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Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.

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Sunday at Casa Bellavista

Posted: March 28, 2010
by: Dave, Edie & Simonetta

The warm rays of the Tuscan sun peeking through the shutters of la camera verde called us to a new day at Casa Bellavista.  As we opened them we overlooked the olive grove and fruit orchard.  The sun cast lazy silhouettes of trees on the soft green carpet below. 

Casa Bellavista, a Tuscan Bed and Breakfast sits on a hilltop once occupied by the Romans.  Written record of the homestead dates to the second half of the 18th century, when Casa Bellavista was a farm producing extra virgin olive oil, grains, and tobacco used for the famous Toscana cigar.  
Giving its visitors a commanding 360 degree view of Tuscan hill towns and the Val di Chiana, it is an ideal place to spend a sunny Sunday.   The side yard, which overlooks the hill town of Montepulciano and majestic Monte Amiata, is an ideal location to enjoy   breakfast, offering its usual fare of fruit, meats, cheeses, breads and homemade jams as well as delicious Italian coffee and a homemade torta.  After this bountiful breakfast and “taking the coffee”, we take a leisurely walk along country roads. 
Upon our return, Guido, Simonetta’s husband, was busy preparing the porcini mushrooms


which we purchased the day before from a roadside vendor.  We had been returning from Poppi and noticed him.  Not being able to resist the display of his produce, we stopped.  By the time we got onto the autostrada, we had negotiated for and purchased an entire box of porcini mushrooms as well as chestnuts.  Now Guido was preparing them with bay leaves, oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  After some time in the oven he would serve them with a drizzle of olive oil and servings of the chianina beef which we purchased earlier at the macelleria in Sinalunga. 

To grill the Chianina beef, Guido built a fire of cypress wood fire in the fire place.  Soon our lunch was ready…the porcini mushrooms, the Chianina beef and an insalata from their garden.  For dolce we enjoyed a simple offering of roasted chestnuts and vin santo.
An important part of the Tuscan culture is the festa del villaggio, a festival celebrating the joy of community.  After a brief riposo we headed to the community of Fratticiola, a short ride down the winding road from Casa Bellavista.  The narrow streets were lined with local farmers offering their products for sale.  As visitors to the festa we had choices to make.  Would we buy some wine or perhaps some honey?  The locally made formaggio and sciacciata along with the porchetta were also tempting us. 


But, there was more to see…more to experience.  As we walked along the street, we were approached by a team of Chianina Beef Cattle pulling a cart loaded with people enjoying the celebration.  There were displays of hand painted antique farms carts which caught our eye.


The smell of roasting chestnuts over open fires filled our senses.  In the distance we could hear the sound of a live band and see people dancing in the street.


Families laughed together, young couples walked arm in arm as they enjoyed the festa and the nonni present shared knowing smiles and memories with one another.   

Later that evening, back at Casa Bellavista, we relaxed in the side yard, under the Tuscan moon and enjoyed some of the wine and cheese we bought  at the festa di Fratticiola.  Una bella domenica in Toscana…It was a beautiful Sunday in Tuscany. 

Thank you for reading our blog:
Dave and Edie

Santa Barbara Getaway for Rhubarb Barb…

Posted: March 7, 2010
by: Mark Stine

Santa Barbara Poster

It was one of those “Milestone” birthdays that warranted a special birthday celebration for gourmand and noted rhubarb pie baker “Rhubarb” Barb. The September 09 blog from GourmetStation featured another rhubarb aficionado, Nashville's own Ginger Anderson …and Donna’s (aka  T. Alexander) personal note to me at how good that  pie was…well that was a real challenge to Rhubarb Barb who said “Thems fightin words” and would welcome a rhubarb pie bake off!  

So to simmer her down…I flew to the Burbank airport - scooped her up and headed up the coast to a favorite spot Santa Barbara.

No matter when you go, Santa Barbara and nearby Montecito are wonderful getaways. The atmosphere is relaxed….the scenery stunning and the variety of restaurants ample and scenic enough to suit any taste. After a coastal morning drive up from greater LA …food was on our minds. Scooting through the main drag of Montecito tabulating our options…we turned the car around and headed back to the café with the busy morning crowd. They obviously knew something and we were about to find out what. The cute café had outdoor seating…shrouded just a bit with morning mist and a very active and full house on the inside.

After a word to the hostess, we were seated outdoors at Jeanine’s American Bakery & Restaurant. ( www.jeannines.com )  The food was wonderful…fresh…seasonally flavored…but what added to the experience was the wonderful hostess, Nancy, a retired teacher who had taken up the cause of promoting, “hostessing” and all round cheerleader for the delights of  Jeannine’s. She made our morning special, getting us the outdoor seating we desired…getting a special “birthday surprise slice of cake” for Barb and stealing extra moments with us to engage in the history of Jeannine’s and why she so strongly believes in the place.

