Thursday, April 28, 2016

Limoncello recipe

Our friend Christine makes an excellent limoncello, not too sweet. This is her recipe:

  • 500 ml alcohol
  • 5 lemons (unwaxed)
  • 500 ml water
  • 80 gm sugar
  • Remove the zest from the lemons
  • Put the zest in a jar with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for 15 days
  • Strain out the zest
  • Dissolve the sugar in the water
  • Combine the sugar syrup with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for one month
  • Drink
Not being sure of the lemons in the market we stole five lemons from Chris's tree (with her permission). Guaranteed unwaxed and pesticide free.

One unusual feature of Italian supermarkets compared to the UK is that you can buy pure alcohol (95%) for culinary purposes in just about any store. Some recipes suggest using vodka, if neat alcohol is not available, but that will be 30% water so you would only need about 300 ml of the sugar syrup to keep the ratio of alcohol to water correct.

Then all you need is a jar or two and a zester. You could use a knife but a zester allows you to precision de-rind the lemon without any bitter pith.

Two weeks later and the alcohol has leached out the oils and flavours from the zest.

Chris's recipe only uses 80 gm of sugar but some I found on the internet that used nearly 10 times that amount! If it is too tart you can always add more sugar later but you cannot take it out if there is too much.

The combination of the water and the oils makes limoncello turn the typically cloudy appearance.

Now all I have to do is let it mature in the dark ready for our next visit.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Trullo Azzurro flooring

When we originally bought the Trullo Azzurro and had it done up we told the architect to leave the flagstones (chianchi in Italian) because we figured that if they lifted them they would never be able to get them back down in the right place again.

Recently we had some plumbing work done in the bathroom and they did a good job of lifting and re-laying the tiles. We also discovered that the flagstones were laid directly onto the clay - no wonder the building was always a bit cool and damp over the winter.

So we asked Saverio our builder to quote for installing under-floor heating and a second boiler. That turned out to be very expensive. Also the flagstones are too thick for under-floor heating so would have had to be taken away to the quarry for slicing in half with risk of breakages.

In the end we arrived at a compromise: lift the floor, dig down and prepare the ground with damp-proof course and an insulating layer, then re-lay the original floor. Whilst this was being done we paid to have pipes put in place for normal radiators so if we changed our mind later and put in a second boiler we wouldn’t have to re-dig up the floor.

The room with flagstones lifted…

… and all neatly stacked in the courtyard

Then they dug down 30-40cm

Pipework for a possible future heating system.

Insulating expanded foam “igloos”. They also allow for some air circulation.

Flagstones re-laid

Floor re-grouted

Furniture back in place as if nothing had happened.

It was quite a logistics exercise because, before they could lift the flagstones, they had to clear out all the furniture including the wood-burning stove then put it all back when they were done.

It turns out that this under-floor layer is what a number of fellow Trulli owners have done. Now they tell us! We should find the place drier, warmer and easier to heat.

Whilst the builder was there we got him to improve the lane up to the Trullo as the winter rains had eroded some of the surface.

So all is looking spick and span for our first guests which will be my sister Jane and second cousin Effie next week.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Fiat 500 Rally in Cisternino

Ciisternino, Puglia, Italy. Sunday 03-April-2016.

We knew something must be up because bunting appeared across our road the day before. The next morning we went out to discover a rally of Fiat 500's and some other vehicles besides. Just up and across from our front door this beautiful old car was the first thing we saw.

Along the main Via San Quirico the whole street was lined with Fiat 500's in a rainbow of colours. Some were carefully restored to original condition, some had been pimped with special paint jobs, luxury leather upholstery and fancy steering wheels.

They are rear-engined like the VW Beetle and a number of cars had the cover up to reveal gleaming, polished engines.

The car parking space between the two bars, History and Mozarella, was double stacked with historic vehicles.

There was even a Fiat 500 people mover though you wouldn't want to move a Rugby team in it.

The view from The Bridge as the upper level part of Via San Quirico is known.

Then our local Ferrari did a drive past. It may have a Rome number plate but the car (and presumeably the owner as well) lives in the town. Not the first time we have seen this car.

There also some vintage Moto Guzzi dating from the 1930's all in immaculate condition.

A pleasant surprise to see such fun, always nice to stumble across something unawares.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Easter in Puglia 2016

Carovigno (BR), Italy. Tuesday 29-March-2016.

Men in Tights and Girl Groups.

As it is Easter weekend and Italy is a good Catholic country each village has the usual marches and parading statues of the Madonna. This is in the nearby town of Carovigno where there is an unusual flag twirling ceremony called “Nzenga” – the local dialect for flag.

The local legend is that a mediaeval lord had a vision in which he was told to go seek a shrine to the Madonna to cure his ailment. In his search he met a cowherd whose heifer had gone missing. The cowherd found the cow in a cave kneeling to a stature of the Madonna. He was so overjoyed he ran out blowing his whistle and throwing his multi-coloured headscarf into the air. The lord followed into the cave and was cured of his illness.

In celebration of this the locals have, since the 12th century, been dressing up in mediaeval costumes and twirling multi-coloured flags accompanied by fife and drum bands.This has now turned into a major competition between the locals to see who can be the best and highest flag twirler, both between individuals and teams.

After mass in the church they parade the Christ and Madonna into the main square preceded by girls and boys dressed up as lords and ladies, the bands and the flag twirlers. Because all the local lads take part in the flag twirling it is left primarily to the girls to form the pipe and drum bands.

