Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Melograni del Chianti—wine jugs

Tucked away in corners the Tuscan villa where we stayed last fall (I Melograni del Chianti) were all sorts of unusual treasures to us New Englanders—various oversized wine jugs and enormous terra cotta vases planted with flowers—but they are oh so ubiquitous in Italy. The baskets encasing these old wine jugs were falling apart and looked interesting against the colorful stone wall at sunset, so I couldn't resist painting them. (Oil on canvas, 8" x 10.")

Friday, March 30, 2012

I Melograni del Chianti—Chickens

At the Tuscan villa (I Melograni del Chianti) we stayed there was also a brood of about eight chickens and a very vocal rooster. I didn't mind hearing it crow every morning though, because it reminded me that I was in the the beautiful Italian countryside. The rooster DOCG label  shown below is on Chianti wines (and other regional products), authenticating that they are from the Chianti region. We fed the chickens and rooster our veggie scraps each morning from the previous night's dinner. (Oil on canvas, 8" x 10.")

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Melograni—The Pomegranate

Last fall we stayed in a Tuscan villa called I Melograni del Chianti, or The Pomegranate in Chianti. This is an "agriturismo" property, meaning that it's a working farm that's open to tourists. I Melograni has vineyards and an olive grove, and it makes its own wines and olive oils, both of which you can purchase from the gracious owner, Serena. There were exotic pomegranate trees all around the property, full of their luscious ripe red fruits. Many historians believe pomegranates were the "apples" in the Garden of Eden; like Eve, I was tempted to pluck one from a tree, but resisted. Above are a few of them that I painted—oils on a 10" x 10" canvas, and below is a photo Dan took of me early one sleepy morning, looking from the pomegranate trees toward our room:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Devil's horns

Hosta leaves emerging from 
the earth each spring always remind
 me of devil's horns.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Veggie soup with chili and lime

I make this colorful soup when I don't really feel like cooking and just want to make something quick and easy. I swear it only takes 10 minutes. It's chicken broth with rice noodles, and a melange of fresh veggies—such as carrots, yellow pepper, red pepper, pea pods, and scallions—that are added in and warmed for only a minute or so. I cook the carrots first though (separately) because they take the longest to cook. For spicy heat I add either chili oil or crushed chili peppers, or you could add a bit of sriracha chili paste. A squeeze of lime juice adds a bright citrus note, and at the very end I always add fresh cilantro leaves (which I hadn't done yet when this photo was snapped). For protein, sometimes I'll add in shrimp that's been sauteéd with garlic. The colors in this soup are so bright and the flavors are so fresh that you'll want to make it often, whether you are or aren't in the mood to cook!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad about Mad Men!

Hello Sterling Cooper Draper Price—Mad Men (and women) are back!  Last night's episode was fun and got us all up to speed with the goings on of those wacky Madison Avenue ad men of the 60s. Mattel got in the groove when they launched their Mad Men Barbie® doll series a few years ago, always on the pulse of what's hot. Shown above from left to right are Joan, Roger, Don and Betty. They all look neat and snappy in their classic suits, monogrammed shirts, fabulously coiffed hair, red lipstick and faux pearls. They nixed accessories like martini glasses and ashtrays, but hey, the Don Draper doll comes with a hat and briefcase! 

We don't have the Barbie dolls, but we celebrated the return of Mad Men with our own little retro cocktail party with appropriate libations. AMC inspired us with a page of classic old school drinks  to choose from. We chose the old fashioned (pictured; Don's drink of choice), and martinis

photo, Dan Ryan

Then of course we needed retro foods. Even though I actually have truffled fois gras in my freezer we skipped the beef Wellington idea... and the fondue... and instead went for a fun assortment of finger foods—including deviled eggs, crabbies and cocktail meatballs—and a crunchy iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon. Wishing we bought a Sky Bar for dessert. 

photo, Dan Ryan

The show was really well done, and we're looking forward the rest of the season. What the heck is Lane up to? Is Don with his young French-Canadian wife really happy? Does Peggy hate having to manage Don's wife Megan? Where was Betty? How do you keep a white carpet clean? Will the agency stay afloat until Joan returns? Does Roger know that Joan's baby is really his, and not by her husband in Vietnam? How will SCDP handle all those equal opportunity applications? Inquiring minds need to know! Zou bisou bisou.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Higgledy piggledy crocuses

photo, Dan Ryan

It's been ridiculously warm here—way too warm and way too early—so the crocuses in our Japanese maple grove Have waxed and waned far too quickly. Here they are in full bloom about a week ago. I planted thousands of crocuses in our yard about 8 years ago and each spring the show is more delightful that the previous year. For me a mass planting was serious business—I needed to plant tons of them because to me, more is more, and it's all about the drama. Well, isn't it?

