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Italy Trip Report - Third Installment #20071
05/25/2013 06:17 AM
05/25/2013 06:17 AM
Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 13,438
Peaceful Eastern North Carolin...
GaKaye Offline OP
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GaKaye  Offline OP
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Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 13,438
Peaceful Eastern North Carolin...
Dinner Saturday was at Life Ristorante, right around the corner from our hotel. I had seen their tasting menus Friday evening, and we decided on the black truffle menu. The meal began with the antipasti tasting which consisted of smoked duck carpaccio topped with pear confit, beef carpaccio with shaved truffles, and three aged cheeses accompanied by three different fruit preserves. This was served with a glass of Chianti.


The first course was ravioli stuffed with burrata, sauced with a parmesan cream and topped with shaved black truffles. It was so delicious I almost cried. Really. The wine with this course was a Shiraz.

Second course was a sliced filet with a wine sauce and of course, shaved black truffles. It was perfectly cooked medium rare as we requested, and served with what they called a soft potato pie. The wine with this was Nobile di Montepulciano "Fattoria Del Cerro" d.o.c. (Tuscany). Obviously I have copied this from their website, because there’s no way I would have remembered it, but I do remember that it was absolutely fabulous, and the perfect accompaniment to the steak. Interestingly, as I write this sitting on the terrace at La Chiusa, I can see the village of Montepulciano in the distance. We will be visiting a winery there on Friday.

Dessert was a pastry filled with Chantilly cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. This was the only part of the meal that didn’t exceed my expectations. It was good, but just not exceptional. Dessert was served with a glass of Moscato, and although sweet wines aren’t my favorite, it was the right thing to have.

Sunday we took the train from Rome to Tuscany. This is the part of the trip that I was most apprehensive about, even with all of my research about the train system in Italy. We took a cab from the hotel to the train station, and once inside were immediately approached by several people who wanted to “help” us. As none of them were wearing any kind of official badge or uniform, we declined their assistance and decided to just use one of the machines to purchase our tickets. We later saw a sign warning of pickpockets and admonishing us to accept assistance only from Trenitalia employees. We found our route with no problem, but had to purchase our tickets with cash, as we didn’t have a pin number for our credit card. Now to find the train. After looking at the departure displays and not seeing a track number for our train, we found an official employee, who explained that the track would be assigned once the train had arrived at the station, so we watched the screens until the track number appeared. We had purchased first class tickets, so had nice seats in an uncrowded car. After the train left Rome the scenery changed quickly, and the lovely green hillsides were a welcome sight after being in the city for three days.

We arrived at Chiusi right on time, found a cab, and were on our way to Montefellonico. Our cab driver spoke no English, but this didn’t stop him from describing everything along the way, repeating himself and pointing until we acknowledged that we understood what he was showing us. I didn’t look at my watch, but I guess it took about an hour or so driving around the winding mountain roads to arrive at Hotel La Chiusa at the exact moment that a downpour hit. The concierge ran out with an umbrella to keep me dry, and helped us get our bags into the “lobby”, which is really just a covered outdoor area. Fortunately our room was ready, so we were able to get in right away. We were both hungry, so we had lunch in the hotel restaurant, which has been awarded 4 ½ Michelin stars. As participants in the Tuscan Women Cook program we were warmly welcomed; it’s easy to see how important the program is to the hotel and they are clearly appreciative of the business it brings. For lunch David had the gnocci, and I had the panzanella salad. The gnocci was as I have always seen it, dressed in a light marinara sauce, but the panzanella was completely different. The bread was ground up, mixed with the chopped vegetables and vinaigrette, and pressed into a mold. This was then cut into wedges and placed on a beautifully decorated plate. So pretty, and definitely delicious.

We headed back to our room to unpack, which was exciting as we had lived out of our suitcases while in our tiny room in Rome. The bathroom at La Chiusa is bigger than the room in Rome. Once unpacked a soak in the huge tub seemed like the right thing to do before we were to meet our hosts and fellow students at 5:30.

Our meet and greet was supposed to have been held outdoors, but it’s been colder than normal here, so the event was held in an upstairs meeting room in the hotel. Bill and Patty Sutherland are the owners of Tuscan Women Cook, and they are as different as night and day. Patty is quiet and subdued, while Bill will regale you with stories for hours. We had a nice time meeting them and the other guests, and getting a packet with the schedule for the week. At 8 PM, after a short break, we all walked up the hill to the village for dinner at 13 Gobbi.

