I cannot lie. The past 10 days have been complete and utter bliss. We’ve been on a family holiday in Tuscany thanks to my very generous step father Charles, who has made it his mission of late to gather our large family together for holidays in beautiful locations. This time we were 13 adults and 6 grandchildren occupying two villas in the Chianti region just north of Siena. Thank you Charles for all the care and passion you put into organising the perfect holiday and overcoming the complicated logistics. It has been very special indeed!
Being in Europe in July feels like our summer holidays in South Africa which usually fall over Christmas and New Year. As I prepare to return home invigorated and refreshed it feels appropriate to make some mid-year resolutions – even if I’m never much good at sticking to resolutions!
Inspired by the beautiful Tuscan country side and the to-die-for food, here is my personal to-do list for the rest of 2012:
- Start preparing for a killer summer vegetable garden. I’m suffering from an acute case of veggie envy with all the gorgeous fresh produce that we’ve eaten on this holiday. It has totally inspired me to get stuck into my veggie patch this summer and to start experimenting with more exotic varieties of produce that is not commonly available in the shops in our area. This is not going to be easy as I tend to get paralysis even thinking about how I will do this, but if I manage to grow even one unusual vegetable it will be a win for me.
- Be more inventive with home-made pasta. My father always used to make fresh pasta when I was growing up. He would often come home from shopping with new gadgets to make ravioli or different shapes of pasta. I loved watching and learning from him. At university I often made my own pasta for dinner parties and we would hang it over the backs of chairs to dry. It was cheap and delicious and rather a novelty for students! My father gave me a pasta roller as a wedding gift and I started making it again for the first time in years when I moved to the farm. But my efforts have been fairly tentative thus far. I am determined to step it up a gear and become more adventurous. I have started following a wonderful Tuscan cooking blog called Juls’ Kitchen for inspiration and I bought some new pasta making gadgets at a shop in Gaiole. So no more excuses!
- Use fennel, sage and pork more often in my cooking. These have been my absolute favourite ingredients In Tuscany. The fennel grows wild on the side of the road and it is delicious simply fried in olive oil, as an extra ingredient in a meat ragu or sliced finely in a green salad. Sage always looks so gorgeous and I have it in my garden, but I never realised how beautifully it enhances the flavour of pork and chicken and how tasty it is fried to a crisp in olive oil. Similarly, pork is under appreciated in South Africa. We barbecued the most amazing pork and bistecca from the La Macelleria Chini butcher shop in Gaiole in Chianti, which has been in the business of pork since 1682! Although it would be impossible to replicate that kind of quality back home, a dish of slow roasted pork with fennel and sage would be absolutely perfect when we return home to the depths of winter.
- Finish building our new outside entertainment area before summer. There is nothing better than eating al fresco under the stars watching the full moon rise… and as beautiful as it was in Tuscany there are few things to rival the full moon over Africa.
- Learn to make gelato. A bit of a long shot I know, but having a go at home-made ice cream will be a good start. We’ll have to visit Italy more often in the future to get our fix of the real thing.
- Since all of the above has to do with food and the eating thereof, my list of resolutions would not be complete without reference to exercise. Alas, this is the promise I most often fail to live up to. Will walking the dogs more vigorously suffice?
- When the next two months of winter threaten to get me down, just breath deeply and think of this…