Beam me up, Scotty’s

For the past month or so, hubby has developed a habit of taking the toddler out to the pub for a cold beverage and some daddy-son bonding so I can enjoy some uninterrupted work time. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub and Sahm’s have always been our go-tos, but they’ve lately been usurped by a newcomer on the Broad Ripple scene – Thr3e Wise Men.

Part of the Scotty’s Brewhouse enterprise, Thr3e Wise Men opened earlier this spring. We’d watched it slowly take shape in the old Sunflower Market building for months before that, with huge brewing vats nearly big enough to resemble farm silos. I finally made it to said establishment with my guys just a week or so ago to check it out for myself.

Inside, Thr3e Wise Men looks unfinished – light wood walls, exposed beams, views of the brewing apparatus through windows, beer barrel tabletops, picnic tables and silverware wrapped in hand towels instead of napkins (a detail that strikes me as slightly crass). On the upside, it’s airy, clean and family-friendly, which is great news for parents who enjoy beer.

For my inaugural visit, hubby and I visited alone, having snagged a brief babysitting respite from our generous neighbors. We were seated inside at a table in the corner. The menu isn’t big, mainly just pizzas and a few appetizers. This is, first and foremost, a brewing facility, after all. Food here seems to be treated as something to complement the beer. This isn’t to say the food is bad, quite the contrary.

The beer selection covers a good range of flavors and styles – everything from IPAs to an Irish stout and even a porter made with locally produced Hubbard & Cravens coffee. Interesting. I had my eye on the Naptown Nut Brown, but the server then told me they were out of it, along with a couple of the other offerings. So I narrowed my sights to the Two Lucys blackberry wheat and the Sanctaneous hefeweizen. The server was kind enough to bring me a small taste of each to help me make up my mind. In retrospect, I really should have just ordered a sampler. Maybe next time.

(A quick side note – I want to have a job thinking up names for microbrewed beers. This seems like the next best thing to working for a cosmetics company and coming up with cutesy call signs for nail polish and lipstick colors.)

Snow Bunny Blonde and Two Lucys Blackberry Wheat

I enjoyed my pint of blackberry porter, nicely light and refreshing with a bright tangy fruit flavor. Hubby’s partial to the Snow Bunny Blonde, and has been filling up growlers regularly to bring home ever since he discovered it. A small complaint, though, the pints here aren’t true pints. We have been spoiled in this category by the Brew Pub, which serves full Imperial pints as opposed to the smaller faux-pints you get at Thr3e Wise Men. Obviously, this makes the Thr3e Wise Men beer a little more expensive as well.

Hubby and I were only intending to have a drink, not dinner, but we ended up filling up on the snacky apps and calling it a meal. Every table receives a free bucket of fresh popcorn, for starters. The housemade thick-sliced potato chips are awesome and addictive, tossed in a salty house seasoning mix. And, you get a HUGE baking sheet full of them for a mere $3. If this isn’t one of the best deals in town, I don’t know what is. You can also order them loaded with bacon and blue cheese sauce for $6.

housemade chips and popcorn

By the time hubby and I had chowed our way through the chips, we were already more than halfway there to a full dinner anyway, so we went ahead and ordered a pizza as well. Hubby’s tried some of the flatbread pizzas here and pronounced them quite good, but something called a hummus pizza piqued my interest, described on the menu as a freshly baked pizza crust with roasted red pepper hummus and a cucumber relish. Of course, the cucumber relish contained onions, so we asked for it on the side. Yummy – this was really a full-sized pizza with some innovative toppings, and although hubby wouldn’t touch the cucumber topping, I loved it. Oh, and the whole pizza was only $7.

Other items rounding out the Thr3e Wise Men menu include wings, breadsticks, a tableside tossed chopped salad and fried pickle chips (I still can’t decide whether these sound tasty or horrifying). For dessert, a short list of choices includes carrot cake, German chocolate cake and elephant ears.

All in all, a great first experience. We even ran into our friends Bart and Pete at the bar, an added bonus!

We revisited Thr3e Wise Men yesterday around 4:30 p.m. with the whole family in tow, intending once again to just have a drink. This time, we sat outside watching the traffic go by on busy Broad Ripple Avenue (railings kept the boys safely contained so we could relax). The boys loved the lemonade served in little plastic astronaut cups, and again, by the time we’d all plowed our way through the popcorn and another platterful of chips, we’d filled up enough for dinner.

Thr3e Wise Men seems to have a good thing going here, and is a welcome shot in the arm to a Broad Ripple microbrewery scene that was really in need of a little healthy competition.

