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

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

A narrow escape...

First of all thank you all those sending messages phoning or trying to phone and asking after us.  We were 48 hours off line and we have received a deluge of messages.  We are fine and the land has suffered no significant damage is the good news first

For those of you who haven't heard, although it has made the international news in Europe, our area has officially been declared a disaster zone.  Six people died and at least another six are still missing as we suffered what I have heard described as an inland tsunami.  We just escaped the worst of it by being just off the eye of the storm.  The first we knew of the disaster was when concerned relatives phoned me on my mobile phone. 

Yes it had rained most of Tuesday and during the night to Wednesday at times pretty hard.  The really bad bit didn't seem to last for more than 2 or 3 hours though, so we weren't all that worried.  It wasn't like last year, when it rained for weeks on end and then a 24 hour downpour on top of that.  This year we'd had hardly any rain, so we were in fact quite happy to get some.

However what nature threw at this region this time was something quite unprecedented.  Within these 2-3 hours almost half a metre of rain fell!  Half metre deep that is, not wide!  This caused a huge tidal wave down two river valleys, the Vara and the Magra, taking everything with it in its wake as well as causing massive destruction in the world famed Cinque Terre region, cutting the it off from the outside world.  To give you an idea of the geography and how close we came to disaster ourselves I made this little map, which shows the main eye of the storm as far as I understand it.

The blue stripes show roughly the eye of the storm.  The red circles are the worst effected areas.  The green circle is where we live and where our land is.  I highlighted the two rivers.  As you can see they come together just upriver from us.  The combined wave then surged down to the sea where it destroyed the last bridge before the mouth of the river. 

Today I took the bike across the valley to see if everything was ok on the land, which as I say it was.  Here are some of the scenes I saw on the way over:

The normally paved road to the river is under a foot of mud.  On the left is an olive grove, not a rice paddy.

Even some olive trees got uprooted...

Many cars just got swept along by the floods and dumped on top of each other.

Horses normally graze there.  And that boat wasn't there last week... This is 500 metres from the river!  The stables in the background are ruined.

Shipping containers scattered like toy bricks...

Locals were quick to blame authorities for not doing enough to clean up the river.  Debris, like the tree trunks, quickly get stuck on obstacles like bridges, diverting the water from it's usual course and into built-up areas.

Our thoughts go out to those of our near neighbours who have lost property or worse loved ones.  I understand that most of the victims were elderly people who drowned in their own houses as flood waters rose with 10 minutes, leaving the frail no time to escape.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Of Roots

It's Blog Action Day once again.  Some of you may remember I participated last year talking about water.  This year's theme is food.  Now I racked my brain long and hard what to write about, because essentially this is what this blog is all about, food.  I write about it all the time, about growing it, foraging for it, preparing it, sometimes even eating it.  So how do I get a new angle on it.

Well two current news got me on roots, both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately I appear to have mislaid my camera, so the images today have been nicked, apologies to anyone claiming copyright to these pics...

As one of the new things I have experimented with this year in the garden is a root vegetable known by it's Italian name of scorzanera.  I don't normally do well with root crops so I set aside a deep pot filled with quite a rich turf in it and sowed a few plants.  I didn't know what the end result would look or taste like.  Well as for looks (I did have a photo on my disappeared camera...):

This is it.  They are very slow growing.  I sowed them back in April I think and only just now harvested them.  
Once peeled I seemed to remember my Mum trying to feed me these things unsuccesfully.  However that doesn't mean much, because I was the world's fussiest eater as a kid.  (Incidentally this just shows you it's all in the mind, because as I grew up I became the world's unfussiest eater.)  Anyway, I seemed to remember my Mum cooking them in a creamy sauce, so that's what I  did, and I as I didn't have a huge amount I threw a handful of chicory leaves in with it and served the lot over some cooked potatoes.  Very nice and I shall try growing some more next year.

