zaterdag 25 januari 2014

Monteolivo tea

I had planned this new project for some time, to use the herbs and flowers from my garden in a diffenrent way. I did not have to renew last year´s potpourri for it is still beautiful.

My co-workers happen to drink what I call spacey tea with an unidentifiable taste, an unidentifiable smell and if I only look at the colour.... but hey, limoncello is yellow too so I can live with that. The very idea of biological tea appeals to me as long as I am certain that it is really natural and not grown at a 3 m. distance from a highway.

It was fun collecting the flowers and herbs and so was drying them. To distinct one leaf from the other I dried them in two phases, as soon as the first dose was dry enough I added a second one. Of course it took a little trouble to keep Pio from sleepin on them or sliding the whole bunch to the floor, but all went well and after about three weeks everything had dried out.

The most difficult thing was to invent matching tastes. When I decided on the first two, apple – mint and rosehips – fennel, the others were found automatically.

Chopping and grinding took some time, but the smell in my kitchen was ever so delicious.

I had already designed small labels in order to attach them to – guess what – biological thread, so once the bags were filled, all went fast.

A problem seems to tell the different tastes apart. Next time I will use either coloured paper or different labels.

This time I solved it by a home made box, dividers and labels on the front.

I´ll make it through fall I think.

My top 10

I would have like to form a top 2000 like the Dutch Radio does, but I have to face the fact that though I (mostly) like my life, it´s not that interesting. So I´ll stick to a top 10 of those things that made my 2012 worth remembering.

10. My pool in Holland. I´ve been there far too little, so it´s in this list to convince the Gods of all Weather that we should really get a summer in 2013.

9. Searching for asparagus in the Umbrian woods. The most memorable aspect was that I succeeded in finding 10 (!!) and met a viper.

8. Starting a blog and a facebook page called la Vita di Monteolivo.

7. My veggie and herb garden. I had to start it all over again, thanks to the snow in winter, but it did a marvellous job.

6. The pleasure of making my own wine.

5. Cooking, baking and inventing new recipes. Days like these I call La giornata della Nonna. 

4. Becoming a guest writer for Discovering Umbria and Thinking Nomads. Click on the links to read my articles. I hope to write a lot more in 2013.

3. The too short and very hot summer in Umbria. The memory only hurts me every day.

2. Picking olives in Umbria. I certainly hope my friends will invite me again in 2013. 

1. Pio. No comment needed.

Wish I was at home for Christmas

I have to face the truth this time. Though I always claim to be progressive and to reject the bourgeois things of life, I have to admit being very traditional when it comes to Christmas.

I have been looking forward to the 8th of December, La festa dell´Immacolata Concezione di Maria (Immaculate Conception.. always good for a few discussions).

I really like putting up the Christmas tree and listen to the Weihnachts Oratorium while doing so. As I can not, like my Umbrian friends, have the beautiful medieval colors all around my, I decorate my tree with them.

The best thing is to decorate the Christmas crib. When I was young, my father gave me a very small crib that I still have. A very funny story is, one year, the little Jesus figure was missing from its cradle and I found it under the sofa. I put it back but the next day it was gone again. This went on for three days, until I found my cat Youssef playing with it.
Now I have an Italian handmade nativity set that is very beautiful.

There´s even a huge camel that my Pio was really scared of when he was still a tiny little kitten. He kept hissing and growling at it.
Today, he´s bigger than the camel, so he thinks the crib is his too.

My friend Lucia´s tree (c) Lucia Rufini
But the very best thing about this tradional stuff is the small talk with my Italian friends. I love to see their pics and read their comments. Who thinks that only the English know how to celebrate Christmas has never seen the Italian way of preparing for it.

My friend Lucia is an example of good taste and knows how to make a home.
For more stunning pics you may like to visit her facebookpage 

Sull'albero anche pezzetti di una vecchia collana (c) Lucia Rufini

(c) Hotel Bramante Todi 
And how about the impressive decoration realized by Hotel Bramante? I am certain you will love their blog as much as I do. Click here to enjoy it. No better way to get in the mood.

I am not so traditional that I will cook zampone con lenticchie for Christmas. But the Panettone can not be missed and I always try to make sure that the table matches the colors in the tree.

And next year? I´ll make sure I will be in Umbria. A very merry Christmas to all of you.

vino della casa

This year my grape harvest was, as I told you before, abundant and of good quality. Having spent summer in my beloved Umbria in the middle of vineyards, my mind wouldn´t let go of the idea of making my own wine.

I searched for recipes and almost got too scared to try. Reading about ferment bottles, siphoning tubes, acidity, percentages and above all, about pests and diseases is not an encouraging way to start something new. A very simple message on facebook pulled me out of the misery just in time.

I had ten kg. of grapes that had to be washed, dipped in sulfite powder and then rinsed. One sentence – two hours of work. The next phrase told me to remove the grapes from the bunches and bruise them. This meant another two hours, but by that time I felt the energy running through my veins. Maybe it was the smell.

I had to prepare a mixture in order to start the ferment. It took some time measuring all the teaspoons and calculating the desired amount of sugar, but I managed and ended up with a bucket full of must that smelled delicous.

Very comforting were all the pictures from wineries in Umbria that appeared in the social media, because my must looked exactly alike. I had to let it ferment for 10 days, stirring three times a day and the smell got better and better.

