Under the Tuscan Sun (c’mon, this title was just begging to be used)

25 Apr

The farmhouse that we stayed it near Florence deserves it’s own blog post. It was that good.

So we woke up on Saturday in the farmhouse, Agriturismo La Querce. We’d found it on AirBnb and thought it would be a good option for our family of five. We wanted the benefit of having our own rooms to spread out in, a kitchen so we could prepare meals and save a little money, and a backyard to run around in was definitely a plus. I can’t imagine coming back from a full day in Florence and having the spend the rest of the evening shushing the kids while we’re all crammed in a single hotel room.

There are agriturismos all over Tuscany. From what we found out, the Italian government offers tax breaks to small family farms who will rent out rooms at their working farms for tourists. This helps the small farmers stay afloat and encourages tourism without having to litter the countryside with hotel buildings. It’s pretty ingenious.

Our farm was owned by an older couple, Emilio and Giselda, who look exactly as you’d picture Italian grandparents to look. They were just as warm and effusive in the morning as they had been the night before when we arrived. Their daughter, Daniela, lives in her own house on the farm with her husband and three small kids. She spoke English, so she showed me around. They rent out two small apartments in their large farmhouse and live on the top floor. You can find out more about their place here: http://www.poderelaquerce.altervista.org/index.htm

Our apartment opened up onto a large yard that ran the length of our farmhouse and Daniela’s next door. There was a soccer field, a pigeon coop, an area under the apricot grove for lawn bowling, ping pong in the front yard, a vegetable garden for children to use, bikes that you could take out, volleyball on the other side of their wheat field, a huge vineyard and olive grove to wander in (but avoid the beehives they get their honey from), and my kids’ favorite place- the animal pens.

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From that first morning, our kids were out the door like rockets. They’d run around the yard, play some bocce, then run down the hill to where the animals were. It was so wonderful to let the kids roam free after being in an apartment in the city for so long. Every morning and evening, the kids would just disappear and come back only when we yelled for them. They’d go down to the goat pen the most, because the goats loved to be fed. There were two small goats and one baby that the kids fell in love with. Next to them were two geese that just stood there and hissed all the time. I freakin’ hate geese. Around the corner was a pig pen (on a related note, the salami and prosciutto that Emilio makes are to die for!), a chicken coop, and a little bunny pen. KID HEAVEN. Now despite all my internal worries, there was only one time that Rhett came running up to me as I was reading a book on a lounge chair and breathlessly told me, “I accidentally opened the gate for the chickens, but don’t worry, I closed it when they tried to escape.”

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Emilio showed Patrick and I around his rooms where he makes wine and olive oil and cans the fresh things from the farm, like their own honey, tomato sauce, and jams. I totally wanted to bring home all of the above and COMPLETELY forgot to before we left. I guess we’ll just have to go back. Anyways, it was really interesting to see how he made the wine and learn about getting the olive oil. He had his own bottles there and kindly offered some to us. When we said no thanks, he was puzzled. We told him we didn’t drink wine but it smelled great. He couldn’t quite comprehend. Finally, he asked, confused, if I was pregnant. Nope. We just don’t drink wine. This was something that would continue to baffle him. I have to mention that he understood little to no English and we understood less to no Italian, and yet all of our conversations were rapid fire, with lots of nodding and shrugging. It was an exhilarating way to communicate.

Giselda was a treasure. One morning she stopped by with a little cake for us. Another time, she went out when the kids were running around and gave them chocolates. A highlight of the trip for me was taking cooking lessons from her. We went up into her kitchen and she showed me and the kids how to make pasta and pizza. Now, Finn absolutely loves pasta, as long as nothing is on it. Just plain pasta, thanks. So he was thrilled to be learning to make it. Before we went up to the kitchen, he actually said “I feel like all this time that I’ve loved pasta, I’ve just been waiting to learn how to make it and now that day is finally here!” Um…okay. I appreciated his enthusiasm and Giselda seemed tickled by it too. We mixed and rolled the pasta on her wooden table and stretched it through her machine, then cut it into tagliatelle noodles (like fettucini). Finn kept trying to help me feed the dough into the machine and she kept flicking his hand away. She was worried about his little fingers getting stuck and squished in the machine.

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After the pasta was made, the kids ran out to play. The neighbor kids were home from school, so they all went to the soccer field. Apparently Finn tried to teach them how to play American football. It didn’t last long. In the meantime, Giselda and I made the pizza dough for two pizzas and one rosemary focaccia. I loved that just about everything we used was from her farm. The tomato sauce was bottled from their last tomato crop. The rosemary came right off a bush in front of our door. The olive oil was from the grove that the kitchen window overlooked. The eggs came from the hens that Rhett had tried to liberate. The sausage for the pizza came from the last cohort of pigs that were in the pen. And it was all delicious! Seriously, sitting down to that meal was a high point. One of our best meals in Italy.

The one downside was that once the noodles were boiled, she quickly mixed them with the pasta sauce she’d had simmring on the stove all day. Amazing and delicious for us, not so much for Finn. He won’t eat sauce on pasta and I think his disappointment was compounded by his excitement and anticipation at eating the noodles he’d helped make. He went into his flapping hands, funny noises mode, which is really hard to explain in a foreign language. It just looks weird. And it is. It was embarrassing and disappointing. Poor Giselda was just baffled. The rest of us, however, wolfed down our servings, it was sooo good.

Throughout the evening, any time an empty spot would open up on either Patrick’s or my plate, Giselda or Emilio would be hovering over with a plate and spatula, plopping more food down for us. It became really funny to watch Patrick keep saying “Oh no, I’m too full,” and then “okay, thanks!” as his words were ignored and more food was heaped onto his plate. We had pasta (oh the sauce! so good!), pizza, salami, prosciutto, salad, focaccia. For dessert, she made an apricot tart. By the end of it, I was feeling  woozy from eating so much and from trying to hold a conversation in several different languages. Daniela’s kids were around the table too and the oldest, who was only eleven, was the translator, as he knew the most English. Poor kid. Despite all this, I felt like we had a nice conversation, but I have no idea what any of it was about.

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We stayed six days and would have loved to stay longer. I really enjoyed coming home from a full day of exploring and going out to read in the backyard or color in my art therapy coloring book while listening to kids laughing and playing somewhere on the farm. For dinner, I’d put out crostini and fresh mozzerella, or whatever Italian meal I’d thrown together from what I picked up at the grocery store, and we’d eat outside as it started to get dark. Then we’d release the kids back out to play until they couldn’t see each other any more and then finally call them into bed. It was heaven.

When it was time to leave, the kids were heartbroken. They’d really become good friends with Daniela’s kids. Especially Lucy, who’s been starved for girls to play with. Lucy cried and cried. Her Italian counterpart, Maria, cried and cried too. Our ids keep telling us that we need to go back soon to visit the farm. I wish we could, but I’m afraid it was one magical week that will have to sustain us for a long time.

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More from Tuscany soon…

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2 Responses to “Under the Tuscan Sun (c’mon, this title was just begging to be used)”

  1. Kathleen April 25, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Yes, but such a cruel title for one sitting under an oh-so-rural, southern Virginia dark sky and no gelato in sight. Happier, though, living vicariously through the Masons.

  2. Stacie Mason May 13, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    This place sounds like absolute heaven on earth! We’re green with envy over your whole Italy trip. What great experiences and memories!!

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