Posts Tagged With: cooking

Discovering chillies at the San Salvador Hotel…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone?

Well, I had a busy weekend up in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Emilia-Romagna coastline (on the calf of Italy’s boot) where the San Salvador Hotel had teamed up with Alba Peperoncino to introduce me and some wonderful fellow bloggers to the world of chillies.

Alba Peperoncino

Alba Peperoncino are a small agricultural company specialising in chilli plants, using dozens of different types to make oils, seeds, jams, condiments, dried peppers, chilli powder…and more recently and somewhat unrelated, hemp! (See here for the full product list). I was struck by their passion and knowledge of their industry. We went to visit their farm and greenhouses to see them in action.  You can see from their farm and talking to them that they’re a very ethical company; having a “bio” certificate to prove it, meaning their processes and products are all natural and organic. There’s an emphasis on sustainable, high quality produce and the majority of their products are suitable for vegans and are gluten-free.

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Chilli plants as far as the eye can see! The top right picture which you might think looks a bit suspicious is hemp. This is a new area for them and it’s become quite the top seller on Amazon. We actually tried the hemp in the form of tea one evening – it’s renowned for is relaxing properties. Despite being a bit bitter, I think it’s fair to say we all slept very well after!

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend going to visit them at their base and organise a tasting session. We tried many of their products over the course of the weekend and I have to say, all of them were absolutely delicious. I bought quite a bit: 3 jams (savoury and sweet with a mix of different peppers combined with figs, onions or strawberries), some diced chillies in oil and a massive jar of ginger and pepper jam. The chillies in oil go amazingly with cheese and pasta and the jams are great with bread or again, with cheese.

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My haul!

You can buy their products online through amazon.it.

A bit about Chilli Peppers

I have never before delved into the world of chillies. I was vaguely aware there were different sorts (long red ones, fat red ones, short red ones…) and varying heat levels (ow, ow-ow, ow-ow-ow) but I had never imagined there were thousands of them and the categorisation is a bit more advanced than the number of “ow’s”.

We had a talk from Claudio Dal Zovo from the Pepperfriends Association who’s literally written the book on chillies (or at least one of them!). The book is an 80 page delve into the world of chillies called Peperoncino: Dalla semina al consuma (loosely translated as “Chilli: from seed to plate”)! He was one of the first to discover some of the super-hot chillies. He gave an excellent introduction, focusing primarily on the chilli flowers which are as varied in terms of size, shape and colour as the chillies themselves.

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Claudio in action…

I learnt a lot this weekend! Here are ten things about chillies that you might not know:

  1. There are thousands of different types of chilli plant – the plants themselves can vary between 15cm and 7 meters and grow in all manner of climates.
  2. Chillies aren’t physically hot of course (unless you heat them!). They feel hot because they latch onto the pain receptors that are responsible for feeling heat. Odd that we would eat something that causes us pain isn’t it? But the brain’s reaction to this process is to send out endorphins, an internal pain-killer and a natural high. That’s presumably why we keep eating them!
  3. Chillies have an anti-bacterial quality, killing 75% of bacteria. In pre-refrigeration days adding chillies to your food was a way of keeping it relatively germ free.
  4. The general consensus is that chillies evolved their heat to protect them from getting eaten by animals. This seemed odd to me – surely it’s advantageous to have animals eat them and spread their seeds? Well only specific animals it turns out. Seeds ingested by mammals tend to be chewed up and damaged and thus not as fertile as a result. Seeds ingested by birds however are not damaged at all by their intestinal tracts. It’s emerged birds can’t detect capsaicin, the ‘hot’ chemical in chilli so the clever chilli plant, by protecting itself with capsaicin ensures mammals don’t ruin the seeds whilst maintaining a convenient seed flight-delivery system.
  5. They have the most beautiful flowers…

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    …Like this one from the Rocoto chilli plant taken by Claudio Dal Zovo

