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Stephen Frank Laguna Beach

Reflections on food, travel, and decor from our Laguna Beach boutique Stephen Frank Garden & Home, featuring beautiful decor and gifts for indoor and outdoor living including Italian garden pottery, European dinnerware, French linens, home decor, and gifts for all occasions. Located on the corner of Forest Avenue and Third in downtown Laguna Beach, California.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Drivers

Awoke with no real plans for the day. We're in our house outside Martina Franca for a week. There's no need to push ourselves. We've decided to pick a town or a general direction, head there, and see what happens. Thomas was scheduled to come by with some items for the house. He not only shows up with a few more necessities, but with fresh (still warm) pastries. What a great host. Even though Thomas and family left us pretty well stocked, we decide to go to the market to get some things we might like to cook during the week. One of the nice things about renting a house is the freedom to eat in if you want and not have to worry about going out to a restaurant for every meal. Plus we love the fresh ingredients we find at the Italian markets. After a quick trip back to the house to unload we head out in the direction of Ostuni. With no real plans for the day, we just meandered around the countryside. We drove through mile after mile of ancient olive groves, with gnarled trunk trees over 3 feet in diameter. We eventually wound our way up the hill to Ostuni, a whitewashed village of narrow streets and winding walkways. In the center of town is a huge gothic catherdral, seemingly more at place in Spain than in southern Italy.

One of the major differences we've found in this part of Italy and the regions we've explored to the north is the density of Puglia. There aren't the vast plains and rolling hills void of industry or houses you find in Tuscany or Umbria. Here you'll have vast olive grove or a winery, but you'll find small industry right next door. Here the old villages have continued to grow so they're surrounded by apartments and business that butt right up to the old town. The architecture outside the old parts of the villages is very stark - sharp edges, flat roofs, and little ornamentation. Yet, beyond the newer buildings surrounding the old towns, there is an amazing amount of Romanesque architecture. There are influences of the Normans, Arabs, Lombards, and Byzantines which all coalesce to produce a magnificent hybrid knows as Puglian-Romanesque.

Something we never can figure out is the hours of shops and restaurants. It seems everywhere we travel there are different customs. Plus, Sunday is always confusing. We expected to have lunch in Ostuni at a restaurant highly recommended by a customer at the store. The town was deserted. Every shop and restaurant was closed. Fortunately we had had a big breakfast so we weren't really hungry. We drove a little more through the town then headed down the hill and towards the coast. Coming down the hill was a beautiful panorama of the Adriatic spread out in front of us and Ostuni capping the hill behind. Again, we really had nowhere to go, just wanted to see what was out there. We drove a little along the coast, but in this area, you can't really get near the ocean. It's all private property taken up by beach clubs and beach developments. We decided to head back to the house to have a snack and plan dinner.

Instead of risking not finding a restaurant open on Sunday we decided to cook at home. We had the fresh tomatoes, sausage that Frank didn't finish from last night's dinner, plus lots of cheese and the orechiette from Thomas' family. The tomatoes in Italy are amazing. They don't have much water, so when you chop them up and heat them you have an instant thick sauce. Add some sauteed garlic and onions, poor over handmade pasta, tear some fresh basil over the top and voila, dinner. Open a bottle of local Primitivo and we're in the finest restaurant in Italy. Finish off with a little grappa and we're ready for bed.

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