Wool in Italy – What’s new?

I’ve realized that I was blogging alot about knitting and wool, so I’ve moved that over to my new blog:
come take a look and find out about:
So, if you’re interested in receiving my latest knitting, spinning and wool-working news and inspirations, please stop by at Wool in Italy and click the ‘follow’ box to your right on the home page.
Meanwhile, the rest of life in Italy will keep posting here so stay tuned for recipes, art, random thoughts, gardening and other things going on at the house.
Thanks for reading and happy wool-working to you woolies out there.

Just a few things in the basket…

The gloves are from a pattern in the Winter 2012 issue of ‘Knitting Traditions’. I modified the left palm to have a heart and monogram and turned the pearl-stitch ‘ring’ into a spiral knitted in green.

When I was in Texas this last Autumn, my mother gave me the gift of a spinning workshop at the Kid and Ewe wool show in Borne. It was loads of fun and I learned how to spin (a little bit) but haven’t had much time to practice since I got back. Before Christmas I spent most of my ‘wool time’ making these gloves for my husband (about which he is beyond happy):

Meanwhile, my bags of ‘fluff’ and spindle were languishing in the project pile. So, yesterday I had the luxury of sitting by the fire for half a day spinning and I managed to come up with a little ball of brown yarn which, together with the ivory coloured yarn I spun at the workshop and some blue that my mother made and sent me last year, I decided to work into a cozy collar. It’s almost finished so I’ll post a picture soon. Meanwhile, my little girl is photo crazy and took 10 pictures of ‘mamma spinning’ of which I found two that are in focus! Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen what fabulous fiber art my mother does, go take a peek at her blog http://sarazmuz.blogspot.it.

 I’m excited to say that I’ve also found a local wool supplier for both fluff and un-dyed local wools in nearby Biella where they are working to save the traditional local wool industry. I wish they had more than the title in English but the pictures are pretty!
Biella The Wool Company

How am I doing? Sew-sew…

Pair of palazzo pants that I’ve finally finished
Second of two shirts I’m making for Matthew

 I have been sewing like mad lately. I finally finished the pants pictured at left and I’m wearing them! They’re really comfortable and great for hot days when one’s legs are not ‘summer perfect’. Made in cotton sateen, they’re a cinch to iron after hanging up to dry.

I have almost finished the second of two white shirts I’ve been making for my husband this summer. I decided to do the pin-tucks by hand on the second one and then made the mistake of hand-sewing the top-stitching! Now I have done all of the top-stitching  by hand so that it has continuity but…whew it’s a lot of little stitches.

Detail of pin-tucks on shirt

 Meanwhile, I realized only this morning that the girl’s kindergarten had sent home a list of ‘stuff to get’ for the summer session, one of which was ‘uno zainetto’ (aka a little knapsack). I hated to spend yet another 10 euro on some made in china nylon thing that would fall apart after 30 days (or the zip wouldn’t work or, or, or…). So, I made this little knapsack from a dress that my mother had made for her when she was three. It was nice to re-use this fabric for Robin Kay because I have a hard time giving away things that my mother made for her and, darn it, she keeps getting bigger and growing out of them anyway!

Cute little knapsack I made for my daughter to carry her things to ‘summer school’

So sew…that’s been my pile of projects lately (now that it’s too hot for knitting).

Flowers…and more flowers!

portrait of a lady 
Jan Joseph van Goyen

Had a great birthday weekend in Milan! The city has so much to offer even if it’s spread out from one neighbourhood to another. After our trip to the Pinacoteca di Brera where I got an eyeful of wonderful paintings. Matthew did most of the  girl wrangling so that I could look in peace while she had a tour of fancy chairs with velvet cushions. Some of the most engaging paintings were the smallest; I loved the portraits by an unknown Venetian painter that were over to the side of the door in room 20. Trying to look at a notebook sized painting by Brueghel, I had to keep slipping my glasses up and down to see it, I really felt like an old lady! Next to it was this jewel of a Dutch seascape:

After the museum we stopped for a glass of wine and then went on to see our friend Renato at Mint Market, the beautiful home/beauty/flower store for which Matthew designed the furnishings. Renato was just finishing up with some customers so we ordered aperetivi from the bar down the street (one of the pleasures of the city is that, if they know you, the local bar will deliver cocktails down the street to where you are). While we were waiting, Matthew said, “Did you see that bouquet of white flowers?” pointing to a stunning arrangement of roses, broom, miniature lilies and fresia that was as big as our daughter. As we walked over to admire them he said, “Those are for your birthday.” I felt like an actress who’d just won an Oscar without having done anything to deserve it!

My birthday bouquet from Mint Market

 As a testimony to the quality of the flowers at Mint Market, these survived being carried through the very crowded Milanese metro three times, a night in a warm apartment and a 2 hour train ride before I took this picture!
Mint Market’s owner, Renato Baldini, is a truly lovely person. He gave my daughter Robin Kay a splendid bouquet of sunset coloured runculus so that she would feel special too:

Robin’s Runculus and my Cake

Then he let her help carry the flowers in before closing the store. He also gave me this elegant hyacinth so that now the whole house feels like spring right in the midst of winter.

