Thanksgiving I Tatti style

The 28th of November was a glorious sunny day here in Florence and what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Why are we celebrating Thanksgiving I hear you ask? Well this is a valid question. You see Villa I Tatti is part of Harvard University and they celebrate the appropriate holidays of both America and Italy. I have always said ‘when in Rome…..’ It is not too far of a stretch to celebrate an American holiday, after all  we enjoyed 7 years of Thanksgivings while living in the States and we also have our token American/Australian citizen, Alex, so really we are just opening a few more doors to the boys’ international lifestyle (a lifestyle they are going to have to fund themselves after this trip I fear!). 

So without further a due, I have put together a few photos of the day to show you the wonderful community we are involved in here and also to see how well Nic and the other fellows are treated while having their year at I Tatti. I will note this is my first time in the belly of the villa and I have to say I like the style, what do you think? Keeping in mind these professors get lunch served in pretty much the same way 5 days a week!

The proceeding start with a leisurely stroll through the gardens to the main villa,

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And when you reach the top one must stop to admire the fabulous view

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After feeling a little underdressed for such a spectacular view and surrounds we head off with the kids in tow (that’s right, we pulled them out of school for the day as we thought……why not!) we adjourned to the dining hall situated in the heart of the villa. I will have to mention that the art collections hanging on the walls are extremely impressive and old so we were asked not to photograph the pieces so I started my photo journal with the festive squash arrangement as I was walking into the drawing room to start the celebrations with a martini bianco!

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At this point we did the quick ‘kids behave, don’t touch anything, say anything inappropriate to any adult you speak to and for the love of god eat with your mouth closed’ lecture, by which gives you somewhat comfort that they will go off and represent the family well…..

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Anna our gracious host organised the kids down the end of one table while the adults looked on nervously as she then proceeded to sit at the head of their table and mingle with them. Alex was sitting right next to her so she was in for an ear bashing that was a guarantee! As you walk into the dining room, the wonderful staff at I Tatti greet you warmly and take extremely good care of your eating/drinking needs…(I’m seriously surprised we even see Nic home for dinner!)

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Lunch started with a delicious pumpkin soup

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I thought this would of been a touch down moment for the boys because it is their favourite soup, however, I would like to add that it was stated ‘It wasn’t as good as yours mum’…..moving right along with big cheesy grin!

After the soup there were quite a few speeches from Lino the Director of I Tatti, enlightening us on the traditions of Thanksgiving in both English and Italian.

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Once he was finished there was a flash of white, a few gasps and two servers came into the dining room with the biggest turkeys I have ever seen! They were so fast I stumbled with the camera and only managed one photo….

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I was sitting close to the door so I snuck out with another lady and had a peek inside the kitchen to see the hard work being done. I was most impressed with the chefs’ carving skills and I have to tell you that turkey was as moist and juicy as they come.

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Once the meat was carved, the plates were over filled with turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts, potatoes, pumpkin mash and last but not least cranberry sauce (don’t ask how!).

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The lunch was fantastic, relaxed and you couldn’t help but be very, very thankful for being in a room with such lovely people from all ends of the earth.

The lunch was finished with apple crumble and biscotti, however, I scoffed the apple crumble before taking a photo (what was I thinking!!?) however, dipping the biscotti in Vin Santo is a little slower so I managed to remember in time.

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Thank you Villa I Tatti for a wonderful day of thanks, food, friendship and a very memorable day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eggs poached in tomato

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It is a blistering winters day or should I say week in Florence and I can’t help but want to cook and eat to keep warm. I went for a great walk into town yesterday to meet up with a friend and check out the Christmas markets. It is an hours walk at a good stride and I was striding at my best to keep the chill at bay. I think we got to a high of 7 degrees yesterday and for this Sydney sider that is bloody cold!!

Anyway, the walk was great, I met up with Mel and we discovered we were a week early for the markets so we decided to have a coffee in one of Florence’s best restaurants Cibreo. Actually we went to their coffee shop, although I’ll have to dine in the restaurant because as we were sipping our coffee the owner came in. Mel had met him before so she introduced me (quite a handsome older man, very much the intense chef you meet in places of note). We shared pleasantrles and then went about our business. My business was listening to Mel fill me in on her week while my new mate’s business made my jaw drop.

