Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Model Cheese Sauce.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Oh Kate Moss, the poor thing. She must have grown up in one of those canned peas and shoe-leather roast beef households in England. Or perhaps smoking has stripped her tongue of the few remaining tastebuds that weren't dulled by an overdose of Branston pickle as a child. Whatever the reason, clearly the girl hasn't tried anything worth eating, because who in their right mind would say such a thing? One who has been to Paris without touching a croissant, that's who. Sigh.

As a tribute to Ms. Moss, I'd like to share a recipe for a wonderfully anti-diet cheese sauce concocted by Marnie and Megan, two very good friends of mine with whom I reunite each Christmas in Prince George. They stirred it up for a 'Three Sets of PG Sisters' brunch we had a few weeks ago, and served it over poached eggs with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes. The eggs, by the way, were from chickens raised by their mom. Can't beat Jan's eggs.

Kate Moss' theory is completely vanquished by this sauce, firstly because it tastes so much better than skinny feels, and secondly because Marnie and Megan eat it and are very beautiful people. HA!

You too can combat stick-thin model theories by making this sauce, loving it, and passing it along. Please keep in mind that this recipe is just a rough guide – when I re-created it I didn't really measure anything, so just keep tasting as you go to get it just right. Essentially it's a white sauce to which you add a great deal of McLarens cheese and four special ingredients. It's perfect for eggs on a cold winter's morning.

Meg and Marn's Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ – 2 cups milk
1 container McLarens cheese
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 small or ½ large clove garlic, finely chopped
½ to 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste

Melt the butter over low/medium heat in a small saucepan, then add the flour and whisk together to make a roux. Stirring, let bubble for a minute. Add the milk in small additions, whisking into the roux and allowing it to thicken. Once you have a thin white sauce, crumble the cheese in and stir to combine (keep tasting and adding cheese until it's reached the desired cheesy flavour and right consistency). Add remaining ingredients to taste, and more milk if it gets too thick. Serve immediately, preferably in front of an episode of Fashion File.

The pics below........Brunch, including our attempts to get into the most heavily fortified bottle of sparkling wine in existence. Thirty years of education between the six of us and I ended up having to saw the top off.
Sadly, no pictures of the cheese sauce specifically, but trust me when I say it looks delicious. Also some of winter in Prince George.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Could Eat This Book.

Now that Christmas Baking has been given it's due, I can tell you about a book I recently took out of the library. It's called A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, and I was shocked to discover it's the story of my life. The unarticulated thoughts that tumble around in my head have been taken, made sense of, and laid out before me.

Okaaaaay, so Molly Wizenberg doesn't know me from a snowball. I shall explain; she's the author of the beautifully written and wildly successfully food blog Orangette, has a brand-new book, and recently opened a restaurant in Seattle called Delancey (I reluctantly give you her blog link for fear you'll never read mine again. I simultaneously adore and hate her for being so. damn. good.) Basically, she was a food-loving academic who finally acknowledged her true passion and became a writer with no formal writing or culinary education. This is me, just not the successful part (yet. Glass half-full Linds, glass half-full.) The thoughts in her book strike chord after continuous chord with me, and I've found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with many of her beliefs regarding food and the concepts surrounding it. I'm not even finished it yet, but the most recent head-nod was due to her opinion on recipe sharing; she disagrees with people who hoard recipes and believes they should, like all great food, be shared. Sing it sister! I've always believed in passing along my favourite recipes, as long as credit is given to those who created them or, when their provenance is unknown, the person who gave them to me (hence names like “Sarah's Sister's Cousin's Hairdresser's Mechanic's Dog's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.”) Now, fair enough if you're a chef who spent three decades perfecting the signature dish that your restaurant and therefore livelihood depend on, but that delicious scone recipe you clipped from a magazine and got lots of compliments on? Spread the joy!

In A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg tells the story of her life through food; Unchronologically she shares charming, amusing, and often sad stories from her thirty-one years as a daughter, friend, Parisienne, and lover of food. She relates each of these stories to a different recipe, naming both people and food as forces of history, emotion, and meaning in her life. As a believer in sharing, after each story she includes the recipe which inspired it, most of which originated from her parents, friends, husband, or Molly herself. There is something very lovely, personal, and trusting about these recipe offerings.

