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!



A warm embrace from Mario

One of our favorite restaurants in Arezzo is underground.  Directly across from the Basilica San Francesco in the piazza of the same name, you’ll need to carefully step down four wide grey stone steps and duck your head to enter Ristorante Buca di San Francesco.

As your eyes adjust to the soft amber glow, you’ll be warmly welcomed by Mario de Filippis, who has been its gracious host for more than 40 years.   Now, look around you.  You’re seated in the cellar of a 14th century palazzo, surrounded by a frescoes on the walls and a resounding assortment of Italian artworks, artifacts, and tchotchkes.   It’s a delightful Tuscan curiosity shop.


Mario says the stones that make up the floor beneath your chairs are remnants of an ancient Etruscan road. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s all part of the restaurant’s – and Mario’s – immense charm.   Mario is like an indulgent nonno, grandpa.  He tells me to look the other way and “sneaks” little chocolates over to Lulu while my head is turned.  He sets before Lulu a plate of the softest, creamiest fresh Mozzarella I have ever tasted (because I did taste it).


“Mario! Yey!” cries Lulu.

He urges me to try the Panzanella  -a popular Tuscan summer salad with olive oil crisped bread chunks mixed in. He also encourages me to a have a glass of wine, “on the house!”

“Mario! Yey!” I cry too.

Later, he surprises us both with free desserts.  A small slice of apple bread torta for me and gelato for Lulu, chocolate – ma certo¸ of course.

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To me, the flavor of the place and its host almost exceeds that of the food.  At Buca di San Francesco, you’re in good hands.  Mario’s.


For more on Buca di San Francesco, visit their/his website at – Tell him Gina and Lulu sent you.



Olive Garden – The real one!

It’s harvest time in Tuscany so, of course, that means it’s time to pile preschoolers into a caravan of parents’ cars and drive them to the countryside for a morning of olive picking!

Okay, that may not be what springs immediately to your mind, but that is exactly what we did today.   The family of one of Lulu’s classmates at Maria Bianca Bianchini school has a home set atop a rolling hill surrounded by cypress, chestnuts – and hundreds of olive trees.   Lulu, her best friend Allegra, and about 50 other screaming, er, enthusiastic kids descended upon the beautiful place.

It was sunny and only slightly brisk as the children gathered to hear from Helena’s Babbo, or daddy, about how the picking would be done.  It was our first time, so I paid close attention.  That, and my Italian is still really bad.

Large, rectangular nets are first spread under the trees.

Then the men, and later some of the more adventurous kids, stretched long-handled plastic rakes high into the trees, to scrape the olives loose.

As olives fell down upon their heads, children scrambled under the trees grabbing them up, careful not to step on them and smash them, and then tossed them in their cestini, or baskets.

The fun and confusion reminded me of an Easter egg hunt – only with tiny black and green eggs that rained down on the hunters.

In spite of all the chaos, the kids actually managed to successfully harvest half a dozen large plastic bin-fulls.

And had a lot of fun at the same time.


And afterward, the school’s cook treated the small hunters to a snack of pane con olio¸or bread with – what else – olive oil?

Under the bright blue skies and the warm Tuscan sun, it was truly wonderful.  And as I looked at Lulu and Allegra running near the small chapel that was attached to the family’s ancient stone home, I imagined what it must be like  to have to spend hours of serious bending under trees, tip-toeing on nets, getting pelted with falling olives and reaching high up into the branches to harvest olives for a living.

I was thankful that this morning was one of those lovely, “once in a lifetime” experiences.

Ciao tutti!

Love, Gina

P.S.  Ever picked olives?  How about strawberries?  What was it like and how happy are you that you did it because you wanted to, not because you had to!?!