September mornings…

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Ciao Tutti,

I am having a quiet, contemplative morning and enjoying a bit of summer even if tomorrow is the first day of autumn. The gentle sunshine tells me that I have only another couple of weeks of being able to walk barefoot on the tiles of my apartment before they morph into ice blocks, and so today I have all the windows open as I savor every last sound and scent of summer. I am simmering a Thai curry thanks to my friend Ruth and Stuart who bring me lovely savory gifts every time they go to the UK,  and it even boasts a sweet potato because we can now find them at our mercato!!  Che piacere!!   I hope to park myself outside in the afternoon and do some work on the next installment of my adventures here.  We had very little summer this year in Tuscany with lots of rain and chilly temps and so I am grateful for a warm day. Fingers crossed for a good grape harvest after a challenging summer.  The season has flown by and I have been out of touch with everyone, my days filled with winery clients, pouring vino and very little time off. But now as the moms of my English students begin their annual request for lessons, I know the season is coming to an end. So more time to keep in touch.

It’s been a good couple of months. I got my sommelier certification after a year and half and three levels of course work. I am now hoping to do some traveling around Italy and begin sampling the wines of each region. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it! :)

I made it to the seaside finally for my birthday and spent a fun weekend with my expat friends Keith and Tania and their two pooches romping in the surf.  With my girl Cinder gone for over a year and a half now, the first whispers of “puppy” are starting to creep into my thoughts.

At Least You’re in Tuscany was published in Polish and I met a client at the winery who had bought it  and READ IT in Polish. That was pretty darn exciting!!  The next installment of my adventures should be finished in the next few months.  Ever the optimist!

The highlight of the summer was a visit by my friend Bonnie and her family. Do you remember the five kids I used to babysit during the first years I was here?? Well, they came back for the Bravio this year and it was so wonderful to see them. The kids struggled a bit with their Italian, which had faded, but by the end of the week much had come back.  We went to Contrada dinners almost every night and it was so comfortable and lovely to spend time with all of them. The kids are pushing to spend a month here next summer and I chimed right in with my approval of that plan!!

My challenge for the winter is the Italian driving test.  My studies have been haphazard at best since the homework isn’t nearly as fun as it was for the sommelier course!  Need to study more than the hour when I am getting my roots colored every few weeks.  I will probably sign up for the course after the season, but can I just say for the record, there are way too many road signs here!

Hope everyone enjoys the upcoming weeks and the delights of the autumn!!

Sommelier Presntation

Sommelier Presentation

1st sommelier Service

1st sommelier Service

Birthday weekend at the seaside in Castiglione della Pescaia

Birthday weekend at the seaside in Castiglione della Pescaia with Tania, Keith and the sweetest labs, Murphy and Stella

The Porters were back in town!!

The Porters were back in town!!

Natalie was a little rusty at twirling her pici!

Natalie was a little rusty at twirling her pici!

Bravio!!  The race didn't go our way this year, but victory will be ours next year!!  Forza Gracciano!!!

Bravio Day!! The race didn’t go our way this year, but victory will be ours next year!! Forza Gracciano!!!

 

At Least You're in Tuscany.... the Polish version!!

At Least You’re in Tuscany…. the Polish version!!

 

Enchanted April

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I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season.  This week marked my return to work at the winery and my first book event for At Least You’re in Tuscany.  The work won’t be full time until May, but with spring blooming all around me, I am happy to have the time outside where I can sit and write.  I am hard at work on the follow-up.  

Sharon and Walter Sanders from SimpleItaly (http://www.simpleitaly.com/tuscany-tour-harvest-celebration-with-simpleitaly) invited me to be a guest speaker for one of their tour groups in the heart of Tuscany.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was splendid… no that isn’t enough… it was splendiferous!   Sharon and Walter were warm and welcoming, and their love of the land here, local artisans, and culture were evident in all of the outings and events that they planned for their guests.  The estate is called Montestigliano and is owned by Luisa Donati’s family.  I spent a relaxing afternoon sipping wine, lunching, and talking about my experiences here in my new home.  The American group from the states was a delight and asked a lot of really thoughtful questions.  After the talk, I signed a few books and was treated to a stroll around the magnificent estate filled with blooming wisteria and views of rolling Tuscan hills as far as the eye can see. 

If I have other events for At Least You’re in Tuscany, Sharon and Walter have set the bar very high!!!

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Talking about Tuscany!

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Strolling around the grounds of Montestigliano

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SimpleItaly’s group from South Carolina and Pennyslvania

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Luisa Donati. This was her grandfather’s estate.

