A page from my personal journal dated Friday, June 11, 2010
Sadly, today is our final day at Casa Ombuto. Tomorrow morning we will rise bright and early, drive the now famous Fiat Panda back to Florence, do some shopping at Ponte Vecchio, have lunch and catch the train to Rome where we will be met by Bob and the girls. But, we have one more day, the morning is free, an afternoon cooking lesson, break and then the farewell buffet consisting of our personal requests. It will be an emotional day and we are very sad to think about leaving this little slice of heaven on earth
Kelly and I awoke early and met at the cantina for tea. We were dressed for our walk and headed up the mountain to the road around 8:30. We find the trail to be challenging, but, both of us agreed we were happy to be walking and burning off some of the calories we intake each day. The spectacular views are waiting around each corner as we push to make it to the paved road. The wildflowers are so plentiful. The patchwork of the farmland and the occasional home with bell tower and red clay roof is reminiscent of an Ellen Diamond oil painting. When we reach the summit we can see all of Poppi below. It is truly beautiful. We walk for an hour and then must quickly freshen up for our short trip into town to check out the little pottery shop next to the pizza shop Elizabeth,Kelly and I stumbled upon the day before.
At the cantina we greet our classmates who are planning their morning excursions. Lindsay and Cassie seem sad they have no transportation and I suggest we try to fit them in the Fiat and accompany us to town. They excitedly agree. It is only a fifteen minute drive, so we head down the path to the car. I am quite surprised we can fit all five in the car, although it is tight.
When we arrive at the piazza, we see Jim, Eleanor, Rosemary and Tom parking their car. I beep the crazy sounding horn and we all wave. The locals look up in surprise. One amazing thing I realize is we have not heard a single car horn since our arrival in Florence. Everyone seems to be patient here in Tuscany, which is far different than what we will experience in Rome tomorrow.
The small shop is packed with ceramics of every shape and color and we excitedly search for more treasures, all of us amazed at the low prices. Laura later told me the Vietri is made in the southern regions. We begin to make our individual selections and the clerk bubble wraps each piece and puts them in cardboard boxes for shipment. She explains we can ship 20 kilos for 200 euro at the post office. We know we can do better than this if we investigate, and after paying we return to the Fiat with two large bags each for Kelly, Elizabeth and I. Lindsay and Cassie have one bag each which they agree to hold on their laps. I unlock the trunk and somehow we are able to pack our packages in the back. I suggested we take the packages back to the ceramics factory where we were the day before and have them pack and ship our things back in a wooden crate. Kelly was afraid they would not want to do this for merchandise purchased somewhere else. I told her we should try. And, we all packed back into the Fiat like sardines, off to Tanaressi. With “I-speak Italian”, an app on my I-Phone in hand, we walked back into the ceramics showroom. The two salesman were surprised to see us return. I attempt to explain our request. After several translations on my I-Phone,we were successful. In fact, they were happy to accommodate us. They promised to rewrap and pack our things and ship them with the other things. The crates would arrive at our door in 2 weeks max. We told them in Italian we would recommend them to all of our friends and they hugged us and gave us the traditional Italian kisses, first on the left cheek then on the right. We had made new amici, oh and we had added to their economy in the process. We all were happy and headed back up the mountain to Casa Ombuto for lunch and our final class and farewell buffet.
On the rocky road up the mountain we encountered a stray bale of hay right in the middle of our path. Kelly jumped put of the Fiat to move it aside. We were fearful someone would come flying around the bend as they had done several times before. I rolled down the window and suggested we put it on top of the roof and she did as Elizabeth, Lindsay, Cassie and I laughed hysterically. I figured we needed some light entertainment back at the Casa. We were very close to our
destination but drove slowly so the bale would not slide off the roof. When we pulled up in front of the cantina the group greeted us with jaws dropped and laughing wildly. Chef Laura smiled and laughed and said…” where you get?”. Tom and Jim just shook their heads smiling as Eleanor and Rosemary said, “you girls are so much fun”. We announced, “only 20 Euro……for this bale of hay……”
Laura asked if we could all gather around the car and take a picture with her on top……sitting on the bale. We told her it would be a great Facebook profile picture. We all laughed till we cried.
