Join Edible Santa Barbara at the annual Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival. Stop by our booth to pick up copies of our latest issue (and we'll even have a limited number of back issues to give away), and you can enter our instant drawing for a chance to win some great prizes.
We'll also have many of our writers at our booth, so this is a great opportunity to meet some of the people behind the scenes at Edible Santa Barbara. You can ask questions, tell us your ideas and suggestions for future articles or find out how you can get more involved with Edible Santa Barbara.
The Story on Local Food — Sunday at 1pm
Hear about the stories behind the stories of Edible Santa Barbara at a talk given by Krista Harris with writer Nancy Oster. Join us on Sunday at 1pm at the Live Green Harvest Stage. All attendees will be entered in a drawing for a chance to win some great prizes.
Where: To Find Us at Alameda Park
Visit the Edible Santa Barbara booth in the “Live Green” section of Alameda Park near the breezeway on Santa Barbara Street.
When: Schedule of Events
Saturday, April 20 — 11am-7pm and Sunday, April 21 — 11am-5pm
Want to listen to a certain presentation? Find out when it will be happening with the Earth Day schedule. Don't miss our talk about local food on Sunday at 1:00 at the Live Green Harvest stage.
Congratulations Local Heroes of Santa Barbara County!
We are thrilled to congratulate the recipients of our Local Hero Awards this year:
Tom Shepherd is famous throughout the area for his salad greens, but Shepherd Farms produces far more than lettuce. His popular CSA and crowded stand at the farmers markets are signs of just how much people love his produce. ShepherdFarmsCSA.com
Brian Collins, Full of Life Flatbread
This is the third time that Flatbread has been a Local Hero winner, and for good reason. From local soil to local hands, the food at Full of Life Flatbread is something to be experienced. Owner Clark Staub and Chef Brian Collins are the leaders of local food with their innovative farm-fresh cuisine. FullOfLifeFoods.com
In addition to her retail shop, Maya Schoop-Rutten creates a variety of exquisitely produced handcrafted chocolate confections from the finest organic, fair trade and local ingredients. ChocolateMaya.com
A newcomer to the local beverage scene, Andrew and Elske Daigle’s Pop Culture is a farm-to-bottle soda that is made with locally sourced organic fruit. PopCultureBeverage.com
Food From the Heart
Food From the Heart is a volunteer-driven organization that prepares and delivers healthy meals at no charge to our community’s homebound neighbors in need. SBFoodFromTheHeart.com
Isla Vista Food Co-op
For 40 years, the Isla Vista Food Co-op has brought local, natural and organic foods to our community. And recently, due to immense community support, they were able to buy their building and ensure their future. IslaVistaFoodCoop.blogspot.com
We are excited to announce an additional panel discussion on Sunday "Building Local Communities Through Farming and Ranching." We'll hear from a group of young, activist farmers: Noey Turk, Elizabeth Poett, Guner Tautrim, and Robert Abbott about their role in our community.
We also have a wine tasting on Sunday with Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines, Chris King of De Su Propia Cosecha and Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers. What a great way to wrap up the conference with a group of talented winemakers and clinking our glasses together with some great wine!
And finally we want to share this list of all the wonderful sponsors who have helped make this year's Edible Institute possible. We could not do this without their help and support, and we are honored to have such terrific support from this community.
Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards Arlington Tavern Au Bon Climat Bella Vista Designs Buttonwood Farm Winery Cambria Estate Winery Chocolate Maya Classic Party Rentals
Millions of people in the United States live their lives in darkness. But do the rest of us really know what that means? Probably not. Even when we get up at night, we have moonlight, city lights and nightlights to guide us to the nearest wall switch. Playing Blind Man’s Bluff as kids is probably the closest most of us have come to the challenge of not being able to see where we are going or what we are doing.
With that in mind, the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) has incorporated Dining in the Dark dinners into their awareness and fundraising program.
The world’s leading private source of retinal disease research funding, FFB invests nearly 80% of their donations directly into research and public education. Their U.S. recipients include Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and many UC campuses including the Neuroscience Research Institute and the Retinal Cell Biology Lab at UCSB. They also support research projects in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Israel.
