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, 27 September 2010

Some stats

As it's a rainy miserable day today, I just thought I bore you with some stats re. my blog. I had signed up for a 1 month free trial with http://www.web-stat.net/. I've had that little world map on my side bar for a while, but it told me was a country break down of the visitors to my blog and I had always wondered who these people were who visited from the more exotic locations around the world and how they found me. Web Stat gave me much more info and it was quite revealing. It may be interesting for some other bloggers out there. I don't think I need to know these stats all the time, so won't bother paying for this service, but the 1 month trial was interesting and I recommend it.

In the period from the end of August to yesterday I had a total of 872 hits on my blog by a total of 395 different people.

12th of September was the busiest day with 51 hits. It was the day I published the post on toothpaste, obviously a popular subject. The quietest day was the 3rd September with 7 hits, after I hadn't posted anything for almost a fortnight.

Visits are fairly equally spread over the week, with most days receiving around 15% of visits, except for Friday which is the quietest day of any week with only 11.5% of traffic.

The site even tells you about the busiest hours of the day, which is between 7 and 8 pm local time, reflecting the time Europeans are most likely to be on their pc's. The quietest times consequently are in the wee hours of the morning.

The majority of visitors come via direct access, i.e. my site is logged onto their favourites. Of the referrals from other web-sites, this makes interesting reading. Here is the top 8 for last month:

  1. blogger.com 16.5%
  2. subsistencepatternfoodgarden.blogspot.com 14%
  3. google.uk 9.1%
  4. contadina.wordpress.com 6.3%
  5. lettersfromusedom.blogspot.com 5.3%
  6. google.de 2.8%
  7. olives-and-artichokes.blogspot.com 2.1%
  8. jamjaragain.blogspot.com 2.1%
So as you can see there is traffic between bloggers, some will no doubt have been from the blog authors themselves though.

Now as far as key search words was concerned, this was possibly the most revealing. I have no exact stats without combing through each entry, because every time a slightly different combination is used it counts it separately, but here are the top 5 search words used by which Google and other seach engines direct people onto my blog:

  • self sufficiency (yes, that's good, although someone from Salt Lake City, Utah was particularly interested in self-sufficiency in the last days... :D )
  • Brutta Figura (I hope I could help some people understand Italian better)
  • strawberry tree (again, hope they found my post on the subject last year useful)
  • courgettes (ditto)
  • but by far the mostly used word for finding my web-site from many of the more exotic locations such as Kuwait, Indonesia, Egypt and Colombia... I daren't write the word lest I attract more unwanted traffic so I'll spell it: N. U. D.. E. I posted something a couple of years ago on me refreshing myself in a wild river in the all together, which as I had predicted at the time has become my most popular evergreen page! The word is usually accompanied by s w i m m i n g, but also some more exotic ones came up such as a f r o c a r r i b e a n or d w a r f m e n. I'm sure those visitors were very disappointed when they arrived on my site.
So bloggers out there, if you notice the odd exotic visitor to your site, they've probably just been mis-directed!

And talking about exotic visitors, this is an easier map to see from which countries visitors to my site have come

These dots show individual hits in the last month:

There were visitors from 49 separate contries. Here are the top 10 (for last month only):

  1. UK 20.1%
  2. Italy 19.6% (not all of it myself!)
  3. USA 18.9%
  4. Germany 16.8% (This is slightly distorted, more of that later...)
  5. France 4.9%
  6. Netherlands 2.8%
  7. Australia 2.4%
  8. Russia 1.9%
  9. Canada 1.9%
  10. Trinidad & Tobago 1.2% (Sharon?)
There are a couple of distortions due to some individuals, including myself hitting the site rather often. I feel I might have to give out an award to the most visiting person. I can see her already starting to blush...