Being a person who loves to have a good stare I found my mate talking with a couple of guys that look like they really just wanted to go back to the farm, I was interested, however, I turned back to Mel as she had lots to tell (and yes Mel I really was listening!!), but I turned once more to look at my new mate and nearly freaked out. Before him lay about 5 large white truffles!!! The guys were selling to him, I couldn’t believe it so of course Mel and I had to stop, sniff the air for that sweet, sweet flavour of pure joy before continuing with our conversation and then the next minute my mate is in front of me saying “Hey chef, want to smell?”

“Hmm YES PLEASE!!” I took in every ounce of that massive white truffle and I may have be salivating as well. WHAT A TREAT! Of course that made my morning and the only way it could of been better was if I ate some truffle but I’m happy with smelling them right now. So that was my morning and I was feeling pretty happy when I picked Alex up from school at 12.30 (his short day so he can come home for lunch……I’m sure this only happens in Italy?).

I asked him what he felt like for lunch on such a cold day and he asked if he could try the tomato poached eggs I made for a brunch I went to a few months ago (he has a memory like an elephant!). Thankfully I had all the ingredients so I set out to make them and forgot how easy and tasty they are. I first found out about them through Mel, she told me her husband makes them when she is in the throws of the wedding season (she is an amazing cake decorator/maker) when she never feels like eating anything.

I know there are a hundred different ways to make these, you can put a Mexican, Israeli or Aussie spin on them but the technique is pretty much the same. For my Italian tomato poached eggs I kept it very simple. I make a basic tomato sauce, sauteing off some sweet onions with olive oil on low heat to bring out the sweetness on the onions, then add garlic slices, salt, pepper and pour in about half a bottle of passata (I have also used whole tinned tomatoes chopped up and will add extra water to have enough liquid for poaching), reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Once I have tasted it and am happy with the flavour I’ll crack 4 eggs into the sauce and have them on a simmer.

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I leave the lid off for 3-4 minutes and then put the lid on to help with the poaching. Just before I am ready to take them out I will lightly cover the eggs with more sauce to cook that fine egg white film layer on top. We like our eggs runny so I pull them out once the top skin is fully formed, just like a poached egg.

Alex doesn’t like to eat a lot of extra sauce so he has his as they come and served on toast with prosciutto crudo….

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I love the sauce, especially when you get some caramelised onions; I also love eating them with white anchovies, it just tastes fantastic, the salty, vinegary flavour blends beautifully with the gooey egg yolk.

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Max is home today for his ‘early day’ and just before he left for school this morning he turns to me and says ‘We are having tomato poached eggs today right?……you can’t have all the good things when I’m not here, that’s not fair’. So I guess with that said, I know I’ll be making another batch for lunch today….I think I have some coriander in the fridge, I might have to make mine hot and spicy.

Ross can cook

Now it’s not everyday that we get dinner invites and it is even rarer that we get one a week, however, to our luck and bewilderment our good friend Ross texted me the other day inviting us up the hill to his place for pizza. We were quite impressed as we knew Ross and his wife E are doing the tag-team parenting scenario (across Italy and the US last week but a mere distance of Florence and Roma this week) and I am sure he was aware we were up with E the week before (apple pie blog) and so instead of missing out on our fabulous company he would dine with us too…

Ross first promised PizzaMan pizza, a local joint I hear makes a very good pizza in our area of Florence. The boys were stoked as they have been wanting to try PizzaMan for a while, and I was happy with anything I wasn’t making, however, as we were back and forth texting the plan started changing and then I got a call from Ross at the store informing me he was in fact going to cook and he was fine with the challenge but ‘let’s just run through the menu’. I’m not sure sure if E had got in his ear about cooking or whether he really did want to cook for us. But that’s a mystery I can live with.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ross cooked a delicious two course vegetarian meal for us (he is one of the five vegos we have met since living here in Florence, this is new for me!) and I brought up the rear with cakes from our local patisserie…….I mean who could resist? We had a brilliant night of chat and food and we are all looking forward to schedules calming down a tad so we can all dine together in the same country, until then here is a photo diary of Ross’s dinner. What makes it even more special is the fact that Ross doesn’t usually cook (so my friend Shelly tells me) so here I have it plain as day in colour photos ROSS CAN COOK!

We started the evening with a very traditional Tuscan bean bruschetta, however, before you scroll down I do have to apologise for the poor quality of the photos, the iPhone isn’t quite up to standard here.

