Weekend Writing Prompt #104 – Meander

A word prompt to get your creativity flowing this weekend.  How you use the prompt is up to you.  Write a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a chapter for your novel…anything you like.  Or take the challenge below – there are no prizes – it’s not a competition but rather a fun writing exercise.  If you want to share what you come up with, please leave a link to it in the comments.  Shoot! Forgot to thank Sammi for hosting!

Word Prompt

Meander

Challenge

 

I could not help but remember one particular day when I was in Siena and got unbelievably lost.  One wrong turn and you are way not where you think you are!  Needless to say, I meandered more than my share.  Didn’t have a Fitbit at the time, but my phone said I clocked in more than 30K steps!

Walked up this street

Then down this other

Stepped to the side

Then up another

 

I have no fear

I am not lost

I turned to the left

This one I crossed?

 

Back to the right

I’ll find my way

I’ve meandered far

Have I gone astray?

 

 

 

Part of the Plan – Friday Fictioneers

Good Friday on Wednesday, my peeps!  Yep.  Another week has flown by.  The sun is shining brightly but it is still cold here in Quebec.  I’m having trouble visualising spring, the snow is so high still.  If this house had been settled before yesterday, I would be on the beach with my sisters and mother!  Oh well, I’ll just have to book something after I move by May 1st.

Thank you, always to Rochelle for challenging us to write 100-word stories that hopefully entertain you!  This week she chose c.e. ayr’s photo which reminded me of Italy.

Join in on the fun, why don’t you?

Click me! Click me!

 

Part of the Plan

Whose Vespa is parked outside the door?

Mine, why?

Yours? Really? Since when are you the Vespa type?

There’s a type? Where the hell did you get that notion?

Of course there is. You watch the movies. Any time there is someone driving a Vespa, they are well-to-do types who live in Italy, have al fresco parties with good food and wine and—oh… I get it…

What?

I see what you’re doing. Taking this whole visualisation thing a bit far, no? Wouldn’t it be better to just go back and visit Italy?

But I don’t want to come back.

Cook in Tuscany – La Chiusa, A Surprise, Innocenti and Farewell

*** EIGHT – yes, EIGHT!!  months have gone by since I returned from Tuscany.  I had so many issues with my computer that I had put this aside to finish later and later never seemed to come.  I am now, if you don’t mind, ready to finish the telling of this fabulous life-changing (for me) trip! ***

♣♣♣TWO YEARS – yes, officially TWO YEARS have, as of today, gone by since I started my Cook in Tuscany Trip.  I am not counting my day in Zug because that would have made yesterday the official two-year mark.  Though I am not pro-resoution, I have promised myself to finish every project I have started and that includes this one.♣♣♣

Now where was I….

Sigh, the last full day in Montefollonico, at La Costa with this fabulous group that made the start of my trip so wonderful. The next morning most would be hopping the van to Chiusi-Chianciano Station to continue their adventures elsewhere or return home.  But till then, we had a full day of wonderful stuff!

As per usual, we had our breakfast in the closed-in veranda before making our way to our last cooking class.  It is kinda funny that we had the van, considering how close we were!  We could easily have walked there and back but hey, why not?  And it’s not like any of us knew where we were going anyway.

This time we made our way to the restaurant La Chiusa, run by Michelin-star chef Dania, a woman who is somewhere in her 70’s but does not dress “accordingly” (whatever that is supposed to be)!  She is one sexy lady!  Though divorced, her husband still works with her.  How very European, eh?

Dania is very artistic and she showed us how to decorate plates with zucchini and beet purées.  We made stuffed zucchini flowers, pesto risotto, chicken stew, caramel nests, fig and caramel ice cream.  The colour of the egg yolks… I have no words.  And this standard for them!

Once most of the mains were started, Dania brought us through to her gardens, which were still amazing in September.  Huge kale, leeks, rows and rows of rosemary, basil, eggplants, peppers, fig trees, zucchini with their blossoms – it was amazing to walk through, while Dania chattered away, occasionally translated by the lovely Geraldine – same who had translated on truffle-hunting day.  I think I would spend hours on this bench, dreaming of what to pick next…

Group photo!

We then went into the “pasta” kitchen where Antonietta had us making ravioli stuffed with ricotta and lovely gnocchi.

All that hard work meant we got to eat al fresco on the terrace.

To return “home”, we decided to walk this time.  It was just up a hill, less than a kilometre and let’s face it, walking was not a bad idea.  As we entered the gates of Montefollonico, we were chattering and laughing when I heard “Dale?”.

What the… I spun around and there was Pierre.  One of Mick’s close friends and former clients.  Oh. Em. Gee.  You cannot make this stuff up!  I mean, come ON!  This is not THE rocking place of Tuscany.  This tiny village is tucked away in the middle of nowhere!  I can still hear Donna saying:  “You turned French Canadian in front of my eyes!”  Speaking of eyes, the whole gang got all misty-eyed at seeing us hug.  Pierre looked at me, then up at the sky and let out a “Mick, tabarnac!”  He said he was a little bit of a believer but now was full-fledged.  I had no idea he and his wife, Geneviève, were there on vacation.  And it was his in-laws who wanted to go visit there.  What were the chances?