For more info:

http://www.thr3ewisemen.com/

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

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Beam me up, Scotty's

For the past month or so, hubby has developed a habit of taking the toddler out to the pub for a cold beverage and some daddy-son bonding so I can enjoy some uninterrupted work time. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub and Sahm’s have always been our go-tos, but they’ve lately been usurped by a newcomer on the Broad Ripple scene – Thr3e Wise Men.

Part of the Scotty’s Brewhouse enterprise, Thr3e Wise Men opened earlier this spring. We’d watched it slowly take shape in the old Sunflower Market building for months before that, with huge brewing vats nearly big enough to resemble farm silos. I finally made it to said establishment with my guys just a week or so ago to check it out for myself.

Inside, Thr3e Wise Men looks unfinished – light wood walls, exposed beams, views of the brewing apparatus through windows, beer barrel tabletops, picnic tables and silverware wrapped in hand towels instead of napkins (a detail that strikes me as slightly crass). On the upside, it’s airy, clean and family-friendly, which is great news for parents who enjoy beer.

For my inaugural visit, hubby and I visited alone, having snagged a brief babysitting respite from our generous neighbors. We were seated inside at a table in the corner. The menu isn’t big, mainly just pizzas and a few appetizers. This is, first and foremost, a brewing facility, after all. Food here seems to be treated as something to complement the beer. This isn’t to say the food is bad, quite the contrary.

The beer selection covers a good range of flavors and styles – everything from IPAs to an Irish stout and even a porter made with locally produced Hubbard & Cravens coffee. Interesting. I had my eye on the Naptown Nut Brown, but the server then told me they were out of it, along with a couple of the other offerings. So I narrowed my sights to the Two Lucys blackberry wheat and the Sanctaneous hefeweizen. The server was kind enough to bring me a small taste of each to help me make up my mind. In retrospect, I really should have just ordered a sampler. Maybe next time.

(A quick side note – I want to have a job thinking up names for microbrewed beers. This seems like the next best thing to working for a cosmetics company and coming up with cutesy call signs for nail polish and lipstick colors.)

Snow Bunny Blonde and Two Lucys Blackberry Wheat

I enjoyed my pint of blackberry porter, nicely light and refreshing with a bright tangy fruit flavor. Hubby’s partial to the Snow Bunny Blonde, and has been filling up growlers regularly to bring home ever since he discovered it. A small complaint, though, the pints here aren’t true pints. We have been spoiled in this category by the Brew Pub, which serves full Imperial pints as opposed to the smaller faux-pints you get at Thr3e Wise Men. Obviously, this makes the Thr3e Wise Men beer a little more expensive as well.

Hubby and I were only intending to have a drink, not dinner, but we ended up filling up on the snacky apps and calling it a meal. Every table receives a free bucket of fresh popcorn, for starters. The housemade thick-sliced potato chips are awesome and addictive, tossed in a salty house seasoning mix. And, you get a HUGE baking sheet full of them for a mere $3. If this isn’t one of the best deals in town, I don’t know what is. You can also order them loaded with bacon and blue cheese sauce for $6.

housemade chips and popcorn

By the time hubby and I had chowed our way through the chips, we were already more than halfway there to a full dinner anyway, so we went ahead and ordered a pizza as well. Hubby’s tried some of the flatbread pizzas here and pronounced them quite good, but something called a hummus pizza piqued my interest, described on the menu as a freshly baked pizza crust with roasted red pepper hummus and a cucumber relish. Of course, the cucumber relish contained onions, so we asked for it on the side. Yummy – this was really a full-sized pizza with some innovative toppings, and although hubby wouldn’t touch the cucumber topping, I loved it. Oh, and the whole pizza was only $7.

Other items rounding out the Thr3e Wise Men menu include wings, breadsticks, a tableside tossed chopped salad and fried pickle chips (I still can’t decide whether these sound tasty or horrifying). For dessert, a short list of choices includes carrot cake, German chocolate cake and elephant ears.

All in all, a great first experience. We even ran into our friends Bart and Pete at the bar, an added bonus!

We revisited Thr3e Wise Men yesterday around 4:30 p.m. with the whole family in tow, intending once again to just have a drink. This time, we sat outside watching the traffic go by on busy Broad Ripple Avenue (railings kept the boys safely contained so we could relax). The boys loved the lemonade served in little plastic astronaut cups, and again, by the time we’d all plowed our way through the popcorn and another platterful of chips, we’d filled up enough for dinner.

