St. Francis. Still Cool after all these Years!

You can often see his likeness gracing flower gardens.  Dressed in a robe, with outstretched arms and open hands to put bird-feed in, so stands many small statues of St. Francis of Assisi.

He was, of course, founder of the St. Franciscan order and a lover of all creatures.  Next week, on October 4th, is his feast day.  So, it’s fitting that also around this time, many churches offer “Blessing of the Animals” events.  And if you’ve ever taken your pet to one of these adorable puppy processionals, remember to give a nod to St. Francis, in whose name, the blessing is connected.

Although he was from Assisi in Umbria, as his name implies, it was here to the west – in our beloved Tuscany – where he received his everlasting claim to fame.  And recently, Lulu and I traveled – along with our friends Francesco and David – to the mountain-top monastery, La Verna, that marks the spot.

The story goes that in 1224, Francis (as he was just probably known as back then before the prefix “St.” was affixed) fasted for forty days in a tiny cave on Monte Penna in the Apennines mountains.

Lulu standing in the supposed exact spot where St. Francis fasted, lived and slept. “without a TV!”

During this time, he mysteriously received similar crucifixion wounds as Christ, known as the stigmata.  As he was apparently the first to have done so – the entire area is now considered sacred.

These days, you don’t have to be Catholic or even particularly pious, to appreciate a visit to La Verna.

There are works of incredible art by both man and nature here.

Here’s an Andrea della Robbia.  Seriously, this man’s family was prolific!  And our friend and tour-guide Francesco says that artists still cannot fully replicate the vibrancy of their glazes.

This small ravine opens into a small natural amphitheater.

And the view is just plain, well, miraculous.  No wonder, St. Francis was so inspired.

From yet, another amazing place in Italy,

Ciao, tutti!



Ribollita’s (Soup’s) on!

You can’t say autonno, or autumn, in Tuscany without also saying Ribollita!

The days are still sunny, but the air is brisk and crisp.  The leaves are beginning to turn bright orange and yellow. The local markets are displaying equally colorful squash and pumpkins.

Lulu and I smell the smoky perfume from farmers burning dry material in their gardens as we walk into town.  The grapes along our path are now a rich, deep purple and will be harvested in just a couple weeks.  And every restaurant in town is advertising that they’re now serving my favorite fall soup, ribollita.

The word literally means “re-boiled” and I guess that’s because after you chop up everything and toss it into a pot, you boil it again and again as you serve it day after day until you run out.   There are as many variations for this comforting, tasty, stick-to-your-ribs soup as there are restaurants, cafes and nonne, or grandmas, in Italy. Some are brothy and some are almost like a savory bread pudding.

But what they all have in common are some key ingredients: dried bread, cannellini beans (big white kidney beans) and cavolo nero, or black cabbage and the best, most fragrant olive oil you can find.  If you don’t have an Italian market stocking up on cavolo nero¸I think kale would be delicious as a substitute.

I never heard of this dish before moving to Italy last year, but I’ve tasted so many and experimented making my own, that now I hope to make it a part of my annual fall cooking tradition.

So, without, further ado, here’s Mamma Gina’s (not quite yet) Famous Ribollita!

15 oz. cannellini beans – fresh, or if dried soaked overnight in water
2 bay leaves
1 cup ceci or chickpeas –optional, but I like them!
2 chopped yellow onions
3 chopped carrots
3 chopped celery stalks
3 mashed and diced cloves of garlic
Pinch to taste of red pepper flakes
1 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
11 oz. chopped cavolo nero or kale
2 cups of torn up into chunks stale bread
Salt and pepper
2 – 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Awesome olive oil

Saute the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft.  Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes and simmer for a few minutes.  Add beans, chickpeas and stock and bring to boil. Stir in the chopped greens.  After they wilt, delicately stir in the bread chunks. To me, the best texture for the finished soup is smooth and silky – not too dry. Add a little more or less stock to suit you.  Salt and pepper to taste.

After ladling in bowls, it’s customary here in Tuscany to liberally drizzle olive oil over top.  For me, nothing is better than pouring some of the olio nuovo, or first press new olive oil on this soup.  That is available each October and I’ll tell you more about it then!


