Olive Oil Cans & A Corkscrew

Ordinarily whatever happens to be on the dining room table inspires a dinner, but this time around the reverse was true.  I really wanted to make lobster risotto for our gourmet group which made me think an Italian theme would be a nice accompaniment. After looking around to see what would work to make that happen, these old olive oil cans  and an antique corkscrew from a Florence flea market got the table started.

From there creating a look with an Italian flair got pretty easy.  Of course, I couldn’t resist adding a few bottles of flowers from the garden.    All were on a beautiful handwoven textile made with threads as fine as a strand of hair.

There was no question about what dishes to use.  The colors in the centerpiece made these harlequin patterned ones the perfect choice.   These are among my oldest, and I never tire of using them as they lend themselves to such a variety of accessories.  Here the plate is on a copper toned charger which added a touch of texture.

Also from Italy, Cortona I believe, are my favorite napkin rings cast to depict a variety of herbs.

Because I’m not a real rule follower, I like mixing and matching.  This time I chose to do that with flatware.

My rule for setting a table is to keep it as simple as possible for the comfort of guests so I avoid using more pieces than are required for the meal.  Here only a bowl for the risotto and a salad plate were necessary.

Keeping it simple doesn’t mean sacrificing warmth or interest which together welcome guests to your table.

A word about the lobster risotto or any risotto for that matter.  Many people steer away from risotto thinking it has to be made  just before serving.  Not so!  You can make it ahead of time saving enough liquid to add at the last minute.  Then all you have to do is heat until all the liquid is gone, dish it up and serve.  That takes all the stress away.

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Tablescape Thursday

Tips and Tidbits

FlorenceThe month in Florence is over, and here I am back in Maine looking out the window on a gray, rainy day and trying to recall each of the things that made the adventure special.  I’m not quite ready to let it go.  Sitting here reminded me that a number of you asked questions, and I thought answering them would help me put it all in perspective.

Most often asked was why did I choose Florence?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWould you believe the inspiration came from Dan Brown’s book The Inferno?  OK, for a number of years I had dreamed of renting an apartment in a location in Italy where a car would not be required as there would be easy access to bus and train transportation for an occasional day trip. I wanted to be where I could walk and not tire of the sights around me.  I wanted the place to be steeped in history and have a relaxed, easy going culture.  

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

I like Venice, Rome and Milan, Ravello and Sorrento, but none of those places called out to me.  It was The Inferno that breathed life into my fantasy by making Florence come alive as a site for unexpected adventure.  Though my experience there would not be as thrilling, Florence seemed just the right place in which to immerse myself and live the dream. Now that it’s over it’s hard to imagine anywhere being more perfect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the way, there is an Inferno tour that visits many of the places cited in the book.  I couldn’t resist and booked here.  The tour was most interesting and having a delightful guide added to the pleasure.  It tickled me that she described The Inferno as a tour guide of Florence with a little adventure thrown in.  That is one way of looking at it!

Next question: how did I find the apartment? The simple answer is it took a lot of looking.  There are many places listed on the internet including a number by owner.    As you might guess, a deposit is required and I got a little nervous about sending money to an unknown party.  I guess too many stories about people purchasing from individuals online only to find out they had been duped made me a little jaded.  Anyway, I decided to go with an agency and chose Windows on Italy for the rather large selection of apartments they offered. I was quite surprised to find that a year in advance some were already booked during my preferred time period.  My best advice for renting is to start looking early, especially if you desire lodging for more than 2 people, and pay attention to location as that is most important if you plan on doing a lot of walking.

Over and over I’ve been asked if I would do it again.  Yes, but not in Florence because that dream is over.  Where the next spot will be or if there will be a next spot is not clear to me at this moment.  What is clear is the total satisfaction I had from the experience and a deep appreciation to the hubby for his willingness to go along with another of my crazy fantasies.  Maybe that’s what keeps life interesting for both of us.

aperol Now, if I could just find Aperol in Maine part of the memory could become a reality every day!

My final thought: if you have a dream, keep wishing and maybe, just maybe, it will become a reality.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

It Started With a Book

Florence: Walking Through Food and Culture

Florence: Walking Through Food and Culture

I’m not quite sure where to start this story, but let’s begin with the book, this one that I bought because I liked its cover.  Too, the title seemed so appropriate as walking Florence through its food and culture felt exactly like what I had been doing. 

Florence bookThen, when I opened the book and saw it described as an emotional guide to Florence, I was hooked as so much of this adventure was one filled with emotion for me.

OK, now let’s fast forward. My daughter, her girls and I were off to Sant’ Ambrogio (see here) to shop for a few more bags and have a bite of lunch.  Though the market is supposed to be open daily until 2 PM, it was closed this day as unbeknownst to me it was a national holiday.   Just my luck when everyone was hungry and getting a little cranky.  What’s a mom to do?

