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Always More to Learn

Homegrown Style

Puscina Flowers Revisited

It was September of 2019 the last time we visited Puscina Flowers in Montefollonico and it was an enchanting experience even if the Dahlias had just passed their bloom time. Determined to make it there earlier in the season I quietly tucked the beautiful flower farm tucked away in my memory until that dream could be realized. It seems that 2022; in spite of all its ongoing uncertainty was the charmed time! This time we made it in the beginning of August, and it made a world of difference. Although one of the sisters was traveling; the dedicated Puscinians were in the flurry of full bloom, harvest and wedding season. We realized quickly how busy they were but ever welcoming and gracious to allow us to step inside their flourishing world and take a closer look at what the natural world was up to on that day. From brilliant blue "bees" to dazzling dahlias and nodding sunflowers, arbors and trees dripping with fruit; it was shall we say, "All happening".

Am I the only person who NEEDS to make a potted herb garden while I’m traveling? Truth be told I knew I would miss the fruits of my labor much less if I could pick something fresh daily, so the celery leaves, basil and lemongrass (for tea) I planted and placed on our small balcony did just that. I even created a mini compost using a pot half filled with dirt where all our plant-based scraps could reside until we departed. Here’s a video of how that went, and you'll catch more on the video "A Day in Our Tuscan Life":

One of the greatest pleasures of our trip was picking fully ripened plums and fresh figs from trees behind our apartment and from neighbors Andrea & Anna who live in the historic Montefollonico tower at the foot of our street. They were so hospitable to share the fruits of their labor with us while they were out of town. This gift along with the list of farm markets by region, local pescheria and our local grocer Peccati di Gola di Barbu Olimpia & Co, in Montefollonico kept us in fresh ingredients for the duration of the trip.

If by the end of this blog post you are interested in staying in this Medieval hamlet we know of a few very welcoming hosts at: Casa Stellini, Torre Moreschini on Airbnb, our new friend Monica Papalini at Sole di Toscana has rental options as well as real estate listings and eco-friendly Borgo di Sotto can be found in the village as well.

Tuscan Style

Learning about Tuscan Wines

Fortunately, we had a wonderful and well-informed sommelier and host in the nephew of the Tenimenti Andreucci's owner, Flavio Andreucci although he had a splendid capacity to share family history, process and specifics about each wine; he had an even greater ability to keep a straight face during Michael's antics during the presentation. If you want to see what I mean, well, there's a "wait for it" moment at the end of this video. You, of course, are not required to keep a straight face.

A Lesson in Pecorino of Pienza

Sometimes it's about who you meet along the way and by happy chance we met Teresa Moi, a big-hearted local to Montefollonico who was extremely considerate to invite us to a cheese tasting at a local producer Fattoria Buca Nuova. It proved to be an educational experience; one where we could better learn of the nuances and uses of a variety of Pecorino cheeses. It was in this building that we were given an education about the differences in each cheese, range of prices and the opportunity to watch the locals shop for cheese. In addition, she introduced us to her family and generous and supportive husband Fabio who insisted on showing us around Tuscany from the local perspective. Most important of all; we met what we hope will be new friends for life.

Sole Di Toscana

We had the absolute pleasure of meeting with Monica Papalini while we were in town and looking at property for our future reference. This was the house I was instantly drawn to in Montefollonico but after some discussion we thought we should explore a variety of options.

A Lesson in Structure

From Music Lessons to Architecture

The sound of music was often present during our strolls and steep hill hikes in Tuscan villages. Here’s a sampling of what we encountered:

Outrageously Practical Style

How to pack for a month in Italy

It was a question I was asked by neighbors and co-workers before we began our journey, so I decided to show you the process. We did divide and conquer this trip, so Michael took charge of packing his own belongings and checked his baggage. I on the other hand carried on a small bag and green striped tote from J. Jill with our toiletries. It proved a helpful strategy since Mike's luggage was delivered a few days after we arrived in Italy. Fortunately, we were able to launder the clothes on his back until his bag materialized. Here's the journey of the green striped tote:

Domesticity Simplicity Necessity

Being Neighborly

In Italy, the open-air windows make for great front porches; in the sense that they give you an opportunity to meet your neighbors. Absolutely charmed by the potted gardens that ran along the street and in the windows of Montefollonico residents I made it my daily duty to water the first-floor window boxes while we stayed at Casa Stellini. Later in the village I had an opportunity to meet the gentleman neighbor in the video and share the photograph with him. To my delight, he smiled when he saw it for himself. The chambray outfit I am wearing in this segment is from J. Jill.

Beach Life

Had the opportunity to read a bit about Fabien Cousteau and how he is following in his grandfather's footsteps in his own unique ways on the flight home from Paris and it was fascinating to learn of the projects currently on his plate. For our garden soul mates there is Proteus - an underwater greenhouse project which in addition to a myriad of outcomes beneficial to the ocean is also experimenting with growing fresh vegetables under the sea.

