Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici parade, Firenze

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici in 1743. She was the last direct descendant of the ruling branch of the Medici family, whose will bequeathed the art collection now housed in the Uffizi to the city and stipulated that it could never be removed from Florence. Having found out this information from my lovely husband, I thought it quite fitting that there was a parade in her honour.

Max did ask me yesterday if he could take the day off school to see it, which I blew off as his attempt at skiving off. However, when I met up with mum and dad in the centre of Florence yesterday and stood amongst the beautifully bright costumes of the paraders I had a pang of guilt. Here I was enjoying the festivities, costumes and atmosphere while my kids were at school ‘learning’. I had to ask myself, wouldn’t this be a learning experience for them as well? After all it isn’t everyday you get to enjoy a Renaissance pageant re-enactment in a city that draws your eye and heart back to the days that had been. I was sorry for my abrupt answer and will actually think about the question next time before being so dismissive.

Thanks to dad’s handy work, I have these beautiful photos to share. Something that stung a little when showing Max.

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Drummers

The streets of tourists and locals alike paused in their pursuits to take in the beautiful colours and arrangement of this 40-strong parade slowly marching down the streets of Florence. It was a sight to behold and even better when you had no idea what was on the horizon, all you could here was the beat of the drums and the slow roll of the march.

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Guys with very cool guns in leather…my boys are drooling

It was my guess the participants costumes were handed down among the families for generations and showing enormous pride in the occasion. I also had the feeling that my dad would have loved to be a part of the procession too! (In fact the guy with the moustache in the photo below looks a bit like dad.)

I loved this guy with the moustache

I loved this guy with the moustache

Weekend trip to Venice

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Grand Canal, Venice

Despite the constant talk of rain, buying of the gumboots for aqua alta and initial fears that our weekend in Venice was going to be a wash out, I am extremely happy to say it only rained in the evenings and the days were left open to beautiful blue skies (ok, maybe a bit of fog too) and sunshine! Again we used Airbnb and again we were really impressed with our accommodation, the fact that we had a whole apartment instead of a hotel room with two boys who love to throw themselves around…I’m telling you Airbnb is the way to go. We had a garden apartment (not a common thing in Venice) and I believe the family who owns the building also owns Fiat, so a pretty fabulous location without a massive price tag. Our train pulled in around lunchtime so we dropped off our bags and started looking for a place to eat.

Nic has a colleague at I Tatti who was a student in Venice a few years ago and she kindly gave us a list of places to try; this, just for the record is an excellent idea, always trust a uni student who loves food! We had lunch at Ostaria Al 4 Feri in the Dorsoduro district. It is a great place to eat really fresh seafood at a very reasonable price, I will also note that you might have to share a table as it isn’t a large space. Alex and I shared the scampi and carcocifi spaghetti which I absolutely loved, however, the flavour was very rich so Alex wasn’t as keen. Nic stuck with the classic spaghetti al vongole which was so, so good (Alex helped him polish it off), while Max ate a large plate of grilled calamari in a matter of minutes. It was an excellent start to our mini holiday and with our tummies full we started to wander around the canals of Venice.

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Daily life, Venice 2014

Everywhere you looked there was something you wanted to take a picture of, however, I seemed to get photo bombed…a lot!

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Photo bombers!

As a bit of good luck for us, our best friends from Florence had decided to also take a weekend break in Venice at the last minute. So with their new name of ‘stalker family‘ firmly attached, we were pretty excited to hang out with them that evening and get plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments flying. Actually we have never traveled with friends before so it was something new for us and I have to say I want to do it again. Not only do you get to hang out and relax with people you get on really well with but the kids also kept themselves busy with games of tag in empty fish markets while parents look on sipping Spritz at a fab bar across the way…what’s there not to love about that?

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A bar near Campo Beccarie serving great Spritz with blood orange

After a couple of yummy spritz and chili olives we then went to dine at a place called Cantina Do Spade, which I have to say was our favourite of all the places we dined at. The food was really, really tasty and fresh; I indulged in a plate of fritta mista and it was huge!!! For 16 euro I fed myself and then Max knocked quite a bit of calamari off, followed by Isabel who tried her first piece of calimari (brava bella) and the sardines were so fresh…you certainly didn’t leave hungry.

Day two was kind of planned, we had booked in to see the Secret Itinerary of the Palazzo Ducale where you get to go inside the old gaol cells on a guided tour, learning what it was like for prisoners when life wasn’t so comfortable. Tickets are 20 euro adults/14 euro for kids and I think well and truly worth the tour (especially if you get our guide, she was a bit fabulous on so many levels), after the tour you also get to wander around the Palazzo at your leisure, alas time was ticking on for us and our tummies were rumbling so we literally leaped across the Bridge of Sighs (sighed of course!) and then hightailed ourselves over to a great-looking sandwich place I had seen on our travels. It was such a beautiful day we decided to take a break on a canal and soak up the atmosphere…this is one of my favourite moments of the weekend, with all the gang.

