Saturday, August 9, 2014

Two Years, Two Lunches In Valiano



  I'm hungry.
  I'm thinking about how great it would be to snap my fingers and be magically transported to Valiano, a small town just on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. It's just off the road between Castiglione del Lago and Montepulciano, the SS454... a lovely little drive, indeed.

  We happened onto Valiano like we happen onto most places we love….by chance. A drive in the countryside to look for a painting location, turns into the discovery of a great place to stop for a wonderful lunch.

  In this particular case, I'm hungry for Piccola Trattoria Guastini, in Valiano. We've eaten here twice, two consecutive years, for lunch. I think this will be a must visit every year now. 




The entrance to the trattoria, and it's patio area.

  I didn't write about our first visit in 2013, so I'm going to now… 
  It was a really warm day, and Johnny and I had rented bikes which we had fun riding around the nearby Lago di Montepulciano. On an earlier visit to this charming little town, we had stopped to take a look at the menu here, and liked what we saw. The plan was a bike ride, lunch, and painting. afterwards.

  We were so happy to have made a reservation for one of the outdoor tables. They have a lovely patio, with views over the valley and hills. 

  
An extra treat…all the cool light fixtures are made by our pal, Tonino!

  

  We made ourselves quite comfortable, cooled down a bit, and ordered a wonderful Tiburzi Santambra, a sangiovese blend from the Montefalco area. 











  We enjoyed a first course of locally produced mozzarella, paired with sweet tomatoes from the south, and drizzled with local olive oil, of course.
  It made for a nice bite after our biking adventure…ahhhhh.





The colors of the Italian flag, in all their deliciousness.



  I was happy to see a few vegetarian options on the menu, though one of the specialties is a pigeon ravioli. Maybe in another life, but probably not.
 
  Johnny just asked me to order whatever I thought would be good, so I did. For Mr. J, the house made tagliatelle with forest mushrooms of the season:


Mmmm, mmm, mmmmm.


  And for me, the ravioli stuffed with pecanzola, a pecorino cheese infused with gorgonzola, served with really well caramelized onions. 
  Oh. My. God. The sharpness of the cheese combined with the sweetness of the onions…deee-vine. 
  Perfect.

  We shared a side of braised field greens with olive oil, garlic and lemon. Typical in this area and season.




Doesn't this look good? 




I can't get enough of the field greens. They just taste so right.



  Since we had taken that long bike ride earlier, we just had to have a sweet treat to end our lunch. Johnny chose a mix of home made biscotti with a small tumbler of vin santo, a dessert wine that is sweet, nutty, and oh-so-smooth.




You must dip the biscotti in the vin santo for full effect.


  I loved my panna cotta with a marmalade of blood orange and fig, if I remember right. 
  Panna cotta is a cooked cream, and a very rich indulgence, for sure. But, hey….the bike ride, remember?




Panna cotta, I just gotta…….la la la la la.



  The inside dining room is nice, too. I can just imagine it at night, with all of Tonino's lights giving off a soft, warm glow….we'll really have to try dinner here next time. It's not that far to drive. You just have to keep your eyes peeled at night time for hedgehogs and porcupines….









  So, as I mentioned, we've been twice now, so I want to share the equally amazing lunch we had this year at Piccola Trattoria Guastini.

  This time the day was perfect…not too warm, and clear views all around.
  We started with a nice white….I think a vermentino, but I honestly don't remember. With whites, we will usually go with vermentino, grechetto, or trebbiano. These are all easy going, and "nice on a warm day" sort of wines.




Pretty as a picture….



  Again, I ordered for both of us, and it was really easy. I wanted to try both of the vegetarian antipasti available on this day, so….we did.





Their version of "Panzanella", or bread salad. So lovely and so refreshing.
The tomatoes were sweet, with some crunchy celery in there, too. Just a nice touch of garlic….




  I couldn't resist trying this vegetable "tortino"…it's sort of a small baked veggie "pie", only this definition doesn't come close. Just look at it, and you'll get the idea...





Tortino di Verdure…Vegetable pie.
I liked the little crispy, just this side of burnt, bits...




  On the day we went this year, there was only one vegetarian pasta dish, so I ordered it for both of us, and it was wonderful. Ravioli with ricotta and wild asparagus, served with more asparagus on top. 
  The wild asparagus is nothing like the kind we buy in the markets here. It has a sweet and subtle flavor, with a touch of "mineral" to it. It's so thin. 
  Reminds me of those old fashioned asparagus plants we all had in our bedrooms as little hippie kids. 




