Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring is sprung, well sort of....


It's been an interesting winter and spring. We've had such a variety of varying conditions that I find it difficult to say what "normal" is anymore. It is probably the same in your part of the world too.  When I first arrived here in Val Chisone, our winters have been quite mild with never enough snow for me to feel like it was a proper winter. Then about 6 years ago we had a record amount of snow and consistently snowy winters that made me believe that we were back in a normal pattern. Well then we had a few late cold springs and on and on until this winter.  What do you know, we had a fair amount of snow, but pleasantly, it was a rather mild winter over all.  March however, came in like a semi liony lamb and departed pretty much the same as such. In between  we managed to have summery days and mild spring conditions that brought out the flowers and pushed the trees to bloom quite early.

Fabrizio working in the family garden
Wouldn't you know it, but here it is now getting on towards the last part of April and just to make sure you remember that Mother nature is still in charge, we have  enough snow coming down to be concerned for our garden's early coming forth. We were convinced that peas were about the only thing that was safe enough to put in early, but the raspberry, currant and blueberry plants were sadly fooled. We shall see how it shakes out in the end.
Our patio yesterday

Lulled by the seductive spring green and flowers and leaves popping out everywhere, you would think I would be immune to wintery surprises after all these years living in the mountains. 
But no, it always comes as a sobering surprise. 
Poor wild cherry trees

Our side yard this morning. It's already melting out now.
We are both good. This year has seen its various ups and downs with one family member getting well and coming back from a scary illness and another losing their battle with a disease, ALS, that no one should have to suffer through. So it goes in life, ups and downs and sometimes it is hard to find the chatter to carry on with. It has found me somewhat unable to just carry on with subjects of food and recipes, or what we have done that might be of interest to anyone. It's not that I don't have anything to say, but it does seem quite trivial at times when loved ones have such struggles, and losses. But as time passes and grief wanes I wonder back to let you know a little of what has gone on in our lives. Time flies and we carry on with our daily challenges and triumphs, enjoying the process and the subtle joys that lift the day and reminds us of the sweetness of life in all of its tiniest manifestations. On so my life goes. I am grateful for all that I have and all that is shared. You are part of the sharing and I thank you for stopping by and being interested. 
Fabrizio and I continue on with our various on-going myriad of projects, that for me, sometimes seems difficult to see progress on. Fabrizio with his ever growing piles of wood for our heating grow and impress, and his fresh coats of paint to the various parts of the building are noticeable and welcome. I however am tasked with making improvements to our web site in hope of attracting more guests that would love to find us if they only knew about us, and that my friends is is harder to see the progress on. I also keep the troops fed and experimented on with new dishes to add to my repertoire and keeps me absorbed with learning and amused to boot. 

Here's Tom and Fabrizio mugging it up just before Tom goes back home to the U.K. after his Workaway boot camp with Fabrizio.  Thanks for all the hard work blind up the winter wood heating  supply.
Bye Bye to Tom, our first volunteer helper of the season
So, I think it is now time for me to get back to my latest project and that oil be shortening the new curtains for our  little "baita" salon. We moved in downstairs last June, but still have much to do to make it have a more finished feel to it and ready for this coming  season. 

Bella Baita dining room in the original "Baita" (which means rustico in the mountains)
If you have never been to visit with us or haven't been since we moved into the downstairs "baita" part of the building, you need to put that on your "to do" list, pronto.  We, of course, still have much to do, but it keeps us out of trouble naturally and on our toes. We look forward to your visit, new or returning, sometime soon.  In the mean time, we hope you have a blessed Easter weekend with friends and family and a wonderful welcoming of spring with the return of the natures quickening life force and graces. With love from Bella Baita, we wish all of you peace. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ravioli Gnudi- A Spring Time Delight