  6. It seems relatively easy to interbreed chilli plants – you can just have them next to each other and they seem to cross fertilize. I’m sure there must be something more to it than that but occasionally that’s how it works!
  7. A chilli’s heat can be measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – that’s the degree of dilution required of the chilli extract before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters.  The higher the rating, the hotter the pepper. It’s not a precise science as people vary greatly in their perceptions of capsaicin.
  8. The “hottest” pepper is the Carolina Reaper from the US at 2,200,000 SHU. To put that into perspective, Tabasco sauce is about 5000 SHU. The Scotch Bonnet (which before this trip I thought was the hottest) is a measly 100,000 – 400,000 SHU! It made me wonder if eating enough hot chillies could kill you. It turns out it could, but you’d require so many of them that it would be nigh impossible. Our bodies have a way of rejecting things that are bad for them (here is an excellent example by some nutcases).
  9. There’s also a whole host of health benefits. Chillies are packed with vitamin c and other goodness. There’s a multitude of websites (this one is very complementary of the chilli) reporting how it can help with dieting, digestion, reduce the likelihood of heart-attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, migraines…  I’m not entirely sure all of these are backed up with scientific fact but certainly adding a bit of additional spice to your diet seems like it can only be a good thing.
  10. Having a passion for chilli peppers is an excellent hobby. You have an excuse to go all around the world in the search for rare chillies (trekking Bolivian forests in the search for rare or undiscovered chillies sounds like a very cool thing to do!). You can spend your free time growing them. You can experiment with lots of different recipes and preserves. You can hang out with other chilli aficionados at fairs and talk about them online in various forums. So all in all, it fulfills everything that a good hobby should! I’m going to start my budding chilli hobby career by buying a plant I think.

 

Cooking with Chilli Peppers

During the weekend we made all manner of things with chilli. We made biscuits with chilli, a cake with chilli and er, more chilli not to mention having various chilli sauces and spreads on piadinas and bread, chilli jams with cheese…  In summary, you can add it to basically anything. Why would you want to? Well despite the tasty kick, the health benefits I mentioned above seem to make it worthwhile.

The cooking extravaganza kicked off with biscuits. We made several different types with bloggers bringing their own favourite biscuit recipes to the table and adding a hint of chilli powder.

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All the biscuits were delicious and not overly “hot”. My favourite of the biscuits were these Spicy Ciambelline, courtesy of my friend Elisa…

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Ciambelline means donuts in English. The Italians have a very loose idea about what constitutes a donut. These are clearly not donuts at all – they’re knots! However, it’s an Italian recipe so I guess we should stick with the name!

Spicy Ciambelline

125g sugar + roughly 100g for coating the “ciambelline”
125g wine
100g sunflower oil
400g plain flour                                                                                                                                       8g of chilli powder (roughly half a teaspoon)
8g of baking powder (roughly half a teaspoon)

Mix it all together. To make the “ciambelline”, make little rolls, coat them with sugar and then make a knot with them. Put them on a baking tray, bake at 200°C for 15/20 minutes until they’re golden. Delicious!

Next up was a cooking demo with our fellow blogger, Bettina, who’s blog BettinaInCucina is a great success over here with tons of great recipes. She showed us how to make:

 

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Top: Pineapple and Artichoke Salad. Bottom left: Gazpacho soup. Bottom right: Houmous with peas and thyme. Of course all the recipes had a spicy twist and we used Alba Peperoncino’s chilli powder for all the recipes.

 

 

 

Naturopathy

We also had a talk from Naturopath, Francesca Rifici who spoke about how we can take care of our bodies naturally using some key principles of Chinese medicine. We just touched on the surface of this alternative medicine but essentially, we humans can be split up into 5 types (or we can consist of a couple of types): Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal and Water. Our characteristics respond to our type. We have different nutritional requirements depending on which type we are. This is further complicated by the time of year as each type corresponds to a season (with earth representing the beginning and end of each season). The theory is that illness comes from a disequilibrium within our systems and we need to make sure what we’re putting into our bodies is what it needs at the right time.