I wasn’t too familiar with the market area meaning I had no idea about a place to eat, but I suggested walking the opposite direction from where we had entered at the same time saying a little prayer there would be some cafe or trattoria close by.

FlorenceWe got lucky and in a few minutes took outside seats at Cibreo Caffe.

Fabio Picchi

Fabio Picchi

As we were looking at menus, one of the girls said, “Lulu, you know that book you have?  I think the guy on the cover is right over there.”  I looked up and there was Fabio Picchi and we just happened to be sitting at his restaurant!  Now there may be some people who would seek this place out because they knew it from a guidebook or a blog or whatever, but we’d ended up there totally by accident and without knowing he had a restaurant or, as it turns out, three!  I hadn’t gotten that far in the book.

FlorenceHowever we got there, it was a very good thing as the whole experience was a delight.  I ordered a sampling of antipasti expecting it to be the usual combination of meat, cheese and melon for which I had become so fond.  Not so,  there were tasty new bites, each served on its own little plate so as not to get the flavors confused.

FlorenceJust as we were taking our first bites, one of the many accordion players that stroll the streets of Florence appeared livening up the experience.

IMG_4833It would have been perfect enough had it stopped right there.  What finished it off was this dessert which was so good we had to order another and if it looked like anyone was taking more than their fair share, he/she was in danger of getting a fork in the hand!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOK, now here comes the true confession.  I have the book, right, but it’s not with me, so I text the hubby asking that he join us for lunch and, oh by the way, bring the book.   I just couldn’t help myself, I asked Fabio to autograph it.  Others may have their own autographed copy, but I’m betting in not a so round about way.  

Such are the moments that make life so special!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind 


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Out and About

One of the reasons for choosing Florence as a base for our month long adventure was its convenient access to bus and train terminals which made day trips very doable.

TuscanyOne of our favorite days was again with Dario for wine tasting and lunch in Castellini in Chianti.  


On the way we made a quick stop in Monteriggioni, one of my favorite hilltop towns.

TuscanySmall though it is, there are some very cute shops with items a little more unique than in Florence’s street markets.

Tuscany/weaving Would you believe there was a weaving studio, too, which this weaver could not overlook!

TuscanyArriving in Castellini, we were met by Dario for what was a fascinating few hours during which we learned much about the history of the area dating back to the Etruscans as well as about chianti and the differences between the various blends.

Tuscany I won’t go into all the details except to say that, according to Dario, Italians drink what is from their home area without making a big deal about nose and bouquet which they think is bunk!  Quite honestly, I rather like that approach as it makes wine selection quite simple.  From what I observed there are none but Italian wines on Tuscan shelves and those include a lot of wine priced less than $10 E!  I wish we could buy in the US more of what is available in Italy.

TuscanyHad we done nothing more than take in the beauty of the place, it would have been enough,

Tuscanybut a shared lunch  of mixed bruschetta and risotto made it even better.

TuscanyReluctantly, we left Dario and Fattoria Fregole to head back to Florence with a stop in San Gimignano.  

TuscanyIt, too, is one of the many towered hilltop towns that at one time served as fortresses. TuscanyIt is a popular destination, and this day it was so crowded that meandering was almost impossible.  That made us want to tarry only long enough to have a gelato!

Tuscany/familyAll in all, this was a most enjoyable day with the best part being getting to share it with one of the daughters and her family.  I like those times that go into our collective memory bank.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Florentine Style

tablescapeTables in Florence are just my style: simple, set with no fuss.


Occasionally, tables were covered with a cloth or table runner,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut most had nothing more than a paper mat.

tablescapeAt home in the apartment, it was easy to follow that lead as there were no linens.  Adding simple arrangements of flowers from the market was about as fancy as it would get.

tablescapeThough I rarely use paper napkins (everyone has their little quirks), they became the norm for our dinners at home which more often than not were for 6 as friends and family joined us. Tied with a scrap of ribbon and with a sprig of rosemary cut from the balcony, paper was quite satisfactory.

tablescapeSometimes a napkin was simply folded on the plate on top of which was a small dipping bowl for olive oil.  The bowls also served as place holders, terra cotta for guys, blue flowers for the ladies.

tablescapeOnce I found wonderful napkin rings in the shape of various herbs, I couldn’t resist using them as a special touch.

tablescapeI rather enjoyed having just one set of dishes which took all the decision making out of setting a table.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, there was never a time when even the simplest food didn’t look quite appetizing on a white background.

tablescapeAfter a month of experiencing Florentine style, I’ve found that I quite like its understated, comfortable simplicity that is quite a contrast to the city’s beautiful and ornate architecture.

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Favorite Things Thursday

EXPO 2015….Amazing!

