Got Granita? Savoring A Summertime Sweet In Italy

granita con caffe
Chris, Flickr

It will officially be summer in just a few days, and who doesn’t associate long, hot days with ice cream? Or, depending upon your preferences, lactose-digesting capabilities, and what part of the world you’re in, gelato, sorbet, paletas, kulfi, faloodeh, bur bur cha cha or other sweet, frozen treats served around the world.

Gelato is obviously past its tipping point in the U.S, but the granita still isn’t a well-known part of the general populace’s culinary lexicon. In Italy, however, this grainy frozen dessert is a summertime staple. Granite (plural of granita) refers to a dessert that’s scraped at intervals as it freezes, in order to form larger crystals than a typical sorbetto. A true granita should have a coarse texture because it’s made by hand, rather than processed in a machine, which results in a slush.

Coffee or espresso with a bit of sugar is the most commonly used flavoring for granite. Known as granita di café or caffe freddo, this refreshing treat is best served con panna; with unsweetened whipped cream. The first time I ever had one was in Florence, on a freakishly hot October day. Like millions before me, I left crowded the Galleria dell’ Accademia after viewing Michelangelo’s David, thirsty, sweaty, and grumpy.

Several blocks down via Ricasoli, I happened upon a little shop called Gelato Carabé . I was drawn by the wafts of sugary, perfumed air, but it was the menu and hand-crafted appearance of the gelati (mass-produced stuff is often sold out of plastic tubs, but it also tends to look manufactured, and just a little too perfect) that sold me on the place.

eating gelato
minka6, Flickr

The customer in front of me turned away from the counter clutching a cup filled with a rough-looking iced concoction, topped with a soft mound of whipped cream. Its color suggested it contained caffeine. I asked, in crappy Italian, what it was. And then I ordered my first-ever granita di café con panna. Instant addiction. The melding of flavors and textures – bitter espresso, a hint of sugar, grainy ice, silky cream – was the ideal salve for my museum-and-crowd-addled soul.

I returned to the gelateria every day for the remainder of my trip. After I returned home, I learned that owners Antonio and Loredana Lisciandro are from Patti, on Sicily’s northern coast. Antonio’s grandfather was a gelatio, or gelato master, and Antonio became a leading authority on gelato, as well. FYI, gelato has less air incorporated into it than American ice cream, which results in a more dense, flavorful product. Depending upon the region in which it’s made, it may contain eggs, or use cream instead of milk.

The Lisciandro’s import seasonal ingredients from Sicily, including pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds, and the intensely flavored native lemons, which have a thick, bumpy skin. They produce rich, creamy gelati, cremolati (cremolata is similar to sherbet, but made with fresh fruit pulp instead of filtered juice; both are made with milk or cream, whereas sorbetto is dairy-free), and the aforementioned ethereal granite.

Today, Gelato Carabé has two locations in Florence. I’ve since had granita di café con panna all over Italy (I highly recommend enjoying it overlooking the Sant’ Angelo harbor on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples). Barring that, I suggest using this recipe. Get a copy of Laura Fraser’s delicious “An Italian Affair” (which is how I learned about Ischia in the first place). Spoon granita into a pint glass (let’s not kid ourselves with a foofy parfait-style). Find a relaxing place in the shade, and then savor summer, Italian-style.

Sweden’s Male Train Drivers Wear Skirts Following Row Over Uniform

Sweden Train
Dan Clay, Flickr

At least a dozen train drivers in Sweden have taken to wearing skirts as they go about their job after their employer banned them from wearing shorts.

The men, who operate trains north of Stockholm, wanted to wear shorts during warmer weather but were forbidden from doing so after their train line was taken over by a new company this year. The drivers said they collectively decided to wear skirts once summer started because they were much more breathable than pants.

“The passengers stare at us but so far no one has said anything – well, not to me, anyway. And I don’t mind as it’s more about comfort,” one driver told the BBC.In an interesting twist, the company operating the train line has given the male conductors the green light to continue wearing the female attire. A representative explained the decision to a local newspaper, saying, “Our thinking is that one should look decent and proper when representing Arriva and the present uniforms do that. If the man only wants [to wear] a skirt then that is OK. To tell them to do something else would be discrimination.”