 

Fortress of Solitude…

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Ciao Tutti!!!  I know I have been out of touch lately, but I have morphed into a turtle this winter.  Head tucked in, writing away and pretty much on my own.  Sometimes I will toss a photo up on Facebook, but even that has been sporadic.  I can’t blame the weather for my isolation since it is a balmy sixty degrees here in Tuscany and we have  gone below freezing only twice this winter.  It’s quite strange.  Lovely but strange.  Trees are budding and if we have a late freeze it’s not going to be good for the grape and olive productions.  Fingers crossed that our non-winter continues.  On the plus side my house is not an igloo this year and I have been taking advantage of the warm days with a lot of walks in the countryside.  Cinder would have adored this balmy weather;  I have keenly felt the loss of my beautiful girl over the last months.

Aside from working on the next installment of my adventures here (40 pages in and counting!), I am studying to get my driver’s license.  Probably in most places of the world this would be a doable undertaking.  However, here in my neck of the woods, the Italians have made the test so difficult that even they fail it two and three times.  It’s going to be a challenge, especially since I studied for three days and then lost interest.  I am determined to do a couple of hours today.  My goal for this year is to buy a car.  Hence the need for dedicated study before the season starts.  Fingers crossed.

I am about to start the third level of the sommelier course in March so I am looking forward to that.  It’s been a really wonderful way to widen my circle of friends here.  Wine lovers unite!   This past weekend was the anteprima di Vino Nobile where the new 2011 vintages of the vino nobile were presented.  I may be slightly biased but the Poliziano 2011 is fabulous.  I tried a lot of very good wines from other producers as well.  We had a great turnout with over 40 producers participating.  The event will end with a dinner tonight and then the journalists will come tomorrow and weigh in with their thoughts on this year’s offering.

One more month and I will be back at work with Fabio at the winery for another season of tours and tastings.  Until then I have my students for english lessons, which helps me get through the winter.   I am also back in the kitchen with Marinella learning her recipes.  I am planning to include some in the next book.  And by the way, if you haven’t checked in with my publisher Gemelli Press lately, you should click on the link here and see what they have been up to.  More Italian based books coming out this year and some hardcovers that are now available in paperback.  Thanks to everyone who has supported At Least You’re in Tuscany.  It now has over 100 great reviews on Amazon and I feel grateful for the love everyone has shown me and the book.

The other good news for this year is that friends are finally starting to say they are coming to visit.  I have two good friends planning trips and one of my aunts as well!  April marks five years that I am here in Italy, so it will be so nice to finally see some friends and family from the States.

Hope you are all well!!  xx

My new best friend... my book to study for the Italian driver's license

My new best friend… the book to study for the Italian driver’s license

an olive oil tasting at cookbook author, Pamela Johns' house.

an olive oil tasting at cookbook author, Pamela Johns’ house.  This is my friend Keith an olive oil sommelier who is instructing us on slurping oil!

Marinella teaching me her ragù recipe!

Marinella teaching me her ragù recipe!

My colleague Fabio at the anteprima di Vino Nobile

My colleague Fabio at the anteprima di Vino Nobile

I helped out a bit too!

I helped out a bit too!

My friend Marco Barbi launched his first Vino Nobile vintage this year!!

My friend Marco Barbi launched his first Vino Nobile vintage this year!!  BARBICAIA!!

The gorgeous San Biagio, halfway point of my walk this morning

The gorgeous San Biagio, halfway point of my walk this morning

Tuscany is beautiful no matter the season!

Tuscany is beautiful no matter the season!

A bountiful table…

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Thanksgiving came to Montepulciano last night.  I know you guys in the states have to wait another couple of weeks, but maybe this will whet your appetite.  A few years back my friend Terry started the traditional of hosting an expat Thanksgiving to give us a taste of home and each year it has grown in size and fabulousness!  Terry and her husband Vince are here about 5 months of the year and leave mid November to get back to their family in the states.  The fact that Terry is up for doing a turkey day two times is pretty extraordinary.  So among the many many things I am thankful for this year, I am thankful for my friend Terry.

Temperatures are starting to dip and the grape vines are showing off their autumn colors, signaling that my work has finished for the season.  I will pop in for a few days this week to cover Fabio’s vacation and then I won’t see Poliziano again until spring.  It’s time to rest, recharge, write, learn about wine and above all, try to stay warm!

