Why I Created Culinary Adventures with Abby!

Culinary Adventures with Abby

A Little Division of Cooking with Abby

The reason I lead culinary adventures to Italy and France is simple - the journey to making them a reality, is longer. I want to share my love of Cooking, Eating, Breaking Bread, and truly, “Living” with all that come with me! Sharing fresh ingredients, cooking, wine tasting, art, and the gift of time with my clients, friends, and travellers, is the motivation behind the trips. I think one of the most important realizations I came to when Richard and I went with our girls and friends for 22 days to Italy in 2012, was that time together, savoring each meal, visiting ancient churches, searching for the perfect lemon (as an example), and then cooking and eating together, was life changing.  I call it a “soulful shift in my life’s direction”.   However, it still took some time to make these trips a reality.

Why was Italy 2012 life changing?  Life gets busy for all of us. For many of us, we have careers, may have children, organizations we work with, animals that need us to care for them, parents, siblings, and friends who need us too. Schedules… money...the list can go on and on as to why one cannot take the time to savor a trip to another country. When I stepped onto the plane at Logan Airport on July 4, 2012, I mentally said “OK” to leaving my store, my responsibilities to others (except my nuclear family), and my “schedule” on the tarmac in Boston. Once we took off, I decided I would immerse myself in the Italian Culture. I still had to check in with my staff as I was the boss, but I put someone in control and trusted that person to execute the duties that she had accepted. Letting go of my everyday universe was hard, but it allowed me some time to rethink my goals. Specifically, at the end of the trip, I knew deep down that I was going to shift my career to Food & Wine, and change the pace of my life. After 22 days in Italy, I realized I needed more time with those that I love and less time with people and groups and things that did not fill my soul with joy.   I also wanted to build something that would last; and create experiences that bring happiness, joy, and new things to other’s lives.

Not to gloss over the next 4-5 years, but in that time, I closed my retail store, went to culinary school, moved from the city to Norwell, MA, cultivated a huge garden with my husband, and settled our younger daughter into a new school.   Some of those decisions were painful and difficult. Closing our retail business, in a community that we adored and lived in, was seriously heartbreaking.  Deciding to sell our house and move from our beloved Charlestown, heartbreaking and very exciting at the same time. We needed and wanted more space for a garden – and we needed a change after closing the store.  Culinary School was a total “win” and an exciting and magical time for me. It was there that I decided I wanted to have my own cooking school, and to create adventures to places that are meaningful for food, wine, olive oil, artists and history.

One of the defining moments of my life came while I cooked alongside the famous Master Chef, Jacques Pépin. He talked of family, and food memories, and the joy of just picking up a spoon. I felt connected to everything he was saying. The long dinners around my family table growing up, the side food businesses, the intricate dinner parties, the happiness I felt and feel when I step into the kitchen, and the memories of so many times with my family and my friends. Roast Beef with Oven Roasted Potatoes, Haricots-Vert, and the perfect Claret; can bring me back to my childhood table with my family? Or maybe back to the perfect Christmas Dinner with my husband and our girls.  Other moments during the 22 days that changed my life include the day I met my dear friend, Lorena Autuori. She is a wonderful chef who taught us how to make pasta in her 16th century home. She is an even more wonderful friend.

In the small medieval village of San Gemini, Terni, Umbria, I met Lorena. Our group went there to take a cooking lesson with Lorena, and 8 or 9 hours later, we left to return to our Villa. The next day, she came to us for dinner. The rest is history!  Our families became dear friends. Both of us were destined to cook – and we were both stuck in different places. Lorena is a special education teacher by day –and an amazing Chef, cooking teacher, and restaurateur the rest of the time. We made things happen together– including collaborations with well-known chefs, her children working in the US, and my Culinary Adventures to Umbria. Her dedication to the ingredients, her honesty with her recipes, and her willingness to take hours to make one dish perfect, forever changed me as a chef, and inspired me to create trips that will hopefully inspire many to slow down and savor each and every moment.

