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!

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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!

Una Bella Vita…

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When I awoke this morning I was conscious of the fact that I was alone for the first time in over 15 years.  There was no sound of Cinder’s yawning, stretching and general head shaking to rouse me from sleep.  There was no pacing up and down the hallway, long toenails clicking away, making her morning routine sound like a tap dance.   My beautiful girl was gone.  The tears, which have been flowing freely since yesterday once again commenced.

The last year has been a roller coaster of ups and downs.  I thought last summer that Cinder had finally decided to leave me, but she’d hung on to see one more spring in Tuscany.  Next week makes four years living here.  And while it may be unusual for a Weimaraner to live to 15, I shouldn’t really be surprised.  All of my Italian neighbors seem to live well into their 90s, so it kind of makes sense that Cinder would get a couple extra years out of her retirement.  She was living with blurry vision from cataracts, had become almost completely deaf and her weakening back legs gave her a slope that resembled a German Shepherd.  And then there was the incontinence.  But she was still full of life.  And she still greeted me with amazement and delight each time I entered the house, even if I had only been gone ten minutes.  When telling my Italian friends yesterday that she had died, I used an expression that one of my friends here told me when her grandmother died: si è spenta.  Which basically means extinguished like a light or a flame.  And I think it’s an apt way of describing Cinder.  Because she really had been the essence of burning energy and light.

Our early years together were not easy.  We met in Miami where she’d been taken in by friends.  A rescue, she was an emaciated puppy, probably nine months old, all spindly legs and sporting that gaunt look famous among supermodels.  She was scared of everything, especially men.  I had more than one postman who looked on the verge of cardiac arrest when she would jump up on the screen barking.  She was full of energy and most of our walks were more like trots as I valiantly struggled to keep up with her.  She was quite horrible to my Labrador Miranda, always showing off her alpha status and making poor easy-going Miranda get off the couch or give up a toy.  It took a long time for us to establish a bond with Cinder because of this.  She moved in and definitely made her presence felt.  I haven’t had to set alarm since she entered my life.  If she was not up with the sun, she was up before it.

She went from Miami rescue, to city girl when we moved to New York.  She and Miranda, now best of friends, spent many happy years socializing in the dog park and learning how to pee curbside. She suffered the torture of me dressing her up for Halloween each year and she took on a maternal role with the other dogs that I used to walk and take care of.  Her royal bearing made many a puppy tow the line.  She loved the snow in New York and would bury her head in it like she used to do in the sands of the beaches of Miami.  We spent Sunday mornings walking off leash in wilds of Riverside Park.

And then Tuscany.   Some of my favorite reviews of At Least You’re in Tuscany have been by people who have called it a book about a girl and her dog.  I didn’t seek to include Cinder in the story as I wrote it.  It just happened naturally because she has been such a part of my life.  And I relied on her a lot especially in those first isolating moments of the first year here.  Cinder outlived boyfriends, some friendships, put up with my terrible PMS, and saw me through some of my toughest moments as well as my greatest joys.  She had a sense of comic timing and was really quite funny and expressive.   She was a cuddler even though she was big and even in the last months as her legs were getting worse, she would stand next to me, her big silky grey head on my leg as I worked on my computer.  She slept a lot in the last year.  Only the scent of roasting chicken or baking sugar cookies would rouse her immediately from her naps, which were getting longer and longer.

In the last two weeks or so I could see she was starting to really labor when walking.  Marinella once again was taking her out when I started back to work at Poliziano, and she too noted that our time was nearly up.  I resolved that when she couldn’t get up, we would say our goodbyes.  We had a beautiful afternoon together on Friday.  I took her little mat outside and we soaked up the strong Tuscan sunshine in our parking area.  We were both lizards, happily lazing and enjoying the gorgeous scents of spring.

And then Saturday morning she didn’t get me up.  I woke up anyway on schedule ready to take her out for a pee, my body now on a sleep cycle usually reserved for nursing mothers.  I heard her struggle from her bed and then saw that her legs had finally had enough.  She was shaking and breathing hard and I could tell she was scared.  I sat with her for hours, soothing her, this time resting my head on hers.  Marinella’s son Giacamo, who is our veterinarian, came to us in the late morning and we agreed that it was time to let her go.  I sat with her in my lap as she drifted off to sleep, thanking her for being such a wonderful companion for these many years and telling her it was okay to go.  Miranda was waiting for her.