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I’m intrigued by the idea of naturopathy. I’m apparently a mix between wood and earth and I’d love to hear more about what that means in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. The key aspects I took away from the session were that sugar is the root of all evil and I should occasionally try to fast. I’m factoring them into my diet as we speak!

The session finished with Francesca showing us a recipe for a cake using coconut sugar as a replacement to regular sugar. It’s inspired me to look at more nutritional and healthier alternative flours and sugar to use in my baking.

Hotel San Salavador & the blogging team!

We were hosted by San Salvador Hotel who I was fortunate enough to stay with last year on another blog tour. Read about it here. San Salvador is one of my favourite hotels and I’m not the only person to think that either – it’s got 5 stars on Tripadvisor with many rave reviews.  The hotel is run by the Poggi Family, specifically Federico and Stefano. Their father who started the hotel is still a familiar face in the building along with Sabrina on reception.

Apart from being made to feel so welcome, the hotel stands out for me because of their values – everything is carefully thought through in terms of the impact on the environment. They’ve got a whizzy little electric car, the produce for the breakfast, lunch and dinner is organic and picked from their own fields. The wheat is their own and ground in-house for use in bread making in the hotel. Though they provide meat dishes, they’re very vegetarian and vegan friendly, something close to my heart.

They are just a few meters from the beach and right next to a big park, which is great for children.

So all in all it was an excellent weekend shared with some great bloggers. Check out their blogs here to see what they’ve had to say about the weekend…

21Grammi: Alessandra who has a passion for all things Romagna focussing on art, culture, food and drink.

Forchetta & Valigia: Headed up by Tonia and Valeria both of whom have a love of food and travel. In particular thanks to Tonia who was our ringleader for this blog tour!

Bettina in Cucina: Bettina who shares her passion for food and travels on her blog.

Big Shade: Stefania who has a ton of great recipes on her website and enjoys discovering new recipes from around Italy too.

Finally a big thanks to Federico, Stefano and Sabrina at San Salvador Hotel; Roberta, Sara, Angelo and Marco at Alba Peperoncino; Claudio dal Zovo and Francesca Rifici for making my venture into the world of chilli’s not only interesting but great fun too 🙂

A presto…

Sue x

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 1 – Places to stay

Buongiorno a tutti!!!!

How is everyone?

I’ve been on a blog tour in honour of the “Settimana del Buon Vivere” (the Week of Good Living) in Emilia-Romagna, a region of Northern Italy. I’m going to write it up as another Blog Tour Trilogy. In this post, I’ll give you a bit of background and focus on places to stay, Part 2 will cover food and drink and in Part 3 I’ll talk about things to do and  see in the area. There is a small chance that like all good trilogy’s I might split the final Part into two sections as there’s so much to talk about!

The Settimana del Buon Vivere is a yearly event at the end of September (this year’s event ran from the 25th September to the 2nd October) based primarily in Forlì and it focuses on health, culture, well-being and the environment. To that end there are: art exhibitions, concerts, shows, workshops, seminars… you name it, the list goes on!

There is a 43 page programme / newspaper listing the events for the week so all in all, an impressive programme and although there was a general theme in relation to “Water” this year, the festival covered a vast range of topics. To give you an idea of the events: There were free lessons in yoga, talks on mindfulness, seminars on how to use water responsibly (including how to grow plants with as little water as possible – this seminar is perfect for me!), mobile theatre events that took place in a truck and bus and discussions about sourdough bread… I picked out my personal favourites for these examples but to check out the full range, have a look here.

However, our particular blog tour only touched briefly on the official activities of the Settimana del Buon Vivere as our primary aim was to explore Emilia-Romagna as a whole: uncover some of the cities, learn about their traditions and culture, their food and wine and see for ourselves why the region is Italy’s capital for “good living”. We did, however, attend one of the official events – an Instagram Academy held in what used to be a church, San Giacomo in the city of Forlì.