MilanMilan is a big city, home to high style, cutting edge design,


Duomo di Milano

an incredibly beautiful and ornate cathedral, La Scala and this year EXPO 2015.

MilanSome 20 million people are expected to attend EXPO between May and October, and judging from today’s crowd that is not an unreasonable projection.  As many people as were there, the complex is so huge that it didn’t seem uncomfortable.  Here and there were some long lines, but it was amazing how efficiently they were moved along.

Hungary, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia, Monaco, Chile

Hungary, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia, Monaco, Chile

The exhibits cover some 460 acres, and the hubby and I walked the whole thing, a distance of more than 7 miles. At first we checked out many of the pavilions, but as the day wore on we went into fewer and fewer.  Trying to do EXPO in one day was an almost impossible fete and hard on the FEET!

ExpoBecause each pavilion was interesting, it’s hard to pick a favorite.  While some were outstanding for their architecture,

Oman and Qatar

Oman and Qatar

others looked like they were lifted from their natural environs.


Fun with karaoke at the US pavilion

The US pavilion was rather understated, but as you might guess, it was very crowded.  What kept lines from forming were the escalators that kept people moving.  Interestingly, this was the only pavilion we saw that had a video of a head of state welcoming visitors.


Italy outdid itself with 4 pavilions, the largest of which was an architectural wonder.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

A feature there was the Tree of Life which, as music played, came into full bloom as water danced around it.

Expo6The theme of EXPO is food, so every pavilion had its own creative interpretation.  My favorite was Spain which had 3 walls of plates on which were shown rotating digital images….fascinating!

Expo7It’s impossible to share all that made up EXPO 2015.  There were restaurants galore with food and drink from across the globe.

Expo5Cultures were represented in a variety of entertaining ways that opened our eyes to new ways of seeing.

ExpoAll in all EXPO 2015 is one of those possibly one in a lifetime unique experiences that is totally overwhelming.  If you are not among the millions who are going to Milan between now and October 1, perhaps these glimpses will give you an idea of the scope of the event and whet your appetite to attend the next one to be held in 5 years in Dubai.  After seeing this one, I’m thinking it might take that long to prepare!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

An Inside Look

Dario Castagno

Dario Castagno

When traveling I love being introduced to something totally unexpected, and that’s what always happens when we spend time with Dario.  We first met Dario Castagno 18 years ago during our first visit to Tuscany.  He is a bright, articulate man who can be depended upon to give you that something extra.  This time around he suggested we come to Siena for an inside look at his contrada.


The caterpillar just happens to be a silk weaver…I like that!

As he explained, Siena is made up of contradas or districts that date back to the late XII and early XIII centuries.  Today there are 17 in existence each of which has about 2000 members who are committed to maintaining old traditions and support the effort with their dues.  Dario is a Bruco or Caterpillar, and he gave us a fascinating inside look at the Caterpillar headquarters.

SienaEntering a modest doorway, it was surprising to find the interior opening to a lovely garden where many of the contrada’s social events take place.

SienaThe headquarters is home to sacred objects such as the alter piece depicting the Madonna that dates back to 1370.  The chapel is used more for ceremonial than religious purposes.

SienaAlso here are all things having to do with the Palio, the twice yearly fierce competition between contradas.  What a treat to get a closeup look at the costumes old and new done in the Caterpillar yellow and green with a sassy touch of royal blue.


Roughly every 20 years the costumes have to be replaced.  The elaborate reproductions are done by hand at great expense, and considering the workmanship it’s easy to see why they are so costly.

SienaDuring the Palio, some unlucky souls even have to wear armor that is so heavy I don’t know how anyone can bear it, especially in the heat of July and August when the event is held.  Me, I’d like to have a pair of the tights!

As we viewed each of the exhibits, Dario entertained us with tales of the Palio’s intrigue, something I’m thinking you won’t find in guidebooks! I’d love to tell you more about the ins and outs, the expense, the competitiveness, the gamesmanship between riders, but I’d have to write a book to include everything we heard and even then probably wouldn’t get it right!

SienaAccording to Dario, winning is everything and can come at great price that just might bankrupt a contrada.  What do you get for success?  A piece of cloth such as these awarded to the victorious Caterpillar contrada over the years.  Checking the dates, there are some real gaps between wins, but the Caterpillars have been quite successful in the 21st century.

SienaIt’s very interesting to see how the banner designs have changed over the  years.  The madonna is always depicted, but she is now part of creations with a more contemporary flair.

SienaThe caterpillar also has a new look design.

Our inside look made me thrill to the idea of witnessing a Palio.  Such excitement.  Such tears of joy.  Such emotion.  Such absolute craziness.  Dario’s presentation, however, may be as close as I get!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind


The Scoop