“No ocean, no planet.” Fabien Cousteau

Another do-gooder for the ocean is Emily Penn a Welsh native and studier of plastic pollution.

Michael and I made it a point to get to the ocean and nearby lakes which was good for our souls and a relaxing way to enjoy our exquisite surroundings. Castiglione del Lago is about a 30-minute drive from Montefollonico and you can get to the sea in an hour and a half.

Road-trips & Destinations

Some of the towns and sites we visited during our Summer of 2022 month in Italy.

A Day in our Real Tuscan Life

Visiting Trequanda for the first time we learned that one of the things it is known for is its terracotta and revisiting Pienza well-known for its Pecorino cheese.

In The Garage

“I work mostly on my turns, that’s where the race is won.” - Teiki

Although Michael does the majority of the driving when we are together; I truly wanted to give it a try while I had the chance to drive in Tuscany. You can watch the video on Michael's Instagram page @barbercarguy. I am the first to admit that driving there is not for the faint of heart with the narrow streets, sharp, hairpin turns, steep hills, mountains and condensed ramps to enter the autostrada highways. We enjoy perusing the vehicles to see how the body styles and names of the vehicles vary from the United States. There is a shop in Siena called Bianchi Stampe e Cornici, that captured the details of motoring in its windows. Be sure to check out the 2 wheeled vehicles, for those of you who follow along you know Michael is passionate about motorcycling so it's no surprise to share this siting.

Cooking Per Tutti

Here's a sneak peek at our first day in Tuscany and how dinner at Casa Stellini came together on the first evening. The mission was to go to the market and Pescheria in Torrita di Siena to get fresh produce and fish. The menu was planned as we shopped. Shrimp & Squid Linguine with Frutta di Mare insalata (salad).

Pici & Pepe

For our last meal out on the town we decided to give one of the local restaurants a try Ristorante 13 Gobbi

If you are a lover of a creamy rich pasta, give Pici & Pepe a try. You can see the process here of taking piping hot pasta that is made by hand and tossing it into a wheel of pasta cheese and turning it around letting the pasta absorb the cheese into a thick coating of delicious creamy goodness with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Check out the art of this process:

Back to Nature

One of the loveliest aspects of a trip to the Italian countryside are the views. It’s astonishing to see how untouched much of the landscape is, uncluttered by billboards, there seems to be an expanse of nature as you roll along the hills and valleys of Tuscany. There is the powdery blue sky dappled with cumulus clouds, there is luscious green and then there is the terra cotta seen in the clay soils and farmhouses and rooftops. It is easy to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time when you enter a town, or a church built in the 1300’s but to me it is most striking in the landscape which still looks so pure and natural. One of the loveliest spots in the countryside of Montefollonico was a place called Podere La Paolina where our gracious host Fabrizio and Chef James were some of the most welcoming neighbors we could ask for. We enjoyed dinner there one evening taking in their spectacular view and toured one of their cottages for future stays.

Dario The Dog

Many of you know that Dario had been fighting an allergy right as we were leaving for Italy. We were fortunate to have a neighbor caretake for him. Lauren interned as a vet tech and currently works with the animals at Museum of Discovery in Little Rock. Of all the times to have to leave Dario it happened to be when he wasn’t feeling like his usual self. We quickly realized that he was in far better hands with Lauren who was super attentive to his needs and spoiled him silly while we were away. Lauren did everything you’d want someone to do for your pet from training his bad habits away to bringing him a boredom saving toy, making sure he was fed, played with, watered, bathed and loved while we were away. We had text, photo, and video updates as often as we wanted, and she even kept a daily journal so we could fully understand his progress. This is the first time we left Dario for a month-long trip so naturally there was some unknown to how he would handle it. I was delighted to walk into our home knowing he had been properly exercised that day to calm him for our arrival. Calm would be an understatement to Mike’s shock he was actually lounging on the sofa, something he has never done in our home before.

I’d take all of these pleasantries over the fact that he had made himself at home on Mike’s spot on the couch. The lesson is that even Dario has more to learn. The house was intact, his itching had subsided, and he was safe and sound. All and all we had much to be grateful for as far as our sweet Dario was concerned.

If you are new to our blog and haven't been properly introduced to our little fellow, this is Dario, our Olde English Bulldog in the backyard.

Artist in Residence

On a trip taken before 2021 we happened to find a leather goods shop where the craftsman, Paolo Infunti worked creating leather accessories by hand right in his tiny shop. Not something we expected to see in our modern society but so refreshing to witness. Paolo suggested we go to have pizza while they fashioned a clip-on holster for garden pruners made out of leather for both of us." It will be finished by the time you get back", he told us. Paolo monogrammed each as a special memento and keepsake of our trip. If you have a chance to visit Casa della Pelle or are just interested in seeing inside an Italian leathercraft workshop, take a look at the video below.

Hope you enjoyed "traveling" with us to Italy! You can follow us on YouTube at Italy: Little By Little for more from this trip.


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