Seattle Urban Campfire

The LUCKY 7

I just wanted to mention a fabulous event happening in Seattle next week, featuring two amazing women I’ve come to know and love in the past year.

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The two quotes above are from Susan Hyatt whom I have been honoured to have as my life coach over this past year. We’re not quite finished yet but already the changes in my life have been profound and meaningful. I sort of started life coaching on a whim, but I truly would recommend it to anybody who wants to get the best out of life. As you know I’m not a very woo-woo sort of person, but it really has been immensely valuable. Who knew?  (And Susan herself is a darling and a walking talking inspiration to all busy enterpreneurial women out there).

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Susan is just one of many incredible women speaking at this year’s Urban Campfire in Seattle organised by the phenomenal Melody Biringer.  I met Melody properly last year at Camp Mighty, though she’s been big news on the Seattle and nationwide networking scenes for a long time as the founder of CRAVE. Here’s an interview with Melody, conducted last year before the first Urban Campfire, and here’s the list of speakers she’s gathered together for this year’s event.

Fortunately, given what she does, Melody is very fond of s’mores.

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I’d love to catch up at Urban Campfire if you’re going. Let me know in the comments or buy your tickets here.

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Whitney English Day Designer

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Dashing in quickly just to tell you all how an item of stationery is in the process of changing my life. Yes, I am a very sad person. But a new edition goes on sale tomorrow and I think you ought to buy it.

The Whitney English Day Designer already has a bit of a cult following among creative entrepreneurs and rightly so. The first ever planner designed specifically for us, the thought and care which has gone into every page is evident and heartwarming.

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Yes, that says “The Strategic Planner & Daily Agenda for living a WELL-DESIGNED LIFE”. See you’re inspired already. And yes, it is beautifully designed.

I know I’m already very late to this party, but I came across the planner on Instagram a couple of months back and was lucky enough to snag one of the very last available August 2014 – August 2015 planners. Tomorrow on August 15th planners for the calendar year January 2015- 2016 go on sale and I’d hate to see you miss out. Get in fast, these babies sell like hot cakes. Or like hot planners.

Anyway, here’s why I’m in love with this wonderful piece of technology.

The planner comes in a sturdy ring binder with a useful inside pocket, gold protected corners and comes packaged with a pink velveteen ribbon that also serves as a bookmark. My office manager Joan Holloway certainly approves.

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The first page gives you space to picture your vision and dreams and think about your passions, powers, principles and purpose. The planner comes with a code for a free downloadable e-book to help you decide what to put here, which I found really helpful.

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Then you use the work you’ve done in defining your ‘core’ to inform yearly goal setting, which then gets broken up into 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and 12 month goals for different areas of your life. If I get anywhere close to reaching these goals this year I will probably die of excitement. And yes, I have been colour-coding things using the official recommended pens (I do feel like I’ve joined some sort of cult). 

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Then you can set goals and big to dos for each month as well as viewing your month at glance. Aside from the colour-coded pens, I have also become the sort of person who washi tapes their planner. There really is no hope.

There’s a ‘year at a glance’ page too, in case you’re running out of places to put washi tape.

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Once you have your month beautifully planned there’s a whole page for each day, including spaces to put your to dos for that day and daily schedule. There’s a ‘Download’ section for notes (I use it to write a brief summary of my day), a place for a daily gratitude which is rather lovely, and somewhere to write what’s for dinner, which is obviously critical. There’s space to write your top 3 to dos for the day and each day also has an inspirational quote.

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In short, I shall henceforth be leading the mostly perfectly designed, organised and inspired life. Which really makes this planner very good value for money.

Get your January planner in the Whitney English Etsy shop this very morning.

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Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome

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This year we decided to start our family vacation in Rome, and I went back for the first time since working there for six months way back when.

I had lived in an apartment in Campo de’ Fiori in the heart of the medieval Centro Storico, which I adored, and this time we decided to rent a really cute Air BnB apartment in the same neighbourhood. One of the things I love most about Campo de’ Fiori is the magnificent market which fills the piazza every morning and is a paradise for food and street photography. It was great just to hang out in the mornings watching the stallholders and restaurant owners set up, before the serious sightseeing of the day began.

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Come for a little walk with me through the twisty streets of Rome and the market of Campo de’ Fiori.

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Our apartment was in this little cobbled street between Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Farnese.

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Fountain in Piazza Farnese

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We breakfasted every morning in the Caffe Farnese, five minutes from our apartment. Here is the Minx writing her vacation journal (she became markedly less diligent the further we got into our holiday).

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The market was a delight.

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Campo de’ Fiori means ‘field of flowers’ and that still rings true today.

