I’ve got to stop starting posts this way, but I have yet to find a proper synonym – WOW. The days here are just filled with such a variety of activities! I wake up every morning and meet my fellow WWOOFer (and the Black family for the next two days) in the kitchen for strong coffee and toast with homemade jams. We step outside and I am breathless as I look around and take in the steep valleys and lush landscape. Bucolic is absolutely the word, even though it creates a different picture back home. Well this one is equally amazing, just not the bucolic you would expect. I don’t know how to describe this area, except to say that the farm house is located on a steep hill overlooking a beautiful valley where they used to mine for clay, with rolling hills leading into the apennine mountains in the distance. While working in the garden, you can hear the church bells of Mondaino, a medieval village topping a hill across the valley. You can see the church and the old mine shaft just across the way. The Black’s residence is a farmstead haven and every where you turn there is something new to look at, and most likely, eat. Every day I discover a new fruit tree or vegetable, and Suzie/Phelan will point out all of the wild vegetables/fruits/etc. Not to mention that the animals here are just amazing creatures.
So a bit about my host family: they relocated to Italy 26 years ago from England. They are both amazing artists – Suzie is very into mosaics and Phelan paints. They often teach workshops in the local villages in the summer. The two children, Iris and Basil, are into the farm thing and into all sorts of other things. Iris is currently in Tunisia studying Arabic, which was a surprise to me. I was so excited to learn about what she is doing there! Basil does all sorts of things, including but certainly not limited to creating light fixtures for local hotels, WWOOFing around the world, representing WWOOF Italy at international conferences, mapping walking tours in the Alps, and just generally encouraging all sorts of activities around the world and on the farm.
A bit about what we’ve been working on! Yesterday we finished up making jams and helped set up the apartment downstairs for a Dutch couple who is visiting for a few days. Rosetta and Ado (ey-dough) are a sweet couple in their late 70s and early 80s. They’ve been coming to the Black’s farm for 20 years and are more family than anything else. They have seven children, all of which they adopted and have oodles of grandchildren. Both are interested in art and are currently working on a book about this French painter, not sure the name, and are setting up two exhibitions to accompany the release of their book. Rosetta used to be a biologist, but decided to pursue art in her 50s, and Ado is a retired judge! If that’s not proof that it’s never too late to do something new, I don’t know what is. They have this energy and excitement to learn new things that reminds me so much of my grandparents. I’ll be sad to see them leave tomorrow, that’s for sure.
I digress. After cleaning up the apartment we learned how to prune olive trees so that we can pick the olives more easily. We pruned any growths on the main branches/trunk and any up through the middle of the tree. These particular growths do not produce any olives, and are mostly in the way. We haven’t started yet, but you pick olives while sitting in the tree so it’s annoying to have the growths there as they make it more difficult to get a higher sitting position. I learned that all olives are green, some you just pick when they’ve gone black. Anyway, it’s so peaceful to sit in the olive trees, snipping away while breathing in the sweet earthy scent of the bark/leaves. I can see why extending an olive branch is considered an act of peace toward someone or something. Just thinking about sitting in that olive tree and breathing that scent is extraordinarily calming. We won’t pick the olives until next week when the seven Germans arrive. Oh, have I mentioned them? Yes, there will be seven Germans joining us, and I am interested to see what happens.
Today we spent the morning clearing the pig pen area. It sits on a steep incline path, and ends where the olive grove and vineyard begin. It was COVERED in thick brambles, deadly nightshade, worm wood, and other thick indigenous plants/weeds. Not to mention one-third of a ginormous fig tree that had split off from the main trunk because it was too heavy to support. I promise, there was no other way to describe it than ginormous. So we cleared out all of the brambles and other obnoxious plants and put them in a huge pile, while Fran sawed away at the fig tree. Suzie and Phelan kept talking about how we would burn the weeds we piled, but Suzie insisted we wait since many of the plants were damp. By lunch time we had cleared the entire patch. I realllllly wish I had taken a before and after picture. It is a completely different area now. You simply wouldn’t believe it.
