Making of a Murderer, er Memoir

Hooray, Well Seasoned in Tuscany has finally made its debut! Well, at least the Kindle version. Paperback to follow in a couple of weeks. I was almost surprised when my publisher sent me a text saying the book was up. It seemed a little like when a woman has a second baby and there is no shower to announce the arrival. Granted It’s been ten years in the making and there were more than a few times that I thought it wasn’t going to get done or that I might lose my mind in the effort. Part of that is because of external forces like COVID and part is because of me. Some of the stories is this follow up were quite personal and initially difficult to write about. But with time you gain perspective.

I am so grateful for all of the fans of At Least You’re in Tuscany who wrote to me, inquiring when book 2 would be coming. If you are still out there, thank you. The gentle nudging kept me going. I hope you will enjoy this second part of my adventures here in Tuscany. Another chapter complete. Another adventure yet to come.

Well Seasoned in Tuscany

Ciao a Tutti! Happy Summer!

It’s been ages since I last checked in, not because I was off on some glamorous adventure but because well, life sometimes gets in the way. I have been working full time since 2017 and that more or less is when I last wrote a post here. Having full time work is wonderful and those of you who read my first book At Least You’re in Tuscany know that during my time here in Italy, one of the biggest challenges has been finding steady work. So I am insanely grateful. But steady work at a small winery with only three employees means there is always something that needs to be done. As a consequence, my writing time has taken a hit, and Well Seasoned in Tuscany a long sabbatical. Then COVID entered our lives last year and I was forced to work from home during lockdown after lockdown. Aside from becoming proficient at baking bread with a sourdough starter, and getting back into running, I learned to budget my time. And so in January of this year, when my fingers began itching to get back to writing, I was able to find a nice work/writing balance.


Well Seasoned in Tuscany is finally on its journey to publication. My publisher, Gemelli Press, just sent me the new contract, the manuscript is in the capable hands of my editor, Michelle, and now I feel I can finally shout this joyous news.

I want to say a HUGE thank you to my advance readers, Anu, Sherrie, and Ruth. Their feedback was invaluable in the final stages of the process.

So that is my exciting news. By the end of this year, Well Seasoned in Tuscany will be coming to bookseller near you, or at the very least an Amazon near you! Thank you to all of you who keep checking in and asking when book two is coming. I really appreciate all of your support. And I hope you will enjoy the next installment of my Tuscan journey.

I hope to check in more regularly and share some of the things that has made Tuscany become home for me.

A presto


Happy New Year, everyone!  I am experiencing a change of scenery this winter and have moved down the road to Cortona.  I am dog sitting for a couple of months, taking care of two fun-loving, humongous labradors.  After the holidays wind down on the 6th, I will start looking for an apartment over here.  The decision to make a move had to do with stepping out of my comfort zone.  I have made lots of good friends in this neck of the woods and now that I have a car I have a little more freedom. Okay, maybe being closer to sushi also played a teensy part!! I will have a longer commute to the winery when the season ramps up, but there are always trade offs.  I still go to Montepulciano once a week to do English lessons with some of the kids who have been with me since the beginning, and also because I want to make sure I don’t lose touch with Montepulciano, which has the distinction of being my first love in Italy.

So my days are filled with dogs, writing, and reveling in the aroma and heat of lovely wood fires every day. The area has more fog than I would like and its enveloping heaviness makes you want to sit around all day contemplating what your next meal will be and the next series you are going to binge watch.  I am forcing myself to get out and get my run in and not succumb to the fog’s melancholy pull.  I call it depression soup!  I am told now that the cold weather has taken hold, the fog will depart.  Fingers crossed.  Be gone vile beast!

So my word for 2017 is courage, or coraggio in Italian.  The idea being that I want to keep pushing myself to be more audacious and try new things even when it is scary. And maybe moving 20 minutes down the road doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was tough to let go of the tether to Montepulciano and all the comfort that comes with familiarity.  I have only been in my new neighborhood a month, but I am already loving its vitality.  I just did my first Zumba class which was terrifying but in the end fun, and I am joining a book club.  The social options over here are varied and I look forward to continuing to explore.  So here’s to a bold new year in a brave new world!


Making tortellini with my friend Alessandra for Christmas lunch

A foggy day in December

A portable Christmas…. it always feels like home once the Christmas tree is up!

The relief of surviving my first Zumba class with my friend Starr.

New Year’s Eve

Sushi for New Year’s… Yes please!

A Spring in my Step….

Hello lovely friends!  Despite a few clouds overhead today, temperatures are decidedly Spring-like so I am feeling quite happy and frisky at the thought of the coming season.  I had an opportunity to go to Florence on Friday to meet my friend Michelle and there too, signs of Spring were everywhere, the most prevalent being Easter preparations.  Chocolate Eggs perched around every corner! Michelle, who lives in Calabria, is also one one of my editors and it was such a treat to actually meet her in person after corresponding through email and facebook for so long.  We had fun traversing the city with her two year old daughter and even managed to find a really tasty hamburger for lunch.

