Italy with the Family Day 5: Poggio San Paola, Gaiole in Chianti to Florence

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June 28th 2014
Published: June 29th 2014
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I think the two naps yesterday wreaked a bit of havoc with my ability to sleep last night. It took me a long time to fall asleep but I stayed asleep when I did. At one point I heard this high pitched squeal/snort sort of sound and I thought, “What in the world is that?” Then I heard the dogs barking and I remember Simonetta saying that the dogs usually only bark at the deer and the wild boar. I ain’t no country girl but I was pretty ding-dang sure that t’weren’t no deer. A little part of me said, “Go look!” but the wiser part of me said, “Stay put.” For once I listened to the wiser part of me.

Today dawned sunny and beautiful, a little warmer than we had experienced so far. We were downstairs for breakfast at 8:00 on the nose and then off to Radda and the market at 8:40. There were two other couples meeting us there and sure enough, one was waiting for us when we arrived and the other was there within 5 minutes. The first couple, Mark and Anna, were from Dallas, TX. Turns out he works for the same company and division that Mark does. And they meet in Radda, Italy. Go figure. The other couple, Jeff and Liesel, were from Southern California though they were originally from Dallas and had been in Chicago for 11 years before that. Simonetta said, “We have all of the coasts covered!” We went into the market where Simonetta showed us the different kind of salami they have in Italy and which ones were particular to Tuscany (the one with fennel seeds to cut the fat.) The butcher who was also the owner of the shop was very entertaining as we watched him pull ribs off of a rib roast and then show us that chickens in Tuscany come with everything but the feathers, and to be honest, there were enough of those still present to make the featherless claim questionable. Also learned that pecorino cheese is sheep cheese and that this type of cheese is a specialty of Tuscany. You can get pecorino cheese new (only in Tuscany), young and aged. Pecorino Romano is sheep cheese made in the Rome region.

We caravanned back to the farm, aprons were distributed and we got to cooking. Today’s menu: ravioli with ricotta and fresh spinach, crostini with pesto, pan seared fish with zucchini and panna cotta for dessert. Paola got my Mark going right away with softening the gelatin for the panna cotta and then had Liesel mix up the cream, milk and sugar and heat that on the stove. When that was heated, the cream was poured into the gelatin mixture and Mark stirred until it was dissolved and I ladled it into glasses. Next we made the pesto which involved garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, olive oil, pecorino cheese and parmesan cheese in a mortar and pestle. Paula said that using a blender is bad because the heat of the blade strips something out of the basil and because that is gone, the pesto will turn brown. If you use the mortar and pestle, it mixes the fibers together to make it more blended. She also had a couple of people chop green beans using the mezaluna. All of that was mixed together and set aside. Then it was time to make the filling for the ravioli which consisted of basil, ricotta, salt, pepper, two eggs and chopped, drained spinach. The spinach was also cut with the mezaluna and then mixed with the other filling ingredients. Next came making the pasta. The things to remember about this are 0:0 flour (Paudla said King Arthur is a 0:0 brand), don’t let the dough dry out and handle it tenderly but firmly. She rolled the whole dough in a 4 x 10 inch roll and then cut off 1” pieces on the short end and worked with just that much. She suggested rolling out the dough flat and then feeding it through a pasta machine fixed on 6. She showed us how to create the ravioli and how to make other kinds of pasta out of the scraps from the ravioli. It was really fun. Last we made the fish and zucchini. The fish, a firm, white offering, was a fish local to the Mediterranean. The zucchini had been stirfried with olive oil and then the fish, after it was cooked, was stirred in. To prepare the fish, we cut each side of the back bone down the center of the fillet and then used shears to cut the backbone out. Smart! Once the fish was cooked, Paola told us we were done and she would meet us upstairs in 5 minutes.

The last two days, meals had been at a single table on one side of the upstairs kitchen. Today, with a larger crowd, the table was flipped to go right down the center of the kitchen. The food, if we say so ourselves, was delicious and the company so much fun. We noted that I’m from Northern California, Liesel and Jeff live in Southern California but they are from Dallas, Mark and Anna are from Dallas and Mark works for Lockheed Martin, as does my Mark. And we’re all in a kitchen in Giole in Chianti, Italy. Small world!

