Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scottsdale Showdown!!!

Ok, we are back from our Candelaria Design Tour Italy and our fabulous finale' wedding at Villa d'Este on Lake Como and its time to get back into everything I love about fall in Arizona.

First, a sincere thank you to everyone from Isabel and I for our wedding! You can enjoy a quick video I put together if you care to enjoy our special day! https://www.dropbox.com/s/bpxikl5wv05ui3n/Mark%26IsabelWedding.mov
And some nice photos on Arizona Redbook at http://www.azredbook.com/partiesarticle?id=1368.


Now - onto something in totally the opposite direction... PRO BULL RIDING!  So who is ready to get the Tony Llamas on and get down to some real fun on a Saturday night?


Yes, as many of you know I am very proud to be a Grande member of the Scottsdale Charros! Founded in 1961 as a special activity organization of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, the Scottsdale Charros consist of 40 Active members and over 200 Life and Grande members dedicated to serving the community through the promotion and support of education, youth programs, and economic development that preserves the past while looking to the future. Many of you know the Charros for our Charro Lodge at the Scottsdale Stadium for Spring Training for the San Francisco Giants but now we are adding a fall venue that ties into our Cowboy style by adding Championship Pro Bull Riding! http://www.scottsdaleshowdown.com


On Saturday, October 19th at 4pm we will kick things off at the Westworld Equidome with a Chevy Silverado tailgate party that will definitely get you ready for what will be an amazing evening. After a little tailgating the All Star Championship Bull Riding Event will begin inside the Equidome at 6pm. The event will be nationally televised on the Fox Sports Network. That's only the beginning....that is all followed up with the KMLE Country - Bud Light Bullpen Concert featuring a triple threat of country music, Maggie Rose, Jerrod Niemann, and then Montgomery Gentry. The concert starts at 8pm and will run until midnight!








Tickets are available at  http://www.scottsdaleshowdown.com 


SCOTTSDALE SHOWDOWN TICKET PRICES
·        Chevy Silverado Chute Out / CBR All Star Bull Riding Event                   $75 – 150 each
(General Admission VIP & Reserved Seating -Includes Tailgate Party, Chute-Out and Bullpen Concert ++)
·        Bud Light Bullpen Concert ONLY                                                             $55 each
(General Admission)
·        Bud Light Bullpen Concert Cabana Package                                             $10,000 
(Contact: Lauren Smith at lauren@agency210.com to reserve)


Isabel and I will be there and ready to enjoy a fabulous evening that should be a lot of fun all while knowing it is going to a great cause supporting the Scottsdale Charro charities! Please help me help my Charros make this a total success and get the cowboy/cowgirl attire on and let's go kick up some dust and throw back a few brews!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Candelaria Design Tour Italy ~ Day 10 ~ Last Day In Umbria and the Country



Well we have been going strong for nine days and on Day 11 we depart Umbria and drive several hundred miles to the northwest of Italy and Lake Como. So we make Day 9 a day to chill and just relax at the Country Houses and virtually everyone took advantage of it – including me.

I think Isabel and I slept in until 10 am had some coffee, relaxed, worked on the blogs, got some computer time in, got some laundry done, and then it was time for a two hour nap.

Others also slept in, hung out by the pool or went for little jaunts around the countryside as every couple ahs their own car. Some went to Cortona, some went to Lake Trasimeno, some to Preggio and some to Umbertide for a festival. That is the beauty of this trip – you have your own car and so although there is an itinerary you have freedom.

As the day wound down and we all realized we still had a lot of leftovers from the week it was Pot Luck Happy Hour in Umbria. Glen and Steve made their way into Umbertide and found a butcher and snagged an amazing 2” thick steak which they grilled on the grill we all mastered during our cooking class just two nights before. The rest of us all pitched in with different dishes and wow what a spread we created out of nothing!