Here's how I bought the bulbs "on the cheap," and how I planted them. For a few years at the very end of the gardening season (somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving) I'd buy vast amount of crocus bulbs that were dramatically marked down from places like Home Depot and Lowes. My feeling was that if the ground wasn't frozen, I could still plant spring bulbs! Surely it would have been nice to give the bulbs several weeks to set roots before the really cold weather set in, but as you can see they've done all right. So often, on cold autumn nights after work, I'd be out in the yard in the dark planting the all these bulbs. Obsessive, I know, but I had a vision of all these crocuses in bloom each spring and they haven't let me down once. I'd dig a big patch of soil and grass with my shovel, flip it up and over, plant anywhere from 3 to 12 bulbs, toss in some bulb booster granules, then flip the soil back on top. Then I'd stomp on the earth and push the soil back into place. I repeated that about a zillion times more until all the bulbs were planted, keeping in mind a sense of randomness that nature might plant—3 bulbs here, 6 bulbs there, nothing symmetrical, just all higgledy piggledy. The chippies and squirrels occasionally dig up bulbs and transplant them to different parts of the yard, and it's always a nice surprise to see a random purple blossom where I know I didn't plant them. Serendipity in the garden. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tuscan road with cypress trees

It's hard to resist painting the cypress trees of Tuscany. I can't wait to get back to Italy... anywhere in beautiful Italy. This oil painting is 8 x 10 inches.

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tuscan hill with two hay rolls

I must have had spring and the pastel colors of Easter on my mind when I painted these two Tuscan hay rolls. The canvas is 8 x 10 inches.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cypress allée

Here is another oil painting in my new Tuscan series. I find the ubiquitous cypress trees to be enchanting in a slightly mysterious sort of way. They are good solid trees that punctuate the landscapes, or when planted in rows like this they look like soldiers keeping guard or welcoming you to the farmhouse beyond. This one is 8 x 10 inches.

(Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Every day is a winding road...

... especially if you are driving through Bella Tuscany! This new Tuscan painting of mine is in dreamy shades of blues, purples and greens and is small at just 6 x 9 inches. Imagine living in that farmhouse and having that grand view? Sigh. 

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Orange colored sky

This painting of the rolling Tuscan hills with an orange colored sky is one of several new paintings I have recently done (in oils). As I was painting it I couldn't help hearing Natalie Cole singing her Orange Colored Sky song in my head. Have a listen to this fun song on You Tube to understand. Natalie's father, Nat King Cole, also sang a great version of the song.

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Carrot jam

This easy-to-make carrot jam is gorgeous on bread with butter and toasted almond slivers, and I suspect it would work very well with a fresh ricotta cheese, a rich brie or St. André cheese, or even a more healthy Greek yogurt. It sounds like a strange recipe but it tastes like a regular sweet jam, with just a trace of carrot taste locked inside the deep orange color. I got this carrot confiture recipe from French Food at Home chef Laura Calder (French cooking Goddess!). She calls for almond bits in the jam, but I opted to toast whole almond slivers and sprinkle them on top afterwards. Either way, this would be great addition to an Easter brunch.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pommes Anna

See, it doesn't have to be fancy to be fancy. These Pommes Anna are just plain old potatoes, cut thin and cooked in clarified butter... or was it duck fat? Maybe it was a mixture of both. Anyway, this was cooked slowly in a cast iron pan and served as a side dish to a French roasted chicken, but it could just as happily be the main dish with a salad on the side. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. Ohh la laa!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seek and you shall find...