Santa Barbara is home to one of 50 volunteer-led chapters across the country. On January 24, 2013, our local FFB held its first Santa Barbara Dining in the Dark dinner at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort.
I was seated at Table 5. On my right was Joe Vega, a local optician and to my left sat Marilyn Robinson, a businesswoman and longtime Santa Barbara resident. Across the table K.C. Wash introduced himself, his daughter Lily, and his wife Rhonda. Seated on K.C.’s right was Melissa Walker, a reporter for Noozhawk.
Gerd Jordano (Photo: Madeleine Vite)
Emcee Gerd Jordano welcomed us saying, “This will be a unique and unforgettable dining experience. During the entrée portion of the meal, you’ll be using only your senses of smell, sound, taste, and touch.”
Poached Pear with Goat Cheese Salad
Fortunately our salad course was served and eaten with the lights on. Our first challenge, however, was to figure out which of three forks to use. Since the new season of Downton Abbey includes a scene on silverware placement, Abbey watchers quickly agreed on the proper fork so we could move ahead. Noting the items on our plates, I was glad we had the lights on for this course.
While we ate, Jim Minow, FFB’s Chief Development Officer told us about some of the advances in research that FFB has helped to fund with the half billion dollars they have raised since their formation in 1971. These include a chip mounted at the back of the eye that brings digital vision to the eye, the slowing of vision loss through a vitamin and nutritional regimen or the implantation of a protein-dispensing capsule in the eye, the creation of a rudimentary retina using stem cells taken from the patient’s skin (research done at UCSB) and gene therapy that has already restored sight to 40 individuals.
The retina is the delicate light-sensing tissue lining the back inside wall of the eye. Photoreceptor cells in the retina convey information from the visual field to the brain. Clinical trials in progress hold promise for future prevention, treatment, and cure of retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, and Usher syndrome. Gene therapy offers the hope that even inherited disease can be treated by replacing dysfunctional genes with good genes.
The evening also offered FFB an opportunity to present Visionary Awards to community members Mary Romo and Dr. David Winter. Mary Romo has Stargardt disease, an inherited juvenile form of gradual macular degeneration. Dr. David Winter, former president of Westmont College, lost sight in both eyes about 15 years ago when his optic nerve suddenly and unexpectedly failed to function. Both recipients are inspirational as active highly functional community members in spite of their vision loss.
Mary Romo Receives Visionary Award from Sally Hamilton (Photo: Madeleine Vite)
Mary Romo talked briefly about the lack of treatment for her condition when she was diagnosed 50 years ago at USC. She then introduced Meghan Downing, the 11-year old daughter of a close friend. Meghan was recently diagnosed with Stargardt Disease. Mary told us “Meghan has a much more hopeful outlook than I did because of the research.”
Dr. David Winter Receives Visionary Award from Dr. Edward Birch (Photo: Madeleine Vite)
Anticipating our introduction to navigating our plates in the dark, Dr. Winter shared a story about eating in public shortly after losing his sight. Focused on just balancing the food on his fork he accidentally popped a whole pat of butter into his mouth, cardboard, paper and all. The solution? He discretely removed the paper and cardboard, then found a roll to eat with his butter.
Quoting M. Scott Peck in A Road Less Traveled, Dr. Winter said, “Life is hard.” Understanding that, he said he has learned that it’s not what happens to you that defines your character, it’s how you respond to life’s challenges. And with that he expressed gratitude for the support he has received from his friends and community.
And now it was time for the main course. Gerd gave us instructions. No cell phone lights or light of any kind. Each table has one chair with a tab attached to the back. Do not remove or cover it. Ropes and stanchions are being set up to guide our low- to no-vision servers to the tables. The tab on the back of the chair will help orient them as they serve our food. Exit lights will be off. Ask the server for help if you need to leave the room.
Servers Use Rope System to Navigate the Room (Photo: Madeleine Vite)
Gerd began the countdown, “Five, four, three, two, one” and the lights went out. As we waited for our plates to arrive we felt around for silverware, wine glass and water glass. Rhonda figured out how to fill a wine glass in the dark and offered to pour for anyone who needed more wine. I leaned over and touched Marilyn on the arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, thanks. You feel kind of alone in the dark,” she said.
