January 31, 2012

Upcoming Program: Sailing and Savoring the Amalfi Coast

  Happiness is Sailing the Amalfi Coast with Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures. Perche? 

5 Reasons....

1. We have the best Captians. Educated (Captain Nardella has a PhD in wild orchids!), Professional, Experienced.  

2. The Mediterranean has a higher salt content, which brings out the natural sweetness of the fish. Frutti di Mare...fresh squid, octopus, vongole veraci, cozze!
3. Pizza. Gelato. CaffĂ©. Sfogliatelle. Delizia. Torta Caprese. 

4. Excellent fresh virgin olive oil, fresh lemons from the tree, good salt, fresh herbs, squash blossoms, mozzarella di buffalo, pomodorini, pepperoncini.
5. History. The oldest Maritime Republic. The Odyssey. The Sirens. Sophia Loren. Cary Grant.

Including the Bay of Naples and the islands of Procida, Ischia, Capri and when the wind is with us, Ventotene.



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

Program includes:
~  Accommodations aboard a 52-foot Hanse 540e sailboat
~ Most meals and beverages 
~ Cooking classes and visits with local chefs, artisans, and producers 
~ Neapolitan love songs, moonlight, Mediterranean sea, poetic adventure       
$4495/person, double rooms only 

* one single spot available for a traveler open to sharing a room with another guest 

 Photos by the talented Ashley Mulligan   

January 12, 2012

Alumni Story: Natalie's "Rule of Yes"

When describing our culinary adventures, we always tell potential guests to "Expect surprises!" but it can be hard to explain the exact quality of unexpected moments that pop up throughout a trip.

When Natalie Beck, a friend of a friend from Boulder, pulled Peggy's phone number out of her pocket and joined the 2010 Amalfi sailing program last June, the course of her European vacation was changed and she jumped head-first into an experience that she describes as "something out of the movies."

"I was living by the rule of 'Yes'," Natalie explains, "No matter what it was, I decided to say Yes." Saying yes became infinitely easier as she traveled with Peggy among new Italian friends. "I was treated like family by everyone I met, the whole time, because I was with Peggy."

Watch Natalie retell a few of her favorite moments from the trip in this short video clip, filmed at Cafe Aion in Boulder:

During this 20th Anniversary year, we invite you, our alumni, to share your own stories with us! Send us written memories, photos, and video clips of the stories that followed you back home. 

January 11, 2012

Aniello Sposito: The Poetic Portmaster of Amalfi

Call it love at first sight. Call me a sucker as it happens more times that my fingers can count. Sometimes it’s romantic. Sometimes it’s not. But magic it is.

Being on a sailboat is one of life’s great feelings of liberation. Pulling into port has it’s own metaphor, right out of The Ancient Mariner. The going out to sea.. the coming home. There is a sending off and a welcoming back that is as potent as an in-breath and out-breath of a meditation. 

Puttering into the port of Amalfi the first time with our Captain Antonio, I felt an unexpected experience of immense respect. The Port Master, Aniello Sposito, held his gaze with Antonio for the longest time until our boat had been steered into the proper spot. (If you know anything about boats, this is tricky at best, but risky as well with the neighboring real estate.) 

At 63, Aniello is as nimble as an amphibian, jumping in and out of the water for tangled anchors, hopping from boat to boat to secure the fenders, tossing the ropes to the first mate to draw the boat up to the dock and to secure with sailor knots. I have been out of many ports where the marina guys do the same work, usually lazily and not with much presence. But Aniello was different. His work was easeful, skillful and dare I say? Sexy. His job is an opera del’arte a piedi nudi (a barefoot work of art).

A quiet man with deep, piercing eyes, his presence has more than dignity, he has heart. He nods knowingly when the boat is secure and shakes hands with the Captain. He raises a welcoming hand to the others on board, then sets off. It has felt similar to a blessing; an Ave Maria of sorts. As we settle in, put out our gangplank and set up for an aperitivo, Aniello is already back with a bottle of Limoncello. His bright eyes flash a smile as he hands over the bottle, the other is over his heart. We ask him to stay and join us. Even though he nods positively and politely, he is gone again. The next thing we know, he is back with a few boxes of fresh pizza from his favorite place.

This sort of generosity is not uncanny for the Costiera Amalfitana or the Neopolitan way, yet the vein of his intelligent humility is exceptional. His job and the people he meets who recognize this mean the world to him. His father and his grandfather were port master before him. The respect he has for them is
sacred. He carries a brilliant lineage from times gone by. He will tell you stories of how his father treated everyone fairly and respectfully from Fiat giant Agneilli, President Kennedy, down to the local fisherman. Aniello is also one such man. He will tell you everyone loved his father. If we were to say, ‘everyone loves you too’, he would then again, hand over his heart, say, “my father was ‘un grand oumo,’ a great man, a great man. I am simple”. He also says this is a different time. People don’t have the same ‘simpatia’, a mutual feeling of respect and recognition, like they used to. He is married to a German woman a few heads taller than him and has triplet boys. “They love the work,” he says, “but I don’t want them to stay here. They are educated and should take a different route.”