The talk was interesting, covering how Instagram has come to be, how it can be used, particularly as an aid to tourism and it’s benefits. I have to admit, I do not utilise Instagram to the max, in fact, even to the minimum. I hadn’t quite worked out what point it serves over and above all the other social media which I already struggle to update! I know, I know… what kind of blogger am I?!! Anyway, I left the presentation relatively sold on its benefits. I shall aim to post regularly. If you want to follow me, I’m “lemarchescape” and as an aside, on Twitter I’m @suzzec (long story!).

During the presentation I drew the Instagram Academy team, and posted that up on Instagram there and then –  the two guys presenting “liked it” shortly after – oh the power of social media!

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Exploring Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna covers a large area – it’s one of Italy’s 20 regions (just north of Le Marche where I live), and has a population of almost 4.5 million people. It is over 14 times bigger than Greater London to give you an idea of its size, with mountains, plains, lagoons, sea and one of my favourite cities, Bologna, which is the region’s capital.

You can appreciate that it would be a challenge to experience and write about everything there is to see and do in the entire area during the course of the week we were there. However, we did our best! We had a whirlwind tour of some of the region’s cities, seeing them in a new light, learning about the traditions and culture in Emilia-Romagna and discovering the Delta del Po park. We went on a water-based tour of Forli, a street art tour of Ravenna and a tour of Cesena by bike. We went wine tasting, ciambella making (a traditional cake of Emilia-Romagna), bird watching, art and sculpture exhibition visiting, not to mention eating vast amounts of the local delicacies in an array of restaurants. I know, I know… it’s a hard life this blog tour business! I felt like quite the celebrity. In fact, I was even interviewed by the local radio station! To check out the interview click here. I can’t bring myself to listen to it. My Italian is just awful!

B&B Calicanto

We stayed at the Calicanto Bed and Breakfast run by Andrea and Anna and their family. Like it says in their kitchen, it’s a home from home (which is not totally true in my case, the rooms here are much more luxurious!

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A home from home!

The bedrooms are well decorated – a good mix between modern and traditional. Breakfast was served in a little dedicated kitchen area and amazing breakfasts they were too. Anna is a brilliant cook – she really should be running cake baking courses! There’s something different to look forward to everyday.

They have a large outside space, complete with sun loungers at the guests disposal where we spent most of our first day ‘chilling out ‘ before the blog tour commenced in earnest. If we hadn’t been jetting around the region for the tour, I could happily have spent the entire week relaxing at the B&B!

I think my favourite aspect of the B&B though was the ever faithful Mutley, the excellent and affectionate guard dog!

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I’m trying to get in as much drawing and watercolour practice as I can at the moment so with that in mind, I spent our first afternoon with the sketchpad…

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Ca’ Bevilacqua

To have a look at other options available to tourists coming into the area, we also visited Ca’ Bevilacqua in the evening for a buffet meal. Ca’ Bevilacqua is a B&B with three guest rooms and an area for events such as birthdays or weddings. The property is surrounded by a large hedge and a rather sturdy gate and in consequence you feel totally secluded – a real haven for relaxation. They have been featured in Country House magazine. We ate in the very atmospheric event area, a large almost open “barn” area with vines intertwined amongst the beams and falling down in cascades. Quite a romantic room that makes you feel like you’ve just come across it in the middle of a forest. This is where they host events – holding a wedding recently in what I think is an idyllic setting! Our hosts, Loretta, Vidmer and their daughter provided us with a lovely buffet meal and great company after a long and tiring day of exploring. These are some snaps from the evening but check out their website to see the B&B in all its daylight glory!

Ok, that’s it for this post. Tune in for Part 2. If you want to check out what my fellow blog tour buddies thought about our tour, have a look here:

A presto,

x

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Part 3: Fried Green Sage at the San Salvador Hotel

Buongiorno a tutti,

Well this is the final part of my Bellaria Blog Tour Trilogy! If you haven’t seen the others yet have a look:

The Blog Tour was hosted by the San Salvador Hotel run by the lovely Poggi family. The hotel is practically on the seafront, just a minute’s walk from the beach, if that. The common areas of the hotel are bright, clean and well-maintained and the owners and staff are very friendly and welcoming (and speak English!).  There’s a lounging area outside with comfy seats and swinging chairs where you can relax with a drink from the bar.