Pierre and Me

We exchanged emails and made arrangements to hook up in two days.  So. Very. Cool.

We had a few hours to kill before our next adventure and Sandy wanted to deliver an apron to Dania in thanks.  So I joined Donna and her for a walk back to La Chiusa and Dania.

Our last excursion was down the street from LaCosta to Innocenti Wines.

We were greeted by Vino, Vittorio Innocenti’s sweet dog.  We entered and a few feet in, found ourselves in a fairly dark and musty wine cellar with the big casks.  Vittorio and Laura (Geraldine’s mum) were waiting for us to give us a tour.  Not a very big one!  The place is quite small and feels very intimate.

It was our last night together! How quickly it passed.  How much fun we had.  The memories created will remain forever, of that I am certain.  Friendships created and with the magic of Facebook, maintained.

Our last supper was at La Costa in the closed veranda as the evening was quite cool.  We had a lovely feast of pork chops and the lemon roasted potatoes and balsamic roasted cipollini, three types of crostini (mushroom, roasted tomato and olive), salad and a birthday cake for Cindi and Alison!  A perfect ending to a perfect week in perfect company.  Linda and George gave us each a lovely ceramic plate as a memento.  We would save our good-byes for the morrow.

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A Tuscan Feast

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living…”
Dione Lucas

 As this is a post about food and Italy, here’s a little dinner music to keep you company as you read 😉

I thought for sure that this morning I would be suffering from dysania, but no.  The alarm clock went off for François at 6:25 and I was wide-awake.  Dammit.  I had been planning on sleeping in and being totally lazy today.

For those of you who don’t know, in September 2016, I went to Tuscany all by myself.  BEST. TRIP. EVER.  My first week of that trip was spent with the fabulous Cook in Tuscany group, created by the wonderful and irrepressible hosts, Linda and George, and 13 other fantabulous participants, learning how to cook Tuscan food and experiencing a lot of what the area had to offer.  A dream of mine since forever.

Fast-forward to last night.  Okay, maybe not so fast.  It has been one and a half years since said trip.  It was about bloody time I had my sisters and their hubbies over to show off what I had learnt.  (Thank you, Tracy, for nudging me…)

I warned them to come bellies empty because I had a lot to show them!

“I like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work.
Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.”
Robert Farrar Capon

To get us started on the right foot, I served Aperol Spritz – did I take a picture?  No.  So right.  With our cocktails we had two kinds of bruschette.  Bean and onion and the classic tomato.  I only cut and toasted so many slices so that no one over-exaggerated…

Once they had a little food in their bellies, I put them all to work!  To truly appreciate Pici, one must roll with the dough 😉

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
Laurie Colwin

Having worked for their supper, they were then allowed into the dining room for the first course, a Tuscan tomato and bread soup.  Now.  I may have screwed up a bit.  I had toasted my bread ahead of time and was supposed to add it to my soup in bits and pieces till I felt there was enough.  In my usual over-zealousness, I dumped the whole bowl into the pot.  Um.  Can we call it Bread and Tomato soup instead?  No one seemed to mind and hey, Tuscan cooking is all about stretching out what one has….  All around, it was declared delicious.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Julia Child

As I had not quite finished preparing my crumbs for the pici, I had them all come back, with their glass of wine, into the kitchen to keep me company (next house, OPEN CONCEPT).  This was a very interactive meal, in case you’ve not noticed 😉

When in Sienna, I went to visit one of the Frescobaldi vineyards, Castel Giocondo, in Montalcino.  I splurged (BIG time) and bought two bottles of their Brunello.  These I kept for this special night.  We decided to decant each one and oh wow.  They were both fantastic.

Pici now cooked and sautéed, it was back to the dining room!  Before Tuscany became the “go-to” vacation spot, even for Italians, they were quite poor.  Salt was used sparingly on food, kept mostly for preserving.  Not everyone could afford cheese, so they “cheated” by cooking stale bread crumbs in olive oil.  It truly gives incredible flavour.  Everyone loved their pasta – it was theirs, they rolled it, after all!

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
M.F.K. Fisher

While we were enjoying our pasta, the pork tenderloin and grilled veggies were being warmed in the oven so there was no longer a need to dance between rooms.

I did, however, remember that I had a bottle of Grappa.  Instead of sipping it as a digestif after the meal, we used it as a “Trou Normand” – a shot which, as they say, serves to make room for the next course.

This was a cheat in the whole Italian evening and I may get a frown from a true Italiano but I’m willing to take my chances.  Besides, the deed is done.

We’re still smiling.  Certainly  not because we are overstuffed.  Yet.

You still with me?

The meal is not quite done!  Time for dessert.  I made panna cotta with two sauces, chocolate and strawberry.  Pick one, pick none or pick both!

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch. ”
James Beard

Coffee was served and one would think that it ended there, right?  Wrong.

A little Vin Santo and Cantucci to cap it all off… hoping no one would be feeling crapulous after such a feast!

“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas – fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”
Anthony Bourdain

 

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? 😀

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. 😀

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!

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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….” 😀

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… 😉

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! 😉 Plus! There was a wedding going on (pretend I am happy to have people marring my perfect photo…)

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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 – they 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 (surprisingly 😉 ), 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 soufflé, 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…

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