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

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Monday, 26 April 2010

spring sowing take 3 1/2

Finally the best news this week: a parcel from GetSoiled in Florida (http://www.getsoilednow.com/) full of seed has finally, after being thoroughly searched by customs, arrived. Thank you once again! What a wonderful selection of interesting things! So, still being in the waxing moon phase, I got a whole load sown out this week. Here is whar I've sown:

  • Pidgeon peas & lima beans " Jackson Wonder butter bean". T11 next to the slenderette beans
  • Golden Zucchini T13&14
  • Amaranth "Red Stripe Leaf" (T13 rear bed). This is something I've only just heard about and sounds fantastic. I'm looking forward to seeing this grow and finally tasting it.
  • Giant Red Celery (T13 rear bed)
  • Crisp Mint Lettuce (T13 rear bed)
  • Thai Oak Leaf Lettuce (T13 rear bed)
  • Orient Red Curl Lettuce (T13 rear bed)
  • Orach "Magenta Magic"(T4 1/2 pot, T5 pot, T8 outside pot & T 9 1/2 middle pot) This is a completely new one to me. Apparently it's also known as German Mountain Spinach. I was brought up in Germany, but never heard of it, but then again I was in the flat north... It is said to make a good container plant, so I planted them in various pots dotted about and see what happens.
  • Florida Cranberry (T2 tyres, T 4 1/2 front tyre T6 tyre). This is supposed to be a tall plant in the hibiscus family. You make a juice out of the flower bases in autumn which is said to taste a little like cranberry, hence the name. I gave it spaces in some old car tyres filled with compost to keep them a way from other crops.
  • New Zealand spinach (Together with Florida Cranberries in tyres, T5, old watering can, T8 Middle & inside pot, T 9 1/2 tyre and T 10 amongst the strawberries). Another spinach look-alike not minding hot weather so much. It makes for a good ground cover apparently
In the cold frame
  • Sweet peppers "Marconi", "Sweet Chocolate", "Perfection". My main peppers haven't shown this year. It may be a tad on the late side, but I think it'll just be ok. The chillies I had sown are ok though.
  • Pepino Solanum muricatum. Another complete novelty to me. It seems to be quite closely related to aubergines, but the fruit is a bit smaller and is sweet, to be eaten raw.
This is going to be a really exciting year for new things! Many of Mr. H.'s tomatoes are already showing and things are generally growing at a rate of knots!

kittens at 4 1/2 weeks

As we came home quite late last night from the festa, I noticed a small object outside our kitchen door. At first I assumed it was a dead mouse delivered by one of our feline friends. On closer inspection it turned out to be a newly born kitten.

We assumed it was one of Senna's, Rooney's sister. As a quick explanation, when Senna and Rooney arrived at our house with their mother, Rooney took to us imediately, while Senna wouldn't let us touch her and ran a mile every time we tried. Hence the name Senna. We feared she might be pregnant too, but what could we do?

So I found this tiny kitten, thinking at first it was dead. But as I picked it up, it moved and squeeked weakly. It was very cold, so I warmed it in my hand for an hour or so, trying to find it's Mummy, but no chance in the dark. I thought It won't make it through the night, so I tried feeding it some watered down milk through a syringe. It didn't like that much, but when I soaked a corner of my shirt with milk, it sucked it dry.

Still, what to do with this kitten? So I decided I'll slip it in with the others, while Rooney was feeding them. And hey presto! Aunty Rooney has adopted her little nephew / niece, and the other, bigger cousins don't seem to mind either. Especcially Cruyff, the ginger one has taken to looking after her wee cousin.

And then this morning, we found Senna just outside the door on a chair with a blanket over it and 4 further kittens. Heeeellllp!!!

Bella Ciao

So much happened in the last few days, it won't all fit into one posting. So we'll start with this one. Yesterday, the 25th April, was the Festa della Liberazione, where Italians commemorate the day they finally evicted the Nazis from their country. We went to the ancient walled city of Fosdinovo, where we celebrated with comrades young and old in the balmy afternoon sun. I won't comment much most pictures speak for themselves.

A multi-instrumentalist. In the video below you'll see him playing his head! He also plays old garden hoses.