So good with a dusting of parmigiano reggiano.
I remember the filling being so warm and succulent-creamy.
Perfection on a plate...


  Even though we hadn't taken a long bike ride, which is just a lame excuse anyway….we both ordered a sweet treat…and didn't have a single millisecond of regret.
  Johnny loves cinnamon, honey and cheese, so it was natural for him to try this very interesting dessert…It was a locally made soft cheese, drizzled with local honey, and topped with special pistachios from Sicily, and a good sprinkling of cinnamon.
  Not a yogurt, not mascarpone, I think it may have been a sheep's cheese. It was quite nice.











  Me? Well, why fool around with it. I just had the most chocolate-y thing on offer. It was served with preserved blueberries in syrup. Not bad….not bad at all….
  I liked it very much, and we dipped into each others plates and mixed stuff up even. A great combo together, in fact.




I can see myself taking this photo in the spoon..hehehehehe.





Oh, and espresso, natch.

  Shockingly, because all I wanted to do was nap, we stopped nearby afterwards and Johnny set up and painted. 
  Go figure. Must have been the espresso.




Painting just below Valiano



  Ok, maybe I did sneak a nap in the car….just a weensy bit. 
  It was a hard day, man.


If you are anywhere near the Lago Trasimeno area, you'll want to visit Piccola Trattoria Guastini!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Finding Comfort In The Garden July 2014




  I have not been up to writing lately. I'm still in the middle of a pretty significant family ordeal that has me here, there and everywhere…. in body and spirit.

  When I'm at my own home, which is only a couple of days a week at this time, I find myself being soothed and "brought down" a few notches by my time in the garden. 
  I can lose myself for several hours just puttering away at nothing. I'll put my audio book on as my over-taxed brain gets the respite it so desperately needs right now.

  I just had no idea how important this simple time spent weeding, watering or turning the compost pile would be to me at a critical moment in life. 


  So…. I just wanted to take a few moments to share the photos I've taken over the last couple of weeks in the garden. I enjoy getting up close to the flowers, fruits, veggies and foliage. It makes me feel small.
In a good way….

  If you are a regular to this blog, you already know how much I love variegation in my garden.
 The love-fest continues…….



I think I now have five of these wonderful shrubs around the yard.
Coprosma "Marble Queen". Here, I like it against the dark green behind...




My pal Tasha gave me this fern when she divided hers.
The ornamental oxalis was a surprise...




This viburnum looks as though autumn has arrived….





The variegated plectranthus is a beast, and I love it.
Especially here, with the burgundy leaves of the maple.



I know…it's a whole lot of variegation going on here.
But….is that so wrong???
Plus, this combination takes hardly any water in part shade.
  



  In California, we are having major issues with lack of water. I have let so many water-hog plants go. When I first created the garden, we were in a few wet years, and water didn't seem to be as much of a problem. Now, it's crucial to keep the watering under control. Fortunately, most of my garden is pretty well established, so it does ok.

  Like I said, I let plants go if they can't take the new water restrictions….it's not easy, but it is essential.
  I started using more and more simple succulents a few years ago, and now they provide me with enough "babies" to spread all around the garden. I like.





Ahhhhhh…succulents AND variegation!
A match made in garden heaven.




I have posted these bad boys before…but you have no idea how huge they are!
Really, the size of large platters, not plates…platters. They get the benefit of
all the yummy food I give the nearby climbing rose.





My Grandma called these "pork & beans".
Perfect as a border in the rose garden.



A little "garden moment" going on here.
The begonia is another gift from Tasha's garden.






This small aloe was left by a fan of the gallery.
He took some of my babies in exchange. Perfect.



  I'm not big on super fragrant plants… if they are too sweet, it bugs my sinuses.
  I do have a couple of choice plants for the area around the fire pit, which is where our main "hanging out" takes place. This is also where we have the gigantic red pot with the fishies in it. The small bubbling fountain is a nice touch with a glass of wine in the evening.



My most favorite fragrant flower ever…white heliotrope.
The purple is ok, but the white variety is like cookies baking.
Really good cookies.




The white  heliotrope from the picture, above, lives on a small side table between
the lounge chair and this fish pond/pot. A nice spot to read.



  I know that inside, these lilies, below, would make my sinuses explode…. but in the outer reaches of the garden, they send their perfume wafting through on the slightest breeze. 
  I planted them very early on. I got an offer of fifty bulbs for…maybe it was twenty dollars? I couldn't resist. They are super easy, and tough. Over the years, they have dwindled down in number, but I'm glad. I couldn't take too many. They are so powerful!





