30 November 2014

It was good...very good...

I posted a few days ago about a truffle that had been given to us by a hunter who frequents our valley with his truffle dog...

Well, today we partook in this little treasure.

I washed it, dried it, shaved it and we ate it on fried eggs for lunch (the traditional contadini way).

It was good...very good...



28 November 2014

Autumn's bounty

Yesterday our kind neighbour, Renzo, invited me to walk our paddocks with him in search of mushrooms and weeds (!?). I have always wanted to learn about the mushrooms that thrive in our valley, hoping that one day I might be confident enough to identify the safe ones then actually pick, cook and eat them. I have also often watched elderly locals bending over in our wet grass to pick green leaves and wanted to know what I was missing out on.

So I dropped what I was doing, dashed into the house to change my slippers for outside shoes and grabbed a bag and knife as instructed by my neighbour. Within seconds I was chasing Renzo down the hill where he was already stooping to look at the ground with great interest.

He explained that the safest mushrooms for me to identify myself are the ones that grow in clusters around the base of dead tree trunks, especially cherry and hazelnut trees. These mushrooms have a little collar on the stem which would help me to identify them from poisonous ones.

Unfortunately we only found one edible mushroom amongst the hundreds of poison ones that were poking up through the grass to tempt us.

Next, Renzo started picking green leaves and telling me to eat them as salad. He explain that "tarrasacco" is very good for the "bladder". I wondered how frequently this salad might send me to the toilet in a rush.

However, since I am constantly on the lookout for healthy and organic eating options, I picked an entire bagful of these leaves and determined to eat them for dinner.

I thanked Renzo for sharing his knowledge and traditions, then took my bounty inside to wash and dress it with olive oil and apple cider vinegar as suggested by my neighbour.

It turns out that the leaves were Dandelion, a common weed that is apparently very good for the gallbladder and liver!

Since they were delicious and also healthy I've already braved the rain today to pick some more for tonight's dinner...

"Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale) offers a number of benefits for the liver and gallbladder.

It promotes optimal digestive function, supports normal bile production (cholagogue), nourishes and boosts overall liver (hepatic) performance and protects the liver from damage.

It is a natural source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and iron and provides vitamins A, B, C, and D.

It acts as a blood purifying agent, is a mild laxative for constipation symptoms and stimulates urinary function to help flush out toxins.

It contains the antioxidant luteolin.

It stimulates a sluggish digestive system which aids the body in removing toxins and other waste and means that the liver does not have to work as hard to remove toxins that remain in the body.

It helps maintain normal blood sugar levels which also aids the liver so it doesn’t have to filter out excess glucose in the blood.

It contains a special sugar (inulin) which promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria which reduces the amount of harmful bacteria in the body so the liver can focus on the process of toxin removal."


Above: Autumn's bounty


26 November 2014

A gift from nature and a kind hunter

The day had smothered us in thick fog from dawn to dusk.

We had been out all afternoon and were opening our barrier to enter our property when we spotted a man and his dog walking across our misty apple orchard.

We have seen this man many times before. He wears the garb of a tartufo hunter: trousers, jacket, hat and gumboots. Clothes to protect against the damp. His dog also has the appearance of a truffle hunter. It has a loping stride, a nose that is constantly in touch with the ground and an excited and expectant air about it.

We had just closed the barrier when we heard the man call to us.

As he approached our car, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a black truffle that he'd just found in our valley. We took the little hard black lump from him, held it, smelled it, congratulated him and returned it.

My nose was still tingling from the aroma of the truffle, a complex mix of garlic, mushroom, compost and earth, when the man gave it back to us with instructions to wait 2 days before eating it!

He smiled and moved off amid our shocked thankyous and goodbyes.

We were left standing in the fog and mist holding a precious 20 gram piece of nature that will give us an exquisite sensory experience when we shave it over fried egg on the weekend...

"Truffles (tartufi) are related to mushrooms. They have a system of root-like structures but unlike mushrooms never emerge from the surface. Instead truffles are formed below the soil close to a tree's root systems and are the "fruit" of another fungus/tree relationship. The fungus that makes truffles can only survive in certain soil conditions such as those created in stands of oak, beech, poplar, birch, hazel, and pine.

