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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Monday, 31 August 2009

Surprise lumchtime concert

A quick final post for August. Yesterday we had some friends over for lunch. Friends, that is in the sense of the Irish proverb: "Strangers are friends you just haven't met yet". Anyway, as we were arriving at the dessert our next door neighbour Mauro and a couple of his musical friends dropped by to give us a surprise lunchtime concert. The regular readers of this blog may remember me mentioning Mauro and his band Tandarandan (www.tandarandan.it) playing traditional Lunigiana music. These new friends of ours must have thought we hired a few professional musicians to impress them and make it look spontaneous.

The land produces abundant amounts of food, tomatoes, aubergines, figs, peaches to name but a few things. I'm still out of any serious work with my damaged arm. If it doesn't get any better soon, I may have to have it x-rayed again.

We been having to water almost daily on the land though. August has been very hot throughout. They keep forecasting rain, sometimes it's threatening, like this build-up of cloud below or a rumble of thunder from beyond the mountains, but so far it has stayed dry. There was one shower at the beginning of the month and that's it. If it goes on like this we might try a rain dance.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

while I have nothing better to do...

While I have nothing better to do with my arm in a sling (Susan's gone off on her bike to water the land), a quick note in response to a comment from Ralph in California. This the Campanile in Ponzano Superiore, about 50 yards from our house.

At the bottom you can see a bas relief of St. George killing a dragon. The wall is the oldest part of the village, and formed part of a castle wall once. St. George was the patron saint of the Genoese, who built this castle.
For more impressions check out http://www.ponzanosuperiore.it/.

Friday, 21 August 2009

bamboo harder than bones?

This is going to be a rather short post, because I am typing this very slowly with my left. Yesterday I had a bizarre accident while watering. I swung the hose over some branches and on the downward move hit the top of a bamboo stick holding up a tomato. It left a piece of bamboo quite deep in my right arm and unable to move the lower arm.

I had an almost identical accident, days before we signed the contract to buy our land. Then it was a fracture and I had to fight the jungle of bamboo and brambles with only my left arm for the first 5 weeks. However, according to Sarzana hospital, there is no evidence of fracture this time. Put an ice pack on it anf excersise it gently and you should be ok after a week, they said. I'm not convinced as I'm still in a lot of pain, but let's hope they are right.

The wine tastings are starting to get going, although I got organised a little late for this year. Had a last minute cancellation this week unfortunately, but have another one coming up next week. I have also officially got my web-site up and running: www.tuscanytipple.com. Have a look at it and pass it on please.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

free super foods

Like the Italians I'm always on the look-out for free food to be gathered from from the wild. Whatever the season, there's always something: aspargus, blackberries, elderflowers and elderberries, wild onions, chestnuts, to name just a few of the more obvious ones.

Now I have found a new one. I had an e-mail from the American Simply Recipes Web-site (http://simplyrecipes.com/) with a recipe for a Tomato, Cucumber and Purslane Salad (http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tomato_cucumber_purslane_salad/). I had never heard of purslane before, but there was an explanation and various links, including an article in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portulaca_oleracea). It's scientific name is Portulaca oleracea and is also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or Pusley. It's particularly popular in Mexico, but is also considered a delicacy in parts of Europe, Greece and Turkey in particular.

Looking at the pictures and descriptions I thought, I know this stuff... I've been pulling it out from amongst my peppers and aubergines in great big bundles as a weed. Nobody's told me it's edible. This is what it looks like.
Well, if you find this in your garden, don't pull it out, it's deliciously fresh and crunchy, and not only that, it's one of the richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular alpha-linolenic acid. These are essential fatty acids, which cannot be produced by the body and its other prime source is fatty fish such as mackerel or salmon. Do you know what fish costs these days? And this food is entirely free. There were also links to some other recipes such as Purslane, Tomato, Tomatillo Soup or Pickled Purslane. I shall try my way through them and experiment a bit. We tried the salad this evening and it's good!

Oh, and I know you've been dying to see the othe 3 cats, here they are. From left to right: Rooney, NoSi and la Mamma, Tigger

Thursday, 13 August 2009

An urgent Appeal

Actually two appeals. Firstly, so far I have always refused offers of empty jars, thinking I've got so many clattering up our cantina already, I'll never run out. However, it has happened, we've run out of preserving jars. The litres and litres of tomato sauce I do on an almost daily basis are ok, I just bottle them in old beer bottles, no shortage of those. But the berry season has started. We already have a backlog of blackberries and elderberries in the freezer, because I don't have any jars to put them into, and the peaches and the second batch of figs are getting ripe and will want using.