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The quick, no fuss method, open a can of cannelloni beans, pour entire contents into a saucepan and heat up, meanwhile toast good quality bread in toaster, rub with raw garlic clove and then just before serving add beans and some juice (important) to garlic toast; drizzle over GOOD QUALITY extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt flakes then devour. So simple and yet very, very tasty….good job Alex was there to keep an eye on the salt intake!

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Once beans were devoured Ross made a simple tomato sauce, adult version (we fed the kids first!) he started with a good dollop of harissa, lots of fresh crushed garlic and some extra hot little dried chillies and slowly sautéed in olive oil then added a tin of tomatoes followed by a slosh of red wine vinegar and salt. I have to mention at this stage I kept asking him to taste the sauce and see what else it needed….this concept was new to Ross He could have got a little annoyed with me poking my head in but then again he didn’t seem to mind too much and it tasted really, really good!

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We are not quite sure but Nic seems to deny any wrong doing with the extra salt on the table. Just wondering if this was a game tactic or if he wanted more red wine.

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Ross looking super serious dishing up.

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A healthy shaving of parmesan and fresh basil leaves finished off the spinach tortellini with spicy tomato sauce perfectly!

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I could have made more apple pies but when you have these little beauties just down the road….why would I? Once the kids took off with their favourite looking ones we were left with the coffee squares, orange cheesecake bites (OMG sooo yummy) and the strawberry squares that actually tasted like a mouthful of strawberries!

All silliness aside, it really was a lovely evening. I am so glad Ross decided to cook as it was a quick, easy and very yummy dinner. I am sure we will do PizzaMan another night. Maybe when it’s my turn to cook!

Apple pies and a hectic social calendar

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I am happy to report it has been a very hectic, fun and fabulous week…..actually make that two weeks!

I have decided this little slice of Italy would have to be one of the most social places I have ever lived and that isn’t a bad thing. Last week we were out 5 nights out of the week’s seven.  We have had our wonderful friends over from Chicago who never cease to amaze me and have come to visit us where ever it is that we end up. We met this beautiful family when we first arrived in Chicago about 11 years ago and since then K and C have come to visit us in Virginia, Italy, Australia and Italy once more. C and Max became best of friends at the ripe age of 1 and a bit, and haven’t looked back ever since. Each time we see them, Max and C pick up where they last left off- priceless!

With our US connection in town and the wonderful people we have met while living in the village (Italian and non Italian) we had more dinner dates than you can poke a stick at. My good friend E was single parenting all last week while her hubby was doing business back in the States so Nic and I thought we would break up the week and have dinner with her and her girls. The boys love hanging out with the girls as they are like the older brothers…..seriously, they have been asking me for a sister for years so I have been telling them to enjoy little Miss P (age 3) because that is the closest they’re getting to having their own! So far they are happy with that and I think Miss P is also.

E was going to cook us a beautiful dinner and I thought I should at least bring dessert seeing as she wouldn’t let me do anything else. At first I was just going to go to the bakery and buy some mini pastries but then I thought that was a bit of a cop-out so I decided to make some mini-apple pies at the last moment.

I have to tell you this was a bit of an experiment as I bought some pastry that I wasn’t to sure what it tasted like and secondly I was wondering how I was going to put it all together in my funny little kitchen (hence the bought pastry!).

There were no amazing new ideas about the apples, I just peeled about 4, cut them into a dice and threw them into a pot with about half a cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a tablespoon of butter then put them on to boil.

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As they were boiling I was then looking and thinking I was a fool  because I didn’t actually have a thickening agent (corn starch) and how the hell was I going to make pies with something so wet??! Of course I looked through my cupboard knowing there was nothing there and that was when it hit me: what about polenta? It made sense, it would thicken the apple mixture and if I used the ‘quick’ polenta it would work almost as fast as corn starch (of course this was important because I still wanted chunks of apple in the pies, not just mush). I had nothing else to work with so I thought I would give it a shot.

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I started with a couple of tablespoons and that wasn’t doing much so I added a little more polenta until I just saw it starting to thicken. With a few stirs of the wooden spoon I was starting to get a little bit excited…..this could actually work! The boys were standing at the door wanting to eat what ever was cooking, however, I needed the apples to cool and to dash off to basketball so I had to wait until I got home to see what the end result was like.

