Making Extra Virgin Olive Oil

It’s been a very busy time since I last wrote!

Hans has been busy first making wine (another post, coming soon) and now for the last 6 weeks, he’s been busy picking our olives and making extra virgin olive oil.

I just made live a whole new website for the boutique (You can see it here: www.elizabetta.net) and tell me what you think) and of course there are all the chores and assorted things here at the farm that need tending too.

The other day I made a little video about the process of making extra virgin olive oil:

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Middle School Field Trip at the Farm

Recently we hosted a class of 7th graders for a day’s field trip at the farm. This trip had been rescheduled several times due the truly rotten weather we’re having this spring, but we decided to go ahead, rain or not!

planting vegetables

Learning to plant vegetables with the math teacher.

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Devoted to Roses

I love roses. I just can’t get enough of them. yes, they are work…these beautiful plants are subject to fungi and nasty critters; they need to be pruned, deadheaded and given ample amounts of manure in order to display their best. I think it’s worth it.

pink climbing rose

Pierre de Ronsard, a showstopping climber

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Millet Fishcakes with a Creamy Caper Sauce for Lunch

Fishcakes…when I was a kid and we moved to England, my mother often made us fishcakes for breakfast. My mother made us all sorts of fabulous things for breakfast…baked beans on toast, kippers, sardines on toast, welsh rarebit…such fond memories I have!

I love fishcakes, usually made with mashed potatoes and fish.

Shortly after we moved to Rome, the big supermarket in our neighborhood acquired their first freezer case. Big…as in the size of a small grocery store nowadays. Freezer case…it was a chest freezer, the kind you might have in your garage or basement!

Regardless, this chest freezer was stocked with frozen peas, ice-cream and frozen fishcakes! I’m still in awe.

millet fishcakes

Millet fishcakes with caper sauce served with fennel and orange salad

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Buying Scarves in Como, Italy. Another Peek Behind the Scenes.

Whew. I’m exhausted. We just returned from a whirlwind trip to Holland to visit family and friends (gotta love Ryan Air!) returning via Como so that I could select the new scarf collection. Hans, being the good sport that he is accompanied me, it was so much nicer than being alone!

Modal-scarves-in-Como-Italy

I found so many beautiful fabrics I had a hard time deciding which and how many…honestly, I feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m purchasing scarves.

I always stay in a tiny quiet friendly village along the lake as I find the city of Como to be , well, noisy. I guess I’m totally spoiled living here in the countryside where the only noise at night are owls, nightingales and our cats prowling about.

Lake Como is a beautiful place; glorious villas and charming towns hang on the steep sides of the narrow long deep blue lake.

This week it was grey and rainy in Como, so I didn’t take many photos outdoors, because they all looked like this:

como

Gloomy.

But, I’m in Como to do business so I’m mostly indoors, catching up on the lives of the people I’ve been working with for years, touching, seeing and inhaling beautiful fabrics and doing my best to drive hard bargains.

I’ve always enjoyed bargaining, I consider it an art form…one needs to respect the unspoken rules and the person you’re bargaining with. It’s a seesaw of giving and taking done with knowledge, humor and good will which results in both parties feeling that the final transaction is just and fair.

Fabric Samples

Fabric Samples

At each manufacturer I am offered a coffee and a good 45 min or more is spent chatting. Doing business in Italy requires a lot of chatting and developing personal relationships.

The latest stories about families, politics and every day life are exchanged. Then invariably I’m told about this factory and that factory closing. Fabric printers, fabric manufactures, factories that dye fabric, factories that sew, finish, etc  closing their doors.

Most of these places are small to medium sized family run businesses that simply cannot compete with the markets’ ever growing love affair with really  inexpensive products.

Recently woven silk fabric destined to be printed

Recently woven silk fabric destined to be printed

In Como, the textile workers are paid a decent wage with wonderful state benefits (like free health care), given a 4-5 week paid yearly holiday, paid sick days and national holidays and so on and so forth. The dyes are EU approved and expensive measures are taken against polluting with waste products. The yarns are spun, dyed and woven here, then cut, sewn and packaged here.

