Like nothing you have tasted before: Tuscany’s New Oil!

Before we moved to Italy, I had never heard of olio nuovo. Literally translated it means “new oil” – from the first press of picked olives. But liberally translated – otherwise known as according to me – it means “get ready for the most amazing taste sensation ever!”

This photo does not do justice to the vibrancy of the green!

Yesterday, Lulu and company could be seen climbing the olive trees at Il Pozzo, our friend Carla Veneri’s congenial country inn just outside of Arezzo.

The silvery boughs are heavy with abundance. That’s fancy for “Man, that’s a lot of olives!”


While the kids pick up in the branches..

Lulu takes a rest up in the tree
Lulu takes a rest up in the tree

..I reach out from my place firmly on the ground.

I'm working up an appetite. Wonder if there will be any food? ;)
I’m working up an appetite. Wonder if there will be any food? 😉

The nets and baskets below are quickly filled and refilled.

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Down the hillside, a cast of terrific cooks and helpers adds logs to the fire and drizzle grilled bruschetta with the freshest, greenest olive oil.


A harvest feast is being prepared.

Carla's mom shows off the biggest porcini I have ever seen. Found in woods nearby.
Carla’s mom shows off the biggest porcini I have ever seen. Found in woods nearby.

It’s kicked off with an appetizer made from the biggest porcini mushroom I, and many of the other gathered guests, have ever seen. Carla’s mom, who is the head chef here at Il Pozzo, transformed it into fried slices of savory goodness.

Carla hands out the porcini appetizers. Che buona!
Carla hands out the porcini appetizers.
Che buona!
Che buona!

We’re next met by four plates of lasagne. Pumpkin and sage, vegetarian and a ragu of carne. But they’re only the primi or first course.


Those of us gathered around Il Pozzo’s expansive garden table are also served mounds of grilled ribs and salsicce – the Tuscan-style flavorful sausage that my new German friends sitting to my right say are better than any bratwurst. There’s roasted potatoes, cauliflower and a garlic spinach.

Buon appetito!
Buon appetito!

Of course just look at those corks, there’s also plenty of Italian red wine.


And after such a banquet, you might forget why you came here in the first place, but before we go home, each guest is handed a bottle of Il Pozzo olio nuovo.
You know it’s fresh, not just from the flavor, but because you can watch Carla’s dad press the olives right before your eyes.

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The olive press machinery is on the same grounds as all the trees.

And I looked at the phosphorescent liquid streaming out from the pressing machine, I thought back to our first autumn in Tuscany. This excerpt is from my book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me:

It was October and Fabrizio and his wife Guisy had just bottled the first-press. He handed us a bottle of the brightest colored green liquid I had ever seen that wasn’t some kind of artificially mint-flavored alcohol. It was practically neon. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed this color could exist in nature.

I poured a little onto a white plate. It gleamed and glowed. ..The flavor was so pungently crisp and sharp; raw and original, that I was taken aback.

So was Lulu. “Blech. This tastes like grass,” she said.

Now, a year older, Lulu’s palate is more mature and she happily tried a slice of olive oiled bruschetta.

“Hmm.. It’s too forte (strong), I still don’t care for it. ” she says this time.  A little more refined language perhaps, but she’s not a convert. Yet.

Lulu still didn't like the sharp taste of olio nuovo. We'll have to try again next year!
Lulu still didn’t like the sharp taste of olio nuovo. We’ll have to try again next year!

“Maybe next year,” I say. I’m more than happy to think that perhaps we’ll still be in Italy next October. And Il Pozzo’s olive picking event is definitely something I would mark on the calendar.

Since you can’t lick this essay, you’ll have to fly here for your own taste!

Til then,

Baci, Gina

P.S.  How many of you have picked olives?  Tasted nuovo olio?  Been to Il Pozzo yet?  Let me know!


La Volpe Come Fa? (What Does The Fox Say?)

Apparently “What Does The Fox Say?” is quite the hit.  In the United States and perhaps other parts of the world, the song is going off the charts.

