Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Renovating a Kitchen

We fell in love with the outside of the house first, which was a good thing because from there we went directly into the kitchen.  I use the word 'kitchen' loosely because there was nothing much in the room to indicate that it was a kitchen apart from a tiny sink and drying rack located in the corner.

The only working space was an old bureau located next to a small range with an even smaller oven below that no longer worked.   Neither did half of the burners!

On one wall were some shelves, the top half opened to the next room.   All very odd.

We had our work cut out for us, transforming this space into a real working kitchen!

But before we got down to work, we actually did have some fun picking out materials!
And some difficulty, because the choices were amazing.
We began by demolishing the sink. Sadly the original stone sink, which was a few hundred years old, was beneath the existing stone sink but it had been cracked in two. Probably why they put another sink over it.  We relocated the sink position to under the window because for as much time as I spend in front of the sink, I wanted a nice view.
On both sides of the relocated sink we put in counters made from chestnut planks from the trees around the house that we found in one of the cantinas below the house.  On the walls we put in 200 year old tiles.

Someday I will replace this photo with a photo of our working kitchen as it is now, a photo that does not include the reflection of the dry vac in the oven window!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Red Wine Cookies

These cookies are easy and delicious!

And they make the prettiest pink batter!

Red Wine Cookies
Recipe from CiaoChow Linda

1 cup dry red wine (the better the wine, the better the cookies)
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil 
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of baking powder
4 1/2 c. flour - (start with one cup but keep adding as much as necessary until you get a dough that has a thick consistency and can be easily rolled.)
more sugar for dipping

Place the red wine, oil, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and the flour, sifting it into the bowl at little at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon, continuing to add more flour until it has a stiff consistency.

Gently roll out small pieces of the dough on a wooden board into a narrow "snake" shape - about 6 inches, the thickness of small finger. Then carefully swirl the ends toward the center, into an "S" shape. Dip into sugar and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.  The cookies should be browned on the bottom and slightly on top.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Birthday Fish in Fano

I love dining in local Italian restaurants, they're so.... unassuming!  The ambiance is modest, a bit kitschy, one might even say a little odd.   Men often dress in button-down shirts and dress jackets and their wives or girlfriends in skirts or dresses.  We dined on disposable, plastic tablecloths, but with proper ceramic plates and solid eating utensils.  The food was outstanding and the prices affordable.  

The entrance to this particular restaurant had an automatic glass door designed to appear like a fish bowl.  To say we were utterly delighted to enter is an understatement.  Finding a seaside seafood restaurant that was open in November was quite a challenge!  We began asking friends for suggestions a few weeks ago.  Italians love to talk about the weather and food, so we acquired several recommendations. 

The day before my birthday we began calling to make a reservation since the car ride to the coast was two hours and we wanted the guaranty of a good meal awaiting us.  After finding our first three choices closed for the season, I remembered a blog post from La Tavola Marche Agriturismo featuring their top five favorite restaurants in Fano

We enjoyed typical dishes such as octopus salad, steamed clams, fried shrimp, calamari and vegetables and a plate of grilled fresh fish -- oh, and french fries!  No Italian restaurant meal is complete without a side order of french fries!  They're oh-so-delizioso!

The weather was quite gloomy and chilly, but the buildings were all so colorful and cheery!  It was late by the time we finished lunch and as much as we would have loved to explore it was getting dark and colder by the minute.  A good excuse to return though!

All in all, it was a very fine birthday celebration and if you ever get the chance, we highly recommend dining at Trattoria della Quinta in Fano!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Free Falling

I returned from California at the beginning of November just in time to catch fall in full swing here in Italy!  Mushrooms aren't necessarily found solely in the fall, but it seems to be a prolific time for them given the right conditions. 

All around our house, the ground was blanketed in leaves.  It was magical to watch them raining down from the trees whenever there was even the slightest breeze.

Now back to the mushrooms!  Sometimes there are the 'same old, same old' mushrooms each year and sometimes there are varieties I have never seen before.  In either case, they always manage to delight me with their shapes and colors and textures.

 I mean, how amazing is this color!??  It's absolutely electric!

This mushroom is one of my favorites!  They grow on giant old chestnut tree stumps.  Don't they look like velvet!?

Now here's a surprise, with all the fall signs in the air and leaves falling everywhere around us there were still flowers managing to bloom!  We're halfway through fall, winter is still ahead of us, but I can't seem to help being anxious for Spring.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Good-bye Summer!

Summer has ended, which also means that the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables at our house is ending.  I had so many plans for all the beautiful figs we had, but unfortunately only time enough to make a small batch of jam -- which was incredibly delicious I would like to add.

We had our first successful year growing watermelons!  This beauty weighed in at 42 pounds.  We thought it would be mostly rind, but as you can see it's mostly pulp.  And a delightfully sweet and tasty pulp it was; we enjoyed eating it sliced on many occasions, gave away a large piece, and also made two different cocktail recipes.  We could have fed a village with this watermelon.  Actually, that's pretty much what we did!

