Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Foreign Language Podcasts; Italian Podcasts

One great and free tool for language learning is foreign language podcasts. There are many that specifically focus on language learning. Additionally, there are many others that are intended for the speakers of a particular language, but that are very helpful for learning about another culture or society.

To find lots of free language learning podcasts on iTunes:
1. Go to the iTunes Store
2. Click on Podcasts
3. On the lower right hand side of the page, under featured collections, click on Language Learning
4. Click on the language category that interests you.

One source of Italian podcasts that I love is Radio il Sole 24 Ore (Radio 24 Hours of Sun), from an Italian radio station by that name. These podcasts cover a wide variety of topics and can easily be downloaded through iTunes and loaded onto any smartphone - iPhone, Android, or Windows phone. Additionally, the podcasts can be listned to through iGoogle.

The programs used to create these podcasts can also be listened to live through smart phone programs like the Android TuneIn app.

The 52 or so Radio il Sole 24 Ore podcast series (  include the following series and many others:
1. Il Gastronauta (The Gastronaut) - this one covers many, many topics on food and wine. I love it.
2. Focus Economia (Focus on Economy) - this one covers every aspect of the Italian economy. It's very interesting.
3. 2024 - the way technology changes life
4. A Tempo di Sport (Sport Time) - Soccer on Monday through Thursday, baskeball on Friday, and all sports on the weekend.
5. America 24 - a variety of themes and opinions about the U.S.

I only listen to the first two. In each of those two, there is a host who solicits the opinions of experts, and who invites listeners to call in or send text messages. Both hosts do a superb job.

The fluency level needed to deal with those two ranges from intermediate to advanced, depending on the speaker and the topic.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tama's Sushi, Jacksonville-Neptune Beach, FL - Forget About It

I've eaten in lots and lots of Japanese restaurants - both during the 4 years we lived in Japan and in many areas of the U.S. since we returned from Japan. I usually enjoy the experience. However, Tama's Sushi in Neptune Beach, FL was an exception. My meal there last night ranks as one of the worst Japanese meals I've ever had. We went there with my niece and her husband to introduce them to some Japanese dishes other than sushi before their upcoming assignment to Japan. We were really disappointed.

I normally start with a favorable bias toward authentic Japanese restaurants, so it takes a bit of work for me to end up with a negative view. From what I had read about this restaurant before going, it sounded authentic. A look at the menu reinforced my view. However, in this case, authentic did not equal tasty.

One of our appetizers was shuumai, a type of pork dumplings that originated in China. This is the first time that I've ever had shuumai that I didn't like. We had them deep fried instead of steamed. That was probably a mistake.

Two of us had tonkatsu (, a dish which I usually love, as our entrée. Tonkatsu is a pork cutlet that is breaded and deep fried, then cut into slices. The cutlet is accompanied with a delicious sauce called bulldog sauce. Tonkatsu is normally served with rice and shredded cabbage. Normally, the cutlet is sliced after being fried. In this case, gnarled strips of pork were sliced first, then breaded and fried. The result was the worst tonkatsu I've ever had. The strips of pork were dry and flavorless. The rice was mediocre.

My niece and my wife had yakisoba (, a noodle dish which is often sold at Japanese festivals. It is of Chinese origin, but has been adapted to Japanese tastes. It uses ramen-style wheat noodles and includes vegetables and pork. It incorporates a yakisoba sauce and is usually garnished with ginger. Tama's offered versions with and without meat. My wife ordered a version without meat. She normally loves yakisoba. She considered last night's version tasteless.

We also had some sushi. It was mediocre at best.

Did I enjoy anything? Yes - my Kirin beer and the soup, which was a simple broth - not miso soup.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Poggio Antico - A Winery I Love

During the past 10 years, my wife and I have visited 63 wineries in the U.S., Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. One of our very favorites is Poggio Antico (, just outside the town of Montalcino in Tuscany. We visited in 2002 and 2010.

Poggio Antico produces wonderful wines, has a terrific owner and staff, and is situated in a beautiful location offering spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. It also has a great restaurant. I strongly recommend Poggio Antico wines and a visit to the winery.

We had a wonderful meal at the restaurant in 2002 and had planned to dine there again in 2010, but it was temporarily closed. Friends of ours had a delicious meal there last fall. Moreover, the restaurant does have wonderful reviews on line:

A View from Poggio Antico

I have exchanged emails with the winery on several occasions, and have always found them very responsive. Most recently, I asked if they could provide me with a fact sheet on a wine I intended to serve to guests last night. I received the requested fact sheet within hours of my request.

The wine I served was a 2004 Altero Brunello di Montalcino, which was part of a purchase I made on a visit there in 2010. It has a well-deserved 92 point rating from Wine Spectator. In my heart, I would rate it higher because many warm feelings come to mind when I drink Poggio Antico wines.

The 2008 version of Altero has been rated an incredible 98 points by James Suckling of Wine Spectator.

