Tuscany and Cooking Day TRIP March 2009

It's been awhile and I just realized that there is NOTHING in here about my trip to Florence and my cooking day. It was awesome. How could I possibly leave this out????

The link: http://www.accidentaltourist.com/
It all began with a short walk across this bridge in Florence (Firenze). There are jewelry stalls all along the sides here. I passed by - I had a mission.

Let's see if I can recall the day itself and what happened afterwards too -

I met the van across the river from Florence at 8am as scheduled. There were 7 of us for today. Our driver, a handsome young Italian guy, adorable, spoke limited English but he did get across any messages that we needed to know.

So off we went into Tuscany and the Chianti Region. Within minutes we were on narrow roads that curved around the olive groves and the low lying mountains. These were more like hills than mountains. Everything was green and Springlike. It was March/April after all, and Easter was next Sunday.

Driver pulled off to the side so we could take photos. Then we were off to the olive groves where we met with Majla. She is a Mom with 2 children (ages around 12 and 13) who put the "Accidental Tourist" together on her own and has been doing these tours for at least 8 years. She is very knowledgeable and speaks very good English as she went to SC University in the states. She was called back to Italy when her grandfather died and he had left the "castle" to the family to be split up 7 ways. Her share was the Medieval Tower that overlooks the town. She decided to stay. She will tell you of her childhood and the times she spent playing in the "tower." But more on her and the tower later...

The olive groves were just beginning to produce olives for this season and Majla (may-ya) showed us how the olives were taken from the trees and sorted. They were then pressed for the oil. Much of the oil produced here is mainly for local use and many families who own olive trees do have their own "label" for olive oil. They bring the oil to a private press in town and have it pressed and bottled. These bottles are precious and are only given at Christmas for presents or used sparingly in the family. Some of the oil is stored in clay jars. The olive oil we had came from the last pressing - It was an olive oil tasting with bread that was made with no salt. Delish.

Of course we had wine to go with this too...

Next we traveled to the local winery - for more wine. Here too the grapes were collected and pressed. This was more of a commercial setting but still rustic by American standards. The wine tasting was of course FAB. What's not to like...a little wine, bread and olive oil. Made my day.
Olive Oil Casks for transporting
These were about 2 ft. tall

These dusty bottles of wine - just for show. The wine wasn't very good in them so the owners felt "safe" to keep them within tourists' reach. You really didn't even want to touch these bottles! But the REAL wine...ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

------------------------------ Back into the VAN.

That was just the morning. We then piled back into the van and off to the "farmhouse" experience and making an Italian dish with Alex - son of Christiana. The house was modest - very comfortable and homey.

I loved it the minute I walked in as Christiana, lady of the house,  was making tomato sauce (gravy). Hitting all the senses here - it was a fragrance that I so loved when visiting with my mother-in-law, Rose. To this day it brings back wonderful memories.

We were shown the downstairs - the basement if you will - that had an open wall that looked out onto the hillsides and the olive groves. It was a scene from a picture postcard. We donned aprons, washed hands and proceeded to "make raviolis." We used farm fresh eggs and semolina flour. Alex, all of 27, showed us how to make the dough. He told us he was very popular when he went to college as he was the only one who knew how to make ravs so well! We then pressed the dough through one of those wringer type machines, until it was thin enough for ravs. Next we made the filling: ricotta with spinach. And lots of garlic. yummo. We cut out round shapes from the rolled dough with...tuna fish cans. Really. We are talking "old world" here - use what you have!! Of course they were well washed and no sharp edges. Placed the ricotta on the half, folded over and done. We all contributed to the "collection." Notice glasses of wine....

Then upstairs to see Christiana who had potfuls of water boiling. Getting hungry yet?

Oh did I forget to mention the wine....forever. Your glass was NEVER empty. We were feeling PRETTY GOOD by the time we got upstairs. The sauce and the raviolis were done. Perfecto.

We all sat at the one table, had our feast and drank some more. It was a marvelous afternoon! I didn't want it to end. But for the others, it was time to go back to Florence.
Left to right: me, Christiana, couple from Pennsylvania, Alex our instructor, couple from ? (I forget, but they were both lawyers), the mom from NJ and her daughter. The dad from NJ took the photos - he was a dentist.
Note the empty glasses...soon to be refilled!  Do we look happy or what!!!


A happy group indeed....

For me though...I was spending the night in the TOWER.   Above: the entryway to where I would be staying.