You realize at that point the one, main, unique aspect of this trip and that is the bond that is created between my travelers on every trip. It is an amazing thing to see a group of virtually complete strangers at the start of the trip become such good friends so quickly that you would swear they had been friends for 40 years. I LOVE that part of this trip. I know now why it happens and why Italy and its culture is so special. It has to do with the preparation and enjoyment of food, wine and company over several hours. Not a rushed dinner with the TV on and no one really engaged. When we cook in these houses it is a 4-6 hour party filled with laughter, great smells, dancing, tastes, and magical conversations and images that imprint on your memory forever. I think it pulls a subliminal and primal part of our humanity that man and womankind have shared since the days we lived in caves and collectively hunted and gathered to survive.  It is special and only those that have been on this trip truly understand what I am talking about here – but it is real and it is most definitely lasting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Candelaria Design Tour Italy ~ Day 9 ~ San Gimignano & Siena



After yesterday's dreamlike experience of our splendid wedding it was time to get up at 4 am this morning and fly home....ahhh what a slap back to reality.....

Well we are flying somewhere over the Atlantic and after two movies, three naps, and a horrible airplane panini, after two weeks of food heaven, it seemed like a good time to catch up on the blog and the missing days between our Day 8 and Day 13. So here is Day 9 our trip to San Gimignano and Siena.









As with all the other days of our trip I love this day too. We started about 10 am allowing a little recovery time from the 6 hour cooking class feast from the night before. We set up our convoy and we were off over the hill and onto the highway bypassing Siena first and off to the country medieval village of San Gimignano.





San Gimignano is a beautiful medieval hilltown set in the hills and vineyards north of Chianti. What's sets this town apart are the seven towers that are still standing from the original 34 that once were there. We parked after a little trepidation due to the traffic from this towns tourist popularity. We walked up the hill and to the main street lined with beautiful stone buildings forming a canyon only interrupted by two delightful piazzas that when we arrived were filled with vendors for the morning market. As we made our way from shop to shop and to a stop for a quick bite and then a gelato the market had ended and the vendors packed up and you could experience the piazzas in a totally different way.

It is always easy to stay on the main road and be enslaved by the shops and tourist shops selling wine and cheap Pinocchio puppets but what you really need to do is wander up a tower or off a side road to the perimeter of the village for an amazing view of the countryside and back at the town. I love the age and feel of the buildings and the smattering of these dramatic and stoic towers. Your mind wonders what this village must have been like back in the dark ages or during the black plague and what life and culture must have been like in those days! The preservation of the architecture and absence of cars made this very easy to do and for a moment you could almost transpose yourself back 700 years!

















With San Gimignano explored it was time to return to the cars, do our best to reassemble the convoy and make our way out of San Gimignano and down the winding hills and southward towards Siena - the rival of Florence!



We Google mapped my favorite parking lot in Siena and we all gradually found our way  to the lot and some spots to park. About a 15 minute walk and we were in a walled city. I LOVE Siena! It is probably my favorite city in Italy...at least so far!  We walked down the main boulevard - all 20' in maximum width with 6 - 8 story buildings forming a winding canyon all leading to the exclamation of this city - the Piazza Del Campo. This is truly one of the best spaces in the world. Home of the annual Palio horse race held each July where each neighborhood in Siena challenges each other in a free for all horse race around the outer perimeter of this piazza.

We made our way to our final rendezvous spot, determined what time we would all meet here and then I led everyone to the Duomo for a tour of again, probably one of the best churches in Italy. Again, I love this structure and I am always in awe in the design and craftsmanship that was employed in its execution. It is truly a miracle and masterpiece of what man can produce when inspired. This year was special in that a series of the floor panels were uncovered for viewing and we were fortunate to have scheduled our trip during this period! Spectacular!!! This is definitely one of the must sees for any trip to Italy!

With the tour of the Duomo completed it was time to wander through town and back to the Piazza Del Campo and my favorite spot on the far Northeast corner of the piazza. Isabel and I sat down and ordered some grilled vegetables and mixed grilled meats and of course a bottle of wine. Then you just sit and enjoy life - people strolling around and through the piazza - no cars, just the background sound of people speaking Italian and the ever changing light at dusk was slowly descending on this Italian masterpiece of space and life.






