moving forward

Back in May, to mend a battered heart, I fled to Italy with a mission to explore the University of Gastronomic Science in the tiny town of Pollenzo. I have this intensely vivid memory of walking by myself between the school’s old walls on that hot spring afternoon and pebbles crunching under my feet. The smell of spring, where everything is absurdly fragrant, gave me the same sense of euphoria I get everywhere. I simultaneously realized two things; I could do this and that “this” had already begun. It just took my brain a little longer to catch up.

When I got home I spent a month filling out my application, writing 26 essays questions and working my way around a maddening Italian government. I submitted my portfolio like I had hit the red button in the oval office. All I could do was wait….I HATE waiting…

Move forward 7 months… The morning of knowing finally came…early. I sat in my kitchen with Kudra flopped over my keyboard when the email arrived…Twenty-five people were accepted into this program. I was given the random number 198.  I opened the list. 23, 455, 199, … I scanned the list and my heart pounded in my chest….then I saw it, 198. I had to blink twice and look again. Was I really in? Holy Shit. Here we go.. Deep breath.. I am moving to Italy. I am quitting my job, leaving people I love, paying for this how? I will figure it out! I AM MOVING TO ITALY!

Now it is December 22. Winter Solstice. Each day I try to complete some small step forward. I occupy myself with other things but there is no doubt, I am moving away. For one year. People move to other countries or across their own country all the time. I wasn’t doing something extraordinary, but to me, it is everything. An old soul recently told me that my life is a movie waiting to be made. I think life is an ever-changing, slightly maddening, always moving picture show. I am going to have a kick-ass sound track.

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It’s All In the Details

Last weekend I was invited to a Dinner Party in the Garden by my friend Kris. i had been following her garden progress through spring and summer and it was lovely! I was slightly confused because she referred to the garden as the Sister Wives Garden, and not having seen her in a several months, wondered if she had become a polygamist. Of course I accepted the invitation and asked if I could bring my visiting cousins. Kris said Sure!, just bring a couple extra bottles of wine.

It was the hottest day of the year.  As we melted our way through the day, my friend Joel drove down from Olympia to join us, without AC, poor guy. He is planning to create a similar dinner party at home and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get some ideas. I know i did!

We arrived in Camas at the Sister Wives Garden. Two young gentlemen greeted us at the top of the road guiding us down a VERY STEEP HILL. As we made our way down the hill the valley opened up before us with a beautiful field, the garden and a table, with seating for 60. I audibly gasped. It looked like something from a magazine.

We parked the car and made our way over to the festivities. The first thing to catch my eye was the John Deere full of ice and wine bottles. I decided at that exact moment that if i own a farm, i will do exactly the same thing, every chance i get.

The appetizer table was piled with fresh fruit, cheeses, puffed pastries, blue cheese crackers with fig tapanade and of course gorgeous crudite from the garden.

Joel and I grabbed a glass of wine and made our way up the adjacent hill to take in the view, and find a patch of shade. The feeling of happiness was palpable. Everyone was enjoying themselves and so pleased to be there. After meeting some fantastic people, dinner was announced and we took our seats. Our meal was served family style and prepared by Kris! I cant imagine how early she had begun cooking!!!

We had a beautiful salad full of garden veggies, a caprese salad, roasted vegetables and chicken mushroom pasta. For dessert we had beautiful fruit tarts and smores around the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could have stayed all night! the bon fire was keeping the mosquitos at bay and a slight chill in the air. A few hay bails had been arranged around the pit and covered with warm old quilts. Alas the time had come to say good-night as we drove bck up the VERY STEEP HILL.

Thank you Kris, Susie and Steve for inviting us to this really fantastic evening. I feel so lucky to have shared in it. And no, Kris is not a polygamist, she just has really awesome neighbors who love to garden, host beautiful dinner parties and celebrate the magic of a vegetable garden. My kind of people.

For more beautiful photos, you can view Marcie, the professional photographer’s photo album HERE

The Vision

I have a vision for myself. It is still a little fuzzy around the edges but none the less it is my vision.

I want a smallish farm. I want a lovely little farm house that is always full of light and treasures and people i love. I imagine myself making beautiful meals for friends and family while we sit out under a big old tree around an old beat up table that we have dragged outside from the kitchen. I see a  garden full of vegetables and fruit and herbs and honey bees and around the property i see sheep and dogs and cats and chickens and maybe a pig and a cow. I see a shed full of curing meats and cheeses and a cellar full of wine, onions and preserves. i imagine getting up at sunrise to feed and milk the animals and watch the sun rise while i tend to the details of the property.