Web-Stat not only breaks visitors down by country, but also region. Here the top 10 regions:

  1. Bayern, Germany 15.3% (I can see a pattern emerging...)
  2. Liguria, Italy 9.5% (about half of that will be myself, I'd say)
  3. n/a, GB 4% (Somone follows me from a provider called America Online in the UK, I wonder who that is? It won't specify a region)
  4. Idaho, USA 3.6% (Not only you, Mr H. :) )
  5. Puglia, Italy 3.5%
  6. Northamptonshire, GB 3.4%
  7. Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur France 2.6%
  8. California 2.6%
  9. Tuscany 2.4%
  10. New York State 1.9%

Over 300 different cities and towns have been registered. This is not always accurate. I will sometimes come under La Spezia, other times as Genoa and other times as something else. But here it comes anyway, the top 10:

  1. Augsburg, Bayern, Germany 11.8% (and the top award of most frequent visitor goes to... ENGELWURZ!!! By the way I haven't had an e-mail from you for a long time)
  2. Genoa Liguria, Italy 4.9%
  3. Post Falls, Idaho 3.5%
  4. Northampton, GB 3.4% (Hello James & Alison!)
  5. Fivizzano, Tuscany, Italy 2.5% (a small town near us
  6. Arles, France 2.3% (Hi Babette! Welcome back from your pilgrimmage.)
  7. Amsterdam?) 1.7% (my family live mostly in Rotterdam, so don't know who there is in Amsterdam)
  8. Carluke, Scotland 1.6% (Can't think of anyone I know around there...?)
  9. Codiponte, Italy 1.6% (Another little place nearby)
  10. Corato, Puglia 1.4% (Ciao Contadina)
Right enough of that. Next time I'll be back to proper posts.

Friday, 24 September 2010


After the breakfast and lunch posts here a dinner we've had today. Ok, it's not quite typical. We called it our harvest dinner. Dinner is our main meal of the day and today we celebrated a plentyful apple harvest we brought in day before yesterday. Yesterday we turned half of it into cider, more of which soon, and today I spent half the day cooking and unsurprisingly apples featured prominently.

In general I try to make 2 courses, but tonight it was 3, just for the 2 of us. We started with a Sardinian wild fennel and chickpea soup,

followed by coriander and hazelnut potato pancakes with apple and ricotta sauce. Ok it doesn't look pretty, but it sure was wholesome!

And finally an apple and walnut cake.

I'm working on a wee frugal and wildfood musical cook book which will be available an e-form. All recipes will feature. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Wld food of the month September: The haw

Sod this, I may as well get on with this. Here it comes the wild food of the month: the berry of the hawthorn, the humble haw.

I've long vaguely been aware of the edibility of this plant, possibly one of the most widespread berries in Europe. But as kids we just dismissed them as bird berries. The only thing I knew you could make out of them was jelly, and I could never really be bothered with making jelly. As there are rather a lot of them around at the moment I decided to look a bit further into this and found out some astonishing facts:
  • The haw used to be known a bread and cheese, because they were considered such basic food items. Children in England used to nibble on the young leaves in spring and the berries in autumn.
  • Haws have some amazing health benefits, especcially for the heart. This applies not only to the berries, but also the leaves and flowers. This a quote from this website:
The hawthorn drugs are used for heart disease, especially for the cardiac muscle fatigue. They selectively widen the coronary vessels and celebral vessels, lessen the nervous system affectability, increase the oxygen supply to the heart and brain, improves the metabolism, normalize the heart rhythm, remove the painful feelings in heart area, stabilizes sleeping and the general condition, helps accelerating the recovery after serious illness and decreasing the blood cholesterol level
  • According to this same web-site, haws contain caffeic acid and according other sources the roasted seeds of haws make a coffee substitute

So off I went and picked some. The first batch was turned into haw ketchup or haw-chup:
  • 750g haws
  • 450ml red wine vinegar
  • 100g sugar
  • 25g salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Strip the berries from their sprays and wash them. Put into a pan with the vinegar and cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve and return to the pan with sugar and seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal.

We tried this on some nut-dogs (like hot dogs, but with nuts...) and it was delicious. However this was extremely messy trying to separate the seeds from the flesh after cooking. It only produced one medium-sized jar of ketchup and the left-over seeds didn't come off clean enough to subsequently roast them and turn into a trial coffee batch.

So the next lot I dried whole on a food dehydrator. It didn't take long, just one night. The resulting dried berries I roasted complete in a hot oven at 175C for about 20 minutes than zapped the whole lot through the food processor.