It wouldn’t be a blog from Italy without some recipes, now would it?  So whip up some ribollita, and “Buon appetito, piatto pulito” as Lulu always says! (“Good appetite, clean plate!”)

Tell me how yours turned out, I would love to hear! Ciao, tutti,



Caught fantasizing

Just look at me all smiles sitting there in front of my computer.  In spite of the aperitivo drink, I look pretty innocent, don’t I?  I’m there at my favorite place to camp-out in Arezzo, Caffe dei Costanti, writing another chapter of the Lulu book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me, right?

Well, maybe there’s more than meets the eye.  I am now officially confessing to you all that I am not always hard at work. Sometimes, I like to fantasize.  And when I do, I have been known to go to a couple of sites to help me imagine said fantasies.

And the other day, I got caught.

Seems I forgot all about how easy it is to find one’s “history” of web-browser searches! Oh no! If only, I would’ve remembered to erase the traces of where I had been.  But, no, Scotty caught me.  He knew what I’d been up to.

He came home one evening and got on the computer.  Within a few minutes, he called out, “Gina, I can’t believe you…!”

Although Lulu does likes to type her name on our computer with my help, she’s still too young to know how to correctly type the name of the site where I was being accused of having visited.

So, I had to come clean.  Yes, it was true.  I had spent an inordinate amount of time on…  Okay, whew.  It’s out in the open.  And I feel better now having admitted it.

You see, even though we live in Tuscany now, and it really is a dream, we also are renting a house, not earning steady incomes, and don’t even have a car.  So, the siren call back to the US –  to the land of jobs, cars, and yes, even Pottery Barn consumerism, sometimes reaches my ears.   I mean, have you even seen their wonderful Halloween party hosting selection they have available right now? So creative and spooky!  Imagine having a punchbowl cradled in a pewter wizened old tree branch complete with a tiny owl perched on top.  To die for!

Okay, I promise to wait until we get back to the States, get jobs, and get settled before I let myself get distracted like that again!

Until next time, what’s your favorite take-a-break-from work on-line pleasure?  G-rated, puh-leeze! (C’mon, what’d you expect? I was really going to write about looking up naughty-bits? Like I’d forget to erase the history of that…) 😉

Baci, tutti!


Naked as a Jaybird

“And here he come…Running thru the pole beans, thru the fruits and vegetables…Naked as a jay-bird…And I hollered over at Ethel.. I said,’Don’t look Ethel’…It was too late, she’d already been incensed…” Ray Stevens, The Streak

Lulu likes to be naked.  It’s like the old fortune cookie game in which you add the words, “in bed” to the end of the fortune, except here you just add the word “naked.”

Lulu likes to jump on her bed. Naked.

Lulu likes to color. Naked.

Lulu likes to watch TV. Naked.

Lulu likes to work on her computer. Naked.


You name it, she likes to do it better if she’s naked.

She’s alone in this pursuit.  Unlike some of our Italian friends who proudly parade along with their children tutti nuddi, Scotty and I are a little more modest when it comes to parental displays of privates.  I might be more comfortable typing this blog entry, for example, sitting in the buff, but I have to admit, I have simply never tried it.

But Lulu is footloose and clothing-free whenever possible.

Of course she came into the world this way so it’s probably very natural that her marching parades started just as soon as she was able to walk.  She’d wriggle away when I was dressing her and tear around our apartment squealing like a cheery little pink piglet.

We were living in Paris at the time, so we would laugh and call out that she was “nu comme un ver,” or “naked as a worm.”  Now, here in Italy, she just yells out, “sono tutta nudda!”  or “I’m totally naked!”

She doesn’t even know the English equivalent, “naked as a jaybird” – and it’s just as well. I’ve never been able to figure that out either.  After all, a jay bird is completely covered in bright blue feathers, n’est pas?

Till next time, when you’ll be wondering, “I wonder if she typed this blog clothed or not…??” Ciao, tutti!

Love, Gina

P.S.  Family-friendly nudists?  Or all covered up?  Which kind of family did you grow up in or are a part of now?  No photos, please! 😉