Friday, 20 December 2013

Some like it hot!

Food markets in Italy are all year round weekend occasions and depending on the season, there are a variety of themed events everywhere around the country ranging from large scale organised fairs to local street markets.  
The last one we went to was in the small town of Camaiore along the Versilia coast and was entirely dedicated to red hot chilli peppers! 

The town's streets and squares were filled with colourful stands selling artisanal products made in some way or another with the addition of chilli peppers.




 I am personally a big fan of these hot wonders and especially at his time of year I seem to crave the flavoursome spiciness, whether added as an ingredient into a pasta sauce or simply chopped fresh over a dish. In fact we always make sure to grow some late summer varieties in our veggie patch so as to have them in he kitchen over the winter months!

We recently added a "Pantry" section to the Ginger & Mora site and this spicy red pepper cream, delicious with cheeses or added to pasta for an extra "kick" is definitely one of our favourite new additions. It comes from a small producer in Montespertoli, founded by four young farmers who have put their passion for gastronomical innovation into creating an exclusive range of top quality organically grown products. If you want to check out some of the other products, just pop into our pantry


Monday, 18 November 2013

For the Love of Olive Oil

There's no denying the weather here in Tuscany has got colder and although we have the odd warm sunny day, it's all looking too much like winter is finally on it's way.

On the bright side this also means that in the countryside the beautiful, grey leaved olive trees are bursting with their little bitter fruit. This has been a reasonably good year and the trees are promising a great harvest which also means that the olive oil which will come from these year's olives will be a good yield. In simpler words, lots and lots of delicious, peppery extra virgin olive oil!

As I have mentioned before on some of our previous posts, my husband's family owns a lovely farm on the tuscan hills and on it grow several hundred olive trees which every year provide enough olive oil for the whole family and loyal clients for the entire year.  In Italy having good quality olive oil is essential as it is the one ingredient which is at the base of just about every recipe and no family would ever want to find themselves short.

The most precious is without doubt, the new, extra virgin, cold pressed oil which guarantees all of the beneficial properties of the olives themselves. New olive oil can only be considered "new" if used within the first year after the day of pressing, every day after that the oil slowly oxidises and begins to lose its wonderful fragrance and spicy, peppery taste as well as its world renowned dietry benefits.

Like the grape harvest, the olive picking is primarily done by family and friends and depending on the size of the farm, helpers are employed to make sure the olives are picked as quickly as possible and brought to press in the shortest time (preferably on the same day!) in order for the olives to preserve all their quality and richness. Considering the importance of having good olive oil at home, most helpers, of course, ask to be paid in oil!

Despite the hard work, it is a really fun time and even the youngest in the family can help "comb" the olives off the trees making it in my opinion a wonderful tradition.  It is a true learning experience as children can then see the fruit of their work when they later drizzle their own oil over their pasta!!

Once the olives are picked, they are brought to one of  the local presses.  The demand for pressing is such that one may well find themselves doing the night turn, which means staying up all night at the press waiting for your very own batch of olives to be squeezed and crushed into the rich, dark, almost luminous green oil.

Watching olives being pressed is amazing, the loud sounds of the machinery and the chatter among the farmers inside the building mixed with the strong, delicious smell of freshly pressed olive oil is something everyone who appreciates this product should experience at least once.  In fact last year my sister Natasha brought her family to see it all for themselves and although my nieces found it a bit too "noisy" they loved dipping their hands in the piles of freshly picked olives and munching on Tuscan bread softened with the brand new olive oil.


Even before the Mediterranean diet became Heritage of UNESCO in 2010, olive oil which is a fundamental part of this diet, has acquired huge popularity and it can be found just about everywhere around the world.  It is important to remember though that the best quality olive oil is usually jealously treasured by the producers themselves and in Italy this is certainly the case. Most oil found on the shelves at your local supermarket will have been filtered before bottling to take away the cloudy residue which settles at the bottom of the bottle (which is part of the goodness!) and is most certainly long past it's optimal "new" stage. In other words, you are not always being sold the same olive oil the Italians are using to dress their yummy pasta! Yep, that's why at home it just doesn't taste the same!

 It is very difficult, therefore to find guaranteed "new" extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil in the foreign market. For those of you who are not sure of the difference between this wonderful olive oil and that which you find in the shops back at home, it's all a case of trying it! As they rightly say, the proof is in the tasting and luckily for you at G&M we are giving you the chance to check it out for yourselves. With our pantry section about to be inaugurated  with some delicious, freshly pressed, extra virgin olive oil as the star product!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Colombia, Barichara; Adventure, romance and art.

