30 June 2014

Kiwis for a Kiwi

Being a New Zealander, Stu was delighted to discover that Piemonte has a good climate for growing kiwi fruit! He researched and purchased four vines (2 female and 2 male) then set about making the pergola to support them. The typical optimist: enthusiasm before practicalities. First he had to clear some scrub off the fienile to find enough straight tree branches. Then he erected a lovely rustic contraption which will also serve as a compost bin. He planted the kiwi vines on each corner and into soil enriched with our compost. The vines were promptly watered by a storm which gave them a good dose of nitrogen. We have so much work to do here...but sometimes we just have to put the garden first to ensure that plants are ready for us to enjoy once the renovation is finished...



28 June 2014

'T'is the time for birthing

After our experience earlier this month with a doe and her newly born fawn, we took particular attention to some strange grunting and panting that was taking place on the hill behind the guest bedroom. Stu climbed up to investigate and was given a frighteningly loud bark of a warning by a cinghiale! We wondered if a birthing was under way. Some quick internet surfing told us that mating season is autumn, gestation is 4 months and birthing takes 2-3 hours. We decided to have a cuppa and review the situation in 3 hours. One of us thought it was just lovely that nature was happening within metres of our house (me). The other thought that we should phone the pig hunters (Stu). Since we were at opposite ends of the tolerance spectrum, I did some more surfing to see how long they might remain a close threat and found that cinghiale keep their piglets at the birthing location for 4-6 days only then move them. When the grunting and panting stopped after 3 hours, we decided we could and should give nature time and left them in peace. Sure enough, the paddock was quiet within a week. Over the last few years we have noticed bivvies at various locations in our top paddock and wondered what they were. It is now clear that our quiet little top paddock has been the annual birthing location for cinghiales for many years...

The lavender harvest

Some good friends here have a lavender patch. In spring, they dedicate considerable time into maintaining their crop. It is especially critical that no other fragrant plants grow in the patch, as the oils from other plants would corrupt the purity of the lavender oil during harvest. After days of storms and heavy rain this week, they were finally able to harvest ten trailer loads of lavender. As with most activity in this hilly country, the harvest is a staged event. First the flowers are harvested into a large trailer which is then carted up to the main road by tractor. The load is dumped on the side of the road and the tractor and trailer go down for the next load. Once all of the lavender has been picked and is in place at the roadside, a truck with a grabber arrives to pick the lavender up, dump it into its tray and carry it away to the still for processing. My friends say the aroma wafting around their house at harvest time is simply incredible. Today, in an attempt to get my own wafting thing happening, I "harvested" our lavender. Although harvest is a rather grand term for picking the flowers off two lavender bushes and transferring them to the kitchen in a bucket, I was able to get a little wafting happening. Six bunches are now hanging in the kitchen, their relaxing aroma permeating my very soul...



27 June 2014

The truth is hard to take

We have been treated to regular deer sightings over recent weeks and have been bathing in the thought that they are getting used to our non threatening occupation of their forest. Alas, they have been loitering for other reasons...the juicy new fruit on our apple trees!

26 June 2014

Dinner and opera

Last Sunday, we spent an incredible evening of food and music in a small town near Canelli called Monastero Bormida. The event was hosted by Masca (refer www.mascainlanga.it), a local association which combines culture and environment to create sustainability for the local area. The evening was held in the courtyard of Monastero Bormida's castle which was once an abbey founded in 1050AD. We enjoyed a four course meal while being entertained by three young opera singers. A highlight of the evening was their beautiful rendition of O Sole Mio. I am not sure if living in Italy gets any better than this...

Note: Photos courtesy of Leonie Doyle


25 June 2014

The tatties survived!

