Orzo Asparagus Salad

Spargelsaison is fun, but it can be a little one-note if you don’t have a variety of preparations for the stuff. If you’re lucky enough to have grilling weather while the asparagus is as its peak, this is a fantastic way to serve it alongside burgers or sausages. I found the original here and have posted my version below.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
250 g orzo pasta
at least 500 g green asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
about 300 g artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1-1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, julienned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

In a small skillet, heat olive oil to medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook orzo in salted water for 1 minute less than package directs. Add asparagus to orzo for last 2 minutes of cook time but no more! You want the asparagus to be bright green and still a little crispy when you drain the pasta. After draining the orzo and asparagus, run cold water over it immediately, agitating it frequently to make sure there are no pockets of heat. After draining and cooling, pour orzo and asparagus into a large salad bowl. Add artichokes and tomatoes to orzo bowl.

Remove shallot & garlic to a small deep bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to bowl. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad, stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Stir again before serving.

Buongiorno Aosta, Ça va? Alles klar?

Mid-May 2017 we bugged out for (wait for it…) Italy again. But only just barely, kinda.

We started the trip out with a visit to Berlin to spend some time with our pal Snooker; that was in the works long before work stuff started amping up for me. So when it became clear that I needed a distraction from work stuff, we lumped a 6-day trip onto our 4-day weekend in Berlin with one stop overnight in our own place on the way from Berlin down and over to Aosta, Italy.

We clocked over 2500 KMs on our car — the biggest single trip yet. Spending all that time in the car, we needed some audio distraction. The audio in it is laughably poor, due to crummy factory speakers (and not enough of them) and some wacky AUX input wiring issues, so about a year ago we bought an Anker bluetooth speaker1 for use in the car. It’s got a great battery life and connects easily to either of our phones. It’s loud and clear enough for podcasts or audiobooks over the road and wind and engine noise of our car. It’s a little less well-suited for enjoying music while driving, to be sure, but for spoken audio, we’re quite happy with it.

Regensburg to Berlin and Back

We’ve done this drive a couple times. We got a hotel room at Motel One An der Urania which was nicely-located. A little expensive to park for four days, but better than most of the other options. It was a pretty easy walk over to Nollendorfplatz for breakfast at Café Berio twice.


Instead of a 7+ hour drive from Berlin to our digs in Liechtenstein, we opted for a 5 hour drive, change of laundry, and a night in our own bed before pressing on with a 3 hour drive the next morning to a ski resort in the hills above Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

Switzerland and Austria have a good racket going down there with the border crossing into/out of Germany near Lindau. You’ll be on three countries’ roads, which could very well mean you need a Vignette for Austria and Switzerland. We knew we’d need one for Switzerland for sure (about 40 CHF, valid for all of 2017), but weren’t 100% sure about Austria, so we coughed up the 8€ for a 10-day Austrian Vignette, too.

Part of the reason for a stay in Liechtenstein was that it was kind of on the way, but we also just wanted to experience a new country. Our list of unvisited European countries is growing ever-smaller. 2

Liechtenstein was pretty. And pretty small. I got the impression the Royal Oak post office is a bigger building than the seat of the government for the whole country of Liechtenstein. We strolled around Vaduz looking for a place for dinner on a Monday night — just about everything was closed. A single-person pizza and a beer ran about 30 CHF.

Oh, speaking of Swiss Francs: as we were walking down the mountain roads and catching the bus, we realized we had Euros in usable denominations, but only one 100 CHF bill. When the bus picked us up, I asked the driver if we could pay in Euros. He was reluctant; probably tired of Eurozone tourists forgetting that Liechtenstein uses the Swiss Franc. I asked if he’d prefer to break our 100 CHF bill, and that was A-OK with him. We ended up buying two all-day adult Bus Liechtenstein passes for about 10 CHF a piece. For some of the routes on the bus system there, during certain times of the year, you officially have to call ahead a reserve your transit. When we asked the driver about that he said “yeah, normally, but now I know and I’ll watch for you downtown and make sure you get back up the mountain.” Phone numbers for that are posted on the bus schedules at the stops. I shudder to think what a taxi ride up the mountain after our dinner would have costed.

Aosta Valley

There are a lot of names for this place:

  • Valle d’Aosta (Italian)
  • Vallée d’Aoste (French)
  • Val d’Oûta (Francoprovençal)
  • Augschtalann or Ougstalland (Walser German)

Whatever you call it, it was a new part of Italy for us to discover.


We stayed just outside the Altstadt at B&B Mu — and our hosts were delightful. We highly recommend them. We enjoyed walking around the city. Like Regensburg, it’s a couple thousand years old, with a Roman fortress at its core, and plenty of architecture left over from that era.

We also took a few trips around the region in our car and via train.

Gaby and Gressoney-Saint-Jean

B&B Mu left us a pamphlet of castles you can visit in the region. We headed up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean to see Castel Savoia. On the way, we drove through a gorgeous little town called Gaby. We would have eaten lunch there, but it was Wednesday, and apparently the town shuts down on Wednesdays. A little bit further up the road, a small sandwich board at a hillside hotel caught my eye, and we pulled in for a fantastic, very generous prix fixe lunch at Hotel Fiordiroccia.

That was all just drive-by chance on our way to Savoy Castle, a summer residence of Queen Margherita. Upon arrival, we took a tour of the interior of the castle. It would have been a great value, but it was only in Italian, and ours is not up to snuff for architecture, dynastic heraldry, or late nineteenth century royal family politics.

Turin’s Museum dell’Automobile

On one of the predicted-to-be-rainier days, we took a two-hour train ride to Turin3 to visit the automobile museum there. We didn’t have any expectations going in really, but I was quite impressed with the layout and interactivity of the museum exhibits — despite the PREGO NON TOCARE everywhere (it is a museum and they were priceless antiques after all). There was a good selection of early European and Golden Age North American car models there. But the clear focus was on FIAT-affiliated designs and designers.

It was more like a Pininfarina museum than anything.


Some closing thoughts:

  • Good weather for nice views made all the difference on the way there and around the region
  • We didn’t seek anything else out in Turin but the car museum — and what we saw of that part of the city was not impressive
  • Really gotta get one of those VHS Italian or French for tourists classes in — we had no language problems, but it felt like we were causing so much extra effort on everyone else
  • We generally ate well, but the food situation in Aosta felt a little weird: there were elements of Tuscan or Neapolitan cuisine in there, but plenty of local alpine touches, making it regionally distinct
  1. I bought it from amazon.de, but I can’t recommend that in good conscience anymore until they stop funding breitbart.com with ad revenue. []
  2. Look out, Andorra and San Marino and Scandinavia — you could be next! []
  3. changing trains in Ivrea []

Bridge Work Still in Progress

For the first time in a while, we took a stroll back to the old neighborhood for the Maidult festival running there for a few days yet. You can count on the Dult, in May or in the Fall, to provide plenty of good people watching. It’s like an American amusement park in that regard — it takes all kinds and all kinds do show up for the beer tents, rickety rides, carnival games, and odd specialty goods for sale.

We were there with some of my work peeps whom I don’t see much anymore.

You can see that the middle of the bridge is still covered up in a tenty, shed-like thing. We haven’t heard any news about progress, or the lack thereof. Have you?

Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter much, especially if you’re one of the people enjoying a warm evening with friends on the bank.