Free wine!

Mini comrade!

Susan's new friend Franco (not the bicycle man)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Spring Sowing Take 3 & Franco the bicycle repair man

Ok, so no fotos today. I wish I had had my camera with me this morning on my visit to Franco, but more of that later. First of all, mostly for my own record, the next sowing stage.

This is what we sowed in the cold frame, which even when open is actually quite warm:
  • Tomatoes. It's actually a bit late to be sowing tomatoes, but with the almost complete failure of my main Marmande plants I panicked a bit. Mr.H from Idaho had offered me some seeds, including an almost bewildering variety of tomatoes. I asked for a few seeds of about half a dozen of the more interesting sounding varieties he had offered, but Mr.H in his infinite kindness has sent me 10 different varieties. Of course in the meantime it turned out that my back-up variety, Gigante Seedless is doing rather well, and as every year loads of volunteers are creeping up everywhere, so I'll have trouble accomodating them all, but I'll give it a damn good try! Also with our long growing season I'm fairly confident of getting away with the late sowing. The varieties are sowed into a window box in alphabetical order (without going into much further detail for the moment): #10 red, Black Cherry, Bursztyn, Gruntovi Gribovski, Orange Smudge, Purple Cherokee, San Marzano Roma, Targinnie Red, Taxi and Un-named Turkey.
  • Tomatillos. Also supplied by Mr.H. Varieties Purple Coban and Green Round. I've never eaten or even seen Tomatillos before, so I'm looking forward to trying that
  • Litchi Tomato. Mr. H keeps giving off ominous remarks about this plant. I think it may be man-eating, or at the very least little kitten eating! So that should be interesting too.
  • Cardoons, bianco gigante inerme a foglia intera. Something else new to me, although not considered an exotic in our area.
  • Melon Tendrale Verde. A late green melon with pinkish flesh. I normally get volunteers of yellow melons from the compost, but haven't spotted any yet
In the great outdoors I sowed the following:
  • Red veined sorrel. At the back of some terraces where plain wild sorrel is quite happy too
  • Mike's red lettuce and marjoram T8 amongst the gherkins near the almond tree.
  • Courgettes. I sowed 3 different varieties this year Tondo Chiara di Nizza, a round variety and 2 long varieties Albarello di Sarzana and Genovese. Genoa is some 100km away from us and Sarzana only 5km, so both should be eminently suited to our climate. T9 amongst the left-overs of the brassica and T13 in front of the rows of sweet corn.
  • celery green. T6 amongst the left-overs of the leeks. I sowed some celery late last year to get a winter crop, which only now is starting to be ready.
  • Slenderette dwarf beans T11. I had sown some in Feb, because that's what the package recommended, but I thought at the time that it was a bit early. And right enough, they never showed, so re-sown those now for a later crop.
  • Sunflower American Giant. T11. Mr.H tells me that everything in America is bigger. They have aphids the size of bumble bees which eat pizzas (!) and moles the size of small children! They also have sunflowers which grow to 4.8 metres tall! Last year's sunflowers were pretty, but also pretty useless in that the seeds were far too small to be useful, so I wanted something bigger. And Angelika sent me these monsters. Luckily I can plant them at the back of a terrace so I can harvest them from the terrace above.
In little trays, but outside the cold frame I sowed some spilanthes, which is known as a herb to combat toothaches apparently (I'll sometime give you a discourse on my theory of all dentists being rip-off artists. I have given up on them years ago!) and some Good King Henry.

Finally I sowed in the fridge (yes in the fridge! Mr.H tells me they need cold stratification...) echinacea and soapwort.

Right, if you people are still paying attention, here another episode of my visit to Franco the bicycle man. I have mentioned him before in this blog. He doesn't only repair bicycles, but also scooters, three-wheeler Ape vans, garden machinery etc. But bicycles are his passion. If my bike has a minor ailment, he fixes it in no time, and being an absolute perfectionist, he'll oil various parts, straighten your wheel, tighten a nut and pump up your tyres. When you offer him payment for all that he'll only accept a cup of coffee.