Every recipe has a story. Not all are going to be terribly interesting (you made these cookies once that not even the dog would eat, the end), but they are stories nonetheless. Actually, the recipe itself can be horrible, as long as it holds significance to you or makes someone laugh. So, if you'd like a tea-on-cozy-couch-read for the holidays, I suggest this book. After all, you're not only going to get a wonderful read, but also plenty of beautiful and meaningful recipes which you'll want to make yourself. How does buttermilk vanilla bean cake with glazed oranges and crème fraîche sound for new years?

...I am also loving Sam T. Schick, who designed Delancey's website. Check out why, here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

School and Cookie Chat.

Firstly, school news. Several years ago, during a Google adventure called Trying To Figure Out My Life, I came across a graduate program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy (UNISG, a.k.a. the "Slow Food University"). I kid you not, after reading about their masters programs I actually shouted “I have found my people!” Confetti fell, fireworks exploded, and a symphony began to play. I'd found the program which, until that moment, had existed only as an unarticulated, theoretical hope in the dark recesses of my brain.

My obsession with all things food tended to make me feel odd, especially because I have always known I don't want to be a chef but never really knew what else was out there. So, as I read about UNISG, I felt like a fish living in a puddle who had just been told about the Great Lakes. I was determined to get in and simultaneously doubtful I even had a chance. With more research I found three similar programs, however they were so far out of my budget (we're talking $50 000 tuition, per year) that it all came back to UNISG. The programs do not start annually, so with the next application date in late 2009 I spent a year and a half working, saving and yes, even herding eighty goats around the hillsides of Tuscany. I sent off my completed student dossier on December 3rd and spent the next thirteen days successfully convincing myself that I had absolutely no chance of getting in. Apparently those fitful sleeps were in vain, however, because I did get accepted and will be starting the Master in Food Culture and Communications program this spring in Parma, Italy. I am relieved, excited, and happy to have so much to look forward to. Not to mention grateful for having been supported by so many people throughout the whole process. Thank you, grazie, and I will keep you updated.

*Click here to visit the UNISG website.

Not to be overshadowed by school talk, however, is Christmas Baking, because what does a higher education matter if you can't make quality gingerbread? Exactly.

I've never been the blogging type that documents every step of my recipe mis-adventures, as I think you've all seen what a bowl of sugar, butter and eggs looks like. I do, however, love to talk about it, and when I'm completely satisfied with a finished product the camera comes out. I was once so proud of a peach pie that I spent an hour taking pictures of it on the lawn. I'm sure more than one ant found it's way inside and died a very happy death. But I digress – back to this, the best time of year for baking. So far I've made triple ginger biscotti, soft ginger cookies (yes I love ginger), almond roca bars with Stephanie, chocolate caramel shortbread squares, and sugar cookies. There's more on the way, but darn you Save-On-Foods and your lack of vanilla wafer crumbs. To tide us over til the crumbs come in, our freezer has been stocked with plenty more goodies thanks to the best neighbourly arrangement ev-er. My newly retired father, with his newly purchased snowblower, has been clearing the driveway of Mrs. Wallace, a sweet elderly widower who lives across the street. Every time it snows, my father hauls out the snowblower or shovel, and to say thank you she bakes him treats. Every time. Gloriously, it snows a lot, and we've been consuming cookies, cakes, muffins and squares by the large tupperware-load. Isn't that utterly wholesome? Thank you Mrs. Wallace, thank you Dad, and thank you snow.

What would a Christmas baking chat be without a recipe? Here's my favourite one for ginger cookies, which I found on (fear not! it's a gem!)

Big Soft Ginger Cookies


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar (for rolling cookies in
  • *chopped candied ginger (my favourite add-in, you can add it at any stage but it's easiest just to add it into the dry ingredients)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Bake just until the cookies have 'cracked.' Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Olive them. Every last one.

For the second half of my Italian farm experience I gave up goats for olives ; I recently helped harvest thousands of olives that clung to the trees of a small agritourism high in the hills near Florence. It was so high, in fact, that my ears popped constantly while on the bus-ride there and at times I'd look around and realize I was standing in a cloud. The ear-popping and indecisive weather at that elevation were worth it for the view, which we stood and admired each morning before breakfast.

I was one of five wwoofers there to harvest; the others (Heather, Cody, Josee, and Nick) were all American, had wicked senses of humour, and affectionately embraced my frequent use of 'eh.' We were also fortunate to land the poshest wwoofing living quarters of all time – the inn's three bedroom guest-house!