Thr3e Wise Men seems to have a good thing going here, and is a welcome shot in the arm to a Broad Ripple microbrewery scene that was really in need of a little healthy competition.

For more info:

http://www.thr3ewisemen.com/

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Baby steps

It appears, much to my chagrin, that I am raising a picky eater.

As a self-professed gourmet cook, I’ve always harbored visions of raising appreciative little diners who would boast great palates from an early age and happily slurp up whatever I put down on the plate in front of them. I pledged I would never be one of those moms who make two separate dinners a night – one for the grown-ups and one for the kids. Then I had a baby and realized that, as with every other facet of life after you have a child, I am no longer the one calling the shots.

I read an article in (the sadly, now defunct) Gourmet magazine awhile back about the dumbing down of children’s cuisine and how it’s up to the parents not to always cop-out with a Happy Meal. The writer referenced a young boy who loved Chinese food and got upset when, assuming he was finished, a waitress once took his plate away before he could enjoy his duck tongues or some such delicacy. Like most two-year-olds, I’m afraid mine seems destined for a life of mac and cheese.

My two eldest nieces in Ireland are championship eaters, the kind I hope my own child will one day become. When they came to visit us about two months after my son was born (ages 5 and 7 at the time, if memory holds), they scarfed down mussels marinara at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, and Bazbeaux pizza topped with shrimp and snow peas. During a more recent visit in Ireland, I noted that they partook of a cheese platter with the same gusto as the adults did, preferring the pungent blue to the milder Brie. I’m telling ya, these girls know good food. I pity the poor guys who are going to come calling in about ten years – they’d better pick their dinner date destinations carefully if they hope to impress.

This side of the pond, we are stuck in something of a culinary rut. Every day, I find myself preparing the same menus for Michael with only the slightest variations. Breakfast – Dora the Explorer yogurt (and ONLY the pink Dora yogurt will do), milk and perhaps a few bites of a muffin or a pancake. For lunch, he eats fruit, crackers or pretzels, and maybe some peanut butter. Snacks consist of animal crackers, a Nutri-grain bar or Gummi-bearish juice treats. Dinner is whatever I can get down his little gullet. Veggies and dip, pizza, French fries, a cheese stick, toast, maybe a scrambled egg if he’s feeling really edgy. Surely, Michael’s getting as bored with these meals as I am. I suppose he figures if it isn’t broken, then why taste it?

I don’t pretend to understand what goes on with a toddler’s taste buds during these formative years. How can Michael love kalamata olives, for God’s sake, but soundly refuse to put even a sliver of roast chicken in his mouth? Are we raising a vegetarian? The only meat he will deign to ingest is the occasional tiniest bit of crispy bacon. Cheeseburgers? Nope. Chicken nuggets? Uh uh. He even turned down peppermint stick ice cream the other night — what kid DOES that?

Even more mind-boggling, how can the little guy be sooooo into something one week, and then completely shun it the next? I really thought we were onto something with the pasta. Over the holidays, both he and his stepbrother made short work of my homemade angel hair pasta pomodoro like nobody’s business, but last week when I dished up a serving of fettuccine alfredo? No dice. Not even a taste. Just a sniff of the nose and a resoundingly whiny “No, mommy, I don’t WIKE that!”

I know I’m probably expecting too much too soon. After all, I seem to recall my own Cocoa Krispies breakfast habit that lasted well into junior high, and I didn’t really start digging fresh vegetables until college. Heck, I still sometimes eat a sleeve of Pop Tarts with a spoonful or two of peanut butter and call it dinner.

And things have improved some since the dark stretch last year that I refer to as the Ritz-cracker-and-Cheerio period. My son is perfectly healthy. He eats fruit like a champ. He gets enough protein and plenty of whole grains. He only receives fast food once in a great while. I’ll just have to persevere, giving him tastes of entrees, sides and sauces from my plate before resorting to the old standbys. With luck, one day a sense of dining diversity will catch on. He has recently started requesting “sparkling water with orange juice and a slice of lemon, please,” so maybe there’s still hope for him yet.

Home sweet home

Have spent the past few days reacclimating to the old homestead, and fighting off a pesky cold/flu bug that’s infiltrated my sinuses. Funny that we’ve been on the go in Europe for three weeks, out and about in cold rainy weather, navigating transatlantic flights, and when do I get sick? Only after I get back to the comfort and safety of my own home. Hmph.