I felt kind of sorry for the other patrons of the restaurant, because our group invaded the restaurant and had way too much fun. Wine and food were unlimited, and the staff did everything to make sure we were having a wonderful time. First, platters of antipasti were passed: salami, salt-cured ham, olives, bruschetta topped with piles of fresh diced tomatoes and basil, or with mousses made of mushrooms, artichokes, or tomatoes. Then a bruschetta Bianca was served, which was just a crunchy toast topped with olive oil and salt. So simple, but absolutely delicious.

Now it’s time for the pasta course. In the center of the restaurant is a huge wheel of Pecorino cheese, that has been scooped out to create a bowl. The hot fettuccine is placed in this cheese wheel, and tossed until the cheese melts and coats the pasta. It’s absolutely amazing to watch and even more amazing to eat! There’s nothing complicated about any of the food so far, but the simple fresh flavors are just spectacular. And of course, the wine is flowing.

After the pasta, we’re served chicken cacciatore, roasted potatoes, sliced rare beef, and the most delicious spinach. By now everyone is groaning from all the food, but we just can’t stop. One waiter keeps coming by with huge plates of food, insisting that we have “just one more”.

And now it’s time for dessert: strawberry tiramisu. Huge pans are brought out, and we’re served much more than we need, and still encouraged to have “just a little more”. I finally put my hands over my plate, and while that worked for me, it didn’t work for David as he wasn’t quick enough and almost got tiramisu piled on his hands.

After dessert we’re served a digestif….we certainly do need help to digest all we’ve eaten! By the time we get back down the hill and into our room, it’s at least 11 PM. What an evening!

Monday morning I awoke early and after my shower headed out in search of coffee. Unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I just sat out on the terrace and tried to write my journal. Unfortunately it was so beautiful that I just couldn’t concentrate, so I gave up. It’s cold today and has rained overnight, so there’s a haze hanging in the valleys. There are different birds here: I saw a pair of magpies, a couple of different kinds of dove, and a woodpecker that I didn’t recognized. Somewhere there’s a cuckoo, as I heard his call that sounded exactly like a cuckoo clock.

Around 8 we went in for breakfast of coffee, cappuccino, and fresh croissants, trying to eat light knowing what’s coming…

Our class today is here in the hotel kitchen and taught by the executive chef, Dania. What a delightful lady! She and her ex-husband, Umberto, own the hotel and restaurant.
Dania runs the kitchen, and Umberto runs the hotel and the front of the house.
She is a clothes horse, and will often come into the kitchen to work wearing Prada. Our first lesson involves creating the beautiful plate décor that I noticed on my salad plate yesterday. Dania is an artist, and I’m clearly not, but it was fun. We then moved on to creating the dishes we will have for lunch. All of the cooking is going on at somewhat the same time, but I’ll describe the dishes in the order that we began preparing them.

First we created Chicken with Tuscan Aromas, a delicious dish made with fresh herbs that we picked from Dania’s kitchen garden right there on the hotel grounds. The chicken is sautéed with onions, carrots, and celery, then tomatoes and broth are added along with the herbs, and the entire mixture simmers for about 30 minutes. Right before serving, lemon zest is stirred in.

Next we made a simple risotto, made with vegetable stock, sliced fresh zucchini and onions, and seasoned with saffron threads. While the risotto was simmering we stuffed zucchini blossoms with a ricotta cheese filling seasoned with fresh nutmeg and lots of Parmigiano. These were placed in a buttered baking dish, sprinkled with more parm and pine nuts, and then baked.

By now the risotto is ready, so we take a short break to eat that. Risotto is always eaten immediately when it is done. I also forgot to mention that around 11 am the wine was poured.

We then moved to another area of the kitchen which is totally devoted to making pasta. All of the pasta served in the restaurant is handmade. A pasta cook showed us how to mix two different types of dough and roll them out by hand. Each of us who wanted to was able to assist in the rolling and cutting process. One type of dough was made into ricotta-stuffed raviolis, and the other was made into pici (pronounced peeshee). The dough is cut into strips, and then rolled into a thin snake to make a dense, chewy noodle when cooked.

The ravioli is a simple ricotta and egg mixture, seasoned with fresh nutmeg and parmesan cheese, very much like the filling for the zucchini blossoms. This is carefully spooned onto the dough, which is then folded over and cut with a round cutter to make the individual raviolis.

