we’re ahead!

The growing season is well and truly underway and with unseasonably high temperatures for the time of year, we are watering daily. Thanks to my Dad, not only do we have a new door to the well, but we now also have an on-tap supply of well water to the bottom orto. His ingenious idea was this: we blocked one end of the longest hose we had with a cork around which was tied some string. On the other end, M fitted a tap. We then filled the hose with water, placed the corked end into the well below the surface, while M walked the hose down to the orto. My Dad then yanked the string to release the cork, shouted for M to open the tap, and hey presto, water poured out. This means, that although the hose is not long enough to reach all the plants, we can at least fill up watering cans in situ, saving time and effort.

For once, we are ahead on the orto, not only compared with last year, but also with our neighbours, something which has been commented on by more than one of them. We’ve picked nearly all the broad beans despite the best efforts of our resident deer to strip the plants of their leaves, courgettes and patty pans are now in steady supply and the first cucumbers are just days away from picking, a whole month and a half earlier than last year (yes, I have been keeping a record). We are still waiting for the first ripe tomatoes but it won’t be long now.

I’m trying a couple of ‘firsts’ this year. I’ve grown two strong looking watermelon plants from seed and in an effort to have more of a variety of vegetables throughout the winter, alongside our usual cavolo nero, I’m trying cardoons, salsify and pumpkins. I’ve also been nursing a tray of celeriac seedlings for weeks now. They have almost taken up permanent residence in the dining room as the intense heat means they wilt within a couple of hours of being outdoors (I know how they feel!). M tells me celeriac are notoriously hard to grow. Perhaps if he had told me sooner, I might have saved myself the trouble! It also seems that parsnips are hard to grow here as well. It is a rare vegetable in Italy, not only in the greengrocer’s but also in the agricultural suppliers so my sister bought out in a packet in May but a month on there’s still no sign of them.

In addition to the traditional sowing and planting methods, I am also attempting to grow food from scraps. By placing the base of celery and lettuce in warm water and then leaving in direct sunlight, it is possible for the plant to regenerate. After a few days, leaves begin to shoot and once they are a few centimetres tall, the whole thing can be planted out in the soil. I have 2 lettuce and 3 celery growing already with one more of each soon to follow. Who knows if I’ll get a fully formed plant but it’s fun to try and costs nothing!

It’s now just got cool enough so off to water for today.

via vinaria

You can tell the work on the house is now taking up less of our time. Last Sunday we were off eating fish cooked in a giant frying pan. Yesterday, we headed off to Montecarlo……..no, not the Montecarlo but a small medieval hill village to the east of Lucca where over the weekend, a number of small wineries and vineyards opened to the public for a wine tasting tour.

We went with a couple of friends who had been before so we also had some insider knowledge. For 15 euro per person, we bought a wine tasting kit, comprising a glass, a glass holder, a program event and the use of a 5 mini buses/coaches which drove along 5 different routes. Each one would drive in a continuous loop, dropping you off, allowing you to spend as much time as you wanted at each winery. When you had finished, you just waited for the bus to come back and take you to the next one on the route.

Section of map showing the different lines, all named after grapes of course, and some of the vineyards

From the main square, with the aid of a map detailing the locations of the wineries and the routes, we chose our first bus on the Vermentino line and off we went. This bus was actually a coach. The roads were narrow and windy. M was sitting by the window. All of a sudden he had gone very quiet. ‘What’s up?’ I asked. ‘This bus is too big for the road. I keep thinking we are going to leave it at any minute’. ‘But we are not that high and there is no drop. There is actually nowhere to go’. Nonetheless, when we got back on, M took the aisle seat much to the amusement of our friends!

At the first winery, I started with a prosecco. And then another. And another. Different varieties of course and all very palatable but all going down far too quickly! M was on the red. Our friends did the same, us two girls sticking to the fizzy/white, the men to the reds. I am not good at lunchtime drinking at the best of times (this tour started at midday) and it was hot, perhaps the first real hot day we have had so far. I knew I would have to pace myself.

Our first stop. Montecarlo is on the hill in the background

After this one, I stuck to one tasting at each place. Much more manageable and if we were really lucky, some free offerings of bread drizzled with the local olive oil (or at one vineyard, some pecorino cheese), made it a lot easier!

