31 July 2014

Sugo pomodoro!

Today I ventured out to the tomato patch and again found the crop out of control. So i returned to the house, collected my little picking basket and returned to attack it. Half an hour and several trips later, 8 kilograms of tomatoes were waiting for some action in the kitchen.

I decided the time was right for "sugo pomodoro", the pure tomato sauce that can be used in almost all Italian meals.

An hour later, 12 large jars full of a rich red sauce were cooling on the bench.

I will have a break tomorrow but will have to repeat the exercise the next day because today's 8 kilograms of tomatoes came off a third of the plants only...so the other plants are still waiting!



29 July 2014

Fienile renovation

I have been talking about our plans and preparations for the renovation of our fienile so I thought it was about time I shared our "before" (now) and "after" (dream) with you.

We are waiting for a few quotes for two main projects:

1. The shoring up of the walls, reconstruction of the roof and laying of a smooth concrete floor.

2. The excavation of earth behind the building, erection of a retaining wall and laying of a concrete slab.

If prices are extreme, then our dream may have to stay a dream...but we have our fingers crossed...tightly...


Source: unknown (apologies to the publisher)


Two little walnut trees

These two little walnut trees seeded themselves amongst my roses in early spring. Ever since then I have been nurturing them with a view to eventually planting them in our walnut tree paddock.

Yesterday I decided they were strong enough to survive an initial replant into pots. Once they get a bit bigger I'll plant them in their permanent location.



28 July 2014

Production update

It is with mixed feelings that I announce my temporary retirement from plum jam production. We have more than enough but the real reason is that the plum season is almost over, with many of the remaining fruit now splitting and falling. I picked the last of the best fruit off the trees today and made several batches of stewed fruit which I will freeze so that we can enjoy a taste of summer when our cold winter is upon us.

My relish production is also over. We have more than enough of 3 types of relish in our stock. However the tomatoes are still hanging thick and heavy on the tomato plants so I will make tomato sauce out of the remaining crops, which is useful for almost everything I cook!

Stu dug up a quarter of the potato patch today and was very pleased with his bounty. The healthy red tatties are now drying in the cantine before he stacks them in a cane basket for longterm keeping.


26 July 2014

Another idea!

In my continuing quest to bottle all of our ripening fruit, I have made red plum coulis, which will be used at some later date as a tangy sauce over a creamy cheesecake.

Today I will stew as much as I can to freeze for winter.


25 July 2014

A load of precious wood

This week some very kind and incredibly generous friends gave us a load of aged hardwood for our fienile renovation. They needed to move it off their property so that their builder could commence work on a retaining wall.

We met at their house at 7am. The plan had been to have a slow breakfast of spritz (spumante and orange juice) and quiche but the builder was too efficient for us and arrived before the quiche was cooked! We did manage to down a glass of spritz though while he loaded his truck.

As we drove off to guide the truck driver to our place, our friends told us they would bring the quiche (which was sending off stomach-awakening aromas) to our place when it was cooked and have breakfast there.

The truck followed our car home. It was an eventful trip, with the truck driver having to stop at a major crossroads to tighten the straps on the load. While he was doing this, several vehicles of the law drove past: 2 polizia motorbikes and 2 carabinieri cars! They took a slight interest in the truck, just enough to have me mentally scrambling for dialogue to explain where the wood came from and why we didn't have a receipt (in Italy you must be able to show a receipt for all new purchases to prove payment of VAT)! However the law continued on so we did too.

Stu helped the driver to offload the wood at our place, then put it to bed under protective tarps.

Within half an hour our friends had arrived with a steaming quiche and a happy breakfast was enjoyed under our pergola, our very inadequate contribution being 2 bottles of spumante.

We are still trying to work out how to repay our friends for the wood!





Septic update

Here's my very tired man late this afternoon. Today he directed all the various pipes through separate inspection boxes. At this corner of the house we have black water, grey water, storm-water from the roof and storm-water from the retaining wall and paved area behind the house. It's a very busy corner...




24 July 2014

Septic update

While I have been picking, cutting and boiling approximately 5,000 pieces of fruit and vegetables (see recent postings), Stu has been continuing with the septic project.

First he manually emptied our very full septic tank, initiallywith a bucket then with an immersible pump. I am glad I was inside the house when he did this although I dd emerge just in time to see him hose off the immersible pump. I saw just enough solids to send my stomach into continuous revolutions and I can still smell it as I write this posting!

Next he built himself a tent using the equipment we recently purchased for our expeditions to the European cycling tours. A cover such as this is utterly critical for any white-skinned person working outside in an Italian summer.