So now I am here in my empty house keenly feeling her loss.  This is one chapter of my life I have been dreading to start…

One of Cinder's last pics

Cinder sunbathing while I studied for my sommelier course

New York…

Ist Christmas in NYC.  For someone reason I thought it would be cute to make the girls wear I Love New York t-shirts

1st Christmas in NYC. For some reason I thought it would be cute to make the girls wear I ♥ New York t-shirts.  They were troopers!

Our cozy apartment in the Big Apple

Our cozy apartment in the Big Apple

Cinder shows off her sexy side with feather boa...

Cinder shows off her sexy side with feather boa…

After a bath, it's best to roll in the disgusting dirt of the dog run.  Repeat until the clean smell is but a distant memory.

After a bath, it’s best to roll in the disgusting dirt of the dog run. Repeat until the clean smell is but a distant memory.

You can blame William Wegman for these next photos!!

But I don't wanna be a pirate!

But I don’t wanna be a pirate!

Super Friends!

Super Friends!

She's got nerve calling me a witch when she put me in a tutu.

She’s got nerve calling me a witch when she put me in a tutu.

Retirement in Tuscany…

First apartment in Tuscany

First apartment

Un bacio for Nan.  Our first friend from NYC to visit us in Tuscany

Un bacio for Nan. Our first friend from NYC to visit us

First snowfall that dumped almost two feet our first winter.

First snowfall that dumped almost two feet our first winter.

At Least You're in Tuscany... At Least You're in Tuscany...

Babysitting for a friend’s five children meant more costumes… At Least You’re in Tuscany… At Least You’re in Tuscany…

Addio…

A girl's best friend...

A girl’s best friend…

No Guts, No Glory!

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Italy has changed me.  There was a time not so long ago when if I saw a piece of pork with a tinge of pink, I wouldn’t go near it.  And just ask my Dad how many Thanksgiving turkeys I denounced, when they arrived at the table, because I thought they were too juicy.  But now after almost four years of living here, I can happily munch a crostino con salsiccia e stracchino, basically sausage that is still pink after spending a brief time under the broiler.  What has happened to me? Did I undergo some intense therapy where I was forced to confront years of accumulated fears of trichinosis, salmonella, or E coli.  Nah, nothing so dramatic.  Instead, I have simply learned to enjoy local foods and to cook them in the traditional way they have always been prepared.  Mayonnaise with raw eggs?  Not a problem.  Carpaccio of beef?  Bring it on.

Then came Marinella’s announcement that our next recipe for our cooking lesson would be La Trippa.  Tripe.  I’ll admit, my old OCD self came roaring back urging me, “Easy tiger, let’s not go too native.”  When I mentioned to Marinella that it wasn’t a dish I was really comfortable with she replied, “Nonsense.  I am famous for my tripe, you will love it.”   Erm, ok.   In the end I agreed, but then hastened back to my house to find out a bit more about this trippa.

I’ll admit, I always thought that tripe involved the intestines of the cow, and in fact in some Spanish speaking countries, tripe does include the intestines.  But here in Italia, it’s just the stomach lining.  Whew!  For me the distinction was huge and I was able to get on board with what to many is a fabulous dish.  I made it first with Marinella and then again on my own to practice.

La Trippa di Marinella (Marinella made a huge batch, so for our purposes I cut it half… serves 4 people)

– 1 kilo of Tripe (around 2 pounds)  It will come already cleaned, but we cleaned it again with hot water and lemon.  When I did it on my own, I rinsed it two times.  You can buy the tripe already cut (which I did), or you can get the disgusting looking piece of stomach and cut it yourself into strips like Marinella did!

– 1 yellow onion

– 1 carrot

-1 celery stalk

-1 handful of parsley

-3 cloves of garlic

– small pieces of peperoncino (ATTENZIONE….  When I did the dish on my own I put way too much red pepper.  You can’t undo it once it’s in.  So I’d put one or two and then add more if it’s not spicy enough. )

– 5 whole cloves

– Medium can of peeled whole tomatoes that you have pureed.  (Marinella uses her food processor but I just did with a hand mixer.)

Chop the vegetables in a food processor  and then saute in heated olive oil.  Just eyeball the oil, should coat the bottom of your pot.  When the vegetables are softened…Marinella made me smell the aroma of when they were just right, but if you cook them until they are softened, you will be good to go.  Then add the cloves and the red pepper.

