Tuesday 17 January 2017

Tuscan Tables

Our end-of-the-year was going to be nothing much. We were expecting to be at home looking out at fairly grey weather through Christmas and New Year's Day. But my friend Katja Meier who’s a bit of a magician (apart from being a wonderful writer and storyteller, an olive grower, a mother...and just a beautiful person!) waved her magic wand, and whisked us to the Tuscan hills.

Well, she asked if we’d like to stay in a house that sat in the middle of a vineyard overlooking a valley in the little village of Cinigiano. (What?) The house belonged to Katja’s friends, and we  could have it to ourselves for the holidays in exchange for looking after their dog and cat while their owners visited family in Naples during the holidays. 'What?' - this time from Chotto-ma, who would pay to look after pets.

This was as good as magic.

So we packed our bags and flew to Perugia, from where we drove to Cinigiano. Katja, who did not trust the car’s navigator to find the house (and quite rightly so!) met us at the village square to guide us there. She didn’t just guide us there, but thinking of every little detail, armed us with a big bag of groceries to see us though the first few meals.


The Place

We caught our first glimpse of the house as our car curved down towards its cypress-lined graveled driveway. To grab at cliches, it was a postcard of Tuscany come to life, only better. The row of cypress led us to a beautiful stone house that sits on top of a hill, looking down on a valley where the sun sets. The sun was setting when we arrived, and in all our travels, we have never seen the sun set as it did here. It was operatic, a fiery theatre of colour. We stood in awe till the chill of the evening air walked us inside. In the house, the fire was lit, there was a  bottle of wine and a note to welcome us in, and Chotto-ma was given a very excited greeting by Tobia the dog and Titiana the cat.

The note was from the very generous Basile family (Giovan Battiste, his wife Illaria and their two boys) who’d left us their beautiful family-home to end the year in, and the wine was from the Basile vineyard, which we could see rolling down in acres from the glass-covered walls of the living-room.

The Time

The days that followed were many hills away from ordinary. We watched the clouds come down to cover the valley below us every morning, and the stars - a chaos of stars - blanket the sky every night. We spent the occasional afternoon strolling around Cinigiano, excited by its hidden alleys, old doors, and the shelves of its local alimentari.

We took Tobia for walks, with Titiana following behind. D and Chotto-ma brought in firewood every morning to get the fire started and warm the house. We spent time with friends - in the village bar, on the beach, in their warm, big-hearted homes.

The People

It’s always the people that make a place and time special.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t I know that it would bring many wonderful friendships my way. Words can connect people separated by geography, and forge a map of its very own. So that when you finally meet and sit around a table and share food and thoughts, you feel you’ve known each other a long time. Katja, is one such person. She’s the author of the soon-to-be-out ‘Across the Big Blue Sea', a candid and thought-provoking memoir about her work in an Italian refugee home for Nigerian women. It's a book about a large and difficult issue, but woven with her wonderful sense of humour. I had the privilege of reading the manuscript sometime last year, and discovering a very different side to Tuscany, a more complex side that the silent rolling countryside of postcards speak nothing of. And this time I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with the person behind the book, and our families had the chance to get to know each other over raclette dinners in Katja's beautiful home and chats in their olive grove.

During our stay in Tuscany, I also had the pleasure of spending time with Raffaella Cova, who some of you may know as the lady behind ‘Lunch with Raffaella’. Like me, she spent many years in advertising, before moving on to explore other things. In her case, food and cooking. And cooking in a house that is right out of a fairytale - a wonky old stone-cottage that sits on the edge of a forest inhabited by foxes, wild boars and bears. A house filled with paintings and books. And a wheelbarrow outside piled with wood and a roaring fire to grill meat on. We ate outside under a canopy of vines through which the sun streamed in.

So it wasn’t the grey December we’d been expecting to spend. Instead, we had Chotto-ma collecting shells on the beach in a pair of shorts, we had blue skies, and the warmth of good people.

My Indian Table in Tuscany

If you follow my goings-on in Facebook, you know about the Big Indian Dinner I cooked for a house full of Tuscan friends. It’s was a wonderful evening. And there’s nothing quite like introducing people to real Indian food, and wiping away every memory they had of over-spiced Chicken Masalas and flavourless vegetables, all covered in thick non-committal gravies. And there’s nothing like sharing in their pleasure of eating home-cooked Indian food, and their surprise that the natural flavour of ingredients are not smothered with every spice in the cupboard.

The menu that evening (which I also shared on Facebook) ended with a dessert that is the easiest, quickest Bengali sweet-dish that you can make - Baked Sandesh. A serving of this is always followed by friends asking for the recipe, so I thought I’d share it on the blog. However, in Tuscany, I forgot all about taking proper photos (except the one below), so I’ll post it as soon as I’ve cooked another batch in the coming week.

Till then, I'll leave you with the many Tuscan tables we started our year with :)



  1. Sounds like an absolutely lovely holiday, Pia! Loved reading your descriptions of the place, space, and food as always:) Hope the new year is treating you brilliantly!

    1. Thanks so much, Priyanka! And happy new year to you. I look forward to seeing more of your thoughtful photography, in your new city. Love.

  2. What a wonderful experience to be surrounded by a beautiful landscape and - most importantly - such warm and generous friends.

    1. It certainly was the 'warm and generous friends' that made this much more than just a trip. It gave us the opportunity to see Tuscany really up close and personal.

  3. I wish I knew you personally. But there is no regret as I see an acquaintance being formed for which I have to thank your writing. It’s filled with so much warmth and soul that in my head it allows me to conjure up an image about you. And just like your writings the image that pops is of a happy soul, beautiful inside out; like the magic she spins with her words:) Keep writing

    1. I'm touched by your words, Roshni. Some words have the power to make you feel good inside, and lift you up on cold winter days, and your words did that for me. So, thank you. Your notes always make me feel like I know you a little too. Much love.

  4. Hi, It seems you are living magic and weaving magic.. everything seems so surreal and so full of happiness and warmth..wishing more such magic to you and your family.....I am so glad through you I am able to see such beauty and warmth...
    take care


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