Thursday, November 27, 2014

How to Have Thanksgiving in Italy

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home! We celebrated on Tuesday because the Coppa Italia tournament starts today so Ryan (and team) are away in Val Pellice.

Since this was our fourth Thanksgiving in Italy, we've gotten pretty good at celebrating in another country - one in which most people have never heard of Thanksgiving. So we put together a list of Thanksgiving staples and how to make them in Italy:

Turkey - First of all, make sure you get your kilos to pounds ratio correct. On our first Thanksgiving in Italy, four years ago, we ordered a 20 pound turkey. Since there are no pounds in Italy, we ended up with a 44 pound turkey (a 20 kilo turkey).

Here are the legs and wings that had to be sawed off at the butcher's and cooked in a separate oven:

Green Bean Casserole - This dish was a staple for Ryan when he was younger (and for most of America, he claims). For those of you not familiar with it, it's made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green beans and it's topped with French's Fried Onions. Four years ago, I actually found Campbell's Cream of Mushroom in the Cooperativa here. It cost 3.90 euro which, at the time, was equivalent to FIVE DOLLARS AND SIXTEEN CENTS, which is outrageous for a can of soup, especially when you need to buy five cans. It was the most expensive green bean casserole ever made. Since then, I've bought the Cooperativa completely out of Campbell's and they haven't re-stocked which means that we have to make our own...slightly more time consuming (not what you need on Thanksgiving morning) but MUCH cheaper (and probably healthier).

Cranberry Sauce -  Obviously there is no Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in Italy or any surrounding country. There aren't even cranberries in Italy. But! There are in Austria. To make cranberry sauce, you must drive an hour away to one specific grocery store in Austria that has cranberries, drive an hour home, and then spend another hour making the sauce. Again, the most expensive and time consuming cranberry sauce ever made.

Dessert - My favorite Thanksgiving dessert is pecan pie....but there are also no pecans in Italy, so that's out. Instead, I bring canned pumpkin with me when we come in September and I usually make this pumpkin cheesecake. The crust calls for graham cracker crumbs - but there are also no graham crackers in Italy - so I use Austrian butter cookies instead. Good thing Austria is so close.

Leftovers -  Arguably one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Our refrigerator is a quarter of the size of the smallest American refrigerator which causes a problem when you have a 44 pound turkey to refrigerate. However, Italians have it figured out that if you have a tiny refrigerator, you need a big balcony. We always box up our leftovers and put them outside, then bring them in when we want to eat them.

And if you think you have a lot of dishes after Thanksgiving dinner....just imagine having to do them in a sink this size:

Here was the aftermath from this year:

We managed to pull it off though and we're still smiling! So, have a happy Thanksgiving and a nice long weekend and we'll be back in December!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Guide to Cortina in the Winter

We're gearing up for our fourth winter here, and I thought it would be fun to put together a mini-guide for potential visitors of our favorite places to stay, eat and what you can do besides skiing. So! Here we go:

The Hotel Menardi is the most popular hotel with our own visitors - especially with my parents who stay there every year! Most hotels in Cortina have restaurants in them and the one at the Hotel Menardi is very good. In fact, we usually have a New Year's Eve dinner there.

It's fun to grab an aperitivo in the bar before dinner - they have these delicious little cheese sticks to go with your Spritz - and after dinner, you can take a deck of cards and one last glass of wine into the living room and sit by the fire.
(Via Majon, 110)

The first two years we were in Cortina, we lived in the Hotel Savoia which is a fancy five-star hotel near the center of town. You can stay in a room in the main hotel, or if you want to stay longer, rent an extended-stay apartment across the street (where we lived) which have living rooms for hanging out in and kitchens so you can cook your own meals. There is also a really nice spa on the bottom floor of the main hotel where you can relax after a day of skiing - we used to sneak in sometimes when we lived there and it was heavenly.
(Via Roma, 62)

The Hotel Cortina is right smack in the center of town, if you like to be in on the action. The week between Christmas and New Year's is packed in Cortina, and this is the place to be if you like to people-watch. They put out a good spread at aperitivo, with really good olives and chicken wings and they often have a band playing on the weekends.
(Corso Italia, 92)

There are also TONS of apartments in Cortina, owned by families in town or people who live elsewhere in Italy and rent them out. If you're thinking of coming to stay, it's worth it to check on airbnb for an apartment to rent, which can give you a real Cortina experience, most likely complete with Alpine-looking chairs which tend to show up in every apartment I've ever seen here.