Meanwhile, his sons come and go, each one of them blonde and tan and more handsome and capable than the next. At 17, they will always have Amalfi as home and their father as an inspiration of how to live a meaningful life with meaningful work.

Aneillo stops by again with a present of large, yellow, sfuso amalfitano lemons that we will perfume our water with and make a sauce for spaghetti al limone. We say goodbye, eye to eye. I feel like I am in the presence of an unsung legend. Another one of the greats who are still present, but in transition with their work. I don’t leave without giving Aniello a jar of homemade jam. I am now prepared for the exchange of gifts, something he isn’t prepared for, but accepts willingly.

Now I get the hold the gaze of the port master as we sail out into the bay until the harbor is no longer visible. He does not move.  

* Photos by Ashley Mulligan

January 8, 2012

Recipe: Tagine of Blue Foot Chicken and Dried Cherries Soaked in Wine.

The tagine is my choice of an unglazed clay pot,  especially in winter. Its terracotta top and bottom create the perfect environment for developing slow-cooked flavor.

Being a great fan of Morocco, I most often stick to the traditional dishes. Moroccans themselves are quite creative, but the buck stops when it gets too out of the box or out of range for ingredients out of their reach.

Last week, I was in the mood for chicken, but not. Neither was I in the mood for red meat, having renounced it for three days. A small discipline, but a fine time to perhaps think out of the box. Some sort of wild fowl, or cornish game hen would do the trick, but they didn't have anything at my local market. What they did have was a frozen "Poulet Bleu," a white Canadian variety with blue feet, taken from the French Poulet de Bresse.

"Blue Foot Chicken is characterized by a red comb, white feathers, and steel-blue feet, which give the breed its name. The feet are usually left on for presentation." No blue feet were present on my frozen bird. Yet, the meat is noticeably darker and richer.

"Blue Foot are typically slaughtered much later than factory farm or free range chicken, being left to grow on their own rather than relying on force-feeding or power feed. Thus they require 12 to 14 weeks to reach market size, rather than the 42 days. No water is absorbed into the meat during the chilling process." Hmm...making them naturally plump.

The bird came home, along with a container full of dried cherries. My experience in Morocco has taught me that dried fruit and meat go very well together. Trying to deduce what flavors would combine well in this case, I choosing something equally as rich and dense in flavor, but which would lend some acidity.

A tagine almost always inspires Moroccan spices. Not afraid to experiment, I used ginger which I know goes well with any chicken, ras al hanout, because I thought the bird could stand up to it, a pinch of saffron because I was going exotic, and a touch of cinnamon and clove as the mystery ingredients, to add panache and enhance the cherries. The blue footless bird looked amazing in the tagine, marinated in a bit of extra virgin olive oil and spices. I landed a few sprigs of thyme on top just to add an herbal element.

To further gild the lily, I soaked the cherries for about a half an hour in some cabernet franc recommended by my new friend, sommelier Phil Morich, wine manager at Alfalfa's Market. They were added about half way through the cooking. I also used a splash of the wine as liquid to flavor the dish, something tradition does not advocate. Safe to say this idea is French-Moroccan fusion, of which there is a fair amount.

Almost all tagines cook for at least an hour, more depending on how gentle the fire. Tri-colored quinoa was my accompaniment, along with a spinach salad with thinly sliced red onion, dressed simply with course salt and freshly pressed olive oil.

My friend Virginie took a bite and said, "Oh Peg, it's a 10."I was rather pleased.

A culinary adventure, right here at home.

Tagine of Blue Foot Chicken and Dried Cherries

1 Blue Foot chicken
1 large onion
3/4 cup of dried cherries, soaked in wine of choice*
1 T dried ginger
1/2 t ras al hanout (Moroccan blend of spices)
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t clove
a pinch of saffron (soaked in 1/2 cup of water)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

* Chateau Du Petit Thouars ~  Cepage Cabernet Franc
(read about them, quite interesting)

 Slice onions and set aside. Soak cherries in your wine of choice* and set aside. Slice chicken into parts and rub with olive oil and spices, salt and pepper. Put half the onions in the bottom of the tagine. Add the chicken on top and add the other half of the onions on top of the chicken. Add the sprigs of fresh thyme. Bathe the chicken in a splash of wine and add the saffron in it's water. Cover.

Cook tagine on a gas stove or over coals. When cooking with a clay pot, it's best to heat the pot slowly.
Start out slow, increasing the temperature until the pot has brought the food to a boil. Turn down to a simmer.  Let cook for 20 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid to create steam and keep the chicken from burning.

Add the cherries and the soaking wine and let cook for another 20 minutes. Test for tenderness.

Dedicated to all of my fellow Moroccan culinary adventurers.