Today I went to see him about my petrol-driven strimmer, which wouldn't re-start after an idle winter. Now as you can imagine, he is always much in demand, so you have to wait your turn. In Italy a man getting his hands dirty over some mechanical job always attracts a crowd of onlookers, assisiting, advising, generally commenting, probing any piece of machinery which is being worked on and generally standing in the way. So this morning was no exception.

As I arrived Franco and 4 men were working on a bike. All that needed doing was changing the break pads and tyres, but with Franco being such a perfectionist and with all the "help" he was getting from the onlookers, this took some time. At some stage a lady pulled up in her battered Fiat Panda, who had bought a replacement bulb for her headlight. Couldn't Franco (not a car mechanic) replace that bulb for her quickly. His workshop sits right on a busy main road and this car was holding up traffic. So of course he did it and charged the lady one Euro.

The crowd of men in the meantime increased rapidly with the doctor bringing another strimmer and his chainsaw, some other neighbour, still in his work overall and gloves covered in grass cuttings pushed along a lawn mower, the "communist comrade" pulled up in his Ape as well as some cyclist friends of Franco.

At some stage a very old lady (she told me she was bor in 1916!) waddled by. Apparently she comes here most days just for the spectacle of what is Franco's workshop. She surveyed the scene for a moment, shook her head and went: "...6, 7, 8 assistants and the maestro. Does he need that many helpers? She proceeded to tell me of the beginnings of this workshop in 1956, when children could still play in the road. Now they would be risking life and limb! Then she was trying to tell me something in the local dialect, but Franco interupted her, saying I wouldn't understand. So she explained some terms used for a slightly upset tummy in the local dialect. I must find an occasion to use that in conversation some time!.

Anyway, at long last Franco got around to have a look at my machine. I had been waiting for the best part of an hour by then being thoroughly entertained though. After a few tests, he started shaking his head, saying "that'll cost you..." It was the starter motor that had gone. If back in the UK any handyman starts shaking their heads saying "it'll cost you..." whistling backwards through their teeth, it WILL cost you. You want to run a mile! With Franco though... After a good 45 minutes work, replacing a part that he found rummaging through the deeper recesses of his workshop which normally would have cost €69 just by itself, he sort of apologised to me for having to charge me €25!

So if anyone needing a repair of ANYTHING anywhere around here, I can thoroughly recommend Franco's workshop. And if you want to experience REAL Italian life, just come along and have a look over Franco's shoulder for a morning.

Oh and I fell in love... No not into the 94-year old lady, but a second-hand bicycle he has for sale. My old bike is going to give up it's ghost anytime soon. To be fair it has served me 10 years after only costing me £50 second-hand initially. This bike, with a strong, light-weight alumnium frame, 21 gears, a rear rack designed for proper loads was just smiling at me. I took it on a test ride. There was me thinking I was getting less fit with age, but it seems my old bike is just getting harder and harder to pedal, so that it feels like I'm going uphill even on the flat bits. I told him to put it aside until I've managed to rob the pension off an old lady to pay for the €180 he's asking for it.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A big thank you and the kitten VIDEO of the week

Here comes my second post of the day. First of all I want to say a very big thank you to the following people for sending me seeds: Beck of http://greenspain.blogspot.com/, who sent me some tomato seeds a while back, Angelika, who sent me some Jimi Hendriks ("Purple Haze") carrot and some sunflower seeds, Mr. H of http://subsistencepatternfoodgarden.blogspot.com/, who sent me more seeds than I know what to do with including some exotics like tomatillos, litchi Tomatoes and a rainbow of carrots, plus a useful mushroom picking guide and some gardener's handcreme, and finally Get Soiled of http://www.getsoilednow.com/, who also sent me some seeds, but which seem to have got lost somewhere in mid-Atlantic. I'm still hopeful that my postman will eventually deliver them.

I don't know how I deserve such lovely friends from all over the world. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Before today's new moon I wanted to get some of the carrot seeds into the ground. So I sowed the following varieties: Purple Haze, Purple Dragon, Solar Yellow, Atomic Red and Belgian White. Some of them I put into the cold frame, which I now leave open. This is because this is where I have my deepest, richest soil. I can't wait to get to try all these varieties.