At first I was worried all you would taste is the polenta but because I only used it as a thickening agent it wasn’t overwhelming at all and the lovely apple and cinnamon flavour came to the front. I was a little bit excited….again!!!

With the mixture cool and a great consistency I started making the pies. My new gelato bowls came in handy as the rims are the perfect size to cut out the pastry rounds.

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Once the tops were on I just egg washed them, sprinkled over some cane sugar and then popped them in the oven for 20 minutes, until they were golden brown.

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We gobbled them up and I was really happy with the end result, so happy in fact, I made another batch and took them to dinner with our Chicago friends and I figure if I can feed polenta and apple pies to Americans with a tick of approval then I am pretty happy with my new polenta and apple pie recipe.

Has anyone else tried this before?

 

Tomato Soup……pretty sure it isn’t Italian

Winter is starting to lick the heels of Autumn, any day now we will loose the warm days and be struck down with blowing cold winds and snow capped mountains in the distance. We have had a few days where I’ve managed to drag the wooly coat out and walk down the hill but you know it’s not really winter when you are finally at the bottom of the hill and you’ve stripped off down to your knickers because you are boiling hot. I don’t know how the Italians do it? I see them wrapped in scarves, thrice round their necks; big thick coats and long boots all walking along like they have just stepped out of the salon and here is me in a long sleeve top under my coat (minus scarf, boots & gloves) and I’m boiling from the inside out!

Despite my coat being just a bit too hot for me right now I am cooking winter warmers. My family loves soup and I have made quite a bit of the Tuscan variety, however, I am getting cries from the boys regarding their favourites- pumpkin soup and tomato soup. I’d love to make pumpkin soup, however, I am lacking in the blender department and I’m not one for chunky pumpkin soup so tomato it was.

Shelly went on a trip with a friend of hers to Umbria last week and I was lucky enough to score some delicious sweet cipolle which are a real treat.

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I knew they would be perfect for my tomato soup, slowly sauteed with garlic, olive oil and sea salt for ultimate flavour. I have a new found love in the kitchen at the moment and it is Sicilian grey sea salt. The flavour is very soft, light and compliments the cooking process beautifully. I love to saute my onions with more olive oil than I usually would use and a good size teaspoon of this salt. It sets the flavour base for many a yummy meal and allows me to adjust the seasoning throughout instead of right at the end, which I am noticing is a very Tuscan way to cook.

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Tomato soup would have to be the simplest of all the soups, every time I make it I wonder if I have done it correctly because it is pretty much over before I start. Once I have the onions and garlic soft and breaking apart slightly I then add a bottle of passata (smooth tomato sauce with no additives) and two tins of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly diced. Once they are added and brought to a boil, I reduce the temperature to a simmer, add a teaspoon of pepper, tablespoon wine vinegar (red or white), 1/2 cup water and then simmer for about 30 minutes.

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Just before I’m about to serve I’ll add a dash of cream, check the seasoning and then if I’m after a bit more of a treat, I’ll serve it with pesto parmesan bread. A lunch fit for a king…….or at the least two very hungry school boys!

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I know it isn’t typical Italian cuisine but I am wondering if I could serve this to the locals and get away with it?

 

Thrift shopping in Italy rocks!

Not one Italian person I have met would ever admit to going into a thrift/second-hand shop to purchase anything. I’m not being rude, it is just a fact and one I am more than happy with because it means more for me to pick through!

I’m not the best at spotting the designer labels (I couldn’t even tell you what the latest is at the moment…unless it is a cooking product!) I just wonder through and see if there is anything I like and even then I don’t really look properly. I am a pathetic shopper and Nic will back me up on this. I wait until the item bites me on the nose before I take a look- pathetic!

My lovely friend Sue is the total opposite and knows a great deal when she sees one. I went to a church thrift sale with her a few weeks ago where I came away with nothing and she had 3-4 items that looked fab. I was going to Sue’s for our monthly book club meeting last weekend and she advised me to come early and so she could take me to a cool thrift store out her way. I’m always keen to go because I live in hope that I’ll get better at shopping one day. So to tell you I ACTUALLY purchased goods is quite amazing and what is even more amazing it that we had a blast doing it, this shop/warehouse was fabulous!

The shop is in Quarrata, over by Pistoia and is called Emmaus and is part of the International Emmaus community which makes me even happier to spend money there, helping others less fortunate in Italy and around the world, translate the page and check it out: it is an inspiring story.

