Sunday, June 19, 2011

Limoncello and Lemonade

Step one: soak lemon peel in grain alcohol
Limoncello. It's funny how one word can bring on a wave of nostalgia. For me, limoncello transports me back to Positano, Italy, aka the most magical place on earth.

I visited Positano for a couple of days with a good friend of mine in the Spring of 2007. We were doing a trip through Switzerland and Italy together, and Positano was toward the end of what started off as a very unlucky trip. The ride to Positano was a bit of a hair-raiser; we had to stand on the ginormous bus that twisted and turned along the cliffside. With every sharp turn, I was sure I would fly out of the window and land in the water far below. Luckily for us, we made it safely to the beautiful Positano.

Lemons are so beautiful and cheery!
We stayed in a hostel that was 700 steps from the beach (that is, stairs downhill), with a wonderful view of the azure sea. It was such a dream. That first night, we went up to a restaurant overlooking the sea (okay, so pretty much everywhere in Positano overlooks the sea), and when we left the restaurant, the moon was full and bright, dancing on the water in such a way that only ever happens in cartoons. Pairing the moonlight with the soft lights of the town on the water made it seem like I had entered a fairyland. This place was too good to be true.

Our second day in Positano was a wash, quite literally. It rained all day and my friend and I bought ponchos to protect us from the weather. I also bought some limoncello and two little shot glasses to enjoy it in.

Our third day in Postiano, we were supposed to go to Capri. Sadly, the weather was not so great that morning, so we called off the trip and went for a hike up to Montepertuso. We followed a road up hill and as we walked along a little dog joined us. The dog took us all the way up to the town, where it seemed none of the men had anything better do do than to call out to us, "amoré, tresoro!"

We then headed back down to Positano and had lunch at a nice little café. The weather had started to clear up quite nicely, so we decided to spend some time at the beach. We rented chairs from a man named Guido, who seemed to be having some sort of party on his deck. My friend and I were the only people at the beach that afternoon. After I tested out the cold water, Guido called out to me when I returned to my chair. "Ladies!" I looked at my friend and said something like, "uh, he's calling for us." Guido waved for us to come up to the deck and join his party. It turned out it was Guido's birthday, and he wanted us to join the lunch party since we were the only ones on the beach.

As soon as we sat down, Guido gave us each a plateful of pasta, which we enjoyed (despite having eaten 2 hours earlier). Guido introduced us to his friends and family, all of whom were incredibly tan (according to my diary, I saw the tannest lady I've ever seen). As we ate the pasta, a man who looked like an Italian Gaston (from Beauty and the Beast) showed up with a boombox and began singing opera to Guido. I could not believe what was going on around me, and that I was invited to be a part of it. After the pasta (along with red wine made by one of the attendants), Guido brought out short fat sausages for everyone to eat. My friend and I were getting full, but the rest of the party insisted that we eat the sausage. The old man who liked singing Happy Birthday even made a joke to my friend about "molte salsicce" (lots of sausage), as they somehow forced her to take two sausages.

Now, we all know that no birthday party is complete without dessert, and Guido did not let us down here. There were not one, not two, but three birthday cakes: one limoncello, one mokka, and one chocolate. There was also prosecco, to toast Guido. I'm pretty sure they convinced me to have two glasses of prosecco... And then there were brandied apricots. More food than I have ever eaten in my life, and it was painful. Luckily, the trek up the 700 stairs to our hostel would work some of it off.

So refreshing!
So this is what I think of when I think of limoncello. I think of the limoncello cake at that little party, and the people there who told us we should move to Positano. Who could resist living in such a beautiful place? I also think of the Naples airport, where my little bottle of limoncello was confiscated by the Italian version of the TSA. For a second I contemplated downing the bottle right there in the airport, but I thought better of it. I'm still a little bitter about it. I also think of the old man who stopped my friend and I on our way to the bus stop as we left Positano. "Why you leave?" he asked. "We have to," we replied. "Where you go?" he asked. "Napoli," we replied. He kind of nodded his head and walked on, but we too could not help but ask ourselves why we had to leave.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am making homemade limoncello. Let me tell you now: peeling 15 lemons is no easy task. Granted, I had help for about 5 of them, but I have a blister as proof of what a troubling toil it is.

When making limoncello, however, one must not let the 15 lemons go to waste once they are peeled. I squeezed some of the juice into an ice cube tray to use later, and the rest went into a very tart lemonade. I found that lemonade spiked with Chambord is delicious, and tastes just like raspberry lemonade. My dad, on the other hand, spiked his with whiskey for what he called Lynchberg Lemonade. My SIL, who is with child, added some fresh strawberry jam to hers to make a strawberry lemonade. I think everyone was satisfied with that result.

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