Once attached to a root, the fungus will produce one truffle per year, with each type of tree lending a distinctive aroma and flavor to the truffle.

Truffles are usually too expensive for most consumers, except in parts of Northern Italy where they are a key ingredient in local dishes. They are harvested using dogs or pigs in a time-honored tradition. In Piedmonte and Umbria, harvest season is a time of celebration for both truffle harvesters (trifolau) and the towns that host truffle festivals.

The black truffle (tartufo nero) is found in Piedmonte, but also as far south as Umbria. Tartufo nero can withstand the stress of cooking and is often found incorporated into sauces, or spread for bruschetta or crostini. Black truffle omelets are a favorite of Assisi and they can also be sliced raw and served with carpaccio or bresaola."


Above: Our little piece of flavour


24 November 2014

My rose fetish continues

I've waited a long time for Autumn and now it's finally here I can play with roses! And boy did I play! I spent several enjoyable hours this week pruning, trellising and planting roses.

Roses tell you when they're not happy. They rarely die; they simply don't thrive.

One of my bush roses has been moved twice since its original planting and is very happy in its current location, throwing out long healthy canes and blooming profusely.

One of my climbing roses failed to thrive in what I had hoped was a prime position on a garden arch so I have now moved it to a nice warm stone wall.

Another climbing rose thrived beyond belief a couple of years ago but withdrew into itself this year, curling its leaves up and refusing to bloom. Its location simply couldn't be the problem since it had been happy in the past. However a wisteria vine that had been growing across the balcony rail above it had thickened over the last season and stolen sunlight from the rose. A critical inspection revealed that the rose had thrown out two lengthy canes that had penetrated through the wisteria in an attempt to reach sunlight.

I felt incredibly guilty. I had been fostering my wisteria at the cost of my rose.

I decided to cut back the wisteria and trellis the rose along the balcony instead!

Plants tell you how they feel; they talk to you. A good gardener knows to listen...

Above: My four happy roses

Above: The two happy bush roses and one soon-to-be happy climbing rose

Above: The climbing rose now out from under the wisteria, trellised off the wall and up to the balcony

Above: The first bush rose on the fienile


22 November 2014

Destruction is part of our life here

I've come to learn that there's a very fine line between "renovation" and "destruction".

We are again destroying our house under the guise of renovating our downstairs bathroom/laundry.

With the new septic system in place, we are now combining two squashy downstairs rooms (bathroom and laundry) to make a larger bathroom with a smaller laundry in a cupboard.

Stu has been jackhammering fiercely for a couple of weeks. Under the tiles and within the cement slab, there is an utter labyrinth of pipes and tubes of all types. Unfortunately he has discovered these the hard way, bursting our heating pipe as well as our main pipe into the house from the well. Our long suffering plumber has been called urgently twice and a third time today.

If we knew then what we know now we may never have started this job!

Here's the current state of our laundry...anyone have any washing!?



19 November 2014


At 2 degrees outside this morning, a fire in the grate was much appreciated...


How good it is to be alive!

After a week of heavy rain I was excited this morning to see blue sky and it didn't take me long to decide to go hiking.

When the temperature reached 8 degrees I set off in the car in the direction of my favourite 12km route.

I found this route a few weeks ago. I drive up the hill behind our place to a nice altitude (550 metres above sea level) then wrap my headband around my ears, pull my buff down around my neck, clip my belly bag around my waist and strap my nordic walking poles onto my wrists.

Then I set off, walking across an undulating ridge which offers incredible views on both sides. I spend a glorious 2 hours looking down and across at grapevines, hill towns, country properties, shuttered houses, horses trail riding, farmers tending their grapevines and white alps.

The walk offers everything you could hope for...but todays walk also offered death. The hunters were out. I'd been walking for just over an hour when I heard the bells of hunting dogs. Then a shot rang out. The shot was so close that I jumped as I felt my chest vibrate. My first reaction was to check if I was still breathing. When I realised I was, a million questions needed to be answered. What should I do? Should I hide in the scrub? Should I sit down on the road? Should I run away? Should I be still? Should I yell out? What should I yell out?

