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September 2014

Postcards from Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun, Part 2

Dear friends,

Tomorrow we'll be jumping on another train -- this time for Florence.  Before then, though, let's take a last look at Tuscany.

Montepulciano . . . 

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While walking the streets of Montepulciano, Pino introduced us to some of the city's most notable craftsmen.  First, he took us to the shop of a coppersmith (where I took no photos whatsoever).  Such beautiful pieces, though.  (You'll just have to trust me.)

Then, he introduced us to Albo Mazzetti, a glass mosaic artist.  His work is incredible!  It's hard to believe his intricate works . . . are made entirely of glass pieces!  His workshop is lined with boxes and boxes of glass in various colors and shades.

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I have always wanted to try mosaic - and have dabbled ever-so-slightly.   When Pino and Albo found out I was interested, everything ratcheted up a notch. . . and, before I knew it, Albo invited me to give it a try!

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(It was clear I'll need a lot of practice. . . )

Montepulciano is a magical place.  (I'll definitely be back someday!)

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Breathtakingly beautiful -- up close or from a distance!

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Pino also took us to Pienza, yet another charming Tuscan hill town -- especially known for its pecorino cheese.

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(Pino needed to pick up some cheese for his wife!  Who knew there were so many flavors and varieties of pecorino?)

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Like all of the other Tuscan hill towns we visited, Pienza was lovely and totally charming.  The streets were just delightful.  (I love looking down a side street and catching a hint of a breathtaking view!)

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There was a cathedral with a tower that is slowly . . . slowly . . . slowly . . . leaning.  (Massive cables are holding this baby up.)

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And . . . the views???

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Oh, yeah.  They're EVERYwhere in Tuscany!  Possibly . . . the most beautiful place on earth.

Now . . . on to Florence!

Until then --
Ciao!

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I'm heading out this morning for Salt Lake City -- to visit Margene and do some knitting at the Alta Knitting Retreat.  I'll be taking a brief blogging break.  See you Thursday!


Postcards from Italy: Wine Country

Dear friends,

After the spending the morning cooking . . . and, well, drinking an awfully lot of wine . . . what next?  Why, off to Montepulciano for wine tasting with Pino, of course!

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Turns out that our dear Pino -- who has an incredibly interesting life story (childhood in Libya, grew up to be a school teacher, tasted his first Coke as a boy -- when American GIs gave him one as they marched through Italy at the end of WWII) -- was once a wine maker at his family's vineyard in Tuscany.  He was an ideal guide to wine country!

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He stopped in a lovely vineyard, and showed us the grapes -- nearly ready for harvest.  He had us pick grapes and taste them.  He explained all about the grapevines -- age, planting process, grape types, labeling, oh-so-much information.  (Pino is very knowledgeable, and very thorough!)

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In Montepulciano,* Pino took us to Cantina Contucci for a tour and wine tasting.  (Here's Pino, waiting for us in front of the building.  He was, once again, being patient as I took yet more photos!)

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The Contucci winery has been in operation since the 1700s, and the family "invented" the Vino Nobile - famous in the Montepulciano region (and very tasty).  The historic cellars are oh-so-charming.

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We got the full and complete explanation of the wine making process from Pino!

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And  then, when it was time for the tasting, Pino introduced us to Adamo Pallecchi, longtime Contucci cellarman.  Adamo -- who has been sharing his love of wine with Contucci visitors for over 50 years -- is just a bit . . . let's just say . . . "overly-familiar". . . with some of his female guests!  (Especially American women.  And especially blonde American women!)  (Pino warned us.)

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(You can just see my sister here . . . saying, "Back off, Adamo!")

It was a lovely winery -- with some very nice wines!

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I'll tell you more about Montepulciano . . . tomorrow.  (For now, I really need to find something to eat!  All this wine, so early in the day, is making my head spin!)

Until then -
Ciao!








 


Postcards from Italy: In the Kitchen

Dear friends:

My sister and I first started talking (seriously) about our trip to Italy last winter.  The days then were long and cold and dark.  The winter was relentless.  We had cabin fever.  We longed to be under the Tuscan sun.

But what inspired us and kept us going -- all through February . . . into a slow-coming spring . . . and through the rigors of our worst work days -- was the thought of . . . 

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Cooking in Tuscany!

Our villa not only featured an amazing restaurant, but also cooking classes with their chef, Gabriella.  We couldn't wait!