The next step is adding the tripe.  Slowly add to the vegetables and stir.  Add a generous amount of salt at this point and then you are a going to leave it partially covered on a low flame for almost two hours, basically until the water drains out of the tripe and then is reabsorbed.

After the two hours and the tripe has reabsorbed the water, you add the pureed tomato.  Then add enough hot water to cover.  Salt again.

You then let it cook slowly on a low flame for 4-5 hours.  You’ll know it’s done because you’ll see the oil rise to the top.

Now, I made of couple of mistakes, the first being the red pepper.  The second was that too compensate I added some more water so it took longer to cook it down.

So did I like it??  Marinella’s was obviously very tasty, but there is something about the consistency of the tripe that doesn’t work for me.  I like the sauce that it makes.  But I would not make it if I was cooking just for me.  That being said,  I did make it so that I could share the recipe with you guys.  Selfless, right?  And then I rounded up some friends to fare la cavia and try it.   I discovered that la trippa is not universally adored here either.  People either love it or leave it.

I brought my finished product to Marinella for a verdict, even though I knew it was too spicy.  “The perfume is perfect,” she told me.  “The taste is spot on…. except that it is troppo piccante!”  She told me to bring it to my guinea pig friends only if they loved spicy foods.  Granted one is a fire fighter so I thought he could probably handle it, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to serve a dish that wasn’t just right.  My poor friend, Marco, wasn’t so lucky.  I gave him some last night before the verdict and he agreed to try it spice and all!  No word from him today and one assumes he is in the emergency room with a burned palate!
On the plus side, the baguettes that I made to serve with la trippa are just lovely!

Making Tripe with Marinella

the washed tripe, ready for cooking...

the washed tripe, ready for cooking…

cooking the vegetables, and adding the spice.

cooking the vegetables, and adding the spice.

Here's what it looks like after the first 2 hour cooking time

Here’s what it looks like after the first 2 hour cooking time

after adding the tomatoes and water, this is what it will look like at the end of the 4 or 5 hours.

after adding the tomatoes and water, this is what it will look like at the end of the 4 or 5 hours.

Here's what mine looked like at the end, you can see it was a little too soupy.

Here’s what mine looked like at the end, you can see it was a little too soupy.

Marinella's trippa...

Marinella’s trippa…

Fatto a mano…

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Now that we are in March, spring feels close enough to taste!  A few warm days last week had me hightailing it to my spot in the parking area with Cinder.  I replenished my vitamin D with some sunshine on my face as I dutifully read my sommelier course homework, while Cinder paced around, sniffing all the new intriguing odors that had accumulated over the winter.  I wish I had her nose for my course.  The reward for wading through 100 page chapters each week on viticoltura and enologia is that we get to taste four wines at the end of class and are learning how to correctly describe them.  My nose definitely needs more training because while I can usually identify red fruit or sometimes a rose, I am not one of the star pupils who eagerly calls out “plums,” “liquorice,” “sour cherries”, or my personal favorite “a hint of violet.”  WTF?  Are these people messing with me?  Only after the instructor tells us what we should be smelling, can I sometimes catch a whiff.

The good news is that soon I will be back at work at Poliziano and able to show off all my fancy new wine knowledge to loads of unsuspecting tourists.  In the meantime, I am writing, teaching English, and learning some Tuscan recipes.  Those of you who have been following my adventures know that my neighbor Marinella has been like a mom to me here.  Not only does she take care of Cinder when I am working, she is quick to chastise me if I go out with my hair wet, but then will later stop by with some of her homemade pasta and ragù.  She happily recites recipes for me when I need one, but what I really wanted was to see her in action in the kitchen.  Because so many people have been writing to tell me how much they enjoyed At Least You’re in Tuscany and wanting to know when the next installment is coming, I decided that I really wanted the next chapter of my life here to be about my “becoming Italian.”  And a big part of that includes cooking the local foods.  Marinella, who seemed quite pleased with her part in the first book, has eagerly embraced her role as teacher.  We started with ribollita which is my favorite Tuscan bean soup and then this week we moved on to pasta.  We spent an afternoon making pici and tagliatellea mano.  By Hand.  Or as my colleague Fabio at Poliziano continues to say even after I’ve corrected him twenty times, “by hands.”  As he reasonably pointed out, it’s better if you use two!

I made this tagliatelle recipe with Marinella on the weekend, and then this morning I did it on my own so I could  “fare practica” as Marinella said.  To practice.