 For so long Colombia spent time in the news for all the wrong reasons. In fact when we first moved to Ireland and people asked Vanessa and I where we were from, "Colombia", was usually quickly followed, by "oh gosh, poor you,  must have been so dangerous with the mafia and the drugs".  I soon developed a canned response highlighting all the other exports it was famous for;  flowers, coffee and emeralds to name but a few! I'm genuinely over the moon to say that in the last decade there has been an incredible turnaround in the country, both economically and socially and perhaps equally importantly, how it is perceived internationally.  Its daring tourism campaign "The only risk is wanting to stay" was a huge success and peaked an interest with people.  As its political climate improves it's becoming a very real player in the world stage. These days when asked where I'm from, it's more common for people's reaction to be "Wow, I'd love to go there/ it was my favourite place when travelling/ my little brother is heading there on his gap year"

I feel incredibly lucky that Vanessa and I got to experience our early years in South America. Firstly in Ecuador, on a large farm in Maglaralto, then in Colombia in the colonial city of Cartagena. About four years ago mum and dad moved back to Colombia full time and our love affair with the place continues; the biodiversity (it's the second most biodiverse country in the world), the people, the festivals, the music, art and the climate are all infectious. 

There is a particular place in Colombia, that has a very special place in my heart and that is Barichara. It is there, in the main square in the midst of ear popping fire works, live music and perhaps one too many aguardientes that my now husband proposed to me, on one knee on new years eve 2006. 

It is very rare these days, to be able to arrive in a place and to feel, even if only for a few minutes, that you could be the first non local to set foot there, that you could quite possibly be the first to discover it!  
Well, that's the beauty of Barichara. 

Walking along the paths of red and yellow earth leading up to it, as you catch a glimpse of the palm trees and cathedral dome, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd somehow ended up in the movie set for Indiana Jones or Romancing the stone! But this is no movie set, it's much much better, a town that has been here since the time of the Spanish conquistadors!

The streets, cathedrals and churches are made from stone, while many of the houses are constructed from compressed mud painted white. It is so loved by Colombia that it has gained National Heritage Status. 

    Many artists have moved to Barichara as a result of its unique atmosphere and tranquility. Craft workshops and galleries are now part of the town's draw. There are so many wonderful places to stay for visitors to this little town. Houses with beautiful internal courtyards and that embody and promote all Barichara is famous for. Art, history and a sort of serenity.   La Nube Posada is one of these places.  The house was once owned by a rich landowner who kept horses in the internal courtyard, which is now surrounded by guest rooms. It's current owners have created a wonderful retreat where less is more.

David enjoying the best resting spot at La Nube Posada. 

If you are ever lucky enough to visit Barichara and the surrounding areas you cannot miss the Cascadas san Curi; an incredible cluster of 200 meter high waterfalls.

You follow a series of wooden ladders and ropes, which would almost certainly not pass health and safety here in the U.K (but life's too short to worry about all that) to reach the pool of the waterfall where you can swim.  These waterfalls really have to be seen to be believed, such an incredible piece of natural beauty and climbing them an utterly thrilling experience.

So that is a little taste of my Colombia. A tiny little taste of the magnitude of what it has to offer. Vanessa and I are planning a sourcing trip to Colombia for Ginger & Mora very soon and have some darn exciting things planned. We will let you know about those plans as soon as we can! 

Have you ever found a hidden gem of a place?  We'd love to hear about it.  

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Autumn brings "La Vendemia"

With the cooler, shorter days comes the spectacular changing colour of the leaves on the trees and most magically of all here in Tuscany, the maturing of the grapes on the multicoloured vines. Every year it is a spectacle to be enjoyed, so much so that while driving past the vineyards I have to stop and admire the scenery despite the fact that I go past these vines every day on my routine drive abouts.

Just like an artist's work, the vines are like a unique painting and each year the same vine may colour and behave differently to the year before, creating swirls and waves in tones of yellow, orange, red right through to a deep purple. Of course all this changing and varying of colour has a scientific explanation but it's far more romantic to watch it happen without thinking why or how! 

Once the vineyards have morphed into an impressionist's painting, it's time to gather friends and family and get picking the ripe bunches ready to be made into our beloved Vino. In fact most weekends from now onwards can become a fully booked agenda of harvesting in one vineyard or other as requests to help out come from all directions.

 It then becomes a day's outing for the young and old and traditionally lunch is usually included into the bargain, with of course the promise of a few bottles of wine! 
Have you ever taken part in a harvest where you are?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Kicking leaves and catching rays.

