Brunello. Uncorked. Sipped. Loved.

On our last day in Tuscany, eight of us headed to Montalcino in two cars for the day. Mark and I had been invited by Laura Gray at Il Palazzone for a tour of the vineyard and a tasting of their Brunello, ... And we were told to bring friends.

Brunello di Montalcino, if you aren't familiar with it, is an Italian red wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 70 miles south of Florence.  Brunello, roughly translated as "small dark one" in the local dialect, is made solely from hand-picked Sangiovese grapes and then aged in oak barrels.  Most producers separate their production between a normale and riserva bottling, releasing the normale bottles four years after harvest and the riserva anther year after that.  In 1980, the Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy's best-known and most expensive wines.

So, off we went to get there for our 11:00 tour, arriving pretty much on time. Il Palazzone isn't far at all from the "villa" we rented in Montalcino in 1998 (a converted monastery called I Cappuccini) - a trip with many of the same folks who were here in Tuscany with us this year. Memories of that earlier trip flowed freely in our car; it was a magical time.


Lunch Pies

Onions as room palette inspiration - creamy white, black and aged wood.
I love Gorgonzola cheese.  Sprinkle it on my salad every day.
Bought the coffee bowl in Paris.  I could use a few more. . .
I cheat and use frozen puff pastry.


Arrivederci Roma!

After our recent week in Tuscany with family and friends (20, in case you haven't been reading), Mark and I wanted some "us" time.  So off we went to Rome, where we rented a very tiny studio apartment for a week in Vecchia Roma - on the Via dei Coronari, about two minutes from Piazza Navona and another five minutes to Campo dei Fiori. If you've been to Rome, you already know that Campo dei Fiori is foodie heaven. If you haven't been, it is definitely the place to go if you love good food.

Our neighborhood was filled with high-end antiques shops, upscale men's clothing boutiques, restaurants and caff├Ęs.  When I looked out the window in the morning and evening, the sun would stream down this vicolo and make amazing shadow play on the centuries-old stuccoed walls, as I watched people coming and going.

A tiny but very efficient kitchen!
When we rented it, we were happy to find it was on a "pedestrian only" street, thinking it would be quiet.  But, now, we almost believe that quiet is impossible in Rome. In the end, "pedestrian only" meant pedestrians, cabs, trucks, motorcycles, and hand carts - all on cobbles.  But it didn't matter - the life below was part of the magical experience.  So what if we lost a little sleep at night?

Every day - even Sundays now - there are dozens of vendors selling their produce and wares in the Campo dei Fiori.  The Sunday vendors mostly sell dried and packaged ingredients - spices, herb mixtures, oils, vinegars, legumes and nuts.  But every other day there is an amazing array of fruits, vegetables and flowers that made me practically giddy. 


Lemon Poppy Thins

Give me crisp days and cold nights and I am hankering for yarn.  Thick socks.  Wooly sweaters.  Bright scarves.  That is, of course, until the temps climbed to 85 degrees this weekend.  No matter, a temporary inconvenience because the leaves are crunching underfoot, the smell of wood burning is in the air and I hear the call of clicking needles.

Meditative, tactile, visually stimulating - the repetitive nature of knitting is soothing and undemanding.  From what is basically a ball of string and two sticks comes an object of warmth and beauty.  This month I am looking forward to finishing a project put aside after my father died two years ago.  It's a lovely sweater in a juicy magenta mohair, and wearing it I will be enveloped with sweet memories of time spent with him.  

And there is such pleasure in knitting with friends.  On a recent evening at Pam's, we curled up in front of a crackling fire, bags overflowing with yarn, everyone gabbing and working away.  

As the days grow shorter, be good to yourself - gather some wool and needles, a steaming cup of tea and a few lemony cookies, and knit-purl  yourself something cozy and beautiful.


On a Tuscan Countertop

Villa Casille, our home for the week near Cortona
"Many hands make light work." Yes, it is a time-proven adage but, in the case of a recent dinner in Tuscany, "Many hands .... saved the day!"

Angela and Pasquale at work
It was a beautiful Monday, our third day in a large villa padrone near Cortona with 20 family, friends and soon-to-be-friends – a group gathered by our cousin Cathy to celebrate a special birthday for her partner Heather. After the welcome dinner on Sunday (made by locals Pasquale and Angela, above), I - for a reason only my therapist could say - offered to make homemade pasta for the house. Pasta for 20??? What was I thinking?

On our way home that day, after touring Cortona with friends Marlow, Wes and Barbara, we picked up the flour and eggs (and the requisite case of wine) and I prepared mentally for what was ahead. I had asked Angela, after Sunday's dinner (we had just had her homemade pici with wild boar sauce - Pasquale had hunted the boar himself), how on earth she makes pasta for 20 people. "Un uova per testa (one egg per head)," she said, is what I would need to make enough for the crowd.