Festivals And Events Coming Up This Month

Festivals and Events
didy b/ Flickr

Summer weather brings festivals and events that range from open-air concerts and outdoor car shows to group hikes and more. In June, there are a number of notable summer festivals and events. Some are held annually, others are starting up for the first time this year. Count on good food, warm summer fun and great memories to be made at any of these must-see events.

Gettysburg Festival
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – June 8
It’s blues, beer and barbecue at the Gettysburg Festival this weekend featuring legendary bluesman Big Jack Johnson’s backing band, the Cornlickers, PA’s First Lady of Blues, Octavia and the U.S. Army Field Band Volunteers. Since 1981, the soldier-musicians of The Field Band Volunteers have performed for millions of listeners around the planet, representing their fellow soldiers through music.

Richmond Bacon Festival
Richmond, Virginia – June 9
A first for the 17th street farmers market, 20 restaurants will compete with bacon-centric dishes and Devils Backbone Brewery and Bold Rock Hard Cider will be pouring more than 20 craft beers. Held by a local brewer and beer distributor, the idea is to design bacon-oriented culinary creations then wash them down with a craft beer.Emmett Cherry Festival
Emmett, Idaho – June 12-15, 2013
Held since the 1930s and always during the second full week of June, the Emmett Cherry Festival serves up a taste of tradition. Cherry Festival events, concerts and carnival all happen in the Emmett City Park starting Wednesday through Saturday. Looking for some down-home goodness? This may be it. Featured are a cherry pit-spitting contest, a pie eating contest and entertainment. Nearly 40,000 people are expected to attend this family-oriented event that celebrates the arrival of the cherries.

Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters
Little Rock, Arkansas – June 27
Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters are the greatest living link to what can best be described as a gumbo of Cajun/Acadian music, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and melodies, and the blues. Held at
Wildwood Park for the Arts in western Little Rock’s Chenal Valley, the event’s gates open at 6 p.m. for outdoor
picnicking, and the concert begins at 8 p.m.

Orion Music and More Festival
Detroit, Michigan – June 6-8
Over 20,000 fans are expected to attend each of the three days of the festival, headlined by Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday and Metallica on Sunday with a total of 39 acts scheduled to perform. In addition to five stages, all set up on the Belle Isle baseball fields, there will be a car show, film screenings, horror movie memorabilia, food vendors from around Detroit and more. Featured at Orion Music and More is a 30-foot skate ramp where pro riders will tear up the Vans Vert Ramp while bands perform live.

Planning The Perfect Picnic (Food Poisoning Not Included)

paris picnic
Trey Ratcliff, Flickr

The solstice may be a few weeks off yet, but let’s not kid ourselves: summer has begun. A favorite warm weather pastime the world over is dining al fresco. I first discovered the joys of the picnic, in particular, when I was 10, and my family spent the summer traveling Europe in a borrowed Westphalia camper van.

From the Swiss Alps to the Yorkshire Dales, we practiced the art of picnicking and the menu was always a regional variation on bread/cured meat/cheese/chocolate (this is also what fueled my obsession with those foods).

Now that I’m an adult (at least, in theory), I still find picnics to be the ultimate form of outdoor indulgence. This summer, whether your travels take you overseas or only as far as your backyard, plan on making a habit of putting together a portable meal. Eating outdoors is a fun, easy, relaxing way to enjoy the season, especially if you follow these food-safety tips:

  • Make your menu tempting at room temperature. Fried chicken may be a Southern picnic staple, but it’s also a case of food poisoning waiting to happen if it’s not consumed within two hours of preparation (click here for the USDA’s microbiological explanation). Also, two words: soggy coating. Instead, serve sandwiches and grain-, pasta-, or roasted vegetable-based salads.
  • Keep it cool. Line an ice chest with ice packs, and then stash perishables, or if you’re hiking, fill and freeze the bladder from a hydropack. If something needs to be served at “room temperature,” use the ambient air temp to gauge when you should remove it from the cooler. Got some great cheese and it’s 100 degrees out? Five or ten minutes will do the trick.
  • retro picnicepiclectic, Flickr
  • Good hygiene begins at home, but don’t forget to pack some anti-bacterial gel for pre- and post-meal cleanup.
  • Keep it compact, green and clean. A bottle of wine is the ideal companion for a picnic, but broken glass definitely doesn’t make for a good garnish. Use a neoprene wine bag to keep your bottle chilled and protected (if temps are soaring; even red wine needs a cool-down). Use designed-for-outdoor-use stackable cups. For plates and cutlery, forgo the paper-waste and invest in either outdoor dining dishware or biodegradable bamboo products, which are widely available. If you have access to a compost bin (or some chickens), save all non-meat and dairy food scraps in a Tupperware. Leave your picnic spot cleaner than you found it.
  • Keep food fresh and pest-free by covering it with a lid, clean dishtowel or mesh dome (you can frequently find vintage versions of the latter at flea markets and antique shops).

Summer Travel Bargains, Available Now During Brief Buying ‘Sweet Spot’

Moyan_Brenn/ Flickr

Summer travel season is right around the corner but exciting travel opportunities are often limited by price. There are plenty of places to go, but they are often priced out of reach. Still, with some research and timing, summer travel bargains are out there right now. Why? Sellers of travel want occupancy and booking levels to be at a certain target number right about now. If the numbers are not where they want them to be, they bring on the discounts to shore up summer season bookings. Here are some we found as standout bargains.

Disney World, Discounted
Summer is usually a popular time to visit Florida’s Walt Disney World and this year is no exception. Many families have to do vacations during the summer, when kids are out of school, most often driving prices up. Still, with hotel capacity running a bit ahead of reservations, deals are out there. Savings of 30 percent on select Disney hotels on Disney property, free dining with a hotel and ticket package, and more can be found at Disney’s Special Offers webpage.

Hike the Blue Mountains in Jamaica
Strawberry Hill is offering guests 25 percent off rates for stays through October 31 with its “Discover the Blue Mountains” package. The three-night stay includes two hikes on Gordon Town Trail and Settlement Trail, daily breakfast, a fruit and cheese welcome amenity, dinner with a bottle of wine, daily Blackwell Rum cocktail and a spa treatment. Don’t come home without a pound or two of that Blue Mountain coffee.Summer for Less at Nantucket Island Resorts– Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket Island Resorts is offering 30 percent off room rates at White Elephant Village, The Wauwinet and the White Elephant Hotel to guests who book five consecutive nights July 7-19. Rates start at $2,500 for five nights. Visit nantucketislandresorts.com/hotel-deals for more.

Pick A Cruise, Any Cruise
Practically every cruise line sailing has felt the sting of recent widely publicized events so prices have gone down. Some lines are advertising like never before, others have quietly just not raised pricing as they might have normally done at this time of the year, choosing instead to go for maximized occupancy. Best deals can be found in the Mediterranean where prices can be as low as $75 per person, per day. Short Caribbean and Bahamas sailings are also showing fall-like pricing for summer sailings. That never happens.

Cheap Not Good Enough? How About Free?
Ultra-luxe cruise line Crystal Cruises is allowing kids ages 17 and under to sail free when sharing a third berth stateroom with two adults. Families can choose from seven- to 15-day voyages in the Mediterranean, Western Europe, North Cape, Baltic, British Isles, Canary Islands and across the Atlantic from May-December aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Book by June 28, 2013.

Take A Road Trip, You Will Not Be Alone
Compared to many summer travel options, a road trip is still a standout winner for budget-minded vacationers. A timely YP survey published in TravelPulse compared driving versus flying and found that Americans believe they have a greater flexibility in schedule (35 percent) and sight-seeing (33 percent) when driving vs. flying. They also liked having the ability to easily take more stuff with them (11 percent), avoiding crowds and security lines (9 percent), and the ability to more easily take pets (7 percent).

Perhaps something a bit more exotic? How about one of these James Bond-inspired destinations?

5 James Bond Inspired Summer Travel Destinations