Buon Natale say the Gondoliers

8cd0e7afd6ff86ad43f408789b3ba25b5ad0c89dMy travel planner (Norma at ItalyEasy.com) sent this. I guess it reminds us of the spirit of the the people in Italy who take up an oar and pronounce the spirit of the season. The gondoliers are no exception. A strong community spirit rows through Venice among the gondoliers, understandably with the rich history behind the Arsenale that housed the industry.

The first building of the Arsenale (current meaning of the term “dock”) dates back to the 1100’s, apparently due to the Doge Faliero Ordelafo’s foresight to improve shipbuilding industry. Over the centuries construction and upgrades were implemented, including measures to face the menacing Ottoman maritime fleet in 1453, and the first launching of a Northern European war vessel in 1667. Expansions continued despite looting and dominations by other countries until the 1900’s.

After the industrial revolution, the Arsenal had started to decline because it was no longer in a position to satisfy the needs of modern shipbuilding. From here, the history is sketchy, especially reading that the Veneto annexed itself from the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, but wanted to retain all the guarantees of a large arsenal.

The life of a gondolier (Jed Smith: http://italywise.com/the-life-of-a-gondolier/)
is no easy feat, and yes, there was in 2010 a female fit to join this boys’ club.

Gondolier’s must fill many requirements before the possibility of a six figure income. Physical strength, maintenance of one’s boat, adhering to the “rules of the road” so to speak, and putting up with the stream of tourist personalities alone can be daunting.
They must be well-versed in Venice history, the maze of canals, belong to a 1000-year-old Guild with 400 hours of training, sponsorship and tutoring by an existing member, not to mention a tough exam. Think of all that before becoming too reluctant to shell out and leave a big tip. Besides, look how cute they are in their Santa Claus suits!

Getting off the Beaten Path in Italy…

You might be surprised, but better yet, learn much about its people.

Such was our luck one day taking an off-highway excursion on the way to Todi to see a relation of a friend we were told to visit on our trip.

Juggling my cell phone, map and a handwritten page of instructions I was happy my husband Bruce could drive on these poorly maintained roads often recommended by well meaning inn keepers. “She still doesn’t answer,” I whined, referring to Roberta, the
relation we were to visit.

Then I saw it. “Stop!” I demanded. Bruce slowed down, stopped, and backed up. We were out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, not a car or other building in sight. Off the shoulder of the road appeared an elaborate iron gate between two stalwart stone-stacked pillars. It looked like it must be a destination worth visiting, but no, it was a Dantes Palace1 residence.

Beyond the gate stretched an also elaborate steep stone driveway leading to a large home at the very top of the hill. “What?” Bruce demanded. “That,” I said pointing to the obviously handcrafted artistic stonework lining the driveway on both sides. He argued against stopping or getting out of the car, but I was already at the gate. There didn’t appear to be a bell or buzzer, so I headed back to the car just in time to hear someone call out from up the hill.

Dante Anderlini, a 77 year-old Italian-born retiree whose home was just off the road to Aquasparta, had built a work of art over the last 45 years. His weathered face and hands and worn, dusty work clothes verified this fact. What a find! He couldn’t wait to open the gate and show us in to “see something really beautiful.” Dante’s English was sparse and my Italian sloppy, but somehow we managed. As we huffed and puffed up the driveway, his handiwork on both sides took our breath away even further.


His “something beautiful” turned out to be the living room he built, he told us, for his wife, whom we were not able to meet. It was truly an unbelievable work of art. Dante handcrafted the stone and marble walls, cabinets, counters and floors in both the living room and downstairs kitchen as well.


Dante was especially proud of the fountain he created over a handmade marble bowl. His broad smile was a reminder of his constant heartfelt pride throughout our tour.


Outside, the views of lush green rolling hills from atop his property were also something beautiful. We marveled from inside the stone patio at the well he had manufactured in the center. The marble pillars and intricately built stone and marble pergola surrounding it had a matching bell tower on its roof.