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Lunch with friends

No one fell in (thank god) and we were all in a good mood so Ross and E decided it might be a good idea to take the kids on a gondola ride, this is where the boys are really lucky because they offered to take our boys them with them! Wow! Of course the boys were ecstatic and it also meant they could hang out with the girls a little more, so it was decided Nic and I would go and meet my parents who just so happened to be coming into town that afternoon while they all hopped on a gondola and paddled off into the canals of Venice. A memory the kids will cherish for many years to come I am sure.

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The kids on a gondola

Nic and I may have had a cheeky Spritz with Ross and E before they left (I mean that was the least we could do was buy them a apertivo before they go off on a gondola with four kids!) and we may have had another one…or was that after we met mum and dad? Not sure, however, I do have wonderful memories of lots of laughter, beautiful food and wonderful unexpected company for our weekend in Venice. We all had dinner that night, at first trying our luck in a very tiny restaurant in a part of town we didn’t really know, only to find out there was no chance in hell it would fit all ten of us, so with a bit of navigating from Nic and Ross and a few words from E and I we finally found a lovely restaurant that served nice food (though pricier than it needed to be). It was great to see mum and dad again and for them to meet our new friends in the beautiful city of Venice. I might save the rest for another blog as I can’t race through the Penny Guggenheim collection as there was far too much going on there to briefly mention.

Here I leave you with my memories of a wonderful family trip to a place that will never grow old to me and I hope the boys will one day come back with their friends and families to continue on the memory of Venice.

Per favore, un più?

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Our local

Our favourite/local pasticceria, Cesare is a little ways down the road, a good twenty-minute walk from our place when you’re walking with kids. When I really want to have a break from being in the house I usually try and coax the boys into coming for a walk with me. As you can imagine getting your kids to come on a 40-minute walk (sometimes in the rain) isn’t exactly easy when all they want to do is play. I used to try out all sorts of tricks to get them to come along and then, not too long ago, the pièce-de-résistance came into play.

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It is winter and raining, why are we going for a walk?

I had seen the signs in the pasticceria when we first arrived but thought nothing of them as I had no clue as to what they meant: “bombolini caldi 16:00“. A few months had passed and I started reading a few more words, working out how to say more words and actively looking for words to read.

Guess what bombolini are???

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Bombolini con crema

That’s right- DONUTS!!!!!

And not just any donuts, HOT-out-of-the-fryer-and-into-your-mouth donuts.

Donuts filled with crema AND chocolate

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jam donuts…

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and plain donuts, that are the size of your head!

IMG_0977Not only do these bombolini taste and look superb but they are also chock-a-block full of whatever flavouring you choose and only cost ONE EURO each!!!

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As you bite into the bomboline you instantly feel the warmth of the marmalata, cioccolato or crema oozing into your mouth and down your chin. Children and adults alike all sit at the tables of Cesare with piles of serviettes at the ready because you just can’t help but get excited when 4pm rolls around and you happen to be in the vicinity of this pasticceria.

I know lots of other places serve bombolini and that is fantastic, however, for me this is the place I know and trust when it comes to bombolini freschi and I also know I have a 20-minute walk up hill to get home which means they come GUILT FREE!

 

Acquacotta

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So I told you I have been celebrating my birthday all week and now I am going to tell you about a place you should visit if you’re in Florence and after a fantastic meal. Acquacotta is a wonderful restaurant that is tucked away off the main tourist track for those of us who are looking for delicious Tuscan flavours.

I had no idea where Nic and the boys were taking me for lunch on Sunday. We walked around a few streets I knew well, however, I should know it isn’t Nic’s style to take me directly to a secret location (I’m sure he did this so I wouldn’t be able to go back without him- smart!). From the outside it is a very non descript trattoria so don’t be looking for bells and whistles to draw your attention to the wonderful food inside, just trust me!

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When you enter the small, warm and inviting trattoria the first thing that hits you is the beautiful smells coming from the kitchen. That mixed with soft yellow lighting, red and white checkered table cloths and the really friendly server are a fantastic combination and one you can only enjoy. The trattoria is made up of three small dining rooms while the small kitchen is smack bang in the middle. I love a kitchen you can look into and see the engine purring. We were sat in a small, intimate room next to the windows which was lovely. There were about 5 other small tables in the room and all were full!

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Nic ordered a delicious bottle of Morellino di Scansano which hit the spot and paired beautifully with our antipasto of Tuscan meats. I have to appologise as I forgot to photograph the meat platter and we polished it off before I remembered, I was too busy being caught up in the moment! However, I did manage to get back on track with the artichoke and pecorino salad which we also shared as a starter…

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A very simple and typical Tuscan salad excecuted perfectly. The raw artichoke was thinly sliced with a lovely soft crunch that paired beautifully with the sharpness of the thinly sliced pecorino. The boys were not keen to try so Nic and I didn’t push the matter and enjoyed the delicious salad while they polished off the bread!

They were busy, very busy in fact and with only one server for the entire restaurant there was a bit of a wait between courses. It wasn’t that long but try telling that to the boys who would of happily chewed through the bread basket if we let them!

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When our meals arrived I was tickled pink! I ordered the rabbit and was not disappointed. The flavour was delicate, yet morish and with a side of roasted potatoes cooked beautifully I was really happy. Alex ordered the cinghiale (wild boar) with polenta mash and devoured it within minutes (he did manage to offer me a piece for a taste of the rabbit and it was divine).