Each morning we ate a continental breakfast before donning our gumboots, marching off to the grove, and beginning our harvest routine. This involved pinning together huge nets which caught the olives as they were hand-raked or mechanically raked off the trees. Once a row was finished, we unpinned the nets, heaved the olives into a big pile, and emptied them into crates. We repeated this process until, five hours later, I was so hungry I considered emptying the raw bitter olives into my mouth rather than the boxes.

At 1:00 pm we'd stumble up the hill to have a lunch made for us by our host's sisters, two sweet old ladies who we loved so much we considered communally adopting them as our Nonnas. The afternoon and evening meals usually consisted of two to three courses, starting with either soup or pasta and followed by some combination of meat, cheese, and vegetables. My favourite dishes were farfalle with zucchini and peas; pasta, chickpea, and sage stew; cream of carrot soup with big toasted bread croutons; pecorino cheese with onion jam, and Tuscan apple cake. It took us several days to reign in the desire to eat our body-weight in carbs at every meal, and I soon had to abandon my jeans for leggings with a stretchy waistband. My preferred theory is that they shrunk.

Once the first seventy crates of olives were picked they were taken to the frantoio (press) by our host and Nick, his absolute favourite wwoofer. He made no attempt to hide this favouritism, which was apparent very early on and for reasons which are still unclear (Nick speaks absolutely no Italian and is the same size and strength as Cody). It took a total of three days for him to be dubbed 'Iron Arm,' and conversations at the dinner table went something like this:

“Nick! More eat Nick! Without you we get nothing done Nick! The rest are university types, we need you Nick! He stronger than the other four! What? You are not married Nick? But who cook for you in America? You cook for yourself? No! This is iiiimpossible! You marry Lindsay! She experience in cooking, and you experience in eating! It is nechesity that you marry a woman who cook for you! Now eat Nick, EAT!"

We decided that during our short time at the farm it would be best not to introduce our host to the ideas of feminism, homosexuality, veganism, and stay-at-home dads.

We finished the olive trees three days ahead of schedule and spent another day up-rooting and re-planting saffron bulbs on the far corner of the property. This was tedious work and enlightened us further as to the cost of saffron; each bulb produces one purple flower, which in turn yields several precious red stamin that are picked by hand and dried slowly over a fire. At the farm they sell it in small packets and in products such as saffron jam (killer!) and saffron grappa (equally killer but for different reasons). We also tried their farro (barley) and enjoyed the new oil pressed from the olives we harvested. It was vibrant green and very spicy in comparison to the mellow, year-old oil; in Autumn there are signs in every store, including gas stations, advertising 'Olio Nouvo' for sale, and Italians declare with a hint of awe in their voices that “tonight we will be eating newwww oiiiiil.”

Another end-of-harvest task, assigned to the boys, was building a fence around the saffron plants to keep out the cabriole, a deer-like animal which we could never properly translate to English and therefore became a sort of a mythical beast for us. Although we jokingly doubted the existence of the animals, the fence was all too real and caused our male wwoofers a great deal of grief. Despite the fact that both are incredibly intelligent and capable, Nick and Cody were forced to follow our host's instructions down to the wire, literally, resulting in a fence which couldn't keep out a coffee mug let alone an animal which can supposedly jump eight feet high (and also has a unicorn-like horn, we're sure of it). Many hours were spent stringing up uncooperative wire which rendered the electric fence useless and provoked an unending stream of curses.

Despite the odd nature of our host (and frequent time trips back to before women could vote), the harvesting experience was entirely worth it. I now know the tremendous amount of work that goes into making olive oil and will never again take it for granted. Our work setting was beyond beautiful, especially when the sun lit up the autumn-coloured hills surrounding us. But most importantly, I laughed so hard and so often with my fellow wwoofers that there is a chance my stomach will retract enough to get my jeans back on.

And I'm now engaged to a guy named Iron Arm.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sud - Nord - Sud

I finished with the goats at Podere Le Fornaci and my last week was fantastic, one reason being that I had visitors from Prince George! Kaela (a friend from highschool), her sister Charlotte, and their friends Megan and Laura all came to the farm for a few days. We enjoyed a sunny autumn day, hiking up in the hills behind the farm and picnic-ing next to a vineyard. We discovered a very old stone house, roofless and now crumbling in on itself, which I decided to climb into. This despite there being a very thick thorn bush growing out of the window I planned on entering. I eventually emerged on the other side of the wall, victorious in my task and covered in dust, blood, and thorns. Also commenting that my mother would be calling me an idiot right now.