Ravioli gnudi
The signs of spring are everywhere, in the lengthening of the day, the snow piles slowly but surely shrinking in spite of the best efforts of mother nature to keep them topped up. I have spoken before about how we only have to go two turns down our mountain road and we find a dramatic change in the advancement of spring. We're still up there in the snow zone, but we are on the teetering edge od full on winter and full on spring. It's an interesting place to live. The primula are starting to finally poke their heads up wherever the snow has begun to retreat in earnest. The market is full of spinach and dandelion greens and soon there will be all manner of various greens gathered and foraged to perk up the taste buds from our sturdy cabbage and potato winter fare. 
Springtime beginning to arrive in Val Chisone
I had elaborate plans to share a couple of pizza recipes, but have failed to get the recipes down on paper so I will share the next best thing that I have recently made. That would be the ravioli gnudi, or nude ravioli. A peculiar name for most of us, but what it is referring to is that the spinach ricotta mixture is oftentimes what you find in many a filled pasta and this time there is no pasta. There is flour used in the mix and then later rolled in the flour to help hold it all together, but there is no firm pasta covering. The emperor has no clothes! Ok not exactly, but I think you get the drift. 
Ravioli gnudi is the name given to them by the Tuscans, from whence I think they originated, or at least became most well known from. Up here in the north, we are fond of our gnocchi and so these are really just a variation on a gnocchi for us. What ever you want to call them, we just mainly call them delicious, and please don't call me late for dinner.

These really are easy enough, but my main tip would be to make sure that you have a dough ball that will stay together. My first attempt a few years ago almost made me give up on them as I was gingerly handling them as I wanted to make sure they would be tender and fluffy. Well, what I got was a pot full of spinach ricotta water. They disintegrated in the boiling process. I salvaged them best I could, but was sorely disappointed. Next time I sacrificed light and fluffy for sturdy and durable and eventually came upon a nice middle of the road, light and sturdy dough ball that didn't mind simmering and then being sloshed around in a pan with a bit of sage butter and a light coating of marinara sauce upon occasion. The spinach is plentiful right now, so it's a great time to give these a go and let me know what you think. I have a feeling they may be something you will enjoy again and again once you get the hang of them. 

Ravioli Gnudi
about 6 servings (depending if you serve more courses)


Ingredients:

350 g (12 oz) fresh spinach, cooked in minimum of water
350g (12 oz or about 1 1/2 c) ricotta

4 T parmesan cheese, grated (or more if you like)
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

3 eggs, medium, if large I would use 2 whole and 1 yolk

125 g (about 1 ¼ c) flour all purpose,
(divide into 5 T to add to the dough and the rest to roll the balls in

pinch or two salt after adding the Parmesan if needed

Method:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while you prepare the dumplings/gnocchi/ravioli.

Once you have cooked the spinach and allowed it too cool.
Squeeze very dry and chopped medium fine.
Mix the spinach well with the ricotta.
Add the parmesan and nutmeg and a pinch of salt
Add eggs and mix well.
Sprinkle the 5 Tb of flour in, mixing lightly. Add a bit more flour if it doesn;t seem to be holding together.
It will be a soft sticky mix.
Pour the flour into a flat pan
Flour your hands
Drop teaspoons of dough int the flour, roll around and then lightly make the balls coating so they hold together when you simmer them. I tried for thumbnail sized but they were a bit bigger than that.
You don't want them too large so they cook easily.

Once you have all the balls prepared drop them into, a couple at a time, the rolling boil. You may need to do two batches depending on the size of your pot. They will sink like gnocchi and the boil will stop. Gently stir them and bring them back toa boil, but lower the heat as soon they they start to boil, so they simmer gently and don't boil so hard that they fall apart. It should take about 5-6 minutes, depending on the size of the balls.

Once done I put them in a large pan with a little melted butter and fresh sage and gently shook the pan, to coat. Sprinkled parmesan on top and served them with a side of marinara sauce.
I made 2/3  of the batch as I was a fraud we would eat them all in one sitting. We did!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Meeting Up With "Renovating Italy" Friends

Amazing how life, as it chugs along, seems to still go faster than I can keep up with. Although we work from home I am always baffled how the day can slip by and really all I seem to have accomplished is a number of replies to enquiries, sometimes quite involved replies, which may, or may not, turn into bookings and our daily nourishment.  To be honest I do spend a fair amount of time exploring and experimenting on new dishes and breads, usually in the vein of future possibilities for our guests or plain ole traveling by way of food from foreign places. It's all good, of course, but that "to do list" doesn't seem to be doing much shrinking.
Skipping down the path of whatever else comes along today,  I wanted to share a bit about our newish friends, the Chiodo family,  that are transplanted Australians to nearby Val Pellice.  Just over the tops of the peaks that we gaze at everyday, this family of four found a little slice of paradise and decide to work on a little "fixer up" of a home in in a small borgata towards the end of this historical valley that is called collectively along with our two valleys over here as the Valdesian or Waldensen valleys. I have written a bit about this history a few times so if you are interested you an find out more about that part of our history in the post previous to this one, here, and here also.  That of course is another story.