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As much as I loved my rabbit, I have to admit I was totally envious of Nic’s beef! He ordered the tagliata di manzo (sliced beef) and without a doubt I can honestly say it was the best steak I have eaten (kind, dear husband let me have two slices!!). Not only was the meat cooked to perfection, it melted on your tongue with it’s sweet, sweet flavour……breathtaking to say the least. Poor Nic had his whole family eyeing off his dish. Max ordered the homemade beef ragù with parpadelle, it was another dish full of deep, rich flavour, though I do wonder if he paused long enough between bites to actually enjoy it!? (pre-teen age boys are scarily hungry ALL the time!)

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We all sat there after our meal feeling comfortably full, savouring the beautiful flavours we had just consumed.

The birthday plans prevented us from eating dessert at Acqucotta (that is another blog entry), however, that didn’t stop the boys from getting a piece of chocolate cake to share from our server! I did manage to sneak a bite and it reminded me of my mum’s death by chocolate dessert she use to make in her restaurant years ago, a dessert people would wait out in the cold for!

Acquacotta is a trattoria I will be taking people to when they come to town and want a fantastic Tuscan meal. I hope I have managed to talk some of you into going…….just don’t tell too many people!

40 years and counting

Nesli and I at my 40th B'day dinner, 2013

Nesli and I at my 40th B’day dinner, 2013

I have been a bit laxed in my blogging this week as I have hit a milestone. I turned 40 on Sunday and I have been celebrating my 40 years of existence all week…..because I can. It’s funny I have been going through old photos and looking back at my life (as I am sure we all do when we hit a milestone?) and there are two things that stand out clearer than day.

1. I have filled my 40 years with a lot of stuff, I could almost say some years have been jam-packed!

2. I have met an outstanding amount of people and have the great pleasure of saying I have an awesome, eclectic assortment of friends all over the world.

Roisin my running partner in the World race, Chicago

Roisin my running partner in the World race, Chicago

I have always loved doing things, anything as long as I am doing something and having fun. Travelling has always been a huge part of my life, even before I realised how much I love going to different countries and exploring how other people live. Mum and dad installed the travelling bug into my sister and I at a very young age and I haven’t really stopped, nor have they!

Mum sitting in the departure lounge at Tokyo airport a few years ago

Mum sitting in the departure lounge at Tokyo airport a few years ago

The fact that I am lucky enough to have timed my 40th while we are spending a year in Italy is quite brilliant. If I am being totally honest, I wouldn’t have thought it even possible 10 years ago and yet here I am feeling the love from all my wonderful friends and family from all over the planet sending me warm wishes on my birthday. I truly believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having so many supportive, positive and truly wonderful people in my life. I made a decision a long time ago to leave behind people who have negative and sole sucking vibes….this was an excellent move!

I love the fact that I am still in contact with friends from High school, and I want to be in touch with them. My old bosses are some of my oldest and dearest friends. I love that the Mexican guys I use to work with 5 days a week in Chicago still keep in touch, even though I was nicknamed ‘hard nose bitch’ (well you can’t be a shrinking violet when you work the grill in a kitchen!) and constantly asked when I was leaving!.

Friends I travelled the world with when we were young, silly and quite stupid (considering some of the situations we got ourselves into!). These ladies have a very special place in my heart. As we discovered the world around us, we also discovered who were as individuals and what  made us the strong, independent women we are today.

Nic and Max, Chicago 2002

Nic and Max, Chicago 2002

When I finally grew up a little more, fell in love and met my life travelling partner I was so excited to see what we were going to get up to with our life together and I have to say it has been better than anything I dreamed up.

8 months pregnant with Alex, Chicago

8 months pregnant with Alex, Chicago

The kids came and that made me grow even more and placed me in a community of extremely talented women I call my very dear friends. A new country and a new baby really throws a spanner in the works but I wouldn’t change it for quids, I just wish the world wasn’t so far apart. I have a brilliant family (ok we may be a little mad, batty and talk to much) but a family I cherish and love and who have excepted this crazy path Nic and I have chosen and offered nothing but support and love. With all this I was not expecting to meet a whole new group of people I would open my heart to  and welcome them in with open arms.

Shelly and Nesli at my 40th, Italy 2013

Shelly and Nesli at my 40th, Italy 2013

This trip to Italy was looked at as an adventure and an experience. I am so blown away at the beautiful community I have here. I love the fact it is possible to still make wonderful friendships because there really isn’t a ‘cap’ on how many great people you meet in your life (must have been a random thought when I had too much prosecco!?

Elena

Elena

 

Ross

Ross

 

Sue

Sue

Anyway, what I am trying to say is in 40 years I have managed to do, see, meet and love some truly wonderful people and places and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me get this far. Life is about living it to the fullest and meeting people from whatever situation you are in and making the most of it. I will never be a millionaire (airfares are a killer), however, I will be enjoying a lot more countries, people and revisiting old and dear friends for the next forty years, this much I know.

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?

 

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