Monday, March 28, 2011


My Italian adventure is taking a slight turn and next Friday, April 8th, it will be taking me to ... Ireland!

When I left the US, I had planned to spend April- July in Mexico with a friend and her family but circumstances have changed and I have delayed my arrival until October. So instead I thought I would make this a real adventure and go somewhere in the world that I never imagined I would go. I booked a flight to Japan and registered with WWOOF Japan. Then 2 weeks later tragedy struck this beautiful country and in the midst of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami damage, thousands of lives lost and radioactive material being spread about, I decided that the world was trying to tell me not to go there at this time. I will go to Japan at some point but just not right now.

Instead I thought I could go to Switzerland, and work with exchange programs in B&B's, a dog hotel or another hospitality or f&b outlet. But then I realized that Switzerland shares the same visa program as Italy (it is called a Schengen Agreement). Croatia and Turkey were my next options and I researched them heavily and applied to multiple hosts, contacted friends, former international students from the hotel, and tried my very best. But despite all my efforts, few suitable hosts and dates were lining up for me.

Then, a week ago, I realized that Ireland is a non-Schengen country. This lush, green, beautiful country and would be a totally different experience than Italy in the people, cuisine and geography. I also discovered that there were hundreds of amazing host sites available and dates and locations began to line up for me. I also had the great fortune to be introduced to a distant cousin who lives there! I am so excited to meet her and her family! I believe that the "universe" is making Ireland easy to get to because that is where I am supposed to be at this time. I have found in my life that when the right things are happening, your path is open to receive them. Conversely, if it is the wrong decision, there are countless obstacles put in the path, trying to scream to you that this is not the way to go! I am trying to listen more.

This trip is just as much about me connecting with myself as it is with me connecting with this amazing world. I am here alone. I am creating my adventure. I am learning all I can about cuisine, culture and different lifestyles. I am tasting food, beverages and having experiences I never even imagined. I am here in Italy and I think it is appropriate for me to now continue this adventure in Ireland. Sorry for the Eat, Pray, Love reference, but I think it is appropriate right now.

So ... stay tuned for Erica's Italian Adventure to be on assignment in Ireland for the next 3 months! And let's hope the luck of the Irish is with this Murphy girl!

A week to make new friends

A slight change in plans had me leave my farm in Chianti and spend a glorious week in Siena instead. It was the first time I had been truly alone on this trip. Although I have been surrounded by wonderful people since I set foot in Italy, I have often felt alone, especially with the language barrier.

This week was different. I was alone and was loving every minute of it. I forgot what it was like to be able to make choices. Sounds funny, but one of the great things about WWOOF is that you don't "have" to make any choices... you are (lovingly) told when to work, what to do, when to take a break, what to eat, etc... So although it is very comfortable to just go with the flow, it is also difficult to have your independence put on hold and all control taken. Although I have not "had" to make any choices in a few months, I also have not been "able" to make them either.

So this week I did whatever I wanted. I went to bed late some nights, slept in late some mornings, ran nearly every day, wandered around the market, sat in the campo for hours ... just because I could. I people-watched until I had seen all the beautiful people I could handle for one day. I ate gelato, pici, drank wine and ate cheese every day, and at random times of the day, just because I could. It was a real vacation and I loved it.

Nearly every night I would go out by myself and stumble into a great adventure. Every night I met someone new, had a completely different experience in Siena, and loved it! I never knew who I would meet, what we would do or where we would go (in location or conversation).

Thursday was St. Patti's Day and I wandered to the Irish Pub in town, armed with my fabulous last name! Met a few Italians and a Dutch natural medicine doctor. We chatted for a bit, drank some green beer and enjoyed the U2 cover band that played.

Friday I sat in the Campo for 4 hours. While reading "The Alchemist" a guy stopped by and we started to discuss the book. We ended up at my favorite pici restaurant and sat at a table with two college students who were studying in Ferrara. Ended the night with gelato from my favorite shop in town (Grom)!

Saturday I went bar hopping! Went to watch a football (soccer) match ... really was more interested in watching the guys watch the match as that is just as entertaining! Soccer is life here. Period. At the first bar I met another WWOOFer from Georgia. We were like two peas in a pod! Went to 3 other bars that night and had a blast with her host and his friends. Enjoyed my first negroni in Italy and had a great night!

