Monday, September 18, 2006

London Breakaway

It's always nice to get away and have a break so that when you return everything seems new.
Fabrizio and I had a quick trip (3day) ,to London to go to a 5 year anniversary party for Responsible Travel (Holidays that give the world a break). We joined as members last year and have been very pleased with the philosopy, the company, and of course, all the wonderful guests that have come to us via their web site. We hadn't met all of the staff and so it was a great opportunity for us to meet the commited, helpful staff and quite a number of other tour operators that are a dynamic group of people as well. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the companies offered on the site as they are offering some amazing experiences around the world. Don't just take my word for it, as they have unedited comments and reviews from the guests for many of the trips on the site. The idea is to not only give back to the local community in the way of employment and economic opportunity, but there is a clear commitment to having as little enviromental impact as possible, and often use innovative and new green technology in these ventures. The founder Justin worked with Anita Roddick of "The Body Shop" company before venturing off to establish Responsible Travel with not only her approval but a bit of financial investment as well. The philosophy of Responsible travel matches up well with our commitment to enviromental issues and the need for sharing our part of undiscovered Italy in a way that is beneficial to the local people here, building community and strengthening our economic ties by creating a network of businesses and touristic places of interest.
Then it was off to San Lorenzo's of Beauchamp Place, just behind Harrod's. Fabrizio use to work in the family's Wimbledon restuarant when he lived in London, so we had a lovely lunch with owner Mara Ghigo, who grew up just down the road from us in Villar Perosa. We had barely sat down before the Bagna Cauda arrived and the feasting began. For those of you who have never experienced Bagna Cauda, it is a local Piemontese specialty that you won't find any more authentic than San Lorenzo's version. Bagna Cauda is Piedmont's version of fondue, and it features all sorts of raw and cooked vegetables to dip in a divine creamy walnut/ anchovy/garlic dip. Mara said it was her mother's recipe, and I can tell you it is very similar to Fabrizio's family recipe as well. It's something we feature in our cooking seminars also. Mara is quite a lovely woman and every who came to lunch,(and it was busy) seemed to know her personally and got a hug and kiss like a good Italian Nonna. When she leaned across the table to tell me Liz Hurley was having lunch with her son and boyfriend/husband? I tried not to break my neck turning around to have a look. Then I had the pleasure of following Ms Hurley into the loo with her son while she kept saying "it's a "mommy/ baby day" to her little boy. Funny encounter. It came as no surprise to see Mara getting hugs all round from Liz and her little boy as well. Celebrity spotting in London. But that was just part of the entertainment. The real star after the bagna cauda was, dessert and certainly not needed, but enjoyed all the same!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Elderberry / Sambuco Season


We are currently in the thick of Sambuco production. Sambuco is the Latin name for Elderberry. I have found that when I am trying to find out what the name of local plants are the common name is usually the Latin name or a derivative of it. That has made it easier for me to figure out what it actually is. Although the species may be different here in Europe the general family is the main fact that I am usually after in my quest to learn about the local plants. Luckily, Fabrizio's parents are quite knowledgeable about the local and are helpful in helping me learn about all the wonderful goodness that the woods here have to offer. Not only are they a great resource of learning names, but they know where to find things and when they will be in their height of their season. Wild, thyme, bay laurel, wild asparagus, oregano and the much prized porcini mushrooms are just a small sample of the woods bounty. Their 40 years of living here in Serre Marchetto is very helpful to me as a relative newcomer. I of course have introduced new uses for familiar plants to them as well.


In the spring time I love to gather Elderberry florets for making Sambuco syrup that makes a lovely refreshing spring spritzer or lemonade mixed with sparkling water and a handy simple syrup to add to a fast fresh fruit salad to sweeten it and give it that subtle under current of flavor that is hard to guess what it is. The florets make decadent fritters with a touch of maple syrup that comes out of my small horde of Americana treasures for a special springtime treat. But I digress, as now it's time to not only make preserves in the time honored fashion of no "sure gel", but elderberry pie to melt in the mouth and stain everything in sight. We make jams, preserves, and marmalades the old fashioned way of just cooking the fruit down, adding sugar, cooking till it sets, and voila, the goodness of mother nature's gift, as natural as it gets.

Monday, September 04, 2006

1st Edition Serre Marchetto Mt Bike Baby


The first edition of our neighborhood childrens mountain bike race took place yesterday in our little borgata of Serre Marchetto. It was blue skies, warm weather and plenty of family and neighbors to cheer everybody on. There were about 50 participants in the races that was put on for the 7-12 crowd. They used a section of our backyard x country course for the circuit with the youngest doing one lap and increasing the laps for the older racers.
It was fun to see everyone enjoying the woods and encouringing young people to get out and have a go with their bikes in the woods for a little friendly competition. There were a few tears and a spill or two, but no injuries and in the end everone was a winner getting a goodie bag with lots of loot. The local were merchants were generous as most Italians have a very soft spot when it comes to bambini! There were smiles all round when it came time for trophies and prizes. Our English friend, George won a trophy for being an international competitor, although we did explain that he is now a resident sinc he and his family "got a new life" here in Val Chisone 3 years ago. The organizers were excited anyway and Geroge was happy to get a trophy as well.
Fun for everyone.
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