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, 29 May 2010

Busy times

Good Lord, it's been a busy old time. Hardly have time to draw a breath, getting behind on the gardening work and have loads of catching up to do on the blog. So here it comes, a big one today.

First of all this week turned out to be a bloggy friends visitors week. Monday our blogger friend Stefani and her husband Eric came all the way from California to see us (hey I think I might have finally worked out how to do a link!). Of course they didn't come all that way just to see us, but they took a day out to come down from Genoa, where Eric attended a conference.

We picked them up from La Spezia and gave them the guided tour of our land and our village and fed them some of our food, broad beans, as well as a mallow soup and some cherries and strawberries.

Stefani and I had a great time exchanging gardening tips and discussing the pros and cons of a small intensively used garden in contrast to 18 sprawling steep terraces.

On Wednesday our blogger friends Babette and Paul turned up. Babette was amongst the first followers of my blog, apart from friends and family. They are semi-professional pilgrims, if there is such a thing. After taking early retirement they followed the St. James' Way to Santiago di Compostela on horseback. Looking for a new challenge they took their horses down the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome on horseback. This much less travelled route goes straight through our village and hence the connection.

Having found on their first trip, that signposting was not always good and facilities for would-be pilgrims were rudimentary along some stretches of this route, they decided to do it again, this time on bicycles and write a guide book about it. They now have written and published a number of books on their travels.

Their latest venture is finding a connection route between these two routes, whilst at the same time raising money for a charity that is building a school in Burkina Faso. So please do look up their blog and donate if you can! 2 months ago they set off from their home in Arles in Southern France, on foot this time, but accompanied by their trusty pack horse Nelly and their little dog Flea (Eddies new best friend!). We met them 15 km before our village on the other side of the mountains and walked back with them.

They've been having a few rest days with us here, before heading off back home on Sunday.

As this is meant to be a gardening blog, here a few impressions of the current state of our plot:


Lentil in flower

Ripe cherries (Hurray the fruit season has started!)

Winter squash.

Max the pumpkin


In other news, Eddie the puppy is growing fast. Here he is lounging on a deckchair on our land.

...and here he is chasing a pine cone (we'll try him on rabbits next).

Furthermore, I had to go back to Franco the bicycle man saying he no longer needed to keep the bike aside for me, I found one on a rubbish tip. All thet was wrong with it was that it had a bent front wheel. I didn't even need to change the height of the saddle or pump up the rear tyre. I replaced the front wheel with one from my old bike (one of the few bits that were still ok on it) and hey presto: a virtually brand new bike!

Here's the kittens trying it out: Pelé steering...

...and Georgie trying to pedal.

Incidentally we have found a home for the third of the trio, so one down two to go. Sure you wouldn't want one? They are very sweet!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Eddie the (B)eagle

Just a quick update after having been off-line due to yet another lightning strike left us phone and internet-less for a week. This tells you something of the continued bad weather last week, but just the last couple of days it's finally starting to feel like May, but more of that later (i.e. tomorrow or when I get a chance...)

I just wanted to introduce you to the latest addition to our family: Eddie the (B)eagle:

Named after another sporting legend, Eddie the Eagle. For those who haven't heard of him, he was the guy who had a dream of competing in the winter Olympics for Britain. Downhill skiing was his speciality, mind you due to his extremely bad eyesight and his glasses steaming up all the time, he wasn't much good at it. Not good enough to qualify for the Olympics at any rate. So he switched to Ski-jumping, mostly because there weren't any other British ski-jumpers of note and hence he'd have no competition. Needless to say that when he did compete in the 1987 winter Olympics he came last, but he didn't break his neck!

Anyway, back to the dog. Note Mrs. "I-don't-want-a-dog" Susan!

One of Eddies functions was to keep the cat invasion at bay. It doesn't seem to be working...

He's rapidly making friends with everyone in the village, including our English pupil, Elisabetta.

But he poos for Italy! I've seen twice his own body weight in pooh coming out of him in the last 24 hours! Other than that he counts amongst his hobbies biting toes, eating stones, whingeing about pointless, boring walks if you can do your business just as well at home, falling down stairs and trying to sleep on the bed with us (luckily he's still to small to get up the bed.)

More news about the garden and the promised photos of the party are to follow.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wild Food of the Month May

Alledgedly God invented the rainbow as a sign that he wasn't all going to drown us yet again. So He sent this beautiful rainbow a couple of days ago, seen from our front door.

However, this was a view from our window today, after the rainbow, and I swear, I just saw Noah and his ark float by... and we are 300 metres above sea level! Normally we can see as far as the island of Elba 100 miles from here. Now we barely see the neighbours roof!

This weather is ridiculous! I have never experienced a colder or wetter May anywhere, let alone in Italy. Last year at this time we had 35+ degrees, now it's 14! I apologise for the excessive use of exclamation marks, but there are just no words for it. There's so much to do on the land, but I'm just sitting indoors, twiddling thumbs.

