Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving & some floral inspiration...

I hope you and you have a fabulous Thanksgiving day. 

I am so happy to be having family and friends to my house this year, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday to host. 

If you need a little floral motivation, I'll do a quick review of my three step method for making full and natural looking floral arrangements. This process is tried and true and it works for any size or shape of bouquet. 

Today I created two medium sized arrangements in porcelain soup terrines to be positioned on my golden yellow table cloth in between footed dishes filled with fruit and herbs.

I'm going for a seriously orange affect featuring clementines and persimmons and some dripping and dropping grapes for that Old Dutch Masters still~life look.

This time of year, I needed to buy most of my flowers, but I still had plenty of greens to use in the garden, see what I harvested below.

Step 1 is all about the greens. I find that the best looking bouquets start with a foundation of at least 3 different greens, including a variety of shades and textures.  

I used soup tureens for my vessels, so the sides are somewhat low. To create a stable foundation I leaned branches of Sage, Hebe and Dusty Miller around the perimeter of the tureen, leaving the thick part of the stems attached to anchor more upright sprigs.

Then I packed more sprigs in the center, creating a support structure for the arrangement. Here's the view from the side,

and the view from the top, revealing all of the "gaps" to be filled

with flowers, which is step 2.

These apricot colored roses are the central attraction of these centerpieces,

complemented with a variety of other orange tinged flowers. 

Odd numbered collections of flowers always look better and more natural in an arrangement. Also, clumping a few of the same flowers together resembles what you would see in nature. 

I used mostly orange toned flowers, but had to add some white stock because I love the peppery fragrance and I think they look nice with the white porcelain. 

 Step 3 is a little added item of interest, something unique and eye catching that adds a special finishing touch and unusual texture to the arrangement. For these bouquets I used shiny orange and green rosehips from the garden. 

and sprigs of deep red freesia, with plenty of vine~like green buds. Freesia is another flower with that peppery fragrance that I love on the dinner table. 

Here's the overall look, don't worry, I'll pull out the silver tomorrow.

I've been cooking up a storm today, so I can relax a little tomorrow.

A couple of new recipes I'm trying include this Dry Rub for Turkey, then I'm going to glaze and lacquer it.

I usually just wing it, but found this Port Cranberry Sauce recipe which is quite fabulous and easy. 

Finally, I decided to try the Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie baked in a Cast Iron Pan, using rum instead of bourbon, and let me tell you, my kitchen smells divine.

I don't know, I may break down and just serve it for breakfast.

I am so thankful for you, my dear readers, you bring so much to my world. 

Thank you for following me and sharing in my adventures. 

Again, I wish you a very nice Thanksgiving with your friends and family.

xo, ebh

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The ride to Pigna, Italy, and a happy ending to a beautiful day...

...and thank goodness I did stay on because the route to Pigna, through the Val Nervia was beautiful and fragrant. Wild thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint and juniper were all along the trails. If I were to direct a movie about an inconceivably picturesque horseback ride through the Italian Alps, I couldn't have ever imagined a more lovely set than the one we rode through that day. Of course, surrounded by all of that natural beauty, I couldn't help but to garnish the assiette de fromage for lunch that day.

Along on the ride was guide Scott's mother Christine who is a studied herbalist and very knowledgeable of all of the plants in these hills. We spent much of the ride comparing names of the different plants, fruits and flowers along the way and she told me how they were used as natural remedies in french country life.

Hedges of Eucalyptus in the Italian Alps. 
She was present in the formative years of these "into the wild" adventures, along with former husband Denis {Click on Horsing around in The Alps to read about his interesting background} who runs Horse and Ventures today.  This family truly lived the French rural life, in fact, she told me that when they first married they chose to live in a farmhouse in the mountains without electricity or running water, much to her parents concern. That penchant for the more simple rural life, and a passion for animals and nature was intrinsic on this trip. 

Wild Juniper trees in the Italian Alps {there are 2 different varieties}. 
She also taught french in the Czech Republic and was {appreciably} relentless about correcting my vowel sounds, which she says is one of the main problems foreigners have with speaking understandable French. Click on French Vowel lesson to see the video I took of her pronouncing the 5 basic vowel sounds for me to practice, afterward you'll see Scott and another rider who joined us, John Baptiste, from Nice, explaining the additional sounds for the vowels {there's a total of 13 sounds}. This has actually really helped me in my communication, many times I have known the words but people haven't been able to understand me, I find as I really focus on making the correct vowel sounds I've had greater success in communicating with the French. 

