Cook in Tuscany – To the Farm! Then Hunt For Truffles!

Apologies for the delay… Major problemos with my computer and I just couldn’t upload photos! ¬†What’s the point of tormenting you with my trip if I can’t supply the photos, eh?ūüėÄ

Darn, with each new day came new adventures but also brought us closer to the end. ¬†This day was a fun one, for sure! ¬†We were off to Podere il Casale, a 100% organic, self-sufficient working farm where sheep and goats were raised to make the famous Pecorino cheese. ¬†As well, the outdoor wood-burning stove was ideal for bread making. ¬†Aww shucks. ¬†We were going to learn all about cheese and how to make Tuscan bread and foccacia. How sad. ¬†Broke my heart, really.ūüėÄ

The owners of the farm, a lovely couple named Sandra and Ulisse (originally from Switzerland) were wonderful hosts.  Ulisse is a self-taught cheese master and Sandra does hostess duties.

Allora,¬†first things first. ¬†As bread and foccacia need time to rise, first thing to do was to get the breads started. ¬†Piero, our bread teacher was¬†so very sweet and charming. Most of us were put on foccacia duty while four were put on Tuscan bread duty. ¬†Mixing and kneading and resting – interesting note: ¬†as salt was once so expensive it was used as currency, the Tuscans did¬†not salt their bread. ¬†They’ve kept up the practice.

While the dough was doing its magic, Sandra took us on a tour of the farm, introducing us to all the animals and showing us her impressive garden, then showing us where the cheese is made and stored to age.  The farm is fully functional and many young people were on hand doing their stages, learning all the inner-workings.

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We then hung out with the Cheese Doctor, Ulisse.  It was amazing to watch the cheese come to life before our eyes.  There is an obvious joy to his doing his craft.  To think he is self-taught and is now one of the top pecorino cheese guys in all of Tuscany!

Time to bake our foccacias! Piero showed us how to roll out our dough, prick it all over with a fork, pour olive oil over it and smooth it all over, sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt… except Piero filled the salt bowl with sugar! ¬†We couldn’t figure out why it was so sweet… That situation got rectified soon after amidst lots of laughter

So, of course, now that we have opened out appetites, it was time for lunch!  This ended up being a vegetarian meal, ending with a sampling of some 15 different cheeses!  Is there anything better than dining al fresco?

As if the day wasn’t already fabulous, we were off to truffle hunt with PierPaolo (not sure how he spells his name) and his interpretor, the lovely, Geraldine. When not giving a tour, PierPaolo takes all four dogs out with him but since he had all of us to worry about, he only brought two! ¬†It was the funniest thing to see these dogs get all excited and not want to give up their truffles!

After such an exciting day, it was back “home” at La Costa for pizza and salads and frankly, I think we’d had quite a bit of excitement for the day!


Organised – Friday Fictioneers

Yay!¬† It’s raining so I got cut from working today.¬† This means I have time to write and read!¬† Welcome to Friday Fictioneers, folks, a place where we we get a picture and have to write a 100-word story with beginning, middle and end, based on said picture.¬† Some days are harder than others, and some days you wonder where in the heck your idea came from.¬† The important thing is to go with it and see what happens!¬† This week’s photo comes from wonderful author, Claire Fuller

Rochelle is our hostess, who somehow, between writing, editing, fretting and living life, manages to take care of all of us.  Thank you Rochelle!  Should you want to join in the fun, please click on this link for the how-to!  Should you not yet be ready to write your own, click on the blue frog below and read other stories.  You never know, it might inspire you!

Word Count:  100

Genre:  Fiction



Me:¬† Babe, where’s the blue box with that doohickey I need?

Him:¬† Second unit, third shelf, behind the white box marked ‘Halloween’.

Me:  Honey, do you know if we have any more thingamajigs to tie the whatsits together?

Him:¬† Unit beside the freezer, second shelf, between the red and green boxes.¬† Can’t miss it – orange, your favourite colour.

Me:  Sweetie?  Where, oh where, did you hide the whatchamacallits?

Him: …

Me:  Babe?

Him:¬† …

Me:¬† If you could see the state of your garage today, you’d be rolling in your grave bottle.¬† Needless to say, I cannot find a thing since you left.


By the way… the reason I say bottle and not grave, is, well, that is where he resides for the moment!ūüėČ

2014-12-28 23.18.57

Story Time – Friday iFictioneers

It’s Thursday, so it’s Friday Fictioneers time – one day late or one day early, you choose! ¬†It was the perfect day to clean out my garden (I’ve the scars to prove the roses resisted my efforts) so I forced myself to stay away from the computer. ¬†This came to me as I soaked away my aches and pains. ¬†Good thing I had my cell¬†nearby to type out my rough draft!