During the summer of 2015, my family went out west to San Francisco, LA, and San Diego for six weeks. We were there for my husband’s business. I started to build out the culinary adventures mentally – wanting to include Northern California as a destination. During our adventure out west, we received a life changing phone call from my younger sisters, who were in Italy on a family trip. My stepmom had suffered an aneurysm, and the prognosis was not encouraging. We call JoAnn, Mimi. Mimi survived a very long surgery, and fell into a coma, that she would stay in for weeks. Upon my arrival home from the West Coast, I hopped on a plane to Florence, Italy, to meet my little sister in Siena, where Mimi was in the hospital.  For 7 or 8 days, it was just the two of us. We went to the hospital morning and night to talk to Mimi, hold her hand, put lotion on her face, and tell her stories in the hope she could hear us talking to her.  After our night visits, we made our way down to the Piazza del Campo where restaurants congregate, one after the other. There was much comfort in doing something “normal”. The warmth of the people, the beauty of each plate and the care put into every meal we ate, were very cathartic and helpful to us both.  We drank the delicious wine and faced the Duomo di Siena while we ate and talked – and the ancient building brought us a measure of comfort. It was there that I knew I would keep coming back to Italy – and that I wanted to add these adventures to my business. But what happened over the next 6 months is what prompted me to bring them to life and make them happen.

Mimi did eventually wake up, and she seemed to know us and love us and understand what we were saying. However, the aneurysm severely affected her mobility, her ability to eat by herself, and her ability to walk.  It became apparent over many months, and 24/7 caregiving at home, that our family could not physically take care of her day to day needs. Mimi transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, and then last May, to a nursing home in her beloved Washington, D.C. The facility is beautiful, and the staff is professional and kind. Yet every time I go to see her, I cannot help but think that her life was cut short. At 65, a vibrant, smart, dedicated mom, wife, and CEO of a company, will live out her life in a place she did not choose.  Every time I leave Mimi, I vow to do something more with my days. I vow to conquer fears, do things that scare me, and seek out moments of joy, love, collaboration, and growth.   During the same time period of Mimi’s transition to the rehab hospital and nursing home, one of my sisters gave birth to our niece. I think we all felt she was a gift to our family.  In the midst of devastating sadness and adjusting to a “new normal”, along comes our sweet baby girl, full of life and joy and excitement.  Baby Alex became our reason to move ahead with happiness. She also lights Mimi’s life up – as they clearly have a connection that cannot be dissolved by immobility or impossible circumstances.  “Show her how to live” is what always enters my mind when I am with sweet baby Alex (and our girls).

My Culinary Adventure trips are for this reason:  Life can change in an instant. We never do know what will happen. So…I seek out other chefs who love to teach, and can teach us something about their local cuisine. I seek out sommeliers and olive growers and farmers who know their crafts well – and speak to us in terms we understand, and can guide us in further appreciating the efforts of wine making and farming. I seek out farmers who can show us how cheese it made, and how they raise their animals. Their care speaks volume about their desires and efforts to be true to what they do.   The places we visit will change you – because the people are often from a long line of caretakers, farmers, growers and cheese makers. One sheep farm we visit to taste fresh ricotta cheese has been in the family for 500 years. The copper bowl they use in production is the original bowl from 500 years ago. When we visit Luca, the porchetta maker, we step into a shop that he restored. He uses an oven from 1699 that he also lovingly restored. When we cook with Lorena, we are cooking authentic recipes from Umbria. Every ingredient is hand picked and hand made.   This is the same with Daniela in Rome, and Letizia in Assisi, and Lorenzo in Orvieto. In Provence, France, we walk the local street markets, cook with local chefs, make chocolate with infamous chocolatiers, tour and taste some of the best wine (and beer!) the world has to offer us all. Lavender, honey, olives, linens, and soaps are just some of the market items. Eating at one of the world’s best restaurants, also located in Provence, occurs on our France Adventure.   Artists such as van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Matisse, and so many more influence our days as well.  Food and Art go hand in hand.

