Sunday, August 24, 2014

August in my Garden

I can't promise such great photos and stories as the Italian Adventure but it's surely time to see what has been growing and happening in my garden this month.

The coneflowers have done well this season and make for goodlooking rustic photos - I liked the reflection in the birdbath here - but they do have a somewhat raggedy appearance.
There's basil planted in anticipation of a good crop of tomatoes. That little spot of red you see has been the only ripe tomato so far.
 And a full head of parsley to garnish and flavor summer dishes.
But ripening? That's just not happening to schedule. Usually I have several thriving cherry tomato plants that grow from seed. But with the very cold and long winter we had the much anticipated seedlings just never showed up. By the time I decided I couldn't wait much longer to get seedlings in there was not much choice left at the garden centers so I settled on a six pack of Rutgers variety. Fruit has developed as you can see but with the lower than usual temperatures and the number of overcast, dull days we have had there is only very slow ripening.

 Butterflies have also been very slow to appear. Ordinarily in late August I should be seeing multiple butterflies for much of the day on this butterfly bush. But it was only a week ago that I first saw this Tiger (?) Swallowtail.
 And a couple of days later this Spicebush Swallowtail showed up to visit the phlox.
The caryopteris (blue beard or blue spirea) are starting to bloom now and are attracting the bees.

 The hummingbirds are defying the lack lustre summer by appearing frequently at my feeder. Last week demand was so strong that I was refilling the feeder on a 24 hour basis but in the past several days it has dropped back somewhat. The birds seem to be very territorial and although there are four feeding spots at  the feeder an incoming bird would always first chase away whoever else was already there. I happened to be telling a friend, who has lots of hummers visit, that I had not seen two able to feed at once.
And of course the next day I saw this happening. The bird on the left sat quite happily feeding while the one on the right would take a few sips, back off and hover, take a few more sips, back off and hover.  I'll have to check back at the photos from last year and see how much longer we can expect to be delighted by the sight of these tiny birds in the garden.
 In the front garden there is a large number of echinacea (coneflowers) and salvia which are a magnet for the goldfinches but those birds are very camera shy.
I'll close with this last shot of purple petunias backed by more basil that has gone to seed waiting for the tomatoes! It has been a good summer for the crepe myrtle tree.

On the bright side the lawn is the best it has ever been in August so all is not bad!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Day Seven farewell dinner of my Excellent Italian Adventure

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. And so must my very Excellent Italian Adventure. But not without a wrapup special dinner on the front terrace of Profumo di Vino.
Before we left the farmhouse to head into town for our dinner I couldn't resist photographing the view again.

 We were greeted on the front terrace by restauranter Memo who handed us a glass of white wine.
 The advance party had already seated themselves but soon got up again when they realized what was coming out to the hors d'oeuvre table.
I'd like to be able to name all this for you - I did sample practically everything on the table - but alas, I was more focused on eating than writing.  In the foreground is deep fried semolina dulche (might be mixing my languages here - oops) which was amazing. In the morning at the market I had noticed that a lot of the zucchini came with the flower still attached and that formed the focus ingredient of the dish to the upper left of the semolina dulche; the zucchini flower was gently enveloped in a dough and then quickly deep fried for a wonderful couple of bites of bliss. There were also tiny pastry rolls, baguette sandwiches of prosciutto, pizza bites, two bite burgers and then at the end they carried out the spectacularly simple fried sage leaves.

With experience we knew we had better not totally fill up on all that deliciousness because more was to come.

 Our first plated course was vitello tonatto -  we had been able to have this at least a couple of times earlier in the week but it is so good that it was no problem at all to clean the plate. Notice how the plates are decorated with tiny sprigs of assorted herbs. This delicious menu item is thin sliced veal stuffed with a sauce of mayonnaise, tuna and anchovies as the main ingredients.
 The pasta course was, I  believe, agnolotti al plin. Earlier in the week we had watched a demonstration of how this is made; tiny bite sized portions of fresh made pasta wrapped around a meat paste (rabbit,veal and ?? - they called it a secret recipe although they had said which three meats were combined). Again a herb garnish, this time a sage leaf.
 And we finished with dessert; a semi freddo version of tiramisu.

All so very delicious! But with an early pickup next morning we were keen to get an early night.
 This had been the view I was greeted with each morning.

 And this was my first breakfast back home. Not quite the same. But the memories from My Excellent Italian Adventure will be with me for a very long time. It was a very special experience and exactly "what the doctor ordered" to cheer me.

I have only given you a small portion of my photographs but keep checking because I'm sure I am not done yet with images from my seven sensational days in Italy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day Seven of my Excellent Italian Adventure