So… Thank you Rochelle for both hosting and providing this second-hand photo (first for me, though). ¬†Any of you want to join in, click on Rochelle’s name for the how-to. ¬†Or, just click on the blue frog to read more wonderful stories!

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Copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Word Count:  100

Genre:  Memoir with extras

Story Time

Though still light outside, Mama lit the oil lamps.

“Night falls so quickly,” she explained.

Turning to my grandmother, I begged, “Oh, M√©m√®re, raconte-moi une de tes histoires. Je t’en prie!”*

“Ch√©rie, you already know them all off by heart!” she laughed.

“Surely not all of them –¬†please!”

She patted the seat beside her, beckoning me. I ran across the room and snuggled next to her warm, comforting body.

“Which one do you want tonight, ma ‘Grande Bardiche’?”

“Tell me one I’ve never heard before, like the one where, to help put food on the table, you were a bootlegger!

*Oh Granny, tell me one of your stories. I beg of you!

As for the ‘Grande Bardiche’ – my grandmother called me that and could (would?) not give me a proper explanation. ¬†Thanks to the Google, I have found out this is some kind of pole weapon, which now makes sense as I once was a tall string bean of a girl…

What I Know For Sure – Friday Fictioneers

After a looooooong break, here I am, back at Friday Fictioneers.  I so missed you all and I missed coming up with 100-word stories for these past six months!  I could not seem to find balance.  The hours were long and weird so any time off was spent, well, off!  It would not be fair to write a story and not be able to read yours and respond to any comments appropriately.  I felt it best to come back when I could fully participate.  Now is the time.  The golf club I work at closes in 25 days, the hours we work are much reduced (thank GAWD!) and some semblance of normal is returning. For those of you who have not given up on me, I give thanks; for those who have, I totally understand!

So, without further ado, here is my rusty return! Thank you c.e.ayr for this photo. ¬†It sure got me thinking! ¬†For those of you who wish to join in with your 100-word story, please click on the blue frog to add your link. ¬†To find out the hows and whats, just click here for Rochelle’s instructions. ¬†She’s been hosting this here shindig for quite some time and is a fair leader!

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What I Know For Sure

Word count:  100

Genre:  Fiction (sorta)



©c.e. ayr


She sat, quietly,¬†on the empty terrace, looking out at the water before her. ¬†“It’s good to just sit still now and again,” she thought.

Her mind turned to the future. ¬†“I wish I had plans¬†as clear as the reflections before me. ¬†Not a ripple, not a blur,”, she thought. ¬†“No wondering what was next, knowing exactly what needed to be done.”

Then again, how dull!  What excitement was there in that?  If everything was planned out to the last detail, there would be no room for spontaneity, for surprises.

“That, I¬†know for sure, is¬†just not me.

Cook in Tuscany – Cantucci, Bagno Vignoni and Beautiful Pienza

Allora, what was in store for us on this day? ¬†Allora is my new favourite expression, by the way! ¬†We heard it from just about every Italian we dealt with! ¬†It basically means “and so” or “then”. ¬†For example: ¬†Allora, next we take the eggplant and we… ¬†Doesn’t it sound just so much better than “And now….”ūüėÄ

Allora, my friends, on this day we were staying “home” at La Costa to learn how to debone a chicken, stuff it with prosciutto and ground pork and tie it all into a neat little bundle. ¬†We also learned how to make melanzane parmigiano (eggplant parmesan)¬†and I can promise you folks, I am no longer making it the same way¬†I have for years! ¬†Matter of fact, just this week, I made it for mi famiglia! ¬†Plus panna cotta and cantucci¬†(or cantuccini)¬†which is an almond cookie basically the same difference as biscotti, which can or not be double-baked (though that kind of goes against the origin of the name biscotti as it means twice baked). ¬†Sorry, I got carried away there. ¬†The important thing is these little babies are absolutely delicious, especially when dipped in vin santo! (see my welcome by Milena!) ¬†Some pici rolling also took place. (We couldn’t possibly have a meal sans pasta, right?)

But first, we watch Terry debone that chicken. ¬†Don’t you find he looks like a young Vincent Schiavelli?

Now it was Donna’s turn. ¬†Love how her tongue sticks out when she’s concentrating…ūüėČ

I will not torment you with finished product pictures… nah! ¬†Just kidding!

We had some time to do whatever (attempt at blogging…yeah…uhhh…no) until 3:30 because we were off to the Roman baths, Bagno Vignoni, and then the beautiful town of Pienza.

On our way there we stopped off at “the most photographed house in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany”. ¬†Why? Who knows? However, if any of you buy a “Tuscany” calendar, chances are this house is one of the monthly pictures. Well darn it, wouldn’t you know? ¬†When I got home, I looked through my old calendars (though I was convinced I had chucked them all) and¬†lo and behold, there it was! February 2010!