Further to one side was an outdoor warehouse of enormous sheets of marble and stone.

He told us that his son, who worked in corporate Italy, would help him from time to time, and I imagined that perhaps finances were part of the “help”. Dante seemed reluctant for us to leave as we meandered back down the steep driveway. I asked him if a magazine photographer had ever visited here, and he shook his head “no”. I resolved to do something along those lines, thanked him in profuse broken Italian and we got back on the road.

Never did find Roberta.


Stolen By a Baker, My Heart Remembers

Antico Mulino della Torre was all the raves from our Italy Untours Guides before we even settled into our self-catering apartment near Spoleto. Everything they said about the bakery excited our senses – the sudden fragrance of fresh baked bread, the warmth reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen, and the mouth watering taste of a fresh pastry.

BakerySign_0186Bakery Entrance_0185

But finding this little niche was not so quick and easy. The back roads behind our little home away from home were lined with ruts, no signposts and just the vague reference to the location of the bakery, “just behind us on that back road”. After a couple of morning expeditions along lush fields of fava beans and poppies, we spied the sign at the end of one of the roads advertising Homemade Bread in Italian.

The bakery was tucked further back into the driveway next to a residence and smaller than expected. The entry was barely large enough for a sparsely filled showcase of baked goods. But it was warm and cozy inside and the aroma of fresh bread and pastry more than fulfilled our expectant senses.

“Buon Giorno”, a voice called out as a woman appeared in in the doorway to a back room.Our broken Italian, taken by surprise, brought a smile to her face that I would treasure long after our visit. Maurizia apologized for the lack of selection, letting us know that by 8 or 9:00 a.m., not much was left to sell to the locals who stop in. Much of their production is trucked out of the yard much earlier in the day to stores and other bakeries. Maurizia pointed to the photo on the wall of the stone grinding machine built in 1092 (that’s not a typo); Maurizia wrote the date on a napkin and proudly explained, “we use still today.”


Her English was timid, and my Italian was sloppy, but we could both make ourselves understood. She stole my heart, and enthused over my hidden agenda— to take action shots of the bread being baked in their stone ovens, the earmark of professional bread and the perfection for which an avid pizza lover would be looking. Happy that I asked, her hug reminded me of clothesline fresh laundry. It was during the next visit at 9:30 p.m. that I found telltale bags of “O” and “00” flour in the enormous back workroom and the chance to find out the secrets of their use from Maestro Leon himself who had been hard at work hours before starting the ovens and baking the loaves. By the time we got in, it was hot back there!


“A legna” refers to the three giant stone ovens that burn rounds of grapevines and olive branches. Leon prepares the loaves of bread that sit in the warm kitchen on muslin wrapped canvas racks three hours before baking. The baking equipment almost touched the high ceiling as it emptied dough into another processor.


Completely swathed in white, Leon matched the 200 or more white loaves dutifully rising side by side. They won’t hit the ovens until after midnight when the pastries and smaller Panini breads are made. Leon’s day ends about 5:00 a.m. Maurizia practically lived in the bakery with her home right next door. We became fast friends immediately, and had many a friendly chat during our stay in the community. Rarely, today, can I look at Italian bread without remembering by dear friend.

(593) Untours, an admirable B Corporation, offers a multitude of resources to customize your trip. http://www.untours.com

International Food Blogger Confab II

2017 IFBC badgeHighlights from the conference held in Sacramento, CA. Sept. 28-30, 2017 must include the hardworking vendor from San Francisco Bay Coffee Co. who stood by with free uplifting brew every hour of the day!

logo.pngTheir words say it best:

“Our approach to farming, milling, roasting, packaging and selling coffee is different than any other company. By going straight to source, we are able to focus on farming innovations that preserve natural habitats, yielding a better tasting product. We focus on packaging improvements to reduce the environmental impact even further and we constantly focus on quality control. All of this combined, improves the lives of everyone we do business with.”