I felt rather stupid and very exposed. Eventually I convinced myself that deer and cinghiale don't wear pink and purple and that it would be a very poor hunter who shot (at least deliberately) at me!

So I continued walking, pins and needles crawling up my spine lest another shot found me.

I made it back to the car 2 hours after I had set off but far richer for the experience...lungs bursting with oxygen, limbs tingling with the joy of movement and my living and breathing presence on earth confirmed.

Above: A typical view from the ridge...note the alps!

Above: The view driving back down from the ridge through autumn colours with Canelli in the background


18 November 2014

An old copper kettle finds a new home

I have recently discovered the beauty of copper.

Yes, I know it requires polishing but at this early stage in my appreciation of copper I am still finding this enjoyable.

So I was very excited when a special English friend gave me her old copper kettle yesterday. She had treasured the old kettle for at least 40 years and, although she is not sure how old it is, she believes its dents and holes probably make it "a lot older than that"!

"When tea first came to Britain in the second half of the 17th century, it was a luxury only the wealthy could afford.

But the price steadily declined during the 18th century and took a sharp dip in the 19th century when the removal of importing monopolies opened up trade with the Orient. By 1840, tea was served above and below stairs.

The wealthy bought kettles made of silver but the poor used copper kettles because they were cheap but still bright and an excellent conductor of heat.


So this little piece of history is now a treasured member of my collection and shall be regularly massaged with love...and a little polish, of course...


16 November 2014

The Indian feast

I think I can say with confidence that our Indian feast was a success!

This morning we woke to a damp and dismal day. Not very Indian unless you are an Indian from Himachal Pradesh or Kashmir.

We started the heating, did the housework and set the table before sitting down to a late but healthy breakfast of oats, yoghurt, fruit and nuts.

Our 9 wonderful guests arrived just after noon. Their arrival sparked a chain of events which involved warming curries, cooking rices and baking breads. But before long we were all tucking into the various dishes with gusto. Most went back for seconds and were still able to put away a huge slice of coconut cream tart for dessert!

Some left after 4 hours, others after 6 hours and the die-hards after 9 hours!

Above: The feast

Above: A delicious coconut cream dessert provided by a friend

Above: A few slightly non-Indian after dinner choices...and the barman


15 November 2014

Hot food in the cold rain

It continues to rain in what must be the wettest year on record in Piemonte. It is truly horrid. It is hard, heavy and continuous and the new gravel on our driveway threatens to sink into the muddy mire that lies beneath.

In an attempt to distract us from the dismal weather we have decided to hold a feast of Indian food.

I spent today cooking. We have 2 meat curries (vindaloo and sri lankan), 2 vegetarian curries (chole chaat and parippu), 1 vegetable dish (aloo gobi), 2 rices (pulao and plain) and raita.

With the food ready, we will spend tomorrow morning cleaning, lighting the fires and setting the table with an Indian theme before our 10 friends arrive at lunchtime.


The big clothing turnover

Returning from a summery Australia to an autumnal Italy sent us into cold shivers.

Our flimsy cotton clothing, leftovers from summer, just didn't cut it.

So The Big Clothing Turnover became a priority.

We took the opportunity to de-clutter and discard anything that we've been thinking (hoping?) we "might fit into one day". We also took the brave step of discarding our business and formal clothes, along with some old linen.

We now have our clothes in four plastic crates, our shoes in two others and our home has a new freshness about it.


13 November 2014

Surely not again!?

With the chill of Autumn well and truly upon us and our heating system on, it would be hugely inconvenient for Stuart to jackhammer one of our heating system pipes.

But he did. And we are suitably inconvenienced.

Regular readers will know that this tends to be a regular event for us so we set our usual emergency plan into action. Stu dashed out to turn the water off while I made a desperate call to our plumber, who promised "Escapado!". I was sure that he meant he would escape from his current job urgently but when he still hadn't arrived two hours later I wondered if he had meant he was going to escape from us!

We had spent those two hours on our hands and knees in the bathroom, Stu jackhammering a space around the broken pipe to enable Lilo to repair it, me bailing the water out of the bathroom like a desperate sailor in a storm.