Here in Italy, I had never even heard of it.  Not until my hip-to-all-things-pop-culture sister Andrea wrote me an email and asked me if the song was as popular in Tuscany as it is in the US.   My unscientific survey consisted of asking my cool personal trainer Elena whether she had heard it (she had not), and an hour and a half review of power house Radio/Web/TV station “RTL 102.5” which also did not turn up the Fox.

I went on YouTube and watched the video and also watched the two Norwegian brothers singing their hit on Ellen.

They’re cute.  The dance is quirkily catchy like “Gangnam Style” – which did sweep Italy along with the rest of the world.  But the lyrical query the song poses was no question for Lulu.

“Everybody knows the fox barks like a dog,” she said after watching the official video.  “It doesn’t go ‘Pow-pow-pow!’”

The most famous animal here in Tuscany is the Cinghiale.  (Read this earlier post about how one visited Lulu and me at a birthday party!)


The wild boar roams the countryside, makes for delicious stew, sauce and sausage and is a mascot for the region.

Yes, here's the Cinghiale Store!
Yes, here’s the Cinghiale Store!

There doesn’t appear to be a song for the wild boar, but Lulu does have its shirt.

Lulu yesterday in a cinghiale shirt next to its domesticated cousin. What does the cinghiale say?
Lulu yesterday in a cinghiale shirt next to its domesticated cousin. What does the cinghiale say?

But Italians do have their own famous version of an animal sound song:  “Il Coccodrillo Come Fa” “How does the Croccodile go?” is a song that every kid, including Lulu, knows well.

The song’s Italian composer, Pino Massura, passed away this summer at 82. While he wrote beloved children’s songs, Massura also had a string of famous grown-up hits throughout his lifetime, including some recorded by Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Elvis, (that American guy, not to be confused with the “Ylvis” guys from Norway who wrote the Fox).

Maybe the Norwegian brothers will go on to the same kind of enduring fame as Massura.  Or maybe not.

What does the Fox have to say about all of it?  I don’t know.  I live in Italy.

Until next time, Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!


P.S.  Do you love the Fox?  What’s your favorite animal song?  Share please!

And for more stories of adventures between a mother and her child, you’re invited to buy my book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” 

Is the Tooth Fairy a Girl?

Lulu wonders, “It’s not a boy, is it, Mama? The tooth fairy is a girl, right?”

I put that question in her head.

As a kid, I had a book about two children, Jack and Daisy, who try to trick the tooth fairies by making a replacement tooth out of flour and water when Daisy really loses her baby tooth.

tooth fairies

The book, aptly titled, What Happened When Jack and Daisy Tried to Fool the Tooth Fairies featured a team of two male tooth fairies – more like grouchy old curmudgeons than iridescent Tinker Bells.

I loved them and the book.  I read it a lot to Lulu when she was a toddler.

But now she is a full-fledged big girl – who just this weekend had her first baby tooth fall out.


She was at a birthday party at her friend David’s house.  I was in the other room chatting with the grown-ups when she ran in with her mouth stuffed full of tissue.

“My toof fell out!” she cried, holding the dental evidence out in her hand.   There it was. Her tiny lower incisor.

I took the tooth and also took a picture of her proudly displaying the tissue hanging from her mouth covering the new gap in her smile – flanked by older and more toothily experienced friends, Alessio and Cassandra.


To prepare for the arrival of the fairy, Lulu and her daddy sealed the tooth in a red envelope that she decorated and wrote “TO THE TOOTH FAIRY” along with her own name – so there would be no mistaking who should be the recipient and who was the sender when it was discovered under her pillow.


At bedtime, she was a breathless string of questions – besides the one that I had planted previously about the fairy’s gender.

“Will I hear her wings?”

“Will I feel her reach under my pillow?”

“If I pretend to be asleep will she still come and maybe I can see her?”

I admitted I didn’t know any of the answers as I had never seen her (or him) myself.  Excitement woke her up before five o’clock this morning.