Another View from Poggio Antico

For those not familiar with Brunello wine, it is a bold, powerful red. It is one of my two very favorite types of Italian reds. The other is Barolo, which is produced in the Piedmont Region of northwest Italy.

Brunello is made with 100% Sangiovese Grosso, a clone of the Sangiovese grape. The wine is only produced near the town of Montalcino. It must be aged for 4 years. One of many detailed descriptions of Brunello can be found at

The talented owner of Poggio Antico, Paola Gloder Montefiori has managed the winery since 1987, and has a great track record of producing wonderful wines.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A French Affair - Delightful Dinner with Friends

The other night, my wife and I joined four other couples for dinner at French Affair ( My wife and I, and most of our friends, really enjoyed the dinner.

My wife and I have eaten at French Affair four or five times, and have always enjoyed it. A French neighbor described it as his favorite local place for enjoying French comfort food. The chef and owner, Alain Mons, is from a small town in the Perigord area of France. He has operated this restaurant in Sarasota for 31 years, of which 19 years has been at the current location.

One interesting feature of the restaurant is that instead of a wine list, it has rows of shelves of French wines. Diners look at the wines and select one in which they would like. The prices are much lower than at most restaurants, even after adding a corkage fee of about $5.

My wife started with a cream of mushroom soup for $4.50, and I started with Paté Forestier for $7.50. Her soup was nice and my paté delicious.

My wife's entrée was Large Scallops Provençale for $22.95, and my entrée was Moules à la Crème (Mussels in Cream Sauce) for $19.95. My wife and I loved our entrées.

For dessert, my wife had Rustic Tart (peach and raspberry pie) and I had a Very Berry Tart. Both were really delicious.
Our wine was a 2010 Mont Tauch Fitou red wine from Languedoc in southern France for $19.90 plus corkage fee. The grapes used in Fitou include Carignane, Grenache, Lledoner, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The wine was recommended by the chef and was very nice.

The bottom line is that we enjoyed our meal at French Affair, and will go back again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tuscan - Sicilian Dinner - Sausage & Mushrooms, Green Beans w. Tomato Sauce

Last night, we had a pleasant and easy Italian dinner with a Tuscan entrée and a Sicilian side dish. The entrée I prepared was Pan-Fried Sausage and Mushrooms (Tegamata di Salsiccia e Funghi) and the side dish was Green Beans with Tomato and Bell Pepper Sauce (Fagiolini alla Peperonata). Both dishes were delicious.

The wine we had was a Spanish wine - 2008 Cap Blau Montsant, which is a mix of 3 grapes - 40% Mazuelo, 40% Syrah, and 20% Garnacha. It was very nice, and retails for about $17.

1. Pan-Fried Sausage and Mushrooms
This recipe is from the cookbook, Tuscany the Beautiful Cookbook, by Lorenza de' Medici, descendant of the famous de' Medici family. The recipe is from the Grosseto part of the Maremma area of Tuscany. The Maremma is sort of the Wild West of Tuscany. The sausage used in the Grosseto area is wild-boar sausage - not easy to find in Florida, so I used mild Italian sausage.

Since the recipe serves 6 and just my wife and I were having dinner, I cut the recipe in half. One substitution I had to make was fresh shiitake mushrooms for fresh porcini mushrooms. I would love to have been able to use porcini. The recipe is on page 151 of the cookbook. It is very easy to make. The following is the version of the recipe that serves 6.

1&1/4 lb of fresh porcini (or shiitake or button) mushrooms
2 lb wild-boar sausage or sweet Italian sausage
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp thyme or fresh mint. (I used thyme. I don't think I'd like mint with this dish.)

a. Clean the mushrooms by rubbing them with a damp cloth. Do not wash them. Trim the mushroom stems, slice the mushrooms, and set them aside.

b. Prick the sausages with a fork. In a skillet over moderate heat, warm the olive oil. Add the sausages and fry until they start to turn brown, about 5 minutes. Remove some of the cooking fat and pour in the vinegar. Continue cooking until the vinegar evaporates, about 5 minutes.

c. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, sprinkle the thyme or mint, and stir well.

d. Serve hot.

2. Green Beans with Tomato and Bell Pepper Sauce
This Sicilian recipe is from the cookbook, Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, also by Lorenza de' Medici. It is on page 186. As I've mentioned before, this excellent cookbook was a gift from a friend.

This recipe also serve 6, so I cut three of the ingredients in half - the bell peppers, the green beans, and the oregano. The following is the version that serves 6.

2 ripe tomatoes
2 yellow bell peppers (I used a red bell pepper)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion sliced
2 garlic cloves sliced
1&1/4 lb green beans
salt & freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano

a. Drop the tomatoes into a saucepan of boiling water for a few seconds (I do it for 30 seconds), then peel & chop them. Halve and seed the peppers, then cut them into strips.

b. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the onion, and garlic, and sauté until the onion is golden. Add the peppers and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

c. Meanwhile,, trim the beans and cook for two minutes in a large pot of boiling salted water. Drain and add to the other vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and finish cooking for a few more minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with the oregano, and serve.