Things with Ginger & Mora are going well, which is wonderful. It does mean that I am spending lots of  time running around these days (aren't we all?), balancing a growing business and family life. With so much going on, sometimes it's hard to just sit back, and enjoy the "now".  I guess that's what makes those unexpected "take your breath away" moments so special, the ones that even when you're in a rush make you stop in your tracks. The thing is, it's almost always something simple, free and spontaneous that creates that moment. 

With the change in season from summer to autumn, here in the U.K, we are so lucky to be getting this utterly beautiful early morning and evening light. It just makes you want to bathe in it's rays.  It's impossible, at least for me, not to stop and just take it all in.

With the help of my three year old daughter I have enjoyed some wonderfully simple pleasures this week; from trying to "catch" the early morning rays, to playing amongst those deliciously crisp golden leaves of the season. 


Because the song really is right, "the best things in life are free"...

What simple moments have you enjoyed this week? 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sunday is a Funday

Sundays for our family here in Italy usually mean a day trip somewhere new or a big lunch at the Nonni's farmhouse. Either of these options are always thoroughly enjoyable and certainly make the weekend seem like it lasts much longer!
However I have to be perfectly honest and say that for me some of the best Sundays are spent right at home, doing a few mondane last minute jobs around the house or simply spending some quality time with my hubby and two little ones.
With the arrival of Autumn, what seems like the last of the summer's sun has appeared after a day or two of rain and everything feels brighter and fresh.  It's the perfect kind of day for a walk in the countryside, some gardening or bit of good old baking!
My sister has, unsurprisingly, had the same idea this Sunday and spent it enjoying a beautifully sunny day in her Essex home as I have in mine here in Tuscany. What follows are some of the pics we messaged each other throughout the day and it's funny to see how although we live in two quite different countries, we still spend our carefree Sundays enjoying very similar things!



While out and about walking along country roads or through vast fields, part of the attraction for our girls is to pick pretty flowers and make tiny bouquets to carry. Once home we add our colourful finds to our own garden blooms to arrange in glass vases around the house reminding us of the weekend.



We do enjoy to spend lots of time in the garden and at the moment there's a lot of work to be done to prepare our outside spaces for the winter.  On a sunny Sunday like today, the whole family takes part in some horticultural fun! 



Of course Sunday at home means time to make pancakes in the morning and yummy muffins or cupcakes to decorate in the afternoon!


All in all it's not hard to see why we love Sundays at home ( despite the fact that of course a Sunday always comes with the dreaded feeling the next day is a Monday!) 
What do you get up to on a funday Sunday? 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

GYO and why we do!

If you have been following our blog, by now you'll know that we love food, making it and of course eating it! There is another aspect of food however which we are also passionate about and that is growing it. Whether your garden is limited to a window box or you're lucky enough to have a spacious garden, the benefits to growing your own really are too many to count and you'll undoubtedly reap the rewards when giving GYO a go!  Between my in-laws farm and our own garden in the countryside just outside of Florence, we manage to produce enough fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat to allow us to be reasonably self sufficient. 

My sister hard at work in her own garden

On the british side, my sister's family in their Essex garden also have a wonderful glut of a wide variety of veggies and fruit each year which means our text messaging is often full of pictures of the "fruits" of labour in the garden and comparing what is growing at the time! 

My sister's autumn harvest last year.

Growing your own vegetables does not mean that one necessarily needs lots of land or even a garden, it really can be done even in the smallest of spaces! With good soil and some care you can provide yourself with fresh herbs, salads and even grow some larger veggies like tomatoes and aubergines.. My sister has often grown strawberries or tomatoes in hanging baskets with great results.

There's no denying that the flavour of freshly picked and home grown is hard to beat and if there are children in the house, the experience of watching their food grow always makes for a fun and valuable lesson! The sense of accomplishment my son and daughter get when picking salad leaves they have sown themselves is a pleasure to see.

 With huge supermarkets at our fingertips providing every type of fruit and vegetable throughout the year, the importance of seasonality and provenance seems to have been somewhat lost. Really knowing where your food comes from and enjoying it when it is locally at it's very best is truly a pleasure. Even if you don't have space to grow lots of veggies try and find out what's in season before heading to the supermarket. You'll soon find that you're not serving up the same old choices throughout the year.  

Without a shadow of  a doubt though, for me the best bit about having a veg patch is how easy it is to create something full of flavour in a few minutes. Take some eggs and potatoes and ten minutes later you can have the most delicious supper. 

Figs, great at this time of year, wrapped in some prosciutto ham also make for a wonderful primo, or starter for friends and family and in late summer are a firm favourite round our table!

Figs from the garden wrapped in parma ham with buffalo mozzarella.

Have you tried growing your own? What's your favourite veggie or fruit to grow at this time of year?