March 12, 2014

My Stony Life!

When I look back over my years at Bramasole, the first thing that comes to mind is stone. We are always moving piles of them, looking for them, hoping they don’t fall, building things from them. We’ve been lucky to find good sources, and never luckier than now. Sergio, our builder, has scoured the countryside for hefty, smooth old stones because our projects keep multiplying.


These were lifted by the little crane on the truck and are quickly becoming a stone terrace with our best view.


As everyone who’s ever restored knows, one thing leads to another. Our old limonaia will become a summer dining room / kitchen. Right now it’s a muddy, rubble-filled shell. Now that the sun is out and all the fruit trees in Tuscany are turning into pink or white clouds, work is moving along at a great pace. Everyday, progress.

The fountain is almost done.

Beginning to think about restructuring the garden, we visited Vadi, outside Cortona, where they fire their own terra-cotta pots.  There are differences between the handmade and the industrial.  The colors are so chalky and subtle. And they don’t crack in winter like normal pots. We found two to surround our big jasmines plants. Our workers cut off the bottom and back so they could attach the pots against a stone wall. How skilled they are. I held my breath, fearing that the pots would shatter. I may go back for this one:

At night, plenty of time to dine. We’ve been to two new places nearby. Lodolo, outside Foiano, is a small and charming place with an appealing menu–lots of things usually not found on traditional menus–puntarelle, a type of chicory salad, a savory ricotta “gelato,” meat loaf stuffed with black olives, a very tasty maltagliata pasta with cauliflower and sharp pecorino. A good wine list and a cheery, quirky atmosphere, good friends Debbie Travis and Hans Rosenstein, and there’s a perfect evening.

The next night, La Toraia near Sinalunga with Fulvio and Aurora Di Rosa, who have a talent for finding interesting places to eat and travel. The bull barn!  A grand red brick structure that shows just how valuable the Chianina bulls are! Their names are still over the stalls, and now tables are placed over the former manger. The specialty, you know already, is Val di Chiana beef. I had my first hamburger ever in Italy! The famous bistecca Fiorentina reigns here and is a masterpiece! Fulvio is reaching for the knife. He and Ed shared this huge, sizzling, and tender cut. I had a bite. They have a shop, too, where they sell their beef and also an excellent artisan beer.  If you’re near Cortona, Pienza, Montepulciano, both of these places are excellent diversions.

Last night we visited one of our long time favs, Trattoria Dardano, whose owner Paolo we’ve known since he was a child, and who is now one of my partners in Tuscan Sun Wines. He makes the very quaffable Tondo Tondo (Just right). There we ordered, as usual, fried porcini mushrooms, and, what, more beef? A filetto di vitello, from just up the mountain in Teverina, and with more porcini on top. Porcini are not in season here, but Paolo has them flown from North Africa.

These two major beef experiences will hold us for awhile!  Excellent, excellent. Tonight we dine with our neighbors, who are grilling a guinea hen and sausages.  How amazing the food is in these parts. We’re forever enthralled!

Next week I will be writing a big Ta-Da!!! for my new book. It’s a memoir about growing up in the South and I hope you’ll indulge me while I swing away from Tuscany and toward my original home.

We’re thrilled to see spring. It’s breaking out everywhere–even out of stone!