Scientists use an endoscope to look behind a mural.
Researcher Maurizio Seracini (front left) views video from behind 
a Giorgio Vasari mural in Florence. 
photo from

Here in the 21st century—when high tech science and art historians and researchers work together for a single cause—anything can happen. So how about finding a lost Leonardo da Vinci mural behind a false wall? It's almost like something you'd expect to read in a Dan Brown novel, but experts are close to finding out. It's a long story, but my very short version is that art researcher Maurizio Seracini was studying a painting at the Palazzo Vecchio, which is Florence's city hall. The painting, by Giorgio Vasari, is called The Battle of Marciano, and Seracini noticed small writing on a flag in the paining that read cerca trova, which translates to Seek and you shall find. Goosebumps, right? Seracini is very sure that Leonardo's lost painting called The Battle of Anghiari is behind that mural somewhere and is determined to find out for sure. I only hope the top painting won't be ruined in the process of uncovering the Leonardo painting, if it's really there. 

Wanna know more? If you were lucky enough to catch the documentary about this on the Nat Geo channel (like me) then you were one step ahead of this exciting news. You can read the entire story and see video and more photos here on the Nat Geo website.

POSTSCRIPT: Click herehere and here for an update of lost Leonardo mystery.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dahlias floraison

I intend to plant a big cutting garden this year—the backbone of which will be a rhapsody of hot colored dahlias! I love the idea of masses of dahlias floraison—that's French for in full bloom—and just imagine vases perpetually filled with these bright and cheery varieties, all in warm shades of pinks, oranges, and yellows. (I am also planning a big wild flower meadow, but that's another story for another day.) For the dahlias I have most of the tubers all bought and have sturdy wooden stakes ready to plunge into the earth for supports. I also need to make sure I beef up the soil with loads of composted manure because dahlias are very heavy feeders. I recently read in the Encyclopedia of the Exquisite that legendary gardeners Vita Sackville-West (Virginia Woolf's lover) and Katharine White  (New Yorker editor) discussed in their letters to each other how "vulgar" they thought dahlias (and gladiolas) were, and even went so far as to call these razzle-dazzle blossoms "simply embarrassing." Isn't that hilarious? Well I think that my new dahlia cutting garden will be a panoply of colorful wonderment! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Citrus blossom

Isn't this lovely? I was inspired by all the glorious seasonal citrus options currently in the markets to make this colorful citrus blossom. There are so many delightfully sweet options to choose from, including darling little clementines, Cara Cara, Valencia and regular old Navel oranges, Moro blood oranges, Mineola and Honey Bell tangelos, and grapefruits in shades of ruby red, pink, and white. I glazed and set the blossom with a few thin layers of citrus infused gelatin. You may remember that last March I made a citrus terrine with an avocado mouse.

photos, Diane Carnevale

Monday, March 12, 2012

Indian curry lentil soup

This spicy Indian curry lentil soup is filled with fiber and goodness, and it's delicious! In it are sturdy French lentils and the other usual suspects found in soups—sauteed onions and garlic etc., etc. Oh, and the curry spice of course. I added lots of sliced carrots and a couple of mini plum tomatoes for a dash of tartness, then added fresh cilantro leaves just before serving. The thing that's interesting about this soup is that if you omitted the chicken broth, it would still make a fab side dish or lentil salad.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Espaliered pear tree

pear tree, about 10 years old 

I bought this espaliered pear tree when it was just a baby, standing at only two and a half feet tall and with only a couple of silly looking branches sticking east and west from its tiny vertical stem. But I knew its ultimate potential. BTW, espalier just means to train in French, and it's a good way to use vertical space in small areas. We planted the pear tree facing South against a new wooden fence. Below is how the tree looked around 10 year ago as a tiny little thing. The tree, the cast iron urns, and the fence were all very young! Read about my autumn pear harvest here.

pear tree the first year it was planted, in around 2003

pear tree about 4 years later—still needing some side branches

Over time—12 years to be precise—the tree has grown into a lovely specimen that produces vast quantities of juicy pears each fall. It takes a bit of TLC and constant pruning of the "water sprouts," but I think it's worth it because the tree is interesting in each and every season. The tree starts out with a riot of fluffy white buds that the bees pollinate, and by early summer the pollinated blossoms swell and pears begin to grow. Pear trees are not self pollinators so you'll need two trees for the bees to do their magic. The sweet pears grow larger over the summer and eventually turn from lime green to a glorious bronze color. In fall after the pears have all been picked and eaten the leaves turn shades of yellow and copper and eventually drop to the ground. It's most beautiful in winter when you can see the bones of the tree without the leaves, especially after a light snowfall. To make your own espaliered trees you'll need the tree, a sturdy wall to tie the branches to, a good pear of pruners, and lots of patience!

pear tree in early spring

pear tree in mid spring

 pear tree in summer

pear tree in early fall

pear tree in late fall

pear tree in ver late fall, leaves have all fallen

pear tree in winter 

Best of all, the pears are delicious!