Hyacinth bulb waiting to open

Olive oil from Sicily: a mouth full of flowers and memories.

A summer long, long ago on an island not so far away my husband and I were working with a friend to renovate a house just outside of the town of Marsala in Sicily. The client put us up in an apartment nearby and provided us with olive oil in 5 litre jugs. There was a grove of orange and lemon trees on the property and open-air market two days a week. I would ride there on a borrowed bike with an orange crate wired to the back to carry the produce. Much to the dismay of our friend I did so in a skirt; he said that would attract the wrong kind of attention while I felt it would somehow keep the erratically driven cars from crashing into my erratically piloted bicycle. As far as I’m concerned, my strategy paid off.

It was the end of June and cherries were in season. I bought them 5 kilo at a time; Matthew and I ate them on the roof of the apartment in the cool of the morning while looking out over the suburban rooftops and antennae, towards the sea where we imagined we might glimpse Tunisia.

It was gloriously hot and we ate lunches of melon with prosciutto crudo and sandwiches of fresh tomato and buffalo milk mozzarelle and basil grilled in the skillet. All of it with this olive oil that densely green, perfumed and which tasted like a mouth full of flowers.

We left Sicily in late July having visited Trapani and Palermo all too briefly; having watched Italy win the world cup on the television in a barber’s shop where complete strangers had invited us in to watch and then joined in the explosion of jubilation in the streets that followed. On the way back north, with us we carried 5 litres of olive oil, it didn’t last long enough.

Olive oil is to Italians (and some ex-pats) as chilli is to Texans: everyone has an opinion. Tuscan oil is best, but no, the stuff from Abbruzzo is just as good and less expensive; still, others prefer oil from Umbria or even as far north as Lago di Garda where a microclimate allows olives to survive the cold winters. I’m a solid fan of Sicilian Olive oil although I have to say that I’ve bought jars of olive oil from Trapani at the supermarket in hopes of recapturing that mouth full of flowers and found it light and bland. We’ve made due, enjoyed other lovely olive oils from other parts of Sicily, and lately had some nice oil from Lazio.

Matthew is working again with that same friend, this time designing a staircase for an apartment in Milan. He came home for the weekend of the Epiphany with this:

My mouth is singing flower songs. Orange blossoms tumble in with memories of rooftop cherries, summer swimming in crystaline, warm water and platters mounded high with fresh, steamed mussels. It’s hard to imagine a lovelier way to start the new year.

I wrote a suite of 4 poems about this experience, you can find some images and the audio HERE.

How to choose wood or pumpkins…

I’ve learned two things since coming to Italy that make the cold weather more tolerable: how to pick pumpkins that are just right for cooking and how to select firewood. In case you need to know…

Pick a pumpkin that seems heavy for it’s size, the knobbly ones are the sweetest. You can’t carve them for jack o’ lanterns but they make mouthwatering risotto that will make even a 4 year old ask for a piece of bread for ‘la scarpetta’

On the contrary, firewood should be light for its size…weight is not an indicator of density but rather an indicator of how wet and/or full of sap the wood is. Wet or green wood is not useless, it will slow down an overly hot fire if you have a closed wood-burning stove.

 Now, if you feel like settling in to a nice cosy dinner for two by the fire, here’s the pumpkin risotto recipe as taught to me by my sweetie:

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Pumpkin Risotto for 2
1 small knobbly pumpkin cut into ½ in. chunks – approx 2 cups (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine)
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
olive oil
½ onion finely chopped
2/3 cups of arborio rice (or other rice for risotto)
1 heaping tablespoon of butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan
if you can find a good, small knobbly pumpkin (not the big smooth orange ones which tend to be watery and tasteless) cut it into cubes, 1.5-2 cm. put a small pot of good broth (Chicken or vegetable) on the burner and in another, medium sized saucepan simmer half a finely chopped onion. when the onions are almost transparent put the pumpkin in there (for a risotto for 2 people, you’ll want about 2 cups of pumpkin. (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine) once the pumpkin starts to soften, it may soak up all the oil from the onions, at which point, add a ladle-full of the broth and simmer until it’s all soft but not completely pudding. throw in 2/3 cup of rice for risotto: vallone nano, arborio etc.) and stir continuously into the pumpkin, so that it soaks up all of the oil and moisture from the first simmering. then pour in a ladle of the broth at a time, and continue to stir evenly as the rice soaks up all of the liquid and cooks together with the pumpkin, making a creamy, starchy glop. it should take about 35 minutes to get the rice to the point where the pumpkin is almost completely dissolved into the orange gloppy mass of rice,but the individual grains of rice are still “al dente” under your teeth. it usually takes about 3 cups of broth. when the the rice is still a bit terse but has made a lovely creamy goo around itself, turn off the heat and add an abundant tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan. stir it all together well and let it sit while you prepare the table (5 min. is perfect)

Warm food for cool weather!