Our server Margarita Campillo introduced herself and began serving our entrees. Margarita started losing her vision 11 years ago from glaucoma. She is now totally blind, full of energy, and quick to laugh. Looking in her direction (he hoped) Joe said, “Can I ask what’s on the plate?”
“Surprises,” she said. Margarita touched my arm and put my plate down in front of me. Armed with fork and knife I found something large and firm at the center of the plate and began to cut.
“Is this chicken or fish?” Marilyn asked. I finally took a bite after turning my knife over so the blade side was doing the cutting. We decided it was chicken.
All of us were experiencing empty fork syndrome. Joe recommended using the knife to help push the food onto the fork. Most of us admitted to using our fingers to pick up the broccoli.
“What’s the long skinny thing?” Lily asked.
“A carrot,” Marilyn replied. I found a whole baked tomato and someone else discovered the scalloped potatoes. The sound of forks tapping against the plates indicated that not everyone had resorted to using their fingers. I personally was afraid if I set down my silverware I’d never find it again.
“You could sneak something off someone else’s plate and they’d never know,” Marilyn told me. And in fact when the lights came on K.C. found an extra tomato on his plate, quietly put there by his daughter Lily.
Joe’s Empty Plate
Joe got the award for the cleanest plate and I didn’t find any extra items on mine so I guess he really did eat it all. Joe said he was glad that we all communicated with each other during the meal and helped each other out.
Now it was time for dessert and coffee. After two courses that included goat cheese (not her favorite) Marilyn hoped our dessert would not include goat cheese.
No, that’s not goat cheesecake. During dessert K.C. and Joe told us about the upcoming VisionWalk on April 13, 2013. K.C.’s daughter Lily was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa about 6 years ago and FFB has helped the family find treatment to slow the progress of the disease. Joe and the Wash family are co-chairs of the event, which raises money for FFB research.
The VisionWalk will begin at the Chase Palm Park Carousel Pavilion at 9 am with activities for children, music, and refreshments. Participants form teams and request donations in honor of their team. The first year, Lily’s team raised over $3000 in just 3 weeks. This will be the 3rd annual VisionWalk for Santa Barbara. The fundraising goal for this year’s walk is $50,000.
Joe Vega says the VisionWalk provides another way to help our friends and neighbors with retinal disease meet these challenges with support from their community.
Dr. Greg Olsen, Kathy Ireland and Bob Bason (Photo: Madeleine Vite)
Closing speakers Dr. Greg Olsen, Kathy Ireland and Bob Bason gave their personal thanks to attendees and encouraged future support for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Bob Bason added his recommendation to do the dinner again next year, “but serve spaghetti.”
Those who lived in the Santa Barbara community in 1969 will forever remember January 28 of that year: the day an off-shore oil platform sprung a leak and covered the beach and wildlife in oil. It was the worst oil spill the nation had known at that time, and an event that rippled through the psyche of America.
It is often said that from crisis comes change. For a quiet beach community that is deeply connected to the ocean, this catastrophic spill charged its residents into action. Reflecting a nationwide trend toward greater environmental concern, more than a thousand people attended a commemoration of the oil spill exactly one year later at Santa Barbara City College — with speakers such as Paul Ehrlich, David Brower and Earth Day founder Denis Hayes.
A number of local community activists were so invigorated by the success of the event that they decided to create a non-profit organization to further the ideas being discussed at the time. This group — which included Jim Billig, Elaine Burnell, Phil Marking, Marc McGinnes, John Meengs, Maryanne Mott, Judy Patrick, Paul Relis and Selma Rubin — rented a storefront on Anapamu Street that became part environmental bookstore and part CEC office space. Four days after receiving CEC's incorporation papers on April 18, 1970, the group held its first major activity — closing off the street in front of the new office for the nation's first Earth Day celebration.