I’m delighted to be back in my own kitchen and working again with my own knives, utensils and pots/pans; stocking groceries in my own roomy stainless steel fridge; and sitting down to eat at my own massive dining table. Needing a culinary break from continental fare, the first few meals I made this week were as decidedly anti-French/Italian/German as I could think up — chicken curry with sweet potatoes and chickpeas, Asian crusted tilapia with Thai peanut noodles (thanks for the recipe, Gillian!), and fluffy chocolate chip buttermilk pancakes. We did break down and order a quattro formaggio from Bazbeaux one night when I didn’t feel up to cooking, but American pizza is really nothing like true Italian pizza anyway.

Yesterday was the granddaddy of all American meals, the most comfortable of all comfort foods — Thanksgiving dinner. My family was sort of scattered to the winds this year and since my closest unit members and I are still recovering from our trip (did I mention I’ve been up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. every day this week?), we decided to play it very low key. Fortunately, our lovely friends/neighbors down the street invited us over. I was all prepared to cook a turkey breast with some scaled-down fixings at home, but feeling as under the weather as I do, was secretly thrilled not to for once.

Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet holiday for me, resurrecting memories of all the years I spent alongside my mom in the kitchen as she prepared a huge spread of her tried-and-true classics. Always the same stuffing recipe, always the scalloped corn casserole, always the cranberry ice that made my teeth ache. I was living in Los Angeles the last Thanksgiving my mom was alive, and it was the first year I didn’t make it home for the holiday. After a very nice dinner at my Uncle Dave’s house in Camarillo just northwest of L.A., I remember stealing a few moments to myself in a darkened bedroom to cry, somehow knowing that the unquestionable family tradition I’d enjoyed for 31 years was changing and would never be the same again.

And it hasn’t. The year my mom died, we went out to eat for Thanksgiving for the first time ever. It felt like a sacrilege, but the thought of even attempting to recreate her traditions in her kitchen without her there was more than I could bear. I don’t remember much about our dinner that year, other than the food seemed bland and tasteless and there was a gaping hole at the table where my mom should have been.

That was eight years ago. Time does heal wounds, but never eliminates them entirely. I’ll always think of my mom on Thanksgiving day, bustling around the kitchen like a fearless conductor of her own culinary symphony. I have cooked my own Thanksgiving dinners since then. One year, the “fresh” turkey I’d purchased the night before turned out to be completely frozen solid in the middle when I went to put it in the oven. Certain side dishes have met with varying degrees of success. I’ve learned some valuable trial-and-error lessons along the way. I know some people get totally flustered about the idea of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, but at this point, preparing the big meal doesn’t freak me out. I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to turkey day, so I usually try to serve a combination of old favorites and maybe one or two new recipes thrown in to keep things fresh.

This year, though, Ron and Janet saved me the trouble, bless them. Their spread was a fabulous collection of all the best stuff — perfectly roasted turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with yummy melty marshmallows on top, green bean casserole (which I always vow needs to be made much more often than just once a year), and a savory wild rice with mushrooms. As Janet so accurately summed up, Thanksgiving is all about the starches. True dat! I contributed a stuffing I made with apples, onions, celery, sage and rosemary (hubby already said he wasn’t going to eat any, so I made it to please myself!); and a bowl of vanilla orange cranberry sauce. All in all, it was a delicious and satisfying dinner shared with good friends. What more could a person ask for? I was truly thankful.

By the way, best use of Thanksgiving leftovers in my book? White meat turkey sandwich on white bread with Miracle Whip, a layer of stuffing and some cranberry sauce. Followed up by a piece of pumpkin pie doused with Cool Whip. Yeah, baby. Now you’re talking.

My thoughts are already turning ahead to the holidays. So many recipes, so little time. I’m already mentally running through lists of cookies I want to make, roasts I can put in the crockpot on the cold nights ahead, my mom’s brandy slush recipe, and a slew of seasonal side dishes. Every year, I have big plans to invite friends over for dinners, a cookie swap, maybe a brunch, and before I know it, Christmas has come and gone. I vow this year not to get so wrapped up in the shopping and stresses of the holiday season that I forget to just relax and spend some time with the people I care about. Spontaneous stolen moments are way better than no moments at all.

Today, we hope to venture out to get our Christmas tree while my adorable stepson is here to help decorate. Perhaps we’ll even follow up our tree-decorating efforts with some cookies and homemade hot chocolate… ah. I know many people loathe the long, cold winter, but I look at it as an opportunity to cuddle up with the ones you love and enjoy a bunch of heart- and tummy-warming dishes that don’t taste nearly as good any other time of year.

To that end… my nose is running again. I think it’s time for a cup of tea and my favorite afghan. Don’t forget to count your blessings.

