December 9, 2012

Two Savory Holiday Gifts

Something takes over around now, and it’s like going into labor–once it starts there’s no getting off! I feel overcome with the compelling urge  to make things–food, of course, but also wreathes out of grape vines, arrangements of magnolia and holly and berries on the mantle, centerpieces for the table. Inspired by a photo posted on pin interest by Twitter friend @katiesheadesigns, I took out an old bottle rack and made a decoration of candles and greens. If I’d had one of my larger ones in Italy, I could have made something more spectacular. As it was, everyone at dinner thought it looked sweet, until it caught on fire! That’s sand in the jars. The original used terracotta pots but my rack was too small.

 The next one I made ended up in the back hall because it looked a bit like something you’d buy for a patient at the hospital gift shop. The jack-in-the-box is a toy I had when I was three.

No other time of year, except perhaps tomato season, draws me so magnetically to the kitchen. It’s the time for huge pots of ragù simmering, and for slow-roasted quail with juniper berries, herbs, and pancetta. Both recipes are in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.

At this time of year, I like to have things ON HAND.  And, always, I find–probably as many of you do–that I turn to what I loved when I was growing up.  Despite my enjoyment of Italian pannetone, biscotti, and Monte Bianco–the rich chestnut cream mountain that Tuscan love, at home in the USA I am making what my mother made–roasted pecans, cheese biscuits, and her famous Martha Washington Jetties.  Roasted pecans–the key is fall crop pecans, big, fresh, and whole. You simply empty a pound bag onto a parchment lined baking pan–single layer–and dot with a stick of butter–4 ounces.  Sprinkle with salt and roast in a 350 degree oven for about eight minutes. Half way, take a spatula and scoot the pecans around to make sure they’re all coated with butter.  Allow to cool and then place in a nice tin lined in waxed paper. Anytime someone comes around and a bottle of wine is opened, a little bowl of these nuts will be devoured with exclamations of joy. They’re also easy and welcome gifts.

The other MUST on myChristmas list : Cheese biscuits.  Grate 8 ounces of sharp cheddar. Mix with 4 ounces–one stick–of softened butter. With a mixer, work in 1  cup of flour, some salt, cayenne, and pepper. I like to add, though my mother did not, some thyme leaves and chopped rosemary  Form the mixture into logs and chlll for a couple of hours.

Slice thinly onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about eight minutes or until the edges start to brown and crisp. Or, you can just form the dough into little mounds like small cookies and bake the m the way my mother made did.  Before baking, she placed on top of each biscuit  a pecan half. When they cooled, she sprinkled on a little powdered sugar.  I don’t do that–mine are more like wafers–but it is tasty that way. I just figure the cheese and butter is enough with out the sugar hit. These are universally scoffed up, so much so that dinner can be ruined.  They are lethal to have left over because you find yourself just drawn to that cookie tin with each coffee or glass of wine or nothing at all. As a true southerner, I thought that Coca-cola was the perfect pairing. Just irresistible. If lots of entertainng is on your calendar, double the recipe, then just pull a log out of the fridge and bake as your guests ring the bell, so that a warm plate of cheese wafers is at the ready.

As soon as my daughter and I make them this year, I’ll post the recipe for  Martha Washington Jetties. Every Christmas of my life I have indulged in the making of these candies. Whether the real Martha actually made them, I don’t know. But I do know that my mother made them once a year, as do I, and as does my daughter. It simply would not be Christmas without the depression glass candy jar filled with these delectable chocolate-covered pecan fondant dreams.

I would love to hear what you are compelled to concoct as the solstice nears!

[Photo to come]

November 14, 2012

Personalized Books

Buon giorno! Often, I mail books back to people who’ve mailed them to me for a personalized greeting. Now my local bookseller, Sharon Wheeler, has offered to save everyone trips to the post office. If you’d like a book signed for yourself or a gift, please order from her, I’ll stop by and sign, and she’ll send it to you for the cost of the book plus $4.00 for her trip to the post office.  Win-win–and good support for Purple Crow, a new independent bookstore owned by a real reader! She has all my books, as well as the yearly agenda.

Let her know the name of the person the book is for and  if it’s for a holiday or birthday or other special occasion.

You also can order books by my fellow writers in town: Michael Malone, Lee Smith, Allen Gurganus, Jill McCorkle, Hal Crowther, Randall Keenan, Craig Nova, David Payne.

Sharon’s address, phone and email:

Purple Crow Books

109 West King Street

Hillsborough NC 27278

Telephone: 919 732 1711


October 31, 2012

The Wine Room

We are having our small version of Sandy here in Tuscany today. This awful weather ushers out October, which has been the most sublime month I’ve witnessed in all my years in Tuscany. Almost every day has been clear, aurous, mild and sweet. The funghi porcini hunters swarm our mountain house hillside every day. There was even a little fender-bender near our lane. Some over-zealous mushroom hunter speeding to the next patch encountered another madman invading his territory. Actually, our land–but in Italy everyone has the god-given right to forage anywhere.  The chestnut hunters have arrived in force, and we are awakened to gunshot as poor wild boar get chased across the hill.  It’s all to the good–fall food is the best! I urge you to hurry to the hearty recipes for veal shank, polenta with sausage and wild mushrooms, pasta with four cheeses, big soups–all in, guess what, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook!  We’ve been celebrating the olive oil harvest, as well as Ed’s birthday so our kitchen windows stay steamy, and the oven seems always cranked up for a fig and walnut tart or a chocolate cake.

I found a great round cutting board at the Cortona Third-Sunday antique market and put it to good use for crostini by the fire.

This is the most celebratory season of all in Tuscany. One feast after another, and this fall, we are wine tasting constantly. (What were those Carter’s Little Liver Pills in the medicine cabinet when I was growing up?) With the Baracchi family, who make Ardito and other grand wines, we are working on importing a few wines ourselves. What I’m looking for is excellent drink-now daily wines priced below $16. I’m always stunned when I go home and find little day-to-day wine available, at least that I want to drink. One night we blind-tasted nineteen at the Baracchi’s sybaritic inn, Il Falconiere, and all of us benefitted by the super palate of the owner, Silvia Regi. Here, we’ll all set in their wine library.

Which leads me to our cosy and secluded mountain house, Fonte delle Foglie. The main dining table is at one end of the kitchen, here all set with olive branches and Bramasole’s roses for our olive oil tasting dinner, an annual event. Everyone brings their just-pressed oil and we all compliment each other, while everyone privately is thinking that their own is the best. Uh oh, wine glasses and napkins are not yet on the table!

