The Shores of Lago de Como
There are places in Europe you hear about from guests that, until you’ve been there, somehow leave a longing that doesn’t disappear until you actually go there. Your facial expression changes and you sigh at the thought. Tuscany, the Isle of Mull, Cinque Terra, the Alhambra at night…. magical and wondrously living up to their billing… are joined finally by the lovely shores of Lake Como.
We stopped for supplies and then drove ourselves from Lugano to the charming lakeside town of Varenna, about one and half hours if you just drive right through. Despite arriving later that expected due to a car accident that delayed us just 5 minutes outside of town, our host met us in town and escorted us through town, up a winding road with 8 hairpin turns, and then to the end of a remote tight-fitting side of the cliff country driveway that delivered us to the most wonderful view from a little house on the mountain. The view of Lake Como at night was spectacular. Easily perhaps one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. The view looking across the lake to Menaggio and Bellagio and the depth and pace of life left that timeless feeling. Suddenly you know that your time is not so important. The burden is lifted. It’s a feeling we often have at Kalaekilohana and we recognized it instantly.
On Lago de Como
We both enjoy some safe adventure. Kenny has a little bit of adventure and Kilohana plays it a little on the safe side. Renting a power boat in Varenna was kind of that intermediary choice. Getting on the water and having the freedom to go from little seaside town to the next, not wanting to stop, exploring the rocky hillsides, gawking at the wondrous homes, hearing the church bells ring, watching people from a distance as they languished at lunch or coffee, and all the time grateful to be the audience for the next scene around the bend. It was amazing! Our boat moved swiftly through the lake, swifter when Kenny took the helm, but Kilohana managed to test the boat’s ability as well. The day was glorious and the weather was perfect. We had intended to stop somewhere for lunch or coffee by pulling up to dock the boat, but after about the 2nd hour and seeing all the people wandering Bellagio, we decided against it. As we neared our third hour, we attempted to find the house we were staying at. Although we were not able to pinpoint the exact spot, we successfully found the immediate area. We wanted to take the boat out further towards the middle of the lake so we could pinpoint it, but the chop picked up suddenly and we decided that our adventure on the lake had peaked. Rather than end up in the local news, we headed back to the little harbor from whence we came. The lake was once again a safe place.
Giorni di Riposo
Our time in Varenna was intended to be our, “Days of Rest” following our whirlwind tour through some of the famous cities of central Europe. Mission accomplished! It’s really a great thing about many places in Italy. The hours between 13:00 and 16:00 are when many of the shops close for the mid-day break. From what we read, Riposo is more often applied to a day of rest, but it’s okay to give this name to the mid-day break as well. Just don’t call it a siesta. The time for the break varies and it is not a rule or an order, so it’s important to consider the particular situation. It’s easy for us to embrace since it is very similar to the way things operate at Kalaekilohana. The middle of the day is usually a time for resting, tending to some back of the house business, and having a meal.
Speaking of food
On many occasions over the last ten years, the notion of doing cooking classes has been introduced by our guests during their stay at Kalaekilohana. Having said that it was a consideration, we stumbled upon the perfect opportunity to check out a pro at work. In a fortuitous meshing of circumstances, Moreno Maglia, the Chef at Il Caminetto in Gittana, was offering a rare cooking class on Saturday. The tiny village is just a stone’s throw from our house in Perledo, but a ten minute drive on some harrowing backroads. The students were Americans except for a single woman from Tasmania, Australia. The rest of us were from Montana, Seattle, and Hawai’i. In our minds, we’re thinking we might be able to do this once in a while at Kalaekilohana or invite Moreno and his wife Roselo to Hawai’i to do a couple of classes as part of a vacation deal.
Our morning started about 10:30 with cappuccino or coffee, some water and little cookies as everyone acquainted themselves with each other. It is clear we all 8 of us, enjoy Italy, traveling, good food, and doing things you can do that is off the beaten path. Moreno starts about 11:00am by making the pasta. Today we were making tortellini using durum flour and eggs and hand mixing it by creating a pond on the table, slowly blending the eggs with the flour. Beautiful to watch how he deftly and gingerly blended the flour to the right consistency with your fingers as a whisk. Most of us watched with a glass of wine and asked questions or looked at each other with that “oh that’s why mine is so sticky” or some other comment. Kenny has made his share of pasta and egg noodles and was more interested in watching how Moreno handled to logistics.
We made a quick ricotta herb filling and prepped a prosciutto wrapped veal shank to roast over veggies and the shank bones. The actual making of the tortellini was when everyone donned an apron and moved to the front of the class to fold the pasta. If you were expecting to be involved in the cooking, this would be the moment.
A noon snack before lunch consisted of bread, cheese, salami, and more conversation. As the wine settled in we were beginning our 3rd hour of class. Kenny asked Moreno to share a little history about himself and we that his family started the restaurant some 5-600 years ago, building the hotel part of it about 200 years ago. He spoke about the challenges of their parents and their parents and how different family members had returned home to help through the generations. Moreno himself spent 9 years in Milano before buying the business from his uncle and returning home, a place he realized he missed very much. In so many ways, this place and its stories felt like the islands.
All the actual cooking up to this point had gone on in the kitchen. So out came the induction surface and Moreno prepared a simple sauce with tomato puree and fresh cherry tomatoes then worked his risotto magic in a 14” pan not unlike those we use at home. Rich with butter and parmesan reggiano, this was a dish that is best made to order. You’ll find that many restaurants will not make it for one person, almost certainly because the recipe works best when you have enough to work with, but surprise, Moreno says they will make it to order for one. Kenny’s guess was that it holds long enough to squeeze a couple of orders together. Watching Moreno work, it seems reasonable to toss the hard to make label out the window.
Between the cooking moments we were blessed to have a very talkative group that was happy to engage and enjoy the afternoon. Entering our fourth hour, it was time to eat. The pasta we shaped with a fresh red sauce preceded the sliced veal and risotto accompanied by a buttery sauce. Although it was exceptionally rich and reminded Kenny of the early days at Kalaekilohana, it was exceptionally tasty. So much so that most everyone had seconds, something you won’t find on the regular menu. More importantly, this group and this day was a lot of fun. So much so that Moreno had to give us the boot an hour after we were supposed to be gone. After all, he has a restaurant to open for dinner. In the end, a great way to spend six hours.