This resulted in a fine, fragrant powder. We had just found a perfectly functioning espresso machine on the skip (which I have meanwhile seen for sale at €70/ same model!), so I thought I'll test it with this mixture. Didn't work. The powder is too dense and the water will not go through.

So I put it into a saucpan and boiled it up briefly with some water. The result I strained through a paper filter. You know what? It wasn't coffee, but it was delicious! And while it had some sort of quickening effect, this wasn't like a coffee. You could have one of those late at night and have no trouble sleeping afterwards.

Elsewhere I read, that you can add the flour to bread too, so shall try that with our next loaf of bread we're baking.

With all these health things and a similar distrust of the medical profession as of dentists, I decided I should look more into herbal medicine, i.e. gather some of the leaves too and some of the flowers in spring. Susan also had her first slight cold since we have arrived in Italy, so I brewed up some sage teas and a tea made from walnut leaves.

With Susan it often goes that once she has got her mind stuck on something she gets very enthusiastic about it. So after finding all these health giving plants and drying and storing some of them (also wild mint and lemon balm) she wanders around and randomly points at plants and asks me: "so what can you do with this plant?"

Usually I have no idea. Then she points at these abundant shrubby yellow flowers growing all over the place at the moment.

To make out I sort of know what I'm talking about I pick a couple of leaves and rub them beyween my fingers and giving them a sniff. To my surprise an aromatic herbal smell protrudes, smelling definitely as if it should be good for you. So I have a look at a couple of books and doesn't take me long to identify it as goldenrod, an important plant in herbal medicine. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is beneficial against diseases of the kidneys and bladder. It is said to relieve cistitis (is one of the i's a y?) work as a natural diuretic and work well against depression.

Now I don't get depressed much, but I have had kidney trouble before, so now a large bundle is hanging in our kitchen to dry for the next emergency.

Running behind...

Just a quick sign of life. As I go along doing the things I do, I keep composing blog entries in my head, buth than something else crops up. For instance I was gong to follow my breakfast and lunch entries with a dinner entry, but not before I told you how I made my sandwich fillings, i.e. my bean and olive paté and my hazelnut butter. As I considered that I thought I should make the hazelnut my wildfood of the month, because we've been picking and using lots lately, but than we started experimenting with the berries of the hawthorn, making haw-chup, haw-ffee and haw bread.

Next I get told off by one of my regular readers who is waiting in suspense for the results of the lentil experiment and whether they are worth growing. Next the main apple harvest gets under way and I need to make cider. Not to mention that I haven't made any tomato chutney yet! I just keep running behind schedule.

I envy people like Stefani of http://siciliansistersgrow.blogspot.com/ who is so organised that she keeps a running weight total of her harvest and knows a month in advance that she is going to visit me. I now know what I will be doing in a month's time though :). The other thing I cannot get properly sorted is this seeds saving thing. I had a whole bunch of seeds from my white cabbage, cavolo nero and broccoli ready at the same time. I put them in separate containers, but did I label them? Have I got the faintest clue which one is which??? It'll be some surprise sowing with that lot.

Anyway, any of the above subjects will be dealt with asap, and keep nagging me if I don't. See you in a couple of days.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Homemade toothpaste

As a little follow up to the last photo on the last post, here my thoughts on teeth. Any dentists out there are welcome to disagree with me and butt in with their comments, but I am very cynical about their profession.

Like any good boy I have always been told by my teachers and parents that it is vitally important to go to the dentist regularly at least every 6 months, whether you have a toothache or not. So I did for the first 21 years of my life. I never actually suffered from toothaches, except during actual visits to dentists. In those days they didn't give you any anaesthetic for some mere drilling, only for pulling.

In my experience at every visit to the dentist he always found something: "aahh, you have a bit of caries on your upper left molar. We need to drill that out and give you a filling." Next visit he'd have to replace that filling, drill out some more caries and start on a different tooth. Once he finished off my milkteeth in that matter, he started off on my adult teeth. Two of my molars he had managed to hollow out so much that they finally collapsed and he had to pull or rather extract them bit by bit. Much to my relief at the time as that would stop him drilling in them. The other plus was that that made some room for my wisdom teeth.