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We entered the shop and I was instantly blown away by it’s size and lack of mothball smells. The second shocker were the sheets, they were all laundered and pressed!!? Not only could you pick up a great set of sheets but they were clean, ironed and ready for sale. It is a small but very important component, especially if you are skint and really in need. This impressed me immensley.

Ok so my first purchase was spotted within 20 seconds of entering…

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Stainless steal gelato bowls!!!! They are beautiful, stylish and only 2.50 euro. The weight in them alone got me excited which put me in a fab mood to wander the aisles with Sue. There were row upon row of dinner plates for 0,50 & 2 euro each, plates that I went looking for in second-hand shops back in Sydney (for work) where they were asking $5+ a plate.

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I had to pause a minute with my mate Cosimo just to make sure I wasn’t getting too excited…….He was the one looking excited so I moved on.

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After the kitchen aisles we popped down the furniture ones just for a look, lets face it Nic would have killed me if I brought back the larder box I had my eye on, instead Sue and I had a bit of a giggle at the fat wobbling machine no one should ever get on!

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Jeans were tried on, dresses and skirts also but in the end it was a really tough decision between two winter coats we spotted. Sure one of them looked like it had never been worn and was 80% lambswool and for the extremely low price of TEN EURO!!!

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However, the other one was ready for the Christmas season, cable knitted front panels and forever its own style. After counting at least 5 types of fabric used to create this beauty I decided to stick with the Benetton coat….there is a special kind of person just waiting to find this master piece on the rack.

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We had a great afternoon going through the copious amounts of cool stuff and I recommend anyone to see if they have a Emmaus store in their area, donate your unwanted goods because they can make a difference to a lot of families in need, you may even surprise yourself and pick up something you never thought you needed to own!

Sunshine and 50+

As I was flicking around my blog I noticed this will be my 51st blog post! I’m quite impressed with that because it means I have actually been doing enough bits and pieces since this adventure started that I think note worthy and what better way to give myself a slap on the back than with a lovely heads up your pretty sweet from Theblackberryboys with the sunshine award!!

THANK YOU!!

For a blog that really started as a travel diary for myself I am pretty chuffed to see a few other people enjoy reading the in’s and out’s of my family’s adventure to Italy and super chuffed I get some sunshine. Actually I need a little ray of sunshine today, I’ve been in bed all morning sleeping off a chest cold so a little sunshine is just what I need. To except this delightful award I also need to answer a few questions and then nominate my own favourite bloggers (the fun part!) Now lets see if I can tell you a bit more about me…

1. How do you drink your coffee?

In the morning with milk

2. What is your favourite breakfast?

Oh bugger I have to pick one? well Vegemite on toast is my all time comfort food but I love me some poached eggs with spinach and avocado…..not to mention waffles, ohhh and if I’m in the mood a lovely scramble with chilli

3.What is your favourite dessert?

Anything with lemon in it

4. What’s your current profession?

Stay-at-home-mum

5.What is your favourite movie?

I do love a lot of movies but I have killed off way too many braincells to actually remember the titles correctly……if I have to be honest!…Have i told you how much I love Prosecco?

6.Would you like any more children?

NO

7. What is your favourite colour?

Green

8. What is your favourite song at the moment?

I’m loving listening to Ash Grunwald as I walk at the moment

9. What is your favourite book?

This I can’t answer with one book but I just finished Helen Dunmore Talking to the dead and LOVED it!

10. What is your favourite topic to blog about?

My feet……ha,haa no hands down FOOD!

Bloggers I nominate, in no particular order because your all fabulous and I know a few of you are weighed down with awards already (show offs!) so just add this to your list….and a quick apology before I continue, I know one of the rules is to add the Sunshine icon but I have no idea how to do that so if you have any ideas then please let me know!

Free But Fun

KitchenJoy

The Adventures of Fanny.P

Journeys of the Fabulist

June Finnigan’s Weblog

Girl in Florence

Transplanted Cook

Married to Italy

Janey In Mersin

Living in the Langhe

All great blogs for you to check out, have a laugh with, drool over the food pictures and enjoy the wonderful writings of these bloggers.

Now my ten questions for you….