Then he dug a huge hole just outside the bathroom to reveal the waste pioes. The hole was so huge that he could fit himself into it! He uncovered the same mess of pipes and rubbish that he had found inside/under the house...disconnected copper pipes from the old well, electricity cables, old silicon tubes, broken tiles and bricks, etc. Sorting this detritus was a slow processs because he had to be careful not to compromise any other service to the house or put himself in danger of electrocution!

Next he jackhammered the cement and stones out of the wall so that he had a clear view into the bathroom. As he disconnected the pipes, he casually mentioned that I shouldnt use the toilet or sinks for a while.

Then it started to rain. Torrentially.

Luckily the tent gave total rain protection too so he was able to reconnect the pipes and install an inspection box. You will remember from previous postings that our black water (toilet) and grey water (everything else) had been joined inside/under the house, which is illegal. When Stu reconnected the pipes yesterday, he separated the two waters so that there are now two pipes which can be connected to the correct parts of our new septic system when it is installed,

We are now waiting for a quote from a muratore to dig the huge holes necessary for the installation of the system. We hope to have the work completed within the first two weeks of August...






21 July 2014

Enough is enough?

I have made 80 jars of jam and relish.

"Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little"...Epicurus (Greek philosopher)

So I ask:

At what point is enough jam and relish actually enough?

At what point can I stop preserving every piece of fruit and vegetable that ripens in our valley?

Our area is UNESCO certified!

While we have spent the last month celebrating the inclusion of our area on the UNESCO World Heritage List, I have neglected to announce it on my blog!

So here goes...

In June 2014, 6 specific areas in the Langhe area in Piemonte were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. One of these areas was "Canelli and Asti Spumante".

UNESCO "encourages the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage". For a site to be added to UNESCO's World Heritage List it must have "outstanding universal value". The list currently includes almost 1,000 sites of which 50 are in Italy.


20 July 2014

Not what we planned...but good anyway!

When we woke in our BnB this morning, mountain mist and low cloud awaited us. So we gave our planned trip to the Col du Galibier a miss and set off for Sestriere and Pinerolo instead.

Very soon the cloud had turned into rain but that didn't stop us finding a farmers market at a small town in the valley below Sestriere called Pragelato. We parked the car and walked under our umbrellas along a swiftly flowing river and past a ski jump arena that had been used in the Torino Winter Olympics in 2006.

Near the market we heard music...strange discordant metallic sounds that were not unpleasant. As we turned a corner we saw several small pens that contained cattle. Each of the incredibly healthy animals in these pens carried a thick leather collar around its neck from which hung a heavy copper bell. I had never seen such huge bells before and stood for a long time to watch and listen. When we finally entered the market, the first stall we came across was one selling these bells! Some were plain while others had colourfully decorated collars or painted bells. If I hadn't already seen them on the cattle I would have assumed that they were a tourist gimmick!

Other stalls were selling cheeses, honeys and salamis, while still others sold home-crafts made of slate, wood and dried flowers. All had a distinctive mountain or high altitude influence.

Further down the valley we drove through 4 villages that were festooned in coloured ribbon and bows. The buildings in Villaretto were draped in yellow, Balma in blue, Roreto in red and Casteldelbosco in green! We have no idea why...but if anyone can enlighten us it would be much appreciated!


19 July 2014

Two hours from the Tour

We are so lucky to live where we do...and we are constantly grateful for our opportunities here. Our location between the alps and the sea mean that we have relatively easy access to both.

We utilised our access to the alps this week to watch Stage 14 of the Tour de France. There were 3 steep and/or long climbs in this stage but we chose to wait for the riders at the Col du Lautaret which sits at 2057 metres altitude. While this Col wasn't the highest point, it offered the best parking opportunities. It was a fortunate choice because we heard later that the roads to the other high points were closed to traffic last night!

We left our BnB at 6.30am and were in our chosen position (after several changes and a few domestics!) by 7.30am.

Our road was closed at 10.00am. Closure heralds a lovely peaceful silence during which the waiting crowd settle themselves. This peace is short-lived though...soon the people realise that they have the freedom to walk all over the road, graffiti the bitumen, talk, laugh, cycle, dance, party, blow horns...and all of this comes to a head with the arrival of the caravan.

After dancing to the music of the caravan and scrambling for the treasures thrown from the passing vehicles, the crowd settles again in a tense wait. The next signal to get excited comes with the arrival of helicopters (4 of them!) which initially fly over to view the situation at the summit but soon become constant companions as they hover over the cyclists winding their way up the climb.

When the breakaway and peleton finally arrive they pass far too quickly. Then a stunned hush falls over the crowd as each person comes to terms with the end of a great day...





16 July 2014

Its not only me who feels the responsibility

Our plum trees are heavily laden with fruit. While this is wonderful it also stresses me because I feel a great sense of responsibility towards nature and its bounty: I simply "must" preserve it!