The buffet style restaurant is on the first floor. I was really impressed with the quality and range of food and even more so by their vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes. The hotel takes great pride in their cuisine – most of it being freshly made at the hotel using their own produce. In fact, have a look at their own write-up here, their photos are better!

Now, I could turn my nose up at buffet style places – you never know how long the food has been out and it’s a bit exposed to the elements eh? But the food was always obviously fresh and the buffet style meant you could take whatever you fancied and go back for seconds.

These are a few snaps from the restaurant. I was particularly impressed by the juicer which clients could make use of. You can eat as healthily or as unhealthily as you want. They even have chia seeds to have on your breakfast.

Life as a vegetarian in Italy is sometimes a challenge for me – my options can sometimes be limited to just pasta with tomato sauce. At the hotel though they were serving stuff I didn’t think you could actually get over here: different dishes including tofu, soya and tempah.  See below for some of my meals.

The hotel offer cooking courses on occasion and on one rainy morning we learnt how to make biscuits called ‘Gialletti’ (the name coming from ‘giallo’ which means yellow, the yellow tinge coming from the polenta used to make them) and piadinas Emilia-Romagna style. For those that haven’t come across piadinas before, they’re a sort of flat bread – a fat tortilla. Italians heat them up in a frying pan and put tasty thing inside like rocket and squaquarone cheese (squaquarone is a very tasty soft cheese). Our piadinas contained lard so I didn’t get to taste the final result but it did encourage me to give it a go at home (using oil!).  The bottom right hand photo below shows our final efforts with the rocket, squaquarone and slices of meat.  I was particularly impressed with the biscuits – we got to keep them and my pack of 30 or so biscuits lasted for all of about 2 days.

I mentioned above that the food in the restaurant was made using local produce – well the bulk of it comes from the Poggi family’s own land a few minutes drive away from the hotel. On our final day we were given a tour of the estate and given the opportunity to harvest some of the food for that evening’s dinner. It was good to see how vegetables should be grown properly. I’m currently growing just salad which keeps getting eaten by slugs and herbs which are looking suspiciously brown. During our harvest, we collected marigold flowers, fennel fronds, courgette flowers and sage leaves to be fried in batter for our dinner later. In fact, it seems there’s nothing that they don’t fry in batter (I didn’t see mars bars admittedly).

And this is the end result of our harvest – fried things in batter (highly recommended – particularly the sage!) and vegetable pasta with some marigold leaves to garnish and some purple flowers (I can’t remember what they’re called).

The hotel rooms were bright, spacious and clean with comfy beds. My room had a large shower but other rooms had baths.  I had a balcony complete with clothes horse to dry clothes. All in all, a nice place to come back to after a day at the beach or touring around the local area.

The hotel also provided entertainment…. Outside the hotel there are various dance clubs and places running karaoke nights etc. Back at the hotel though, it was nice to chill out in the seating area downstairs. On one night I discovered just how stressful Connect 4 can be – who knew?! It’s very strategic and our ‘board’ was huge!

On our final night a local dance group came along and showed us their moves, and dragged us onto the dance floor with them! It was great fun. Some of the group dances reminded me of Zumba – in fact, it was the same music and almost the same moves! I really should start that up again.

So I think that about sums up my stay. I really enjoyed it and I’m so pleased to have been invited along. Thank you San Salvador Hotel!

If you want to see what some of my fellow bloggers had to say, check out their blogs here:

Forchetta e Valigia

Profumo di Follia

Giorni Rubati

Martinaway

I’ll b right back

21 Grammy

Petali di Margherita

Big Shade

Viagem na Italia

Non Solo Turisti

x

PS. I am available for all blog tours. I would particularly encourage luxury hotels in the Maldives to make use of my reviewing services.

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Teaching (again…), roasts and liquor…

Ciao!

