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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Tuscan Countryside

We spent four nights in the Tuscan countryside, near the town of Barberino Val d'Elsa. From there we performed concerts in nearby Sant'Appiano and Florence, and made day trips to Florence and Siena. Unfortunately, apart from our first day in Florence, the weather was a bit grey, cool and drizzly. The day we spent checking out the town of Barberino was maybe the worst weather-wise, and it seemed the town was deserted! We kept running into members our our group wandering around the small town, and eventually we all ended up in the same sports bar for lunch (after I had an extended 'conversation' with the bar owner about sitting outside. He kept repeating a word which I thought meant 'outside' but when I eventually looked it up, meant 'dishcloth'!! No wonder we had mutual incomprehension!).

Before lunch we found ourselves at one of those wine & olive oil tasting places, set in the ruins of an old building that you find all over the place in Tuscany. For want of anything else to do (we asked at the tourist agency and they suggested going somewhere else...) we decided to do some tastings. When I checked out the olive oils (above) and noticed they were available for tasting, I didn't quite expect we'd be given a cup. Each. At 11am, not long after breakfast. After a few sips we were looking at each other in some panic, wondering what to do with the other 3/4 cup of oil! Although it was significantly queasy-making to do so, we chugged it back and hummed to ourselves. The oil was excellent, actually, and had it not been the start of the tour and we'd have to carry it round for weeks, we might have bought some. But a cup each was a bit much!
We tasted some wine as well, and followed the wine-dude out to the cave area we he fetched a few bottles for us to take to a party that evening. Again, lovely to taste, but whoa! Wine and oil straight after breakfast! Hoooee!

We ended up in a rather cool gourmet/organic shop, selling all manner of preserves, soaps and wines. At the back was a few tables, where we parked ourselves and our books for a large part of the afternoon. By our table was an amazing bowl of local cherry tomatoes. I think this is Belinda's photo - and it's excellent. I asked for a taste of one, and proceeded to sneak a few more throughout the afternoon! Italian tomatoes...no comparison!

When we felt it was time for afternoon tea, and our sweet teeth were calling to us, we asked the owner/lady what she had, and she offered us some torta. It was quite a plain cake, slightly dry in that way the Italians appreciate a bit more than us, but served with excellent apricot preserves, so the combination worked really well. The espresso we had with it was excellent too, in keeping with the standard we'd come to expect throughout Italy!

A few evenings earlier, after our Tuscan hillside concert, the choir and audience attended an incredible supper with outstanding food. It seems that I had a mental blank that evening and don't have photos, so I'll leave that event to Belinda who took some great shots.
The same woman who organised our concert and cooked for that supper also provided us with dinner the next night, at her hillside Tuscan villa. Yes, it was as good as it sounds, although we didn't sit outside under olive trees. It was late and drizzly so we had an inside Tuscan meal, but the quality and amount of food was wonderful.
Above you can see the salad table, with char-grilled zucchini, insalata caprese, various lettuce and bread, and an enormous hand-made ricotta that was unlike any ricotta cheese I'd tasted; so milky and delicate. She'd also made malfatti pasta with homemade pesto, roasted chickens, roast fennel, lentils with cumin and yoghurt, potatos with garlic and...ummm...other wondrous things. We drank a lot of wine. This might explain why I can't remember what other wondrous things we ate, or what we had for dessert!!

All up, our Tuscan experience was really made by this woman, who is, in fact, an Irish expat! She went out of her way to make us welcome, and must have spent days in the kitchen cooking for us. The way to a person's enduring love really is through their stomach!

Dinner leftovers after the locusts had descended



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