After lunch it was time to get packed up and Michele, the driver, arrived promptly at 2:25 to load us up and get us on the road by 2:30. We said fond goodbyes, hugs all around and several pictures of us with Paola and Simonetta and the whole group. I snoozed on the way to the train station (seems like if I sit still these days, I sleep!) and then the adventure of buying a ticket with the Italian train automated machine which really wasn’t bad. We chose English, chose Florence as our destination, chose two tickets and all was fine until payment time. I put the credit card in and took it out and it asked for a code. There is no code. I started over again. Same result. I tried the ATM card, entered the code and it still said, Enter code. It did speak to us in English, which was a blessing. Finally I tried yet another card, stuck the card in for longer and then I couldn’t get it out. Mark said “It’s printing!” Ah, so Italian machines are not dip machines, they are leave in place machines. Whew! Got our tickets, validated said ticket and got on the train at 3:42, a little over an hour after leaving Toscana Mia. Train was a very few minutes late (extremely early if it was US Air) and we arrived in Florence at just about 5:00.

We caught a taxi to the hotel (Simonetta said, “You need a taxi. Too far to walk with luggage.” Thanks Mom!) and arrived at Hotel David, which is about a kilometer east of the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river. This is our splurge hotel (I mean, not that the Hilton Garden Inn isn’t nice and all…) and it is really lovely. The doors have (wait for it) a key instead of a key card. They ask you to leave the key at the desk when you leave. The room has a canopied bed, a little sitting table, a desk with two chairs, two luggage racks, an armoire, and the shower has a fixed/hand-held shower on one end and a rain shower on the other. The Hotel David is the number one hotel in Florence on Trip Advisor. They offer free wifi, free happy hour, free mini-bar, and free phone calls back to the states. But better than that, the room is very nice, very clean and very quiet. And the bed is comfy. Score!

We unpacked, I texted my sister Julie on Viber and called my mom on the same. The wifi is quite good. Julie and family are leaving tomorrow for Madrid where Liz has been living for the last year. This is Niece Katie and Nephew Brian’s first trip to Europe and Julie and her hubby Steve haven’t been over here in years. They are so excited. They’ll be here a solid three weeks. We are so excited for them!

After the unpacking and catching up, we headed out to the terrace for happy hour and then strolled down towards the Ponte Vecchio. Simonetta had told us about a restaurant that was good in Florence and we found that, and then walked across the Ponte Vecchio into central Florence. We strolled to the Duomo Cathedral, the town hall which features the Not-the-David, (it’s a replica which marks the spot that the David used to stand) and wandered down a few interesting looking streets. <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Aside: I took an art history class in college when I attended UND to get my teaching degree. I needed 12 credits to keep my student loan and the first semester I couldn’t get any teaching classes so I took fun stuff, including art history. Best Class I Ever Took. So I love this stuff. End of Aside. The Baptistry across from the Duomo is under renovation but the Lorenzo Ghiberti replica doors are mostly visible. Hopefully we’ll have time to visit the Duomo Museum where the original doors are now displayed. Mark was pretty blown away by the marble façade of the Duomo.

We went back across the Ponte Vecchio to the restaurant and they did not have a table for us but asked us to wait. We waited for a bit and then I said, “You know, I’m not that hungry. Maybe we should make a reservation for tomorrow night and go get something simple tonight.” Mark agreed, we made a reservation for 7:00 for tomorrow and headed back across the Ponte Vecchio. That would be trip #3. We ate dinner in a tourist trap where I got the most forgettable pizza margarita and Mark got a slightly more memorable Caprese salad. The food was terrible but the setting was lovely, in the piazza across from the town hall. Truthfully, we were tired and had had such wonderful food for the last few days that this was fine.

After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, stopping and getting some equally forgettable gelato. I turned on the World Cup when we got back to the room—Everyone cares so much. Shouldn’t we too?—and watched Columbia beat Uruguay. Since a Uruguayan player bit an Italian player in the match that booted Italy out, and we’ve been hearing plenty about that since we’ve been here, it was easy to root for Columbia.

I told Mark today that going to Florence with him was on my bucket list. He was as enamored as I always hoped he would be. What a beautiful city and a blessed experience. More adventures tomorrow!


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