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Rome was gripped by World Cup fever when we arrived, which lasted only until Italy’s ignominious defeat at the hands, or more accurately teeth, of Uruguay, which we watched in one of the open air restaurants in the piazza.

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Even my old friend, the statue of Giordano Bruno, which gazes out over the piazza at the site where he was burned to death, was subdued that evening.

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Unfortunately I made a terrible parenting mistake by buying Mission Rome for the Minx. It’s a sightseeing scavenger hunt book which I thought would keep the Minx vaguely amused if we took in a few sights.

Instead I refer to the review of the book I wrote on Amazon. My love/hate relationship with this book runs very deep.

Do not on any account by this book! *****

If you want to have a pleasant, relaxing, wine-fuelled Roman interlude that is… I bought this for my nine-year old daughter and then spent 3 days being marched all over Rome while she figured out every possible permutation of itinerary and points scores (also tremendously good for her math). Half of me was thrilled she was so inspired and half of me wanted to take the book to the very heart of the Colosseum (4 points), stab it, burn it and gouge its eyes out .

This book is like sightseeing crack, perfectly pitched at 3rd to 6th graders, and has pulled together some really interesting facts and cool things to locate, which kept the interest not just of my grade schooler but also of her exhausted parents. Thank goodness we only had three days to spend in Rome and very good walking shoes. Seriously you buy this book at your peril. Caveat emptor.

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Here’s the Minx scribbling in the accursed book and here’s the Husband just after telling some heinous lie to the Bocca della Verita.

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I think we stopped to talk to pretty much every cat in Rome.

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And, as has been the case since time immemorial, the cobbled streets of the Eternal City were filled with gladiators and nuns.

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It was lovely to be back.

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Weekend Link Love

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Oh it’s been SO long since I did one of these.

The weather continues to be absolutely glorious in Seattle but we haven’t quite been making the most of it as both the Husband and the Minx have been down with gastric flu, while I’m just sitting here waiting to get it. Before that though it was a week of sunshine-y walks, beautiful sunsets, watermelon cocktails, paddleboarding (I’ve been taking lessons! I love it!), and delicious vegetables.

I’ve also been enjoying this lovely wire ‘bonjour’ from Anthropologie which I’ve hung in my bedroom on the wall next to my bed. It’s a bit pricey for a little thing, but it delights me every time I get up, so for me it’s worth it.  And I’ve been bowled over by my fabulous new Whitney English Day Designer planner August 2014 edition, which I’m sort of in love with. I feel like my life is going to be utterly and perfectly organised going forward, which is not too much to ask of a planner is it? (New January planners come out on August 15th and I’ll be writing a fuller review of mine before then so you can be perfectly organised too).

Here are some things I’ve noticed in my travels around the web this week.

Lakshmi at PureVege does the sort of food photography that makes my heart twist in envy and awe. Utter perfection.

As you know I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently. Some of these fabulous travel tips could have come in very useful over the past few months.

My friend Melanie Biehle found these simple, graphic posters of cakes by UK branding agency Purpose. They make me want to make a Battenberg cake immediately (it was one of my favourite cakes as a child, and I miss them here in the US).

British author Zadie Smith gives us 10 truthful rules of writing.

Obviously I truly and desperately need a personalised rolling pin (don’t we all?)

And I am so, so, so, so, so, so, SO tempted to download the Kim Kardashian game that everyone is talking about. Have any of you tried it? How quickly will it rot my brain?

On the blog over the last week or so, I posted some more pics of Tuscany and a tribute to the chef I met there and a recipe for Mixed Fruit Clafoutis. Will try to up the bloggery over the next week or so.

How are you all enjoying your summers?

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(The sun did this last night, just before sunset. I’ve never seen anything quite like it).

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Tuscan Landscapes And A Small Goodbye

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I  was going to move on from Tuscany with my posts this week, but my thoughts have been returning there in recent days after I received some truly awful news. Chef Enrico Casini, who brought such vivacity and personality, as well as seriously good food, to Le Casacce – the Tuscan agriturismo where the Plated Stories workshop was held – died quietly in his sleep at the weekend.

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He was far too young – only sixty-two – but apparently he went with a smile on his lips, after a busy night in his restaurant, in his own little corner of paradise.

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I didn’t know him well of course, but he was a man of such obvious passion and heart, such energy and kindness, such a love for his craft and the ingredients that inspired it  –  that I know he will be sorely missed as a father, friend, employer and chef. 

