Posts Tagged With: Food

“Ordinary Objects” Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen - $350 - 75cm x 50cm

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen – $350 – 75cm x 50cm

Solo Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley  

“Ordinary Objects”

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary”.  ~Aaron Rose

You are invited to the Exhibition Opening : Saturday 10th September 2016, at 2.00pm

The CTC Robertson, 58 Hoddle Street, Robertson NSW 2577  Viewing and sales: August and September 2016

 Hours:  Thursday to Friday 10am – 4pm,  Saturday – 10am -1pm

Visit my Page for all the images – pricing, dimensions and more information

Categories: Art, Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lucca – A Secret Gem

Another week has passed by in a bit of a haze. After spending 4 hours every morning in Italian lessons trying hard to look on the ball and somewhat engaged, I find that my head is spinning by 1.00pm. The lessons are conducted all in Italian – totally from wow to go. To add more pain the use of dictionaries is prohibited.  When you have a question, the teacher attempts to ease your dilemma by using a convoluted example in Italian and by the time he has finished his explanation, you have hopefully grasped the concept.

This week we had a new bunch of recruits from Holland and Germany and Australia plus the same 2 chaps from Japan (one of which is a right pain in the backside!) -10 in total.  Consequently, the group exercises are like deciphering Morse code with cotton wool stuck in your ears. It is all babble!

What really did my head in was our final exercise on Friday – a passage (about an A4 page) that we had to read, translate and then undertake some grammar exercises. The subject was about a scientist who became fascinated by snails and wanted to write a book about the life of snails. However, no matter how he tried to conceal himself in the bushes, the snails were up to his tricks and hid inside their shells. So he had a bright idea of disguising himself as a snail. He made a shell out of paper mache that he could fit himself into, a rubbery nose with rubbery horns that waggled about and silvery saliva that he painted onto the ground. This pastime quickly turned into an obsession, and eventually he was sleeping in his costume and asking his wife to make him worm fritters.  She in the end, told him he was a loon and he could stick his worm fritters and left!

Now – I am confident that in my next conversation with someone about snails and worm fritters I will be able to acquit myself well. Handy don’t you think?

On the plus side, I feel more confident in conversing with the locals in Italian (not about snails). Some are very patient and will give you time to express yourself. Others revert to English straight away.  At least no one is speaking German to me.  There are plenty of Germans and Dutch here but very few Asians.

Lucca is a really pleasant and friendly place. The city is flat and cars are not allowed in the walls unless you have parking permits and a place to park, which are very limited. Consequently, this is a great place for a bicycle and which there are hundreds. The streets are narrow and cobbled with the buildings rising up on either side for three or four stories containing 4 to 8 apartments where the residents live in close quarters with each other.  So hearing the domestic chatter (and arguments) from your “vicini” is not unusual. For example the family who live behind me have a toddler named – wait for it… Galileo! My goodness he has a big name to live up to.

IMG_1201Yesterday the weather was a lovely so I spent a couple of hours wandering the main shopping streets (lanes) and poking my head into a number of stores.  But the highlight was another lingering lunch in a quiet corner, watching the passing crowds go by. On perusing the menu, I was unable to make up my mind between the chicken liver pate or the Tuscan salami and figs – so my very congenial waiter suggested that I have a half portion of both. This I followed up with a light main of vitello tonnato.  One of my all-time favs – cold sliced veal with a mayonnaise made with tuna and capers.  This was accompanied by a lovely local white wine – Trebbiano which dates back to the Roman times. (This photo is for my brother Peter who is the most patient husband of a champions shopper – Mary)

The best sight of the week was when I was on my way home from class, I passed a couple of older ladies (70’s) – done up to the nines. Blonded hair (yes, I am a culprit of some chemical assistance in this department), large pouting red lips (possibly some filler, and Botox to boot) skin tight black pants and patent black boots, rather flashy jewellery and pushing a very smart baby pram with a hood. From the back they looked like a couple of glamourous (!?) grannies out with the new baby while mum is at work. As I drew closer, I looked into the pram  – my jaw hit the ground – there sitting in pride of place was not a baby but the biggest, white, furry cat I have ever seen. I have since discovered that this was a state of the art bespoke cat pram. Can you believe it!

