Thursday, August 30, 2012

A lovely night

We had a lovely meal-all fish dishes- and between dinner and dessert Brian and I renewed our vows in the little courtyard betwen the two buildings. They had it set up like a little chapel with two rows of chairs, and the other couples were our guests. The vows were in Italian and our response was "lo prometto"- I promise, or I do. So romantic! Franco the chef read the vows (I was so impressed, he had his formal black apron on and took off his head scarf :)) and his girlfriend Paola made me a bouquet) . Dessert was tiramasou, which I helped make and more prosecco. It was perfect.

So, if I never come home you'll understand why- this is the most perfect place on the planet.

Excuse me, but time for bed....


Lo Prometto

So apparently my sneaky husband has been working behind the scenes with the villa manager- tonight is my "wedding night" and we are renewing our vows. I have flowers in my hair and a glass of prosecco. More later- gotta get married!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A perpetual state of bliss

Today was excursion day. Some crazy Italian bus driver made it up the hill to pick us up (yes, when I say crazy I mean it- you haven't seen the driveway). We started the day by going to a very old town, Angioletta. It was market day and when we arrived, the vendors were just setting up their stalls. To get to the market, you had to walk down, down, down a road that dropped straight off the side of a hill. What is it with the Italians and these hill towns? You could see for miles and miles across the Tuscan countryside. Before we went to the market, we went to a textile factory that makes beautiful linens and fabrics. We got a tour of the factory and got to see how they made the fabrics- it was fascinating. The fabrics were both plain and ornate, simple and wildly complex. I wanted to buy a tablecloth, but one that fit my dining room table was almost 300 euros (about 375.00). Sorry, not going there. I did take a brochure and may order some material to make the tablecloth myself when I get home.

After that, we toured the town. It was built in the 1200's. Every corner you turned it was like "Hello! Gorgeous! Wish you were here!" Brian took hundreds of pictures (some of which we will load on the website later.). Our plan is to make a collage of the doorways- they were infinetely varied and full of character.

After the town, we went to an olive oil mill for a tasting and lunch. The mill owner was a fascinating character- really, I was expecting him to start doing ballet and breaking into arias- and he was passionate about his product and the process of making oil. After the tour, we went to his parent's house (read estate) and they had set long tables in the courtyard for us so we could have lunch. Under the shade of enormous fig trees we had a four course lunch ( I know, just roll me home at the end of this vacation) complete with wines and different bottles of flavored oils to try. At a separate table on the other side of the coutyard, his family was having their noon day meal. Dogs children and workers carried on loud conversations all at the same time. Brian and I were just looking at each other and saying "does it get any better than this?" Which made me realize- this is bliss.

We then went to a goat cheese farm and did a tasting. After 3 hours under the shade of the figs with the oil merchant's family, we were all beginnig to fade. We were supposed to go to a winery for a wine tasing, but the group decided we had experienced enough for one day.

We came back hot, tired and sweaty. A bunch of us decided to get glasses of wine and jump in the pool. The sun was starting to set over the Tuscan hillside- everything was basking in a golden glow. As I sat floating in the pool, glass of wine on the edge and listened to the laughing and joking of our new friends, I realized that perpetual bliss is a state of mind. May it never end.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A surprising good morning

This morning when we went down to breakfast and were discusing the day with the other guests, one couple that was staying with us mentioned that they were going to a winery and did anyone want to go. Brian and I thought this was a great idea since we wanted to see a winery anyway, and taggged along. What we didn't know was that the couple that we went with are related to a major wine distributor in Canada, and this was a private tour at a winery that does not give tours.

The woman who gave the tour, Giovanna, is the sister of the owner. She brought us in to her dining room on the estate and gave us a private tasting of 9 different wines that the estate produces. Each bottle was more delicious than the last. She then took us through the brewing and fermenting rooms to see the vats and casks of the different wines they were making. She insisted that we take the opened bottles of wine back to the villa with us, and we purchased a few bottles more. The one wine thst I loved, which I thought was really exceptional, is not for sale to the general public- bummer! But we bought some very nice reds and whites. All in all, a surprising very good morning. :)

The kitchen for our school, it over the looks the entire valley

The outdoor dining room where we have had all of our meals so far.

Our honeymoon suite, our bed room is over one of the outdoor dining areas.

The tower on the villa, the villa is called, Torre del Tortufo, which means the tower of truffles. They actually find truffles in the woods here, we have a truffle dog coming in on Thursday and are going to go out and see if we can find some.

The Villa, I wanted a place in the country and boy did I drill it, you have to drive 4 miles up a very steep, winding gravel road to get here, the little Citreon we rented was spinning and sliding trying to climb up the hill.

Arezzo, where they throw de flag in Under the Tuscan Sun

Yvonne's gets her first Gelato

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yvonne gets her first Italian scarf

The Doumo in Florence

Cooking school

Cooking over here is a lot different, its really simpler. They do not use a lot of ingredients and minimal seasoning. I made eggplant Parmesan yesterday and the sauce was simply two cans of San Marzano tomato's, two cloves of garlic and one onion, bring it to a boil, little salt, pepper, hand shredded basil turn it off. The chef had us taste it for acidity, and instead of adding sugar, he put in a teaspoon of baking soda, used the chemical reaction to reduce the acid, sauce done, no sugar. He calls kosher salt rock salt, it took my all class to figure that one out. Today we are going to make agnoliti, with a pork filling I brasied yesterday.

Also everything is done with a vegetable sauce, he calls it "broth" and has a pot going on the stove all day, when you make a meal you add minimal mire poix to fortify the stock in your dish and take "broth" from the pot, it makes for a clean tasting simple base for your sauce.