Despite our concerns over whether or not Lilo would actually arrive, dark was just descending on our newly cold house when we saw the warm lights of a vehicle coming up the valley.

Lilo looked tired (frustrated?) when he entered the house to view the damage. He walked around, turned valves on and off, cut out a section of the damaged pipe then announced that he would return tomorrow afternoon to repair it.

We waved him off feeling relieved that he had come and hopeful that he would return.

But I thought afterwards that we had probably looked more positive than we felt; inside we were two shipwrecked sailors tired of the rough seas that continue to batter us in our renovation efforts...

Above: The labyrinth of tubes, pipes and drains under our bathroom floor


11 November 2014

Autunno arriva!

When we left for Australia two months ago, our valley was warm and green.

On our return this week we found that the warm had turned to cold and the green had turned to yellow.

After resisting for days, the cold and damp has finally forced us to turn on our caldaia. The first of our bags of pellets has been burned and we are now cosy.

Such is Autumn...

Above: My red rose going to sleep for winter

Above: Cloud hanging in a yellowed valley

Above: Stu taking the first bags of pellets to the caldaia (note the yellow wisteria)


10 November 2014

From the heat to the chill

Our return to Italy a few days ago was celebrated today with the ultimate gastronomical event : the Fiera del Tartufo. This annual event in our little town of Canelli celebrates the truffle harvest.

On a very typical Autumn day (dark, overcast, damp), we ventured into town from our quiet valley to find the streets closed to traffic and alive with people and food stalls.

The stalls were beautifully decorated and laden with local produce.

Since almost all of them offered sampling, we tasted our way around them, stopping to purchase fresh tartufo and fonduta raviolini, tartufo gorgonzola, chocolate hazelnut biscotti, hazelnut torrone (nougat), a selection of salamis (contadina, barolo, tartufo) and a magnificent piece of herb and red wine marinated air dried pork which we will continue to dry in our kitchen for Christmas!

Our lunch consisted of hot roasted marrone (chestnuts) and farinata (fried chickpea), eaten as we walked.

Just after midday, the mid Autumn weather turned slightly more late Autumn. The temperature dropped, the sky darkened and a few drops of rain could be felt.

We headed home to put the fire on, our aromatic truffle purchases in hand.

Above: Our air dried pork hanging in the kitchen


09 November 2014

A real live Norman Bates!?

Most readers know that we have travelled extensively in both developed and developing countries. In all of this travel we have generally met normal, nice people.

It took a trip to the isolated Goomburra Valley in Queensland, Australia to find a person who was so difficult and unpredictable that we found ourselves in a state of mild terror during our stay.

We named this person "Norman Bates".

Norman and his (lovely) wife own/manage the Goomburra Valley Camping Ground. The ground sits in an incredibly beautiful valley. There is a stream which carries pure water down from the Main Range. There are tall gums, inquisitive possums and birds of all colours that screeched "hello" as they landed at our campsite.

Everything appeared normal until we'd paid (upfront) for our 5 night stay. We hoped that the sheer beauty of the location would offer us peace and relaxation.

Then Norman made his presence felt. He strutted around his small camping ground as if it was a cattle ranch. Akubra hat on head, thumbs in front pockets, enamel swaggie cup in hand, cigarette dangling from lips, he pretended to watch his flock of 20 sheep...but really he was watching us...

One day we went for a drive. On our return at dusk I glanced over at Norman's house. At the window I saw someone looking out at us: a dark silhouette wearing an akubra...

One night as we placed our lamb chops on the BBQ, I heard a sound from Norman's house. I looked over to see the akubra watching us from the verandah. It was still watching us 20 minutes later...

Another night, taking heed of notices around the camping ground that warned us of snakes, we turned on 2 spotlights to light the way to our camper. Just as we arrived at our camper, the lights went out. We went back to investigate the apparent electrical fault only to see the akubra creeping back to his house. We wondered how long he'd been stalking us...

For 5 long pre-paid nights we had short showers (lest a knife found our bodies through the shower curtain!) and willed ourselves quickly to sleep at night (lest a dagger pierce the canvas of our tent!)...