Aix-rated

Day one in Provence and so far, so good! Much of yesterday was spent just getting here. We took a taxi to Charles de Gaulle to bid my mother-in-law a fond farewell before she caught a flight back to Ireland, then cabbed back into town to Gare du Lyon train station to await our carriage south. The weather, still rainy, took a turn for the colder and we had to really bundle up to ward off the chill.

Boarded our train due south and settled into our luxuriously large first-class seats (thanks, honey! I hereby defer all responsibility of booking train tickets to you from now on.) Soon, we were underway, looking forward to an uneventful three-hour express ride straight into Aix-en-Provence. Halfway there, the train came to a screeching halt and I feared our travel plans were going off the rails yet again. Turns out there was a problem with one of the exterior doors coming open, which required the attention of a mechanic before we could continue. Being stopped in the middle of nowhere meant the best solution was to travel backward to the closest train station. With our being on a busy track such as this, we had to just sit there and wait for the traffic to clear enough for us to make the return. So wait we did.

An older woman sitting in the seat across the aisle spent the entire trip wheezing and struggling for breath, making me question whether she really should have been traveling at all. I couldn’t determine whether the constant grunting, gasping and throat clearing was really a serious medical condition or just a nervous tic. This woman sounded like she REALLY needed some oxygen; I nearly leaned over and offered her the toddler’s inhaler at one point, the poor gal.

Finally, we backtracked, the problem was fixed and we went on our way. We arrived in Aix about an hour and a half later than anticipated, well after dark and starving. The next hiccup to be addressed — taxi after taxi refused to pick us up, the drivers taking one look at our collection of bags, stroller and baby and pleading not enough room in their cars. It was no problem for the cabbies in Paris, but here, our accoutrement was providing a problem. A kind soul eventually agreed to give us a lift to our hotel.

We’re staying in the Citadines, a hotel/apartment-type setup with locations throughout Europe. Our digs are basically a glorified dorm room – lino floor, a tiny kitchenette and a fold-out sofa. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, we have a balcony overlooking some lovely mountainous scenery and the location is far enough outside the main drag to be fairly quiet, but only a 10-minute bus ride away from the center of town. There’s actually a full swimming pool under our balcony, but I can’t imagine anyone having the balls enough to face that chilly water this time of year.

By the time we got checked in, it was getting on to 8 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since a lunchtime snack at the airport. Our rations for the little guy were running dangerously low and there aren’t any restaurants within quick walking distance, so hubby set off to find something to tide us over until morning as I stayed behind and unpacked. The toddler was NOT happy after falling asleep in the cab and then being unceremoniously woken up to unload. About 45 minutes later, hubby reappeared with pizzas and wine and we relaxed with slices of cheesy pepperoni, olive and mushroom pie and some delicious local red. After waging yet another nerve-jangling bedtime battle with the toddler, we all finally drifted off to sleep around 11:30 p.m.

This morning dawned bright and sunny, at long last! Whereas Milan made a scrappy first impression on me, I must say, Aix-en-Provence is proving impressive from the get-go. For starters, the climate here is fantastic. Hubby has spent a little time here before and described the area to me as vaguely northern California-ish. And he’s right – the mountainous scenery sort of calls to mind the California wine country region where we used to live. Of course, this is also a wine-producing area with the same kinds of indigenous vegetation. The sight of wild-growing rosemary and lavender brings a smile to my face.

Having no food in the room apart from the tuna-and-olive-topped pizza we didn’t touch cooling on the balcony, we hurried through our morning preparations and headed into town on foot as soon as we could after getting up. The section where we are staying is filled with nice-looking, well-kept apartment buildings sporting balconies filled with lovely plants, miniature bushes and trees.

After a short while, we came into the center of town. The city seems to radiate out from Le Rotunde, a roundabout distinguished with an impressive large fountain. Aix is known as the “City of Fountains;” to be fair, there are a lot of water features, but many are not all that. A trickle of water squirting up through a large bush does not a fountain make, but whatever.

Le Rotunde

The main thoroughfare is called Cours Mirabeau and shoots off directly from the rotunde — a large, mainly pedestrian street full of shops, banks and quaint restaurants. The whole joint is beautiful really, very clean and well maintained. The crowds aren’t too bad; then again, we are here during low season. The city population hovers around 125,000 normally, and it’s a university town. I can’t imagine how crazy busy it must be during the summer. Paris is hectic and churning all the time; in Provence, the pace of life seems a little slower and more forgiving. People actually stop their cars here to let us cross the street. In Paris, you have to hold onto your ass and run like hell.

