresh strawberries which are covered in fresh whipped cream. Yum!
Growing up on Lake Michigan, I have always had a huge love of the water. Sailing, fishing and swimming were some of my biggest summer interests from an early age. Any time I get around water my face turns to a perma-smile, and I can't help but be super excited and happy!

After dropping our things off at Giuseppe's parent's house, which was a small but extremely quaint seaside condo, we headed to the beach. Within an hour of arrival the wind was screaming in my face as we skimmed over the top of the water in Giuseppe's boat. I was delighted at the beauty of Sicily, the extremely warm and clear water and the relaxed and carefree lifestyle we were living. I realized then that life really doesn't get much better than this...
This trip gave me the opportunity to truly live like a Sicilian. There were zero Americans in this town. The only languages I heard were Italian an Sicilian. I was an island unto myself. The food was outstanding. The first afternoon I got a delicious taste for what the rest of the trip would be like. Friends and family all gathered at Giusseppe's house for meals. The first lunch we had Ocheata fish (which his sister caught the day before), some really small fish that were pan fried and eaten with the skin on, a tomato salad, fresh bread, squid pasta (which his dad caught the night before), and fresh fruit from their garden. Outstanding:)

More from Sicily coming soon:)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quick update from Garrett in Sicily

Garrett says his long weekend with Giuseppe and his family is going great. Their house is on the Mediterranean with a runabout moored out front.

They've gone squid fishing at night and have been eating whatever fish the family catches. He said they stopped their boat in 1,000 feet of water and jumped over the side for a swim...just to say they did it.

He'll be online in a couple days to share photos and stories.

"Write down those recipes," I told him.

Garrett's dad--Mark

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Off to Sicily

In a few hours I will be on a train to Sicily. My friend Giusseppi who works at the winery is from Sicily. His parents have a house right on the water with a boat out front. I cannot wait to get there. Everyone says it is beautiful. What's more is that Giusseppi was the Sicilian fishing champion four years in a row and we will be fishing all the time. He tells me we will also be fishing for squid in the night...(I have no idea what to expect from that???) When we're not fishing we will be water skiing, wakeboarding, eating and who knows what else. Two girls--just family friends--are coming down with us and his sister and her friends are meeting us there. This weekend is going to be amazing! I'll report on this when I return:) Ciao

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Working hard among WONDERFUL people

The past few days here have been phenomenal. Cooking here has been very eye-opening and fun...but also hard work. I am learning so much. In addition I have been going out every night with my friend Giuseppe and his friends. Giuseppe is 28 and is the marketing director at the winery. Part of his job is to sell his wine to restaurants in the surrounding area. He seemingly does an incredible job because everywhere we go people love him and are genuinely excited to see him walk in the door. We have been going to three or four different places each night. Most of them are all over in tons of different small towns in the region of Umbria.

Above is a restaurant we went to in the tiny town of Chia. We walked in the door at about 11:30 pm (normally past my bed time!). They were basically closed with only a couple people left finishing their meals. However, they sat us down and brought us a feast. The people in the picture above are the family who owns and runs the restaurant. The mother on the right is the chef, the son makes the pasta and is the waiter, and the daughter does the books and is the hostess. This is typical of how these restaurants operate.

Wherever we go people always ask Giuseppe who I am. When he tells them I am an Americano they ask in an alarming tone what on earth I am doing here in these small towns going to places and acting like a local. When Giuseppe tells them I am a member of Team USA, they cannot believe it and get really excited. They end up bringing us more food and wine than we know what to do with. (Moderation is key here...make the right choices!)

I get taken in the kitchen everywhere and they pull out special items for us like their personal stashes of homemade prosciutto, rare wines and even specially prepared desserts which are not on the menu. What's even crazier is that most times these restaurant owners won't even let us pay for anything. They treat us like kings...I'll try to remember the feeling at 5:20 on a cold morning this winter when I know Eddie is going to pound me at practice!
Here I am holding a delicious home made fetuccini pasta with wild boar that they hunted themselves. Italians sure know how to eat.

Picking fresh sage in the garden for the dish below which is a thin slice of Chianina beef fillet, sage, and prosciutto... in that order (the sage is on top in the picture so you could tell it was part of the dish...when it gets cooked it is in the center). Molto Buono;)

Working a pizza dough...the pizza here is spectacular. I really need to perfect my techniques so I can attempt to make something half as good when I get home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kitchen life in Italy: We prep lunch, we serve, we nap. We prep dinner, we serve, we sleep. We prep lunch, we serve, we...

Here I am with the owners (Livia and Paolo) of this magnificent estate. They are absolutely wonderful people. They have made me feel like their family and Livia kisses me on the cheek and neck like I am her son haha!

This is the dinner we, the staff, had before the dinner service...nothing much...just stuffed pork with mushrooms, sausage and black truffle...freshly sliced proscuitto...mixed salad...Chianina beef tortellinis with a tomato herb sauce.
Chicken breasts stuffed with Prosciutto and mushrooms wrapped in pig fat. Yum!

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