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

Total Pageviews

Sunday, 28 December 2008

I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left

Well the end of 2008 is nearing and it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months. First of all an update on the events of the last couple of weeks. The weather up to Christmas eve was glorious. We went for some walks and carried on pruning trees, something we started over a month ago but was interrupted by the bad weather. On the 23rd we had an earthquake, 5.1 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre about 50 km Northwest of here (as the mole digs) on the other side of the Appenines. We noticed a slight tremor and I don’t think anything serious actually happened. The link for more details is http://cnt.rm.ingv.it/~earthquake/data_id/2205007630/event.php.

Christmas Day turned cloudy and we had our usual quiet day, eating and drinking lots. We are now drinking our own wine, which strictly speaking isn’t ready yet, but as it was sitting in our cold cantina at Villa, fermentation had simply stopped and wasn’t likely to restart again until late spring if at all. So it’s now a semi-sweet rosé, but still at a hefty 13% alcohol or thereabouts. The highlight of the Christmas dinner was the guinea fowl stuffed with a chestnut stuffing which I made and froze when the chestnuts were in abundance. Santa brought me a the new CD by Seasick Steve, “I Started Out With Nothing and I still Got Most Of It Left”. Seasick Steve is an excellent Blues musician who seemed to have suddenly shot to fame a year ago when he made an appearance at Jools Holland’s New Year Hootenany on British TV. He plays mostly his own music in the Delta Blues fashion and he has an inimitable story telling style. Not only tell his songs stories, but he quite literally tells stories on his CDs mostly about his former life as a hoboing tramp, travelling America by jumping onto trains or hitchhiking and generally living it rough. His great sense of humour always shows through, which is something I always appreciate in any art form, whether it’s music, painting, sculpture or conceptual art. Life’s too short to take everything serious. Check him out on http://www.seasicksteve.com/

Boxing Day the weather turned seriously cold with an icy wind going. Yesterday we appear to have mislaid our kitten. She somehow escaped, but was with her mummy at the time, so we weren’t too worried, but to date she has not returned (the mother has) and with temperature around freezing outside now, and with the amount of unused cellars and hidyholes in the village a search being almost impossible, we don’t hold out much hope of her returning. Shame as we just managed to get her confidence and she was very sweet.

Anyway, to return to Seasick Steve, the title of his album: “I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left” pretty much sums up our year and my life in general (not that I’m complaining, mind). It’s not entirely true of course either. We may have been broke at the beginning of the year and still are now, possibly even more so, but we have gained experience, friends, memories and a cat. We are still here against all the odds and we are healthy.

Let’s start our review of 2008 with this blog. I started it just over a year ago and find it useful in many ways. It disciplines me into actually doing things worth mentioning in the blog, it reminds me at what we have been up to at any particular time, when we planted, pruned, harvested what and I get the occasional contact and even tip from interested people all over the world, such as what to do with kaki from someone in China. I am amazed at how many people from so many different places reach my site. On the 29th of March I installed that little world visitor map at the top right of this page. From this I gather that 2,247 visits have been registered since, that’s just over 8 hits a day, from 75 different countries. Almost exactly one third came from the UK, which does not surprise me. Number two was the USA with 23%, which does surprise me, given that I don’t know many people there. Italy is at number 3 with 15% and Germany at number 4 with 6.5%. Amongst the also rans I’m surprised to have had more hits from India than from the Netherlands (I am Dutch), and even places like Vietnam, Madagascar and the Palestinian Territories featured. How do you people find me? I’d love to know and would appreciate some comments. People who have given me feedback to this site have been all positive, so I shall carry on for the time being.

On our agricultural activities, this is the first year we have more or less dedicated ourselves full-time to them (having pretty much given up the business with the deteriorating economic conditions) with encouraging results. We keep learning new things by the tried and trusted trial and error system. Amongst the new things learned this year was that it’s generally best to plant a particular crop, such as peas or broad beans just the once, rather than staggered to increase the length of time to harvest. There tends to be a window of time which will give the best crop, whilst early or late crops won’t do so well. If you have too much produce at that time we have discovered many new ways of preserving crops, which will then come in handy when you haven’ got much else. Circumstantial evidence recently also seems to indicate that moon phases do make a difference to crop success. We sowed to beds with peas within 10 days of each other, the first during the waxing moon in ground not previously enriched and the second during waning moon a terrace down in a bed that has had compost added the previous season. The latter had over half failing to shoot whilst the former is looking a lot healthier. We have had a similar experience with onions, which are supposed to be planted during the waning moon phase, and they did do better than those planted shortly before during the waxing moon. The trouble of course is, no matter how carefully you plan your farming year, something always crops up which puts you behind schedule, the weather most notably, or equipment failure slowing the rate of ploughing or pruning and other unforeseen events.

As far as our finances are concerned nothing much has improved. My endeavours in finding a job haven’t really got anywhere. I’m registered with most job agencies in the province, but if anything at all they come with jobs I am not qualified to do such as accountant for metal company or such like. I’ve tried to get a job grape picking with some of the larger vineyards in the area but also to no avail as they already have a plentiful supply of cheap and willing Eastern-Europeans on their books. One wanted a qualified oenolgist, but whilst I have an idea of the theory, I can’t lay claim to this title. Susan in the meantime will get some teaching work again in the new year. She is going to teach a couple of classes in Borghetto Vara, a small town in the Vara valley and is likely to get her job in Sarzana back, where she worked earlier this year.