We settled on a café right on the rotunde for breakfast/lunch — Nutella crepes, coffees and fruit salad. Slightly overpriced, but delicious. The gooey chocolately crepes were a huge hit with the toddler, as evidenced by the little brown fingerprints he left all over my cream-colored turtleneck. After fortifying ourselves, we took a stroll down the Cours Mirabeau checking things out. I’ve made contact with an English-speaking ex-pat group and found out they have a weekly coffee chat on Thursday mornings, so we sorted out the location — a beautiful tiny restaurant/café on a side street off the Cours Mirabeau. Also nearby, an English bookstore with a great vibe and hearty selection of tomes in my native tongue. Score!

Cours Mirabeau

The rest of the afternoon was spent stocking groceries for the room, first at Aldi and later at the charming market shops downtown. Trying to save a little money, we’ve decided to eat in the room when we can this week and I needed to prepare. For dinner tonight, I was in the mood for pasta and therefore, bought macaroni noodles and ingredients for a pseudo-ratatouille with salad and baguette. Unfortunately, the cooking equipment in the room leaves something to be desired… I tried to view the whole experience as a Top-Chef challenge, and after hubby finally figured out how to get the two-burner electric cooktop going, we were off and running. The finished product? Not one of my best efforts, but it was nice to dine Chez Nous as opposed to taking turns simultaneously subduing the toddler and trying to wolf down our dinners as we’ve been doing in restaurants for the past week.

Hubby is flying off to Wales tomorrow for a few days of professional networking at Rally Britain, so the toddler and I will be making our appearance at the first of two ex-pat coffee klatches tomorrow morning and hopefully gain some ideas for fun things to keep ourselves occupied. I’d love to get down to take a look at Marseilles while we’re here, maybe check out some of the countryside and taste some local wine, olive oil, what have you. A bientot!

Arrividerci, bella Italia

The last few days in Italy were action-packed! Let’s see, where did we last leave off?

On Sunday morning, the toddler and I took another spin around the supermarket of the gods to stock up for our last few days of supplies. After, we lunched at a place in the shopping center called “Risto.” I’ve walked by Risto a few times and was intrigued. As it turns out, Risto is like a very upscale cafeteria, Italian-style. Yummy! It has the first salad bar I’ve seen maybe ever in Europe, along with a whole handful of hot-food stations. Panini, pasta, soups, cheeses; you name it, they had it. And it was BUSY.

I loaded up a big bowl of salad, and not just any salad. This bar offered some definitely Italian ingredients you don’t find just anywhere – radicchio, endive, sliced fennel, cannellini beans… good stuff! The toddler and I grabbed a table and a rare high chair to enjoy. It was a great little find. And as we were eating, an old Italian man passed our table and, best I could understand, told me that my son is a very lucky little boy. NICE! I think I’m liking Italy more all the time.

Dinner at Il Pavone again Sunday night… hubby wrapped up at his show at a decent hour and we had a celebratory supper with his colleague to enjoy. Although I had pledged to try not to order the same thing twice, the fusilli della casa sang its siren call to me and I was happy to answer. A side plate of steamed spinach with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parmesan made the perfect accompaniment. Hubby got pizza and pasta, and his colleague put us all to shame by ordering vegetable soup; an outstandingly huge bowl of seafood pasta loaded with mussels, clams and langostine; AND a pizza. Which he couldn’t finish.

When I was in Cologne, my Hoosier laundry comrade Jerry had suggested I try some limoncello in Italy. Remembering that I hadn’t yet done so, I asked Maria if she had some. Happily, the answer was yes. Out of the freezer came a tall bottle of the lemon liqueur and three chilled shot glasses shaped like little boots. Not sure what the significance of the boot was, but it sure made for an adorable presentation. She filled them up, we toasted to Jerry and sipped. The shot tasted like a lemon drop martini, a very sweet and puckery frosty lemonade with a serious kick. YUMMY. I can’t believe I waited until this late in the week to discover this little gem.

Hello, limoncello!

Monday was our one and only road trip, and although I was disappointed in the lack of beautiful Italian countryside I was hoping for, the stops more than made up for it. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and then set out on our big adventure. Hubby did all the driving, thank God, because I never could have navigated the Milan traffic and gotten us out in one piece.