Anyway, enough of that. On one of the few brief breaks in the rain, Sunday afternoon, we went for a wee walk along the coast.

And of course there's no such thing for me as just a walk if there's wild food to gather. I've first heard of the many uses for mallow from my buddy Mr.H. I've since discovered there's loads of it growing around here, I just didn't know what it looked like.

Richard Mabey's invaluable pocket guide Food for Free has an interesting recipe, which I modified slightly to test this new food (new to me that is, because alledgedly Horace ate nothing but olive oil, mallow and chicory).

The variety growing wild here is Common Mallow (it's common alright):

It has numereous health benefits and all parts of the plant are edible. It's high in mucus and as a tea relieves coughs. The root of a different species, marsh mallow, used to be used to make the famous confection, which I believe is now made exclusively from sugar. It is also rich in vitamins A, B1, B2 and C as well as various mineral salts. It can be used externally to treat skin diseases acne, burns and insect bites.

The seeds can be eaten raw as a snack, young leaves and flowers can be added to salads. The recipe I tried is a variant of the Egyptian soup Melokhia:

This is how I did it:

  • 500g mallow leaves
  • 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 dried chilli of your preferred strength
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Cook the mallow leaves in the stock for some 10 minutes
  2. In the meantime mash the spices and oil to a paste in a pestle and mortar, then fry gently in a separate pan for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the paste to the soup and leave to simmer for anothe 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. Serve with bread
It's a lovely warming soup on a miserable, raniy May day.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

On Democracy

Democracy is when "everyone in the whole country (except women of course. And children.. And criminals. And slaves. And stupid people. And people of foreign extraction. But everyone apart from them.) can say who the new tyrant is" Quoted freely from Terry Pratchett, Pyramids.

Today are general elections in the UK and whilst I'm not entitled to vote in that election, nor any other national election for that matter, I have taken an interest in the political scene of that country, if only because my time in the UK constituted the most politically active time of my life. I am a founding member of a political party there, which I believe is still active and even has a member of parliament in the Northern Irish Assembly these days. I wouldn't do this again though, as I am totally disillusioned with any existing political system, and I wouldn't even vote was I given a vote.

You can see that the fact that despite half a life time of dutyfully doing my bit and paying my taxes (trying to avoid the latter these days) I am still not entitled to have my say, would have something to do with this, and sure that's true. But even if I could vote, there's no one out there who even remotely represents my point of view.

For the first time ever, the leaders of the 3 main parties in the UK engaged in live TV debates. I watched one of them. They were at pains to point out the differences between them, but in reality you couldn't fit a cigarette paper between them. All would carry on the war in Afghanistan, all promised to lead Britain out of the recession and back to economic growth, all said they'd be tough on imigration while at the same time trying not to alienate imigrants, all promised to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses to unrealistic targets, while still trying to grow the economy and the list goes on.

I did some rough figures on the previous national election in the UK. If you take the entire population of the United Kingdom, minus the people who weren't entitled to vote, minus the people who did not vote, minus the people who did not vote for the government, you come to a figure of about 12% who actually voted for Tony Blair (not to mention Nobody voting for Gordon Brown...). Now after 12% voted for Labour, they can then proceed and pretty much do as they please for 5 years with or without the consent of any of the electorate.

Shortly before the invasion of Iraq we attended a demonstration with give or take ONE MILLION people attending to urge the government not to get involved. Given the fact that not everyone who may have wanted to join this demonstration could make it to London that day, and many more would have been broadly in support of the demonstration, but wouldn't come for other reasons, i.e. let's say only one in seven people who were against the Iraq war, took to the streets, that is the same number as voted for the government. This is democracy I ask you, my friends?

The Liberals are for electoral reform. They want a system of proportional representation, which would favour their position no doubt. However, if there is still no actual party our there representing YOUR views, what difference does it make. Parties have a party whip, someone who tells them how to vote in parliament. They shoukl vote for what their constituents want, surely.

Anarchie does work. A small village in Italy, like the one we live in is a perfect example. We don't see the police in our village much, nor other figures of authority. Everyone does their bit to avoid paying taxes to some remote power and differences amongst neighbours are settled within the community. It helps that there is no great rich poor divide within the community, so everyone's in the samew boat and people help each other where they can without resorting to any authorities. There's no elected body within the community, but respected members of it, who organise social and cultural events and help each other out. Of course the system isn't perfect, people aren't perfect and it only works because dodge the actual authorities that do exist, but it works. People here of course wouldn't call it anarchie either, but that is what in effect it is.

So why vote to decide who your tyrant is going to be for the next year, for them to tell you more about unsustainable economic growth in the future until this planet bursts. I'm with Terry Pratchett on that. I wonder if he's going to vote?

Sorry for the off-topic rant. Just a quick up-date: Our party last weekend was great and photos are to follow. However, since then it hasn't stopped raining. (What is happening to the weather? Last year we had the hottest May on record and now it's raining for days and it's forecast to continue.)