So, PLEEEEEEEEASE, PLEASE, anyone reading this living anywhere near us, save us your empty jam jars and all and we will come and collect them!

On that subject, with the last of the jars I tried making a new preserve I have not tried before. I had read a recipe for an elderberry jelly on the internet, but I don't like adding artificial pectins and I can never be bothered with dripping jellies through muslin and all that hassle, so I came up with my own recipe for elderberriy jam:

1.5 kg elderberries (weight after de-stalking)
5 crab apples
1/2 untreated lemon
1 kg sugar

  1. After collecting the elderberries, freeze them. That makes de-stalking them an easier and less messy job. Once frozen, de-stalk them by running a fork through the bunches. Chop the half lemon, skin and all and core and chop the apples.
  2. Combine those ingredients and cook in a large pan over a low heat until the apples are soft.
  3. Add the warmed sugar and boil rapidly until setting point is reached.
  4. Now pass the whole mixture a couple of times through a tomato mill or press through a sieve.
  5. Re-heat and bottle in hot jars.

Now to come to our second appeal. My regular readers will remember our cat saga. In November last year, just as the weather started turning unpleasant, a cat turned up on our doorstep, a red tom. Because of his canning resemblance with the cartoon cat, we called him Garfield. He seemed a nice, well behaved cat and we started buying food for him.

Shortly afterwards, he started bringing his girlfriend. She initially just came for meals, but did not stay the night. She was black and white with a black dot on her nose, so we called her Dot.

Now we were getting a bit worried, because she very much looked like a producing female. And right enough, a few days later she brought her kitten with her.

As she must have been born in the neighbourhood, that meant she was born under the shadow of the church of San Michele Arcangelo, who is also depicted on the stone relief on the wall opposite our bedroom window. So we called her Michaela, or Mickey for short.

Now, that we had two intact females in the house, we had to kick Garfield back out again. He has died in the meantime. He had evidently been attacked by a dog. Anyway, cut a long story short, we've had our two girls neutered, and they are still with us. However words has evidently gone around in the cat world that we are a bit of a soft touch for cats.

So a few weeks ago another regular visitor arrived, a very sad skinny looking female. We called her Tigger, because she is a grey tiger type. A couple of days ago she introduced us to her kittens, Rooney (originally Ears, because she is more ears than cat, but re-named after Susan noticed the floppy ears of Wayne Rooney at last night's match of England vs Holland) and NoSi (can never make up its mind, "shall I come, or not. No... si...").

So between them the five cats are eating us out of house and home. So any cat lovers out there, the PONZANO SUPERIORE CAT SANCTUARY welcomes any donations of cat food!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Of Telecom and festas

Ok we changed telephone company, but… Unfortunately Fastweb rents the lines of Telecom Italia, and when something goes wrong with those, I tell Fastweb, they tell Telecom, and one day they may even turn up and fix the problem. As usual the line went down on a Friday, just before the weekend. An engineer turned up after shouting down the line on Monday afternoon (miraculously minutes after I complained. He claimed he’d solved the problem and left. However the problem was not solved and another one was sent. Again, minutes after I complained as to where this new chappie would be, I had a phone call saying he couldn’t find my house. Had he been wandering around the village for hours or had he just stopped at the bar for a few apperitivi I wonder?

Never mind, hopefully this isn’t going to be the pattern of things to come. It’s festa time around here, and we couldn’t miss our favourite ones, even if we are skint. With our Swiss friend Irene and our English friends James and Alison (and Holly), we went on Friday to the Sagra di Ravioli in Arcola. The serve some of the most delicious ravioli there, best served simply with butter and sage or a creamy nut sauce.

Saturday and Sunday we went to the Medieval festa at Santo Stefano. It commemorates the handing over of the keys to the castle of Sarzana by Piero di Medici to king Charles VIII of France in 1495 after France had conquered this part of Italy. Or as one neighbour put it, “I’m not going there, they are celebrating a war we lost!”

Anyway it’s all just harmless fun, with the entire village dressing up in medieval garb and showing off ancient skills. Have a look and a listen at some of the impressions from this year’s fun:

These guys are known as Sbandieratori:

This chap is the notary presiding over the Medieval market

A spectator on daddy's shoulder

These are the keys to the castle allegedly. I always thought they should be bigger

These are 2 dear friends of ours who have a B&B at the bottom of our hill. When they see us starting our descend on our bikes, they ususally insist on inviting us in for a homemade limoncino.

This is Cristina with her wee girl. She plays the Queen every year together with Pino on his horse as King Charles. This year was a special occasion for them, as they got married just a few hours before!

Story time for the kids:

These 2 young ladies tried to lure into their house of ill-repute, but Susan was dragging me back.

Trampling on grapes