We stopped in Parma, home of Parma ham and a beautiful little town in its own right, and ditched the car to take a quick look around. We strolled past a picturesque cathedral and piazza, then onto what seemed to be the main shopping street. It was getting toward lunchtime, so we found a cute little cafe and ducked inside. A counter full of delicious-looking sandwiches served us well. I ate a fabulous wedge of rosemary-and-tomato-studded focaccia topped with a few thin slices of proscuitto crudo. Simple and wonderful.

The cafe housed a series of spinning hot chocolate machines just inside the front door that looked like something out of Willy Wonka. Clearly, I couldn’t say no. After my sandwich, I ordered a cup. It was insanely rich, like drinking warm melted chocolate pudding. Oh my goodness. I couldn’t even finish it. Seriously, you could serve this stuff as fondue.

magical hot chocolate machines in Parma

After lunch, we hit the rest of the drive through some side roads and vineyards (I believe this is Chianti territory), past the Ferrari factory in Maranello, and then on to Ducati near Bologna. For the non-sports oriented, Ducati makes the crème de la crème of two-wheelers. Hubby calls it the Ferrari of motorcycles. As the whole reason for our being here was a motorcycle exposition, it seemed the perfect way to cap off our trip to Italy.

We signed in at the gate and were met by our lovely tour guide, Violetta. She proceeded to give us a very informative and interesting walk through the top-secret factory (every single piece of these bikes is assembled by hand – no wonder the price tag!). The adjacent museum reminded me a little of the one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, housing motorcycles through the years along with info on when and where they raced, along with a whole wall of trophies. I’m not really a motorcycle fan, but I still found the whole thing pretty cool. The toddler, on the other hand, though he’d died and gone to heaven! He ran riot through the whole place from one exhibit to another, purring motorcycles noises the entire time. Hubby and his colleague were as happy as two little boys on Christmas morning.

The journey back to Milan was fast, and uneventful, thank God, in spite of hubby’s pedal-to-the-metal driving style and a close call on the autostrade. I tried not to pay too much attention from the backseat. I think he said he averaged something like 98 mph the whole way. Not bad for a rental car.

Our last Milano supper took place, where else, at Il Pavone. Hubby ordered his favorite pizza salami, and I had a fresh mixed salad and a sizzling platter of sliced steak topped with mushrooms. Mm, mm good.

PDAs are de rigeur here in Italy. This is the land of amore, I suppose, but these people don’t just do a quick peck on the cheek, they nearly devour each other. I’ve seen quite a few couples out and about this week (of all ages mind you, not just the teenage variety) engaged in serious clinches. At the tram stop downtown, one such duo had their tongues so far down each other’s throats, I wanted to slip them a handful of euros and tell them to get a room.

With that said, I was ready to give Milan a big, sloppy, wet kiss and say ciao, baby. After a nine-hour flight to New York, a three-hour layover, a 90-minute flight to Indy and a 45-minute taxi ride, we finally arrived home. Not that I haven’t solidly enjoyed our trip and the food that it entailed, but I’m in the mood to cook up some of the most un-Italian dishes I can think of for the next few days. Chicken stir-fry, here I come!

Amy, the anti-fashionista

I am a fish out of water in Milan. The fashion industry is alive and well here, but unfortunately, it’s mostly wasted on the likes of me. Sure, I recognize all the big names – Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace – but I’m scared to death about going into these stores and making a complete fool out of myself. I am missing the shopping-for-sport gene that most women are born with, and I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes or a purse. I have zero ability when it comes to dressing myself in a creative or stylish manner. As a stay-at-home-mom, my wardrobe is pretty limited. You can usually find me in a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt or mock turtleneck on any given day. I’ll throw on a dress or pair of boots for a special night out, but those events are pretty few and far between these days.

And it’s not just the women of Milan, but European women in general. Of all ages. These ladies are made up so nicely and dressed so well, it’s intimidating! Not all are drop-dead beautiful, but they are certainly what you’d call attractive, at the very least. As my husband says, they really learn to work with what they’ve got and maximize the hell out of it.

I have managed to pick up a few minor fashion tips here and there during my previous visits to Europe. For starters, do not wear tennis shoes/trainers under any circumstances. Even if you’re going to be walking and doing a lot of sightseeing. You’ll immediately single yourself out as a tourist. It’s currently 45 degrees outside and has been raining all weekend, yet the women of Milan are out and about in stilettos and all manner of gorgeous leather boots like it ain’t no thang.

Point number two. Wear a scarf, and don’t just wrap it around your neck; tie it creatively. I swear, European women know how to tie more knots than a sailor. You hardly see two scarves tied the same way, yet all look jaunty and fresh and oh-so-stylish. If you can pull it off, wear a hat as well.