Sunday I went to check out the apperitivo in town- bars that put out "snacks" at happy hour. Was at the bar getting ready to order a glass of wine when a lady from Austin, Texas came up behind me. We sat together, enjoyed our wine and the "snacks" which included 2 hot pasta dishes, pizza, bruschetta, etc... She is here for 2 weeks doing a rowing camp and traveling around. She is a commercial architect and is now constructing a new life for herself. We had a fun and insightful conversation. What a great gal!

Monday I planned my life... made a few decisions which I will fill you in on in the next blog...

Tuesday I got my hair cut, applied for jobs in Siena and then was heading to my favorite pizza joint when I popped into a new bar that was celebrating it's re-opening night! Had a blast with the family who runs it- and enjoyed complimentary prosecco, pizza, campari, montenegro and great conversation with the brothers and grandma!

Wednesday I spent the afternoon with my friend Carlotta from Albergo Bernini and spent some lovely time in the Campo.

I loved my week. The people who I met were so interesting and I feel that they were placed in my path strategically on each of those nights, just when I was "ready" to meet, enjoy and learn from them. What a thrill of traveling alone!

More food & fun...

It has been nearly 3 months that I have been in Italy. I have eaten so many delicious meals and traveled to numerous lovely towns. And instead of writing about it as I experience it, instead I am just living it. On one hand, that feels really good. Imagine feeling like you have to (and want to) write about every day of your life... on Facebook, in a journal, on a blog and in emails. It gets exhausting and makes it difficult to live and enjoy it. But I do love sharing my adventure and want to document it as best I can.  So instead, I am doing a mass blogging tonight and catching you all up on the great culinary and travel adventures I have had in the past month or so.

Pot Roast "Nonna style"
Simple and flavorful- the quintessential Italian cooking method! Pierce 3-4 times and stuff with coarse salt, fresh rosemary, garlic cloves and a bit of pepper. Sear in EVOO on medium heat. Once browned on all sides, cover and cook on low for an hour or so (depending on size). 

Suzie made this fabulous pizza (dough from scratch of course) topped with sliced potatoes, fresh rosemary and EVOO

Chickpea soup. Using a potato ricer (or mill) puree chickpeas that have been cooked with rosemary and whole garlic cloves and top with EVOO. Are you sensing a theme here? 

Homemade Organic Granola 
I used rolled oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, a pinch of salt, buter, honey, orange rind and baked it for approx 20 minutes (watching it and tossing it carefully so it doesn't burn)

Ribolitta (Traditional Tuscan Soup)
This soup is made with cavolo nero (black cabbage) which is often grown in Tuscany. The soup is a combination of many veggies and gets better with sitting over time. Suzie's delicious version has carrots, onion, celery. garlic, potatoes, sage, farro, plum tomatoes, cavolo nero, cannelloni beans and EVOO, served with a toasted piece of bread

My personal tour guide in Orvieto. Luciano was so informative and helpful. Here we are enjoying a glass of Orvieto Classico, a blend of 5 white grapes of the area. 

Castle in Ferrara (notice the moat!)

Signature bread of Ferrara

Burrata- a little slice of cheese heaven! Feels like fresh mozzarella on the outside and has creamy buttery goodness on the inside. A real treat!

Bologna- a city filled with porticos. They say you can walk for 25 km in Bologna while its raining and never get wet. Great city (and it's large- nearly 800,000 people) great food and lots of culture and history.  The oldest university in the WORLD is located there. 

Fountain in Bologna

Spring is on its way! Hooray!

Blood oranges are plentiful in Italy

Enjoying taglietelle with Bolognese sauce

The final dinner at Suzie's Yard with students from the United World College. 
I sat at a table with high school students from around the world ... India, Pakistan, Italy, the UK, East Timor, Norway, Sudan, Canada and USA.   

The Santeniello Family at Suzie's Yard: Antonio, Suzie, Nicolai & Francesca

Fun, Food and (MY) Family

March 6th- March 12th was a fabulous week in Italy. The sun was shining, temperatures were warmer and most importantly, my cousins were in Tuscany! Jenn & Bill flew all the way from Ohio to visit me in Tuscany! We had the best week together with many fun memories, delicious experiences and captured some beautiful photos. Although there were many things that were "not possible" because it was still early March, we still managed to find a way to enjoy what each place had to offer.

Our week began in my favorite "home town", Siena. This is taken from the balcony of Albergo Bernini, a fabulous, no frills hotel with the most lovely family who operates it. In the background is the Duomo and jumbled roofline of Siena. 

Day 1
On our way to Volterra we passed by these ancient vines! I have never seen such old vines- wow!

Amphitheatre in Volterra- I believe it was from around 10 AD or maybe BC? Either way, OOOLLLLDDD!