All in all it’s been a good year, if it wasn’t for the constant lack of cash. But we’re getting there and looking with some confidence into 2009. Oh and the photo on top, I have no idea what these berries are either, we saw them on a walk recently. Maybe they are the ‘fruits of our labours’… Oh and I just noticed this is the 100th entry of this blog!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

I'm Walking

Just a quick update. The weather has continued to be pretty ropey. Rome and Venice are under water and already December’s precipitation has exceeded all previous records all over Italy and the month is only half finished. This and the fact that I pulled a muscle in my back while attempting to lift a gas bottle, made last week fairly uneventful. We were invited to a lovely meal by friends of Pam and John in Calice on Sunday involving wild boar and goat, the kitten has become more trusting and my pair of boots have packed it in. They were only 4 years old, but I bought them cheap on a market. Now I have had to get my old walking boots back out of their retirement.

Yesterday the weather picked up a bit again and today we went on a long walk, working on the guide.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Born Under A Bad Sign

In the words of Albert King and other Blues greats, I must have been ‘born under a bad sign’, ‘for it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all’. Or maybe it’s the arrival in our house of those cats (‘My baby’s got a black cat bone’) or punishment for some other sin.

Things started going wrong on my birthday, 17 November. Incidentally many thanks for the various birthday greetings. The weather had been good around my birthday and we decided to get the olive harvest in. We picked a total of some 30 kg of healthy olives. It’s a bit of an awkward quantity, not really enough take to the mill to turn to oil, but a bit too much for simply eating. However we did pickle them all in brine, so shouldn’t have a shortage of eating olives in the house for a bit.

As we got home, I tried as usual to go onto my computer to check my e-mails and maybe post something on the blog, but no can do. I couldn’t go on-line. After trying various things with the help of Marco from next door, changing the modem twice, I only just now managed to get back on-line now. So sorry for any un-answered e-mails etc, and hence the long gap between postings here.

Two days after this mishap our baking oven gave up it’s ghost. I use it a lot, not least for making bread every other day. When we arrived here we bought the cheapest stove we could find and it seemed fine. The oven however can only be switched on with a timer, and the spring inside the timer had given way. I located a shop where I could order a replacement, but at a whopping €50 and a waiting time of 10 days. The whole bl***y thing cost only about €250, how can such a small part cost that much? Just as we are short on funds anyway. Well we had to bite the bullet and the machine is back in operation.

Next thing that went wrong was the chainsaw. I was trying to prune back an overgrown plum tree and the chain jumped off and bent slightly. The costs of that I have not yet assessed. I’m hoping I might be able to fix it myself. Finally today the second of our two mobile phones seems be on it’s last leg and I cannot afford to replace it. I don’t use it much, mostly for time keeping and emergencies, but it was handy for that. And I thought bad things happen in 3s not 4s.

Anyway it hasn’t all been bad. As for the cats mentioned earlier, you may remember me talking about Garfield. Roundabout my birthday he had decided to move in permanently, so we started buying a wee bit of food for him. He never seemed terribly hungry though and, for a stray cat, he looked remarkably well fed. One evening, after Garfield had settled on our bed, another cat poked it’s head through the door, a very skinny, even emaciated, black & white female. She did not look well at all, loosing hair off her hind legs, having a bright red bottom and looking very weak. So we fed her some too. We called her Dot, because of the black dot on her nose. She and Garfield seemed to get on fine with each other too as you can see.

Dot, to begin with, would never stay for very long either. A bite to eat, ½ hour’s rest and off she went again. After a few days of this, she had turned up again in the evening, had something to eat and a cuddle with Susan, and off she went again… only to reappear after 5 minutes with a little grey & white kitten in tow. Kitten, having been born in the wild and not seen many humans, went straight into hiding in my pyjama drawer and wouldn’t come out for 2 days. Now, 2 weeks later, he (or possibly she, we haven’t been able to assess that yet) has become a little braver, but is still shy. We called it Mickey (which could be short for Michael or Michaela after the patron saint of Ponzano Superiore). He stays 24/7 in the house now, Mummy Dot herself sees to it. It’s far too dangerous out there for little kittens.

Garfield in the meantime has been evicted. I saw how the lady next door specially cooked liver for him, shooing away other cats, so he clearly has understood the principal of survival of the fittest, the fittest being the cat that charms humans into feeding him well. He is doing well for himself, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to keep an intact tom cat with an intact female in our house, unless we wanted to breed them. So now we have been chosen to become cat owners. I actually wanted a dog really.

Other than that winter has arrived earlier than last year. The end of November, the beginning of December have been atrocious. Snow in the mountains, rain, hail, gale force winds and cold temperatures for days on end. We’ve been sitting around the fireplace, baking Christmas biscuits and trying to coax the kitten into trusting us. In the breaks of the weather I’ve pruned over half of the trees on our land in Arcola, planted garlic and did a general tidy up. Yesterday and today were fine and sunny again. We’ve only done one more walk for the guide (Aulla – Sarzana) because the weather didn’t allow for much more.