The winter in Montepulciano passed swiftly.  I was busy studying at the scuola guida, and then taking the written exam for the driver’s license, which I know sounds like no big deal, but oh it is! The amount of material to memorize is really unbelievable, especially when you think about how bad the drivers are here. How did they all get through??   In the end, I passed and happily without any errors.  I am now preparing for the driving bit.  Even though I have been driving for 30 years, the practical exam here is still worrying as you have to be ready to identify parts of the engine etc as well as parallel parking and stopping on hills.  And you can’t use the handbrake which is how I learned so many moons ago.  But even if it’s a challenge, when I finally have my license in hand I know I will have so much more freedom!  Then I just need to find a car that is cheap and cheerful!

Other than that, my winter has been filled with writing and teaching English.  As much as I enjoy getting back to work in the Spring, I do love my students and having the time to focus on my writing. Well Seasoned in Tuscany is chugging along and I hope to have it done in the next couple of months.

I also used my downtime this winter to start running… after a 15 year hiatus.  I found a program called from Couch to 5K and started out quite slowly running and walking and now am happily managing 5 kilometers three times a week. I had forgotten how much I enjoy running and doing it here in Tuscany with this gorgeous landscape is enough to get you out of bed even on the cold and rainy days.  I do have to walk some of the hills at times–I love Montepulciano but it is definitely a challenging terrain.  A huge thanks to my running gurus Elizabeth and Erin for answering all my stupid running questions and basically being my cheerleaders!

I have my first day of work on Tuesday at the winery and then a few sporadic days in April and full time in May.  I am so looking forward to seeing friends who come down every summer.

I hope everyone has a wonderful, renewing Spring!!

Sunrise on a morning run!

Sunrise on a morning run!



Pizza night at my friend Laura’s agriturismo.


Girls night out celebrating "La Festa della Donna"

Girls’ night out celebrating “La Festa della Donna”


I learned to make tortellini this winter. This was round 2

I learned to make tortellini this winter with Marisa and Ada. This was round two.


So pretty.... get in my belly!

So pretty…. get in my belly!


Michelle, Marisa and me at Santa Croce

Michelle, Marisa and me at Santa Croce in Florence.


Buona Pasqua!

Buona Pasqua!


Autumnal Energy

Hello friends!  It’s been forever since I have checked in.  Another season is winding down for me, but instead of being exhausted and ready to tuck my head in like a turtle as winter looms, I am feeling oddly energetic and productive.  This may be in part because I took off some much needed kilos this summer, but also because I have lots of projects that I want to accomplish this winter–one promise I made to myself is an hour of writing every day.  So I am planning that my updates here will be more frequent.  Ever the optimist!

Summer has flown by and now the Tuscan countryside is laden with brilliantly colored leaves on its grapevines. It’s the first season since I moved here that the landscape actually feels really like it has put on its autumn colors, bright reds, oranges, and yellows around every corner.  The air is crisp and the skies are sunny. I have been regularly roasting chestnuts and am about to make pumpkin soup so I am embracing the season wholeheartedly.   Now if I could just find some apple cider…

I have been lucky to spend the last couple of weekends with friends in Cortona and in Umbria.  I love my town, but I also love exploring so any time I head outside the walls, I feel like a dog with its head out the window ready to catch every scent on the road ahead.  It’s wonderful to have a network of both Italian and expat friends here.  I remember saying when I moved here that I didn’t care so much about meeting expats.  Well that was just nutty.  Friends who share a common language and common sensibility… and common stupid movie references are priceless.  I love going to dinners with my Italian friends and I love just being silly with my expat peeps.

So I am still studying for the driving exam.  Or I should say I have restarted studying.  It’s a bear of an exam and the practice quizzes, while addictive, are hard.  Every time I fail one, there is a sound effect that says WHOOPS!  I can’t wait to see what it says when I actually pass one.  It’s the little things that motivate me.  I will keep you posted.

I also hope to finish my follow-up book, Well Seasoned in Tuscany, in the next couple of months and want to begin work on another writing project which I will talk about more as it is fleshed out.

Thanks to all of you who have been with me on this journey here and a special hug to Lynn Arnone who was one of my early blog followers and supporters on At Least You’re in Tuscany and actually came to visit me at the winery this summer.

Lastly since today is a holiday in Italy to remember the souls who have passed on.. a special thought for my dear friend Marinella.  I miss you lots.

Happy Autumn… have a cider donut for me!

A chili weekend in Cortona at Sam & Starr's house complete with Sam's amazing texas chili and my infamous margaritas and tasty guacamole.

A “taste of home” weekend in Cortona at Sam & Starr’s house complete with Sam’s amazing Texas chili and my infamous margaritas and tasty guacamole.


Another fun expat weekend this time in Citta delle Pieve in Umbria. Friends Ruth and Stuart introduced me to Rugby. I am now a fan… at least of Daniel Carter!!