Well, this week, hot off the press I bring you teaching traumas, slightly inadequate roast dinners in Italy and Corbezzoli…

Teaching

I think I may have to set up an anonymous blog about teaching.  I think all I should say is that this week had challenging moments involving full on screaming fits, tears and temper tantrums. And don’t even get me started on the kids…

A couple of the students don’t like it because I speak in English – it being an English class and all (to be honest, they’ve probably more chance understanding my English than my Italian anyway).  Anyway, all my Italian classes where I’ve been trying to learn the insanely complex Italian grammar have been only in Italian and I’m surrounded everyday by people speaking Italian at the speed of light. I’ve understood barely nothing for 7 months. My lessons on the other hand are in very slow, basic English with pictures, songs, games and miming. So, I have no sympathy. I’ve prepared a speech for next week, in Italian, to explain to them how if they understood what I was saying, they wouldn’t need lessons and to stop being so whiney when I eliminate them from “Simon Says…”.

I’ve been taking the guitar in again – they like the hello and goodbye song. I had a request from the infant school to teach the kids a Christmas song. Only, they still haven’t grasped the Hello Song and it only has 8 words in it. There are no Christmas songs with less than 8 words. I’ve had to devise a special version of “We wish you a merry Christmas” but unfortunately this means I need to be there for their Christmas show so that I can play it on the guitar.

Anyway, despite all that, I’m honestly doing an amazing impression of a competent, understanding and caring teacher who adores children.

Corbezzoli

I’m making liquor! Out of these things called Corbezzoli which I picked with Il Polemico at the weekend in Monte Conero. Out of interest, can you buy 90% alcohol in the UK in the supermarket? I’m sure you can’t. You can here. It seems dangerous. Anyway, I’m glad you can otherwise the liquor would have been a flop.

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Bag of corbezzoli

We need to leave them covered in the alcohol for 40 days and then make some kind of syrup for it.  Yum.

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Corbezzoli up close… I think they’re called strawberry something or other in English.

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These are the corbezzoli being left with alcohol over them. I don’t really have anything other than a saucepan. Do you think I should move them into something glass? I have a big glass wine jar but then I’d need a funnel thing to get it in there or devise one out of something in the kitchen and I’m not sure I can be bothered unless I will actually poison myself by using the saucepan.

Roast dinner

I made my first roast dinner here at the weekend – there’s veggie meat alternatives here just like in the UK but slightly less variety. They’re alright. Nothing to write home about (she says, effectively writing home about them). Italian’s don’t seem to have gravy with is annoying. I need to bring back gravy granuals next time.  I bought this sort of gravy looking thing in a carton but it turns out it was stock, which I then tried to thicken with flour  and well, it just because a sickly looking white soupy goo. And they don’t eat Yorkshire Puddings. And they don’t make roast potatoes like we do. That’s all I have to say on roast dinners in Italy.

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A bit unceremoniously dumped on the plate but there we go. A roast dinner in Italy.

What’s a bit odd?

Olive oil is GREEN when it’s just been pressed!!!! And it tastes LOVELY!!!!!!!!!! It’s like a sort of spicy apple-y delight. Who knew?!?! It’s a completely different species to regular oil. Apparently after a month or so it goes more the traditional colour. I don’t think mine will still be around in a month.

And red wine is FIZZY when it’s just been made!!!!! And it tastes LOVELY!!!!!!!! I can’t provide any more description unless I’m doing my person-knowledgeable-about-wine impression and then I can thrash around “oaky” and “fruity” with the best of them but in reality, I can tell you that it tastes like wine (but a really, really, nice wine). Apparently, it’s very “light” because it’s just been er, pressed/made/done and only has 10% alcohol and then after a bit of  time, erm, something about sugar, means that it’ll become more potent.

Visitors

I have more visitors next week 🙂 The weather is set to be horrible – the area is much less attractive when it’s pouring down and grey. So I really hope the forecasters have made a terrible mistake. At the moment though, there’s a very spectacular thunder and lightning show from my balcony.

Ok, I’m off to analyse CSI subtitles. I’ve had a chance to do some Italian study for the first time in months so I’m pleased about that! At this rate, I estimate in 2040, I’ll be able to understand a whopping 65% of conversation!

x

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