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Every morning he would be bustling around the property, always wearing a pair of colourful glasses, and dashing in and out of his kitchen. Every afternoon he would,if he could, sit quietly in his lounger, reading the paper and gazing on the landscape for an hour or so. And every evening he would stand in his busy, laughter-filled dining room, more often than not with Barry White playing in the background, and describe the exquisite meal he’d just created in his broken English, invariably using produce ‘from this land’ and liberally garnished with ‘my olive oil’.

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We would wait for those words, spoken in his inimitable way, and laugh when he got to the punchline, but underneath they spoke of a deeper truth – his abiding love of the land, of the ingredients that sprang from it and the food it inspired.

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According to his obituaries, Enrico, through his many restaurants, his cooking and his food writing, was at the vanguard of the revival in cucina italiana in the 60s and 70s, focusing on traditional Roman and Tuscan recipes, using local ingredients. I feel honoured and privileged to have been able to cook with him, albeit briefly, and came away with a sheaf of notes, that I hope soon to be able convert into recipes as a proper tribute to him.

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In the meantime, here are some photos of the landscape which so inspired him and informed and infused his cooking, all taken either within a few miles of Le Casacce or from the grounds of the property itself. I don’t usually feel moved to take landscapes – photos generally can never do them justice – but the land here was so beautiful I had to try (and bear in mind these photos don’t do the real landscapes justice either).

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Caro Enrico, may you rest in peace, I am grateful to have met you, to have experienced the warmth and generosity of your hospitality and to have come away with some of your recipes. I so much wanted to return to Le Casacce but now it will never be the same. I will also never again be able to hear Barry White without thinking of you. Ciao, ciao.

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Linda Bass of Tuscan Muse, which she ran in partnership with Enrico, is heartbroken, but soldiering on, and has confirmed that the workshops will be continuing at Le Casacce as Enrico would have wanted and as part of his legacy.

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Mixed Fruit Clafoutis

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Many, many eons ago, while I was studying French at university, I spent a year working as an English assistant in a couple of schools in the South West of France. Aside from this being one of the most enjoyable and formative years of my life, it was also remarkable from a culinary perspective. The other teachers were incredibly kind (mindful I think of their own time spent as French assistants in England) and would invite me often to their houses, and I also ended up giving lots of private English lessons, of the ‘chat in English to little Jean-Pierre for an hour, then join us for a dip in the pool and supper’ variety.

It was a lovely life, and also meant that I ended up dining in French people’s houses once or twice a week. Which was eye-opening. You learn a lot by seeing what people eat for reals – not in a restaurant or in a cooking class and when they’re not particularly trying to impress.

And I learned that in the South West of France, in summer, people eat a heck of a lot of clafoutis. Mostly made with cherries, but occasionally with the other stone fruits and berries of summer. And not surprisingly, because clafoutis is both super delicious and very easy to make.

If you search for ‘clafoutis’ on this blog you’ll see that it’s something I make a lot in the summer, and in fact I’ve posted the recipe before. But I made some beautiful mini mixed fruit ones last summer and never posted the pictures, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I post the recipe again, with some adaptations for minis.

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First up get yourself a quantity of the most beautiful fruit you can find – cherries, apricots, currants, peaches and plums all work well. I used a mix of red and yellow cherries, apricots and redcurrants. The exact amount is a bit difficult to specify but should be enough to cover the bottom of the dishes you will be using. Clafoutis can be made in any shallow ovenproof dish. This recipe makes enough for the large dish shown here or for approximately 6 largeish ramekins.

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Mixed Fruit Clafoutis
Serves 6
Mini mixed fruit version of the traditional French clafoutis
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Prep Time
30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. Enough fruit to cover the bottom of your dish(es) in a single layer
  2. Enough butter to thoroughly grease your dish(es)
  3. 5 tablespoons all-purpose/plain flour
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  6. 5 large eggs
  7. 2 cups/500ml/16 fl oz single cream or half and half or creamy milk or a mixture of milk and heavy/double cream, depending on how decadent/slim/rich you’re feeling
  8. 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  9. 2 tablespoons dark rum, kirsch, Armagnac or maraschino (optional)
  10. Enough granulated or powdered sugar to dredge thickly when cooked
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180degrees C/Gas Mark 4
  2. Remove stems and pit fruit if necessary. The French often leave the pits in cherries as they're said to add an additional almond flavour to the batter (but warn your guests!) If using apricots or larger fruits slice them in half.
  3. Slather your dish with butter and add the fruit in a single layer
  4. In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients
  5. Warm the milk or cream until barely simmering (be vigilant, it mustn't boil)
  6. Whisk the eggs into the warm cream
  7. Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until well-blended
  8. Stir in the the vanilla and rum etc. if using.
  9. Strain the batter over the fruit (very often I can’t be bothered to strain it) to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches. You should still be able to see the top of the fruit over the batter.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes for small clafoutis, 40 minutes for large until golden round the edges and firm to the touch
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Here are my little clafoutis showing the depth and proportion of batter to fruit you should be aiming for. Clafoutis is very forgiving, so make them in any shapes and sizes of cookware you have to hand until you have used up all your batter. 