Lunch was broccoli from the garden, added to olive oil, sheep-cheese, red onions, garlic, and pasta. It was amazing. For dessert – figs I had scavenged from the branches Fran had cut away. Oh, and STROOPWAFFLES!!!! OH EM GEE NOM NOM NOM. Ok, stroopwaffles are these dutch cookies that you think are going to crunch like a wafer cookie when you bite into them, but ohhhhh no. They do not crunch. They do not crumble. They MELT. As soon as you bite into them you notice a really sweet and delicious chewy sticky honey center which has obviously softened the outside waffle bit. You’re chewing and your mind is doing loops trying to determine ingredients ‘what is that flavor, that hint of beautiful buttery lusciousness? It’s so familiar, that hint of….’ Vanilla caramel. It’s absolutely not just caramel, or just honey, but honey vanilla
caramel. EDIT: honey vanilla BUTTERSCOTCH. How does that even work? I can’t tell you. Just thinking about it makes me want to tear into the kitchen RIGHT NOW and crush those little delicious bits of pure joy into my mouth. It was like the first time I had a dirty chai. Completely hooked and fiending for more. Fran was telling us that in the UK they place them on top of their espresso cups so that they soften into gooey bits. I can’t even handle thinking about that process since they were already MELTY. HOW MUCH MORE MELTY CAN SOMETHING GET!? I HAVE TO KNOW! World market BETTER have stroopwaffles or I might have to order in bulk from the UK. And that’s just embarrassing. EDIT: Fran might post me some. Thank goodness.
A quick nap (including several dreams about potential stroopwaffle recipes) and then we were back out to work. Suzie was headed into town with Basil to pick up some bulk grocery items for the German invasion, so we met Phelan down by the chicken coop to figure out what our afternoon work would be. He sort of looked at Fran and I, and then looked over to see where Suzie was and said in a very soft and low voice, ‘Maybe we’ll try to start a little fire to burn those weeds, what do you think?’ I had to laugh! You just knew he didn’t want Suzie to hear because she thought we should wait for things to dry a bit before burning them, but he really wanted that fire. And after battling those massive brambles and annoying weeds all morning, there was nothing I wanted more than to watch it all burn. No, it probably wasn’t the most environmentally friendly way to handle things, but it was the most satisfying and sometimes, dangnabit, that’s what is important! So we started a pile and Phelan lit it with some cardboard and as it slowly caught, we began to pile loads of brambles, fig branches, and weeds on top. Soon enough we had a gorgeous blazing fire and something just felt right with the world watching all those prickly brambles burn. Sometimes things are that simple. An hour into the fire and most of the weeds had burned down. It was amazing to see how quickly all of it burned! I’m not talking small piles. There must have been 20 yards of pathway full of piles of weeds as high as my shoulders. I really, really wish I was exaggerating. Also, I just reread my paragraph and have noticed that I am slowly but surely picking up on certain Britishisms. Like saying ‘loads’. “Oh we’ve got loads of time.” I suppose I’ll fit in in London quite well if I go next year.
Anyway, while the fire burned down we started planting little cacti plants along the fence. Once the cacti flourish, they’ll be a natural barrier for the pig pen since pigs don’t like snuffling along painful cacti. I look up to find Phelan carrying three silver chalices and a bottle of grape juice (fresh from their vineyard). I repeat, he was carrying three silver CHALICES. Olive this place! I get to drink from chalices like I’m some sort of medieval princess. Awesome. We continued with our clearing adventure and soon Phelan came back to say he didn’t realize how late it was (5:45) and that we need to stop working immediately. And now I’m here, trying to catch you all up on what I’ve been up to – which is A LOT.
We’ll have dinner in a bit and then I’m probably going to zonk out for the night – I’m so exhausted! All of that stroopwaffle excitement has worn me out. And tomorrow we’re up bright and early to go see Urbino, the local city area and childhood home of Rafael. The painter, not the ninja turtle.
Anyway, I hope everyone is having as great a day as I am! If not – have a stroopwaffle!