Lovely and all… but MY picture is so much more… mine!ūüėČ Plus! There was a wedding going on (pretend I am happy to have people marring my perfect photo…)


Moving on, we made our way to the Roman baths of Bagno Vignoni. What a delight to dip our toes into the warm waters surrounded by such a view!

Back into the van and off to Pienza. ¬†Finally had my first gelato of the trip a scoop each of Fig and port and blackberry. ¬†They even had one that was spinach & kiwi. ¬†Sounds gross, eh? ¬†Well, it wasn’t!

We all walked around shopping and taking in the sights, then met up with everyone at the Restaurant La Bandita, where we had yet another fabulous meal.  So weird to be served by a Scot!  He told us that the previous Christmas, they held an all Scottish feast that we very well received by the locals!

Zucchini carpaccio, pesto linguine, chicken on a carrot purée and finished off with a semifreddo of white chocolate and salted caramel and a blueberry sorbet.  Mmmm

A funny thing happened on our way home… Angelo put on some disco music and we started dancing in our seats. ¬†He then turned on the disco lights in the van! ¬†Well… all hell broke loose. ¬†There was dancing up and down the aisle and laughter galore. ¬†Wonder how often that happens, eh Linda and George? ¬†We must have been a special group… ¬†And Linda went and posted MOI on the Facebook page! ¬†Well now…

Did I mention Rosemarie, as well as her daughter Venetia are actors (actresses?)? ¬†Venetia directed her mum in the play “Calendar Girls”. ¬†Needless to say, this means that Rosemarie (who, for a reason I cannot explain, I kept calling Annemarie – her sister, by the way – for two days) is not exactly shy about letting it all hang out. ¬†I apologise again, Rosemarie, as I am caught on tape! ¬†As are you…

Laughing our heads off, we made our way back to La Costa where most of us continued to party. ¬†Paulo was kind enough to get us a bottle of wine, which did not suffice so we “stole” one from one of the displays – can’t really call it stolen as we left a note with our names on it. ¬†Thank you, Sandy, for picking up the tab on that one… gulp!






Cook in Tuscany – Pici, Canneto & Montepulciano

Now that the first cooking day was under our belt, we were ready for more.¬† Back to Enoteca (wine shop) La Botta Piena for cooking lessons with Elena & Simone, Sandra and Kathleen & Giovanni (Elena & Simone’s son) for 9:30.¬† Met the gang first for breakfast and across the street we went.

They set up the dining room tables as a long work station.¬† We each had our bowl of flower and container of water with oil.¬† Same method as egg pasta but without the egg.¬† Once upon a time, Tuscans were quite poor and would never dream of wasting an egg on pasta so they learned to make do.¬† The fun part with pici is you don’t use a rolling pin to flatten it and then cut it into strips, you take chunks and roll it on a board or between your hands like we once did with Play-Doh when we were kids.


While our dough was resting, we prepared Chianina steaks – huge T-bones that are cooked on the bone.¬† Literally. Standing up on the flat part of the bone!¬† We also made a bread stick crust to go with a savoury ricotta cheesecake, roasted some veggies, made Tuscan tomato-bread soup and a lovely peach crostada – this time with a crust topping.¬† Awww… and we had to eat all this?¬† Poor, poor us!

Before eating this, however, back to rolling the pici!¬† Music was turned up and everyone started dancing around…


We sat outside while the gang did the final plating then sat down to our feast!

Happily stuffed, we stumbled back to La Costa to do whatever we wanted until we had to meet at the van for 3:30.  We were off to Canneto winery, a very small operation Рthey do their bottling on a truck! We were invited to taste all their different wines.  Quite enjoyable and a lovely place to visit.  As with most wineries, they compliment their business with the creation of olive oils so there are olive groves planted next to the grape vines.

A short stop at the Santuario della Madonna di San Biagio, a Renaissance Greek cross central plan church that, for reasons unknown, remains unfinished.  Only one of the bell towers was completed, the other, left with just the base.

Off the the town centre of Montepulciano to run around and discover at will until 7:30 pm for dinner¬†at La Grotta restaurant. ¬† Venetia, Rosemarie, Donna and I ended up at Cantucci Cantina, tasting more wines! (I know, it just so sucks to be us…) Somehow, Venetia and I ended up wandering off, cameras clicking away, realising we had pretty much the same eye and stopping at the same things! ¬†Goes to show…