Gradually all of our travelers trickled to our rendezvous spot and joined Isabel and I and the laughter and conversations became more and more amplified and animated as we consumed more wonderful food and wine and a cigar or two. The rest of the patrons of the piazza also shared the enhanced tempo and soon the entire space was filled with laughter and happiness!

We also were able to surprise one of our travelers, Barbara Murphy, with a little birthday celebration which was a lot of fun. With several hours of enjoying the slow sunset and then the lights of the piazza come alive along with the patrons it was time to pull ourselves away and start the walk back to the cars.... But first, one more gelato! 



Monday, September 16, 2013

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 13 - The Grand Finale'

Ok - so I skipped a few days to get to day 13. I will catch up later......

I will post this now and add more pictures later as we are just heading to dinner and then I have to round up my travelers and catch our planes back home in just 10 hours..... so please bear with me. There are several pictures on my personal Facebook Page but more to come here later....so stay tuned.

I skipped to day 13 of our Candelaria Design Tour Italy as today is our final day here and we made it our best day of the trip - the day Isabel and I said our vows and formed a bond that we will share until the last days of our lives. Yes we tied the knot on our last day here in Italy at the Villa d'Este on the terrace by the lake with our Candelaria Tour Italy travelers as our witnesses and guests.

No one on the trip knew we had this on the agenda for the last day of the trip. Isabel and I had been talking about where and when to set our special day and we both realized that Italy is so beautiful, and we have shared so many great times and memories with our travelers, that this would be the perfect way to end the trip and start our journey together. So when we arrived, Evelyn and my staff had beautiful invite cards made that the hotel placed on each traveler's beds upon their arrival letting them know that they were all invited to our special day on their last day in Italy.

Yesterday it rained all day but the hotel staff promised me it would be sunny for the wedding. They made good on their promise and we had a beautiful day. The wedding was at 11 am under the sunshine of a beautiful Italian fall day! The breeze blew lightly and the leaves of the trees of Lake Como waved a soft tempo that set the tone for the day. All 20 of our guests arrived on the terrace and the quartet of violins and cellos started to play The Prayer by Andrea Botecelli and Celine Dion. Little did we realize, John Legend who was staying in our hotel, watched the whole event from his balcony while sipping champagne.

Isabel stroll through the garden led by her escort, Glen Wysel, who filled in for her father. I would say he did a terrific job. Walter Spitz, who flew in a few days before accompanied our good friend, Rebecca Curtis down the aisle and the ceremony was set.

We said our vows along the side of the lake and it was like absolute magic. My Isabel is so beautiful, and add the flowers, the sunshine, the fall breeze and the sound of the water and it was truly magic. One of the most spiritual moments of my life.

Once I kissed the bride we all went and took pictures in the beautiful gardens of Villa d'Este and then had cocktails and appetizers on the terrace under the sunshine with the lovely music of the string quartet. From there we adjourned to the dining room for a lovely 3 hour lunch in the most amazing setting and the food was out of this world.


With lunch enjoyed, it was back onto the terrace for cake and more prosecco and then a three hour boat ride on Lake Como with my bride and a trip to Bellagio for more champagne, a cappuccino, a cigar and views of the villas of George Clooney, Sir Richard Branson, Versace, and many others. What a way to spend the day.

We returned to the hotel for a little relaxation and then it was off to dinner with our entire group for our final evening at the lovely restaurant, Gatto di Nero, with none other than John Legend! What an amazing and lovely day.

I cannot express the gratitude I have for everyone on this trip and my friends who have all stuck by my side through the last 5 years. I must also send special thanks to Evelyn who organized the most spectacular day you could ever imagine! And finally, I must thank the special woman who has made all of my dreams come true...my Isabel. I have truly found my soulmate, my lover, but most importantly my best friend. I love you my dear and this day will live forever.

Ciao from all of us here in Italy.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Candelaria Design Tour Italy ~ Day 8 ~ Farmer’s Market, Lacole’ and Cooking in Umbria


This is always one of my favorite days of the trip. It’s basically a simple day in Umbria and then the 6 hour cooking and eating class at our country houses hosted by Elizabeth Wholey, our house host and author of her new book, Sustenance – Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland.