The first days of my new found freedom were spent picking olives with my friends Charles and Peter and preparing dishes for our Thanksgiving feast.  I love the new verdant, spicy olive oil which is now in abundance and is a staple in most of my usual dishes.  It is my favorite food group!  And I have to say I never quite realized how much my butter consumption has decreased while living here until I started pulling recipes for Thanksgiving.  Biscuits, crackers, pies, stuffing… everything wanted lots and lots of butter.  In fact, when I went to the supermarket and plunked four blocks of butter into my cart, in that moment I definitely felt the difference in our culinary cultures.  The comforting perfume of butter has permeated my house for the last few days, filling it with wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past spent cooking with my mom. I want to spread some of my thankfulness love her way too because she is the one who taught me to bake and passed her passion on to me. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of our skype conversations that doesn’t include talk of menu planning or recipes.

Contributions last year taught me that making homemade pumpkin puree was not only easy, but delicious.  This year I made a pumpkin soup for the starter instead of a dessert.  Terry did the pumpkin pie!  Preparing for Thanksgiving in Italy always has its challenges and finding corn syrup was one of my toughies.  In the end Charles produced a golden syrup from the UK which was a great substitution for my Bourbon Chocolate Walnut pie.  He also unearthed some calvados for my soup.  Terry also baked an apple pie and I made some little cheese cakes with a cranberry topping.  Yes, real cranberries that my friend Janice schlepped from Canada for me!!!  Terry snipped fresh sage and thyme from her garden so I could make my grandmother’s stuffing recipe and my kitchen is beautifully scented with thyme from the herb bouquet on my table!  It was a real team effort making the dinner come together.  Terry found sweet potatoes in Florence and her friend Alessandro procured two gorgeous turkeys.  Yes, two.  Terry cooks two turkeys so that everyone can take home leftovers.  She is AWESOME.  And let’s face it who doesn’t love a good turkey sandwich the day after?  The best part after cooking and preparing for two or three days ahead of time is looking forward to a day of munching on leftovers.

In a true blending of American and Italian style, our dinner went about five hours long with everyone drinking wine at the table and conversation flowing long after the dishes had been cleared.  Terry’s husband Vince produced bottle after bottle of wonderful Vino Nobile and Brunello and made sure no one’s glass was ever empty.

We had some new expat friends, Ron and Lisa, join us this year.  They, (and their adorable son Primo) are spending the year in Montepulciano.  Primo actually dressed for dinner, insisting on wearing a bow tie.  If this is Italy’s influence, I am loving it!  Lisa is a great cook and her zucchini sformato that she whipped up as an appetizer was delicious.  Charles and Peter, although being Brits, were a fun addition to our party and they seemed quite impressed with what kind of meal the “colonies” were able to produce!

The evening was filled with feasting, love and laughter and as I drifted off to sleep last night I remembered to say thanks for my friends, family and of course, TURKEY!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Olive harvesting at Pietramonti

Olive harvesting at Pietramonti

The trees are laden this year... four trees yielded over 100 kios of olives!

The trees are laden this year… four trees yielded over 100 kios of olives!

Thanksgiving Preparations…

Step 1 roast pumpkin

Step 1 procure pumpkin

Step 2 roast pumpkin

Step 2 roast pumpkin

Voila... Pumpkin puree

Voila… Pumpkin puree

Roasted pumpkin soup with apple and calvados

Roasted pumpkin soup with apple and calvados

I got ridiculously excited about fresh cranberries!!!

I got ridiculously excited about fresh cranberries!!!

Preparing Nonna’s sausage stuffing. You gotta get your hands in there to smush properly (note the melted butter adjacent… YUM!!!)

Gorgeous herbs from Terry's garden

Gorgeous herbs from Terry’s garden

Gruyere & thyme crackers for the bread basket

Gruyere & thyme crackers for the bread basket

And don't forget the biscuits...

And don’t forget the biscuits…

Chocolate Bourbon Walnut pie (it was supposed to be pecan but you can't have everything!)

Chocolate Bourbon Walnut pie (it was supposed to be pecan but you can’t have everything!)

On to Terry’s house!

Stuffed Turkey in progress....

Stuffed Turkey in progress….

Terry's autumnal table is ready

Terry’s autumnal table is ready

Turkey number 2 a/k/a leftovers baby!

Turkey number 2 a/k/a leftovers baby!

First course is served and the pumpkin soup seemed to be a hit (phew!)

First course is served and the pumpkin soup seemed to be a hit (phew!)

Ron does a an expert job carving the turkey!

Ron does a an expert job carving the turkey!

Italian friends should avert their eyes from the laden plates, but this is how we roll in the US. :)

Italian friends should avert their eyes from the laden plates, but this is how we roll in the US!!

My amazing friend Terry also prepared a birthday cake for Charles!

My amazing friend Terry also prepared a birthday cake for Charles!

