The olive grove

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It’s not everyday you re-connect with a person you met 8 years ago when life was throwing you a few curve balls; for example……living in a foreign country with a new-born baby and a toddler; your husband going off each morning to bury himself in the archives of 16th-century Europe, or trying to work out when you should leave the apartment so it fits in with feeding schedules for the baby, toilet stops for the potty-training toddler and last but not least, trying to figure out how to make friends.

I met Melanie at a local English speaking church (St. James) where a bunch of mums started a mother’s group for English-speaking mums living in Florence. It was something I really needed and a chance to speak to someone other than my 3-year-old son.

Melanie also had a boy the same age as Max and a new born a few weeks older than Alex so I’m sure we had lots to talk about….Oh did I also mention she is a chef and one of the best cake designers I have seen; her website should explain her work better than I can write about it. Anyway, I say ‘I’m sure’ because to be quite honest I don’t remember a whole lot of the early days when Alex was only weeks old, however, I did remember Melanie and I did remember talking to her about food, cooking classes and a few other bits and pieces even though we never had a strong connection as I left about three months after meeting her. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected a few years ago and have been following each others career ever since.

When we found out we would be heading over to Florence this year I was so excited to reconnect with Melanie in person and basically pick her brains about all she had been doing in the 8 years we have been living in separate countries. I was also happy to learn she felt the same.

Once we settled in to our place in Florence I gave Melanie a call and she invited us all out to the family olive grove for a much needed swim in the pool, a relaxed, delicious meal, vino and lots and lots of talking. This was an offer I was not going to refuse!

It was a really hot day when Paolo her husband came to pick us up at 4 in the afternoon. Foolishly I thought it wouldn’t be so bad re. the heat, and when I stepped out of the house into what felt like an oven on full range, all I could think about was a pool and a cool breeze.

I had never met Paolo, and we laughed at the fact that we really were complete strangers getting together on a chance meeting that happened 8 years ago when our lives were very different. This is stepping out of your comfort zone; if I’d never of connected with Melanie over the internet once back in the comforts of the world I knew, we would never of arrived at the olive grove and we would of never been able to talk for 4 hours straight about our lives both in and out of the kitchen- it was fantastic!

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Melanie has since had a third son and all 5 boys got on like a house on fire; swimming until their fingers were shrivelling like dried prunes; gathering sticks for bows and arrows, making swords, daggers and anything else you can whittle out of a piece of wood. Running through the olive grove trying to catch the fat bunny that feeds on all the vegetables will be forever in their memory, this I can guarantee!

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As the air cooled Paolo stoked the BBQ while Melanie took me around to the outdoor kitchen and we played with produce that was grown a stone’s throw away (seriously, a dream come true for me). We used olive oil that was pressed from the trees around us and I had a hard decision wondering which tomatoes I would use for the salad.

ImageWe decided to keep the food simple and stress free. I made one of my all time favourite faro salads before we left home. I can’t seem to get enough of it at the moment, though I’m sure this will pass when I eat it one too many times…….well maybe?

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We were in for an absolute treat. As Melanie was cutting off slabs of pecorino cheese onto a plate she was telling me of their family’s butcher who goes and hand picks the animal he slaughters and then lovingly butchers the beast, then sells it from his shop in the back hills of Southern Florence (I have been promised a visit to his shop as it is quite difficult to get to if you don’t know the area……..YES, I am excited!!)

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So a quick reverse, the pecorino Melanie was cutting (pic below)  and also the prosciutto we ate with the melon were from their wonderful butcher, honestly the man can do no wrong in my book!

The other treat Melanie had in stall was the 35-year-old balsamic vinegar she drizzled over the pecorino: a brilliant flavour combination and the texture of the balsamic was syrupy, sticky, rich and divine to put it simply.

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Melon, prosciutto and homemade salami..I could of eaten this all afternoon..

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I don’t have to tell you the olive grove holds a special place in my heart and being asked back for a second week was heavenly for all four of us. We will have many more fun days/nights with Melanie and her family this I am sure of but for me this will be a memory I will hold onto when I’m wondering what an earth I have done with my life……I feel very lucky indeed.

 

 

Summer lunches

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We have been in our place for two weeks now and I have noticed we are eating like royalty. Obviously we all have our own opinions on what we think is a specialty item, however, when I use to buy the tight, tough little balls of mozzarella back home for $8 a piece and think that was well worth the $$$, you can only imagine the delight when I go shopping here an buy a packet of three buffalo mozzarella balls for a third of the price I pay for one back home. I have to add prosciutto, tomatoes and faro to this list, not to mention the flavour bursting melons, nectarines, peaches and strawberries.

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I did think I needed to watch what I ate before arriving in Italy as I didn’t want to turn into a mozzarella ball myself. However, now that I’m here I’ve discovered I have to walk a round trip of 2km to the nearest grocery shop, and I’ve decided that is a perfect amount of walking for me to eat whatever I want when the need arises without any guilt trip.

Lunches seem to be our favoured meal of the day so far. I am trying all the different types of bread offered in our local bakery from schiacciata to Toscana bread (made with no salt) to pane con sale (made with salt). I’m even more pleased with myself that I have actually put my language skills to the test at our local bakery and ordered our daily bread in Italian from start to finish AND she understood! This is a highlight for me thus far as I usually walk into a shop, freeze, smile and then do some kind of mime to get what I came for. Usually by the end of the transaction I always walk out with something, just not what I always intended to buy. Despite my Italian teacher’s despair of me talking here in Italy, the tiny bits of Italian I did learn in Sydney are actually paying off and working for me!!

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As you can see from the photos I have uploaded there is a pattern with our lunches. Tomatoes feature most frequently, along with bread and mozzarella and prosciutto. Alex has turned into a massive fan, if he had his way he’d be quite happy sitting down to a whole tomato and mozzarella ball and taking alternative bites until they were devoured! This is amazing coming from a boy who didn’t really like tomatoes back home and only wanted mozzarella on his pizza, melted.

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While the sun sits high in the sky and keeps my basil plant flourishing, we will keep devouring as much cheese (OMG, I haven’t even mentioned how fabulous the pecorino cheeses are…..I’m slowly working my way around the deli!), prosciutto, tomato and anything else that looks delicious until the weather starts to cool and I venture into the kitchen and turn on the oven.

I can’t see that happening for quite a while, funnily enough I am absolutely OK with that. The only thing I have neglected to eat more of is gelato and thankfully we just discovered a great looking gelateria down the hill this morning as we meandered down for coffee and a pastry at the most fantastic pasticceria we walked past the other day, so that will be next on the list of shops to visit.