Our friends, Lisa, Sam, Carina and Luca are the heart and soul of their blog  "Renovating Italy"  that shares their journey through life which currently takes place just over the way from us. Follow the above highlighted link to their blog and go over and meet them.
I ran across them a few years back on my travels around the internet and was immediately drawn in by the title of their blog and Lisa's eye for beauty in old structures and objects that I have a fascination for as well. She really unearths a vast array of visual treats in her like and her digging around the internet as well. I casually followed along with them on their blog and Facebook page for awhile, enchanted by her photographic treasures and intrigued by their story. To my astonishment one day I came across a post of them mentioning that they had been to Pinerolo market. Hey, wait a minute, that's here. I quickly backtracked over their posts to discover that they had bought a property in Vall Pellice and where just starting to find their way around here. I couldn't wait to meet them.

The miracle of the internet never ceases to amaze me. I am able to talk with family and friends over the internet once I am able to coax them though the stages of how to set it up, as well as promote our mountaintop inn tucked into a part of the alps that not all that many people know about, as well as reconnect with childhood friends through the amazing social media called Facebook. I have also  come to "virtually" know a wide variety of people all over the world by exploring interests and meeting online friends as well as friends of friends and friends I have never met. Are you still with me?

Anyway, I contacted Lisa and it wasn't long before we were able to coax them over to visit with us last spring just before Easter.  It was still quite cold and during the winter months we tend to have most of our building shut down waiting for the warmer months and steadier stream of guests to arrive. We deified to fire up our pizza oven and make pizza with them as we know kids are always game for that. We had a great visit with them and enjoyed finally meeting our virtual acquaintances. What a delightful family and their enthusiasm for Italy in general and living a rural life quite different from they one in Melbourne, is quite infectious and admirable. I love listening to Lisa as she finds her way down the path of country life in which she embraces it all, good, surprising, sometimes disturbing, or discouraging but always fascinating as I read her missives. Sam has a great gusto for everything as well and the kids are charming and gutsy in a way that is really refreshing.
Now fast forward a few months and we finally get ourselves over to visit them in their home in our parallel valley. It s truly amazing to me that in some ways we are so close, as the crow flies, but when it really comes down to it, a visit over the ridge comes as a bit of journey. Never mind, it was a delightful day when we asked on short notice if they had time to visit with us and wouldn't you know it, they did, and we did. What a great spontaneous day of visiting we had. It was the tail end of the Christmas holidays, la Befana, so the kids were still out of school so we got to visit with the whole family.
What gracious hosts on such short notice. Sam cooked a wonderful carbonara, and some sausages and peas, while we had brought along a chocolate layered icebox cake that we devoured in spite of feeling pretty full from lunch.
Naturally, we need to have a look around and walk off some of the sluggishness of lunch, so we got the full tour of the borgata and neighboring houses and stream nearby. What a lovely spot and what work they have done to make an Italian nest for their family. They have by no means chosen the simplest of paths, but by far a most rewarding one, that they relish every step of the way. I love their "can do" spirit and grit along with their unflinching view of their new life in the country. Helping to kill and butcher the neighbors pig as well as having to light the burner to have a warm water shower and keep the fires going to make sure the family is warm, is not everybody's idea of a good time, but you would never know that from being with this family. I love how they embrace it all and share their journey with anyone who cares to travel along with them. I think one day we'll be reading a book about their journey, and I am so grateful to have shared a bit of their life on a few occasions. It's nice to hang out with positive people that you share similar interests and lifestyles. Too bad we are still separated by those big ole mountains, but then their is the power of the internet and that has made all the difference.
A very belated thank you Sam, Lisa, Luca and Carina, for a day well spent and a memorable friendship. Can't wait to see your place when it's all green again, which is something truly to look forward to!