Finally for today here comes instead of the kitten photo of the week the kitten video of the week! They are starting to taken an interest in their environment now. Occasionally they even crawl over the edge of their basket. Enjoy!

Wild Food of the Month: April

I have some catching up to do, so I will put things into 2 entries today. First of all the promised April instalment of the popular series of "wild food of the month". I know I seem to be writing about different wild foods all the time. On the weekend we had some business inland in the town of Licciana Nardi.

The weather was good and having some time to kill between a visit to a vineyard up there and a wine tasting I was conducting for a bunch of Dutch guys we indulged in a spot of sunbathing...

...as well as a walk through the countryside. And my goodness did we find a lot of asparagus. I don't know what it is about the inlanders, but in our coastal village I have no doubt half the population was out in the woods on a lovely weekend like last one and you'd be lucky to find any flimsy little spear. But inland we picked over a kilo of asparagus, only stopping when we couldn't be bothered anymore!

The other wild food we tried for the first time last week was wild hop shoots. They look very much like wild asparagus, but grow in boggier soil down by the river. The leaves are different too, but you very much eat them the same way.

But... that's not what I wanted to write about today. This month's featured food is the angelica.

First of all on that subject: to anyone I've sent seeds of angelica to, no mine aren't coming either. Something I've only read subsequently, they do not last well and need to be planted within a week of harvesting. So sorry about that, I shall send you some more seeds when they are available in autumn.

All parts of this large and striking plant are edible, but I haven't quite worked all the uses yet. Many years ago I had a source for them in the north of Ireland. I had read that the roots could be eaten as a vegetable like turnips. So being skint and hungry, I thought I'd give it a go. It tasted of soap to me and I was not hugely impressed with the result. This had put me off angelica for a while.

Last year I used the seeds together with some other herbs to make a liqueur in the Chartreuse style. Now that did turn out to be delicious. The leaves can apparently be added to fruit jams such as plum, which is something I should maybe try out when the plums are ripe in a few weeks. What I'm concentrating on today is the stem though.

But first things first, this is what it looks like

It grows up to 7 feet tall and the stems are thick and hollow with distinct ridges.

When any part of the plant is broken it exudes an intensely aromatic smell.

Now what to do with the stems? Chrystalised angelica stems.

Harvest about finger thick stems of angelica and cut into 2 inch lengths.

Cook the for a few minutes until tender, then peel the tough outer skin off with a sharp knife. Weigh the result and add the same weight sugar to it. Leave in covered bowl in a cool place for a couple of days.

After that boil again for some minutes, drain, weigh again and add another equal measure of sugar or maybe slightly less this time. Leave for another 2 days.

After that, boil one more time, drain and dry in a food dehydrator for about 12 hours. They will last almost indefinitely like this. Use the result to decorate cakes or if you have to give sweets to your kids, try giving them these. We've tried it out on our English pupil, who loved them.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

this 'n' that

I'm a bit busy with other things at the moment, so again just a quick post with a few photos from the last week or so.

First the kitten photo of the week: Kittens at 2 weeks. They now have their eyes open, except Cruyff, who has only opened one eye.

...followed swiftly by.... our puppy photo of the week! Yep one of those 10 day old little worms has got our name on it! They are Beagles, so thinking ahead I was thinking of Snoopy. I'd have to get him flying goggles and a leather helmet. Alternatively Gigi, as in Gigi Buffon the goalkeeper of the Italian national team to complete our football team. Susan wants to call him Ben. Any other suggestions out there?

And here's the Mama.

on the land the figs are coming on,

the cherries are in flower,

closely followed by the apples,

the kiwi leaves are sprouting. Although in previous years they've always made a good start to then slow right down and refuse to flower or give us fruit. Maybe this year?

and finally the potatoes are breaking through the ground. So all looking good.

Next week I promise you the next instalment of the wild food of the month series.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Just a few photos...

The first frsh raddishes of the spring.

After the almond, the plum and the peach trees it's the turn of the pear trees to flower.

All sorts of surprises spring from my compost heap every year. This one I think is an almond sapling, which I transplanted.

And talking of spontaneous volunteers, I spotted a radicchio which has sown itself out amongst the weeds.

And finally... the kitten photos of the week... aaaahhhhh... The kittens at one week old.