December 30, 2011

A New Year's Letter for Adventures to Come.

A splash of holiday color along the Lungarno.

As the year comes to a close, like many of you I am full of gratitude. For love, health, safety (after miles of traveling), family and friends and the kindness from all those who keep these programs afloat.

To quote poet David Whyte, "I am twice blessed to have a first love as a work, but also, ultimately, to see it as no work at all, but as a way of being in the world; a way of holding the conversation of life that is enlarging, generous, deeply satisfying and a full reward in and of itself."

What we look for when we travel is to find 'authenticity.' We want to rub up against something unfamiliar so it sparks us out of our daily slumbers. Waking up our senses to notice Piero's hands dancing through the air when he teaches a cooking class in Tuscany, Francesco the busdriver's spontaneous opera in Sicily, the perfection of Fabrizia's elegant Sicilian cassata, Antonio's tack and wind-shift with the sails while octopus slow cooks on the gimbled stove, Bahija's excitement to get her elegant hands in to fluff the hot couscous... these are the gestures that touch us unexpectedly and make our trips meaningful.

Our culinary adventures get you into the kitchen, all sorts of kitchens where few others have been welcomed. It's like crossing a border where connection, kindness and curiosity are the passport for getting in. We learn new recipes, become familiar with new tastes, but the most satisfying part of the journey has come from going a bit beyond the kitchen, beyond our comfort zones to stretch parts of ourselves that we are unacquainted with. Letting down our guard to change our view of others who live differently and learn about ourselves at the same time offers something for the soul as well. The trip therefore, has been not about getting away...but about coming home. The world is not such a foreign place after all, and we seem to fit in it better than we thought. We see ourselves as citizens of the world. More similar than different.

As the refrain of "Auld Lang Zyne" says, should "times gone by" be forgotten?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang zyne?
For "times gone by," my dear, for "times gone by," we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for "old times gone by"...
Please join me in whatever way you can to make this upcoming 20th anniversary year of 2012 a celebration of "times gone by." Send us your stories, a memory, a photo, a word if it affected your life in some way. Join us on a new trip, or the anniversary trip to re-visit a few of our old haunts and pals.

Happy Holidays and Buon anno nuovo!! Happy New Year!

Peggy, et al.

December 20, 2011

Alumni Story: The Ravioli Crisis

When all is said and done, what we do here at PMCA is all about people. Those we meet and those we travel with. The ingredients that become familiar and the recipes we learn bloom into larger stories, even after we have returned home.

During this 20th Anniversary year, we are making it a priority to collect and share stories from our alumni, about the moments that stand out and the ways that a trip with PMCA has impacted your lives upon returning home.

We invite you! to send them as emails, to record them as videos or audio, to include photos and/or to post them on our facebook page.

Here, we would like to share a story from Kate Fortney, who has attended our Tuscany and Morocco programs with her husband, Heschel - and will soon join us in Spain!

Kate and Heschel in the kitchen on our Fall 2010 program in Morocco.

In 2000, we took our first trip with Peggy. It was Heschel's 50th year and for his birthday celebration we decided a cooking school in Florence would be a great way to commemorate the milestone. It was a perfect trip: accomodations were comfortable, our classmates all seem to be kindred spirits, the excursions were a perfect accompaniment for the classes - informative, but more importantly a wonderful way to meet Tuscans and experience the culture. And of course the food was fantastic. And although even 11 years later we have detailed memories of each day, our story really happened after we came home.
I guess Piero's class just made all the cooking seem so easy. Once we arrived home, swelled with confidence, we invited several friends over for an Italian dinner using the recipes we'd learned. Heschel was making a chicken dish that required the chicken to be deboned. After pretty much shredding his first attempt, he opted to use boneless chicken breasts from the store. I took on making the ravolli. While the ragu and stuffing came out well, for some reason it took three attempts to get the pasta dough right and then I struggled to get it rolled thin enough. Luckily we had some frozen ravolli that we mixed in.  
While I was having my ravolli crisis, Hesch was whipping up tiramisu. Since I had my back to him, I'm not sure exactly what went wrong. All I know, is that all of sudden I heard him cry out, "Oh no, they are floating!" When I turned around, his ladyfinger cakes were popping up to the surface. He went back to the store for ready-made.
By the time our guests arrived, we had regained our sense of humor and were able to greet them at the door with, "Welcome to our Italian dinner, where every course has a story." And ultimately that's what Peggy's wonderful culinary trip in Florence gave us-besides some new cooking skills, an appreciation that it isn't about the perfection of the food, it is about sharing that food with friends and creating memories.