Whether you pick the Culinary Adventure to Italy or France, I personally guarantee that you will experience people, places and things that you never have imagined, even if you have been to these destinations before. My adventures are limited to 4-8 people, as I like the groups to enjoy the activities, savor the classes, taste the wine longer -- if one so desires J, and connect with others in our group. A smaller group also gives me the flexibility to add or change things on “on the fly” to make the most of the moments!

I hope to welcome you on A Culinary Adventure with Abby! Italy and France are only the beginning. However, I can imagine making the journey to my beloved Italy and Provence, France, every single year. I always tell my girls and clients, “with a little planning, and a lot of hustle, one can make anything happen”.  I work very diligently and find the right people to partner with on our adventures – and many become dear friends. I have worked hard to keep costs reasonable. There are less expensive tours out there –but they are not as inclusive or flexible. I am proud of my Adventures, and hope to travel with you, very soon.

About Chef Abby Gray:

Abby Gray is a Private Chef, Mother, Wife, Sister, Daughter, and Entrepreneur.  After many years in advertising and publishing, she opened a high-end gift boutique & events business in Charlestown, MA. This is where she further developed her “Cooking with Abby” business plan and “Culinary Adventures Ideas”. Always passionate about food, & feeding her family, friends, clients and strangers, Abby, at almost 50 years old, has settled into her perfect career.

Abby runs her cooking school out of her home in Norwell, MA. Contact Abby directly @: (617) 997-5822, or email Abby @: cookingwithabbygray@gmail.com

Abby is passionate about giving you a culinary adventure you will never forget. You can learn more about Abby via her website: cookingwithabby.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cookingwithabbygray/

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Flourless Chocolate Cake and Managing Expectations!

The holidays are a crazy- busy time for all of us. I find that as I get older, I try to say no to some things, so that the things I do end up doing, have meaning. However, in the middle of all of this season, I have lots of clients and holiday parties, and other classes. Managing expectations is important. 

I like having a few really good, go-to recipes for various occasions. This flourless chocolate cake cannot be beat. It is great for friends with a gluten allergy - and so easy, you can whip one up in minutes. I share this with you in the hopes to take a smidge of stress off of your dessert plates. 

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake – SO EASY and DELICIOUS!

 INGREDIENTS

1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped (or use chips)

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1⁄8-teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons espresso powder (oh so good- but optional)

3 large eggs

1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

 Glaze

1-cup semisweet chocolate (or chips)

1⁄2-cup heavy cream

1⁄4 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

 DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of pan (I sprayed the whole pan with flour Pam).

 To make cake: heat the chocolate and butter in microwave, stirring until mixture is melted and smooth.

Add the sugar, salt and espresso powder.

Add eggs, beating briefly until smooth.

Add cocoa powder and mix just to combine.

Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust.

Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, and turn it out onto a serving plate.

 Allow cake to cool completely before glazing.

 GLAZE.

Heat chocolate and cream in microwave, stirring until chocolate melting and mixture is completely smooth.

Spoon glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit.

Garnish with toasted almonds if desired.

Allow glaze to set for several hours before serving cake.

The Time is Now - for Umbria, and here is why you should join me!

I could not be happier with the inquiries that I am getting about my trip/journey to Umbria. I do plan to make this a yearly, if not bi-yearly adventure (specifically to Umbria, we will also go to France and Spain and ...) -  but first, Umbria! 

I have found that there is never a "good or great" time to do anything, really. For most of us, we have work, many of us have kids, other family commitments, school, groups we belong to, committee meetings, races, and "life". However, if you really think about it, 5-7 days is only a small snapshot of an entire year. I also think that the benefits of the region, the cooking lessons, the wine, the olive oil, the landscapes, and the people of Umbria, are sincerely and seriously, good for one's mind and heart and soul. 

My friend said to me last night "I really want to do this, but how can I do this?"  I asked the questions that would absolutely preclude her from coming, "Do you have the money to do this?" &  "Do you have a life or death appointment or commitment?" &  "Can you get the time off of work?". She said she had the money, she has 8 weeks vacation (after 10 years, saved up, extra vacation), and she has things that she would have to reschedule, but nothing really that important that it cannot be moved. Aha! I said, "the only thing stopping you, is you.".