So pretty! So perfume-y!








  Another favorite of mine, again from Tasha's garden, is a sweet little hardy geranium which takes some shade…and has variegated leaves. It dies back in the winter, and can be overwhelmed easily by other plants, so I keep it safe and sound in a pot….being watched over by Saint Francis. 
  I think it's a nice little scene:






Anyone out there know the name of this little charmer?

  



  Finally, after too many years to remember, I found a spot to put my Geranium pratense "Mrs. Kendall Clark". 
  I have tried it everywhere…and no place worked very well. Either it was too sunny or too much 
shade , not enough water…anyway, she now resides in an old cement sink that came with the house. 
  I think it's big enough to be a perfect container, and she gets good afternoon sun here, too. Plus, I have total control over water and soil conditions in a large container like this.
  Now I remember why I purchased her in the first place- The magnificent flowers, of course!





Oooooooooooohhhh.


Yummy.



My gardening friend, Laurie, gave me a little bromeliad as a hostess gift sometime ago. We had a nice garden visit, I remember, and afterwards, I found this wire basket that was doing a whole lot of nothing in the yard….so I planted this gem in some mossy stuff, watched it get way bigger….and this month she bloomed for the first time! 
Thanks, Laurie!!






I am keeping fingers crossed for lots more spikes of bloom.



  I have a few little bits of this and that, here and there…These are the shrubs I sort of ignore/forget/cut back…..
  Then, bam! They start to knock me out with color.
  This is why I can get so lost in the garden, I suppose. All the surprises and wonders….






My funny "Hebe" that no one knows the name of.
Anyone? It was a cutting from a very old garden I took care of years ago.



She's one tough character, for sure. And she propagates like a dream…..
She is in a few local gardens now.





I don't know why I have this silly fuchsia.
But I sure do like it when she blooms.




Must be because we had a similar type when I was growing up.
Usually in our area, they get mites and need too much water. This one breaks those rules.
I'll keep her!




  With lots of help from the awesome Pedro (best garden helper…ever), my Fuji apple is way happier than before. I am so looking forward to fresh off the tree, sweet, juicy, and crunchy apples. There is no comparison to store bought when it comes to Fuji apples.

  


Yes, please.


Getting very good. I eat an apple every day with my lunch.
These will be such a treat.


  I took photos of my tomato plants just a week or two ago. Then today….
Let's just say….I think we will be having some tomatoes with dinner tonight….



"Supice" tomatoes do well in our area.



I always plant them in good organic soil with lots of my own compost.
I plant in black tubs for extra heat. It's not all that warm here.



These will be picked and eaten before the day is done.
Mmmmmmmm.



Four is a perfect number of tomatoes for tonight.




   Here's the thing….
   My garden brings me all sorts of comfort and joy. Always has…well, when I'm not freaking out about aphids, gophers, skunks, raccoons, snails, earwigs, lack of water…..

But just now, writing this post? I don't know, maybe two or three hours have passed by….? And I've been able to escape all the shit I'm going through. This is huge.

I think I need to remember that writing this funny little bloggy is pretty damn good therapy, too.
I'll be here again sooner, rather than later…..it's just the right medicine for me.

















Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ladies Of The Fields



  While we stay in Umbria every spring, Johnny, my husband who is an artist, works. He will paint nearly every day…weather permitting…to come home with several paintings for a show at our gallery in Carmel, California. This is always a popular event for us, and it brings a little slice of our "other life" back home to share.

  While Johnny paints, I often take the time to read, or take long walks into the countryside. This is how I started becoming a little obsessed with all the old farmhouses that dot the fields and roadsides in this very rural part of Italy.
   These "ruins" fascinate me. The first time I got close and personal with one, I just had to write about it. 
  Since then, I have had some nice little adventures with these lovely "ladies of the fields." Sure, there have been a couple of close calls…mostly bee hives and scary reptiles, and I have learned that it pays to be very careful and very watchful when approaching one of these beauties.




While Johnny paints…I have a small adventure…
usually starting with a walk down a dirt road.
You can see Johnny down there, near the car….




  Sometimes, there will be a warning sign of some sort, and I heed these…honestly. If there is any "Keep Out" type of message, I turn tail and move right on down the road.  The warning signs remind me to keep an eye and ear open for anything creepy or dangerous…
  




Here, I see a sign posted….hmmm…
Still looks pretty interesting, so I get a little closer.





I am being told not to enter the very dilapidated building.
 Good idea….