The small dining room, where Ed and I eat when we are alone, is called the wine room. It serves as a place to gather for prosecco and antipasto when we have guests. The painted door shows animals that live around Fonte. The doors on the other side of the bedroom beyond show animals who formerly lived in the downstairs–cow, rabbit, pig, goose, donkey, etc.

We had the iron racks made by a local blackmith and topped them with old wood. The chestnut-plank ceiling is original to the house, and the painting of Saint Francis and the Wolf, recalls that the house was built by his followers in the 1200’s.

Here’s the sideboard from my Drexel Heritage At Home in Tuscany collection. It’s command central for opening the next bottle. Hard to see because of their blazing 20 watt glory, the wall lights are electrified carriage lights, another antique market find. This room is always romantically lit, usually just with candles.

The corner marble “bar sink” came from a lot full of building salvage. I added the Busatti linen skirt and we store tall bottles underneath. Not visible in these pictures are four sculptural green glass demijohns on the floor. I’ve already admitted to scavenging these from where they’re often abandoned–near garbage bins. Ed always hopes no one sees me hauling a filthy bottle into the car. I spend hours trying to clean out the dried dregs.

I can’t imagine getting rid of a dining room, as is the trend now. But I do like the idea of double use–a dining room as a wine library, or as a regular library. Eating is one of the major activities of life; you might as well lavish attention on where that takes place.

My last blog, Books at Bramasole, engendered marvelous responses. I am so grateful to everyone who shared book ideas and liked our bookcases. Please feel free anytime to recommend a good book. I’m always looking for the next one. Hope some of you rushed to the bookstore or library, as I did. Actually, I had to download, since I’m in Italy. At the end of the blog, I said I was about to read The Hare with Amber Eyes.  Trust me, trust me–it is a magnificent book. I had to cry a little at the end just from the joy of Edmund de Waal’s great writing.

Next post will be from North Carolina!

October 17, 2012

Books at Bramasole

Ciao to my blog friends!  Back at Bramasole, I am working on my memoir about growing up in the South, and the long return to it from California. I wrote my novel, SWAN, from my third floor study here as well. Odd to write about a place at great remove in time and place from my perch in Tuscany, but Bramasole always has been a peaceful and inspiring place to work. Works of memory need no locale and may even feel freer in detachment.

My study windows face south and east. Since both are usually open, butterflies can flit in one and out the other. Once, a bird zoomed through.

Thrilled with the idea of settling in here for a month of good work, I decided, before putting pen to paper, to record my waiting work space, and our books, which we roam through constantly.  My desk:

When the writer, Ann Cornelisen, to whom I dedicated Under the Tuscan Sun, left Italy for good. She gave me many pieces of furniture from her house in Cortona. I was especially honored with the gift of her bookcase. It still hold several of Ann’s books.  If you’ve never read her Torregreca or Women of the Shadows, please do. She was a rigorous, austere person, and a fine prose stylist. This bookcase holds mainly my books about places. The meandering vine around the room was painted by a local artist and includes Bramasole wild flowers, birds, and butterflies. I’m enamored with the old jewel-green demijohns that used to store home-made wine. Many have I found at dumpsters when we take out the trash. Sometimes they still have the straw covering but usually it’s so ratty that I cut it off. The bottles stand around in the garden and house. My friend Donatella has dozens around her garden.  The painting of Bramasole was given to me by a Hungarian reader of my books. The other drawing is of our stone sink by a friend who stayed here. The basket is full of other drawings and watercolors that strangers have left for me–sweet gifts. 

When looking at houses with real estate agents through the years, I’ve always noticed how many houses have no bookshelves. “Where are their books?” we’ve wondered. To me, books are the spirit’s furniture and without them a house is sad. When we moved in NC, I had a few second thoughts. Unpacking 150 boxes of them, taking the history to the sunporch, the poetry to the living room, the art here, the fiction there, I began to think I should weed out those I’ll never read again. But I did that the last time I moved and regretted it later. So, place of pride for the books!

Below, nonfiction in our bedroom. The shapes above are ex-votoes I’ve collected. I’ve tried to find every part of the body someone has prayed for, or has received grace from. Overall, I’d say most prayed for foot and leg problems. The photo is of Ed’s mother.

Next, poetry and reference bookcase. The medallion honors the millions of lizards who have crawled over the walls of our house, who have darted into the shady interior and out again:

Twin to the bookcase above, this one holds books by Italian authors and books about Italy. Both were made in a workshop in Sansepolcro, where Piero della Francesca lived and painted. It’s so important how the artisan traditions endure. We drew a design and three weeks later picked up these bookcases that have been such a joy for our home. I love bees; the medallion in the middle is a big bee, with a background landscape.

Above, some foreign editions of my books. The painting by Amy Lumpkin Bertocci shows a book of Ed’s poems lying open with wine spilled on it.

The art books, mostly, in the living room; this bookcase, too, was made to my design:

Here below, fiction, which keeps overflowing. Three friends here constantly swap books. We talk about a book club but never seem to be in the same place at the same time long enough to plan a meeting. The photographs are old Italian ones. I made an ancestors wall, an imagined family that might have lived at Bramasole. The photo on the lower right, however, is my daughter.


Cookbooks are stored in the cantina, once a rabbit hutch. When we restored the house, a horse stall (once a chapel) became the kitchen and the adjoining hutch became our life-saving storage room. The sideboard is the Arezzo Sideboard from my furniture collection, At Home in Tuscany with Drexel Heritage. It was the first antique we found to adapt to our collection. Too big for Bramasole’s small rooms, it’s wedged into the cantina and holds a pantry’s worth of supplies. The cookbooks mainly gather dust. Like the Tuscans, I’ve absorbed the traditional canon by now and usually improvise around it. Baking is different–you have to be somewhat exact to bake. Maybe that’s why  many Italians don’t do it. Like their ancestors, they rely on the town’s bakers for sweets. There are many delicious exceptions, of course, and we captured them in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. Our house mascot, the boar in sunglasses, presides over the wine storage. The bit of flat woven basket on the right was made for drying figs and other fruit.


As you see, books strongly influence the way I put rooms together. I’m especially fond of making still life arrangements. Yes, books as objects, which can be objectionable to some –but I don’t adhere to that. I read them all!  And sometimes honor their presence by making them more visible.The painting on the left is one of the finest I’ve found at the antique markets, and I found the frame separately. Who is the artist? Does he deserve to be in a museum? I think so. The other gentleman simply looks upstanding and good, and I’m happy to greet him every day.



 Above, kid gloves, like ones I wore as a teen-ager in Georgia. Primitive religious paintings found in Spain and Italy, kitschy angel for Christmas, plus prayer cards picked up in churches. A rock I found on the beach in Turkey–a perfect full moon. And some favorite writers–among them Barry Hannah.