Another vendor whose lengthy and extensive presentation was noteworthy was Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Aged, the Product of Italy so often found gracing you gourmet dinner salad. But their products are many, including jam, and their site is an education in itself on how the vinegar is made. http://www.modenafinefoods.com/featured/balsamic-vinegar-of-modena/

img01-1.jpgNow let me brag about the city who hosted the event, most fitting since they are America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital and proving it every day.  https://www.farmtofork.com/  visit their home page to see how.  And don’t forget to visit the State Capitol and all that the rest of this city has to offer.


IFBC Conference Highlights I

Sacramento, CA, “The Farm to Fork Food Capitol”, was home to over 250 attendees from all global corners who wanted more from their food blogs than hashtags.  We learned about everything from SEOs to video lighting, from getting more visitors to getting paid by blogging free lance, using ads, and so much more.  There were so many presenters!

Nugget luncheslunchtables

Nugget Market not only set out complementary lunch but also demonstrated what a healthy lunch looks like. I can’t compliment them enough on their quality and customer service.

BloggersTellAllnicky at podiumPresentors including Nicky Bobby from CropMobster told us how to blog better and illustrated how the impact our blogs has on the audiences we attract.LambDemo1Lamb slidersSuperior Farms sent Rodney Blackwell, Burgerjunkies and Jason Azevedo, Chef from Drewski’s Hotrod Kitchen Food Trucks to demonstrate lamb recipes and taste the quality of Superior Farms lamb.

I can’t compliment the Residence Marriott enough on the quality home away from home they offered attendees, including complementary breakfasts, gym and parking conveniences, and more.  Next year it was announced the International Food Blogger “experience” will be held in New Orleans, LO, August 24-26, 2018.  Hope to see you there!



International Food Bloggers Conference …one of many presentations…

2017 IFBC badgeI’ve been looking forward to this food writing technology conference for a year.  It occurs this weekend, September 28-30, 2017 in Sacramento, CA, the  “Farm to-Fork-Food Capital”.   I was happy to see that the makers of this convention are also thinking globally and showing us locally how one example of improved practices in and about the environment can impact humans and food production everywhere.  One of the most exciting presentations I’ve read about so far at the convention is  one about sustainable livestock agriculture.  UC Davis will show attendees their beef cattle feedlot and the science behind reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions measured through the GreenFeed System.  The presentation explains the current trial and how Mootral™, an all natural powdered feed supplement from garlic and citrus extracts, helps cows digest and reduce methane emissions by 30%.

Ten years of R&D went into Mootral™ before its final form, ready for commercialisation in 2017 with pilot programs around the world.  Dairy and meat products are looking forward to earning the Cow Credit label that signifies their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.  Livestock emissions are responsible for 15% of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs).  If Mootral™ was fed to all cows on earth it would equate to 3 billion tons CO2e or 2.5% of current global emissions.  This is equivalent of taking at least 200 million cars off the road.  These facts about cows are significant.

There will be 2.5 billion cows by 2050, the same number projected for vehicles.
A cow pollutes more than an average car driven for a year.
One cow produces 2.4 tons of CO2 a year.
80% of of methane emitted by cows comes out of their mouths.
This methane is at least 21x more toxic than CO2.
Less than 10 grams of Mootral™ a day reduces emissions by at least 30%.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global livestock industry is responsible for 15% of all GHGs, the world’s third largest contributor after energy and industry.  The realities of climate change and consumer preferences for responsible, sustainable products have sparked a paradigm shift in the food industry.  Food companies and farmers alike are rethinking the way food is produced and manufactured.

The use of natural plant flavonoids in Mootral™ suppresses the methanogenic bacteria in rumen fermentation while leaving bacteria that aids in digestion intact.  Zaluvida, the Mootral™ manufacturer, claims that widespread adoption of the supplement would be the equivalent of 500 million cars being taken off the road.