Bertie taking us for a walk around his town

Bertie taking us for a walk around his town

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Cookies! My Grandmother’s Buccellati/Cuccidati

I’ve been passionate about baking since I was four years old.  I had reason to think about my first baking experience the other day when I burned myself pulling a tray of sugar cookies from the oven.  My first batch of cookies and my first burn happened with my grandmother.  I had become bored of my Easy-bake oven and dreamed of grander things, and so my grandmother suggested we bake real cookies.  I don’t remember what type of cookies they were because the thrill of the moment was overshadowed by the pain of the dime-sized burn on my inner wrist that came as I helped pull the steaming hot cookies from the oven.  She immediately slathered the burn with butter, which didn’t seem to help much.  I had the faint reminder on my wrist for many years to come.

Over the years, I’ve perfected my cookie-making technique as well becoming pretty adept at baking bread, cakes, and pizza.  The smell of something baking in the oven is a simple pleasure but one that has come to mean so many things to me.  It’s the memory of childhood, a shared secret between my mom and my grandmother.   It’s a passion and a comfort, and during the holidays, it’s a way of giving back to my friends.  And each year it is usually accompanied, like this one, by a burn on one of my hands.  I don’t slather butter on it like my grandmother did, but the small reminder always makes me think of her.

This year, feeling a bit lonely and wanting to have something of my mom and grandmother with me, I determined to expand my repertoire of the eight or nine types of cookies that I make each holiday season, to include my grandmother’s fig cookies.

The process of making these fig cookies can be daunting, but this is what makes them special.  The cookies themselves, while tasty, are not pretty and sometimes even downright ugly.  But that’s okay, it’s tradition.  The origin of these cookies is Sicily where they are called Buccellati.  Each family has a special recipe for the filling, but it is essentially figs, nuts, and love!  The love part is really important because is you do these cookies in the way that my grandmother always did, it means shoving handfuls of honey-laden, sticky filling through a meat grinder.  Twice.  The last time I made the cookies with my mom we used the grinder attachment of her Kitchenaid mixer and it was much simpler.  And admittedly if my own beautiful Kitchenaid had made the trip with me, I probably would have done the same thing.  But not having a stand mixer or even a decent food processor, I decided to do things the old fashioned way.  So after finding out that a grinder/mincer is a tritacarne in Italian, I asked around to see who had one that I could borrow.  As it turns out, not too many people are still fond of screwing a grinder to the edge of their table and doing things manually.  I had lots of offers of electric ones, but I didn’t want that.  In the end my friend Janet unearthed one that had been her mother’s.

And so it began.  My grandmother’s recipe makes a heck of a lot of cookies, so the first thing I did was cut it in half (which made about 5 dozen).  Then I sought out figs from Sicily at the mercato. Even the lemon and oranges that I zested were from Sicilian trees.  I couldn’t get more authentic that that.  As I started doing the filling, I dashed off an email to my mom to check on a couple of things.  Like most of the Italians that I know here, my grandmother never really had a recipe with weights and measurements.  It was all eyeballed and just knowing.  One of my favorite expressions here is q.b.  Quanto basta.  This basically means until it’s enough or to taste.  For baking this can prove problematic, so my mom and I had meticulously written down amounts so that each year’s adventures in fig cookie making wouldn’t prove so difficult.  It took a try or two before we achieved the same consistency and flavor of my grandmother’s.  What we achieved quite easily, however, was the swearing that accompanied the grinder.  Yesterday, I made the filling on my own, remembering my grandmother sitting at our kitchen table while someone continually shoveled in more filling.  It was a bit harder on my own and I had more than a little drop on the floor, but in the end I succeeded.  I was tempted to tweak a few things in the recipe, but then decided that for this first time tradition was more important.  But if I make them again next year, perhaps a wee bit of marsala in the filling!

This morning I made the dough.  Buying the ingredients for these cookies earns you some looks at the Conad check out lane, especially the three packs of Strutto or lard that I shoved in my cart.  Thank goodness I hadn’t made the whole recipe.  I made a huge flour well and then began mixing everything by hand.  The rest of the morning was spent rolling and cutting pieces of dough and putting a thin rope of the filling in each.  We always called these turds for what they resembled.  We are nothing if not classy!

The test came in the sampling.  The dough was light and flaky and the fig filling to my mind pretty damn close to my grandmother’s.  When I was taking pictures of my handiwork I got a little choked up.  My kitchen smelled like my childhood.  I hope my mom and I will have an opportunity to make the fig cookies together again one Christmas.  As for my grandmother, I am sure she is smiling at my efforts.

Buon Natale!

Gathering the ingredients for the filling and hooking up the mincer.

Gathering the ingredients for the filling and hooking up the mincer.

Initial goopy filling

Initial goopy filling… Che FigO!!!

A child-like enjoyment of making a mess!

A child-like enjoyment of making a mess!

Dough ray mi...

Start with a kilo of flour, then try not to let your eggs escape

Forming the fig cookies...

Forming the fig cookies…

First batch ready for oven.

First batch ready for oven.

Erm, I told you they're not pretty!

Erm, I told you they’re not pretty!

ready for sampling...

ready for sampling…