Speaking of books—I’ve read a few since I arrived. I especially enjoyed  A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively. She ties aspects of her family home and its possessions to the social changes in England in the past century. Very smart and original book. This is the only one I read on the iPad. I just know some night I’ll drift off and it will crash to the floor. Not a problems with paperbacks.

I was enchanted by The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a novel inspired by a Russian folk tale. Her evocation of the Alaskan wilderness is wondrous. I couldn’t put The Postmistress down. Sarah Blake writes of three women in the World War II era who experience colliding destinies. I liked the book very much, but I do wish, in all the darkness and death, that she’d at least allowed the postmistress’s lover to live. Some of my reading is directed by what books our guests leave behind when their suitcases are stuffed with Italian pottery and great new shoes. The Midwives by Chris Bohjalian was one of those. I was caught up in the birth descriptions and somewhat by the characters, but came down on the side of those who think a hospital is an all-around good choice, especially if your midwife doesn’t consult the weather report for extreme storms so you can’t get to the hospital. That was a snag for me and I lost sympathy.

Harrowing and unforgettable: A Train in Winter. A man visiting Cortona left it for me in the wine store, with a note saying I had to read it. I’d read and enjoyed Caroline Moorhead’s biographies before. This epic saga recounts the lives of French women resistance fighters, who for their minor crimes against the German occupation were shipped off to Auschwitz, then Ravensbrück. The grim, gruesome, inhuman details of their lives, the great friendships that sustained them, and the aftermath for the ones who survived make for tense and despairing reading, yes, but quite a profound experience.

Now I am reading Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels. He was a fine writer who lived a few valleys away in Umbria until his death last year. And my friend Melva just handed me The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund De Waal, so that’s next. I’d love to hear some recommendations from you!

Here’s my muse. She’s from an anonymous painting I bought at the Arezzo antique market, which takes place the first weekend of every month. I fantasize that she wants to read the book I am about to write.


September 12, 2012

On the Cusp of the Season

48 degrees this morning, steam rising from the meadow, and I’m lured early by the rose garden, where yesterday we planted six new beauties. Six, because that’s all I could wedge into the car. Our local Witherspoon Rose Garden is having a sale so it’s a perfect moment to replace some of the puny ones that have hung on in this garden since the 1950’s.  This garden I speak of is not in Tuscany but in North Carolina. We changed our USA base in August and moved to Chatwood, an 1806 house with wonderful gardens that need a big shot of TLC, plus some redesigning. This was taken in spring, when my daughter lived here.  It faces the meadow. The Eno River runs by the back.


The photo above is the back of the house. That sunroom is where I plan to read and write all winter. At the end of A Year in the World, I wrote about a fantasy of moving to a yellow house–a traveler’s rest kind of place, where all the mementos of my journeys find a home and all the people I’ve met along the way can come and stay and cook. I imagined evenings of poetry readings and music. Sometimes fantasies swing around into reality–this farmhouse seems just the sort of place I dreamed of. In short, a home. Bachelard in The Poetics of Space says the good house is one that protects the dreamer.  Many dreamers have lived here, since the house was built during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. I hope they all felt protected.

Moving proved to be more of a challenge than I remember. I think it’s like labor: you’re supposed to forget the pain so you’re willing to repeat the experience.  Now the tons of books are unpacked, if not yet in alphabetical order, and everything is stowed somewhere.  I think the snakes, possums, and mice have been exorcised from the basement. I think the gutters have been cured of their Niagara falls habits. I have a couple of weeks to play in the garden before we decamp for Italy. The olive harvest beckons! Unpacking and placing books inevitably led to reacquainting myself with my library and to getting lost in a book now and then. And when I couldn’t face another box, I took to my bed with a book. I’ve enjoyed rereading Nabokov, Henry Miller, and Michael Ondaatje.

What I also have taken time to do is revel in the summer vegetables and fruits. The raccoons and squirrels feasted on our garden, leaving us nothing except the jalapeñoes. Fortunately we have a farmer’s market to rely on. My favorite summer dish, hands down, is a multi-vegetable tian made with pesto and parmigiano. Sometimes one recipe comes to represent a moment in time and place, and this is it for the summer we moved. Woven into the preparation is the music I listened to over and over as I cooked: Bach’s concertos for unaccompanied cello, some of the most magnificent music every written. It seems to play on your own heart’s strings. I listened as I roasted eggplants and peppers, sautéed onions, zucchini and yellow squash, sliced wonderful tomatoes, then layered all these in a deep pie dish, adding a layer of fresh pesto and a layer of grated parmigiano. Some thyme, salt, pepper, crunchy breadcrumbs–there you have it. Just a twenty minute bake in a 350 degree oven. Love this, and the leftovers are just blissful on a focaccia sandwich.

 A bit blurry, I see.  From my deep heritage as a southerner, I made several times a version of the yellow squash casserole I loved as a child. I make my own béchamel rather than use the canned mushroom soup my mother’s recipe lists. Frankly, I’m not really sure that mine is any better for all the updates. Here it is; one for us, one for my daughter’s family.

Melted sunshine! Here are my favored crunch breadcrumbs again, some sautéed onions and some sharp cheddar and herbs. I lightly steam the squash, then combine everything with some béchamel  and bake.

This new/old house has electric ovens. I’ve always preferred them, though have put up with gas ovens for years. Ed was thrilled the first time he made a soufflé here. The top practically crashed the top of the oven! He’s made this Julie Child recipe for years–especially on Sunday nights–and knows it by heart. We do 1 1/2 times the recipe and there’s never a crusty morsel left in the dish.

There’s a reason that panna cotta is Tuscany’s ubiquitous dessert. You can make it in five minutes, flavor it with vanilla or orange or lemon, and dress it up with berries or melted chocolate, or citrus. And it’s a bit glamorous. The recipe is in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.

 Isn’t that pretty? I had a thing for tole trays for awhile and accumulated a dozen or so from eBay. I’m over it now but they are charming!  We are thrilled to have our cookbook on hand in the kitchen. It saves us so much time searching through index cards and folders looking for our favorites.

Not in the cookbook, but included in Bringing Tuscany Home, is Nancy Silverton’s Brown Butter Plum Tart. It is fall-out-of-your-chair good, and right now plums are just luscious. I like cooking with them especially because, unlike most fruits, they don’t need to be peeled. This tart is rich and juicy. The unlikely aspect is the butter. Not only do you melt it, you actually brown it until its nutty and smoking. Grazie, Nancy!  I used a tart pan with a removable bottom. Here she is–ready for the oven.