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There were two other American women in our class (and one husband who came along to watch, but mostly got in the way of my photos. . .).  It was wonderful!

We started out in Gabriella's garden, picking fruits and veggies and herbs to use in the meal (lunch) we'd be preparing together.  

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It was such a charming, wonderful garden . . . tucked in behind the kitchen . . . with a classic view of the Tuscan countryside.

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Most of the people we met in Tuscany complained about the awful weather they've had this summer.  Where it's usually hot and dry and sunny . . . this year it's been chilly and cloudy and rainy (a summer kind of like the one we had here in Michigan, actually).  Gabriella said the weather had affected her garden -- but our harvest that morning was still pretty great!

 

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Gabriella set to work!  She specializes in simple, Italian fare . . . using fresh, local ingredients.

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She shared her recipes, her techniques, and her stories.  She also kept reassuring us that "she's a professional" and that, of course, she makes things look "easy!"  But she also gave us the confidence that . . . we could do this, too!

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We prepared lunch: Rotolina di melanzana (eggplant rolls with ricotta cheese), Risotto con zafferano e fiori di zucchine (risotto with saffron and zucchini flowers), Filetto di maiale agli agrumi e miele di acacia (YUM pork tenderloin), and Tiramisù alle fragole (tiramisù with strawberries).

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Mostly. . . we watched and listened.  And did a little chopping.  

I was inspired -- to get home and try to recreate Gabriella's recipes myself!*

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We took a little mid-morning break.  (Because, in Italy, it's NEVER too early for a glass of wine!)

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Gabriella's cooking-lesson/demonstration kitchen was charming!  A true Tuscan kitchen -- with a private dining area looking out over the grounds of the villa. 

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And, best of all, we got to eat the lesson!

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Such a perfect morning!  (And exactly what we imagined, back in those bleak days of February!)

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And now . . . we need to hurry - or we'll be late for our afternoon tour to Montepulciano with Pino!

Ciao!

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* Because Tom left for India almost as soon as I returned from Italy, I haven't actually tried any of the recipes yet in my own kitchen.  But soon!

 

 


Beep Beep m'Beep Beep Yeah!

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I've been a driver for a most of my life, now.  Cars have come.  Cars have gone.  

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Here's a list -- of Cars I Have Owned:

  1. My first car . . . back in high school . . . was a 1964 Chevy Bel Air Station Wagon.  (And, oh!  The stories that car could tell!) (Let's just say . . . it had room for lots of friends.)
  2. In college, I got a Ford Maverick.  I don't remember the year anymore, but - trust me - it wasn't new!  It was a really hideous olive drab color.  (And I loved it.) (Because after the Bel Air, ANYthing was a huge step up!)
  3. The first car Tom and I bought together was a used Ford Fiesta.  My first stick shift!  Tom taught me to drive a manual -- and, once I got used to things, it was a breeze.
  4. Our very first Brand New Car (shown above) was a 1984 Mazda 323.  Unfortunately, it was also the first (and only!) car I wrecked.  Which led to . . .
  5. Another Mazda 323 (1988, I think).  That one was blue, and we drove it for a very long time . . . until we sold it to one of Tom's co-workers for his teenagers.  (We hear it had a long and fruitful life, full of madcap adventures.)
  6. In 1987, we became a two-car couple when Tom bought our first Subaru -- a 1987 Subaru XT Turbo (with pneumatic suspension . . . that might have been better called "problematic suspension" - but lots of fun all the same.)
  7. Then came the minivan years.  First, a Mazda MPV.  Then, a Plymouth Voyager.  (I'll say no more about those years.)
  8. Around the same time, Tom had a Ford Exploder Explorer that was recalled somewhere along the way.
  9. Next, Tom got a 2002 Subaru Outback and I got a 2005 Subaru Forester.
  10. Now, Tom drives a snappy little turbo Mini, and I just got a new Subaru Outback in May.  (Brian is currently driving my old Forester, but not for long!  He's in the process of purchasing a new - and much more sexy - Fast Car.)

Here's a photo of the entire fleet in port earlier this summer.  That's the Forester (Brian drives it now, but he doesn't like to admit it's his), Tom's Mini, and my Outback.

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And here's a fun shot.  This is Brian, age 15, taking Tom's old Outback out for a drive.  (He was a very eager and excited driver!)

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How about YOU?  What cars have you owned?