Seven Grandfathers Farm


Bell bean cover crop May 2012.jpg

Thirty years ago, Craig Thomas had toiled over a specific French drain for his raspberries, hoping to eliminate any standing water, and improve drainage. It wasn’t about the bees pollinating or the rabbits eating the canes in winter. Soil structure and organic nutrients were not the problem in this meticulously tended garden. Insects and pests simply didn’t have a fighting chance because the ground was teaming with beneficial microbes. But his clay soils harbored a common soil-born fungus that made organic raspberry farming a challenge.


While grappling with the raspberry problem, Craig decided to call El Dorado County Agriculture Department about the poor performance of the berries, and was surprised to hear back from Dick Bethel himself, then El Dorado’s county Farm Advisor. A personal visit was the next surprise, and if three is good luck, Dick diagnosed the difficulty quick as a wink. “You’ve got phytophthora”, he told Craig. “Pretty common around here, a systemic condition that makes some berries tough to grow in these soils”. What you’ve got to do is hunt for and try disease-resistant berry varieties. But that wasn’t all Bethel confided to Craig. “You have done a remarkable job with your place, here.” he went on. “This is what an organic farm should look like.”


Craig set about to plant blackberries and almost by accident found a successful variety as part of a free trial variety sent by an Oregon nursery. This variety, “Triple Crown”, is a product of research and trials done in partnership between USDA and the University of Washington and offered to the public to grow and propagate without patent restrictions. The rest is history so they say, since now, each season, the small farm sells berries in stores in Placerville, Auburn and Grass Valley and to folks who come to the farm. On the 7.5 acres parcel, 2 acres are farmed organically with a variety of vegetables, 60 orchard trees including stone fruits, figs, apples, basil, lettuce, kale, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, onions, and garlic and then there are the lovely flower bouquets you often see at Placerville Co-op. “This year, we might direct some effort toward CSA subscriptions, or a larger farm stand,” Craig said. “Right now we are happy selling directly to locations such as the Placerville Co-op. Generally, what we pick and what a customer buys is enjoyed by their family within an 8-hour time period. It is very satisfying to be able to provide that degree of local organic produce to the community.”

Three years after moving to El Dorado County, Craig began farming in Kelsey, and by the mid-1980’s it was El Dorado County’s first certified organic farm. Craig was proud of finally achieving what had been his vision for some time. In late 1970’s Craig taught the first sustainable agriculture class at Chico State University, popular with the younger generation of Peace Corp and first-time farmers. Craig also earned an anthropology degree from Chico State with an emphasis on cultural ecology, a program that reinforced his own philosophies around the spiritual, social, economic and ecological relationship between people and Mother Earth. In the late 1970’s he decided to call El Dorado County home and organic farming a way of life.


Seven Grandfathers Farm was named one day when Craig was in his field, enjoying a beautiful day full of sunshine and the ridge-top vista when he looked up and saw seven perfectly formed pure white thunderheads looking down on him. He thought of the Seven Grandfathers and the relationship with the land, a rich inheritance to be respected and passed on as caretakers, its quality fostered by his and his wife’s hands and enhanced by beneficial insects, tons of compost, cover crops, soil tests, an old Kubota tractor, a suite of well-cared-for hand tools and a labor of love


Craig also has his hand in the Sierra Forest Legacy program, as its co-founder and Conservation Director. This is an independent coalition of 80 environmental non-profit organizations that work on Federal forest policy and how the national forests should be managed. This is what he calls his “day job”, a term often echoed in the farming community. His scientific background (and his wife Vivian’s, too, as a biologist), form his attitude about food safety regulations as well as the rigorous methods and practices they both use on their organic farm. “Regulations have a valid role in government to make sure our food supply is healthy and safe,” he said. Craig believes, based on USDA research, that many, many more people are turning to organic to insure their own family’s food quality and safety. “Organic farmers, like myself, demonstrate extensive procedures that are audited annually to validate compliance with the USDA, National Organic Program and quality. And people want that.”