We served this to friends and fortunately there remained a slender slice for my breakfast!

I would love to hear from you if you’ve cooked from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook! It’s fun to hear readers’ variations on the recipes.

I am happy to be back on my blog. A curse on the jerk who hacked! My next post will be from Italy.

Hope everyone has a smooth transition into a delicious, eventful, gorgeous fall.

September 11, 2012

Finally, Finally, my blog is back!

Not only is my blog up and running again, we also have moved and our friends claim it looks as though we’ve always lived here. Today, the air felt like the season suddenly flipped to fall. Time for new beginnings. I will write a big catch-up blog over the next few days. Sorry for the glitch, and thanks to the IT team at Random House for exorcising  the demons.

August 30, 2012

This blog is so sadly blocked by spam

Ciao amici, just to let you know that I’ve been sadly dealing with enormous spam issues on the blog. Sometimes when I check it, there are 3000 spams. Random House has put in place several filters but it just seems to get worse. SO– I have made the decision to DELETE all spam.  Inevitably, several legitimate and interesting comments will be lost–but I simply cannot wade through all the spam to find them.  So sorry, but if your comment does not post, it means it went to spam–for some unknown reason.  Additionally, Random House blogs were mysteriously hacked into recently, so it has been impossible for me even to access my blog.  I love the blog and the interchange and plan to get back to it asap.

Please, bear with me and I hope for interesting interchange shortly!

June 15, 2012

A Week in the World

En route to Budapest for the book fair, we flew first to Vienna. Because we had an early flight out of Rome, we spent our first night out near the airport. On many trips, we’ve stayed at Rome airport hotels, generally generic places with mediocre food. This time, we drew a 30-minute ring around the airport and came up with La Posta Vecchia, which turns out to be one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever stayed.  A 16th Century building, formerly owned by J. Paul Getty, the hotel is IN the sea. I suppose the beach has eroded over the years and now the building’s terrace is lapped by waves. When Getty restored it, the ruins of an ample and refined Roman villa were found, excavated, and restored. All the discoveries are on display.  You see the whole floor plan, remains of African and Greek marble walls, mosaic floors, tableware, amphorae, and personal items such as little balm jars and make-up implements. It’s an intimate look at an actual Roman home.


Maybe the sea and those layers of deep history give La Posta Vecchia such a serene and contemplative feeling. The place manifests what is so profound about Italy, that coexistence of the past and present. We took a long walk around the park, visiting the large vegetable garden, an ancient cistern, and other mysterious ruins around the grounds. If you’re traveling out of Rome, I highly recommend a stop here.  It’s expensive but what a grand finale to a trip to Italia. We stayed in the tower room at a last-minute rate. I’d love to stay in a sea-front room on the second floor–they look divine and sure to give anyone delusions of grandeur. Our room was lovely and the side windows had ocean views. All night we heard the waves–my favorite way to sleep.  The restaurant has a Michelin star, which means that if in France it would be three star. They’re ridiculously hard on Italian restaurants, compared to what they give stars to in France.  Huge arched doors open to the sea, the walls are the color of washed peaches, and the service is lovely. We had an absolutely delicious dinner, thanks to chef Michele Gioia, and felt amazingly relaxed. That ginger citrus soufflé! Here’s a hint of the amazing interior, a hymn to old world textures and shapes. I especially loved the waxy, honeyed floors:




That’s Ed, having a Campari Soda and living the good life! See much better photos than mine on the hotel website:

We flew out on Air Berlin. Pass the test of what you’re allowed to take on board or check, and you’re fine. We were in Vienna shortly.  That’s the joy of a base in Tuscany–so much of Europe is close. Vienna! I’d never been. Driving via taxi into the city, we passed industrial smoke chimneys and I had a spooky flash of  Nazi death camps, ash floating over the countryside.  Entering the clean, clean city of monumental buildings, with a swath of the Danube flowing felicitously through, I pushed such morbid thoughts away. We checked into Parliament Levant, our very contemporary, hip hotel, and immediately set out to walk, try Viennese coffee, and get a feel for the place. Vienna is something of a shock if you’re coming from Italy. The people we encountered were cordial but so different from the genuinely friendly Italians. In the comfy, somewhat fusty –in a nice way–coffee shops, people sat around at little tables visiting and reading. How nice to see that instead of single people hunched over laptops.  We stopped in at the famous Demel pastry shop and watched the chefs through big glass walls as they decorated fancy cakes and rolled out dough.

Apple strudel and sacher torte–why not? Mit schlag was the order of the day–with cream. In fact, mit schlag became our phrase of praise in Vienna. A cobbled street, the outdoor market, a stupendous rose garden, a deco facade–we thought they were all mit schlag!

The highlight of Vienna for me was the exhibit “VIENNA 1900” at the Leopold Museum, which is in a complex of several museums.  There’s more to Gustav Klimt than that claustrophobic “The Kiss.” Much more. As I learned about him, I was able to see his work in a new way. I hadn’t known that he was influenced by the tesselated mosaics of Ravenna, but once I saw that, his paintings took on another dimension. And the influence of Japanese prints–that flat aspect and the use of outline–I was able to make many more connections with him. The exhibit covers not just Klimt but the whole group working in what’s loosely known as the international arts and crafts movement, a period I find fascinating in all its manifestations. I really enjoyed the furniture and household objects created by Weiner Werkstätte, Vienna Workshop group. What a shock that cool furniture must have been to the late Victorians!  The curators tried and succeeded in integrating the arts and intellectual movements of the period, including Freud. Poems, quotes, and ephemera are displayed with the artwork. There’s a place to sit down and listen to Mahler. Too bad they couldn’t conjure Alma, his fascinating wife.  We loved the mosaic worlds outside the Sucessionist Museum.


At  Zum Schwarzen Kameel (The Black Camel–in the same family since 1618), of course we had to try wiener schnitzel! And vinegary potato salad. Tasty! We just happened upon the old-fashioned restaurant but it was a good choice–lively bar and diners who seemed to be having fun. One long table of attractive older people seemed especially jolly and I had another of those flashes: their parents probably were Nazis. That era is hard to fathom and has left a long indelible smear. Our other night we dropped into a neighborhood place, Fromme Helene, also full of warmth and atmosphere.  Mit schlag! I think in the two days we had six desserts. Good!  Not good!

If only we had trains in the USA like European trains. We were quickly in Budapest, after a fast ride on a luxurious train with attendants who brought coffee and croissants.