  I usually don't venture inside, unless it looks reasonably safe and there are no "keep out" signs. 
 In this case, I stay outside, just enjoying this grand old gal for all she was, and still hopes to be again, someday.
  I like to imagine what the life was like for the folks who once called this home. Now, with the roof caving in, and shrubs growing throughout, it's a dreamy scene, for sure.






Weeds and ruin. I am no less enchanted



  I love being able to look up, through what once were the upper floors and ceiling…to see the blue sky. The light is amazing, and makes for a nice photo opportunity.





I am in love with the various textures here, as well as the arch
above an old entryway.




  To actually get close enough to look into what once were rooms is my favorite. This place was full of old roof tiles, broken wooden beams, and what I guess are floor tiles from the second story rooms.
  The crumbling plaster walls are perfect, don't you think?





I wish I could rummage through this wonderful jumble.



  This is a particularly lovely lady. I don't know if she is well past any chance of restoration or not. I know zip when it comes to restoration projects.




Between the light, the giant wooden beam, the old brickwork, and
 sublime blue plaster walls…I am swooning.



  I don't know what it is about these Old Dears.
  The thought of them spending year after year, decade after decade, slowly decaying and yet keeping watch over their surroundings. The awareness that at some point in history they were vital, filled with life, love, death... joy as well as sorrow. Meals being made and shared, secrets being whispered behind closed doors, worries discussed, fights fought, love made….lives created as well as lives departing this realm.
  Life in an altogether different era.
  Call me corny, but it moves my soul. Touching these old stone walls sends a small, yet oh-so-significant... shiver through my aching soul.





Is it too much to say I yearn for a scene like this?


  This was a dreamy sight, and of course I couldn't resist a closer look at her. It was a tough one, too…not as easy to get to as it looked. I think this is where I got my first Italian "tick"…..who knew? I flicked it off my ankle before any damage was done, but now I know to check. There were lots of thigh-high weeds as I got close...






Dream scene.



Very high weeds, but can I do it?




As tempting as it is, I now know better than to go further inside.

  



Another amazingly huge beam. You just can't imagine…
I am in love with these interior walls.



  So, while I was off exploring, Johnny was painting this beauty. 
  I think he nailed the gentle feel of her….











  The amazing "castle", below, is just hanging out in a field below Panicale. I would love to know her story, and will try to find out next time we are there.
  It was totally impossible to get close to her, as there were massive weeds all around. No path, no little dirt road…just fava beans and nasty weeds.
  She's a true gem, though.





I couldn't get close to this one, but I love it.
Plus, in the background…a perfect view of Panicale on the hill.



  Sometimes, these old gals are still functioning as storage "sheds" for the surrounding farmland. 
  Though no longer lived in, they do survive as a cool, dry place to house large and small farm equipment. The windows are usually busted out, but all in all, they work well…considering.
  I wonder if they mind their new lives…..






This place must have housed a few families…back in the day.





I love the color and texture of these old wooden doors.



  Johnny was with me on this adventure, and we actually poked around inside. I would have loved to spend more time…just looking around…I didn't want to press our luck, though.
  I fear breaking something, getting hurt, and especially being caught and yelled at. My Italian isn't good enough to explain my way out of a situation like "trespassing"…..
  Still, we had ourselves a pretty good look around.

  I love the patina of all the various surfaces…wood, metal, plaster, tile….aged beyond repair, I'm afraid. But isn't this the finish people pay the big money for? Without the spider webs and mold, of course.
  I can't get enough.





So funky…so cool.





So tempting!




More perfection….. in my opinion, anyway.




  Our pals, Roberto & Giullia told us about this very overgrown ruin, near a walk we take pretty often. We had never gone down the little side path that leads to her. 
  Once found, I was blown away by the position…a perfect view of Lago Trasimeno makes this spot even more special. 
  This one was impossible to get into, as the weeds are overtaking her.





Another "Ruin with a View".
Sigh.




She's covered in clematis vine, among other greenness...



  I can't begin to image what it would take ( ok, I image it's money. Period.) to get a place like this back to her original gorgeousness, but it's fun to dream. Especially with this killer view….
  I would love to spend a week or two just doing a clear out of the growth that is slowly consuming her.
  Sadly, I imagine she will continue to be slowly devoured by the surrounding wilderness.







A natural skylight?





Next year she may may be "gone"…..



  I'll continue to explore and enjoy these Ladies of the Fields. They spark my imagination in a very fine way…and until I get into some kind of unforeseen trouble with this adventuring….well, I'll just count myself a very lucky girl, indeed.