I have some time this afternoon so I thought I could show you the morning adventures. For our excursion we went to Alba to visit the markets.
 Before we left I took a quick stroll a little ways along the road. The vineyard we've been staying at is located in the above "commune" - a section of the town of Treiso.
 Looking back down the road the house in the middle distance is where we've been.
 On the way to Alba we stopped to look at some sights and took a brief look at this section of grapevines. Many of us have been wondering why the vines are planted the way they are. This section above are planted up/down the slope. Now imagine picking the grapes and then carrying them back up this steep slope.
 In recent years they changed the way they plant. It is much more intensive and they can get way more vines planted per acre which in turn increases the production. The vines to the right, about ten years old are planted parallel to the slope and maximize the amount of sunshine each vine gets. On the left is the last row of the older vines (60 years old) which are planted in the older method.
 But our destination was Alba. This car took my eye as well as that of the young girl who wanted to go take a look with her daddy. Lots of small cars are on the roads here and with all the hairpin bends and tight corners they are much better suited than large SUVs would be.
 This portion of the market is where the smaller farmers are. The "honey guy" looked to be quite a character.
 The "salami guy" gave us a taste of one of the products he had for sale. You can see he proudly sells Piemonte food.
 This stand had a huge variety of herbs and  this big pile of garlic. Wonder if he sold it all by the time the market closed at 12.30pm.
Strolling the streets outside the market area we noticed a couple of coffee shops with this innovative seating idea - when all the tables and chairs are taken just sit down on the front step, thoughtfully provided with cushions. (Watch out for the two who are reflected in the cafe window...they do appear again.)
 The guy riding his bicycle holding on to the beautiful bouquet took the eye of several wanting to take his photo. He was not that thrilled about stopping to pose so I had to be quick.
 Delicious watermelons waiting to go home with someone.
 This market stand was the focus of Jill's painting today. Check out the size of the produce.
 Here comes the "honey guy" to check on the progress of the painting.
MaryBeth and Manu making selections for our lunch. The vast amount of brightly colored produce goes into making a lot of healthy meals.

It has been a glorious vacation; MaryBeth and Manu were thoughtful and kind hosts who put a huge amount of effort into giving us a wonderful Piemonte experience. Jill and the always helpful Randy worked hard to create a perfect "Paint With Me In Italy" workshop.

A hundred thousand thank yous as we are about to go into Treiso for our farewell dinner at Profumo di Vino.

I'll do a wrap-up post once I get home.

Day Six of my Excellent Italian Adventure

The trip is whizzing right along.
Day six began with another lovely sunrise.
Right after sunrise is when I am usually sitting here working on my blog.
 For the morning excursion we went into the small hill town of Neive which, like most around here, has a long history and now is known as one of the most beautiful hill towns. This is the entrance to the gardens and, in front, the war memorial.
 This spectacular example of a vine covered building is attached to one of the many churches in the town. Can you imagine how this wall looks in the autumn when that vine turns color? There is a cafe here but, at this height of the summer season they are closed for a weeks vacation. Go figure.
 This is something that intrigued me and I saw several other examples; the signboard in the plaza outside the main church has posters announcing upcoming funeral Masses.
 Neive has a very picturesque town hall. Notice the flower bedecked ornamental bridge between buildings on the left.
 Like all the towns we have been in the church is at the heart; this one is St Peter and Paul. The artists had set up for the morning under the trees on the left.  Mornings were when they got their most painting done but with the movement of the sun what starts out as a good shady spot becomes a hot sunny location by the time they stop for lunch around 1pm.
 We all noticed the unusual balcony treatments on this house.
 There were several arched entrances to the town and this one had a welcoming window box of flowers. After several days and several towns I have begun to wonder if they decide on a consistent color for the annual flowers that fill the window boxes and pots because they all go together in a most harmonious way.
 Ta dah! They were using one of my favorite colors at the restaurant we had lunch at. We did have wine but I wanted to show you the coca cola can and the water bottles today.
Lunch was in the town of Barbaresco at this restaurant on the right, Prima & Pio Tornavento. Afterwards we took a quick stroll up the main street. This town had chosen a pretty pink pallette for their summer flowers.

The mornings are a pleasant temperature but the afternoon heat builds up and I can understand why many of the shops in the small towns close from 12.30pm to 4.30pm for a long siesta time. Day 6 got hot and I was very happy to get back to the vineyard and take a cooling dip in the swimming pool. Dinner was around 8.30pm on the front terrace and later we went back into the village of Treiso where we had been invited to display the art that had been created during the week. There was a talk on astronomy (in Italian of course so we did not sit in on that) after which a large telescope was set up and set to view firstly Saturn ( the rings were visible) and then the moon.

Thus ended day six. Our last full day here is beginning but with a very early departure on Sunday morning I'm not sure when the day seven blog will happen.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Day five in the afternoon of my Excellent Italian Adventure

So I really do need to choose fewer photos. But onwards to Thursday afternoon.
 For lunch we were treated to a light meal of local Piemonte specialty meats: beef, veal, prosciutto, anchovy and an eggplant molded custard.
 We were at the winery of the Rocche Costamagna, a long time producer since 1841. With a light lunch we had a tasting of the Langhe Arneis and the Ose Langhe Rosato. Don't worry, I did not drink my way through both bottles!
 Following lunch we were addressed by Claudia Ferraresi, a passionate artist who paints interpretive landscapes. The winery and vineyard have belonged to her family since the 1800s and she had many fascinating stories to tell both about her art and her family. Down in the cellars Claudia's son Alessandro Locatelli, the head of the company gave us a short tour and talk about the wine production from the Barola and Barbera grapes.
 Stepping outside into the bright sunshine once more we could take in the wide panoramas.
 I took a quick walk around the outer side of the fortified town walls.
 They do love their flowers here. Watering the many pots must take a while but the end result shows a passion for beauty.
 As I mentioned earlier, cats are a very popular pet. These are three of the larger cat family that live at the B & B where some of the artists are staying.
We ended the day with this view of a dog, chasing all those cats maybe, in the evening sky.