Going to try and post some pictures from our laptop, we have not had any success yet but going to try again.

The Artic Cicrle

On the flight over I was watching the flight tracker on the screen in the plane, when I saw that we were at our northern most point near southern ice land ( in the middle of the night ) I opened the blinds on the window of the jet to look north towards the Arctic circle, the big dipper was the entire sky, it went from the horizon on the west all the way to the horizon on the east, it was amazing and so crystal clear. It was so bright you could not see any other stars, a sight I bet only pilots get to enjoy.

First day of school

Our teacher, Franco is a very patient man- he has 11 people asking him questions about things he probably does with no thought every day! He split the class up into groups of 3 and assigned different parts of the meal to each. I got paired with a lovely young (21) lady from England and an oil brat (her description) from Texas- both had never even held a chef knife before let alone use one. So I let them do most of the work to get a feel for it.

We made stuffed pasta with porcini mushrooms, diced zucchini and garlic mixed with ricotta and parmesan. The mushrooms were so fresh- they had been picked that morning and still had the roots hanging off. And the garlic cloves were easily twice the size of the ones you see at home. Another group made all of the desserts- lemon gelato, farmers cake, a pine nut torte. (By the way, if when I get home and seem fatter than usual, no comments from the peanut gallery please (this means you, Bob).

We also made homemade lemoncello, which will be ready for consumption by Thursday (Franco the chef says the 2-3 months letting it sit is "nonsense". He's a hoot.)

Going to try to post some pictures later today so you can get an idea of what the place and the classes look like. Ciao for now.

Florence to Arezzo

Florence is a beautiful city but what a nightmare to try and drive around. The streets go straight and change names every 50 feeet, and the name are half a mile long and make no sense whatsoever. Thank God for Chris' Garmin- we'd be in Croatia right now without it. Anyway, saw the Duomo- amazing- and stumbled on an open air  market selling all kinds of things. Got a taste of Italian bartering (the drama! The eye rolling! The grasping their chest like your killing them! ) Anyway, bought a beautiful scarf before I left the city.

Arrived in Arrezo trying to kill some time begore we needed to show up at the cooking school- saw the place where they filmed the scene in "Under the Tuscan Sun" ( I throw de flag!) and then tried to find the villa for the cooking school. OMG, we drove round and round- and this is with the Garmin- finally found the road out of sheer luck and began the ascent to the school. Holy crap, a mountain goat would have a heart attack on this road! Straight up! But when we got to the top- heaven. Such a beautiful spot.

The first day here (with memories of the drive up fresh in our minds) we opted to stay here instead of venture out. Had a couples massage (heaven) then went to our first cooking class. Had a lot of fun- good group of people- and cooked a fabulous meal.

Tomorrow- wood-fired pizza (which we made the dough for today) and a trip to a winery. More cooking tomorrow afternoon. This place is heaven on earth and I'm doing my best to soak up every second.

Wish you were here!

Florence and beyond

Finally made it to the villa, getting internet over here is a real pain, then once you get it types everything in italian, thank god Yvonne knew that the computer had a built in translator

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jumping the pond

We're here- we made it! Almost missed the flight in Chicago because what we were told and reality for flight times didn't quite match up. I got my exersize running through the airport. Slept most of the way over. Brian and I are in our hotel in Florence (Brian is complaining about the humidity, we've both gotten so used to Colorado's dry air.) Yes it's true- Italian drivers really are crazy (and they shout and wave their hands just like in the movies). Bummin around Florence tomorrow, then on to the villa- we'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Two Fat Cats?

It all started with a pair of socks.....

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have an affinity for weird socks. Birds, horses, dogs, cats, chili peppers have all found their way into my sock drawer. One year on vacation I found a pair that had two cats, side by side walking away from the viewer with their tails swinging in the air. Their little footprints wound across the socks. Brian loved this pair and told me "That's us! Two fat cats." And the name stuck.

Fast forward a couple of years and we decided that the time had come to make our dream of having a real gourmet kitchen in our home a reality- and the renovation (read nightmare) began. Yes, honey, I would call cooking out of a crockpot on a card table in the living room for three months a nightmare. Anyway, while we were renovating we discussed that with this kitchen, we could open a restaurant. When Brian asked what we would name this imaginary restaurant, I flippantly replied "Chez Townsend". At the same time, he said "Let's call it Two Fat Cats." and so Chez Townsend's Two Fat Cats was born. Later that year, at Christmas, Brian had two chef jackets made with the Chez Townsend's Two Fat Cats name on it- and in a stroke of genius- the picture of the two cats from my socks. This is why we've been married 32 years. That, and the fact that he can cook!


We've been ironing, folding, sorting, categorizing and laundering for days now. Brian keeps taking my pajamas out of the pile and hiding them (luckily, I'm on to his shenanigans). we've decided that we're each going to go through the other's pile of stuff and eliminate the unnecessary crap (this does not include pajamas!). This is the problem with being "type A"- I think we're the most organized travelers on the planet. Here's hoping the airlines don't lose our luggage (changing planes 3 times). If they do, I'll just have to buy clothes in Italy- now that would be a real hardship.... :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

If you would like to see the web site for the cooking school we are staying at go to;, then select the Villa called Torre del Tortufo ( Tower of truffles ).

Monday, August 13, 2012

11 days to go and Brian and I are realizing that we are just not globally connected. We have done everything we can think of to prepare for this trip but I know that hidden challenges and opportunities await. 26 hours of traveleing- oh joy. Waking up to the sun shining over the Duomo will make up for everything.