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 Here are my lovelies puffing up and firming up in the oven. 

And here they are all ready to eat. Serve with some chilled cream or creme fraiche if you’re feeling luxurious but it’s really not at all necessary. 

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Dear hearts I am back!

If you haven’t been following along on Instagram (Sheesh, Paola, we have LIVES), we’ve just been on a family vacation to Rome, Sardinia, Corsica and an afternoon in England. And it was lovely. Though at the same time I am glad to be back sleeping in my very own bed for a bit and able to enjoy the rollicking Seattle summer.

I do of course have many, MANY photos to share with you, together with more from Tuscany (you didn’t think you’d be getting off THAT lightly did you?). You have been warned.

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Animali Toscani

 

It seems in Tuscany even the animals are ridiculously photogenic and happy to strike a pose.

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‘There’s a reason they call it a door FRAME’.

I’m not a huge animal person, but seemed to be followed by cute creatures everywhere I went. Not forgetting of course the infamous Socrates.

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‘Looking forward to putting my feet up and watching a nice bit of telly.’

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‘Around every corner is……… another corner’

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Mumm-eeeeee we’re STAAAAAAARVING’

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‘What was he saying about corners?’

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‘I am  so, so, so, so, so, SO bored.’

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‘Like REALLY bored.’

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‘Like friggin’ HUMUNGOUSLY bored’

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In Tuscany even the snails are cute.

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‘One sheep…two sheep…three sheep….four sheep’

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‘Sheesh, what do those dogs want now?’

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‘I just want to lie here next to the flowers so you can take my portrait’

See also, Le Casacce, our Tuscan home from home; Tuscan street photography, Tuscan churches.

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Antica Tenuta Le Casacce

 

Jamie and Ilva found the most stunning location for our Tuscan adventure.

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The Antica Tenuta Le Casacce is an agriturismo owned by Roman chef Enrico Casini, situated near Seggiano in the glorious landscape of the Val d’Orcia, whose timeless hills and valleys are deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enrico used to run six restaurants in Rome before settling down in his beloved Tuscany and his amazing four course meals every evening were a true highlight of our stay (we also did a cooking class with him – recipes appearing on the blog shortly, yay!).

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Linda Bass of Tuscan Muse offers a selection of creative workshops in conjunction with Enrico based at Le Casacce. Retired trial lawyer Linda is warmth and generosity personified – nothing was too much trouble – and a fabulous writer, artist and photographer in her own right. Her workshops include not only first class instruction but also a number of day trips to the small hill top villages which dot the surrounding hillsides.

However, with accommodation and surroundings like this, it was nearly impossible to drag ourselves away. Come and visit this little corner of paradise. Oh and meet Socrates, the resident manic depressive donkey and star of Le Casacce.

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Not a bad view from the pool.

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Not a bad view from the terrace.

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Here’s Jamie coaching Deepa from One Small Pot.

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And here are Linda and some of the ladies working hard.

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The old stone buildings were charming inside too.

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Here’s the ghost of a photo studio at night.

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The Minx would have loved the wooden cats hanging out outside.

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Here’s Chef Enrico presenting his incredible food.

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And here’s Ilva being Ilva.

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And a couple more of Socrates gambolling in the sunset. Life is sweet at Le Casacce.

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If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Tuscany, I can’t recommend Le Casacce highly enough. And Linda’s Tuscan Muse creative workshops are pretty special too, as you’ve probably already worked out.

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Tuscan Churches and a Personal Revelation

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You would be hard pushed to find a less religious person than me but I do adore a good church.  Particularly a good European church where the very stone has been engraved by centuries if not millenia of stories and ghosts, joys and sufferings. Even the air seems full of other peoples’ memories somehow.

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We were lucky enough on our Tuscan travels to visit a number of ancient churches and abbeys, whose spare, austere, stripped down beauty made a moving contrast to the overwhelming rococo splendours of those various cathedrals and duomos commissioned mainly to celebrate the wealth and prestige of that particular city’s inhabitants.