In our opinion, the best wineries (not necessarily with the best wine) were those that offered a tour around the cellars, explaining the process of winemaking. Some had set up stands in the grounds, others also offered products to try and buy such as jams, chutneys, cheese, sausage, salami, all produced by themselves. Some seemed family run, others were on a much larger scale. All of them had both fantastic buildings and amazing views.

At some point during the afternoon, we all felt the need for food and liquid of the non-alcoholic kind. So, it was off on another bus to a recommended vineyard where we had panini with porchetta, a bottle of water and a sit down in the shade!

At one point, we were back in the main square to catch a bus on another line when I commented on how much cooler it now was. As one of our friends pointed out, it was now actually 6:00pm. No wonder! This bus took us to just the one fattoria but it was worth it. The approach to the building itself was through the vineyards. It was picturesque to say the least. When we got there, the wines didn’t disappoint. The tasting itself was in the cellar with the most ridiculously sized barrels, the biggest we had seen all day. It was the perfect one to end on.

Huge barrels! The cellar was packed with them

At 7:15pm, we called it a day. We were flagging but our experienced friends decided to carry on to the last two vineyards. It was a great day, and one that will definitely be going on the calendar for next year.

A commemorative glass


2 years and 22 days…..

…..from when we finished the first section of colour render on the house. Yesterday, we finally finished it all. I sometimes wonder why it took so long but with other priorities that always seemed to win over rendering, the weather (too cold, too hot, too wet) and what became an apparent need for help with the colour finish (more than our labouring could provide), I suppose it’s understandable (said through gritted teeth!).

Of course, when I say ‘finished’ as always with our house, it’s not quite so. Having originally planned to have white internal terrace walls, we were persuaded by our builder to keep the colour consistent throughout. Once we saw the grey plaster alongside our grey tiles, we knew it was the right decision. However, what we all forgot (until the 11th hour) was that having ordered all the colour plaster for the whole house in advance (and before we changed our mind about the walls), we did not then have enough to complete the terrace. Added to this frustration, was also the fact that our colour plaster is an ‘order only’ item.

Disappointing as that is, it doesn’t detract from the fact that we have reached a significant milestone, one worthy of a glass of Prosecco or two. With the completion of the render, there is also something else to celebrate: our builder’s scaffolding has finally gone! We are just left with his cement mixer (still to be used for the parking) and of course, our ever growing rubble pile which has almost taken on an essence of permanency with all the weeds and grasses that have taken root there.

front of the house

side of the house

the barn with the unfinished terrace above

close up of the barn (at some point we will change that door)

the back of the house

We are now having a break for family time for a couple of weeks but we then hope to pick up where we left off and finish that terrace!

into the frying pan

Camogli is a fishing village on the Ligurian coast, just to the north of Portofino in the direction of Genova. On the second Sunday in May it holds its annual Sagra del Pesce (Fish Festival) to celebrate San Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen. Today was the 66th sagra to be held. After a blessing by the priest, a huge frying pan measuring 4 metres in diameter and with a handle 6 metres long is used to fry literally tons of fish. In the past, these were distributed free but such is the increase in popularity, there is now a charge.

I have been wanting to go to this sagra for a long time, since, in fact, the first time I read about it on a trip out here in 2001 (if my memory serves me correctly) but it was only today that I finally got there.

Getting ready to fry. Boxes of fish stacked in the left hand corner

Now we’re cooking!

Boxes of mixed fish ready to hand out

San Fortunato

The harbour from above. The queue has now stretched along the harbour pier. The red canopy covering the pan is on the left

A commemorative plate included in the price!



1648 eggs

A year’s supply from our 5 very productive Livornese hens. That averages out at 137 eggs a month, 32 eggs a week or 4.5 a day. Whichever way you look at it, far too many for two people! Our builder, the one neighbour without chickens and even a local baker have all benefited from our surplus. It may be hard to keep up with them but we love having our girls!

These may be 5 different chickens but who can tell?!

a little bit of tree maintenance

At long last we have been able to turn our attention to the land and some much needed tree maintenance. The walnut tree was far too tall and growing towards the house, and the huge old wild plum was rotting at the base of the trunk. Most of the plums were too high to reach so fell to the ground creating easy pickings for the boar.