Strawberry trees, arbutus unedo in the Italian Alps
The trails were surrounded with Strawberry Trees {arbutus unedo}, loaded with fruit and flocked with fluttering butterflies, they truly looked surreal against the clear blue skies as we trotted along the aisles they framed. 

This area is known as the "Cinque Valli", which runs from Cap Martin, France to Diano Marine, Italy, along the rivera and back into the valleys at the base of the alps in the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Alpi Liguri <~ click here to see how you can hike through this Italian section of the Alps facing the sea, and enjoy all of the rich culture, food and history it has to offer. 

Wild Rosehips, Italian Alps
There were a few villages along the way, but on this day we were mostly in rural, unpopulated lands. The end of the ride, however, was a paved, winding road descending through thick olive groves with cars and harvest vehicles passing by... not the most peaceful section of the ride. 

I was actually pleased we got a little lost as we got into town, because it resulted in a wonderful run on the beautiful, soft trails along the River Nervia, a popular walking spot for locals and tourists. Higher in the hills there are hot springs that pour out of the mountains and flow into the famous thermal baths of Pigna.

When we turned around and got back to our meeting spot we were greeted by a wonderful group of Italians. I was impressed again with Scott's ability to figure out how we could get from point to point, accommodating our horses and our humans. We removed the tack and stored it in an open air warehouse of the local housewares store. 

The owner of the store rides horses as well, so he let our horses stay in his riding ring. As soon as we released them, the horses took a well deserved roll in the sand, we broke up bales of hay for them to eat and then headed up to Comune di Pigna, named for it's resemblance to the shape of a pine cone. 

Renato, the owner of the fabulously cozy, ancient, modernized just enough B&B, Via Col Tempo picked us up and drove us to the foot of the village. We walked along the dark winding alleys or "chibi's", which were created by the practice of building newer homes on top of older homes, into the side of the hill, creating a tall fortress and somewhat of a labyrinth over the centuries. 

As much as I was trying to focus on immersing myself in French, I have to admit I was elated to have the chance to speak english with he and his wife Nadia, since they were both fluent. There is a great love story behind this B &B. The couple is from Pigna, but didn't know each other growing up because of their age difference. They both left Italy and had their worldly experiences but then met up when visiting family back in Pigna again. Today, Nadia's mother lives next door to them and tends an expansive garden up in the hills. This sophisticated couples passion for their village, rural upbringing, family and Italian country culture brought them back to Pigna to settle. This passion is manifested in their chic, authentic B&B.

Via Col Tempo, Pigna, Italy
The inn offered stunning views of the valleys, hills and neighboring classic medieval Ligurian village, Castelvittorio.


The rooms were painted in rich colors with rugged exposed wooden beams. They're thoughtfully  furnished with a combination of antiques and modern conveniences creating a relaxing and welcoming environment. Simple luxuries like candles, books, and nice bathroom amenities added to the pleasure of the setting.

Nadia and her mother made a wonderful dinner for us that they served in the cozy kitchen/dining room, the highlight of which was her tender, homemade gnocchi topped with a rich ragu. Many of the vegetables came from their garden. 

I loved the rich, textural combination of the slate counter tops and the zinc wrapped drawers. The cool, rich gray patina looked wonderful against the warm brick tones.

After dinner, I took a long hot bath 

and that was a very happy ending to a beautiful day.

This day we travelled 15.59 miles. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

this is f*!#ing insane... onto Rocchetta Nervina, Italy

Our day "tra cielo e mare" {between sky and sea} started off beautifully, with a tour of more of Luciana's art throughout Altoblu, including elaborately mosaicked powder rooms in other guest rooms {see below},

a true Italian cappuccino

and a walk through her lush gardens overlooking the sea. 

The horses had spent the night feasting in a ravine and were ready to hit the trail again.

Provencia di Imperia is a rich agricultural region known for their dry stone walls which inhabitants have been building into the slopes of the Alps for hundreds of years, filling them with soil, and growing their crops where they could soak up a maximum dose of sunshine.

Grapes, from which they make Roccese or "wine grown on the rocks"are a major crop in this region. The dry, rocky soil, intense sun and stainless steel vats give the wine my favorite dry, minerally characteristic. 