1. What’s your favourite season?

2. What do you like best sweet or savoury snacks?

3. Who would you most like to beat in a 100m race?

4. Favourite cocktail……doesn’t have to be alcoholic?

5.& 6. Are you doing the same job you thought you’d do when you were 18? and if not what did you want to be when you were 18?

7. If you could have one food on tap, what would it be?

8. Where are you going to be for Christmas?

9. Which country reads you the most?

10. Are you a scarf wearer or not?

Ok I am officially exhausted and need to go back to bed. Thank you once again for reading, TheBlackberryboys, I love reading your adventures in everything and appreciate the nod in my direction for some Sunshine. I will wake up tomorrow feeling 100% better and hopefully blog about my weekend adventure to the best Thrift store ever!!! Stay tuned 🙂

Pastry heaven

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I’m actually wondering if I really need to write anything at all after the above photo? Is anyone reading or are you all like me and drooling over which one you’d like right now!?

I mean why would you bother making them when you can just pick them up from the local pasticceria? This is funny coming from me who has a business back in Sydney making High Teas for people. I would never in a million years make petite bites here in Italy……there is just no comparison and I’d be first in line to pick up my own bundle of joy!

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The boys and I were around at Melanie’s last weekend, Melanie and I had been discussing food to be paired with a lovely bottle of wine she was sent from a wine company in Canada. We decided to put our creative minds together and see what we could come up with. After finalising our decisions we decided to make Sunday lunch and see if the families agreed with our food/wine pairing.

When we first tasted the wine all we thought of was chocolate. Somehow we came up with this…

IMG_0650Gorgonzola dolce whipped with truffle honey and served with a poached pear, cracked pepper and cinnamon compote. It sounds a little bizarre but the flavours complimented each other beautifully not to mention the wine. Mel and I kept on wishing we were sitting by a fire eating and drinking!

Of course we had to come up with a main dish so after a lot of ummming and arring we finally settled on this….

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A very Tuscan bollito di manzo served with creamy polenta finished with pecorino cheese giving it a creamy bite.

Although many Italians would not serve the two together (Mel’s Italian husband pointed this out to me), they compliment each other very well. Once the wine opened up it complemented the dish, pulling all the flavours together leaving you hoping there were leftovers of everything!

This is when ‘working’ is the best job ever and I am always more than happy to work for wine so if there are any other wine purveyors out there who want recipes to match wines please don’t hesitate to contact me……

Anyway, after all the hard work was finished and bellies were full Melanie whips out a package of pastries to tantalize our taste buds, and if you think they look fresh and yummy you’d be 100% correct. All five boys were memorised

IMG_0670You’ve got to love the look of longing and wondering if you’ve chosen well all the while holding a plate full of delights!

My all time favourite was the one filled with crema and flavoured with orange rind……

IMG_0672After such an indulgent lunch we packed the boys into the car and took them mushroom hunting to walk off some of the delights, however, as I sit here and drool all over again I can no longer wonder why my jeans feel as tight as they do!

Olive Harvest

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It has been a pretty busy weekend for the Baker family and not without mishaps and bloodshed because this just seems to be the way we roll these days!? So grab yourself a coffee and stay a while.

Friday was our landlord’s olive harvest day!! His lovely wife was out and about early Friday morning checking the olive leaves to see if they held too much moisture from the night. The rains were predicted and the pressing was booked in for Saturday morning so there was nothing else to do but help with the olive harvest. I have been eyeing our olive tree off for the past few weeks wondering when we will be picking; however, Roberto has just been telling me to wait….soon Camilla, soon.

After it was decided that picking could commence at 11am it was all hands on deck getting the nets laid. I have never seen how to pick olives so I was eager to help with the process, as were the kids for about half a second and then something else looked like more fun so off they went playing with sticks.

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The nets are very sturdy and massive, spreading out over a large expanse of ground, bushes and anything else that got in the way of catching the olives. Roberto had a fancy tree- or branch-shaking device that helped with the picking of olives up high while the rest of us gathered around the lower branches picking and sorting out good from bad the old-fashioned way.

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Max seemed to hang around a little more and managed to pick a few olives before the others called him over for a game of Knights and Castles…..

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The olives were mostly bright green, however, there were a few dark purple olives and I think when they start changing this is when you must start to pick?? I could have that wrong so please correct me if I’m way off track!