In preparation for my looming kitchen activity, I count my stock of jars and find them wanting. A quick trip to the supermarket followed where we bought 30 more Bormioli jars and lids. As we left the supermarket to walk to our car, we heard someone call from the paddock beside the car park. We have been watching this paddock for years now. In the colder months it is full of pigs and in the warmer months it is empty. It's just a small farm but the sense of traditional small Piemontese farming is strong and the place is organised, interesting and pretty.

We looked over to where the call came from and saw a small old man standing behind the wire fence beckoning to us. Our initial thoughts were suspicious and unkind: "Is it a trap?" and "Is he a beggar?" and "Is he simple or insane?". Thankfully our better sides emerged triumphant and we walked over to him.

His face wrinkled into a warm smile and he chatted continuously through gappy teeth about his fruit trees, all the while waving a heavy plastic bag at us. When we looked into the bag, we saw that it was full of ripe red plums. Still suspicious of his intentions, i asked him how much he wanted for the bag of plums. He wrinkled up, laughed, waved the bag again and exclaimed "Niente!". He then proceeded to lift the wire from the bottom of the fence. I watched his thin boney hands struggle with the wire until he eventually found a spot where he could lift the fence just high enough for him to pass the bag through. I took it from him and thanked him gratefully.

Of course, while I had relieved this man's need to make use of his fruit, I had unwittingly compounded my own preservation pressures! When I got home, I launched myself on our plum trees and plucked 4kg...which of course I then had to make into jam!

This is a typical July day for me: I pick 4kg of tomatoes, bring them into the house and make 9 jars of relish! I go back out and pick 3kg of red plums, bring them into the house and make 12 jars of jam! I go back out and pick 3kg of yellow plums, bring them back into the house and make 4 containers of stewed fruit for the freezer!

Thankfully admidst all this pressure the aroma of freshly harvested lavender drying in the kitchen helps me to relax...eventually...




14 July 2014

Let them bee

As you know, Stu has been preparing for the installation of the new septic system. The grey and black water pipes in the house have been found and are ready to be separated, the equipment has been delivered and various holes have been dug around the place to identify where external pipes currently run and where they will run in the future.

While I have generally coped well with the mole-infested appearance of our lawn, I coped less well with the news that Stu needed to dig at the front of the house to find the kitchen grey water. A beautifully blooming french lavender at the digging spot has had scores of native bees humming all over it every day for weeks. Supporting this fragile species is an absolute priority for us so we agreed to let them feast a while longer before we harvested the flowers so that Stu could dig.

This morning when we cut the blooms the air around the house was pungent with lavender oil. Six more huge bunches are now hanging in the kitchen...and half of the lavender still remains on the bush for the bees...



13 July 2014

A cleaner septic waste

We have made a significant purchase towards the septic project: we have purchased the new septic system itself!

We had hoped to fit the various elements into the back of our car but unfortunately almost every element was too big so we needed the shop to deliver them. There was sudden panic when we saw the size of the truck. The condition of our driveway is not ideal for large vehicles, with narrow bridges, sharp turns, potholes and overhanging branches. We voiced our concerns to the boss who suggested that we take the truck driver to view the road first.

Happy in the knowledge that this would offload our responsibility for the truck, we piled into the car. We drove in silence until the car turned off the street and into our driveway. The truck driver immediately started to make satisfied grunts and voice the odd "buona". To ensure his expectations remained realistic, I maintained a commentary, warning him when a bridge or a sharp turn loomed or when a tree might threaten our very progress. Despite my concerns, he continued with his grunts and "buonas". When we arrived at the house, i got out of the car to highlight the narrow space through the main gate and explain the small turnaround area which could in fact be soft under wheel (how does one say "bog" in Italian anyway?).

In the end, the driver was happy with the road so we returned to the shop where we paid for the equipment while the driver loaded it onto the truck. Just before midday both vehicles set off, the car containing two nervous procurers and the truck containing their purchases.

It was a worrying drive to the house as we watched our expensive new equipment roll around and crash into the sides of the truck. The situation didnt improve as the truck squeezed across bridges, tore through vegetation with its loading/unloading crane and rocked and skidded on the soft surface at the house!

After the equipment was unloaded, we watched the truck wobble back down the driveway and shatter one of its headlights on a plum tree.

We now have several very big and very bright (yellow) modules outside our house. On several occasions since delivery I have seen Stu moving the pieces around like a boy building a truck out of lego...





12 July 2014

We relish a good relish...

A few short hours of labour this morning produced 9 large jars of tomato relish out of the 4kg of tomatoes we picked yesterday. Unfortunately, tomato relish is Stu's alltime favourite...so tonight there are only 8.5 jars left!