After that it was time to press and filter the must. Of course this also sounds easier than it in fact was, but I finally had a full ferment bottle, purple hands and a lot of cleaning to do.

The thing to do then was wait until the ferment ended.

In order to clear the wine, it had to be siphoned from one bottle into another and back. That was a very nice part of the job, because I could taste a few drops and they seemed to be just fine.

Finally, I had a clear wine that was ready to be bottled. It took me only ten minutes... and then I found out that the last mile is really the longest. It was impossible for me to push the corks into the bottles but my youngest son came to my rescue and closed the bottles professionally.

So now... all I have to do is wait.  

Bring it to the table

Fortunately I already told you about my second folly so this can´t come as a surprise. My cupboards (and any place else I can stuff away things) are loaded with tableware. I don´t know if this also is a genetical disorder, my grandmother – the one with all the linens – did not suffer from this one. But at least one aunt does, so maybe it is a family secret.

It don´t think I am to blame completely, because with all the tablecloths I own, it´s hard to escape from getting matching plates. Besides, everyone knows that, for example, an orange dish tastes awful from a red plate. One simply has to accept the inevitable.

And all my crockery has its own history or little legend. That is definitely the best part. My daily plates don´t of course, but it´s funny that they were originally meant for dinners al fresco outside or in the gardenhouse. This means I have to buy new for that purpose. Life is hard.

The brown stuff I really like, for they make autumn meals a pleasure. I bought my first piece at a fair, for the salesman said they were suitable for gas as well. They are not. I found out the first time I used it. They got scorched, my kitchen was full of smoke and if I tell you how it smelled, you will get Chinese take away food for the rest of your life.

I like the mugs very much. My sister saw them somewhere so I asked her to get me six and I was going to pick them up and pay her back and thank you. On my way to her place, I saw two matching bowls, so I used the money for those and had to return the week after to give my sister her share.

My aunt (the one that shares this idiocy) gave my the blue bowls for my birthday. They match the tablerunners I was given by my dearest Italian friends exactly. The two dutch antique jars are a present from my neighbor so, indeed, it´s something old, something new and something blue. If I need more, the borrowed thing will be the money.

My all time favorite is the olive set. I saw them in Belgium, bought six plates and two bowls and found out it was rather stupid to buy things like that abroad. You can´t easily get something new when it breaks. Fortunately, I had very dear friends and we visited each other on a regular basis and they helped me to complete the set. I am really very fond of my olive stuff to lay a party table with.

Only the large bowls I bought in Deruta, Umbria, which is the most famous centre of maiolica. It´s practically all hand-made. You name it, they provide it. I think you could even find a maiolica elephant. I wanted one large bowl and went to one of the thousand stores. I ended up with three, but I still think that was a major achievement, for I left all the rest. It was amazing.

The tomato decorated crockery I discovered in a supermarket in Trevi, Umbria. It was the time for canning tomatoes, but from selling tomatoes only there won´t be much profit. So the supermarket sold yars, bottles, grinders, placemats (yes I did) and this tablewear. I could not resist. It looks so lovely on a white tablecloth – but only before dinner. When you fill up the bowls, you don´t see the decoration anymore. But the feeling you get when you look at the table´s worth it.


Nobody would call my way of making my own candles artisan, and I assure you I don´t pretend. If you want to make candles the traditional way, there will be a lot of directions on the internet. They will certainly be more beautiful than mine.

It´s just a way of saving time and money. Besides, it will keep you from roaming the streets.
Take your time and don´t try this when your mother in law is going to pay you a visit, because your kitchen will be a mess and really will need a cleaning afterwards.

This is not a season bound activity, you can try it whenever you feel like it so you can start collecting the necessities from now.

You need:
Remains of candles
Candle wicks (you can get them online)
Molds, but instead of buying expensive ones, you can use empty cans, small glasses (heatproof), empty egg boxes (take plastic, those from cardboard don´t serve), empty tea light cups, whatever.
A pan
A wooden spoon
Baking paper

I sort the remains of the candles by color, but you could try to mix some, adding white candles will provide a pretty pastel effect.

Put the candle remains in a pan an put it on a very low fire to melt.
In the mean time, prepare the candlewicks by cutting pieces at the same length as the mold you´re using. Stick a toothpick through them so you can make it balance on the edge of the mold.

Put the molds on a piece of baking paper, it may save you a lot of work later. When the candle wax has melted, remove old wicks and dirt with the spoon. Then carefuly pour it into the mold, holding the toothpick. Let the candles harden, it does not take very long. The remove the toothpick.

Scented candles:
Add some scented oil to the liquid before pouring it into the molds. Don´t use too much, a few drops will do. I used rose oil and lavender oil. Click here for the way to make them. 
Add a little cinnamon to the liquid if you aleady planned to make brown candles. You can´t do that with light colors, because it is hard to mix it properly and in that case the cinnamon will leave brown spots.
A very nice effect you can reach by coating the mold with slices of dried fruits like apple or orange. I normally don´t because somehow, they always catch fire at my place, but maybe you are more careful.  

To remove spilled wax:
Put a paper towel on the wax and gently press it with a not too hot iron. Repeat until it´s all gone.
To clean the pan and the spoon, remove as many reamins as you are able to and then use abundant, really hot water and a detergent. Make sure the water is really hot in order to prevent your drain from blocking. Don´t throw it in the toilet, it won´t flush anymore. But everyone can make a mistake.