The carnage...

The carnage…

Terry's method of carving up the leftover turkey wasn't quite as surgical as Ron's...

Terry’s method of carving up the leftover turkey wasn’t quite as surgical as Ron’s…

I love Janet's expression when I announce the desserts are ready in the kitchen!!

I love Janet’s expression when I announce the desserts are ready in the kitchen!!

Not sure we have enough... don't forget the vanilla gelato!

Not sure we have enough… don’t forget the vanilla gelato!

la dolce vita!

la dolce vita!

The race is on…

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It’s Bravio day in Montepulciano.  I always greet this day with excitement mixed with sadness.  Excitement because August is the best month in Montepulciano–loaded with visitors, our town swells in proportion and you can walk around at night, bumping into people who are animatedly shopping, slurping melting gelato, or eating local specialties in one of the contradas.  It feels like you’re in an actual city.  And the annual barrel race is the culmination of weeks of celebration.  But Bravio day is always bittersweet because it marks the official end to summer.  And even as the drums begin a slow echo through the town this morning, they signal that my work is about to be over for another season and a long winter lies ahead.

As usual, I haven’t found much time to write as my days at the winery are long.  It’s been a fabulous season and the next two months will be our busiest before our visitors begin to trickle away.  I marked these last months with my birthday celebration with my friends Keith and Tania in Cortona.  They prepared a fabulous sushi dinner for me… the first in four years!  And despite hitting the big 43 this year, last night as I was dining on roasted duck with my friend Janet in one of the Contradas, I got hit on by a guy who was at least ten years my junior.  All very flattering of course, but when I pointed to his wedding ring, he just smiled in that irrepressible way that the men do here, which says “you can’t blame a guy for trying.”  Having learned my lesson with fruit vendors past, I of course didn’t give him my number but will admit I am glad I seem to be attracting a bit younger crowd than the usual pensioners!

I have managed on my infrequent days off to get some pool time in and have accepted pretty much every invitation that has come my way.  Dinner with friends and getting together with the gang from my wine course.  We have a field trip next weekend to the Antinori vineyards near Florence so I hope to go and catch up with more of them.  The second part of the Sommelier course will begin next month and I am really looking forward to that.  My homework for the summer was to taste wine and you will be pleased to know that I have been a very dedicated student!

Last weekend,  my friend Janet sponsored a memorial concert for her husband Ken who died last November.  His friends and his sister came from around the globe to attend.  We had a weekend of remembering him and on his birthday last sunday, we accompanied Janet to sprinkle his ashes in the countryside where he spent so many hours painting his beautiful landscapes of Montepulciano.  We toasted him with lots of wine and carrot cake!  I think he would have approved!

Here’s hoping for sunny skies today for the big race (FORZA GRACCIANO!!!)  and a gorgeous autumn ahead.  The grape harvest is just around the corner and Tuscany is radiant!

Sushi weekend with buds Tania and Keith's house near Cortona!

Sushi weekend at Tania and Keith’s house near Cortona!

Memorial Concert for Ken Hobbs

Memorial Concert for Ken Hobbs

Celebrating Ken...

Celebrating Ken…

As if spending ten hours a day together wasn't enough Fabio and his family and I spent the day at our clients Robert and Gaby's house.  Best bbq of the summer!!!

As if spending ten hours a day together wasn’t enough Fabio and his family and I spent the day at our clients Robert and Gaby’s house. Best bbq of the summer!!!

Bistecca fiorentina alla Robert!

Bistecca fiorentina alla Robert!

Munching on roast duck "nana in porchetta" at Collazzi contrada

Munching on roast duck “nana in porchetta” at Collazzi contrada

Lots of gorgeous sunsets while sipping franciacorta this summer!

Lots of gorgeous sunsets while sipping franciacorta this summer!

Signs of Summer

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A whiff of Jasmine from Marinella’s yard is a welcome greeting this morning.  My basil also is rebounding nicely.  After a May that was unseasonably rainy and cold, it now is beginning to feel like summer.  For those of us born in the warmer months, long winters are particularly torturous!  The upside of all the rain is that Tuscany has never looked more beautiful and the scent of the ginestra in bloom follows you everywhere.  I can now walk barefoot on the tiles of my apartment and I actually kicked off the duvet last night… although that may have been because there was heat radiating off of my back from a slight sunburn.  My friend Terry invited me to her pool yesterday afternoon and despite sunblock, I still managed to get a little pink.  To me it’s a slight improvement over the ghostly white of winter!