Budapest–more chaotic than orderly Vienna. We had the afternoon to wander leafy streets lined with outdoor cafés. What a pleasure to meet Anna Pavlov, publisher of Tericum. She has been such a great supporter of my work from the beginning. She’s bright, quick-humored, and fun. She studied first in Budapest, then in Perugia, Italy, then at Columbia. Not only does she run Tericum, she owns Café Zsivágó, a charming retro cafe in the lovely area of Budapest that is full of new restaurants, bookstores, and very upscale shops.When we walked in Zsivágó, I thought of Josephine Carson, a novelist and close friend who died about eight years ago. I miss her. She always talked about starting “a place to get together,” and what she envisioned was remarkably similar to Anna’s Zsivágó. We could all go, Jo thought, in the afternoons and read aloud what we’d written that morning. There should be cucumber sandwiches, shortbread, and a samovar. At Zsivágó, Anna pointed out the big samovar. In fact, she reminds me of Jo–a young Hungarian version.

Anna and her smart assistant Zsuzsu had much planned for us. We enjoyed meeting magazine and newspaper writers, visiting book stores for signings, and the enormous, crowded book fair.  Hungarians must read! I loved hearing Hungarian.  So many people brought gifts, which always is very touching to me, that someone takes the time to bring a gift to a stranger. An apron with BRAMASOLE embroidered on it, a jar of green walnuts, jam, a book of poetry, several letters–and the great gift of bright eyes communicating in spite of language differences.

In our off moments, we discovered a new Budapest of cuisine-conscious restaurants, tempting antique shops, walks along the broad Danube, and just very humane and lively street life. So many contemporary statues of poets and writers. We found interesting places to dine. At Rivalda, an 18th century courtyard, the violinist discovered we lived in Italy and stood by us all during dinner playing Lucio Dalla favorites. We especially loved  the up-to-the-minute restaurant Baldaszti, where I developed a passion for radish and frisée salad. We stayed just under the castle at the Lánchíd Hotel, part of the same Design Hotel group as the Levant in Vienna. On our last night, we ate at Rézkakas Bistro and I tasted a Tokaji that was as gold as a melted ingot and contained about tens layers of taste. Astonishing! Budapest bursts with life. No doubt, an interesting place to live. We got up at four and it was light.

We flew to Rome, retrieved our car, and were back at Bramasole in time to visit with my nephew Clay and his wife Elspeth on the last day of their vacation here. We celebrated with a finale dinner at Locanda del Molino. Owned by our friends Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, who also own Il Falconiere, the inn and restaurant are like a second home to us. Many Tuscan restaurants are atmospheric but Locanda has Silvia’s genius touch with interiors. It’s welcoming, romantic, and, of course, just stupendously good. We tried many fantastic pastas, osso bucco, and toasted our travels with Riccardo’s Ardito, a favorite super Tuscan. Then it was Clay and Elspeth’s turn to get up at four and zoom to the airport.

I have some wonderful Budapest photos and have been trying to load them for eons. Will try later, when the internet zombies are not feeling balky. Meanwhile, will post this as is. My computer here has taken a big dislike to iPhoto. It’s is six years old and Ed says it’s overburdened by all I need for it to accomplish.  After an hour, 17% of a photo has loaded, so if I want to bake that tart today, I must abandon the little homunculus who is loading my photo of Zsivágó pixel by pixel inside the machine. Meanwhile, please stay tuned to my Tuscan saga, and visit me on much simpler Twitter and Facebook, which I can deal with via my iPhone!

We are happy to be back in Italia, where it’s finally summer! Our garden is beginning to yield its bounty and this year the birds, for once. have left us some cherries! Hence the tart!

June 2, 2012

Memento Mori

In Every Day in Tuscany I devoted a chapter to the cemetery under the town walls of Cortona. To me, nothing other that how food is presented at the table–who’s there, what’s the conversation, where did the food come from, how was it prepared–reveals as much about a culture as how the dead are buried.  When someone dies, the news is posted on boards at several locations around town. It’s touching to see the old names: Assunta (named after the assumption), Lazzaro (Lazarus), Primo (the first child). You know the babies born now are not being given those names. Sometimes you see a Benito, a namesake of Mussolini.


Everyone stops to read the death notices. Even if you know no one, they serve as a daily carpe diem. At the cemetery just below town, a photo of the departed adorns each grave, and that more than anything gives testament to life ongoing in memory.  The inhabitant of the grave is captured in a moment that testifies to the life that was lived.  Maybe it’s a three-year-old in a flouncy dress, or a seasoned old man raising a glass of wine, or a lovely young woman on a sailboat, the wind in her hair. This child died during World War I; at some point he was handed a gun.


The dead live out eternity in the same way they did in the streets of Cortona: close together. The cemetery is surrounded by walls of drawers. Tall rolling ladders allow you to climb and tend to your relatives who are ensconced in the top rows.


Outside the walls is the field for us infidels not baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. Its a weedy, neglected affair but somehow preferable to me, probably because my own relatives lie in Fitzgerald Georgia in the Mayes plot with its marble rim and the tombstones spread out for a little space in death.

On Cortona’s back wall are the memorials to those who died in a diptheria epidemic. (I translated some of the epitaphs in Every Day in Tuscany, and as I recall one was quite mysterious and odd.) Most mysterious are the private family chapels. This one’s door is left ajar, inviting you into the gloom.


I have certain graves that I visit, as though I knew them. This jaunty soldier in cavalry plume died on the Russian Front in World War II. Such a haunting smile for one who met such a fate.


Most emphatically, it’s the flowers that speak of how the Tuscans relate to their dead. On Saturday afternoon, many make the walk downhill to adorn the loved one’s grave with an armful of flowers so that the dear one does not face Sunday without the solace of remembrance. No dinky pots from the grocery store–abundant lilies, roses, peonies.


At night, looking down from the Duomo in town, you see below the square boundaries of the cemetery. Red votive candles glow on the graves. I imagine muffled voices talking, talking just as they used to in the piazza.

May 23, 2012

Dinner in Napa Valley at Signorello Vineyards

On 21 and 22 July, Ed and I  are going to California for a dinner at Signorello Vineyards honoring The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. Chef Michael McMillan has planned a scrumptious winery dinner, beginning with drinks by the infinity pool overlooking the grapes that are on their way to being the wonderful wines we’re drinking. Check the Signorello website:

It’s preceded by a concert with Joshua Bell–a not-to-be-missed experience.

At the same time around the country, groups will be organizing their own parties, cooking the same menu and drinking the same wines.  The idea is that everyone links and comments and toasts together through Twitter and Facebook. Virtual dinner party! It’s a new, new concept pioneered by Chef Robin White. See her website for the menu and details on  how to be involved: and follow her on Twitter @canapes45

The afternoon of 21 July, Signorello is throwing a pizza party and booksigning.