Our produce is coming in thick and fast now...peas, beans, tomatoes, chilli, etc. And, joy of joys, potatoes! We can happily announce that our tatties have survived the threat of cinghiale attack! Two months ago, when pig sounds came closer and seemed louder (mating season), we took to worrying about our patch at night and rushing out every morning to see if it had survived. After a few weeks of this, two tired people decided it would be better to set their minds at ease by building a barrier. This was initially red and white tape which was wound around posts placed on the four corners of the patch. It was then enhanced by the addition of aluminium foil strips which hung off the tape. Finally, it became a fence. A bit of work...but well worth it!




15 June 2014

Peas please

Today we were blessed with the first of our produce...sweet green peas and an almost red tomato! To celebrate the little green pearls, we created a lunch of Ligurian trofie, toasted walnuts, crisp herbs and fresh peas...all brought together by a warm garlic-infused olive oil and shards of parmesan cheese.





09 June 2014

Doe, a deer, a female deer...

We were driving home one day this week when we rounded a corner of our driveway to find a young doe standing on the verge staring at us. She hesitated, then ran a few metres away where she stopped to watch us. This is not a normal reaction. Deer usually don't wait around but immediately flee into the forest. There was something about the way she stayed and stared that made me realise she was worried. Then I recalled seeing something move in the grass under her before she fled. As I drove slowly on, I asked Stu to look out of his window (which was closest) to see if there was a fawn in the grass where she had been standing. Sure enough, Stu found a tiny spotted fawn crouching in the grass, trying its hardest to stay still but trembling wildly in fear instead. I drove on as quietly as I could, feeling deeply for how it might be to be newly born, brought to life in a quiet forest, only to have a huge noisy steel machine pass by you a few hours later...

08 June 2014

One for Mum

When my parents visited Canelli with us in September 2009, Mum was particularly impressed with the quality of warm weather fruit, especially the peaches. This one's for her...


07 June 2014

You do what you have to do

When we lived in Switzerland and I was struggling to learn German, my good Swiss friend (who could speak 3 languages) told me that if I got stuck I should try to rephrase what I wanted to say. I have often put this piece of wisdom into practice in Italy. When we ran out of matches last week, replacing them became a priority and I soon found myself in the Tabbaccheria not knowing the word for matches. I took a deep breath, smiled at the man behind the counter and said in my best Italian "I am looking for sticks to commence fire" to which he replied in his best English "Would you like matches?" Sometimes you just try too hard...

05 June 2014

Preserving the beauty

I have progressed with my summer fruit activity, making brandied cherries, kirsched cherries, whiskied apricots and peach muffins! The jars will mean that we can enjoy them long after they stop tempting us at the market...




03 June 2014

Is there anything more beautiful?

This Tuesday, the market was awash with summer fruit! Is there anything more beautiful? My mind tumbles over itself with ideas...brandied cherries, cherry pie, cherry jam, apricot tart, apricot jam, strawberry sauce, eton mess, strawberry jam, peach melba, peach cake, peach jam. The activity will only be limited by my purchase quantities...and by how much snacking I do while I'm pondering...


Lunch visit

On Sunday, our great friends dropped in with a three course lunch! We enjoyed a lovely four hours together over fried green tomatoes, gumbo and cherry pie. They are so skilled that I felt like professional caterers had taken over my kitchen...and they left it spotless too!




01 June 2014

The secret stairs

We have long pondered the challenge of access to the top paddock behind our house. This week Stu started to dig into the hill near the stairs that already go up to the fienile in order to build more stairs that will take us up to the top. The location provides private access because they are behind our security gates. Rather than sitting on the bank, the stairs are lodged into the bank which makes them look rustic and feel like something from Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree books. But it's a massive job. He uses a large crowbar and shovel to carve out the packed bank, then cuts tree roots and pulls out ivy. Once he has a clean step-like shape, he comes down to the woodpile where he chainsaws thick branches into correct lengths for uprights and horizontals that will create retaining walls for the step. Then he climbs back up with an armful of pieces and pounds them into the bank with a sledgehammer. Quite a horror job...but he says "with every step I can see more of the top paddock"...oh to be an optimist!