I am enjoying a full weekend off, a treat that happens sporadically during the summer — the days are long now that the tourists are streaming in.  We had a German client celebrate 20 years with us this week and we had a little celebration for him.  I also have met some wonderful people who have been such supporters of my book.  Thank you so much to Liz and Krista who not only came in having read my book on Kindle, but also bought hard copies from me at the winery.  Also hugs to Jackie and her daughter Katie who provided one of my more delightful encounters this week!

So swimming yesterday, and dinner with friends last night.  Today I am hoping to find a spot outside and read.  LUXURY!!

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and a special Father’s day HUG for my dad whom I spoke to yesterday.  I sometimes can smell his barbecue ribs from Italy!  Love you, Dad!!!

Poked my head into the bottling area just to take a peak at my Vino Nobile!

Poked my head into the bottling area just to take a peek at my Vino Nobile!

FANS!!!  Thank you krista and Liz for the support and for the terrific reviews on Amazon!!! xoxox

FANS!!! Thank you Krista and Liz for the support and for the terrific reviews on Amazon!!! xoxox

Our 2nd Annual "Poliziano Experience" ... a thank you dinner for 200 private clients

Our 2nd Annual “Poliziano Experience” … a thank you dinner for 200 private clients

Our German client who has been a loyal Poliziano client for 20 years gets choked up when we present him with a bottle from 1993, the year he discovered us!

Our German client, who has been a loyal Poliziano client for 20 years, gets choked up when we present him with a bottle from 1993, the year he discovered us!

After a dinner of pizza and beer, Francy tops it off with a cake covered in Grappa!  (note the huge size of the bottle)  Tasty!

After a dinner of pizza and beer, Francy tops it off with a cake covered in Grappa! (note the huge size of the bottle) Tasty!

I. LOVE. SUMMER. PS  Zoom in at your own risk... there is a lot of white flesh there! :)

I. LOVE. SUMMER.
PS Zoom in at your own risk… there is a lot of white flesh there! :)

My fifteen minutes…

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It’s a quiet Sunday morning and after two cups of coffee, baking oatmeal cookies, and humming Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up, I am getting ready to head out to my first barbecue of the season.  The weather isn’t being overly cooperative, but the wind is frisky and so here’s hoping we see some sunshine.  I don’t have too much to report today, but it makes me sad to see the story about Cinder every time I open my blog, so I thought I would write a little something.

Earlier in the week I met a lovely couple from South Carolina who after we chatted for a minute asked me if I was the author Jenny Criswell.  After I affirmed that I was, they ebulliently informed me that they’d read my book.  ROCK STAR.  MOMENT.  It was awesome.  Not only did they gush about me to the other poor souls who were on our afternoon wine tour, but I am giving serious consideration to asking them to handle my publicity.  Seriously, they know my life better than I do.  I met them for drinks the other night and we chatted about Montepulciano.  They come here frequently, so they get my love of this place.

But probably the biggest news of the week is that I passed the first level of my FISAR Sommelier course…. in Italian!!!!!  We celebrated last weekend with a dinner with many many bottles of wine… and now I eagerly await the second level of the course in the fall.  Not only was the course fun and instructive, but I have gotten to know a lot of wonderful new people.  I also want to say thank you to Christian and Bianca, my Poliziano clients from Germany who when they heard I passed my exam came back the next day with chocolate cake!

The book continues to do well, so thank you to all of you who have read and rated online.  I am grateful for your support.  And not just support on the book.  All of the love and messages that I have received since Cinder died have been appreciated.  My house is still lonely, but I am accepting lots of invitations and getting out more.

Here’s to sunny skies all around.  Buona Domenica!

Federico and Anna Carletti may own one of the most important wineries in Montepulciano, but they didn't hesitate to pitch in on Saturday and help me prepare wine when I was working alone!

Federico and Anna Carletti may own one of the most important wineries in Montepulciano, but they didn’t hesitate to pitch in and prepare wine for clients one Saturday when I was working alone!

Rosso di Montepulciano 2013 vintage in progress... Honestly how great is my job?

Rosso di Montepulciano 2013 vintage in progress… Honestly how great is my job?

Our celebration dinner for the wine course... before we started taking turns slicing champagne bottles with swords... Don't try this at home folks :)

Our celebration dinner for the wine course… before we started taking turns slicing champagne bottles with swords… Don’t try this at home folks :)

One of our instructors, Luca, explaining to Giulio the importance of finding the g-spot of the champagne bottle before slicing off the cork... erm it didn't go so well!

One of our instructors, Luca, explaining to Giulio the importance of finding the g-spot of the champagne bottle before slicing off the cork… erm it didn’t go so well!