All this is associated with the fabulous Festival del Sole.  For tickets see:

Of course, the Festival is a grand celebration of musical and culinary events over an eleven day span. Check their website for the full program.

Besides Joshua Bell, two of my favorite artists from The Tuscan Sun Festival over the years are Danielle de Niese and Helene Grimaud. Just superb! They and many other over-the-moon artists will be in Napa for the 2012 edition of the festival. If you’re considering a vacation in Napa, what better time to go?  Through the festival, you’re privy to very special food and wine events as well. Plus, there’s the wine country!

Speaking of Twitter, follow me @francesmayes and Ed @edwardmayes. It’s fun–if you don’t get addicted!

Meanwhile, we’re in chilly Tuscany. Just had artichoke lasagne for lunch—not so bad!

May 20, 2012

Moments of Tuscan Spring

You never know what May will bring in Tuscany. We’ve been here two weeks and have had four glorious, sunny days and the rest wind, chill, and rain. I’m telling myself that’s good–I can start to focus on a new project and get my concentration back, after a dizzy March and April, when I was on the road constantly. But the flowers we planted on the warm days are battered and bent and I’m wondering if I’m going to be starting over. That’s May, an undecided month, always. The rain gives us dreamy green smeary vistas, and the poppies are going viral over the fields and olive groves. The white wisteria on our pergola looks lacy and poetic.


I would like to be setting that table with a big bowl of roses, and plates for ten friends. Instead, we’re inside, by the fire every night.


Not so bad!  We love the artichoke season and the last we’ll see of asparagus until next spring. We’ve made our little veal meatballs with tomatoes and artichokes, a rolled turkey breast with artichokes, and raw salads from the small, purple violetta artichokes. Every day we roast asparagus in the oven–the very best fate for any stalk of asparagus!  Our neighbor, Fiorella, served us a pasta last week that has inspired us to use fresh herbs more abundantly. She coarsely chopped tomatoes from one of her 200 big jars from last summer–you could use canned–sauteed some garlic, and to that added MORE THAN A CUP of minced sage and rosemary.  Some parmigiano. Basta, that’s it.  She used small penne; we used bucatini. We’ve made it twice and find the copious use of herbs just so fresh. We feel as though we are eating Tuscany!  I added some oregano and basil.  Then we tried the big herb mixture with our stand-by lemon chicken that’s in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.  Again, we loved the intense, green, pungent taste. Cooking is always new here.

We’re entering the season of the sagra. If you’re driving in Tuscany look for signs of a sagra–it’s a feast celebrating a particular ingredient–cherries, polenta, fava beans, goose, rabbit, artichoke–whatever is in season or is traditional in the area. Here, below, the sagra for the wild boar.


Even in the rain, everyone gathered along the Giro d’Italia route.  What struck me is how dangerous that race is. All the support cars are intermingled with the riders. I don’t see how you could pass them, two abreast, if you wanted to move up in the race. Still–very exciting! What an elegant sport–the cool jerseys, the essentially pared-down bikes, the super-lean bodies. It was over in a heartbeat. That cool pink outfit that you see in the lead belongs to Joaquim Rodruigez. Forza!


Were there any women racing? I didn’t spot any.

So far, May is a time to read, cook, think, and rest for the summer, which is full of guests, big changes, and travel. I walk into town early, before most people are out and about. A quick breakfast, a contemplation of the local death notices posted near Nessun Dorma. We’re not going to be seeing names like Assunta, Lazzaro, and Primo much longer.



Soon all the roses will bloom on our side of the hill.  Lower down and on the other side, my friend CoCo’s already are in bloom. She brought me these almost-apricot, delicately scented beauties:


In my garden, I’m content right now with peonies the size of dinner plates. Here’s the heart of one:


May 15, 2012

Wish I Had Taken More Photos

The book tour for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook was like a party that lasted a month! Here are some of the fine people and times:

At Warwick’s in La Jolla. Photographer Steven Rothfeld on right.


At Genentech:


At Left Bank in Larkspur CA:


Under the Tuscan Sun Dinner

Above is the reunion of the crew that made the film Under the Tuscan Sun. On either side of me are Audrey Wells, screenwriter and director, and Diane Lane, our star. Magic evening at photographer Greg Gorman’s house. He’s beside Audrey.

Many places I went were restaurants in corporations and museums. They’re owned by Bon Appetit Management–all green, organic, super good and staffed by terrific chefs, all of whom cooked from our book. The lunch at Terzo Piano, Art Institute of Chicago, lived up to its dazzling setting in the Renzo Piano wing. Umm, long braised quail with junier berries, delicate sformato, vegetables. Dessert was my favorite Wine Cake.



The Williams Sonoma events were everywhere fun and so well organized.  Great staffs–must be a good company to work for. (And imagine the discount!)

Below, with the chef and restaurant manager at Yahoo. Those who work in those tech giant places are pampered. They have dry cleaning, oil change, teeth cleaning, even free cappuccino all day!  Clever name.



Above, at Book Passage in the San Francisco fabulous market Ferry Building. We’re with a friend from Twitter, @tutti_dolci. She brought us pecan oatmeal icebox cookies and we ate them in the car en route to Meadowood Resort:


Last stop was Barnes & Noble in Cary NC. B & N did a grand job with displays in their stores. Still odd to me to walk in a bookstore and see my books like this.  Not like the old days when I wrote poetry.


Now The Tuscan Sun Cookbook is launched in the world and is on its own legs. I hope they’re sturdy, as mine were during such a long and varied and exciting tour.

We are back in Tuscany, savoring the glorious artichokes and asparagus and agretti and myriad lettuces in the market. Last night Gilda, who is a butcher by craft and one of the world’s most amazingly innovative cooks, brought over a cut of beef called “tasca,” (pocket.) It comes from near the stomach. She stuffed it with ground veal, garlic, breadcrumbs and artichoke hearts. She braised it for about forty minutes and we could cut it with a fork.  “For your next cookbook,” she said, “something almost lost. Only my oldest customers remember this.”

Next cookbook?  I’ll have to think on that. Right now, I’m happily home at Bramasole, reading, walking, gardening, thinking of a new project.  A summer to invent.

April 17, 2012

Semi-demi Finale, Plus News!

Buona sera,

The initial tour for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook will come to a grand finale at Antonia’s, a neighborhood restaurant in Hillsborough NC this Thursday, 19 April,  at 6:30. We will be happy to see many friends who have begun to forget us because we’ve been busy or gone for so long!  Claudia is setting up long tables, and Bramasole Olive Oil will grace each one.

