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

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Friday, 27 March 2009

Boy, I'm getting old!

Today the Scirocco wind is blowing cloud and rain into our direction again, so I have a bit of time for a longer entry. After Tuesday’s digging got interrupted by a shower, we cycled over to Arcola again on Wednesday, this time to glorious sunshine all day. I dug over a whole terrace, which had mostly leeks on it until last week.

Thursday I couldn’t face another day of cycling over and digging (most of it is now done anyway, except a couple of lower terraces) so Susan suggested: “why don’t we go on a ‘gentle’ cycle ride somewhere today?”. The sun was out and there was only a gentle westerly breeze. So I thought why not, I need to write up some more walks and need to start going a bit further afield for them. I had recently read about a small wetland nature reserve along the coast from here (we can see it from our bedroom window) and what could be nicer than a gentle ride along the seafront on a sunny day. Boy I’m starting to get old though! It’s either that, or due to our poverty my calorific input is not great enough to compensate for the output. I must get it into my head that just because I can see something out of my window it does not mean that it is necessarily close; I can see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Island of Elba, for Pete’s sake! So it turned out a 75odd km return ride. In my youth that was just a warm-up for me, but now I almost didn’t make it up our hill on the way back and I’m still feeling drained today. Susan on the other hand is showing some astonishing stamina, especially considering she was never much of a cyclist before and she’s older than me!

The walk through the Lago di Porta Nature Reserve was very pleasant though. It’s a 4 km round walk with informative signs around what was once a lake, but was drained in the mid-16th Century, because of Malaria being prevalent in those days. It is now a wetland area offering a home to numerous species of birds and amphibians. We spotted a marsh hawk, various ducks and a few frogs as well as some carp and tench in the water. It’s a beautiful little oasis wedged in between the busy Via Aurelia and the A12 Genoa – Livorno motorway near the town of Montignoso, which is dominated by a castle on top of a conic hill.

Incidentally, I learned something new yesterday. I always knew that the coastline of Northern Tuscany is known as the Versilia, what I didn’t know was that it is named after this little river above, which runs into the Med near Forte dei Marmi.

To do something about increasing our calorie intake I’ve decided to bake a cake today. However I was lacking some of the main ingredients you normally associate with cake, i.e. butter and eggs, and our current finances only adding up to about 17 cents, so I had to improvise a bit. Here’s how I did it:

Let’s-see-what-we-can-find-in-the-kitchen cake

150g sugar
1 vanilla pod
50ml hazelnut oil
50ml olive oil
50g chopped almonds
100g polenta
300g wholemeal flour
1 packet baking powder
A little water
100g plum & apple jam (or any other jam you fancy)
A few sliced almonds
1. Preheat oven to 175°C.
2. In a bowl beat the sugar together with the insides of the vanilla pod and the oils. Add the chopped almonds and mix well, next the polenta and finally the flour and baking powder. Work to a fine crumb, then add a little water and knead to a soft, pliable dough.
3. With a rolling pin roll ¾ of the dough directly onto a baking tin covered with baking paper. Spread the jam evenly over the top.
4. Roll out the last quarter of the dough thinly onto a floured work surface. Cut into 2 cm wide strips and lay on top of the jam to form a grid.
5. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds and bake for about ½ hour.
By the way, don’t throw the empty vanilla pod away. Place it in a small jar and fill up with sugar to make your own vanilla flavoured sugar for next time your baking.

Here’s another recipe I invented a couple of days ago, which was nice:

Chicken Breast on a Bed of Wild Herbs with Roast Potato and Fennel
Ingredients for 2:
Olive oil
1 skinless chicken breast
A selection of wild herbs, i.e. lemon balm, marjoram, wild onion (alternatively cultivated varieties of the first 2 and chives for wild onions)
1 large fennel bulb with the herbage still attached
5 medium potatoes, cubed
A handful of black olives
Salt & pepper
Semi-fermented gorse wine (alternatively Asti Spumante)
Pre-heat oven to 175°C and grease an oven-proof dish with some of the oil.
In the centre of the dish pile up the lemon balm, the marjoram and part of the fennel herb all left whole. Lay the chicken breast on top.
Around the chicken arrange the potatoes, the sliced fennel bulb and the olives. Season all liberally with salt and pepper.
Drizzle some more oil over it and a glass of the still sweet wine. Sprinkle the chopped wild onion over the chicken.
Put in the oven for about 40 minutes until potatoes are soft inside and the chicken cooked through.

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