On the Friday before I left I helped Elisa cater in a Franciscan abbey high in the hills outside of Florence. These jobs make my catering days in Canada seem very dull indeed. It was a dinner for twelve people participating in a retreat, and she made my day by asking me to make apple crisp for dessert, my only answer to a 'typical Canadian dessert' which everyone at the farm took quite a liking to. We sat and ate with the retreat-ers at one of the longest wooden tables I've ever seen, originally the dining place of many, many monks.

I was just in Milan, taking a break from farming and visiting a German friend who's interning with an architectural firm there. I'd heard nothing but bad things about this city but I completely enjoyed my time there. It's not the place for tourists seeking a rustic, laundry-drying-in-the-sun Italian experience, but its cosmopolitan atmosphere was refreshing change for me. It's a crazy mix of new, old, and fascist architecture; impeccable clothing on people who possess either natural or enhanced beauty; trams from the 1970's passing expensive SUV's; and traditional Italian coffee bars next to modern ones like Bianco Latte, which I fell in love with.

People-watching and window shopping can easily take up one's day. One night we passed a childrens' clothing and furniture store in which everything, down to the non-existent dust on the walls, was white. I also found it odd that one city can contain so many bakeries and stick-thin pairs of legs, but I suppose the bakeries survive off of people like me. I received a noticeable number of stairs while eating a cheesecake as we walked down the street the other day. They cocked their heads as if to say "Oh that's what you do with those things! Eat them!"
My second to last night was a huge highlight - we managed to get tickets to see Giselle at Teatro alla Scala, and 4 days later I'm still on a ballet high. It was so stunning, in fact, that I will soon be able to forget how uncomfortable the 'cheap' seats at the Scalla are.

Two days ago I came back to Tuscany and to my next farm, which is close to the town of Fiesole, way up in the hills surrounding Florence. It doesn't have internet so it may be awhile 'til I can describe the olive harvest, but I'm sure by then we'll have amassed plenty of good stories.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Linds Continues to Eats

Let's bring this blog back 'round to its original intention. Food. I am pleased to announce that physical labour has nearly returned my appetite to its teenage glory days, and luckily there is no end of things here for me to eat. These are some of my favourites from the past couple of weeks.

It's nut season, and so we've been cracking hazelnuts for everything from pesto to cake and I've gathered walnuts from trees around the yard. Chestnuts are also aplenty; after slicing into the side of each one, Elisa boiled a large batch of them in water for 40 minutes, then pulled back the skins and scooped out their fleshy insides. She pureed the chestnuts with milk and we ate this mildly sweet and nutty porridge for breakfast. Delicious.

This past week some friends of Elisa and Gabriele visited, bringing with them all sorts of treats from Northern Italy. These included homemade bread, blueberry jam, dozens of yellow tomatoes, and impeccable culinary skills. For lunch one afternoon they made gnocchi with butternut squash rather than potatoes. They tossed the bright orange dumplings with poppy-seeds and sage, and I imparted my appreciated with a constant, poppy-seeded smile. The beverage for this meal was provided by Marco, who also runs the farm; he gathered and crushed the grapes which hung in perfect bunches from his patio arbour. The sweet, dark purple juice was delivered in a big glass bottle and we anti-oxidized ourselves for several days.

Two nights ago I had the privilege of learning how to make/eating a lot of pasta fresca. I assisted Michele (a chef/cheesemaker who also lives at the farm) with a private cooking class he did for four Americans renting a villa just up the road. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, they were ridiculously friendly people with whom I gleefully spoke English as-fast-as-I-could all evening. Michele made two kinds of bruschetta and then taught us how to make three different kinds of pasta, each served with a different sauce. My favourite was the freshly-made pesto, and we finished the evening off with tiramisu and hugs.

Yesterday was also special because the circus returned, and everyone knows I love the circus. They had left much of their equipment here and disbanded for several weeks before their next show in northern Italy. Seven of them came back and stayed for lunch, happily satisfying the old-nonna's desire within me to feed everyone I like. We ate two big pots of pasta tossed with roasted peppers and tomatoes, sliced eggplant baked with tomato sauce and cheese, and bread. The food was good, however the best part of this meal was where we ate it; Irene setup a long wooden table outside under a walnut tree, and the ten of us stripped off our sweaters under the hot sun and crowded around the table. Joy.