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Postcards from Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun, Part 1

 

Dear friends,

I've wanted to visit Tuscany . . . for almost forever!  The vistas.  The history.  The food.  The wine.  So it was such a delight . . . to step off a train . . . and and settle here . . .

Villa di Piazzano.  Our "home sweet home" for a few days!

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Then, we met Pino -- our more-than-we-ever-anticipated tour guide!  We expected Pino to give us a quick tour of nearby Cortona (the town of Under the Tuscan Sun fame), and (the next day) a tour of the Montepulciano wine country.  But Pino?  He ended up doing so much more!  Pino made us dinner reservations, introduced us to people in town, set up a museum tour (with the most charming American archeologist), and showed us sites that were not at all on our tour list!  (He even took us to the train station and sorted out our tickets when we left to go to Florence, but that's another story altogether.)

First, though, Pino showed us Cortona.

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So much more charming . . . 

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(if that's even possible)

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than you might imagine!

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And, as for the vistas?

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Just. Wow.

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Pino took us to visit one of his favorite places. . .

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a Franciscan hermitage known as Le Celle, founded by St. Francis (of Assissi fame!) in the early 1200s.

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There are some awesome gardens there.  (A handful of monks still hold down the fort.)

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Here's Pino with my sister.  

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(He's doing some "explaining" and she's listening attentively.  Me?  I was distracted by the awesome Tuscan sunset.)

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On our way back to Cortona - for dinner - Pino stopped and showed us this spot...

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the real and actual "Under the Tuscan Sun" villa, where Frances Bayes lived for years (until the movie, when it got too famous and she had to move on up the hill).

This is the part of the house that charmed me beyond belief!  (And if you've seen the movie or read the book, you'll understand why.)

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But now, friends, it's time for dinner!

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Until next time . . . 

Ciao!






 


Postcards from Italy: Iconography

Dear friends:

There's something about about . . . stumbling over icons . . . when I'm traveling that just gives me a thrill.  I mean, on my travels, I KNOW I'm going to see famous, oft-pictured icons.  Big Ben.  The Eiffel Tower.  The Church of the Spilled Blood.

But when I actually SEE them for the first time?  I usually giggle!

In Rome, it was the Colosseum.

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(You're walking along the street in Rome.  You go around a bend in the road.  And there it is!  The Colosseum.  Looming in the background.)  (I giggled.)

Again, we took a tour.  (This is a great way to avoid standing in the incredibly long line to get into the Colosseum.)  

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We learned a lot about the Colosseum, ancient Rome, the Gladiators*, the fall of Rome, Roman building materials, ancient games, what people wore . . . (It was a very long tour.  Maybe a little too long for my taste.  But I am very well schooled in Colosseum now!)

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We also toured the Roman Forum -- which was way cooler than I imagined it would be.

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It rained a little, which put a little damper on the Roman Forum tour. . .

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But that made everything all the more sweet . . . once the sun came out again.

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Until next time,
Ciao!

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* We heard from more than one tour guide that when it comes to the real gladiators, they were much more Danny DeVito than Russell Crowe.  (But the movie wouldn't have been quite so . . . visually appealing. . .)

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Postcards from Italy: The Vatican

 

Dear friends,

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When we first started talking about going to Italy, I have to admit . . . I never thought about visiting the Vatican.  I mean, I'm not Catholic.  I'm not even religious, really.  Why would I be interested in visiting the Vatican?

Well.  Two words.  Sistine Chapel.

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So Di and I booked an afternoon tour of the Vatican Museums for a peek at the extensive art collection amassed by the Catholic Church -- and including the Sistine Chapel.

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Our tour guide, Eleanora, was just delightful!  Knowledgeable, funny, enthusiastic, charming.  (And she could really rock the harem pants!)

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The views from inside the Museum space were pretty incredible!

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My favorite part?

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The Gallery of Maps.

Just beautiful -- and functional, too!  The entire hall contains over 40 full size maps (done in fresco) of various regions of Italy.

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(According to Eleanora, the Gallery of Maps was always open to the Italian public -- kind of the Google maps of the Renaissance!)

The Raphael Rooms were also quite incredible.

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(I was particularly taken with the windows!)

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As for the Sistine Chapel?  It was magnificent!  No photos allowed . . . so you'll just have to take my word for it!

After our tour of the Museums, Di and I took a little walk through St. Peter's Basilica on our own.