After making pasta we returned to the main kitchen to make our dessert, a caramel gelato with strawberry sauce. Sugar is melted and nearly burned to make a very dark caramel. In the meantime a custard is made, and the custard is then blended with the caramel to make the ice cream base. This is frozen in a commercial ice cream freezer. The strawberry sauce is also caramel-based, but this caramel is more delicate. The fresh strawberries are stirred into the caramel and cooked thoroughly, then the sauce is cooled.

Finally it’s time to eat, and we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Everything is just so delicious, it’s hard to imagine that we will eat all this food, but we do.

After lunch there’s a short break, and we are picked up by our driver, Fabio. No, not the long, blond-haired Fabio of romance novel covers, but a shorter balding fellow who owns and drives his own tour bus. We drive through the beautiful countryside to the tiny village of Pienza, where we wandered around and shop for a while, then back on the bus to Bagno Vignoni, which is an ancient Roman bath site. The baths are hot springs which are corralled into pools, and while we don’t actually bathe, we do dip our hands in to feel the warmth.

Leaving the baths, we drive to Monticchiello for dinner at La Porta. After all, we haven’t eaten since lunch and it’s almost 8 PM! This is a tiny restaurant and we almost fill it. Dinner begins with an amuse bouche of a garbanzo bean soup, followed by the appetizer of beef carpaccio alongside a small round of buratta.

The pasta course is a ravioli with a truffle cream sauce. I truly think this ravioli is better than the one we had at Life Ristorante in Roma. For our entrée we are served delicious and tender beef cheeks in a rich sauce with a canele of mashed potato. The one thing I’ve noticed is that there are few vegetables being served with our meals.

For dessert we have our choice of items from the menu, and David and I both choose a rice-based dessert that is sort of like a dry baked rice pudding in a pie shape. It’s very tasty and not too sweet, accompanied by some fresh berries. It takes about a half hour to get back to the hotel and we fall into bed exhausted at around 11 pm.

Tuesday is pasta day. We walk up the hill to town and have a delicious cappuccino at the Universal Sport Bar, then head over to 13 Gobbi for our class. Sabrina and Imma are our teachers, and we make a slightly different version of pici, along with papardelle, tagliatelle, and tagliatini. All are egg noodles of different widths. After making the pasta, we move into the teeny kitchen where we make grilled vegetables, pollo diavalo (a spicy chicken dish), and the garlic sauce for the pici. I have never seen so much garlic in a sauce…probably about a cup of minced garlic goes into enough sauce for our group of 17. Afterwards we dine on our creations, and are able to watch as several patrons of the restaurant, who are not part of our class, also enjoy the fruits of our labors. Cool! I’m a restaurant chef! Dessert is a Crostata suisana that we had watched Sabrina make. It’s a simple tart of soft pastry filled with apricot jam and baked to a golden brown. We had planned to eat lunch in the garden at the restaurant, but unfortunately the cold and rain have kept us indoors for all of our meals thus far.

After lunch we walk back down to the hotel for a short rest before we head to Cortona at 3:30. There’s time for sightseeing and shopping in this small town before we are back on the bus to head for Bettolle.

In Bettole we have an olive oil tasting before dinner at Walter Redaelli’s Ristorante. This is a lovely restaurant set high on a hill overlooking the gorgeous valleys below. It’s a bit more gourmet than 13 Gobbi, with smaller portions which we all appreciate. Here we order from the menu for the first time, having a choice of three items for each course. For our appetizer, primo, and entrée, David and I each had the sardine salad, risotto, and roasted sea bass. For dessert I had the dark chocolate cake and David tried the four flour torte with quince apples sauce. Everything was just delicious, and just the right amount of food. I’ve not mentioned the wines recently, but suffice it to say that bottle after bottle of the local red wine is brought to the table from the time we are seated until we leave. Interestingly, none of us has had any headache from the wine; there are no sulfites added to the wines here, and that’s where the wine headache comes from.

On the return bus ride a plan is hatched to hold a sort of flash mob performance for our hosts at the final dinner.

Wednesday is our day in Florence; there are no cooking classes this day. Fabio picks us up at 8:30 AM, and the group quickly begins composing the lyrics to our Tuscan Thank You, done to the tune of Mama Mia. It’s about a two hour drive to Florence, and by the time we arrive, most of the lyrics are perfected. It’s pretty amazing to me that 17 people of all ages and nationalities have come together in this place and we have meshed so well. Everyone fits in, and we almost always sit with someone different at meals, so we’re getting to know one another quite well.