Finally, a food experience I never saw coming. My hosts are Hare Krishna and on Sunday there was a special festival at the temple, which was crowded with people. First we listened to a man read a story (in English and Italian) about villagers being saved by Krishna from a raging flood. He lifted up their sinking island with his little finger, rescuing every person, plant, and animal on it. This was followed by a great deal of music, singing, clapping, and dancing in front of two men who held up a large piece of orange cloth. Something was hidden behind this, and after fifteen minutes it was finally revealed. What was it? A CAKE!! A massive flour, butter, and sugar reconstruction of the island that Krishna saved. Its two separate layers were covered with all kinds of cookies, sweets, animals, people, rivers, and lakes, and while people gathered around it, I loooonged for my camera. I thought it would be inappropriate to bring, then kicked myself as soon as thirty cell-phone cameras appeared to document the whole scene. Oh well. We enjoyed a delicious Indian meal afterwards, and of course, the cake. I will forever remember the woman serving it, because she gave me the kind of obscenely large piece I always wished for at birthday parties, but sadly never received.

Although I have no photos of the cake (sigh), here are some others...

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Was Invited to Run Away With the Circus and I Almost Said Yes.

I may be wrong, but it seems that few times in life do you find yourself working on a goat farm that's hosting a travelling circus for a week. My keen instincts told me this will probably not happen again, and to enjoy every quirky moment of it. I did.

Circo Paniko is a troupe of twelve young performers who travel around Europe (and as far as India) with their show, a creative and musical sensory overload set within a yellow big-top. Like Cirque du Soleil, they started out as street performers and have slowly accumulated their sets and equipment over the past few years (although have yet to have permanent theatres in Vegas. I'll keep you posted). At our farm they were joined by many friends, including more performers from France and Spain and others who joined their camp to visit and help out over the weekend. Day after day new faces circulated through the house, each bringing a smile, kisses, music, and tricks. I often entered the living room to find someone standing on their hands or playing the guitar; these people possess more talent in their forearms than I have in my entire body.

I contributed to the festivities by helping to prepare food for the small concession/bar we setup between two hay bales. Each day we made sweets and sandwiches (with goat's cheese, of course) to serve with organic beer and vino brulee (mulled wine). On the second and third day a lady named Bianca taught me how to make Dolce di Pane, which translates as "Bread Cake." We made it by soaking chunks of day-old bread in milk and eggs, then adding spices, sugar, chopped fruit, and nuts until it turned into a batter. After baking, it sliced into thick and flavourful pieces of cake which I believe to be the culinary antithesis to the Atkin's diet. To top this off, friends of Elisa and Gabriele made pizza each night in the ancient wood-fired stone oven located just outside the front door. No hots dogs and potato chips at this concession stand, thank you very much.

After the final circus show on Sunday there was a big dance party in the tent with a ska/reggae band from Florence. They were amazing, and I jumped around like a crazy person on the hay-covered grass where I usually graze the goats each day.

The core group of Circo Paniko stayed most of the week, and last night we had a goodbye dinner with everyone (over seventeen of us) literally packed around the table. We ate rice, butternut squash soup, bread, tomatoes, cheese, and salad, and I listened to the constant roar of foreign conversation around me until a distinct "Whuuut do you theenk of Eeetaly?" popped up. Thus all attention turned to Lindsay-who-does-not-speak-Italian, and I answered that I love it and want badly to learn the language. This instigated many more questions and an Italian lession by a non-Italian-speaking Spaniard, which I muddled through until Elisa swung a cake in front of my face and asked "Leen-say, italianoitalianoitalianoitaliano?" Thank Zeus I actually knew this word. "Torta!" I yelled and everyone burst into applause.

There you have it, my finest moment.

Cheese! Fest, 2009

Finally the meals have digested, and I am ready to talk about 'Cheese,' Slow Food's festival celebrating all things formaggio in Bra, Italy (see link for photos). I attended the four day event with Aviv and Michal, two very good friends from Calgary, and spent the whole time trying to remember what it feels like to be hungry.

I began the festivities by missing my train from Torino to Bra. By a full hour, actually, because I neglected to change my clock to Italian time after being in London. I had agreed to meet Aviv and Michal at 11:00 am, none of us had a phone, the next train didn't depart until late afternoon, and we were scheduled for a workshop at 1:00 pm. So, a great deal of panic and one very expensive cab-ride later, I was reunited with Michal and Aviv and glad that my stupidity didn't have to affect anything else but my bank account. Together and happy to be speaking English, we headed off to explore the endless white tents spread throughout the winding lanes of Bra.

