Since I opened my blog, the pleasure of meeting new people went hand in hand with the urgency of turning those virtual contacts as soon as possible into real friendships, with a personal tone of voice, with a body I could hug, with the thrill of a proper conversation around a table littered with breadcrumbs and stained with coffee.
The chance to meet like-minded people, individuals who are turned on by the same interests, must be cultivated. The chance must be transformed into an occasion to meet.
A few months ago I was sitting with Emiko in a car, driving through the sunny roads of a summer in Maremma, when we started wondering about what our blog would bring, which opportunities to share, learn and grow we could find in the next year. Conferences? workshops? Or, even better, informal meetings, organized by us, to spend time with all those people that social networks and blogs have brought into our path. To make network, not just to use social networks.
What would it mean for us? It means turning the virtual tables that we set on the blog into tangible ones, to be laid with creativity and taste. We need these tables to grab a chair, seat, exchange ideas, learn from each other.
It means, in my case, to bring to another level the cooking classes, to come up with new chances to meet, with workshops, experiences. It means to chase real life, drag it on the blog without leaving it to the edge, diving with confidence in what’s out there, to be touched, changed, using that energy to grow.
Christmas gave us the excuse to meet in real life with a bunch of like-minded blogging friends and La Selva Giardino del Belvedere gave us instead the perfect location to organize our first Tuscan gathering.
We met in an early December day in a fairy country house, hidden in the woods above Montevarchi. The house had everything you’d expect in a mid-winter dream: fireplaces, wood-burning oven, two kitchens, marble and wooden tables, shelves lined with books, candles, branches, berries and flowers. Everything was orchestrated to remain true and simple, we scribbled down the menu a few weeks in advance, we closed ourselves in the kitchen the day before to have everything ready and in the morning we got to the villa with trays, pots, bags full of schiacciate and cases of wine .
We were ready to cook, eat, have fun.
I do not know where we’d be without the help of Tommaso and Marco, silent and invisible directors, who moved tables and chairs, set the glasses and cutlery on the table with the skill of a royal house butler. They had a word for everyone, and let us carry on smiles, chatter, lasagna and soups.
Since Tommaso came into my life I discovered a renewed energy, a proactive approach that needed a second voice to become reality. During the event I realized that we make such a good team, I noticed how he understands my needs before I even talk, anticipating me and becoming an essential part of this blog, of my work and of my adult life.
(thank you Ashley for the lovely photo)
Our gathering came out as a festive, traditional, extended family lunch: Emiko prepared crostini di polenta with mushrooms, a chickpea and chestnut soup, porchetta with roasted potatoes and an apple and hazelnut crumble, finishing with tozzetti ebraici with hazelnuts and cinnamon served with coffee.
My dishes were, if possible, even more traditional: schiacciata with cheese and olives, green lasagna with béchamel and meat sauce, chicken galantina, a winter insalata russa with grated horseradish and a cardoon flan. When the coffee was served, small occhi di bue with chestnut jam appeared on the table.
Fig and walnut panforte
A distinctly Tuscan foodie gift finished into the small bags of presents we prepared for all the participants. Emiko concocted a pumpkin, lemon, orange and ginger jam, a seasonal little treasure. I could not resist and I chose one of the most representative recipes from Siena, panforte.
For the Tuscan gathering I chose a couple of ingredients which I usually connect to the Tuscan countryside: walnuts, the prodigious fruit of tall trees, which were considered as a shelter for witches, the essence of a dark bitter liqueur made during the night of St. John, and figs, generous trees which give us one of the most sensual fruit towards the end of summer, a taste of childhood and a warm sweet fullness.
- 800 g of walnuts
- 250 g of unpeeled almond
- 900 g of dried figs
- 450 g of flour
- 10 g of coriander powder
- 10 g of macis powder
- 3 g of cloves
- 3 g of nutmeg powder
- 450 g of honey
- 450 g of sugar
- A sheet of thin rice paper wafer
- Icing sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C and toast the almonds in the oven for a few minutes.
In a large bowl add the toasted almonds, the walnuts, the flour, the finely chopped dried figs and the spices. Stir to mix.
Line with rice paper wafer a baking tray (mine was 37x27cm).
Melt in a small saucepan over low heat the honey and the sugar with 3 tablespoons of water. When they are completely melted and become a thick golden syrup, remove the pan from the heat.
Pour the syrup into the bowl with all the other ingredients and stir with a spoon to mix everything: it will be a very hard dough.
Scoop the dough into the baking tray lined with wafer and smooth the surface with a spoon.
Dust the surface with icing sugar and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, then remove the panforte from the oven, let cool slightly and then remove from the baking tin. If you wait until completely cold the caramelized sugar will stick to the tin and give you hard times - as it happened to me.
Once the panforte is cold, dust generously with icing sugar.
Thanks to La Selva Giardino del belvedere for the warm hospitality and for giving us such a cozy and friendly environment for our first Tuscan gathering, to Emiko for a continuous inspiration, to Tommaso and Marco for their indispensable support, to all participants of the Christmas lunch for the interesting chats and ideas we exchanged, laughter, toasts and especially for the projects that we concocted in between a plate of lasagna and a cookie with jam.