Why we even got Nancy to pose with the birthday gal….


Jeannine’s menu is a reflection of family values and quality….if a coastal trip is in your horizon…stop in and see what operator Eleanor Hardy really means in their value statement.
“Our menu is a reflection of what we as a family, like to eat everyday. It is simple authentic food made from wholesome and, whenever possible, organic ingredients. We make our own dressings, and sauces, roast our own turkeys and bake our own biscuits. Good food made with the best ingredients and served in a comfortable atmosphere by a friendly staff. That is what Jeannine’s is all about
Eleanor Hardey

Jeannine’s is located at 1253 Coast Village Rd.  (805) 969-7878.

While driving through Montecito we missed Oprah’s house, but if you allow yourself extra time for exploring, there are many gated properties and lushly landscaped grounds to view.

Montecito Gate

Former Daytonian (Rhubarb Barb and I both being from the Dayton suburb- Beavercreek) and actor Rob Lowe and his family make their home there with mountain and ocean views, although I don’t really know him and that information tid-bit came from a Montecito real estate site, I did meet him ocean-side once in Malibu, while we shot a scene for the series The West Wing. Since it was just the two of us walking on the beach in that scene, surrounded by actors portraying reporters, I managed to mention Dayton, Ohio and he volunteered that he, Martin Sheen and Allison Janney, all series regulars were from the Dayton area. He mentioned he even dated a girl from Beavercreek once – WOW - I felt like I was living Entertainment Tonight! Montecito is littered with celebs, as it is a stunning place to live, so if you stay in the vicinity and eat out in the evenings, you ever know who you will bump into.


After touring Montecito, we arrived in Santa Barbara and checked into the Encina Lodge and Suites…..comfortable, affordable and conveniently located near the action of  downtown Santa Barbara. Taking a cue from Barb and also local’s recommendations, we attempted to make reservations at The Palace Grill – a Cajun-Creole-Caribbean-Santa Barbara flavored style restaurant. Even without a reservation, we stood in line for the opportunity to snag any “no-shows” and were rewarded with a spot near the open air kitchen. A wimpered “ But it’s her birthday” may have helped in snagging one of the three remaining tables, as no one behind us got seated-whew!  If you go, be forewarned that on Friday and Saturday nights they have limited reservations. Located at 8 East Cota Street in downtown Santa Barbara, parking is easily located in area parking decks. (805) 963-5000.

To start off the night we each ordered the house specialty drink…The Cajun Martini- A Palace classic.  First off it is served in a mason jar over ice with a martini glass and cherry peppers on the side. The vodka is well chilled and marinated with fresh jalapeno pepper and a touch of vermouth. 


The food is spicy, depending on what you order and very satisfying. Dessert- well it was Barb’s birthday and they did a nice chocolate soufflé with a birthday flair!


Afterwards, we couldn’t see our way out after finishing those mason jars of Cajun Martinis. They had a real kick….and we wandered the main avenue gaining our “sea legs” before heading back to the lodge.

The next day we went a bit high brow, what with Barb being a design and graphics expert as well as a fine artist. Always fun to tour museums with a professional!  They had a wonderful Chinese exhibit when we were there. For further information before you go, check out their link,  www.sbmuseart.org

Art Museum

History (from their web site)
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened to the public on June 5, 1941, in a building that was at one time the Santa Barbara Post Office (1914–1932). Chicago architect David Adler simplified the building’s façade and created the Museum’s galleries, most notably Ludington Court which offers a dramatic sense of arrival for museum visitors. The newly renovated Park Wing Entrance and Luria Activities Center open in June 2006.
Over its history the Museum has expanded with the addition of the Stanley R. McCormick Gallery in 1942 and the Sterling and Preston Morton Galleries in 1963. Significant expansions came when the Alice Keck Park Wing opened to the public in 1985 and the Jean and Austin H. Peck, Jr. Wing in 1998. The Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House, a center for art education activities, was established in 1991.
Today, the Museum’s 60,000 square feet include exhibition galleries, a Museum Store, Cafe, a 154-seat auditorium, a library containing 50,000 books and 55,000 slides, a children’s gallery dedicated to participatory interactive programming and an 11,500-square-foot off-site facility, the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House.
All in all it was a wonderful birthday trip. Having been to Santa Barbara and Montecito a number of times, I can only hope to get back again soon…as I am sure you will agree after you have had a chance to visit…breathe the cypress and eucalyptus scented air…and taste some of the great local fare. Enjoy!