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A Writing Retreat On Lake Como

A Writing Retreat on Lake Como

 Have you ever wanted to write down that memory of your mom making jam from backyard berries, or the time you went deep sea fishing with dad? Maybe it’s not a food memory, but a travel adventure, or a life-changing event that you’ve been thinking about getting down on paper. Now, how about doing just that in beautiful Varenna, Italy this fall, with expert guidance from a talented writing coach and author (Kathryn Abajian) and afternoon excursions by none other than me, Ciao Chow Linda?

Sound tempting? Then come join us this September 20-26 in Varenna,  a picturesque town on Lake Como, surrounded by the foothills of the Alps.
Its narrow streets will beckon you to meander and explore. Maybe you’ll get inspiration from its picturesque charm and come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of before.
You can stroll down to the water and enjoy a drink or a meal at one of many restaurants and cafés overlooking the lake, while waiting for the muse to strike.
We’ll be staying right in town, at the Villa Monastero, a noteworthy attraction in its own right,  that dates back to before the 12th century when it was founded as a nunnery. It later fell into private hands and today is the setting for international scientific conferences — and this year, our conference — “Italy, In Other Words.”
Some of the rooms are open to public viewing, and visitors walk among the spectacular botanic gardens that you will have all to yourself after hours.
As a participant in our writing workshop, you’ll feel like lady or lord of the manor, overlooking the lake and mountains in the distance.
Inspiration is bound to strike you in this unforgettable setting.
The writing and instruction workshop is held for five mornings, and also includes two personal consultations, all conducted by Kathryn, a retired college professor.  She has given writing workshops in California and in Abruzzo, Italy, and is also the author of a book entitled “First Sight of the Desert.”
Bedroom furnishings vary, from modern to rooms furnished with antiques. Those who sign up first will be offered priority. Most rooms have a view of the lake.
Afternoons are free for writing or exploring. For those interested, I’ll take you to a few places of interest, including the ruins of this 12th century castle nearby.
The area is known for its taleggio and gorgonzola cheese, so we’ll most likely take a short trip to visit someplace where it’s made, or aged (and sample some, of course.)
You might want to join me for a boat trip across the lake to Bellagio, a scenic village oozing with charm, and a great place for some shopping.
You’ll find lots of restaurants tucked into the little streets and staircases in the town.
  For those interested in watercolor or cooking lessons, they’re optional, but can be arranged too.
We can’t talk about Italy without mentioning its food, and the food in Varenna is top notch. Here are a few samples from my visit last year – eggplant parmigiana:
 Fresh trout from the lake:
 And torta della nonna (recipe here on Ciao Chow Linda)
Want more information? Go to www.Italyinotherwords.com or contact Kathryn at kabajian@gmail.com for more details. Hope to see you in September.

 

Torta Della Nonna

Torta Della Nonna

 Torta della nonna is one of those iconic desserts that every Italian grandmother has in her repertoire. After all, it consists of not much more than two layers of pasta frolla with pastry cream in the middle and pine nuts on top. But put those simple ingredients together in a tart and suddenly it feels like Spring. Ok, so maybe the sounds of birds chirping outside my window has cheered me too. 

Pasta frolla is the basic pastry crust that’s used in a crostata, and includes egg, which changes it from the basic pie crust made in the U.S. But the torta della nonna I see in Italy seem to have some additional leavening also, so I added a little baking powder to give me the results I wanted. It becomes a dough that’s just a little bit puffy, but still firm too.
Make this in a tart pan with a removable bottom and serve with fresh fruit. If you really want to gild the lily, serve with freshly whipped cream — or be even more decadent and whip up a zabaglione.


P.S. This freezes well after it’s made, in the highly unlikely case you have any leftover.

Torta Della Nonna
printable recipe here

Pastry – pasta frolla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 or 3 T. ice water, if needed

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl or food processor, add the butter and mix until it looks like coarse sand. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the water) and mix only until it holds together. If it’s too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water until the mixture comes together. Do not over mix or your dough will be tough. Bring together into a ball.

Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
zest of one lemon (if you prefer not to use lemon, scrape the seeds from one vanilla bean into the milk or add 1/4 t. almond extract)
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Put the lemon zest and the milk into a large, heavy saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl or mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
Remove the lemon zest from the saucepan and slowly add the hot milk into the egg mixture, a tiny bit at a time. If you add them too quickly, you’ll scramble the eggs. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. If it gets lumpy, use a whisk, or even a hand-held stick blender to smooth it out.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, against the surface of the pastry cream, so it doesn’t develop a “skin.”Cool in refrigerator.

Other ingredients:
1/2 cup pine nuts (I use only those grown in the Mediterranean. DO NOT buy pine nuts from Asia or you risk getting pine nut syndrome.)
To assemble: Cut the dough in half and roll out one half into a disk shape. Fit it into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Place the pastry cream over the dough. Roll the second half of the dough into a disk and cover the pastry cream. Brush with a beaten egg that’s been mixed with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle pine nuts on top and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes until browned on top.
Note: You will have extra dough after trimming the tart. Don’t throw it out. Gather it into a ball and freeze for another use. I like to roll out the leftover dough into a small disk and freeze it that way. Then when I feel like making a one-shell tart quickly, I take it from the freezer, let it thaw, and add some jam, or ricotta mixed with sugar and chocolate chips, bake it and you have a quick dessert.