At La Grotta,¬†we were treated to another fabulous meal. ¬†One table…ahem… was a “tad” loud… Janet, Donna, Terri, Sandy, Linda, Conrad, Cindi, Frank and MaryEllen…. not saying you were out of control but you know that couple that should never¬†have been placed in the same room with us? They were¬†NOT pleased! ¬†We, at the quiet table: Paula, Nancy, George (surprisinglyūüėČ ), Ventia, Rosemarie, Alison and moi, were quite taken aback¬†when poor Paula went outside to take a breath of fresh air and was told by said couple – who had attempted to get peace and quiet despite all being wet from the afternoon rain – that we were rude and should leave! Luckily Paula did not go all Long-Island on them as it was suggested she do! I’m not saying we were jealous of all the ruckus going on at YOUR table but…

The “Rowdy Ones”

We started off with a fabulous eggplant & zucchini terrine topped with crispy pancetta, then a Pecorino cheese souffl√©, papardelle with duck sauce, beef stew with braised spinach and finally, a plate of three desserts: mascarpone w/coffee gelato, chocolate cake with orange sauce and Sambuca parfait. ¬†Of course, me the “Scarpetta” cleared off all my plates… Of course, the appropriate wines accompanied each service.

You’d think I’d sleep like a baby after all that…


Cook in Tuscany – Cortona – Yes! Cortona!

Talk about starting off with a bang!¬† We were going to Cortona!¬† Home of “Under the Tuscan Sun” – I used to joke with my family (sorta) that I was going to pull a Diane Lane and not come back…the movie version… (very different from the books – which were fabulous in a whole ‘nother way).

So, this was an early one!¬† We had to be ready to hop on the van with Angelo, our driver for the week, by 8:30!¬† Hey!¬† I thought we were on vacation here?¬† I have to set an alarm?!¬† All jokes aside, we gladly gathered for breakfast by 7:30-8:00.¬† I tell you, the Tuscans are not big on breakfast.¬† Some sweet cakes and pastries, a few hard-boiled eggs, Rusk crackers (I had forgotten how much I enjoyed them and have started buying them again!), some fruit, maybe some cold meats and cheese and coffee.¬† Paula’s cappuccinos were wonderful.

Oh. Em. Gee!¬† I was going to the place that probably started this dream of mine; or, if it didn’t start it, definitely fed it.

On our way to Cortona, we noticed the fields of sunflowers were pretty much done, heads drooping, petals non-existent.  We were pretty bummed when hark!  Someone let out a shout to look to the left.  Yes!  One last field of sunshiny faces looking towards the sun.  We begged Angelo to stop so we could get in there.

Cortona is built on quite the hill and Angelo was a total sweetheart to drive us up where vans are not supposed to go so we could all jump out as quick as can be to go meet up with Antonietta, our chef teacher for the day.  First order of business was to go shopping for the necessities Рsome pork tenderloin (cinque filette di maiale, per favore), tomatoes, canned barlotti beans, eggs, rosemary, etc.

We made our way back to Netta’s Kitchen, donned our aprons for the first time and set about making tagliatelle.¬† Once we had all held up our creations, it was on to stuffing the pork tenderloins with garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary.¬† These would be prepared in a pear and Chianti sauce and served with lemon rosemary potatoes, all chopped and prepared by us.¬† We also chopped tomatoes and red onions, splash of balsamic vinegar, glug of olive oil, salt & pepper and voil√†! The makings of a tomato bruschetta topping.¬† Did the same with the beans for a second topping.¬† Oh!¬† And we made our own individual crostadas, filled with jam and decorated as we saw fit.¬† I call them rustic pies.¬† We all called them delicious!

Once everything we cooked, we settled down to eat our creations.

After all that work we were set free to roam the streets of Cortona.  What was to become a standard (unbeknownst to me until this trip) was walking through cobble-stoned streets, stepping into doorways to avoid being run over by their cute little cars Рwhich I am sure would still hurt if rolled over my foot!

We then went to visit “Le Celle”, the last place St. Francis of Assisi lived and did his work.¬† His room was beyond spare and the gardens were just lovely.

We also visited the Santuario di Santa Margherita where the amazingly preserved Saint’s body lies in one piece (a miracle, considering other churches have bits and pieces of various saints for all to see!)

Back to La Costa for a snooze or rest and then off for dinner at La Botta Piena, almost across the street from home.  MaryEllen was finally well enough to join us Рand a good thing too!  She is a hoot and a half!

Frank and MaryEllen

Frank and MaryEllen

There we were treated to a fabulous dinner by hosts Elena and Simone.¬† A dinner comprised of six courses!¬† Olive and ricotta mousse, onion flan (Oh, I have begged Linda to get the recipe from Elena – and I shall continue to harass her until I get it!) and veal carpaccio, chickpea soup with spelt and rosemary croutons, spaghetti all’amatriciana, chicken rolls stuffed with sausage and olives and pork with tuna sauce and finally a grape mascarpone charlotte.¬† Lawsy!¬† A total of four different wines were also served to go with each course.

If this was a sign of the rest of the trip, we were going to have to roll me out of there!