Last Thursday the Edible Santa Barbara Supper Club went to Root 246. Located in Solvang and owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, it was opened in 2008 as a restaurant by Chef Bradley Ogden. Bradley brought his unique vision of culinary excellence combined with farm to plate ingredients to our wine region. He has since moved on to his many other restaurants, but we came recently to see what the new culinary team had to offer. We could not have been more pleasantly impressed.
Shaun King is now their Chef de Cuisine and he has definitely made his mark. His long line of experience includes working with not only Bradley Ogden, but with with Chef Rick Moonen, as well as Executive Chef positions at Mo Tav and Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe. We started off the evening with a tour of the kitchen and a little background about the restaurant and the philosophy from Chef King. Just talking to him made us hungry, so we were happy to soon start our meal.
The first course was a Butternut Squash Soup. But first the bowl was presented to us with just the topping and garnish of crab, apple, a little marshmallow fluff and a tiny nasturtium leaf. Then with a carafe and a flourish, our servers poured the soup into each of our bowls. The result was stunning. The rich and complex flavor of the soup perfectly complemented the crab topping. It was paired with a wine from one of our favorite wineries—the Foxen 2011 Chenin Blanc, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. The wine was delicious, crisp and refreshing and picked up the apple flavor of the soup.
The second course was a Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Santa Barbara uni, Jamón Ibérico ham, crispy guanciale and trout roe and garnished with thin slices of carrot and radish along with tiny microgreens that beautifully adorned the plate. From the soft custard consistancy of the panna cotta to the contrasting crunch of the guanciale, this dish was an exquisite balance of texture as well as flavor. And it was paired with one of the most outstanding Savignon Blancs some of us had ever tried. It was Refugio Ranch, 2010 "Tiradora" from Santa Ynez Valley. It had the most pronounced depth of flavor, like honeysuckle, and an amazing finish. It is exactly these types of Sauvignon Blancs that are putting our region on the map, as Louis Villard wrote in the Savignon Blanc article in our current issue.
The third course was Pan Roasted Black Cod with roasted grapes, stewed sunchokes and crispy capers in a saffron sauce. It was nothing short of outstanding. The black cod was cooked perfectly with crispy skin and every flavorful bite was balanced with the amazing combination of ingredients. It was paired with Chanin, 2010 Chardonnay, Los Alamos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, although the previous Sauvignon Blanc went equally well with it. This was one of those dishes that you marvel at just how delicious it is and if it weren't for the fact that we were in an elegant restaurant setting, we would want to lick the plate clean.
The fourth course was Oak Grilled New York Steak (grass-fed) with salt wrinkled potatoes, braised onions and crispy okra. The hint of smoke from being oak grilled paired beautifully with the Andrew Murray, 2010 Syrah, Watch Hill Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. This was a Syrah that was meant to pair with steak. It wasn't fruity, it was completely balanced with the right amount of tannins. Another winning combination of plate and glass.
Our fifth course, the dessert course was a trio of Pumpkin & Persimmon deliciousness. The pumpkin panna cotta echoed our earlier cauliflower panna cotta, but now in its familiar sweet form and it was topped with berries. The scoop of housemade ice cream was on top of a crispy and delicious bit of pastry and the crispy apple slice was so flavorful and crunchy, we all thought we could have eaten a bag full of them. And the persimmon custard was expertly finished off with a piece of paper thin dark chocolate. Every bite was heaven as was each sip of the Beckman Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley that was paired with it. It was a really masterful finish.
Many thanks to Chef Shaun King, who I managed to get a picture with below, and to the whole crew at Root 246 — we will be back soon!
What We Did: Wine tasting, sheep farm, visit Alba, more wine tasting and dinner
What We Ate and Drank: Breakfast with a view, Barolo, cheese tasting and rustic lunch, Barolo and pasta dinner, wine and grappa
I wake up early and head to the lobby to see if I can check my email before breakfast. Then I wander into the breakfast room. The server insists that I sit at a large table by myself because we are part of a group. I am glad to move, though, when I look out the window and see the gorgeous view of the castle in Barolo and the stunning countryside. The best thing about breakfast is this view, and after a quick meal, I go back to the lobby to get one last little round of emails off. Then it is time to go wine tasting. Yes, it's only 10am, but by the time we get there and take a tour of the winery, it will surely be closer to 11am.