My last regular visit to this dentist was before a 6 month trip to India. I felt I better have my teeth looked at before trusting some village jaw breaker in a developing country. As a farewell present I got my one remaing molar filling replaced and the neighbouring tooth drilled into and filled.

Nothing happened in India. When I came back I moved to another city and I decided to give dentists a bit of a rest. 15 years later, I was falling into the same trap and tried encouraging my step-daughter to visit the dentist regularly, problems or no. She quite rightly pointed out to me that she never noticed me going, so I decided to register with a dentist for the first time in England.

This time round it turned out to be a rather attractive female Swedish dentist, which almost convinced me that I should go more regularly. When I answered 15 years to the usual dentist question: "how long since your last visit?", she looked rather taken back. "We better X-ray your teeth to see what's wrong with them". They didn't do that sort of thing last time I had gone.

Much to her disappointment, the X-ray didn't show any problems at all, so she proceeded in polishing my teeth (another novelty since my last visit) with a fancy machine and urged me to come back in 6 months time. I would have, if it hadn't been for the fact that free dental care had also become a thing of the past and I got charged £50 for nothing.

Since then I've had a problem some 3 years back when I bit onto an unpopped popcorn with my damaged molar (damaged by my original dentist now almost 30 years ago!). The outer wall is now slowly crumbling away and I get food trapped in there, which occasionally leads to infections. I went to see a Dutch dentist in Italy one day when this was particularly bad and she put a provisional filling in, which has now disappeared again. I find now that as long as I keep that tooth clean I have no problems.

Anyway, cut a long story short, I reckon dentist are just after your dosh when they tell you to come back every 6 months and they actually make the problems worse. And for toothepaste this is what we now do rather than buy unindentifiable crap from pharma concerns.

I mix up 3 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda, 1/2 a teaspoon of coarse sea salt, a teaspoon of dried mint and 4 or 5 fresh sage leaves and pulp them to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.

Apply onto a wet tooth brush and brush your teeth. Sage is said to whiten teeth and strengthen gums. Dried mint freshens the breath. And if all else fails, chew some spilanthe.

Friday, 10 September 2010

lunch... and other news

Excuse the slightly longer creative break, we're still alive and well. The weather has been cooler and more changeable than usual for this time of year, weeds are growing faster than I can fight them and the tyre house hasn't really progressed much. But other than that life goes on...

After the last post on breakfast I thought I'll let you in on what we do for lunch. I couldn't skip lunch without fainting! Occasionally lunch conists of left-overs from dinner, but more often we take sandwiches to the land made with homemade bread and, well I quite like cheese or salami or ham etc. but these things increasingly become rare luxeries for us so we make our own sandwich fillings such as a bean and olive paté or hazelnut butter.

I'll write a separate entry on how to do these, but I know of some people who find it difficult to make yeast doughs. I have never quite understood where the difficulty lies, but for those who do, here a step-by-step guide to our basic bread recipe:

For 1 loaf weigh 500g wholemeal wheat flour. We get ours directly from a mill. Mix in a teaspoon of salt. Form a crater in the centre of the flour, crumble in a 25g cube of fresh yeast and a teaspoon of sugar.

Measure about 350 ml warm water. Pour some of the water into the centre over the yeast and sugar and stir into a thinnish paste with the back of your wooden spoon.

Cover the centre paste with some of the flour from the outside of the crater, cover up with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1/2 an hour

This is what it should look like then:

Add the rest of the water

and mix with a wooden spoon

giving it a good beating, making sure it's all nice and evenly moist. If too dry add a wee bit more water. Cover again with the tea towel and leave for at least one hour.

It should have more or less doubled in size

Fill into a lightly greased tin flatten and squeeze into shape with the back of a wet wooden spoon

and place in a cold oven, putting the temperature to about 175C. Bake for about 50 minutes and...

Simple as that! There are of course variations to the theme, you can use different types of flour, you can add herbs, olives, dried tomatoes, olive oil before the second rising stage, but this is the basic recipe which we do every other day or so.

In other news, these are the pretty flowers of the litchi tomato

and this is some spilanthe. Works wonders against toothaches. You chew one leaf and makes the whole side of your mouth go numb.