These procedures include more than having your regulatory status in order and up to date. Paying apt attention to the health of the soil is a number one priority. “That soil organic matter and the right balance of nutrients makes for nutritious food,” Craig emphasized. This includes careful attention to crop rotation, soil testing, compost management, increasing organic matter in the soil, and whatever else a farmer can do to increase plant health and nutrition. Contrary in philosophy of big industrial farming, who mostly lean on unnatural, chemical sprays and fertilizers, it isn’t the yield or the weeds Craig is concerned about, it is making sure that soil is a happy city of microbes doing their job in his two acres of intensive farming. Certification comes via the California Certified Organic Farmer nonprofit organization (CCOF), committed to advancing organic agriculture through certification, education, advocacy and promotion.


The non-profit Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) supports organic integrity by developing clear information and guidance about materials, so that producers know which products are appropriate for organic operations. Only OMRI registered sprays or soil amendments are used at Seven Grandfathers Farm, “and more natural products are showing up for organic use that are targeted and quick to degrade due to intensified organic research,” Craig said. “For example, there is a spray that is used to paralyze the gut of the Coddling Moth larva, a common apple pest in the Sierra Nevada foothills and elsewhere, that is specific to the larva of this moth without harming other insects. This targeted natural product eliminates the need for widespread pesticide chemical use.”

Farming is not without its wildlife challenges. “It’s quite a sight,” Craig relates, “watching three grey foxes climb one of our cherry trees as they come ripe. But part of the relationship with the land is to foster a harmony with the critters that have lived here a lot longer than we have. So the deer, wild turkeys, tanagers, hawks, foxes, raccoons and my neighbor’s cat work out the agreement between maintaining habitat diversity, a reasonable level of “sharing” and a healthy level of organic food production for our community.”

Craig’s background includes a stint in the marketing and selling of fresh farm goods as well. In the later 80’s he started the Peoples Mountain Market in Garden Valley that runs June-October in Garden Valley Park, corner of Garden Valley Rd. and Marshall Rd. Local growers mix it up with musicians and crafters in a welcoming park environment. Craig started the outdoor market with a friend and managed it twice during its 30-plus year history.

Now, on the Board of Directors for Placerville Natural Foods Co-op, Craig hopes to help strengthen the relationship between local growers, and outlets like the Coop and the communities they serve. His article in the February 2017 newsletter spells out his heartfelt encouragement to buy/eat local.

Buying Local benefits include:

  • The desire for food of superior quality—freshness, flavor, ripeness, and extended shelf life;
  • Understanding food safety issues and learning about farming practices directly from the grower, including visiting the farm;
  • Support for small business in the local community;
  • Preserving farmland and open space while supporting sustainable economic activity;
  • Access to unique and heirloom varieties;
  • The ability to buy products that don’t survive long-distance shipping;
  • Depending on several factors such as the farming system, the possibility of a lower carbon footprint and CO2 emissions from production through consumption.
  • Natural food stores and local farmer’s markets have the highest level of consumer trustworthiness (USDA 2014)

“Good food does not come in a store shelf box.”  by Unanimous


February Comfort Food

Winter Pot Roast.jpg

A winter pot roast is the perfect match for a day when the rains took a breather and you want to get out in the garden, or at least get some seeds planted in the garage!

So simple to do in the morning:

Put the pot roast in a skillet with some bacon drippings and brown all sides, along with some hand fulls of onion, pepper, carrot, quash, potatoes, whatever you like.  Pour the lot into the slow cooker and add a couple cups of wine, and broth, turn on high for 6 hours or less and take it out when the dinner salad is ready.



Seeds for Spring

Sounds like a book title, but no, it was to be a video.  Then I find out I have to upgrade this site to post videos.  The forthcoming rains predicted are a good reason not to plant directly into the garden containers.   So here is the set up in photos, instead.

The shoe bag is a terrific idea because it does not leak, you can hang it wherever it gets good light, and watering is a simple matter of a squirt now and then with a water bottle.  The dirt is organic seed starting mix that was first well mixed with water, an important step. It cannot be too wet or too dry.  Some seeds (the package read) need light to germinate, so I didn’t cover again with a bit of mix. I didn’t fill the pockets but half-way, good thing, because it was heavy enough!