We pull up to G.D. Vajra's winery amidst the equipment and activity of harvest. This is one of the advantages of coming at this time of year. We get an up close and personal look at the harvest.
And if yesterday was about finding creativity, I think today is even more so, and we are about to find poetry, art and philosophy at a winery. We are at yet another family winery, but current winemaker Aldo Vajra (pictured above with his daughter, Francesca and with me on the right) returned to the family farm after living in Torino and established the winery in 1972. I am drawn into the stories of this winery... The stained glass windows in the production facility because they want to always be surrounded by art. The inner atrium that lets natural light into the basement barrel room and reminds people that the work they do is connected to nature. There is thought and intention behind everything that is going on at this winery.
And now we are here in the tasting room and wine is being poured into our glasses to taste. Maybe because it is still early in the day, but each wine tastes brighter, clearer, more vibrant than I am used to. The red wines—Dolcetto, Barbera, Barolo—impress us with their depth and their nuance.
Then we are off to Borgomale to Silvio Pistone's farm for a sheep cheese tasting and rustic lunch. We pull up to a picture perfect scene. A gray tabby cat is stretching in the sunshine under fruit laden trees with a backdrop of one more of those gorgeous hillside views.
Silvio greets us. He is smiling, friendly and most of all he is radiating a kind of calm that you can't help but be drawn to. He invites us into his production kitchen and as we walk through his home, we notice every corner, every nook is arranged with an artistic sensibility. You feel as though there is story or a reason for every object.
He tells us about the cheese, but cheese is only one of his artistic endeavors. He bakes beautiful loaves of bread in the oven he built himself with grains that he grinds himself. Steve asks him a question about the art in his home, and his face lights up. Yes, he is an artist, too. And a musician.
He takes us to meet his sheep. Twice a day they are taken to the pasture to graze and inbetween they come back to the barn to be milked. We ask about two sheep that are separated from the others and who are not going to be milked. He tells us that they are "retired" they no longer provide milk, but he cares for them and will not sell them off for meat. We realize that his sensitivity and calmness are connected to caring for his sheep. Apparently sheep are smarter than most people think, probably just under the intelligence of pigs and about equal to cattle. They are also sensitive to loud noises and respond to handlers with quiet, calm voices.
The gray tabby cat has followed us and seems to enjoy watching us. We are gathering in a cabin-like room with a view for our cheese tasting. Again every wall in this room is intriguing.
We sit down at a couple of large tables and begin tasting the delicious cheeses — from freshest to aged. Each one exquisite. And there is Silvio's bread. There are tomatoes from his garden, peaches from his trees. And there is wine.
And later for dessert there is his cake and cookies that he confesses he did not make—they came from someone in the nearby town. No wonder the idea of our Edible Santa Barbara Eat Local Challenge is incomprehensive to him. Eating local is the norm here. Why would you need to do a Challenge?
We all fall under the spell of this beautiful farm and of Silvio. He represents something to us, I think. Maybe that caring for the land, for animals and creating food to nourish others is an act of compassion and somehow spiritual. We feel uplifted and deeply moved by the experience of being here.
Silvio with Krista. Photo by Leon Smith.
The rest of the day we can't stop thinking about our idyllic time with Silvio. We visit the town of Alba and then we visit another winery, Livia Fontana's cellars in Castiglione Falleto. Before we taste the wines, we are invited to sample the grapes from five short rows of grapevines right next to the tasting room. The grapes are ripe and ready for our harvest. Each varietal so different and such a great way to understand the wines. As we taste the wines, the memory of how the grapes tasted lingers. We linger as long as we can in the afternoon sun-drenched room, and then it is time to leave.
We are having dinner tonight at the Giulio Viglione winery in Barolo. The winemaker and his family are so welcoming when we arrive and there is an air of festivity. There is also sense of anticipation. Paolo has told me that we are going to meet Mauro the pasta maker. I have heard of Mauro Musso. He is an artisan pasta maker and his tagliolini pasta is known to everyone in the area. The dinner begins with glasses of wine being filled and delicious things, like frittatas, prosciutto and melon begin filling our plates. Then it is time for the first pasta.