As part of the festival, Slow Food organizes an impressive number of educational programs, including 'Taste' and 'Masters of Food' workshops. We had signed up for three, and our first was held in a conference room that looked like a miniature United Nations complete with

headsets and an English translator (although I presume the UN does not lay out multiple wine glasses at each of their seats. They ought to try it, I think diplomacy would be at its best). Our first workshop, featuring five French affineurs, quickly went from sophisticated to shit-show when the fire alarm went off just as we were about to begin. Do not fear! The highly-capable Italian fire department is coming to set things right! Wrong. They showed up and scratched their heads (literally) for over an hour while it continued to scream. During this time we waited outside, drank some champagne, and grilled the friendly English translator for the best places to eat in Torino. Eventually they tried to proceed and all at once we attempted to listen to a man speaking in French, hear the translation through our headsets, and ignore the blaring sound of the alarm with a constant recording in Italian warning us to leave the building.

The alarm finally ceased, though I'm nearly certain this is because a battery died and not because they figured anything out. Disappointing, yet the beaufort was still delicious, the attendees gracious, and we now know Torino's best restaurants. My advice, however, would be to avoid burning buildings while in Italy, unless you plan on saving yourself. After this little adventure we spent the rest of the day exploring the festival, sampling cheeses, and failing to identify the fine line between 'full' and 'ill.'

One day we took a break from the festival and were treated to a tour of the Piemontese region by Lior, Michal's childhood friend from Israel. He took us into the mountains north of Torino, we walked to a beautiful old bridge crossing the Po River, and visited the town of Asti to see the Il Palio festivities. Asti, as well as the Tuscan town of Siena, has an annual horse race in which horses representing local villages participate in an intense and sometimes dangerous competition. It all starts with a medieval parade featuring drummers, trumpeteers, flag-throwers, and all kinds of elaborate costumes, floats and dramatic acts. We were hugely impressed, as well as hugely late in returning to Bra for our second taste workshop, which we missed. 0 for 2. So far we were failing to receive our official cheese education, but the parade was worth it.

During the festival we spent many hours touring the massive tents which housed the Italian, European, and International cheeses, even spotting Carlo Petrini (the founder of Slow Food) at one point. We were overwhelmed with the variety, the vendors' gorgeous displays, and the sheer amount of food. There were literally tonnes of cheese; hundreds upon hundreds of wheels, stands with honey and balsamic and antipastos, and more samples than one girl could handle.

As always, the most extreme tastes are the ones which come to mind. We tried 'brus,' a creamy concoction which looks smooth and delectable. It is absolutely NOT, I assure you. When Michal tried it she screamed and shouted something profane which made me laugh so hard I couldn't keep my camera steady and capture her agonized face.

In the international tent we found some small French cheeses that looked like they'd been scraped from the side of a sunken ship. Through translation we learned that these cheeses must be eaten with whiskey (wine is too weak), or else they'll take three days to digest. This makes sense, since anything that sunk with the Titanic would need a little help in the stomach.

We finished off our festival experience with a dinner at a small castle in Verduno, which was delicious and as usual, way too filling. This was the third of three major dinners in a row; our first night of dining was at La Taverna Tre Gufi, an authentic and unpretentious little restaurant where we were treated to dinner by Lior and his wife Nadia. We took our server's offer of trying a “little bit of everything.”

A little bit of everything meant that once we had downed five substantial plates we learned we had only just completed the starters. And so, eleven different dishes later, we finally concluded. That would be sixteen in total, my friends. Another fine quality of this meal was our server, a gorgeous man with dark curly hair and blue eyes whom I idiotically asked “parlez-vous francais?” when he told us his mother was a language teacher. Asking a question in a certain language usually implies that you speak it, non? Well I don't. He rambled on to me in French and I nodded and smiled and pretended I knew exactly what he was saying. Fortunately, the only thing he asked me to translate was the dessert – and what were we eating? Parfait. PHEW.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ohhhh Madonna

I have suddenly plunged into Goat World. I drink goat's milk, eat goat's cheese, and spend a significant portion of my day caring for them. I can no longer remember what my pre-conceived notions of them were; I'll just have to tell you what my notions of them are now.

The first thing I was taught here was how to feed them, which is done in the morning while they are being milked. My naive self thought that this might involve pouring some pellets into a bucket and filling up their water dish. Wrong, obviously. The whole process takes about an hour and involves a lot of hay, to which I now know I'm allergic!

In total there are about fifty adult goats (almost entirely female) and fifteen baby goats, who are actually more like pre-teens and as tall as me when they stand on their hind legs. Each morning they stop, tilt their heads, and stare at me so expectantly that it makes me laugh.