So yesterday, our local woodsman arrived armed with a big and little chainsaw, a billhook, a long canvas strap, a rather small ladder and a young helper. No safety equipment or protective clothing. Not even a pair of gloves. With ease he climbed up into the walnut tree and was passed an idling chainsaw by his helper. Suddenly branches were falling and in a matter of minutes, the tree was looking surprisingly bare. Close to the walnut tree is a fir tree that is also far too high, so we asked him to lower that too. While he was at it, he also rather severely chopped some other tree/bush of an unknown (to us) species that was overhanging our steps and the well. It was on our list of things to do so at least he has saved us a job.

The wild plum was precariously angled and given its height and rotten trunk, we thought might prove more challenging. But we were wrong. With the help of the ladder, he climbed up to the top of the trunk and with one hand, cut the branches and trunk in front of him, before sliding down a little and continuing with the same one handed cuts. M and I were concerned to see the trunk moving under his weight but he carried on obliviously, almost casually.

In just over an hour, it was all done and we were left with a pile of logs, an even bigger pile of branches and greenery to burn and a more open view.


after all the rain, a good grey day

Progress on the house has been slow over the past month. Unseasonal and unstable weather since Easter has put a hold on our remaining building work, all of which is now outside (the final section of rendering, some outside steps and the parking area). This has at least meant, if we are being positive, that we’ve been able to concentrate on some internal redecoration. With the end in sight though, it has been very frustrating.

It’s not just the weather that has caused the delay. Our builder wanted to wait for some trainees to come over to help with the rendering. As they weren’t due until after Easter, he made a start by tying the front part of the barn to the main house as he had done at the back almost 3 years ago! This meant welding reinforcing mesh to steel rods that had been drilled and cemented into the walls. All this was then covered with a rough concrete mix. It was good to finally see the crack between the two buildings disappear.

We then watched good days turn into bad just in time for the trainees’ arrival. With the forecast changing almost hourly, it has been difficult to plan and we’ve had to grab days where we can. Always with a deadline in mind, we originally thought we had plenty of time to do what we estimated as between 8-10 days work in a 5 week period (the duration of their time here, the end of which coincides quite nicely with the arrival of big sis and her husband). After 2 half days and one full day, we have finished the grey plaster on the front and side of the house.

There’s still the back section of grey to do, the ‘splashback’ and the final coat of colour (including the inside of the terrace walls). With the forecast only marginally better for the next week we fear it will now be a close run thing.

from my window today

Spotted my M as he was about to let Martin out, a deer on the path between our land and the vineyard. I suspected a deer was eating our chard so the proximity of this one confirms my theory. As much as I don’t want my vegetables eaten, it is actually lovely to see one so close.

not just marine debris

If you time it right, and you know where to go, it’s amazing what interesting pieces of driftwood you can find just lying on the beach. Some pieces resemble a leg with an oddly angled foot:

Others look like a seahorse:

and some just have a textural interest:

If you are really lucky you can find something with a practical use. With an idea in mind, I was searching for something suitable as a base for a table when I came across this stump:

‘That’s perfect’, I said to M. ‘Can you get it for me, please?’ ‘No, I can’t. It’s far too heavy’, was his reply. ‘You try to lift it’. I clambered over the rocks and began to tug. ‘I think it’s stuck,’ I shouted back. ‘No it’s not. Trust me, it’s just too heavy. Give up and look for something smaller’. Disappointed but determined, I scoured the beach (with M’s help, of course) collecting a number of smaller logs with a view to fixing them altogether to make a circular base.

Yesterday, after the logs had been thoroughly cleaned, dried and treated with an anti woodworm solution, just to be on the safe side, I finally started to work on the table. With some advice from M, the first stage was to glue the central logs together and bind them securely. With the help of some clamps and garden wire, this was easy enough:

Today, once the glue was dried, I screwed the central pieces together and gradually added more logs to the outside, screwing them one at a time. So far so good, but it then came to the tricky bit: cutting the group of logs to length. It was time to call for some expert help, not only in precision sawing, but it was clear that this was going to be a four-handed job. M was not thrilled at the task but armed with only a handsaw, manfully accepted the challenge, even allowing me to cut the final piece, just so I could say I did!

While the base sat firmly on the floor, the top needed a little adjustment, i.e sanding.  Little by little and with constant checking with a glass top, we sanded it down to an acceptable level of levelness! The final stage was then to glue the glass top to the base. M applied the glue while I, centring only by eye, carefully placed the top in position. We stood back, giggled and admired our work:

So, with two tables under my belt, I wonder what my next project will be?