I see a mr smallish farm who loves to laugh and wears big black boots. He is an enigma.  I will manage the farm and preserve the harvest for those cozy winter months of rain and muck. I see a big old fireplace with a comfy chair and a cat. The house wont be perfect but it will be perfectly quirky in just the way i like it.

So now that i have shared my vision, one which makes me swoon a bit, i also have to share my reality. I lost a chicken this morning and it sucked!  I see myself raising my own meat and being part of the butchering process…but that damn chicken nearly broke my heart. Perhaps it was because her name was Penelope and she was big and blond and lovely and she ran to me when i called her name. Unlike a “normal” farmer, i spent the last 10 days feeding her through a syringe full of buttermilk and tomatoes. i held her in my lap and washed her face. She cooed and purred and looked up at me with big trusting eyes. We were in love a little bit.

I woke up this morning at sunrise  to check on Penelope, tend to the other animals and water the garden. I tenderly laid Penelope to rest under the rosemary bush and somehow i felt at peace. I knew I could handle the farm life. Next time it will be a little easier. I feel like I had to pop the farm-girl cherry and was terrified. My vision stands firm. The fuzzy edges will clarify in time and i will forever be grateful to the animals who share their milk, eggs and lives with me.

RIP sweet Penelope. Thanks for being so gentle.

The future of food, with a taste of the past


At last we were heading to the heart of the matter. I didnt really think about it this way until we were 10 minutes from the campus and Sami asked if i was prepared.  But it all boiled down to the fact that i was in Italy to see if i wanted to participate in a 12 month masters program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the tiny town of Pollenzo, Italy.

I have always had a special place for Italy in my heart because it was the first country i visited outside of North America. The fact that i might call it home for a year is rather overwhelming! Stacey and Sami had to come along to make sure i was making the right decision.

We left Vernazza on the 6am train to make it to Pollenzo by 10:00. Our rather incompetent navigator, Emily, made me nervous. We arrived at 9:53, front door service! Nice driving Sami!

The open house was incredible! Being only one of two Americans in a group of over 50 potential students, I met with current students and professors, got a tour of the library, with subscriptions to every food-related magazine produced in the world, the Italian Wine Bank and dined on exquisitely produced foods right around the valley by local farmers. Sigh…any apprehension i had about this decision evaporated into a glass of fresh strawberry nectar.

While i was being consumed by my future, Stacey and Sami settled into our “room” in the castle. Did i mention that the school is located in a castle, which was built on first century roman ruins? um yeah…. Anyway Stacey luxuriated in the tub, Sami took a nap and i arrived with my head spinning and in need of a shower and a drink, which came complimentary with slippers and a robe.

That evening, we enjoyed an Italian wedding outside our bedroom window and a tour of the Banco Del Vino before dinner.

After being offered a  glass of nebiolo wine, we were set free in the undercroft. Slow Food believes it is possible to drink a wine into extinction so they are storing over 100,000 bottles of Italian wines, organized by region and type. My thoughts were three-fold; my friend Nicole’s penchant for wine and how much she would have LOVED THIS, the masters program includes 18 credits of wine tasting, and that it was always a permanently chilled in the cellars and in the hot summer months, i needed to get a job down here.

Around 8 we meandered above ground for dinner at Guidos, the school’s pre-fixe Slow Food restaurant. Stacey ordered the seasonal pre-fixe and i ordered the classic so we could swap. Sami ordered off the regular seasonal menu so that we could try a few additional items.We asked our waiter to pair our wines for us, as the wine list arrived on the table in three hardbound volumes; one for Italy, one for Piedmonte region of Italy and one for the rest of the world…. Nic, where were you?!

Sadly, my stomach sacked out around the third course but each dish was so beautifully presented and tasted, well it tasted like we thought it would, divine.

That evening, we slept between 1000 thread-count sheets like drug induced food-coma babies and awoke late to sunshine and a massive breakfast. I pocketed 3 jars of honey and a bottle of apricot nectar. Shhhh

About a week before we arrived in Italy, I found a private guide online. We wanted to explore the cheeses and wines of the region. We got really lucky. Corrine was fantastic! She had been born in the champagne region of France and moved to Italy 35 years before when she married a local wine producer. She was also an italian and french teacher and spent half the day, trying to set me up with her ex-husband. I didnt bite on that one… although after 3 glasses of wine, anything was possible…

First stop was Tre Donne, a 100 year old vineyard run by three sisters. We sat outside on the patio as Rosanna prepared our glasses for the Borolo. We enjoyed our wine with a pairing of local goat cheeses. She also gave us a quick breakdown of the wine regions, using her daughter’s puzzle map.
Corrine taught us to smell the wine with each nostril to experience it with the left and right sides of our brain separately. I was the only one who found the wine to be stronger on the left side but no one really knew what that meant.

Next we tasted a sparkling Moscato D’Asti paired with a local chocolatier’s Moscato truffles.

i fell in love with the glasses, Stacey fell in love with Rosanna’s daughter, who also tried to sell us a large rock for 100e.

With a great wine buzz, a bag of truffles and 4 bottles of wine, we headed out through small villages, vineyards and farmland, passed a sign for the Las Vegas Sexy Shop (which we never found) up a steep hill and into the drive of Francesca’s 300 year old farm and my Eden.

Swiss-born Francesca moved to Italy to raise sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, poultry, dogs and 6 babies. She makes her own cheeses, cured meats, olives, wine, preserves and i am pretty sure she has also discovered the cure for cancer. She is amazing! i was speechless but had the sense to ask if i could be her sponge when i moved to Italy. She didnt speak any English but after realizing i was dead-serious, nodded her head in quiet approval.We dined outside on onion fennel omelets along with her salami, olives, smoked bresola, at least 10 cheeses and her own wine, as a massive thunder storm roll over us. I much preferred the rapture i felt that day, thank you very much Harold Camping.

Completely blissed out, we slowly made our way back to TorinoWe walked into the small town of Cassello where ferrell cats are loved and Saras need H’s. We ate Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza and italian beers before dropping our little Fiat off. We think she grew to love us.

The following morning, Federico picked us up at 430am and we headed to the airport for home.

During the week,  I laughed so hard i cried more times than i can count. I had several of those moments where the combination of my friends, a perfect spring breeze and good food made me take pause and realize how truly lucky i am. I could not have asked for a better time and my heart is full and happy.

Now i need to get busy on that application!

CIAO!

Cheese for 2011

Last weekend i ventured up to Black Sheep Creamery to help with the annual sheep shearing. We arrived on the second day and only had to work with about 20 pregnant ewes and 6 rams. Last year i think we worked with about 65 so this time around was a piece of cake. Meg made her beautiful scones and tea for a mid day snack and after the rams were sheared, we enjoyed a cheese tasting as the snow began to fall.


i brought down 4 beautiful wheels of cheese for our local cheese shop, The Cheese Bar. I think the new St Helens cheese is the best yet, and that is saying alot!

Inspired

For the past 6 years, i have traveled up to visit my mother’s dear friend Elspeth. When i was a little girl, Elspeth took piano lessons from my mom and often times, she would leave me with a pile of books. Elspeth was something of an enigma to me. She had her PhD in Library Science,  traveled the world on her own, married the love of her life late in life and together, they had built a beautiful home in the Olympic Peninsula, where she raised Irish Setters and did “book things”. I didn’t really understand until recently what those “book things” were. I knew she had a printing press in her basement and I had seen beautiful books, hand bound from local poets, writers and artists all around her home but she was still something of a mystery to me.

Now I consider Elspeth my own dear friend. I travel up to visit her 2-3 times a year and each time i leave her beautiful property, i have a new sense of inspiration and renewal. This weekend was no different. While working on some brochures for her incredible women’s retreat center, Hypatia in the Woods, Elspeth asked me to stay Sunday afternoon for lunch with her Olympia Book Arts Society.

How could i resist? I am so excited that i stayed!! About 5 times a year this group of brilliantly creative men and women gather to work on a Book arts theme. They also bring projects to share that they are working on separately, like Patricia Chupa’s handmade book featuring movable parts that will be on display as part of the Hand2Hand Book Art Exhibit in Seattle this month. I know i am a little dramatic at times, but it was so beautiful, it almost brought me to tears.

Our project was two fold. The first thing we did was create a 6 word sentence. Next we made small books with beautifully crafted papers and stamps placing one word on each page. There were 8 people in the group and we ended up with 8 fantastically different pieces of art. Mine is titled “Toes”. My sentence read: The mud was warm and squishy.

Their second project is ongoing. The group is creating a bound book full of each member’s  imaginations around a specific letter. Each letter will be used eventually. The group has just completed E and is working on F for their January meeting. Because they asked me to be a member, i get to work on the letter F as well!! I AM SO EXCITED!!

Here are some of the “d” and “e” pages. AMAZING!

This was exactly what i needed before the holiday season begins. We are also going to be creating Endless Cards in January, which are these fascinating cards that fold and fold and fold endlessly, with new images emerging each time you fold the card in a new way. Stay tuned, i have to make my template before the meeting.