I like this morning work, now that I have a routine down; it's mindless and gives me wickedly strong arms. It's the part that comes after the feeding that can be a bit stressful. Herding.

The person who taught me to herd is a young guy named Yakapo (I'm getting the spelling wrong I'm sure). Yakapo speaks a total of about ten English words, although curiously three of these are 'syringe,' 'frenetic,' and 'electrical-current.' Since I speak even less Italian, our teacher/student relationship is based almost entirely on sign language, although I was mainly educated just by watching. I learned quickly that the herd will eventually move as one into the same area, but one cannot panic (however much you'd like to) when they begin to spread out in multiple directions. I also learned that if you're going to have trouble with any of them, it'll be Biando, the sole adult male and unfaithful husband to 49 wives. He's the size of a small moose and has horns that, pardon my French, could f$#k you UP.

After two short days of un-intensive and non-verbal training, I was apparently ready to take the herd out alone. Didn't eat much for breakfast that morning, let me tell you. I was supposed to take them to the 'easy' field near the stables, but of course they took off in the opposite direction towards a forest that could camouflage Lady Gaga.

And this is where my relationship with Biando began. To prove his point that I was new, and a girl, and that he is old and a big big man, he wouldn't allow me to go ahead of him yet wouldn't keep up with the herd. We faced off, and quite frankly it was boring. I'd take a step, and he'd take a step. I'd take two steps, and he'd take two steps. He'd come towards me, I'd hold out my herding stick, and he'd sniff it. After about ten minutes of this he'd finally head off, I'd curse him, and we'd do it all again in another ten minutes. Eventually, we ended up in an open field and he finally decided I was competent (the fool!) and let me pass him. At that point Gabriele's cousin Tomazzo showed up, and with a new male around we were back to square one. Biando actually head-butted him though, so for this reason I'm glad to possess more estrogen than testosterone.

The next few days went relatively smoothly, until yesterday when they got into someone's garden. Ohhh Madonna, as Yakapo said, this is about the worst thing that could happen, second only to accidentally running them off a cliff or losing them completely.

One minute we were happily eating along the creek, and the next they were all over this leafy green vegetable haven which we hadn't even noticed. It didn't take long until we had a row of men screaming at us in Italian from across the creek. This was less offensive for me, I'm sure, since I didn't know what they were saying. Although I could guess. We got them out relatively quickly, though it felt like a lifetime, and the silence between Yakapo and I became suddenly more noticeable as we led them back to the stables. I spent the rest of the day terrified of being reprimanded, but so far so good. Let's just hope farmer John from down the way doesn't decide to pay a visit in the next few days.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I really don't know where to begin. It feels as though I've been away from home for several months, and it's actually been a week and a half.

I'll start with the farm, because that's freshest in my mind. Once I digest everything I ate at the Cheese Festival, I'll talk about that (but it could be several weeks until you hear anything).

I arrived at Podere Le Fornaci on the 22nd, a beautiful sunny day. The farm is is just a few kilometres from the town Greve in Chianti in the heart of Tuscany. Too many people have written flowery descriptions of this area, so I will keep it simple. The cliches are entirely true; the landscape consists of rolling hills, vineyards thick with dark purple grapes, and ancient nonas hanging out of shuttered stone windows. In other words, if you live in an area with stairmaster-like inclines and drink lots of wine, you'll live to be 101.

Podere Le Fornaci is found at the end of a long driveway with two very old stone houses sitting across from one another at the bottom of a hill. A flat yard to one side is filled with trees, chickens, dogs, and the trailer where the WWOOFers sleep. The other side rises steeply up to the goat stables, and of course the goats! Behind this hill, and on just about every other surrounding ridge, are vineyards full of grapes being harvested this week. My hosts are Gabriele and Elisa, two hard-working people who I've felt comfortable with from the start.

The big house and yard are a charming, organized chaos. For example, the stairs leading to the second floor of the big house are partially blocked by a pile of giant squash, and it's easy to trip over toys, brooms, cats and/or children when stepping out the front door.

When I first arrived we were greeted by a mass of people, speaking Italian of course, and I was ushered upstairs to have lunch and meet even more people. I then sat, overwhelmed, in a hammock for the rest of the day and watched people come and go, not sure of who belonged where and to whom. I have now somewhat made sense of it all, and actually enjoy the steady flow of friendly people. Of course there are still many quiet times, like right now, when I get to listen to 3 1/2 year-old Priscilla rrrroll her R's and talk in a language which I don't yet understand.