I don't say that sarcastically. I had many years where I let many things stop me. But....the last 24 months of my life have taught me, again, that there is no time like the present. I had a good friend die. My stepmom suffered an aneurysm, another friend got breast cancer, etc. Life is messy and hard.  I actually vacillated back and forth about dates, and excuses as to why I should put it off. How will I make a real brochure if I don't go? How will Lorena and I plan out subsequent trios if we are always on FaceTime? How will i establish deeper relationships, and my knowledge of the area, if I don't go soon...or now. So, I worked out the dates with Richard (my fabulosuly supportive husband) - and bought the ticket and started to advertise. 

I am passionate about this place in the world because it is truly magical. I cannot quite convey the feeling of looking out onto the vinyards or cooking in a kitchen that sits in a 16th Century House. I cannot quite make you feel the feeling of walking down the middle of the street to taste frehsly made ricotta. I can't tell you that eating lunch -- while sitting in front of a church that has been there for centuries, does not change you. It changed me. My appreciatiation for history grew deeper. My desire to learn more about ingredients, and sourcing, and time honored traditions of certain techniques became uber important to me. TIME - the gift of giving ones time, and spending time, and not rushing time, hit home with me. I still get busy and run out of time, but not in the way I did before my days in Italy -- and San Gemini. 

I hope a few more of you will join my on my first Culinary Adventure. I look forward to the ones that have already claimed space to the next one. I hope to cook with you in San Gemini - as you will never be the same after cooking with Lorena. Email me today @ cookingwithabbygray@gmail.com or call me @ (617) 997-5822. October 10-18th is the timeframe, but you could shorten it to October 10-15/16 and i can pro-rate the trip. Carpe Diem! 

Why should you join me in Umbria this Fall?

Ciao Friends!  Cooking with Abby is heading to Umbria!

I have been advertising my first culinary adventure for awhile now - and I am getting lots of interest in my trip(s). I am happy about that, of course, but I thought I'd take a few minutes to further explain why I am doing them...as I get asked that question, a lot!  Italy is my first destination and the South of France will be my second. I want to also go to Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Cuba, Mexico....and lots of other places too.  We will head wherever I can find interesting chefs, good and healthy ingredients, yummy wine and spirits, gorgeous land, and wonderfully warm and welcoming people. My adventures are for the foodie souls. 

My first trip is to Italy because I want to take people to my dear friend's cooking school in Umbria - and to experience Umbria in a way that is hard to explain. Our hearts and souls connect with places - and as a chef and a lover of all things delicious, Umbria sets my soul on fire!  The people, the fresh ingredients, the recipes, the people (did i say that already?!), the wine, the olive oil, & the restaurants are only a few things that make this trip worth taking. Can you imagine cooking with a wonderful Italian Chef for three days in her 16th Century Flat?  We will tour vineyards and orchards, visit Roma (+ 5 Culinary Destinations there and dinner in Trastevere (neighborhood in Rome), and eat at local restaurants in Umbria that will have you begging for more. The week of October 10-18, 2016, promises to be full of good people, good food, good wine...and life changing experiences. I mean that! Italy and her people will invade your heart and you will come back more appreciative of those you love, the food you create, the wine you drink. I also learned to appreciate TIME more seriously on my first trip to Umbria -- the value of an experience, and the need to feed my soul regularly. Cooking, traveling, tasting, drinking, learning - and experiencing these things in Italy, is a journey worth taking. 

We will create food journals and collect recipes and learn about wine and olive oil, etc. as part of the experience(s).  We will also create food memories that will change how you cook and how you think about feeding yourself and your family. I never stop learning. I never stop practicing. There is always something to gain by visiting another culture.  

Join me. We have some spots left. Call me @ (617) 997-5822 or email me @: cookingwithabbygray@gmail.com -- Carpe Diem! 

 

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