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I also had a bit of a revelation on this trip, one that hit me with an almost spiritual force, the discovery – thanks to Jamie Schler’s patient tutelage -  that I can write, that I might even be a good writer, but it’s so much easier for me to hide behind a rococo façade of sarcasm and terrible puns. I learned that I’m scared of seeming pretentious and inauthentic when I write, but that good writing involves writing from the heart and making oneself vulnerable and for me that is difficult in the extreme. I don’t consider myself to be particularly emotional, and find delving even a little deeper into my own thoughts and feelings – getting down to the soft person beneath the hard, snarky carapace – to be almost completely terrifying.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this newfound knowledge. It’s currently percolating around in my brain. But expect some attempts at some more ‘writerly’ writing on this blog in the future. And even saying that out loud scares the bejeebus out of me.

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In the meantime, back to churches (this is all going to make sense soon I promise).

On our trip to the Renaissance town of Pienza we were given the task of thinking about a person, a colour, a sound, an emotion and a smell, and then for a quick fifteen minute assignment weaving them all into a small composition. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I chose to write about a church as they’re some of the places where, despite my lack of belief, I feel most emotionally responsive and vulnerable, yet also most comfortable and at peace.

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“I looked up at the stone walls of the cathedral – centuries old, they were a symphony of soft neutral colours – faded ochre stone, soft mushroom brown wood, the pale rose of ancient terracotta – which all combined to create that colour watercolourists know as raw Sienna, a colour which I finally found myself fully understanding, since these golden walls stood only a few kilometres from Siena itself.

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Outside a tall, spare, white-haired man, in a neatly pressed black suit and a white dog collar, walked from the church towards the other side of the piazza. He unfurled a gigantic handkerchief as white as his hair, blew his nose extravagantly and glared at me, as if daring me to whip out my camera. Then he proceeded with hurried steps to the raw Sienna building across the square, opened the antique wooden door and disappeared into the shadowy depths of what I assumed was his home.

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I, on the other hand, entered through the antique wooden door which led into the cathedral and was immediately assailed by the scent of old churches – that indescribably potent mixture of incense and beeswax, of flowers and damp, of the small homage of careful cleanliness and floral tributes, still somehow weighted with the dust of centuries.

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I’ve only ever smelled that smell in Europe, never in America, and at once I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for a world full of old things and history, for tradition and timelessness, for stories stretching back century after century, for the Old World, for my world, for home.”

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With many thanks to the Abbey of Sant’Anna in Camprena (location apparently for many scenes from the English Patient) ; the Abbey of Sant’Antimo; the Duomo di Sovana; the Church of Santa Maria, also in Sovana; Pienza Cathedral, the Church of San Francesco, also in Pienza for helping me illustrate this post.

Join me here for some Tuscan Street Photography.

I think I need a lie down after all that. I’m sure we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled snark very soon.

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Tuscan Stories

So, dear hearts, I’m back from two weeks away in Tuscany – and a few days getting over an epic forty-four hour journey across the world (involving only one lost bag containing all my camera lenses, thankfully recovered), my usual chronic jetlag and the most amazing creative high.

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Nonna Agata would like to inform you she doesn’t need yoga, she has a herb garden

I was attending the very first Plated Stories workshop, taught by Ilva Beretta and Jamie Schler, the two genius ladies behind the award-winning Plated Stories blog – and the combination of top quality food photography and food writing instruction, new and unbelievably talented friends, the stunning location of the agriturismo where we were staying, and our trips out to some of the most beautiful hilltowns in Tuscany, served to nearly make my head (and camera) explode.

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Guido and Silvia wonder where the heck they parked the Vespa

I’m still processing my thoughts and processing the exactly 2,000 photos I apparently took while I was there. If you’re not in the market to see hundreds of pictures of Tuscany over the next few weeks, I would quietly exit stage left now. Believe me I will understand.

When you think of Tuscany you think of dreamy landscapes and ancient buildings, and yes, we saw our fair share of those. What I hadn’t realised was the amazing scope it holds for street photography. Here are a few of the little ‘Tuscan Stories’ I encountered.

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“Tell that bitch I didn’t want to be invited to the wedding anyway”

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Francesco and Lorenzo briefly consider not being gay 

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You know what they say…. big camera… big ice cream

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Antonella wistfully remembers that time she nearly got a part as an extra in La Dolce Vita

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‘Hey Mummy, go faster, we can’t let her win again’

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‘Tell those tourists that if they want anything else to eat they can flippin’ well cook it themselves. Stronzi!’ 

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Federica wistfully remembers the days when her husband still bought her flowers

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‘Wonder if we’ll still be friends when we grow up’?

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‘Isn’t it amazing that we’re still friends after all these years!’

Lots more Tuscan street photography (and more photography of every other possible description) to come!  I’m going to be milking this trip for MONTHS!  I bet you can scarcely stand the excitement.

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