We’re so lucky, as we’ve really had pretty lousy weather the entire week, but for this day the sun is shining and it’s warm. Our guides meet us at the bus and our first stop is the food market. This is an incredible place, with gorgeous fresh fruits, veggies, meats, fish and seafood of all descriptions, pasta, olive oil, vinegars…on and on. We spend a while at a balsamic vinegar tasting and learn how the vinegars are made and what makes one different and/or better than another. Trust me, the vinegars you can buy in the states are nothing like these.

After the tasting we wander through the market, where on of our group is sternly admonished for touching the vegetables. Apparently out of respect you don’t touch the foods, and they are only handled by the vendors. After the market we shop in the outdoor marketplace, where stall after stall is filled with every leather product you could ever want, along with other locally-made items. Then it’s on to lunch at the oldest restaurant in Florence, Trattoria Sostanza. Now we order from the full menu as we’ve learned enough about Tuscan food that we now know what we’re ordering. David and I share prosciutto and melon for our first course, and then we each have the tortollini en broodo (delicious rich chicken broth) for our pasta course (primo). For my entrée I have the butter chicken…not Indian butter chicken, but chicken breast poached in huge amounts of butter... fabulous! David has a veal stew made with white beans, which is absolutely tender and delicious. By now we have become so comfortable with all of our classmates that bites of everyone’s meals are shared and it’s just a wonderful experience. Our guides order side dishes for the table: fresh white beans, dried white beans, and green beans. For dessert we share delicious slices of a meringue cake filled with light cream and chunks of chocolate. And of course….wine.

After lunch we walk off some of the calories and do a little more shopping along with seeing the famous Ponte Vecchio, Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), and the Medici Chapels. There’s a gelato festival going on, but who can eat another bite?

Everyone’s exhausted on the bus ride home, but somehow the final stanza to our Mama Mia song is written.

Tonight’s dinner is pizza and salad at our host’s home, Podere Poggio Castagni. This beautiful 300+ year-old home has been restored by Bill and Patty Sutherland, and we are so lucky that they opened it to us. The house and the grounds are beautiful; they grow their own olives and grapes, and make their own wine. The delicious salad was made with fresh greens picked that day from their garden; in fact, Bill picked some of the lettuce after we arrived. Patty tosses the huge salad right in the hand-carved stone sink (how smart is that?!). The pizza is simple and delicious, but the salad is probably the most popular thing on the menu that evening. After dinner we are treated to several flavors of gelato: hazelnut, vanilla, chocolate, fresh strawberry, and mixed berry. Mmmm.

It’s an early night as we’re all exhausted, and we’re heading back to our hotel by nine.

Thursday morning we again awake to chilly rain….enough already! David and I have decided that we don’t want to go through the hassle of our planned overnight in Orvieto, and I walk up to the hotel office to see if we can extend our stay here for one more night. The answer is yes, and we are happy campers.

We then meet the group for breakfast where we rehearse our flash mob performance, and the restaurant staff is sworn to secrecy. Our waiter, Paulo, watches the doors for us, just to make sure Bill doesn’t show up while we’re singing. When Bill does arrive, he joins a few of us for cappuccino, and a couple that was in the restaurant stops by to thank us for our serenade. Bill’s puzzled, but we make something up about having fun at breakfast, and he’s none the wiser. Paulo’s eyes are as big as saucers….

Today’s class is at Ristorante La Costa, and our instructor is Isa. Isa does sometimes work in the restaurant, but usually she’s just a home cook. We make robollita, eggplant parmesan, roast pork with sformato (a potato pie), panna cotta, and cantucci (biscotti). This is probably the most hands-on class yet, with so much to do that each of us is kept busy the entire time. Even so, Isa is such a dynamo that our work is done about an hour before it’s time to eat (the pork and soup have to finish cooking), so we wander over to the local ceramic shop to look. David and I found a beautiful and very unusual piece, but unfortunately it’s way over our budget.

Lunch is served in what I would call a sunroom, with a beautiful view of the valley below. Again, the food is just incredibly delicious, and it’s pretty amazing to me how such wonderful flavors come from such simple ingredients and preparations. We’re finally learning not to clean our plates of each course, so we’re not quite so miserable after we’ve finished eating. Still, it’s hard, because the food is just incredible.

After lunch there’s time for a longer break, and I’m finally caught up with my journal!

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Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20072
05/25/2013 07:32 AM
05/25/2013 07:32 AM
Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 18,586
St Maarten
BillandElaine Offline
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BillandElaine  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 18,586
St Maarten
OMG! All that wonderful food! Did you find out why veggies are not served?