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As Roberto was shaking the olives out of the trees,

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Piera sat down on the boulders with her little basket and started picking the olives from the small new trees. I could have been more helpful, however, I had my good friend Sue coming for lunch so I really only picked until she arrived. Lucky for me Roberto still has more trees up the back of the property that need picking so I can get a proper fix as I find it relaxing work (again I picked over one tree, I may feel different after 3 or 4!).

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Roberto and Piera picked all day long and only stopped when they could no longer see what they were doing. When you have the press booked you don’t have the luxury of taking too many breaks. Roberto was up at 5am on Sunday morning to deliver his precious goods. When we saw them around ten on Sunday morning they were looking very happy and pleased with themselves and said with much pride ‘it is a beautiful green, very green!’ We were then invited to partake in the festival of the first press. They explained it’s like a party you would have if you brought a new baby into the family and really when you tend to these trees and watch the olives grow it really is a big moment when you reap your rewards.

We replied a hearty YES! and were going over to their place for a tasting of the new oil in the evening, I was beyond excited!

While all of this was going on, our very good friends from Chicago had arrived in Florence and were coming to visit for a few weeks. Excitement all round, old friends, first pressings and glorious weather…it doesn’t really get better than that and this is when the wind changed.

Sunday was a very windy day in Florence, the boys were playing out in the yard having a great time with old and new friends, and we were sitting back with Kathleen and Jim talking about how I almost walked them into the ground on their first day here and then we heard it. Blood curdling scream (attention grabbing) then a jumble of profanity coming from Max’s mouth (wash his mouth out with soap!). I jumped out of my seat and was about to say something like ‘I beg your pardon Maximilian!’ when I looked up and saw him coming my way with blood pouring from his head. He was fuming, crying and looking very red. It didn’t really hit me until he was close enough for me to put my hand over the wound and feel the warmth of the blood and that’s when I thought ‘HOLY SHIT!!!’

Kathleen is a nurse so she went right into work mode and kept the situation calm and focused. Pressure was applied, ice was applied and calm was brought to the situation. Heads bleed A LOT, this I know for sure because when we finally stopped the bleeding I could barely see the wound. K saw it straight away (trained eye) and thought it may need a stitch so we had to run over to our landlords (we don’t have a car) and ask for help.

The thought hadn’t left my mind that they were preparing for dinner that night, however, they were so completely helpful and dropped everything to drive us to the ER and Piera even promising pizza on our return…I love these people. Roberto had us at the hospital within 12 minutes, I think we waited 4 minutes before being ushered into another room when a lovely nurse with blue hair and green/white fingernails started shaving Max’s head to find the wound.

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Once the area was shaved she then said ‘Boh!….one stitch’ to which she proceeded. Anaesthetic would have taken too long to kick in so I told Max to grip my hand and she went for it. Max was very brave and it was all over in minutes. We were done and dusted in about 40 minutes and back home in time for the festivities to begin.

The festival of olive oil started with pizza and then worked its way up to wonderful stuffed peppers (they were filled with bread, capers, anchovies and olive oil) that I could of eaten all night, they had such a deep flavour and were completely morish. Bruschetta was then brought out and we were told to lightly brush the bruschetta with raw garlic then pour on the new olive oil quite liberally and then sprinkle with a little salt- DIVINE!! The olive oil came alive and the luscious grassy flavour dominated your taste buds….you didn’t want it to end.

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Preparations for the end result…..

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It was about here I wished I hadn’t had that extra serving of peppers because Roberto brought out the ribollita, salami, fagioli (at this point I almost burst but of course kept on eating because it all tasted fantastic especially when drizzled in the first pressing olive oil!!) I thought I had made it and eaten all I could until Piera threw her hands up in the air and said she forgot about the pork! I am not sure what part of my stomach made room but I was served a delicious helping of diced potatoes cooked with small pieces of pork (soaked in a little milk) and then roasted with bread pieces, sage and rosemary. If I wasn’t so full and bursting at the seams I would have had seconds, alas, I was done. If that was a celebration of the new oil I had wet its head well and truly and enjoyed every last drizzle…….oh and you know there was a dessert table just around the corner!

With Max’s head looking a little worse for wear and the four of us full of delicious food we said our thank yous, good byes and many thanks for everything else they had helped us with. Roberto placed a bottle of oil in my hands and I could not thank him enough for this precious gift. A gift I will keep on giving to my friends and family…..I’m already planning my own concoction of beans and olive oil- Yummmm