This ginormous tomato is another monster vegetable from Babbo's garden, not ours.  But we did have a lot of NOT giant tomatoes this year of all varieties!  We ate lots of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, pasta with tomatoes and yes, even a small batch of tomato jam!

And onions!  Amore loves to grow onions every year.  Next year we'll be planting garlic as well!

Also leaving us with the season are the caterpillars.  Amore told me this one glows in the dark.  Unfortunately it didn't hang around long enough for me to verify his story.  But speaking of glowing in the dark, we did have quite a few sightings of fireflies this summer! 

And this guy.  Who lives here.  And is not afraid of anyone.  We both leave each other alone.
 I wonder if we'll see him again next year.  Anyway, I hope everyone had a wonderful summer.  I know we sure did!


Monday, September 14, 2015

Roof Repair - or - Caveat Emptor

This was the view from our upstairs window last month.  We were having our roof repaired.  It leaked.  Saying the roof 'leaked' is being kind.  We just celebrated our one year anniversary in the house and as Amore recalls, it rained more inside the house than it did outside the house that evening.

Having the roof repaired was a large expense, one we were not prepared to make right away, and one we were not happy about making since the owner had assured us there were no problems with the roof.  Caveat Emptor as they say, let the buyer beware.

This was our second experience with a large home project.  I think it's probably a bit like childbirth.  You forget the pain until the contractions begin with the next birth.  The noise heard inside the house was much what I imagine Chinese water torture to be like.  Pounding and banging and stomping, driving one slowly to the brink of insanity.

Outside the house the yard was filled with buckets and wheelbarrows, ropes and cement bags, and scaffolding blocking entrances and windows.  Inside the house there was lots of dust, bits of wet cement, and leaves and rubbish which came off the roof that the wind kindly blew into the house.  These were three digit degree days and dirt be damned if I was staying inside a noisy house with the windows shut tight!

This is the old insulation.  Picture us panicking every time it rained, running around with bowls and pots trying to arrange them according to where the water was dripping which depended on the ever-changing direction of the wind.

This is the new insulation.  Not only are we thrilled to no longer have to politely ask guests to place their belongings in areas we knew were safe from leaks, but what a difference it has made with the summer heat!  We are also thrilled with how much cooler the house is inside now.  A definite additional benefit!

Well, the work has finished and we are slowly returning to normal life here on the hill.  At least for now, for a few brief months before we begin our next large project.  You see, we need a little time to forget about the pain.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How Our Garden Grows

Well another month has passed again without a post!  We just finished re-roofing the house, that's my one excuse and my next post.  And my second excuse is that after a slow start our vegetable garden has begun producing like crazy!  We will soon need to use a wheelbarrow to transport all the blessings being bestowed from our little patch of earth!  Pictured above is my favorite vegetable, chard!  I soak the giant leaves in water to clean away the dirt, slice them into strips, steam them, squeeze out the water, form them into palm size balls and freeze them.  It's absolutely lovely to enjoy chard sauteed in olive oil and garlic long after the vegetable garden has give up the ghost!

We purchased eight pepper plants, four yellow and four red. Of course we purchased far more than chard and peppers, but these are currently our biggest producers. The first peppers to mature were these red peppers, which we thought were bell peppers but obviously they're not. The skin is thinner, but thankfully the taste is similar. Oddly, this was not the only plant we purchased this year that produced something different than what we thought we had purchased.  Hmm...

We had a very hard rain a few days ago which left quite a few vegetables a little dirty.  I suppose I could have and maybe should have cleaned them off first but this is real life, am I right?  Sometimes it's not so pretty.  We have two round eggplant plants (that sounds so redundant) and two long eggplant plants.  So far, we've been enjoying them grilled and in pasta dishes but clearly I'm going to have to step up my game.

This is a cucumber blossom.  Directly behind it to the left, you can see the little cucumber starting.  Everything here has been growing faster than we can eat it!  Many vegetables get parboiled and then frozen, but not cucumbers.  If we're not able to enjoy them fresh, they get pickled.  One can only eat so many Greek salads in a week.  Because the tomatoes are finally starting to produce, next will be cucumber, tomato and red onion over couscous!  A slight change from Greek salads, but a change nonetheless.

These are called black tomatoes.  But they're purple, right?

 I am fairly certain that we exaggerated with the cherry tomato plants.  This is a partial shot of only ONE plant.  
We planted 12 of these plants.  We will soon be swimming in cherry tomatoes.

Nice melons, wouldn't you say?  This plant went crazy with its crawlers!  I would have to say our watermelon plants became more invasive than any zucchini plant I have ever seen.  Those of you who have ever grown zucchini, you know what I mean.  This year was our first BIG success in growing watermelons.  We planted two types, these little round ones and the standard large, and they are both so delicious and sweet that we serve them as dessert!  I never thought I would see the day that I serve fruit as dessert, but it's happened.  Figs are up next so stay tuned, there might even be a recipe for a baked good!  Or I just might serve them fresh on a plate as dessert. (wink)