Monday, February 17, 2014

February 17th Again

Put on your Sunday best traditional Valdesian outfit. 
(Also known as Waldensen)


Strike up the band


Fly your colors and flags


Walk with your friends and neighbors to the next village


And worship together in celebration of your liberation 
February 17, 1848


Free to worship as you see fit and free to vote and become a full citizen denied for way too many years.
Our valley has a long history of persecution for it inhabitants that sought to escape and live their lives in peace. That goal finally became a reality with the unification if Italy and the process of healing as Catholics and Protestants found their way to continue to live and work side by side with each other. 
It''s a fascinating history and I have written about it a few times and have links to other sites with various information. So if you are interested I ail post a few links below to previous posts. 




Sunday, January 26, 2014

Resurrection of our Lady of Serre Marchetto's Pilone


Two years ago, almost to the day, gale force winds toppled these over 300 year old beech sentinels on top of our neighborhood pilone,  smashing it to bits and killing the massively beautiful trees that provided shade for this roadside shrine and ambience at the top of our hill. Pilone as they are called in Piedmont or Capitello Votivo, are simply small structures usually made of concrete or wood that houses a Roman Catholic icon of the virgin Mary. These small shrines, whose traditional roots reach back to ancient times, where usually constructed to commemorate a local narrow miss or ward off the specter of famine or disease. Sometimes it is where someone has died or a community focal point, where people will bring flowers and light long burning candles and often pray or recite the rosary.  
Original Serre Marcheto pilone and 300 year old beech trees
Our pilone sat just to the side of the top of our neighborhood road and was a lovely spot alongside our road. It had been painted on the outside by a local artist, to depict two saints; one was San Giovanni Batitista or John the Baptist and the other was San Antonio Abate or St. Anthony, patron saint of animals. 
It came as quite a shock when the trees fell as they had stood tall for so many years and were seemingly in good health. We get some fierce winds from time to time up here on our perch and just like two years ago we have had some strong winds the past couple of days. Not nearly as strong as that time, but just as distracting when they blow non stop for a couple of days.  You can see from the photos below just how big the trees were and what force it took to topple them and what a force when they fell.
What was left of our Serre Marchetto Pillone's virgin Mary icon
 But if you take a look at the bottom photo the above collage, you will see that the virgin Mary icon was literally untouched. She lost part of her body but compared to the rest of the building it was quite shocking to find her in such good shape. One of our neighbors stood her up in the debris for all to see. 
It didn't take long for the neighborhood to agree to replace the pilone and restore the Virgin Mary back to her place on the hill.  
This summer found the pilone restored and partially painted again, with John the Baptist, San Giovanni,  rededicated on his name or feast day of June 24th.  I wrote a post about this date back in 2007 that you can read about here if you like. Fabrizio's grandfather's name. was Giovanni, who grew up here, as well as his father before him and so this is a special painting for our family. Our friend and neighbor Lorenzo Zappa, who also is a painter, brought new life to the restored pilone and has painted new depictions of both saints. 
When I took these photos this summer Lorenzo had almost finished one side with San Giovanni but not the other. 
The Virgin Mary icon has been replaced.

Can you see Mt. Cucetto reflected in the glass?

San Giovanni painting is now finished.


 San Antonio Abate was finished this autumn and rededicated this week, as January 17h is his feast day. Our neighborhood Gran dubbione church celebrated is day this Sunday with the blessing of the animals and the giving of blessed sweetened bread with fruit for attendees of this special mass. The mass use to be a blessing mostly of the farm animals that they stay healthy and strong, as they not only did much of the work in the rural areas, they also were a source of food, so it was important that they were well looked after, including being blessed by the priest. Celebration of San Antonio's day these days oftentimes is more about the blessing of household pets. 
Here's the view of our new pilone now without the much missed trees, but it really does help now to make this space not seem so vacant. Lorenzo's work is lovely and we are all grateful to have this landmark back in place again.

Our lady of perpetual vigilance is back in her pilone on our Serre Marchetto neighborhood road, for a contemplative moment and a view towards the end of our road in Grandubbione.
Welcome back.
The view from the pilone looking towards Grandubbione
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