December 13, 2011

Announcing the 20th Anniversary "Trip of a Lifetime"

June 11-20, 2012

In honor of our 20th Anniversary year, we have designed a trip to commemorate all of the chefs, artisans, farmers, estate owners, and characters that we have worked with for nearly 2 decades.

A once-in-a-lifetime culinary tour of Florence, Liguria and the 'Bay of Poets', and the island of Elba. With an optional sailing extension around Procida and the Amalfi coast.  

Grapes hung to dry for Vin Santo, Tuscany.

We begin at 'La Cucina al Focolare' in the Florentine hills
, where Chef Piero still drives the mothership even more skillfully after 20 years. We'll settle into the Chianti countryside, taste and cook the same rich, extra-virgin olive oil-based traditional Tuscan dishes from our wood fired ovens.

     Piero Laughing

La Cucina al Focolare, Florence, Italy.
Next, we travel to Angelo Cabani's gastronomic hotel, Locanda Miranda, overlooking the Bay of Poets, where the most important ingredient is 'amacizia' (friendship). We'll be in the artistic hands of Angelo's 75 years, 60 of which he's spent in the kitchen mastering fish.

Tellaro, Liguria, Italy.
Already on the coast, we'll be drawn to the rustic island of Elba, to Luciano Cassini's well-loved alley-way restaurant, 'Il Chiasso,' for an unforgettable experience with a treasured chef from a disappearing era.

Luciano Cassini, chef, clown and actor, with Peggy on the island of Elba.
We'll end the program back in the city of Florence, where we will hit all of the old haunts - cafés and wine bars, the markets, and a celebratory dinner at Cibreo.

Cibreo Caffé in the center of Florence.

Come prepared to be surprised!

Guest Natalie Beck on deck of the 'Tonnado' off the coast of Amalfi.

For more information or to reserve your room, please email us or call our booking coordinator, Merete, at 303-910-0897. 

Double: $6200/per person
Single: $6750

Program includes:
~  Accommodations and most meals
~ Cooking classes and visits with local chefs and artisans
~ Transportation between Florence, Liguria, and Elba  
~ Market excursions, kitchen clowns, produce jugglers, Tuscan fires, singing bus drivers, poetic moonlit nights, full bellies, laughter, plenty of world-class vino and saucy sommeliers... and your open-hearted willingness to enjoy the celebration!

Holiday Recipe: "Pick Me Up!" Tiramisu

A few years ago, our friend Moya told us a story about her Tuscan mother-in-law, who used this phrase in a sentence when her husband told a bit of gossip. She said, “Tiramisu le calze!! Well, pick up my stockings!” It’s our favorite elegant dessert and always pleases.


  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese (1 scant cup)
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 2 cups very strong brewed coffee or brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Vin Santo (more traditionally Tuscan) or Marsala wine
  • 18 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers, 6 oz)
  • 1/4 cup fine-quality bittersweet chocolate shavings or 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 8 “balloon” red wine glasses

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

Stir together coffee and Vin Santo in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, soaking it about 2 seconds on each side, break it into with your fingers and transfer to the wine glass. Pipe the marscapone mixture into the glass with an icing pipe bag and layer with another soaked ladyfinger. Top it off with another swirl of marscapone mixture. Fill the glass only half full. Fill your other wine glasses.

Chill tiramisu, covered, at least a couple of hours. Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa or shave with chocolate.