Archive for August 2012

Back To Italy

No doubt about it, my husband and I have Italian souls…think they were always lurking there just waiting to burst forth!

The beginning of our first return visit to Italy took us to just outside Lucca, arriving in Pisa from Rome in a small, propellor airplane! Oh my God, I am a very nervous flyer, so all I can say is, damned good thing I was too tired to be too scared!

We, along with another couple, had rented a lovely, slightly rustic, two-bedroom house (Il Mulinetto) that was formerly an olive mill. The owner, an English expat, had renovated the old mill and lived just up the hill. We were delighted, when we arrived, to see the kitchen but the bedrooms were the best part! Ours had a kingsize bed with plenty of closet space and a large bathroom that even had a tub (unusual in a lot of rentals). That first night we fell into a deep sleep and I awoke thinking I had probably had the best night’s sleep in my life. Threw open the windows and gazed upon the hills at the beginning of a gorgeous, sunny day in Tuscany.

We also awoke to the sound of gunfire! It was Sunday morning in the Tuscan countryside and that means “men with guns” and little birds being shot at for Sunday lunch!

Our host welcomed us that morning with a bottle of his own EVO made from olives from his grove just above “our house”. I’m sold; can we stay forever?  Please.

On one of the visits into Lucca we planned on having lunch at a little place called Trattoria Da Leo on via Tegrini. We sat outside, basically in an alley, and had a terrific lunch. Joe ordered pasta with a creamy cauliflower and sausage sauce.** His pasta was the winner that day! When we came home he asked me if I could try and recreate it. Well, my version may not be exactly the same as theirs, but it is still really good.

**If you would like to make my version of Da Leo’s pasta, please go to Cauliflower Sausage Pasta alla Da Leo.

It’s All About Firsts

Remember the first day of school, the first day at a new job, the first time you fell in love? Life is all about firsts. They can leave us with fond memories, bring a smile or laughter and perhaps, just plain enjoyment!

Folks of a certain age were raised to do things themselves. So, it was natural for me to become the “family hairdresser” when I was a teen (didn’t do haircuts). In my circle it was unheard of to go to a spa, get a facial or a manicure, except perhaps, on your wedding day! Of course, now spas, and all sorts of nail places abound. My, my, how times change! Maybe it’s because everyone is so darned busy both at work and in their private lives, that it’s a way to put aside time to nurture themselves?

Lately I have been feeling a little exhausted, focused on other important things and out of touch with me. My husband, seeing that I needed a little pampering, suggested I get a pedicure. Now, I have a home pedicure tradition every year at the beginning of summer. I fill up a container with warm water, throw in some verbena bath oil and have a good soak sitting outside, reading a book; then comes the rest of the “tarting up”; finishing with painting my toenails. It feels pretty good but…

I went for the professional spa pedicure. It was so relaxing. I really felt spoiled and that was the plan! It reminded me of how much my Mother loved having her nails done all the time; her favourite colour, “Orchid” by Revlon!

It’s all about being totally pampered and someone looking after you!

Figs

It’s embarrassing to say that I have, for the past few years, coveted my neighbour’s fig trees. Every time I head towards east Vancouver, there they all are! Not far from where we live, is an apartment building that has quite a large one in the front yard. Almost every time I walk by, I stop to squeeze the figs to see if they are ready and no I haven’t stolen any!

In 2008 we rented a villa in Umbria, Italy just outside the town of Tuoro. It has a marvelous view of Lago Trasimeno. It also had, just a few feet from our kitchen door, two fig trees. This is where my mania began. Our friends and neighbours were staying with us and so of course, there was talk about planting one in our front yard! Or, maybe I just began fantasizing about where. Not only that, there did not seem to be anywhere we could plant one!

I so want one, OK!

Speaking of stealing figs, Mark Rotella wrote a book called “Stolen Figs”. He is an Italian-American who travelled to Calabria to visit relatives and discover his homeland. He hooks up with Guiseppe who teaches him how to steal a fig without committing a crime!

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad, a rhodo in our front yard has been feeling very unwell for a bit. It is in the middle of a garden bed that faces south and gets tons of sun. And after more fig fantasizing on my part, the lightbulb went on, what a perfect place for a fig tree!

I bought a fig tree! It is an Italian Honey Fig and it has one fig on it. It is wonderful! Life is good! There will be a fig planting ceremony taking place in November on the day we plant the little darling in our yard. We are hoping our yet to be named fig, the Romans thought they bring abundance and plenty.

Fig naming contest: if you have a name for our baby, let me know. So far, its Fico.

My Slow Food In A Small Town

As a Christmas gift to us, I purchased a copy of Douglas Gayeton’s book “slow life in a tuscan town”. The book is a photographic narrative and is not only beautiful but interesting, especially if you have travelled in Tuscany. It is centered around the time he lived in a town, north-east of Florence, Italy, called Pistoia and features photos of many of the local people both famous and just plain folk.

I have written a number of times about our time spent in another small town in Tuscany called Panzano in Chianti and the Macelleria Cecchini. We have had the great pleasure to not only meet Dario Cecchini and his wife, Kim but to enjoy a wonderful outdoor lunch at MacDario, above the Macelleria, as well as  a dinner at Solocicca, across from the Macelleria. The menu is made up of Dario’s interpretations of traditional Tuscan meat preparations. Next visit is for the bistecca!

The visits to Panzano became a touchstone to us and left us with a deep love of the Tuscan countryside and everything it provides for the table.

During one visit, tourists came into the Macelleria (it is very well known) and were surprised to see the spread that is always laid out for visitors who come by. Salami, wine, bread, cubes of “meatloaf” with red pepper mostarda and last but not to be forgotten once eaten, is their lardo. This concoction of whipped, seasoned pork fat is absolutely divine! The tourists were slightly shocked at the thought of eating lardo and when I made the comment,  “if you eat butter, then what’s the difference?” Not sure what they thought of my comment, as I reached for another piece of bread and slathered on the lardo!

There are things that pull us back to our roots and make us remember how things were when we were growing up and our travels to Italy have done just that. So many memories of how things were done back then, like the egg lady at the bottom of our street or the guy who delivered the blocks of ice every week to place in the old Coca Cola cooler that sat on the porch of the “house” we were living in, my parents growing our vegetables, my mother canning fruits, tomatoes, salmon, and making jams. We lived very simply; we had a radio, no T.V., no phone, a wringer washing machine, no dryer but we had the basics, including an, ugh, outhouse! We ate mostly what was in season except bought iceberg lettuce for salad greens in the fall and winter. But in the summer….we lived it up! If you can believe it, this was in South Burnaby, B.C. Actually, it’s a wonder we did not have farm animals in the yard so they could make cheese!

That’s me and my dad in our front yard circa 1950!  How about that lawn?

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