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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Saturday, 15 November 2008

Volunteers Wanted!

The weather slowly has improved again. Thursday and Friday were quite mixed days with showers always threatening. So we used those two days to do some research. I have decided to write a book. Babette and Paul said they would help me with the printing and I have got it pretty much planned. It is to be a guide to walks around the Lunigiana, whereby I use the geographic term in it’s loosest definition as the provinces of La Spezia (Liguria) and Massa / Carrara (northern tip of Tuscany). The desire to write this guide was born from a frustration of the inaccuracies of even the most detailed maps of the area as well as of the general sign posting. I intend to include at least one walk for each ‘comune’ of those two provinces, give info on any sights along each walk, notes on history and nature, recommendations for places to eat and drink, public transport links, annual events, alongside detailed descriptions of the actual walks themselves with correct maps. I envisage including some 50 walks in the book and to put one day a week aside to research another for the next 12 months.

Now this is where I would like some help by anyone reading this who either lives nearby or is planning a holiday in the region. I need some people to try out the walks to see if my garbled directions make sense to them, before I launch the guide onto the unsuspecting public. Please send me an e-mail or leave a comment below. The above photo was taken on the walk we tried out this week. It’s a 5 ½ hour walk starting from the medieval centre of Santo Stefano di Magra, through quiet woodlands up to Ponzano Superiore with it’s narrow alleyways and sweeping views, down to the valley again past a Victorian style ceramics factory and back to Santo Stefano via the Regional Nature Park along the river Magra with it’s varied birdlife. Herons, storks and even flamingos are amongst the visitors during migration times.

Today the weather turned bright again, but with a strong wind blowing. I had planned on picking my olives today, but with the high winds I decided not climb the top of a 10 foot ladder. Instead we took down the tomato and bean plants, which have finally finished for the year. Mind you I still picked a good kilo of beans today! We also planted onions today, about 100 each of brown and red ones. In previous years I unsuccessfully tried to grow them from seed, now I just planted small bulbs to grow them to bigger ones. Whilst this is marginally more expensive then buying seeds, I’m hoping the results will be better. I also bought a dozen Brussel sprout plants. Last year’s grown from seed didn’t do to well either and were mostly eaten by some nasty bright red bug with a ferocious appetite. We also picked the first kaki of the year, so I shall make some of my famous ‘I can’t believe it’s not mago chutney’ chutney tomorrow. For the recipe look up this blog 6 December last year.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Of Stray cats and Pilgrims

This is our latest house mate up there; we call him Garfield, because he is the spitting image of the famous cartoon cat. He does not seem to belong to anyone in particular, but he’s a clever cat and knows how to beg. On balmy nights he does not mind striding the alleys of Ponzano Superiore, but on rainy ones like tonight he seeks shelter with softies like us. As you can see he already feels quite at home and he fell asleep as soon as he had finished reading a couple of chapters of this thriller. He purrs very loudly and at night he has been known to snore loudly, but he’s such a dear we can’t bring ourselves to throw him out.

The weather just started to turn again this afternoon. This morning we were in Villa under grey skies, bottling the cider (it’s delicious!) and carrying on the strimming job until we succumbed to a fine drizzle slowly making work unpleasant. By the time we got home we were enveloped in low cloud and the rain set in in earnest. The weekend and Monday was mostly fine, with just the odd light shower on Saturday. Our neighbours used the dry spell to get their heavy olive crops in, but we decided to delay as at least one of our trees bears a particularly late ripening variety. We on the other hand got on top of the weeding on the late vegetable beds.

Yesterday we had some pilgrim visitors: Babette and Paul, the authors of a guide to the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim’s route from Canterbury to Rome, came to see us while re-checking part of the route for a new edition. We had them around for lunch which extended to an all day affair. We found we had a lot of things in common, including a certain wanderlust, and it was a real pleasure finally meeting them in the flesh after having known them for some time purely as ‘virtual friends’ from the internet. I had a feeling we would be on a similar wavelength, but you never quite know until you actually meet people. They are planning to move closer to us, from Brittany to the Provence and I for one hope to see them again in the not too distant future. On their books see http://www.pilgrimagepublications.com/

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Calm After the Storm

Well the weather sure has been playing up again! Saturday turned out nice, which was just as well as we went to a Guy Faulkes celebration with a bunch of ex-pats further up in the Lunigiana. It’s funny the things you do when you move abroad. I’ve never attended a bonfire night in November when I lived in England; for a start I always have had sympathies for the anarchist burning down the Houses of Parliament. Well after all the rains we had had the bonfire never lit anyway, but we had some fireworks, mulled wine and bangers and mash and a jolly time was had by all. On the way there we stopped at Villa to check on the progress of the wine and cider. The cider has nearly finished fermenting and smells divine. Shame there’s going to be less than 15 litres by the time we’ll siphon it off it’s sedimets. Won’t last us long the way we drink…

Sunday afternoon the rains set in again and it soon developed into a downpour, which lasted all through Monday and Tuesday, culminating in an enormous thunderstorm Wednesday early morning. The photo was taken in the morning after the skies finally started clearing again. As usual after a storm our phone lines were down again and have only just now come back on. Luckily the power cuts only lasted a few minutes and water supplies remained uninterrupted this time. After having been stuck indoors for over 2 days, we were glad to get out again yesterday to check both in Arcola and Villa for any storm damage. Everything was fine albeit muddy.

All that rain and the still relatively mild temperatures meant that weeds are coming back in record time. My radicchio, Swiss chard, fennel, and cabbage that I sowed relatively late are all covered in weeds. We were going to attack them today as the weather looked fine this morning looking out of our window facing south. However as we arrived on the west facing side of the house we saw dark clouds brewing and even heard a few distant rumbles of thunder. We went to Arcola anyway, but, sod’s law, as soon as arrived there it started to drizzle. This is the trouble if you don’t live next to your land. It’s fine just nipping in and out of the house, but for us it’s a 10 km trek every time.

We picked a few more windfall olives though, as I put the first lot into jars. I followed another recipe out of ‘Liguria in arbanella’ (I shall add this book to the list at the bottom of this blog), Olive alla Taggiasca. Taggiasca is also the name of the best olive variety in Liguria, although ours are almost certainly Razzola. Taggiasca is a very small variety giving very delicate, fruity flavours, whilst Razzola is slightly bigger and a bit more spicy in flavour.

To preserve them for eating you immerse the olives in a brine of 1 tbsp of salt to 1 litre of water for 4 days, changing the brine daily. Then you make a brine with 150g salt to 1 litre of water, add a large sprig of rosemary, a bunch of thyme and 8-10 bay leaves and bring the lot to the boil. Simmer for 3 minutes and leave to cool. Drain the olives and fill into jars, adding a small sprig each of rosemary and thyme and a bay leaf. Drain the herbs from the brine and top up the jars with the herb-infused brine. Seal and wait for some 40 days to 2 months.

Finally, I (or rather this blog) have had a mention on the forum of Italy magazine (http://www.italymag.co.uk/forums/) in the last couple of days and visitor numbers have jumped up all of a sudden during the couple of days I couldn’t even get on the net. So thank you to the person concerned based in the Marche I believe and welcome to any new readers. I shall add the link to the forum to my other links on the side. It’s a useful forum for anyone interested in all things Italian.