My favorite restaurant in Cortina is Beppe Sello for their incredibly simple and delicious ravioli, and for their shrimp and avocado salad. We like to sit in the bar for a more casual dinner, but still order off the main dining room menu. The dining room gets pretty hopping between 8:00 and 9:00 during the high season, so reservations are a must. 
(Localita Ronco, 68)

Our other favorite spot is Cinque Torri, located right in the center of town. We found our favorite plate of spaghetti carbonara here (ask for it with zucchini) and Ryan ALWAYS orders the casunziei and a steak. Casunziei is a traditional dish of Cortina – it’s paper-thin raviolis filled with beets (our favorite) or spinach. Also try the canederli which are big bread dumplings made with speck (a type of ham) and cheese. The dumplings are usually served in broth, as a soup dish.

For really special occasions, we walk up the hill to Leone e Anna which serves traditional Sardinian food and is known for their pasta with fish eggs.
(Via Alvera, 112)

At lunchtime, if you want to grab something quickly, my favorite is the tramezzino which is a sandwich made on a spongy, crust-less white bread. They’re usually filled with chicken salad, tuna or ham and artichokes and they make a perfect light lunch (or snack) with a glass of white wine.

Our favorite bar/café is called Bar Sport. We go there for cappuccinos in the morning and macchiatos in the afternoon (like a cappuccino but with less milk, served in a smaller cup). At aperitivo, usually from about 6 pm to 8 pm, we go there for an Aperol Spritz, the classic Venetian drink or a Spritz Bianco (the same thing without the Aperol), and sometimes we stop in after dinner and have a Montenegro.
(Corso Italia, 132)

For the tiny Italian wine bar feel, we like Enoteca which is under the church in the center of town. It has really low ceilings, delicious Lagreins and tiny sandwiches made with butter and anchovies.
(Via del Mercato, 5)

Villa Sandi is the more trendy wine bar. One of my favorite things to do is to grab a table and order their cheese plate – they’ll bring you about four different cheeses with different sauces (“mustards”) to try them with and a paper bag of cut up bread. This is a great way to fill up before the nine o’clock dinner hour.
(Largo delle Poste, 30)

La Suite has a bustling aperitivo scene with apres-skiers spilling out the front door. This is another wine bar (surprise, surprise) but the bartender has been known to get crafty with his cocktails as well. If you are American, NEVER order a Bloody Mary in Cortina. It won’t be what you think. It’s tomato juice, a little lemon juice, some Tabasco and pepper. No ice, no celery, no HORSERADISH (a crime), no lemon wedge or decorative olive…stay away from the Italian Bloody Mary!
(Piazza Venezia, 6)

My favorite ski mountain in Cortina is Faloria (the gondola is located just up from the center of town, near the bus station). I like to go at 8:30 when the mountain first opens, ski for a few hours in the morning before it gets crowded, then stop and have a cappuccino on the sunny deck before heading back to town. Faloria is small and manageable (or North Americans might use the word “boring”) but it’s fun to do a few runs, stop and have a coffee or a beer, do a few more, stop and have a sandwich, do a few more, etc. Skiing in Cortina is more meant to be a fun few hours, not like the skiing in North America where you’re meant to be on the mountain at 8 am for four hours of skiing before a lunch break and then another three hours after, until you can’t feel your fingertips anymore.

The other mountain in Cortina is Tofana (the gondola is located behind the hockey rink). This is a bigger mountain that has more options for runs and is good for both beginner and intermediate skiers.

Faloria and Tofana are the two ski mountains right in town but there are tons of mountains all over the area, if you don’t mind driving (or taking a bus). Cinque Torri (where we hike in September) turns into a ski mountain in the winter, and there is also a trail called the Sellaronda which takes all day. You ski from town to town, all over different mountains, stopping to have drinks and sandwiches along the way, and at one flat point, you can even get pulled by horses. 

One of my favorite winter activities is people watching, especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Literally everyone is wearing fur; women, men, dogs (more than usual), babies, children…one time I saw a man wearing a floor-length fur coat with a bear head hanging off the back. The busiest times in December are opening weekend, which is at the beginning of the month, and then Christmas and New Year’s. If you don’t like crowds, don’t come at these times!

Cortina has a small Christmas market that lines the main promenade in December. It's fun to grab a cup of vin brule - hot wine with spices - and walk around, checking out the different booths. There's usually one with fancy chocolates and another one with lavender products: soaps, pillows, honey, etc.

Even if you don’t like to ski, it’s still worth it to go up to the top of the mountain for the views – and, if it’s a sunny day, for the sun.

If you like to sled, there are lots of places to rent sleds; one is at Mietres, which is a smaller ski hill that was behind our apartment last year. You can rent sleds halfway up the mountain (walk up or take the chair lift) and then sled to the bottom. I'm not one for sledding but many people think this is great fun.

In addition to downhill skiing, there is also a lot of cross country skiing in this area. Or, if you don't like any type of skiing, there's a great walking path that spans the whole town.

If you come in February, you can see the winter polo which is really fun and different.

And you can always go to a hockey game at the Olympic rink!

Come visit!