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On our way back from our last trip to Rome we stopped in Pietra Santa and got snacks for the last leg of the trip north. I couldn’t resist. I bought two huge bunches of Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Black Cabbage). It’s the only kind of cabbage that my husband will eat and it makes a marvelous addition to any version of Tuscan white bean soup.

Serves 2 for 3 days. Beans taste good refried in lard and wrapped in flour tortillas or spread on crunchy multigrain toast.
500 grams (appx. 1 pound) Cannellini beans
         (soaked overnight in water to cover)
120 grams (or appx. 1 cup) cubed Pancetta Affumicato
         or Apple Smoked Bacon 
(note: if you want to make this vegetarian, omit the bacon, sauté the vegetables in olive oil and then add 2 or 3 large pieces of Parmesan cheese rind when you add the water)
Minced but kept separate:
1 medium yellow onion
2 small shallots
2 ribs celery
2 medium carrots
Splash of white wine
5 cups water, vegetable or chicken broth
2 big sprigs fresh whole sage
4 big sprig fresh whole rosemary minced fine (2 tbs minced)
4 fresh (or 4 dried) bay laurel leaves
2 small sprigs fresh savory or 1 tsp. dried
4 cloves garlic smashed with the broad side of a knife
3 cups roughly chopped cavolo nero (Tuscan black cabbage) or Collard Greens
½ cup tomato sauce or on 12oz can of diced tomato
Extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese as garnish
Fry pancetta or bacon in bottom of a large stockpot until browned, add minced onion and shallot, sauté until soft. Add carrot, sauté 2 min add celery and sauté until celery is soft and all of it has caramelized in the bottom of the pan, deglaze with a splash of white wine.
Add water or broth, herbs, and garlic together with drained beans to the stockpot atop the bacon and minced vegetables. Bring to a boil and then return to a low simmer for 1-1/2 hours adding water if necessary. When beans are almost tender add the leafy greens and cook for another 30 min and then add ½ cup tomato sauce or can of tomatoes and salt to taste.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
Next up: an attempt to make casoulet a l’italienne with the leftovers!

Got hot?

It finally got to 95 degrees today! I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much to my Texas friends and family (yes, Dallasites, I know, 105/105/105/105….all week long) but, I have no AC. Not because it’s busted but because there is none. Still, it feels good to close the thick wooden shutters in the house, feel the still air and the stickiness of my skin.
The southern wall of the house is soaking up the heat, in preparation for winter. Sometime in January it will all have leached out and the cold seeped in, weaseled through the brick, mortar, and plaster so that I can feel the winter pushing in the house and the little wood-stove pushing back.

For now I’m enjoying the brief summer here in Northern Italy, especially the light….

Pasta with onions, tuna, tomato and Taggiasche olives

I made this the other day because I started frying one little sliced onion in a dry skillet in preparation for making something else when the smell made me want more onion and the rest of it fell into place based on an Italian dish Matthew has made several times with onions and tuna. Sorry no picture!
(main dish for 2 – double for 4 abundant main serving portions)
200 g bow-tie, fusili, or spaghetti
2 small yellow onions
1 small can of tuna in olive oil (drained)
10 cherry tomatoes (those really sweet oblong ones are good)
1/8 cup pitted Taggiasche or Nicoise olives in oil (if only available in vinegar, rinse and drain)
1 TBS tomato paste
Salt to taste
Pasta water on to boil, two small yellow onions sliced thin and simmered over low heat first in dry (preferably large and cast iron) skillet and then add a bit of olive oil. Keep the onions simmering for about 10 minutes or until they’re transparent and golden, add one small can of tuna in olive oil (drain off oil first), then 10 cherry tomatoes quartered turn up heat slightly and saute a minute before adding 1/4 cup pitted Taggiasche or Nicoise olives. Turn heat way low, add a bit of salt if it needs it. Put the pasta in the briskly boiling salted water, don’t let it get mushy! Keep an eye on the ‘sauce’ you want the sugars in the onion and tomatoes to caramelize but not burn, if it looks right (golden-orange and a bit sticky) add the tomato paste and turn off the fire and remove it from the heat until the pasta is al dente. Ideally the pasta is ready just as the sauce turns carmellish, drain the pasta and toss into the skillet, crank up the heat and add a bit more oil if necessary to encourage the sauce to coat the pasta ;)! Good served with a cool, crisp green salad after to balance out the flavours. Nice with a semi-bubbly white wine, or a dry still one like Oriveto (secco).

Almost finished…

Three projects that should be finished sometime soon…from the left:
a pair of socks with a mini-cable rib made up in the beautiful Noro yarn (silk, cotton, wool blend) that my mother bought me in Texas,; Lanagatto merino self-striping socks for my sweetie; “branching ribs scarf” from Lynne Barr’s “Reversible Knitting” in Lanagatto lamponia (wool acrylic blend).

No pics of the not-yet-half-finished cardigan in the knitting basket or of the just-started-yesterday pair of fingerless gloves…I have to stick to my ‘no new yarn until you have finished at least 3 of your five ongoing projects’ rule (sigh).

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