There are some fashions I’ve seen here and in Germany that I’m hoping WON’T cross the pond. For instance, the resurgence of (dare I say it) legwarmers. No. Just, no.

The past day in Milan has been kinda miserable. Hubby thinks I’m complaining nonstop. I am really trying hard to be positive and make the most of our time here, because after all, when am I next likely to be in Milan again? However, it’s proven difficult so far. The weather has been piss-poor – rainy and cold all weekend, effectively curtailing any plans for extended outdoor time. The toddler and I did manage to zip out for a little while yesterday between showers to explore the area around our hotel, but there’s just not a lot here. A few pizzerias, a McDonalds, a couple shops. Not exactly a hopping ‘hood. The toddler is enjoying watching the trams and cable cars go by, though. He nearly jumps out of his skin squealing with delight every time one goes by.

Hubby rejoined us last night after some on-site work for his trade show. He still wasn’t feeling well, so although we’d considered taking the tram into the city for a look around, we decided keeping outings to a bare minimum was probably the wiser way to go. We cruised back to the supermarket for baby food and milk, and found ourselves in the midst of even more mayhem than during our previous visit earlier in the day.

The saving grace of being here in Italy is, of course, the food. Dinner was a repeat performance at Il Pavone. Which was not a bad thing at all. We arrived just as they were opening at 6 p.m. and the lovely Maria took excellent care of us again. I ordered the delicious gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and toasted walnuts, and it tasted every bit as good as it had looked the night before. A plate of grilled zucchini, eggplant and radicchio rounded out my meal, and I washed it all down with the house white wine (dry and slightly bubbly, almost champagne-like, but milder in flavor). Hubby got a pizza and seemed very content with his choice. The toddler soundly refused to eat the Italian baby food meal I’d purchased for him at the grocery and loaded up once again on breadsticks. He did take a few bites of my gnocchi, but wasn’t nearly as impressed with it as I was.

I was starting to go a little stir crazy by that point, so hubby offered to head back to the room with the toddler and let me take the tram into town for some solo time. The tram stop is right outside the hotel, but that’s about the only convenient aspect about it. I boarded with no problem and tried to pay close attention to the stops so I’d know when to hop up and get off. Well, the tram was super crowded, the windows were steamed up and I could hardly see out to get my bearings. Plus, some of the stops were announced and some weren’t. In short, I completely flubbed the trip.

We went through the a busy downtown area and at each stop, I assumed the next announcement would be the Duomo, where I was planning to disembark. It never came, and before I knew it, we’d gone through the city center and were somewhere on the other side heading into another residential district. Hm. I tried to text hubby to see if he could help me figure out where I was, but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t help. I knew it shouldn’t be taking THAT long to get to the Duomo, so I finally just got off the tram and walked around to the other side to catch the return route. Sure enough, I’d gone way past and out into the opposite side of Milan.

Discouraged and disgusted with myself and my apparent lack of navigational ability, all I wanted at that point was to get back to the room and into a hot bath. I did catch a very brief glimpse of the Duomo on the return trip, but it was seriously a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse as we raced around a corner. All in all, the wasted trip ate up about two hours of time and I reentered the hotel wet, cranky and roundly defeated.

This morning, we enjoyed another nice continental breakfast at the hotel, then hubby suggested we all go into the city together where we could walk around a little before he met his work colleague and continued on his way for the day. We figured out that there are two kinds of trams running – older models that require three steep steps to enter and exit, often blocked by divider bars (no hope for us with the stroller), and the newer modern versions that are flush with the stop, allowing much easier access for us to wheel on and off. The only thing is, you never know which tram is coming when. Although the trams run frequently (every seven minutes or so during the week, every 15 on weekends), we quickly learned the hard way that our wait times were going to be inconsistent. We watched two or three of the older trams roll by before one finally arrived that we could board with the stroller.

We finally got into the city in one piece, after requesting a tram map from the hotel concierge and counting the stops like a hawk. We disembarked at the Piazza del Duomo, and it is a beautiful place. The buildings are ancient with gorgeously decorated facades, and the Duomo itself is enormous and elaborate. We took a few requisite photos and a spin through the gorgeous shopping center to the left of the square. Sadly, it was getting onto the toddler’s lunch time, the rain cut our walk-around short, and hubby had to get to work. We returned to the tram stop for the return trip, and ended up waiting about 30 minutes for one we could get on. I did have a lovely chat on the ride back with a family visiting from Ireland for a weekend holiday, and turns out they are staying in the same hotel that we are.

It’s a small world after all.