After freshening up we returned to the cucina where we prepared the recipes we had requested. Tom wanted to learn how to make good meatballs, Eleanor, red sauce, Kelly , gnocchi, and others wanted to learn some of the dishes Laura had prepared for our dinner the night we arrived. The kitchen was a buzz with laughter as we followed our lovely instructor for the final time. Danielle was busy with white tablecloths, at least fifty red roses, white candles and fresh ivy vines from the garden. I learned it is not necessary to use a professional floral arrangement, even wild flowers and grasses can be a beautiful compliment in a simple glass vase. Life is very simple in Tuscany. Kelly and I promised each other we would bring home this simplicity and incorporate it in our own homes. Simple, fresh ingredients prepared in simple ways. One thing I also noticed…..there’ is no microwave as Casa Ombuto!
Chef Laura atop the Fiat Panda surrounded by her class at Mediterranean Cooking Class - Casa Ombuto
Laura and Barbara wanted to take more pictures of us on the Fiat that stayed parked in front the of cucina. We all had our aprons on and thought it would be the perfect group picture for our class. It sort of summed up in words the fun we had with this great group who shared our dream with us. So, Laura once again was helped atop the Fiat, and we fit as many in the car as possible and all around. Barbara took the picture so we all would be included. We returned to our rooms around 7:30 to dress for our farewell dinner in the garden.
Everyone looked beautiful as we made our way back to the cantina where champagne flutes awaited us on the rustic wooden table outside of the cucina. Laura motioned for me to come in and told me she thought I was a beautiful person and
she wanted to stay in touch with Kelly and I. I told her she was welcome to come and visit us in Florida whenever she could. She said she would like to come to teach class with me. I told her I would be honored and it would be something the girls would love, and cherish, so we would make a plan. Barbara led a toast as we all clicked our glasses cooking straight into the eyes of the other person……very important. And as the beautiful platters of food were carried to the pergola in the garden, we headed to the buffet in trepidation, wanting to taste the food that smelled so delicious yet wanting the evening to never end.
The gnocchi was served in two ways. One was a pomodoro sauce that took 4 kilos of tomatoes and about two hours to prepare and yielded two cups of sauce. The rest of the gnocchi was bathed in a gorgonzola cheese sauce. OMG!!!! The pasta with basil and oil with speck,an Italian meat similar to bacon, was once again my personal favorite. Tom and Jim had rolled the meatballs made of pork and veal in chopped almonds at Laura ‘s instruction. The roasted fennel was unbelievable, the chicken tangine….amazing. Laura prepared a plate for Tom and when he took it from her realized the three pastas were the colors of the Italian flag…..nice presentation. The salad was wonderful….so delicious and accompanied by a wonderful white wine from the Tuscan region. The red was our favorite Tartarini from our friend at the chateau
It was Jim’s 65 th birthday and he had no idea when the lights went out and the chocolate cake with cherries arranged in a small heap on top and ivy vines falling down the sides, dusted lightly with confectioner sugar and candles burning…..it was for him. We sang happy birthday and after he blew out the candles, Eleanor read the email wishes sent from his children and best friend. It was a
Jim's chocolate birthday cake "Tenernia" made and decorated by Danielle
wonderful surprise to be a part of.
After the cake was eaten, Laura asked if she could be excused. When she returned she had changed from her chefs clothing to a beautiful sheer top, pants, looking lovely with makeup and a slightly different hair style. She presented each of us with our certificates individually sharing her thoughts about us as she went thru every name. We received a warm hug and smile from her as we promised to one day return. As the shot glasses appeared and Danielle with the bottles, we sipped our after dinner drinks and reminisced. Laura told us she would not see us in the morning as she would be heading to Milan and wanted to say her goodbyes tonight. It was a fitting sendoff in the Casa Ombuto style.
Kelly and I walked arm in arm back to our apartment sad to be leaving early in the morning.
His is truly a slice of heaven on earth!