Marinella’s Tagliatelle:

4 eggs (basically 1 egg per person is the rule) so this feeds 4

Salt, a little bit of olive oil

Flour (she used 00 and I did too) (she does it by sight, but it’s roughly about a cup of flour for every egg)

Mix eggs, salt, and oil in a bowl.  Add flour.  (If you are fancy and want to do the flour well and put your eggs inside and mix that way, feel free.  Marinella said she doesn’t enjoy the stress of the eggs escaping the flour so she does it in the bowl.)

Basically continue to add flour until it comes together to form a ball.  She does it by sight and I did too. When it is together, knead on floured board until it is pliable and no longer sticky.  Let rest 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough thinly on a large lightly floured surface.  The pastry board they use to roll out the pasta is called a spianatoia  and the rolling pin a matterello.  The rolling pin is really really long and allows you to drape the dough over the pin, while you are rolling it out.  This part of the process takes a a bit of time to get the dough really thin.  The dough is quite elastic and so is easy to move around as you work.  After you get it very thin, you need to let it dry.  I yelled to Marinella out my window to come over and check on my work and she was quite pleased and said it was the perfect thickness.  I could tell she was proud because she even gave me a hug and a kiss, which she doesn’t often do.  Usually you leave the sheet of pasta to dry for about a half an hour, but because it’s really humid today, I left it an hour.  (Make sure while it’s drying that if you have an inquisitive aging weimaraner you keep it out of their reach.)

The last step is to fold it and cut it.  I folded it in on itself twice and then doubled it over.  There are many ways to do this and you can watch online if you want to see some variations.  Then you cut it.  When Marinella cut it she cut the strips rather wide because that’s how her husband likes them and I followed her lead.  But really the wider variation is called pappardelle, not tagliatelle.  Same yumminess, different width!

So after you cut your pasta and unfold each piece, you can put them in a bit of flour to keep them from sticking.  Best to eat the same day (with a tasty ragù) or make into nests and pop in the freezer.  If you leave it in the fridge, it will become a clumpy mess as I discovered with the pici.

Cook in Boiling water for about 6 minutes.  Doesn’t take long and if you cut them thinner they will take even less time. I called my friend Valerio to be my guinea pig and he obligingly took some home to try.  I await the verdict, but I had it for lunch and it was pretty darn good.  I froze the rest.

Buon appetito!

This is my homemade vanilla that I started in December... basically the recipe is vodka with vanilla beans.  I made A LOT because I cannot find vanilla here! I just used it for the first time and it's great.

Since we’re talking about fatto a mano, this is my homemade vanilla that I started in December… basically the recipe is vodka with vanilla beans. I made A LOT because I cannot find vanilla extract here! It needs a bit more time but I  just used it and it’s great.

Marinella rolling out the dough for tagliatelle

Marinella rolling out the dough for tagliatelle

IMG_2639

It gets really big!

Cutting the pasta into strips...

Cutting the pasta into strips…

Tagliatelle!

Tagliatelle!

My attempt today on my own…

Preparing my "tools" -- My pastry board needed to be bleached first because of the mold in my kitchen.  The authentic Tuscan matterello was a gift from Marinella and is now one of my treasured possessions.

Preparing my “tools” — My pastry board needed to be cleaned with bleach due to a mold issue from where it had been stored in my kitchen. The authentic Tuscan matterello was a gift from Marinella and is now one of my treasured possessions.

So far so good...

So far so good…

Marinella taught me that if you wrap the dough around the pin and drag it toward you, it helps roll it out.  And is just looks cool!

Marinella taught me that if you wrap the dough around the pin and drag and press it toward you, it helps roll it out. And it also just looks cool!

Letting it dry after achieving desired thinness.

Letting it dry after achieving desired thinness.

My strips couldn't decide if they wanted to be tagliatelle or pappardelle.

My strips couldn’t decide if they wanted to be tagliatelle or pappardelle.

Looks good to me!!!

Looks good to me!!!

My friend Valerio who owns our local pet store agrees to give my pasta a try....No pressure!

My friend Valerio who owns our local pet store agrees to give my pasta a try….No pressure!

Tagliatelle with Marinella's ragù di capriolo and my friend Marco's wine.

Tagliatelle with Marinella’s ragù di capriolo and my friend Marco Barbi’s wine. Delish!!