The other root story is quite an embarrassing one, I know you will laugh out loud about this Mr. H
My blogger friend Mr. H in Idaho has often mentioned growing Jerusalem artichokes on his land, or as he prefers to call them, sun roots.  He's asked me if I had ever tried growing them, as they are a very easy to grow root crop.  I told him, that I had never seen the tubers to start the plants of with for sale in Italy and didn't think they were known to Italians.

Now currently we have a helpXer staying with us, who incidentally is not exactly from Jerusalem, but from Israel.  As we went on a walk with the dog the day before yesterday, showing her some of the wild foods growing around here, she pointed at these tall yellow flowers asking me whether they were sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes:

I said I was sure they weren't sunflowers, and I didn't think they were Jerusalem artichokes as they grew wild everywhere including on a wilder corner of our land.  She said it did look like the latter though, and if we did have some on our land, we should dig for the roots and have a look.  And lo and behold... this is what we dug up:

I peeled a bit there and then and tasted it... Hmmm!  Really juicy and tasty even raw.  So here we go, Mr.H, no need to send me any tubers I just cultivate some of the wild stuff that grows abundantly all over the place!  I now understand too why you call them sunroots.  I don't think you have ever shown us a picture of the pretty flowers.

A quick word about food in general and roots in the figurative sense.  We should all go back to our cultural roots eating in season and re-learning to find and use the wild foods that nature gives us so abundantly for free both for the good of our planet and for our own health.  Now wasn't that all beautifully summed up and brought to a conclusion, (if I say so myself... ;)).

PS: I now found my camera and replaced the above images with my own,,,

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Solution

I better tell you about the solution of last weeks 'wild food quizzzzzzzzz'
Greater plaintain.  Edible, but not very tasty.  Mostly used as a medicinal herb for a variety of maladies including liver cleansing.
 Colts Foot: Leaves can be cooked and eaten, but contain a liver damaging alkaloid and should therefore only be consumed in moderation.  The yellow flowers appear before the leaves and disappear again before the leaves come out.  A tea made from the flowers and leaves relieves coughs
Ribwort plantain, or as I call it, pointy-leafed plantain.  Used the same way as greater plantain.
Golden Rod.  An aromatic herb, a tea made from the flowers and leaves helps with various maladies of the water system, i.e. cistytis, kidney trouble etc.
Oak.  Acorns themselves are edible, but need repeated boiling to reduce the bitterness so are not really an option.  Young leaves are edible though and a palatable wine can be made from them
Comfrey.  Again not recommended for those with liver trouble and should be consumed in moderation.  My favourite way of eating comfrey leaves is covered in a tempura batter dipped in soya sauce.  The health benefits of this plant probably outweigh potential harm caused by alkaloids.
Wild strawberry.  Also the leaves are edible and go into my spring tart alongside primroses and sweet violets.
Some kind of mint.  Could be catnip.
Stingy nettles.  They don't need much an introduction

Fennel.  Easily confused with dill if you only see the picture.
...and....(drum roll...), well done Tanya, butcher's broom.  The berries aren't poisonous as such, but will give you the runs.  Young shoots are edible like asparagus.  The seeds can be made into a coffee substitute.  But the main function is medicinal.  The roots used internally and externally are a cure for varicose veins and hemorhoids.
 Nobody got the bonus plant, but hey, maybe it's just a useless weed, although there aren't many of them...  Well done to those who had a go.  Tanya, Mr.H and Ruth all managed 11 right!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wild food season

We went on a photo safari the other day for the book I'm writing, the guide to edible and medicinal wild plants for pilgrims.  Within a relatively short walk we found all these:

Who can tell me what these all are?  Go on have a go.  You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

For a bonus point, what is this one?

I haven't identified it myself yet.  The flowers are actually yellow.  Looks like it should be medicinal.

Finally on a separate excursion we visited some friends in the mountains and came away with tons of chestnuts (the woods around us have been badly affected by the chestnut gall wasp), crab apples and one lovely porcini mushroom: