orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Boy, it's hot

Well we had almost forgotten what it’s like, but summer does seem to have finally arrived, so much so that it’s has simply become too hot to do any meaningful work. Yesterday, on mid-summer solstice we set out to our plot full of good intentions. We bought a few tomato plants to replant the ones drowned by the rains and a few cabbage plants. We just about managed to plant these and stake the tomatoes and Susan built a support for the melons that had spontaneously sowed themselves out, although I’m coming to the conclusion that they may be cucumbers. This again is strange, because the ones I deliberately sowed out got drowned as well. Well I’m not complaining, let them grow where they’re happy is what I say. Anyway, after this bit of very light work we were drenched in sweat and it was only 10 o’clock in the morning! Things could only get worse. My outside thermometer is on 40˚C and there is still a lot of humidity in the air. This evening, as the sun dips behind the hill (our land is east facing), we shall resume our watering routine and then go off to La Spezia where there is to be a Sardinian sagra accompanied by folk music. Until then we’ll just vegetate.

In the meantime I have found a new, really useful book, ‘Liguria in arbanella’. Written in Italian, this gives traditional Ligurian recipes for preserving your harvest. Amongst the usual suspects of jams, vegetables under oil or vinegar, salted or dried vegetables etc, there are some really unusual ones that I can’t wait to try out. Amongst the jams and marmalades there is for instance an orange marmalade with chocolate bits and cognac, a chestnut and white bean jam, a dandelion jam and apple and rose petal jam. The fruit under alcohol section features chestnuts under whisky and the section on vegetable preserves includes garlic in honey, aubergine with mint or spicy under oil, spicy olives and garlic, chillies stuffed with anchovy and capers and sweet and sour tomatoes. At the end of the book there are also a few of the classic Ligurian recipes such as Pesto Genovese and Nut Sauce. All in all a great book and I shall look forward to seeing my larder brimming over with homemade delicacies. We started with doing cherries under spirit, ciliegie sotto spirito, the other day, which involves pure alcohol (95%) being poured over cherries, sugar and a few cloves. We’re shaking the mixture daily now and after a month or so it will be ready to be bottled.

Finally, to my great disappointment Holland were knocked out of Euro 2008 last night by no other than Russia who are managed by Dutchman Guus Hiddink. I hope he will now not be allowed back into the country, he should be banished to Siberia! Well, well, life goes on, I suppose I’m going to have to start shouting for Italy now… Me and our next-door neighbour Piero were having shouted conversations throughout the match last night through our open windows. Oh, and the orange T-shirts will finally be retired to cleaning duties.

Friday, 20 June 2008

of friends, the weather, Euro 2008 and tadpoles

Sorry about the long break between entries. There were various reasons for this. One is the 3 ladies pictured above. Our old friends Siobhan and Ellie from Belfast came to see us for a few days. It’s great, we used to work and drink together over 20 years ago for a year in Belfast and since then we only see them every other year or so, when we’re back in Belfast or our paths cross somewhere else, but with them we just seem to pick up as if we saw them yesterday. We showed them the highlights of the area, our plot and the village in Arcola, Lerici, Portovenere, Sarzana and we took them out for a sagra di pesce, a fish fest in Colombiera near Castelnuovo Magra. Just as well the festa was not in our village, otherwise we probably would have been banned from future events for drunkenness in public! Afterwards we kept our village awake until about 5 am by partying into the wee ours listening to ‘70s music.

The weather since the last entry has continued to be very unstable, with intermittent showers, proper rain and heavy storms. Last Friday night the thunder and lightning seemed to bounce around between the sea and the mountains and kept us awake a whole night. The result of this of course was that once again out telephone line went down again for 4 days, so obviously I couldn’t post anything during that time either.

Finally as I had predicted in my last post, Holland did rather well. Their first match a resounding 3-0 against the Italians, then beating the French equally impressively 4-1 and finally the B-team eliminating Romania 2-0. They’ve all of a sudden become the favourites of the tournament! I’ve taken to wearing orange T-shirts for the whole month with ‘Hup Holland’ written on it, just to rub it in with the neighbours. The Italians were only lucky that even our B-team beat Romania, otherwise Italy would already be out of the competition.

The last two days we have finally had no rain at all, it’s getting hot and the forecast is for uninterrupted sunshine for the foreseeable future. Unusually for the time of the year we’ve not had to water at all, but this should change. Quite a few of my plants have actually drowned, such as some of the latest tomato plants I’ve planted out. Yesterday we’ve finally cleared up the last of our terraces in Arcola of the rampant, rain-assisted growth and today we made some progress in Villa clearing some more and cutting off some diseased parts of apple tree. Although today was almost too hot to work and I cooled off in the river again after a hard day’s work. Some people rave about going swimming with the dolphins, while I prefer going swimming with the tadpoles.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Amongst the Olives

Well the weather keeps on playing tricks on us making planning anything absolutely impossible. And we are supposed to be in Italy with continuous lovely weather from May to September! Every evening we look at Sky Meteo 24, the 24-hour weather channel for Italy. Usually the opposite of what they say happens, but even that you can’t rely on. Canale 5 usually comes with a different forecast to Sky Meteo, but possibly just for the sake of being different, because they are no more accurate. This weather is more like what we used to get in Ireland and England. The only method that works reasonably well is getting up in the morning, going to our viewing veranda in front of our house with views of up to a hundred miles, and see if you see any clouds approaching from any direction. But even that failed us today. We wanted to go to a festa in nearby Castelnuovo Magra, the Rassegna dell’Olio d’Oliva, an olive oil fair. There was to be various producers from the region showing off their produce, a lunch and dinner on the piazza in front of their Disney-like castle and a walk through the olive groves of the area.

Well my look out for the weather this morning showed some dark and threatening clouds over the mountains, but clear and sunny weather towards the sea and Castelnuovo. I was hoping that the clouds would stay behind the mountains and, as we have recently in the face of rising fuel costs been riding our bikes for anything where we did not need to carry bulky items with us, we set off on our bikes for the 15 odd kilometer trip. Castelnuovo Magra sits not quite as high as our village (about 150m a.s.l.) above the mouth of the river Magra where it enters the Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful village with an impressive castle once inhabited by the Malaspina clan who dominated this area in times past. As we arrived the sun even showed itself and we decided to browse around the stands of various olive producers, trying little tit-bits from the various tables, having a glass of wine or three from the excellent local wine producer Il Torchio, who makes an excellent Vementino Colli di Luni DOC white wine. Susan got quite chatty with a few French people who had set up a stand promoting the region of Auvergne in France (tasted their wine too, as well as their lovely cheeses, salami and paté). Having suitably fortified our spirits, we set off to go on this walk ‘amongst the olives’. It was to be a well sign-posted 2 ½ hour round walk. We were barely ½ hour out of the village when the heavens darkened and it started raining. We sheltered for a while under an olive tree, but we soon found ourselves in the midst of a violent storm with pouring rain and the shelter became fairly useless. So we retraced our steps back to Castelnuovo and our bikes getting absolutely soaked to the skin! And in this state we had to cycle back home again. Well we both had hot showers and hopefully we won’t have caught pneumonia or anything like that. The walk looked lovely though and we must attempt again on a nicer day. The real irony was, that Ponzano Superiore looked dry, so we seemed to have our own personal storm over our heads!

The other good thing that we found was one of the exhibitors at the fair, a mill, not only for olives but also for various flours. I have found it very difficult finding decent flour in Italy for making bread, but this place produces wholemeal flour as well as selling it directly, so I’ll be visiting them this week to stock up on big sack of flour! It’s likely that I won’t be able to resist some of the tasty antipasti they produce either. They have a web-site too on www.oliomoro.it.

Finally, what have been doing on the land I hear you ask. Well with the mixed weather we have only been out there a couple of times, we certainly haven’t had to water anything. On Wednesday we did some weeding and sowing after the new moon. I sowed out various types of beans on the kiwi terrace and some cavolo nero (Tuscan ‘black cabbage’, which is a bit like cale), leeks and Swiss chard on the terrace below, the strawberry terrace. Yesterday I dug over another half terrace with Frank Motozappa and sowed out a mixed lot of lettuces. And what are we eating? We had the last of the peas, courgettes are there, still more cherries (I’m in the middle of making a cherry cheesecake), daily strawberries, loquats, a lot of mixed salad. Plums will be ready any day. Above you’ll see the grapevines in flower. Well if you don’t hear too much from me in the next couple of weeks, Holland is probably doing particularly well during Euro 2008.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

A bit of wildlife

The weather has been very mixed the last few days. A lot of rain since wedesday, up in Piemonte they had severe flooding. Yesterday, after some initial rain in the morning, it finally turned nice, and as usual after a lot of rain the weeds have taken on towering proportions. Spent all day with the strimmer fighting them back and afterwards me and Frank Motozappa dug over an ex-pea bed. Susan in the meantime was tieying up the tomatoes and weeding around them as well as around the sweetcorn. Finally she picked a huge bucket full of cherries and strawberries. Then late last night after a long hard day working I was trying to turn some of the cherries into jam, but of course we ran out of gas half way through and we had forgotten to buy a spare gas cylinder. And that on a long weekend, tomorrow is Day of the Republic. So I've got some half-cooked jam on the cooker and hope that it will set when I re-start it again on Tuesday... Apart from jam I've put cherries in grappa, I tried drying some, made cake, ate some, ate some more and then finally we ate some... Anybody got any other ideas what to do with them? Oh of course we also bartered some for lemons.

Today we went on a long walk through a bit of drizzle on and off. We spotted quite a bit of wildlife, such as the wee mouse and that little snake above.