I think I will save my goat-herding stories for later, and instead, believe it or not, focus on the food. Every morning I have granola with goat's milk for breakfast; I had never tried goat's milk before and always thought it would be sour, since fresh goat's cheese is so tart. In reality it is light and creamy and wonderful. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, when we sit down and eat in a group of at least four. Today we had a traditional Tuscan stew called Ribollati made with vegetables, white beans, and day old bread (which is crumbled and cooked into it). It was incredibly hearty and filling, and we ate it with zucchini and rice fritters, the usual platter of goat's cheese, and finished off with a sweet to which I am now totally addicted made from chickpea flour, ground nuts and butter. Elisa caters from her home and so is sometimes away serving at parties in the evening, in which case whomever is at home gathers and makes dinner together. Last night we ate a zucchini frittata and salad.

Absolutely everything we eat is organic, the bread and cheese are made here, and the eggs, fruit, and veggies also come from this farm or other local organic ones. The quality of the food, as well as the appetite I have gained from doing physical labour, make the meals the most satisfying ones I have ever eaten. It seems that almost every meal gets a healthy drizzle of olive oil, and while this isn't a new discovery by any means, I assure you that fresh goat's cheese crumbled onto just about anything is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I have now worked for four days, starting at 8:00 am and finishing around 1:00 pm. I get the afternoon off and usually walk into town to get some more exercise and enjoy the fresh air. I've also had a really nice time getting to know Margaret, the other WWOOFer here with me at the moment. She's from New Zealand, 62 years old, and is an incredibly humble adventurer. She's spent the last year and a half travelling around, working on farms, and teaching in various countries. She plans on staying in Italy well into the new year, then heading to Greece and finding some farms there.

That about does it for now. Time to start reading and scratching the many bug bites I've accumulated. Tomorrow I herd the goats alone for the first time, so keep posted for many hilarious or tragic stories ahead.

Ciao for now friends.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just as Soon as I Can Get Out of Canada....

I am writing my first post from the exotic city of.....Calgary. I now know the true price of a $345 plane ticket from Calgary to London – they switch the carrier on you (without notice of this fact), then delay the flight by four hours. I'm waiting to get hungry again so I can go spend the $10 food voucher they gave me, and really glad I have my computer. And who am I kidding - for $345 I'd do it all again.

This past week has been very busy so this is a good opportunity for me to sit down and explain where it is I'm headed. My first flight takes me to London for a three day visit with my dear friends Lisa and Georgie. I love them and London and any chance to have lunch at Food For Thought.

After London I head to Turin, Italy, where I'll meet up with my friends Aviv and Michal, two reasons why moving to Calgary last year was so entirely worth it. I met Aviv, and subsequently Michal (his girlfriend), when I started working at Janice Beaton Fine Cheese in Calgary. In fact, Aviv hired me and was my boss for most of my time there! Now he is a full-time artisinal bread-baker, and Michal an indie film-maker, and I help out by eating bread and assisting with catering on the movie set (or should I say 'sets,' Michal, as there will be more....) The three of us are heading south of Turin to Cheese, a festival put on by Slow Food International. For four days we will sample cheeses, wines, and beers from all over the world, and generally love life. We are also attending three “Taste Workshops” and two dinners put on by Italian chefs with menus designed especially for the festival. This was something we'd sort of dreamed about in the cheese shop, and now it's happening. And that feels good.

After the festival I am heading down to Tuscany and working on two different organic farms (through WWOOF Italy). The first, Podere le Fornaci, specializes in making goats' cheese; only after arranging my stay with them did I discover that they will be at the cheese festival, and are even featured in one of the Taste Workshops (street cred!) They're giving me a ride down to their farm after the festival, so that works out well. Two families with five kids between them run the farm, located near Greve in Chianti, a.k.a centre of the Italian wine landscape. I'll be learning to love goats until the end of October, then heading to farm number two, just north of Florence. I'll be there for ten days to help with the olive harvest. While my host's english isn't great, his email did say that “my wife it is specialisty for cook very well and nice!” All I need to know, right there. By then my Italian should be molto bene, anyways. Right? Right.

Then I'll do some more visiting and eventually return home to Canada, fit and fresh from my work on the farm and knowledgeable in all things cheese and organic growing. Oh and fluent in Italian, forgot that one.

Piece of cake (torta).