It is the way pasta should be. There is no other way to describe it. I feel like I am eating pasta the way it is supposed to be.
Above: Mauro's artisan pasta and Mauro making the pasta
Then it is time for the second pasta. When pasta is like this, why shouldn't you have two courses?
Paulo serves Steve directly from the pan that Mauro is holding
And then more food comes out and finally zabaglione is served for dessert, that whipped runny custard that is so rich and sweet, yet light. Then Giulio comes out with an enormous bottle of grappa, and we know that we have ended our meal spectacularly.
Next... Day 7: Eataly
Krista Harris is the co-publisher and editor of Edible Santa Barbara. You can read more about the Edible Santa Barbara Tour and sign up to be notified of the next tour on this page.
What We Did: Wine tasting, brewery lunch, more wine tasting, and settling in Barolo
What We Ate and Drank: Castle breakfast, wine tasting, beer pairing lunch, wine, dinner, wine and grappa
We leave the castle and head deep into wine country to experience one of Italy's greatest wines—Barolo, made from the Nebbiolo grape. We will actually be staying in the town of Barolo, but first we have some Barbaresco wine tasting to do. We are starting with the incredibly grand winery estate Marchesi di Grésy. It is one of the properties of the noble Marchesi di Grésy family. It feels noble and the scenery is majestic.
We tour the property and see one of the most expansive and beautiful barrel rooms I have seen. All the barrels rest on gravel on one layer, no stacking for optimum even humidity. And the brick walls seem to ooze character and optimum humidity, too.
Then we go into the bright airy tasting room and begin by tasting a Sauvignon Blanc. They are rightfully proud of their Sauvignon Blanc, it is fresh and nuanced with lots of flavor. It makes it hard to move onto the reds, but we do. Barbaresco, like Barolo, is made from the Nebbiolo grape, but it's different of course. They say that a Barolo is more massive, with more tanins. I suppose we will have to taste a lot of different styles of each before we can have an opinion. But so far, we are incredibly impressed with their Barbaresco.
Then we are off to another craft brewery for a beer pairing lunch at Birrificio CitaBiunda in Neive. This innovative brewery uses very original raw ingredients such as mint, champagne yeast, mulled wine spices, and bitter orange. We are here to taste some of these delicious beers with their equally inventive cuisine. It proves to be a match made in heaven.
The rabbit salad (below) is one of the most original and fantastic things we are lucky enough to try on this trip. The rabbit meat is sweet and savory and a perfect contrast to the exquisite mixed greens with tomato and nice thin shavings of cheese. I eat every last bit and tell Shannon that we must try to recreate this recipe at home.
Then we have a fantastic plate of pasta. I try not to fill up, though, because there is still a meat course and dessert. Each of these courses is paired with a different and equally delicious beer. I lose count of courses and of beers, and I just sit back and enjoy the food, the company and the atmosphere of creativity.
It must be hard to be a serious craft brewer in this land of famous wine and centuries of wine tradition. But I think that is what has driven the craft brewery industry in Piemonte. Only the passionate and talented come to this profession, and clearly they are succeeding.
Now we are off to another Barbaresco wine tasting at Giorgio Pelissero's winery. This is another family winery that has been cultivating vineyards for generations. But in 1960 they began bottling and selling wine under their own label.
Now the commercial operation blends the old culture and modern technology. During the tour of their facility we are fascinated by the many electronic doors that open and shut behind us sealing in the cool air and reminding us of the opening to the old Get Smart TV show.
During the tasting, we are equally interested in the wine named Long Now (a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo) that is named for the Long Now Foundation, which has as its purpose a number of highly creative long-term projects, such as a 10,000 year clock. You can read more about their projects here. I am finding that there is often purpose and meaning behind each bottle of wine here. Winemakers and those that work at a vineyard or winery have much to tell us — to teach us.