Enjoying glasses of Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This was the first Tuscan white wine to earn the DOCG (highest) classification.

Our day ended with an adventurous drive on the very windy roads in Chianti Classico. Beautiful, forested, green, mountainous (reminds me of Colorado!) and apparently very difficult to find wineries to allow you to taste! We ended up on some dirt road and just stopped to watch this amazing sunset. 

Day 2
A trip to southern Tuscany, we began the day in Montalcino.

A tour and barrique tasting of Brunello di Montalcino at Casa Raia. This was my first WWOOF farm in Italy. The wine is amazing! Some of the best I have tasted in Montalcino (and I can honestly say now that I have tasted a lot of Brunellos). Organic, pure, rich, silky, delicious. 

My favorite pecorino cheese store in Pienza! 

The grand piazza in Montepulciano

Jenn & Bill enjoying the downhill walk in Montepulciano- it is a steep hill town!

Day 3
I climbed the 330 steep, narrow steps to the top of the tower in the Il Campo of Siena- a perfectly crisp and sunny morning allowed me to see for miles (or kilometers) in all directions!

Loved the view from the top of the tower!

And then on to Pisa. I had to put my signature mark on this photo :) 

It really is leaning, a lot!

Day 4
Monterroso al Mare- one of the towns in the Cinque Terre and our homebase for this part of the trip. We took the train to all 5 villages this day and enjoyed the charm of each town. 

Enjoying a classic treat in Vernazza, Cinque Terre. Focaccia bread with tomato sauce, pesto and cheese. Cinque Terre is known for their amazing pesto and focaccia bread. 

Corniglia, Cinque Terre. The Cherry blossoms were beginning and were stunning against the teal blue water of the Ligurian coast. 

Manarola, Cinque Terre. 

Along the Via dell'Amore... the Road of Love. This road connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. It is said that young people would meet on this road. The guy would profess his love for his girl, and then secure the lock to the guard rail and throw the key into the water, sealing his love for her forever. 

The three of us enjoying the sunset from the road of love!

It was a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean. The tree shown here is unique. I have only seen it in Cinque Terre and they grow on an angle, jutting out from the rocky coastline. This photo captures the essence of Cinque Terre for me. 

Day 5
We  ended the week in Florence and enjoyed an amazing meal together after wandering around the major sights- including the Ponte Vecchio in the background here. 

Day 6
Last photo of the trip... the Duomo in Florence. 

I was really sad to say goodbye to my cousins at the train station in Florence. We had a wonderful week and I really enjoyed having their company to share the adventure with. Hopefully more family and friends will come and visit! Wink, wink!! :) 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tuscan Sour Dough Bread

I have loved my adventures in la cucina here at Suzie's Yard at Azienda Santeniello! One of the daily joys is making the fresh sour dough bread. The flour is made by a local organic producer who specializes in preserving ancient grain (like heirloom) varieties. 

Follow along below to see how the bread is made from start to finish!

The "Madre" (aka "Mother")

The Madre requires an 8 day process to ferment correctly. Once it is ready, it just needs to be "fed" daily in order to still be effective in providing flavor and leavening. 

To make the Madre... 
2 1/2 Cups Water
2 Cups of Farina Type "O" (AP Flour)

Mix together and let sit, covered, for 3 days in the fridge. 

On days 4-7 do the following (once a day):
Take half of the madre and discard it. 
To the remaining half, add another 1 C flour and 1 C water and mix well. 
Let sit, covered, in the fridge until ready to use on day 8.

This is me feeding the madre at night (10pm)

To begin using the madre (and make more) do the following:
Using the 50g of madre, add 150g Farina (flour) and 75 mL water and mix well (as seen in photo above)

Madre is wrapped in a towel (set in a bowl) and then wrapped with a plastic bag and set in a warmish place (near the fire place or laundry room in this house)

The next morning (10am)

1. Remove 50g of the madre (reserve for later that night to feed) and set in a covered bowl in the fridge
2. Measure 500g Farina, 2 tsp Salt and 320 mL water and add to remaining madre and mix well
3. Knead well to introduce air pockets, which will help with leavening

Once the bread is kneaded (see above), then place back in towel, wrap, set in bowl, wrap with plastic bag and set in same warm place to rise. 

Approximately 5 hours later, remove dough and divide equally into desired loaves. Shape and cut an "X" into the top of the dough as shown above. 

Start oven at 300 C (600 F) and cook with convection fan for 6 minutes
Then turn to 200 C (425 F) and continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown