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!



Guess Who Came to Dinner?

For every parent, attending a myriad of birthday parties becomes de rigueur when your children are young.


You know the drill: dump an assortment of unhealthy snacks in bowls, line up liters of sugar water, toss in a themed cake and matching paper napkins and plastic plates – maybe throw in a few games if you’d like, et voila, instant kiddie birthday party.


I have to admit that even here in Italy, where I tend to feel that the most routine events become more special due to their Tuscan backdrop, I’ve gotten so accustomed to all the birthday parties we have to attend, I’ve become a bit numb.

But, boy was I in for a surprise yesterday at the incredible birthday party for Lulu’s friend Margherita!

It wasn’t because Marghe’s wonderful parents, Serena and Luca, spent millions of Euros for a lavish spread of exotic delicacies – although  the chocolate mice and hedgehogs handmade by Serena’s mother were adorably and deliciously unique!


Lulu clearly loved them. I don’t want to think how many of the little creatures she popped into her mouth.


The rest of the treats was also certainly delicious  –  and with the addition of a basket of crisp, raw fava beans – also healthy!


The cake was indeed lovely too.


But, it was the setting that really knocked this festa out of the standard-issue birthday party ball-park.

The splendid view from our picnic area

Since non abbiamo una macchina, “we don’t have a car,” we don’t often visit places you can’t get to by train.  Fortunately, Margherita’s Mamma, Serena, was kind enough to pick Lulu and me up and drive us fifteen minutes out of our hometown of Arezzo, and to another world.


Parco Lignano rests atop a mountain following a windy narrow drive which fortunately and amazingly in spite of Lulu’s extreme motion sickness, did not make her throw up – Good driving Serena!


You’re met by a spread of shady woods and verdant meadows.

They’re dotted with playgrounds and there’s even a small kind of petting zoo where Lulu tentatively decided to feed a very zealous deer.



And it was here in this wilderness type setting, where the astonishing birthday surprise arrived – in the form of an uninvited animal guest – much bigger than ants or squirrels.


Yes! Here’s a cinghiale who came to our picnic area!  “A what?” you may be saying, if you’re not from around here.


That’s “wild boar” to you English speakers.  And the above blurry photo (sorry, I was just a little nervous!) shows you how it looked from my daughter and the other children’s perspectives.  If I had audio for this blog, you would be hearing tremendously loud squeals and shrieks – from the kids, not the boar.

Okay, now she's jumped the fence and come up to our level!
Okay, now it’s jumped the fence and come up to our level!

Now, I know a little about cinghiali, about 150,000 of them roam wild in Tuscany.  They’re hunted and appear as a regular item on many menus.  In fact, I’ve seen them many times, er, on my plate – but never this up close and personal!

My Italian friends who were used to this kind of thing, were tossing it pieces of fruit.  Since cinghiali are technically herbivores, I asked if you could ever feed them like Lulu did those deer.  My friends laughed at me, of course, and said the wild boars are dangerous, unpredictable and known to eat lizards and frogs and could very likely bite the hand that tried to feed them.

DSCN2508 Got it! Then why aren’t we freaking out more that the wild boar is this close to us?

Finally, it decided it had had enough. It casually climbed down the hill away from our picnic table and we watched as it calmly ambled back toward the woods.


The conversations turned away from our unexpected guest and back to the festivities at hand.

I, however, couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Here’s to the most memorable birthday party in Tuscany I have so far attended.


I can only imagine what’s next?!

Grazie, tutti, for joining me.  Any notable birthday parties you’d like to share?  Any wild animal encounters?  Tell me!

And for more cinghiali stories and other fun from Tuscany, please buy Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” available worldwide on Amazon. 

baci, Gina