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They say it's the world's largest church.  I wouldn't argue!  It was huge.  Awesome.  Beautiful.  Impressive beyond belief.

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I realized right away, though . . . that my photography just couldn't do it justice.  So I put my camera away, and just took in the majesty of the place sans lens!

(I did manage to snap a quick photo of Michelangelo's Pietà.  Which was incredible.  Just incredible.)

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On our way out, we enjoyed seeing St. Peter's square from "the Pope's view"!

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(We visited the Vatican on a Monday.  The Pope was in town, and had performed Mass on Sunday.  There were thousands and thousands of chairs.)

Until next time --
Ciao! 

PS - I drove my sister crazy humming "What if God Was One of Us" the whole day.  ('Cept for the Pope when he's in Rome . . . )


Say It Ain't So!

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If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that . . . I love summer.  

Oh, sure.  Fall is nice, too.  All that color.  Those crisp, cool days.  Pumpkin-everything.  I like that.  But summer is what I really, really love.

So I usually head into fall (which is really just a prelude to winter. . . ) in Total Denial.  (Complete.)

This week, though, is making me come to my senses . . . at least a little bit!  It's cold.  The clouds don't look like "summer clouds" anymore.  I can see leaves beginning to turn.  It's getting darker earlier in the evening.  One of my neighbors already has a lovely pumpkin display on her porch.

So.  Fall is coming.

But I don't have to like it.

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Ten Things I Do . . . To Get My Home Ready for Fall (once I take my head out of the sand, that is. . . ):

  1. Clean up my garden beds for the season.  (I don't do a lot of this.  Because "winter interest." But I do some.)
  2. Bring in the hoses.  (Because who wants frozen pipes?)
  3. Shut down the sprinkler system.  (See #2.)
  4. Store the patio furniture.  (But not until I absolutely Have To.)
  5. Plant spring bulbs.  (This really doesn't get my home ready for fall; technically, it gets my home ready for spring.  But still.)
  6. Take down the screens.  (See #4.)
  7. Replace my outdoor containers with fall plants -- mostly mums, but some pansies and fall grasses, too. (I usually cheat and don't really plant them.  I just prop them in containers.)  (Because at this point, does it matter?)
  8. Buy some pumpkins.  Maybe some decorative corn.  And probably some gourds.  (Because I get Into It at some point.)
  9. Change the interior decor.  (Yeah.  I have fall decorations that I love.  Once I accept that It Is Fall, After All.) (And that hasn't happened yet.)
  10. Put away my flip-flops.  (But not until frostbite threatens.)

How about YOU?  What do you do to get your home ready for fall?

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Postcards from Italy: Rome

A soundtrack. . .

 

Dear friends,

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We arrived in Rome early; too early to check in to our hotel.  But that was good, actually!  It forced us to get our jet-lagged bodies out on the streets of Rome for some sight-seeing.  We headed right out to the Spanish Steps -- an easy walk just down the street from our hotel.

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We had fun posing on the steps.  

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From there, we headed to the Villa Borghese gardens.  Because, really, the trees in Italy are just so amazing! And gardens are a great place to wander when you're jet-lagged and can barely think.

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We grabbed lunch at a charming little panini place and then checked in to our hotel.

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Such a comfortable spot in a perfect location -- with helpful staff and great cappucino!

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Thus fortified, we headed out for a bit more sight-seeing.  We walked to Piazza Colunna to see the Column of Marcus Aurelius.

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And we visited the Pantheon.

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Really.  Just So . . . 

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Much . . .

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Awesome. . .

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 going on there at the Pantheon.  

But you know what was the coolest thing about walking along the streets of Rome?  Well.  You'd pass through a small piazza, and just . . .  notice a church.  Just a plain, dull-looking kind of church.  And you could just walk right inside.  

At first, you might not expect much.  Maybe just some of this. . .

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But you'd usually find . . . well, this . . . 

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such a gasping kind of surprise!

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And, even more surprising . . . much of the most famous art in Italy is hanging right in these churches!  This particular rather nondescript church (from the outside...) is home to three of the most famous works of Caravaggio!  (Yeah.  Just hanging there.  In a side chapel.)

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And, dear friends, after all that walking and sight-seeing, it felt really good to end the day with a glass (or two!) of a nice, Italian red . . . right there. . . on a sidewalk in Rome.

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Ciao (for now), my friends!