Banners and statue of Christ being carried into the square

Ditto for Madonna del Belvedere

Then it is the flag waving competition. The man in the white shirt in the centre has just thrown his flag up. You can just see the flag level with the top of the dome of the bandstand.

Here they do some low level moves with the flags around and between the legs.

Finally they all parade through the town. Local lads waving flags.

More men in tights twirling flags.

All followed by a delightful lunch down at the seaside with our friends who live nearby.

PS. for videos of flag waving and band marching see previous post: Pasqua in Puglia 2010: Carovigno Easter parade

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Monday, March 21, 2016

Unwined in Tooting

Tooting Market. Sunday 20-March-2016

Not sure how we discovered this small entrepreneurial wine and food outlet (possibly through Time Out Love London awards). Anyhow Mary booked us in for a "Bottomless" Sunday lunch.

Unwined sell wine (clue in the name!) and do events and all sorts of other stuff but they also have a permanent base in the unlikely setting of Tooting Market where they do tastings and sell wines with a theme of the month. They pair with pop-up chefs for the full dining out experience. This week the partner was Vinn Goute, serving Seychelles inspired street food.

Here our hostess, Kiki, is pouring an interesting rose prosecco from a small independent producer. That was the wine theme for this month: one of a kind, so we got interesting and unusual, one-off wines from small producers.

Starters were just that little bit different: a tuna samosa served with spicy sweet and sour sauce and lentil fritters with a chilli mayonnaise. The main course was fish which turned out to be red snapper with rice, peppers and salad and a fierce Scotch Bonnet salsa. That was paired with a Spanish white, Marques de Alella 'Sepo'.

The deal was unlimited wine (well for an hour and a half) so we started on the second bottle of white. Then Mary had the cheese board with a glass of negroamaro made using traditional methods and I had flambéed banana with ice cream and a New Zealand noble rot riesling which was absolutely superb. We had walked over to the market but after a long, leisurely and boozy lunch we let the 219 bus carry us home. Definitely up for a return visit; Mary says this could become a regular.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Robbie McIntosh at the Half Moon

Putney, London. Saturday 19-March-2016

Another gig with our visiting US friend Delton. We knew nothing of Robbie but his CV lists some well known names. He was with The Pretenders for five years and has played with Roger Daltry, Paul McCartney and Norah Jones.

Robbie played some fine rockin' blues music. He makes it looks so effortless. Whenever you see someone who can do that you know they are a master of their art. I can see why he is in demand as a session musician.

An enjoyable meal before at Alquimia Spanish Restaurant & Tapas Bar then a full two-set gig at the Half Moon. It continues to amaze me that you can see superb musicians up close in small venues for the price of a couple of pints.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hogsmill Restoration Day 02

West Ewell, Surrey. Saturday 19-March-2016.

More restoration but this time on the site of a former weir. An earlier project by South East Rivers Trust had seen various weirs removed and this section had some "hard" edging to prevent erosion alongside a footpath. If you look in the first picture the dark line on the far right hand bank marks the previous water level when the weir was in place.

In order to soften the edges a series of large coir "sausages", pre-seeded with river plants, had been placed in the river earlier in the week. Our mission was to stabilise this arrangement. Who would have thought that there is sufficient demand that are specialist companies out there making these things, all pre-seeded with watery plants.

Half way down this stretch is what may look to you like a bit of old brick wall. In fact it is remnants of one of the gun-powder mills for which this river was renowned.

First step: the sausages were pulled out from the bank.

Then reseated back in the exact placement required.

Stakes positioned to hold the sausages in place, then driven in part way.

Finally wired in place and the stakes driven home to tighten the wires.

Finally a bit of river-bank gardening: transplanting reeds from the opposite bank to add vegetation to the coir rolls.

Another day of most satisfactory work.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hogsmill Restoration Day 01

West Ewell Friday 18-March-2016

A day of habitat improvement on the Hogsmill River organised by the South East Rivers Trust. "The Hogsmill River in Surrey, England, is one of the tributaries of the River Thames. It rises in Ewell and flows into the Thames at Kingston upon Thames on the reach above Kingston road bridge. The river is 6 miles (9.9 km) in length and has a catchment area (water basin) of 73 km²" [1]

And it is a very arty river: "It was along the banks of the Hogsmill that Milais painted his famous 'Ophelia'. Hunt's painting 'The Light of the World' in which he depicts Jesus knocking at a door, was set against one of the disused huts of the Gunpowder Mills." [2]

I missed the first day due to a prior engagement. That day was spent on creating meanders to slow the flow and create whirls and eddies to scour the riverbed in places and create suitable spawning areas and also provide banks for flora to establish itself. This day was continuing that work.

The first step is to create an obstruction using a log to constrict the flow and create the basis of the meander.

The log is fixed in place with stakes.

Wires are fixed to the stakes and through grooves chainsawed across the log. Banging the stakes further in secures the log to the river bed.

Next we need some "brash" - brash wood is brittle sticks or twigs. To generate more of that Toby felled a tree and then trimmed off a load of branches.

The branches are laid in wedges both upstream and downstream of the log to create a lozenge of bank-to-be.

Using a similar technique to the main log the branches are staked, wired and tightened in place. These will eventually trap silt, be populated by plants and create a meandering river bank.

Work in progress.

Time for a well deserved lunch break - with cake.

Back into the river for meander number two.

By the end of the day we had create three meanders.

Now we let nature take its course to scour away the silt to expose the original river bed by the logs and move it along to where it can create fresh banks.