We start the day with a quick drive into our nearby town of Umbertide right on the Tiber River. Once we got everyone parked we made our way to the main piazza and the scene of the weekly Farmer’s Market in Umbria. I love this whole experience – food and people! It is definitely as much a social event as a food and shopping event. The little coffee bars are packed with locals and tourists all conversing with their voices and hands in typical Italian fashion.




 
















My first, and most decadently, my last stop here in Umbertide, was the porchetta sandwich truck! I think just about everyone grabbed one either on the way in or the way out of town – as I said I made the most of both coming and going! I love these sandwiches – basically a couple slices of meat and a couple slices of the crispy fat from a whole roasted herb infused pig laid in a French roll. Heaven in Umbria.

From there we made it to the main piazza for a walk around the food vendors and to the coffee bar for a cappuccino. We all caught up and discussed our shopping strategies and we were off for more shopping. At the main piazza where the food vendors are located you can find meat, cheeses, fish, flowers, fruits, herbs, plants for your garden, etc., etc. Then outside of the main piazza and off to the side of the main part of the old city are the street vendors selling everything from shoes, to kitchen ware to under garments!  A quick stroll through that part and it was back to the rendezvous spot and that second porchetta sandwich! 















Some of the travelers then ventured back to the country houses and some ventured with me to Lacole’. Isabel took the day off and relaxed at the houses and caught up on a bit of work. Others returned and went on their own little explorations around the area. Many went to the village of Preggio up on the hill.

My group went to Lacole’ – an amazing and huge showroom and outside garden full of everything from antique furniture, to fireplaces, to doors, to tableware, urns, roughs, gate, reclaimed tiles, fountains, etc., etc. It is pretty endless and all salvaged from old villas and farmhouses throughout Italy.  On virtually every trip to Lacole’ we have been met with a torrential downpour and this year was no exception. Fortunately it was during the drive and upon our arrival the rain stopped, the clouds broke, and we once again had brilliant sunshine.





We spent about an hour at Lacole’ exploring the rows and rows of treasures.  We grabbed a soft drink and some snacks at the next door gasomat and then we rendezvoused with Gabrielle who took us to their two new antique door showrooms and warehouses.  We are designing a home for one traveler couple, Glen and Lisa Wysel, and they said they would love to see some doors….and doors we saw! From 15th Century salvaged antique doors to reproductions they have created from reclaimed wood. All spectacular!!!



With  the door and antique shopping completed it was a quick 40 minute drive back to the country houses in Umbria for our cooking class! This is always one of the best moments and one of the most bonding moments on the trip! This year proved no different.




As we arrived, Elizabeth, Paula and Fausto were getting things ready and prepped!

We did the same by getting the wine bottles opened and our aprons on.  We started with stuffing little sweet peppers with ground sausage and cheese. We prepared deviled eggs stuffed with tartufo. We made a ricotta dip and prepped veggies for dipping, then cut up fennel, zucchini, and sage and got those ready for some frying! Then it was time to make our tomato sauce and our pasta fresca – fresh home made pasta! Yes the party had started!



Meanwhile the men were getting the coals ready at the grill! We prepped the pork shoulder and the sausages for the grille and kept the fire stoked while we enjoyed vino and a cigar. It was then back up to the pasta table to knead the dough and start feeding it through the pasta machine. Then grab some more wine and back to the grille to keep the fire burning.
 

By then the appetizers where done – the stuffed peppers, the ricotta dip and veggies, the fried sage, fennel and zucchini and the food coma began! Nothing better than fennel dipped in flour salt and fizzy water then fried in 350º oil just like in tempura – amazing!  Then the pasta was cooking stuffed with ricotta and spinach and then the Fausto had the sausages and pork shoulder grilling! Wow what an assortment of amazing smells.



We had been cooking since 4pm and now, 4-1/2 hours later it was time for dinner! Antipasti, wine, salad, wine, pasta, wine, pork shoulder and sausage and more wine! I love Italy! After some toasts to our chefs, a few songs and a little dancing it was time to wind down this wonderful day in our little piece of heaven in Umbria!