Then we check in to our hotel in the small town of Barolo. Our rooms are small, but Shannon has thoughtfully supplied us all with large bottles of water. And we have enough time to take a walk before dinner, which will conveniently be right at the hotel restaurant.
It's time to relax and to perhaps raise a glass in toast to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. His image is alive and well here, and I think today we have paid homage to him quite fittingly.
What We Did: Went to Lake Orta, boat to San Giulio island, lunch, brewery visit, time at the castle
What We Ate and Drank: Castle breakfast, wine pairing lunch, beer and snacks, picnic dinner, wine and grappa
We are visiting Lake Orta today, a smaller version of the more popular Lake Como and, as we are about to find out, far more enchanting. We get up a little earlier and have breakfast at 8am before getting into the bus for about an hour or so drive to the lake. The closer we get to the lake the grayer the skies get, and by the time we arrive it looks like it is about to rain. We put on our raincoats as we walk down the narrow streets of Orto San Giulio to catch the ferry boat to the island of San Giulio.
It is lightly raining now and the mist on the lake makes it all appear so medieval. Stepping off the boat feels like stepping back in time on this tiny, quiet island. We have a tour guide, and he starts to tell us the story of the island. It is named for Saint Julius, who lived in the 4th century. Legend has it that Julius rid the island of snakes and brought Christianity to the area, building many churches.
We step into one of those churches, the Basilica of San Giulio, and again we are further back in time. Although it has been damaged and rebuilt and added on to over the centuries, there is still a feeling of the year 390 when you step inside. Then the frescoes take us right into the medieval ages.
The work of various artists, these frescoes were probably redone many times. Notice how Saint Catherine in the middle is so different from the figures next to her. She positively glows in the soft light of the church. It is very pleasant here. I could linger looking at the intricately carved pulpit, and I'm finding the archaelogical display downstairs very interesting. A group of young school children enter and even their hushed noises do not disturb the atmosphere.
Above: It says "The Island of silence welcomes you" on this map.
Outside it is still raining and we seem to have the island to ourselves. Our guide takes us for a walk on the Way of Silence—a path that weaves through the island and has signs every so often to inspire silence, meditation and contemplation.
Above: In four languages "Silence is the peace of oneself"
Above: "Every journey begins near to you"
The island is really only home to the Benedictine monks and some temporary residents. But on a rainy day in September it is ours. Our final stop is a quaint gift shop where a few of us make purchases before dashing to catch the ferry boat back.
After we dock, we have a little more time to browse the town of Orto San Giulio, and then we head to lunch in the nearby village of Miasino at the Antico Agnello restaurant.
We are all starving. The walk, the rain, the medieval atmosphere—I'm not sure what it was, but it has made us all hungry. It has stopped raining. Everything is damp, and we are having lunch inside instead of in their charming garden. But it could not be more welcoming. We go upstairs to a lovely room set up with tables of wine, beautiful wine glasses and a lavish display of appetizers. It's a wine pairing lunch, so there are different wines to taste with different appetizers. Then we sit down to eat more courses, paired with additional wines.
Above: a cheese custard tart appetizer
Above: porcini risotto
The pairings are some of the best I've tasted. I take a sip of wine, I take a bite of food, I take another sip of wine. Magic. The food and the wine are amazing together. I look across the table at Heidi, and she says "I am so happy right now that I could cry."
The flavors of the food and wine are so vivid. I understand what she means. Time stands still for a moment while we enjoy this very special lunch.
Then we are off to a craft brewery—Birrificio Sant'Andrea in Vercelli. The place is a visual treat. It feels like a group of really hip, smart graphic designers got a hold of it. The beers are fantastic, too. We can't decide which is better—the flavors, the names of the beers or the great packaging and design. It is all so good. We are sold.
It is in that contented, satisfied state that we head back to the castle. We have time to linger here tonight. Our picnic dinner is moving inside to the upstairs cantina, but we still have the spirit of a picnic. Shannon cuts up some gorgeous salume, there are wines from our travels to sample, and we fill our plates with soft, pungent cheeses and bright, flavorful preserves.
And later we wander out onto the grounds and sit in the quiet, chilly air and sip some grappa before bedtime. And we sleep… contentedly.