I jumped up and rushed into Lulu’s room.

“I think I heard her.” Lulu whispered. “Can I look under my pillow?”

“Of course,” I yawned. But I was excited with her, “Let’s see.”

Sure enough.  In place of her baby tooth were a couple of coins.  A two-Euro piece and an American Silver dollar.  Our fairy is an international kind of gal.

Lulu clutched her coins happily and (thankfully) went back to sleep for a couple of hours.


I remembered back to when she was only nine months old and got her first baby tooth.   A little hard nub jutted out from her soft pink gums.   Now with a mouth full of teeth, her first one had come out.  To be replaced by a new version that should last for the rest of her life.

 Ah, our daughter.  Another rite of passage.

Time to buy her a new package of dental floss.

For all you parents out there, what’s the going rate for a tooth these days?  Are molars worth more? Any stories you’d like to share, I’d love to hear!



For more adventures in parenting, and just in time for the holidays, you’ll enjoy Because I’m Small Now and You Love MeBuy it now! 

Copyright Gina London, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

How to host a Perfect Autumn Picnic

The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler.  But if you hurry, and take these handy tips I learned yesterday, you can take advantage of the last few remaining precious warm weekends to host a delightful outdoor lunch for you and your friends.  


1.       Have each guest bring a dish.   You’ll save yourself the trouble of cooking for a crowd and get more variety and flavor if everyone  brings something to eat.  It helps if you have some gourmands in your group, like we did, who enjoy making pans of lasagna and roasted turkey breasts wrapped in pancetta.

Yes, that's a clean diaper in the foreground! It was a family affair..
Yes, that’s a clean diaper in the foreground! It was a family affair..

2.       Have each guest bring something to drink.  An assortment of beverages always makes a picnic more refreshing.  As you can see, our assortment ranged from orange Fanta – to a certain shade of red.


3.       Make sure there’s plenty of seating.  If you don’t have a picnic table, no problem.  Have your friends carry over some benches or chairs.  And you can also spread out an assortment of blankets.


4. Scatter some stone buildings about .   Even more than the weather, warm ambience can be created by adding in some ancient buildings. The converted farm and stall buildings here were more than 500 years old, so that’s pretty good.


5. Fly to Tuscany.  The best picnics are in the countryside, right?  Here in Capolona, just a couple of miles outside of our adopted hometown of Arezzo, you’ll find a lovely verdant setting – complete with mandatory rolling hills and olive trees.


Well, that’s about it! Hope you learned a little something.   Next time you’re thinking picnic, you’re covered.  Or, you can just call Carla Veneri, our gracious host from yesterday’s feast, and the terrific innkeeper at Il Pozzo – She can arrange it all for you as her guest!

Our terrific friend and host Carla! - and me.
Our terrific friend and host Carla! – and me.

Baci from Tuscany – Here’s to your next great picnic – wherever it is, I’m sure it will be great!


Friday Fun! What’s your worst typo?

When “public” becomes “pubic.” The proof is in the proofreading.

Today’s Better Communications essay is sponsored by Grammarly,  an online proofreading service.  I use Grammarly for proofreading because the difference between having a public demonstration and a pubic demonstration is much more than the letter “L.”

This is a true story!  When I was a writer for  WJLA-TV in Washington, DC we were scrambling to finish writing the 11 o’clock newscast and a dreaded typo slipped through the cracks and onto the TelePrompter.

The error’s not in here – this is just a photo of a TelePrompter– keep reading! 🙂

Our anchor was a little man with a big ego who always arrived at the last minute in his chauffeured Bentley.   That evening, he slipped into his anchor chair without so much as a glance at the printed scripts that were next to him and began to simply read “cold” from the TelePrompter.   He wasn’t paying attention.  Just reading along in his booming “anchor” voice.  When he reached the story about the Fire Department’s upcoming public demonstration of safety techniques, our hero didn’t notice that the “L” was missing from the intended word “public” and he said… well, you know what he said.. OUT LOUD.. instead.


In retrospect, he reminds me a lot of Ron Burgandy, the nutty newsman in Anchorman,  although the movie came out after this unfortunate incident.

I promise you, I was not the writer who made the typo and I was not the person who embarrassed himself reading the wrong word out loud on air!  But we were all part of the same news team and so we all shared in responsibility.

No one proofread the copy, so no one caught the error.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a television anchor.  In your professional life, you probably have to write reports, proposals or presentations.  Take time to find someone to be your second set of eyes.   Proofread before your print or before you present.

You may never make as big a gaffe as that Ron Burgandy runner-up, but typos certainly can affect your credibility – and in almost every case, are avoidable.

Get a proofreader.  Think of it as a pubic service for yourself.


Baci, Gina

P.S. Want to share your worst typo gaffe?  C’mon! It’ll be fun!

Daily Danger Zone – or another day, another walk to school.

[To better experience today’s essay, please fill your head with the loud sounds of honking cars…]

We live less than a block from Lulu’s elementary.   You might think that would make for a delightfully stress-free walk to school each morning.

Lulu, standing just outside our palazzo – ready to run the gauntlet.

But we also live in Italy, where apparently it’s a good idea to create a chaotic intersection on a narrow hill street, just steps away from an entrance to a school.  So our walk is not so delightful.


Cars converge from three directions at the base 17th century Roman Emperor, Ferdinand the Third.  Above him, it’s two-way traffic. Below him, just one-way.  There are no signal lights. No easy-to-read direction signs. And no sidewalks.

This is looking up the hill toward our house - the green shutters on the right.. yikes!
This is looking up the hill toward our house with the green shutters on the right.. yikes!

I tell Lulu to play “baby duck” – so she stays close to me in single duck-like-file. But many drivers still seem to close their eyes and put one hand on the horn and use the other to gesture for us to get out of their way.

Don't be fooled, this is not a sidewalk, just a little safety space next to the entrance of a lovely B&B. Lulu's school is the gate at the bottom of the hill.
Don’t be fooled, this is not a sidewalk, but it is the little safety space next to the entrance of our friend Barbara’s B&B – just below the intersection.  Lulu’s school is the gate at the bottom of this hill.

It’s nothing like the five-lanes of traffic I used to brave when I drove to work back in Washington, DC.  But this five-minute daily stroll with Death is heart pounding.  So far, we have cheated Him.

Ferdinand getting his left traffic-waving hand repaired earlier this summer.

But our traffic monitor Ferdinand has not been so lucky.  When we first moved in, he only had a right hand.  And now, as he motionlessly waves us on with his newly attached left hand, I laugh to myself thinking he probably lost that hand…

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My hat is off to cross-walk guards everywhere! Salute!

Baci, Gina

The case of the missing lace.

I wanted to visit Isola Maggiore after I read in Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun that ladies sit out in the sun making lace. Cool.

This lady is in Anghiari, not Isola Maggiore
This lady is in Anghiari, not Isola Maggiore

The only time I have ever seen that before was also in Italy – last year in Anghiari.  It was a step back in time to watch the detailed work.

Of course, Isola  means “island” and to get to it, Lulu and I took a ferry across Lake Trasimeno, Italy’s largest, but lesser known than its more written about lake cousin, Como.


Once a thriving fishing and agricultural village, Maggiore is now more populated by tourists than by year-round residents.  Fewer than 70 people live full-time on the island.


So, what did we find?


An 18th century palazzo named in honor of Lulu’s real name, Isabella.


Unfortunately it was closed for remodeling.  We only got as far as the rusted metal gate.


We also found a private beach.


And the weather was still warm enough to entice Lulu, not me, to strip and wade in.


We discovered an ancient stone carving that denoted the fraternity of the “happy dead.”  Their novel mission was to give even poor people a proper burial.


And Lulu found a nice shady place to rest.

But no ladies and lace.. I guess we’ll have to go back.  Maybe Frances will come with us.

You can come too!

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2013 Gina London. All rights reserved.