Tag Archives: Olive

Tuning in to the Rhythms of Tuscany

I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.

The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.

I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is  in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.

We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:

I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.

I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.

I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.

When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”

And I did.

Slowing Down in Tuscany

View from my bedroom in Sinalunga, Tuscany

Tuscany reminds me,  in some ways, of my summers in the South. I know, there are no olive tree orchards (like you see here) or cypress tress or fields of sunflowers or lavender and rosemary bushes the size of small trees. But, with that said, one has to slow down here. It’s so hot, for instance, that you really do need a siesta in the afternoon. Stores and restaurants shut down from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s completely understandable. There is no air conditioning, anywhere.  So you close all the shutters and windows during the day, walk very slowly when out, seek lemonade and gelato and try to find spots in the shade.

Lavender bushes outside our kitchen in our villa. The smell is amazing!

Everyone slows down here, especially the cats! (And there are so many wild cats!) This sweet gal hides in our rosemary bushes outside our kitchen with her babies. Of course, we are feeding her…how could we not?

Look closely. Do you see her?

What I love most about Tuscany, is that the minute you arrive, your spirits begin to lift. How could they not? On the drive from Rome, you see fields of sunflowers, or a castle up on a hill, or a Romanesque, walled town off to your left. As we pulled into our villa, I smiled ear-to-ear. How can one not be affected by such picturesque beauty?

Our closest neighbor on a nearby hill.

View from my other bedroom window. The owners of this villa owns the working olive tree orchard and makes their own olive oil. I’m sure we’ll take home a few bottles!

More lavender behind the house. My absolute favorite scent at the moment!

Chicken Marbella: Elegant & Fast

Chicken Marbella is a wonderfully easy dish to prepare with very little clean-up. (And isn’t that what all us single parents need?)I love how elegant it is and it’s great to serve when you have friends coming over as adults love it and kids do too! If you have picky eaters, this dish will introduce them to Mediterranean flavors and we all know that a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest for longevity. Read this article by the Mayo Clinic if you want further proof! While this dish does require some pricey ingredients, if you stock your pantry with them once a month, you’ll be able to cook a variety of dishes at the drop of a hat. I started cooking Marbella more than 10 years ago from a recipe that I found in the Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins. I’ve tweaked it so much over the years that it’s my own version now. Cook a lot more than you need, as it’s actually better the next day with extra marinade time, is good cold at picnics and also freezes well. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do!

Servings: Serves 10 or more
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives with whole olives in the middle
  • 1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 head garlic , peeled and finely puréed (or two tablespoons lazy chopped garlic.)
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 8 chicken breasts cut into small 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces.
  • 1 cup dry white wine (Red wine works fine too!)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro , finely chopped
  • Optional item: small pearl onions.
  • Handfull of brown sugar (also optional. I’ve cooked without and it’s still delightful.)
Directions
Combine the olive oil, vinegars, prunes, apricots, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the wine around them. Bake, basting occasionally with the pan juices. Cook for 45 minutes, but check after 30.With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with the parsley or cilantro. Pass the remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

Serve over couscous and with a mixed green salad.