Elaine
*********************************
God Bless the broken road....
Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: BillandElaine] #20073
05/25/2013 07:38 AM
05/25/2013 07:38 AM
Joined: Sep 2007
Posts: 209
Iowa
bbeach Offline
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bbeach  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2007
Posts: 209
Iowa
I'm full just reading your report, thanks for taking the time to fill us in.

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20074
05/25/2013 09:11 AM
05/25/2013 09:11 AM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 694
NC
J
judyinnc Offline
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judyinnc  Offline
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J
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 694
NC
Georgia, I hope you packed stretch pants for the trip home. Thoroughly enjoying your reports.

You just have to love someone who can cook wearing Prada!!

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20075
05/25/2013 10:27 AM
05/25/2013 10:27 AM
Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 14,656
Brookfield, CT.
pat Offline
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pat  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 14,656
Brookfield, CT.
Georgia,

What a wonderful trip and trip report.....it sounds like all your planning was well worth the effort.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I'm not remotely familiar with about half the things you're preparing and/or eating, <img src="http://www.traveltalkonline.com/forums/images/graemlins/Blush.gif" alt="" /> <img src="http://www.traveltalkonline.com/forums/images/graemlins/Blush.gif" alt="" /> (I'm nothing if not honest) but it all sounds wonderful!!

I know this is something that's right up your alley so I'm glad it's been all you hoped it might be and then 'plenty' more, since using the word 'some' in that context would be so very understated!!

I wish the weather was a bit more cooperative but there are times in life we just have to make our own sunshine and it sure does sound like you're doing fine in that department. I truly hope the rest of your trip is just as wonderful and like everyone else who is following your journal, I eagerly await the next entry.

Thanks for sharing.....


Respectfully,

pat



"Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat
them."
Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20076
05/25/2013 10:58 AM
05/25/2013 10:58 AM
Joined: Jan 2002
Posts: 7,457
Yonkers, NY
fabila Offline
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fabila  Offline
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Posts: 7,457
Yonkers, NY
Georgia -- What a treat to be in Italy cooking as well as eating the fruits of your labor. I've been looking at the World Wide forum waiting for your next post and it was well worth the wait. Mangiare e di essere ben!

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: fabila] #20077
05/25/2013 02:13 PM
05/25/2013 02:13 PM
Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 13,438
Peaceful Eastern North Carolin...
GaKaye Offline OP
Traveler
GaKaye  Offline OP
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Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 13,438
Peaceful Eastern North Carolin...
Louise, Tuscan Women Cook is an absolutely amazing experience! As much as you enjoy food and cooking, it should definitely be on your bucket list.

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20078
05/26/2013 02:57 PM
05/26/2013 02:57 PM
Joined: Jun 2008
Posts: 2,671
L
LBI2SXM Offline
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Joined: Jun 2008
Posts: 2,671
<img src="http://www.traveltalkonline.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif" alt="" />WOW! I have read many, many trip reports but none that can match this one. I was drooling from the first sentence to the last. I would love to go to Italy and eat my way through the whole country. There is nothing that can surpass Italian food! So will you cook like this every night for your husband when you arrive back home?? Many thanks for taking the time to share your vacation with all of us!

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20079
05/27/2013 03:14 PM
05/27/2013 03:14 PM
Joined: Aug 2012
Posts: 2,288
P
PelicanPirate Offline
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PelicanPirate  Offline
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Joined: Aug 2012
Posts: 2,288
Wow, what a report. And I love all Ravioli.....so I have to check this town/restaurants out.

We too reported the PIN thing in some Trenitalia ticket "ATMs". Real hastle when you don't have Eurocash.

Thanks

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: GaKaye] #20080
05/28/2013 11:10 AM
05/28/2013 11:10 AM
Joined: Feb 2004
Posts: 395
Southern tier of New York
ironmanps Offline
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ironmanps  Offline
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Posts: 395
Southern tier of New York
A wonderful continuation of your report. I am waiting with great anticipation for the rest of it. Thanks. Phil

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: ironmanps] #20081
05/28/2013 12:02 PM
05/28/2013 12:02 PM
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 2,666
MIA
I
irina Offline
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irina  Offline
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I
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 2,666
MIA
Wow. Fantastic trip and report!
Mangiare!
irina

Re: Italy Trip Report - Third Installment [Re: ironmanps] #20082
05/30/2013 12:41 PM
05/30/2013 12:41 PM
Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 1,280
OIB, NC
mikentara Offline
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mikentara  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 1,280
OIB, NC
Lovely Report!
I enjoyed every bite!
Thanks.


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