The other containers on the right came from store-bought produce, oven-ready chicken or regular seed starter trays.  The trays collect any water dripping out, and I don’t plan to over water the other containers which do not have drain holes. The covers keep the humidity and moisture just about right. These containers all have greens: kale, lettuces, parsley, arugula, and the like.  The seeds for root vegetables are going into the ground tomorrow, 2/13, since they are sensitive to transplanting.   I’ll keep you posted!



There I go again, copying one of those “that looks good” recipes off the internet.Yesterday, I must have torn out a baker’s dozen from some of the magazines saved up.

What is the matter with me?! The internet is full of any and every possible recipe known to man or woman. Even kids pick up their I phones if they need to know how to make something. Yet I continue the magazine subscriptions like a junkie.

My society meeting members know better than to bring something to eat to a meeting without a recipe. “Can I get your recipe” is quickly satisfied compared to having to go back home, dig it up and email it. There are others like me out there. My sister says the same thing, and complains about her boxes of paged recipes waiting for more attention.

I can’t believe the amounts of money I have spent over the years paying people to file those slips of paper. They are smarter than I am, but occasionally one will belabor over several stacks of sorted pages, asking if she, too, might copy some. My file drawers are full, waiting for the big “cleanout day”. My computer is full. Now I have several files of different project, and of course there is a Recipe Section.

My favorite TV food network show is the “Chew”. That cast of characters can keep you laughing over more recipes produced in their lickety-split segments than any I know.

I can’t believe the amount of time I spend on the internet looking for that “one that looks good” today. Of course I have signed up to receive a daily email, but the one I want is not on the agenda of those listed. Not today anyway. This allows me time to complain about the number of emails I have to wade through and also how hard it is to find what you are looking for on the internet.

Then, because I am such a health-minded foodie, I must add, subtract, substitute and revise every one to meet the latest information received about “better choices”. By this time, half the day has slipped through my recipe-finding colander, and I can complain about that, too. More research, more time, after all one cup of sugar isn’t one cup of stevia, you know.

Then there are the fabulous blogs I follow. It isn’t just that they have a daily notice on email for an important health facts, there are recipes to catch your eye, your time, your copier, and that big in-box of like-minded paper under the desk.

What is one to do? I have, in the past, put together workshops for foodies like myself. Like most addicts, I had a hidden agenda. After all was said and done, complaints aired, questions raised and answered, problems resolved, surely someone would come up with a way to stop the craving I had to keep collecting recipes. No such luck. We left every meeting with a whole new set to file, or put in “that box”.

Today I blame Michael Symon’s Coconut Cake:

Coconut Cake MICHAEL SYMONchewrecipes.com/coconut-cake-michael-symon/1/6/2017

This Coconut Cake is delicious for any occasion!


4 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 lemon (zested)
4 large eggs (room temperature)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (well shaken)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup coconut water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups sweetened shredded coconut

For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line the bottoms of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, and eggs one at a time and mix to combine. Slowly add the buttermilk and then the flour mixture in 3 additions. Turn the speed to high and mix to aerate the batter, about 30 seconds.

Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, turning and rotating the pans halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool completely.
For the Coconut Icing: Prepare a double boiler with water and turn the heat on to a simmer.

In a medium bowl, add the egg whites, sugar, coconut water, cream of tartar, and salt, and mix to combine. Place the bowl over the simmering water and immediately begin whisking. Whisk until the egg whites start to become frothy and the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour the egg white mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the coconut and vanilla extract and whip on medium-high speed for 3 more minutes until light and fluffy.
To Assemble: Slice each cake round in half horizontally. Stack the first layer of cake onto a cake stand. Spread about 3/4 cup of frosting to the edge of the cake and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of coconut, top with another layer of cake, followed by 3/4 cup of frosting spread to the edge and 1/4 cup of shredded coconut. Repeat three more times ending with the frosting.
Coat the sides of the cake with the remaining shredded coconut. Slice and serve.
Tip: For a store-bought solution, use your favorite cake mix and add lemon zest to the batter.