All photos, Diane Carnevale

One more...
After a heavy winter snow storm!


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Farro, mushrooms and baby spinach

Some would call this a farro risotto, or a farroto but since I don't cook the farro the way that I would an aborio rice, this doesn't quite seem accurate. To make it I sautéed some diced shallots in butter and olive oil, added the farro and some white wine, then cooked that off until it was dry, and then for about a minute more. Then I added in some chicken stock, salt and pepper, and cooked the farro as I would a regular brown rice. Meanwhile, I sautéed the earthy mélange of sliced mushrooms (cremini, oyster, and shitake, and button) with garlic, white wine and fresh sprigs of thyme. When the farro was cooked I added in the mushroom mixture and just before serving I grated in some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sometimes I toss in a handful of baby spinach leaves, sometimes I add parsley leaves. I found a similar farro and mushroom recipe from the NY Times website. Whatever you call this dish, a mushroom farroto or just farro and mushrooms, it's nutty, savory, and ultimately, a healthy comfort food. photo, Diane Carnevale

Friday, March 9, 2012

A parade of colors!

A friend and former colleague of mine is in a group exhibit at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA. Trelawney Goodell was the VP of Art and Design at the publishing developing house where we both worked several years ago. She has since retired from the book making world and gotten serious about her photography! Her photos in this new exhibit are from years of photos she's taken at the annual Patriots Day parade in her hometown of Lexington, MA. In particular, Trelawney is "drawn to common threads that run throughout the parade like the flags, drums, uniforms... and... the vast variety of details, patterns, and colors." The exhibit includes photos from eclectic array of other photographers as well, and runs through March 25th. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Strawberries and cream

This is my take on strawberries and cream. Goat cheese, strawberries, confex sugar and honey were blitzed in a food processor, then folded into freshly whipped cream. This fluffy mix was dolloped into large strawberries that were split into four segments that resembled flowers. The pink peppercorns that I sprinkled on top added a lovely bite.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

From Russia with love

If you're interested in Russia or Russian culture, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, MA has a new exhibit called MAPS: Pathways to Russia, showing February 28 through May 26, 2012. There's so many wonderful pieces of Russian culture at this small museum that has it's own modest little Russian Tea Room for refreshments. The museum regularly has traditional Russian music concerts (think balalaika!), Russian dancing, Russian language lectures, icon studies, and other interesting workshops, such as the upcoming one on pysanky—the intricate art of making Ukranian Easter eggs. This museum is a Russian gem and worth the drive to find it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mushroom + celery carpaccio salad

Sometimes the humblest ingredients combined together can make the most elegant dishes. This certainly is one of those dishes. Thinly shaved button mushrooms, celery, and Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese make a lovely carpaccio salad. Use a mandolin to (carefully!) slice the celery, mushrooms and cheese, layer it all on a plate, drizzle with lemon juice and good extra virgin olive oil, then finish with fleur de sel and freshly cracked blacked pepper. Finally, sprinkle with some celery leaves —the light and sweet leaves from the inside of the stalk, not the bitter darker ones from the outside. Even if you generally don't care for raw mushrooms this salad doesn't taste as earthy as you would think with all the other flavors singing for attention. The recipe idea came from chef Mary Ann Esposito (Ciao Italia). It's crunchy and full of flavor, yet light as a feather.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sugar sugar

all photos, Diane Carnevale

Have you seen those buckets on sugar maple trees around town? The nights are still cold but the days are warming up, which means the sap is rising and it's time to make sweet maple syrup! These photos were taken around Hamilton and Wenham last week at homes that are lucky enough to have large sugar maples.  To tap a tree for sap a tree needs to be at least a foot wide (you can place more taps if your trees are wider), and you'll get between 10 and 20 gallons of sap per tap. It'll take about 11 gallons of tree sap to boil down to make a quart of maple syrup. The Essex County Coop in Topsfield sells taps and buckets and you can learn how to tap your sugar maple trees to make your own maple syrup here. Excellent quality maple syrup is expensive to buy, so tap your sugar maples trees if you have any in your yard!