Here’s her favoloso menu for the evening:

Hors d’oeuvres


Roasted Olives, Salami and Prosciutto

Bruschetta: Roasted Tomato, Roasted Garlic, Pea and Shallots,

Red Pepper with Balsamic Vinegar, Cannellini Beans and Sage

Prosecco, Luna Argenta




Fried Zucchini Flowers

Fried Artichokes

Bresaola rolled with Robiola and Rughetta



Orecchiette with Shrimp

Pear Agnolotti with Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Risotto Primavera



Ed’s Pork Roast

Chicken with Artichokes, Sundried Tomatoes and ChickPeas

Grilled Vegetables



Domenica’s Rosemary Potatoes

Zucchini with Lemon Pesto

Dogajolo Rosso, Carpineto, Tuscany

Dogajolo Bianco, Carpineto, Tuscany



Torta della Nonna

Ricotta Tart

Ed’s Cantucci

Sangue di Giuda, Casteggio
Antonia’s Restaurant
101 N.Churton Street

The event sold out quickly but there are always last minute cancellations, no? Call Claudia if you’re interested. All the above photos are by Steven Rothfeld, taken for the book, except for the Torta della Nonna. (Can’t you tell who took that one!)  Steven was with us for the California part of the tour so he got to hear directly how gorgeous his photos are. All were taken in natural light, most in our gardens, at Bramasole, and at our mountain house. All the photography is natural–nothing sprayed or gelled or oiled. We ate every bite after the shots. What luck! To work with someone whose vision matches your own. I wanted the book to show the ease, spontaneity, and beauty of Tuscan food. He did too. We did all our own styling, with a visit from my friend Kim Sunée, who joined in the fun of cooking and styling.  What a pleasure all this was. And a lot of very hard work as well. Same with the tour. I loved meeting readers of the blog along the way! The trip was glorious and long and exhilarating and exhausting. Kiss the ground. We’re home!

In the first sentence, I said “initial” tour. We’ll be going back to Napa Valley, California for a few events still shaping up. But one is certain–a big, splashy, glamorous evening at Signorello Vineyards on 22 July–a vineyard feast! We’re pairing with The Festival del Sole for a grand feast and a concert with violinist Joshua Bell. The dinner is also a Tweet Fest, developed by Chef Robin White. See her website for details, .  This concept involves parallel dinners happening around the world at the same time and everyone Tweeting about it as it progresses. So, groups of friends cook the same menu, drink the same wines, and form an invisible but palpable bond during the dinner.  It sounds new and fun. Tickets to the dinner at the vineyard and the concert with Joshua Bell are available now. There also will be a pizza party and book signing from 11-2 on 21 July. Check the Signorello website above for more details.  More on all this will be appearing here and on Robin’s website.

Finally, and so marvelous—Fodors, with American Express and Alitalia, are honoring the cookbook by sponsoring a trip for two to Tuscany during the olive oil harvest this fall. Look at their website for details and DO enter! See you at Bramasole?


March 25, 2012

A Stop at A Southern Season

The book tour for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook has been exciting and exhausting and fun. All the events are just so enjoyable. I’ve been posting some photos along the way on Twitter and Facebook.  Today we were at the food and cookware mecca, A Southern Season, in Chapel Hill with our friend Susan Gravely, who so graciously gave us so many ceramic pieces for our photo shoots for the cookbook. Almost all the table settings are graced by her Vietri dinnerware. We already owned several patterns and Vietri supplied us with more so that all our shots look different.  At the Vietri shop in the store, they set a table similar to one in our book:


Here we are with Susan, who, with her sister Frances and her mother, founded Vietri ( ):


While waiting in line, you could sip prosecco, Vermentino, or a red from the Maremma, all poured by wine guru Dean Coglaiti. The staff passed crostini from our book, and over in the food section, they served Tuscan Ribs, Garlic Soup, and Pears with Mascarpone.  Great scents drifted around the store! A Southern Season, if you don’t know it, is a vast food and wine emporium–you want an ingredient, a certain pasta or risotto, a special hot pepper jelly, or cheese straws? Here it is in the solid South. Of course they ship.  ( ) This is their new display kitchen with butcher block counters–such a warm look–and a red Viking stove that makes the room sing.


Since I’m thinking of remodeling a kitchen next year, I was taking in all the details and mix of textures. Loved the detail on the open shelves and this big shiny sink.


Thanks, Jay and Jennifer, everyone who made the event happen.  Especially Susan.  I wonder who won the Vietri platter?

We met so many people. The big thing about the tour is just that for me–so many potential friends, if only I lived in that place. It’s an affirming experience.

March 18, 2012

This week on tour for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook

Ed and I hope to meet real-life Facebook friends this week.
On March 20, 10am-2pm, we’ll be at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Terzo Piano. That evening at 6:30, we’ll be at The Book Stall in Winnetka IL.
I go on to Atlanta on Wednesday, where I speak at The Atlanta History Center at 8pm.
Then on March 22, to Rainy Day Books in Kansas City for a 12:30 lunch event at Mercato in DeSoto, and an evening event at Unity Temple on the Plaza at 6pm.
Please come if you’re nearby!
Ed and I hope to meet  some of the readers of this blog while we travel.
On March 20, 10am-2pm, we’ll be at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Terzo Piano. That evening at 6:30, we’ll be at The Book Stall in Winnetka IL.
I go on to Atlanta on Wednesday, where I speak at The Atlanta History Center at 8pm.
Then on March 22, to Rainy Day Books in Kansas City for a 12:30 lunch event at Mercato in DeSoto, and an evening event at Unity Temple on the Plaza at 6pm.
Please come if you’re nearby! Click on TOUR for details.
Now to try to get my carry-on bag down to 25 pounds. Over that, loading it above my head becomes dicey.
March 12, 2012

Kitchen / Garden video The Tuscan Sun Cookbook

During the photo shoots for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, Steven Rothfeld shot a few scenes with his video camera. Here they are–our vegetable garden and our kitchen at the mountain house, my favorite kitchen I’ve ever had. It’s not huge but it just works so well, especially for two cooks. The stove is central in the U shaped design and there’s a good-sized sink on either wing. Lots of cool travertine counter space for making pasta, and an indestructible brick floor. As a homage to the former coop it was, I used chicken wire in the cabinet doors. Just out of sight, there’s a fridge and wine fridge and storage for glasses. The long dining table pictured several times in the book is at the other end of the room.

All the photographs in the book were taken in natural light, on our plates, at our tables. We’ll never get back the time we spent waiting for the lazy Tuscan clouds to move away from the sun. We did our own styling–nothing is faked or glazed or sprayed!!! We agreed that we wanted the photographs to match the spirit of the food–tempting, colorful, spontaneous. Steven did a fabulous job with the photography. After each shoot, we ate everything!