As I’m sure your getting the picture, it’s an expensive process.

weaving a jacquard silk fabric. See the burgundy fabric on the bottom roll?

Weaving a jacquard silk fabric. See the burgundy fabric on the bottom roll?

I am told stories about how the fabrics are copied by some unscrupulous manufactures abroad…then made with less threads and inferior quality fibers, silk often cut with poly, so they look the same in a photo, but are not the same at all. They are then marketed as being exactly the same as the original quality tie or scarf or whatever.

Checking a printed fabric for any flaws

Hand checking a printed fabric for any flaws

Everyone is worried. There is economic crisis in Europe. All of the places I buy from are amazing businesses that work their tails off trying to stay in business without cutting corners with wages, working conditions or product quality.

I am awed by their perseverance.

Tying silk threads onto the needles. This woman has fingers that literally fly, so nimble!

Tying silk threads onto the needles. This woman has fingers that literally fly, so nimble!

The designers are amazing too…each manufacture makes new designs of textiles twice a year…these are not factories that churn out oodles of meters of the same fabric year in and year out.

The designers work with the buyers…every buyer is different, and different countries have different tastes…both in style and pattern. For example, right now in much of central Europe, extra large scarves are popular while at the same time in Japan, skinny delicate scarves are popular. I find this all fascinating as I love all sizes and shapes of scarves.

Showing off some new designs

Showing off some new designs

design room...fabric samples and computer programs like photoshop

design room and fabric samples. Computer programs are used to see different colors on a pattern. I’ve often sat with the designer, changing colors (a little deeper blue on this part etc…) on a pattern until it is to my liking before an item is off to the printers!

Color swatches

Color swatches

Fortunately in Como, lunch time is still sacred. They take less time than down here in Le Marche, but regardless an hour and a half is still dedicated to that most wonderful time.

A typical trattoria near one of the factories

A typical working people’s trattoria near one of the factories

Salad Buffet

Salad Buffet

So now on to the less exciting business of cataloging, giving identities and writing descriptions. I get what I call square eyeballs from so many hours behind the computer doing this. One of these days I really need to learn how to type properly…I type with 2 fingers on one hand. It’s tedious and my own fault for never learning.

Next week, photographing. I’m not a photographer and I do my best, but I know the photos can be better. I’ve asked my friend Domenico, a professional photographer to give me a hand this time and he graciously accepted. I’m so excited to get some professional help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summertime Outdoors Handmade Soap

I am hooked on making soap.

The difference between a quality homemade soap and anything I’ve ever bought in a store, including quite fancy expensive soaps is huge. Our homemade soap doesn’t dry out my skin like other soaps. Hans has been using it as a shaving cream, he says it works better and leaves his skin smoother than shaving cream in a can.

Encouraged by how nicely the lavender olive oil soap turned out, I decided to make an after sun, anti-mosquito soap.

Yup. Summertime outdoor soap.

Handmade olive oil soap

Summertime Outdoor Soap

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Wine Bottling – A Fun Day at Our Friends Winery in Le Marche, Italy

In the old days, farmers gathered together to help each other with various big chores, chores that need a lot of people. Here in central Italy, in the Le Marche region we carry on the tradition, having fun, sharing stories and laughs together.
Bottling the superb wine of the Fiorano estate is just one of those events!
Fiorano is owned by Paolo and Paola, friends, colleagues and of course, wine makers whose winery and vineyard is on the next hill over from us, in the countryside of Cossignano.

Here’s a silly video I made of the day:

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A traveling wine bottling machine that sits as a trailer on a truck comes to the winery, where we all pitch in, folding boxes, taping boxes, putting the bottles into boxes and so forth. The wine is usually bottled at the end of winter, in February or March when it’s still cold outdoors.
Of course in true Italian style, after a hard day with the noisy machine we all sit down to a wonderful dinner where we eat, exchange stories and enjoy the wine we just bottled!