The olives were ripe and ready to harvested as we passed through these lush hills bathed in fall sunlight.

We roamed through acres of beautiful gray green olive groves where nets were being stretched over the soil beneath the trees, waiting for the ripe fruit to drop to the ground after workers strike the branches with wooden "Trappe's"

We even stopped for lunch in an olive grove above Airole. 

We passed through many small villages along the way, greeted by barking dogs, whinnying horses and children standing on terraces waving and marvelling at the herd of horses travelling along their  roads. 

Wandering through these towns on horseback offered a unique, interactive experience.
The "Frantoio's" {olive oil mills} in the villages were busy processing the freshly picked olives morning through night.

Many villages were situated around rivers and streams, a perfect place for our horses to rehydrate.

 This church in Torri Liguria, along the Via Lungo Bevera was decorated with flags and chairs, tables and speaker were set out as they prepared for their "Sagra della Castagna" or Chestnut festival, a popular tradition throughout Italy. The people sitting on the other side of the stone wall {you can see their heads} were busy with the arduous task of cutting the hard shells off barrels of chestnuts to be served for the celebration, roasted, in pasta, on pizza, in honey, gelato and other sweets. They even make a liqueur from the nuts

The people of Airole rushed to the village square as we clicked up their cobbled walkways and let the horses stop to drink from their fountain. They fondly petted our horses and gave us bottles of water as well.

We continued climbing through the towns narrow roads to make our way back up to the hills.

In hindsight, we all agreed we probably should have stayed in Airole rather than pushing on to Roccetta Nervina that evening, because it was a long~long ways away. We ended up covering almost 22 miles that day, and the last part was where the terror and mystery part of this film came into play. 

Navigating through this and any rural area can be challenging. The guide used a paper map and also an Italian map ap on his phone. But sometimes, the trails weren't cleared, sometimes bridges on the trail were washed out, sometimes they weren't clearly marked and we missed the trail and had to backtrack to find it. A combination of these factors is why we ended up running our horses down forested rocky roads to try to make it through the woods before the sun set {cue terror music here}. 

There was still a little light when we found the trail above the steep woods. We decided to allow the horse to go "laizzez~faire" tying up their reins so they can find their own footing and not be concerned with their riders. We took different positions throughout the pack and herded them down, using phones and headlights to light the way. Much of the ground was soft and spongy but there were also rocks they had to navigate. One horse fell, cutting her inner flank, another landed on the guides ankle when jumping up a boulder. 

I don't cuss very often, and especially not in front of my kids, but as I was running along "allezing" the ponies all I could think was what I texted to my family, in case they end up needing to try to find me... "this is f*!#ing insane", typing a quick description of what was happening before getting back to my herding duties. 

Continuing on along the dark trail, I heard a familiar "whinny" in the distance, that's when we realized we had lost a horse, and it was my sweet horse, Usalaine. She and the more dominant horse of the pack, Windy, did not get along and I believe she took off because she was in line with Windy who can be very aggressive to her. She came back to the group and we continued on.

All too slowly, the lights of the Rocchetta Nervina came into view and grew brighter. When we finally got to the village road and remounted our horses my "banana", the bag holding all of my clean clothes and my ipod, was no longer on the back of the saddle, the ropes were still tied on but the bag had been cleanly ripped of my horses back.

We stayed that night at a grand old lodge of a hotel, Lago Bin. Approaching the hotel shell shocked, and covered with dirt, burrs and leaves was absolutely surreal as we watched floods of costumed Italians coming towards us to go to the big Halloween party they were throwing at the hotel that night. We had to wait for someone to show us where to take the horses so revelers came out to pet the horses as they sipped their cocktails. They probably thought we were a part of the entertainment!

After settling the horses into an enclosed pasture across the street from the hotel, we were all ready for a glass of wine and dinner. We settled into their cozy rock cavern restaurant  and feasted on a massive spread of delicious local cuisine

Truth be told, I was thinking of quitting that night. It was a long, exhausting and scary day; I didn't have any clean clothes to put on and wouldn't for the next 3 days and nights. But promises of a shorter ride, ending at the charming village of Pigna the next got me back in the saddle again... oh and also because I didn't want to leave Uslaine. 

On this, our longest day we travelled 21.87 miles.