Tuscany Baby

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Sep 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
Faye's Farmhouse

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

A week in Tuscany and Umbria with family and friends is made even more marvelous with beautiful weather, great food, and plenty of wine. Attending one of Faye Hess's "cooking schools" ensures there will be plenty of laughter at the table, delicious food, and entertaining afternoons spent in the warmth of a kitchen filled with love of people, food and a good story. Oh, and SALT. Although there was a whole lot less salt in her Italian cooking than there was in her French cooking. Not that we tasted the salt, or objected to its use, it just seemed noteworthy, especially for some of us more than others.

On our own before we even got to the farm house we visited Ostia Antica and Civita Di Bagnoregio. The two sites set the stage for wonderful site seeing for the rest of the week, and really gave us a chance to stretch our legs. The bridge to the dead hill town was a test to our stamina. You would marvel at the ability of the ancient occupants to provide food and water to their families. For the rest of the trip, we would really make a dent in the Italian hill towns to be visited (as noted in Rick Steves’ Italy) – 8 in one week, plus other sites.

Awards go to Randy Matthiae for representing the male species in a house otherwise occupied by women. Awards go to all the women that rode in the van with Randy. Everyone had to play “ragdoll” flopping from side to side on the seats as he took each curve at maximum velocity rating for tires, van, road and occupant’s tolerance. Coping skills for the riders ranged from eyes shut to singing at the top of one’s lungs. You’ve seen that scene in The Sound of Music where all the kids come flying into Julie Andrew’s bedroom because they are frightened by the storm, and she calms nerves by breaking into song? Well it was that on a larger scale of songs and smaller scale of space.

The wine flowed from a re-used 5-liter bottle that had stored olive oil. Even the oenophile of the family – (well the one that was present) was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the beverage, despite its humble trappings. We did justice to our Montalcino visit to the enoteca as well as the “home brew’ we quaffed at most meals. While sampling the various Brunello’s we managed to down almost 200Euro worth of samples, according to our tour leader for the day.

We practiced our knife skills, at least those that were still comfortable handling sharp objects, as they had not had too much sampling yet by that time in meal preparation. We stirred our sofrito’s, smashed garlic, searched for herbs, chopped rosemary/lemon peel and garlic to stir into the mascarpone cheese to be placed under the skin of the seared chicken; we watched the master knead the foccacia bread, and then dined on the results. We kneaded our own pasta dough, and then draped the lasagna noodles around anything and anyone that was stationary in the kitchen on the way to making lasagna. We polished off the tiramisu with flourish, and then added osso bucco to our list of “must tries” at home.

We shopped, and shopped, and then liked the other gal’s new bag so much, we just had to dash back to the same shop to get one just like it.

We visited museums with running commentary from tour guides, a conservator (that happened to be a close friend of Faye) and with our own resident expert - Cousin Marsha. Just a couple of us managed to reach the end of one exhibition with a small chapel adorned by body-less flying cherubs that adorned the ceiling. Body-less cherubs seemed to be a theme not previously noted in 15th century art. They floated in the paintings of the “image” focused renditions seen in the painting of Della Francesco in Cortona. (I hope I recall that correctly from Marsha’s description.) They were present in the Ducal Palace in Urbino. So as I entered the small chapel, with the ceiling only about 2 feet over my head, I felt all those small faces gazing down at me. To demonstrate that I guess I’m still just the “simple” person I’ve always been, despite all my attempts to inculcate some culture into my life, for the life of me I couldn’t get one thought out of my head as I stood under all those babies. “What would happen if they all spit on me at the same time?” Not a pretty thought, on many counts. I warned the others to look out for the “spitting babies” but they never made it to the chapel, and then doubted the existence of the image, no matter how vividly I had painted it. (I must be better in writing.)

In Sansapolcro we were a day behind the visiting Pope. I don’t think he had any better a time than we. We visited the museum that housed the reported “most beautiful painting in the world” according to Aldous Huxley. The painting’s reputation was broad enough to save the town from WWII bombing devastation. Our group broke into several smaller groups as the 10 of us drifted around the building. Several walked right past the “most beautiful” painting and had to circle back to find it. Apparently it was not beautiful enough to stop us in our tracks. Sansapolcro also had an interesting herb museum. Most of the herbs smelled like ancient dust, but the presentation was lovely. Our lunch out was an Italian version of Chinese food as everyone split a meal and then shared morsels of their plates with others. One of the best meals we have had in Italy not cooked by Faye or our own hands.

Cortona and Montepulciano vied for the best shopping, though I think my sister Sherry probably dropped more bucks/euros at the wine shop in Montalcino. Cortona also presented a lovely Annuciazione painting by Fra Angelico. On behalf of the Italian economy – many thanks to the generosity of our guests.

For one glorious meal, we dined al fresco under the arbor beside the farm house. The breeze gently rippled the wheat in the field across the road. Little dandelions or some close relative puff ball thing-ies floated in the air giving the vista an almost dream-like quality. I was so thoroughly entranced during the meal, enjoying the view, food and company; I failed to ask Randy to document the event from my perspective. It will forever remain etched in my mind as the quintessential Tuscan lunch, unmarred by the reality of a photo to dispel or alter my mental image. Just thinking about it is enough to put a smile on my face. I think I’ve found my “happy place” that can be called upon to revive any gray moment.

To family and friends that joined us – thank-you again for making it a wonderful time. And for those of you who would like to find your own happy place in a Tuscan lunch make sure to bring a tube of lipstick and ask Faye for the Gail story.

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