The book comes out 13 March and I start my wandering minstrel journeys, visiting this week Smart Talk Lecture Series in Wilmington DL on Wednesday 14 March; Williams Sonoma in Washington, DC on 15 March; and the Williams Sonoma in  Annapolis MD on 16 March. Then I’m back in NC for an event at  Williams Sonoma in Raleigh on 17 March. The next week, Art Institute of Chicago, Atlanta History Center, then two events with the great Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. Click on TOUR for details. I hope to meet some of you along the way. Please say hello!

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook video

March 7, 2012

Banging Pots, Clattering Spoons, Thunk of knives

Other than chamber music, the nicest sound at my house is the banging, thunking and clatter of pots, knives, and spoons drifting up to my study from downstairs. Those noises mean that Ed is at play in the kitchen. It means that the aroma of ragù or minestrone or lemon-garlic chicken soon will waft up the stairwell. Our house runs well when Ed pulls himself away from his writing and indulges in a marathon cooking morning. In Bringing Tuscany Home, I wrote about his jars. He likes to keep them full of oven-roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, olive salsa, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, aioli, and soffritto, that base preparation of onions, carrots, parsley, celery and garlic that just makes ragù, soups, and many pasta sauces. In fact, it can be a simple pasta sauce. Steven Rothfeld shot this for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. Ed’s mezzaluna at rest after chopping the odori:


With Ed’s jars on hand, quick dinners appear with a wave of a wand. We’ve learned from our Tuscan neighbors the ease and wisdom of the concept on hand. They have their stashes of dried mushroom, wild cherries, and various vegetables they’ve put up. And of course, tomatoes–shelves and shelves of big jars of peak-season tomatoes. What luxury!

Ed’s other prep that just let’s us sail through busy writing weeks–his Vegetable Frenzy. He hauls every vegetable out of the fridge and decides its fate. He lines up his herbs. Soon the music is blaring. He steams, roasts, sautés.


He litters the floor with carrot peels and beet skins. By the time I go downstairs for my second cappuccino, this is on the counter.


About two hours at the chopping board and stove, that’s all it takes to make the week easy. Besides just side dishes of parsnips, potatoes zucchini, for a few days we have on hand beets for salad, butternut squash for ravioli, asparagus for risotto, onions for a pasta sauce, on and on. And what a healthy little lunch:


We’re not always this organized but when we are, opening the fridge and seeing all those glass containers full of  delicious vegetables gives you pride!  Right now, he’s calling me. Soup’s on the table. Is there anything better than a partner who cooks???

March 2, 2012

Tour for The Tuscan Sun Cookbook

Marco Polo, speaking. I’m embarking in a couple of weeks on a long giro in support of The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.

Please click on TOUR to check out my stops. My thanks to those who have invited me and planned such fantastic, fun, varied events.

I would love to meet blog friends!  Ed and I hope you like the book and find recipes that you make your own in it.

February 26, 2012

What We Served and Didn’t Serve to Alberto

When our great friend Alberto breaks off from an intense work schedule and flies up to NC from Tampa for only one night, he must enjoy a sustaining dinner, one that reminds him of Tuscany! Alberto owns the house above Bramasole. We share Italy on many levels, and back in the USA, our interests also intersect and blossom. If you read Every Day in Tuscany, you’ve already heard of our friendship. He, Ed, and I, when we get together, talk non-stop of creative plans–from creating a whole town to painting a five-inch watercolor to solving the humidity problem on the back wall of his house. A day can be long and short when there’s so much to say.

First we sat by the fire and opened a prosecco–Rustico, what we often drink in Cortona. With some crackers and olives, we devoured–and practically shouted over–a three-milk, grassy, chalky cheese from Piemonte: La Tur.  Such a creamy, pillowy delight!

At the table, we began with When in Rome Artichokes. We talked about a poetry / art project for Ed and Alberto based on architectural fragments around Italy–the Etruscan stairs at Tarquinia, the Jovis ruins at Capri, the disappeared villa of Pliny near Città di Castello. The talk paired easily with the ancient thistle stuffed with black olives, croutons, basil, parsley, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. I’m only half-kidding–shouldn’t the music and talk complement the food as much as the wine?


We decided to skip the crab and lemon pasta we’d planned.  Too much cheese before dinner, which quickly satiates you. I normally serve cheese only at the end of dinner. I was just in love with La Tur–that melting goodness–and wanted to share it immediately.

So, we moved on to Tuscan Short Ribs with Rich Polenta–from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook–and grilled asparagus.  This is such a hearty, wintery recipe that to feast on it, you feel you should have been out in the woods chopping logs or hiking snow-covered Roman roads. The ribs are browned, then slow-roasted with soffrito, sautéed carrots, garlic, onions, and celery, and some chopped tomatoes. Low and slow–that’s the secret. Like ossobuco, the ribs’ meat just slips off –it’s that tender–leaving the primitive bones clanking on your plate. Talk was heady: the Danteum of Terragni, a Fascist-era architect’s memorial to Dante, the only building we know of that was based on a book–other than Tara, as one of the comments below insisted!  The Danteum was never built but the plans linger with power.  (Terragni’s Danteum by Thomas L. Schumacher).  Perhaps a bit too ethereal a conversation for such an earthy dish. With such a savory sauce, and this is one of the best things you can put in your chops, we pass the bruschette smeared with roasted garlic.


Oh, my.  This tastes so deeply of Tuscany.  (That’s Ed, pressing out the pulp from the roasted garlic.)

So, we skipped the salad, too. The chopped, crisp romaine with roasted beets and walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola.  Maybe, by then, it was the Brunello talking. We were onto plans for designing tableware for a restaurant, and the ideal seasonal menu, and the name of this restaurant.

By this time, the camera was forgotten. Please imagine the intense, roasty ribs on a bed of golden polenta!  We moved on to Wallace Stevens, Cortona news, Caravaggio, and a sweet panna cotta with raspberries and blueberries. Why is this dessert so popular in Tuscany? Because it is the easiest dessert imaginable. You make it in ten minutes and can embellish it with a purée of strawberries, a slather of chocolate sauce, a spoon of  lemon marmalade, or simply seasonal berries.  We lingered long at the table, though we did not, as we would have in Tuscany, haul out the grappa.  Just espresso.  After midnight, we said buona notte, already a bit sad that the trip to the airport would start shortly after breakfast, and that we would be texting and calling and e-mailing until we can meet again this spring on our beloved hillside overlooking the valley where Hannibal defeated the Romans in 217 B.C.

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