Today I am indoors as it is raining and thundery. So I have been busy doing some catch up homework in readiness for class tomorrow. Please God, no more stories about invertebrates please?

ci vediamo

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lucca,Tuscany – A Living Picture Postcard

 


Buon giorno,

Here I am in Lucca – having enjoyed 2 days of sunny warm weather– up 30 degrees. This is ideal weather for sitting in a shady spot and drinking an aperol spritz (or a glass of prosecco) and watching the passing parade. After a few rainy and cool days in London this feels like coming home. Italy has that instant appeal of warmth, friendliness and accessibility.

On arrival at Pisa airport, I was met by Francesco my taxi driver to Lucca. He did not speak any English so my rusty Italian got a rude awakening. I think that I acquitted myself well as he did not drive off the road in fits of laughter at my linguistic abilities.

We arrived in Lucca, unloaded my cases at the front door of my apartment (rented through AIRBNB), and rang the bell (twice) and with increasing urgency. Alas – no answer. Francesco had a worried look on his face. I am sure he thought that he might have to take me home as an unexpected boarder. I had a fleeting thought that I could be one of the cases that wary travellers fear – an internet scam – there was no apartment and some slippery scammer had my money.

I found my landlord’s number and Francesco called it for me. After a number of rings there was an answer and Francesco informed them that their new lodger was at the door. He then told me (in Italian) that my prospective landlady was in hospital after delivering her first baby at 8.30am that morning. Dad would be on his motor scooter and be there in 10 mins. Phew!

In ten minutes he rounded the corner on one wheel and zipped up the lane full tilt; off came his helmet and I was greeted with a grin from ear to ear. Obviously he is a very proud new dad. And today Mama and baby came home. There was a knock at my door and the new family was there to show off the incredible tiny bundle – Ginevra. I have already offered myself for babysitting duties.

My apartment is spacious, comfortable and spotlessly clean. It is located on the edge of the old city inside the walls that ring the town. Completely surrounding the ancient city, the walls we see today date back to the 17th century. They are crowned by 4 km of green parkland, where people walk, cycle or stop for a picnic. Just another example of how, over the centuries, though buildings last, their roles metamorphose as times change.

I have explored some of the streets and squares nearby. Everywhere is walking distance and is quite flat – so pedestrians and bicycles rule the road. The public buildings are very grand, old palaces with wonderful medieval facades, impressive churches, twisting alleys that open onto small piazzas. Behind high walls one can glimpse gardens and courtyards. The streets have been full of tourists and holidaying Italians enjoying the last days of the European summer vacation. Hopefully this week I will see a quieter Lucca and be able to explore further afield.

Tomorrow is my first day at school – so more of that later.

Ciao

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wild about Mushrooms


The days have turned cool as winter is beckoning. The leaves have started to fall from the trees and the clouds lie in heavy grey banks along the horizon. Today is a foretaste of winter as the temperature is only 6 degrees Celsius. My mind has turned to all the delicious hearty dishes that you can enjoy at this time of year.

It is an opportunity to curl up with a cup of tea and a slice of orange cake and bring out the cook books and browse through the pages for those comfort food recipes.

During the Easter holiday I had a houseful of guests and served this easy to prepare soup. I was pleased that it was rich in flavour but not too heavy as the first course to a lengthy and filling dinner.

Zuppa di Funghi (Mushroom Soup)

• 1 kg fresh mushrooms such as: porcini, chanterelles, chestnut, Swiss browns, shitake, portbello etc
• 4 T spoon olive oil (extra for serving)
• 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic chopped
• 250 dry white wine
• 1 sprig fresh sage (5 leaves)
• 1.50 litres vegetable stock
• 6 thick slices of country style bread
• 100g freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Carefully clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth if they are a bit dirty, or wash carefully and dry on paper towel
2. Trim away any hard stems
3. Slice finely or cut into dice
4. Heat olive oil in large pan and add onion
5. Sauté on low heat until soft
6. Add chopped garlic and Sauté for a few mins
7. Turn up heat and add wine, simmer off the alcohol
8. Add mushrooms and sage
9. Sauté for a few minutes to lightly colour
10. Add the hot stock and simmer for 25 minutes until mushrooms are soft
11. Check the seasoning – add salt and pepper
12. Coarsely puree about half the mushrooms and return to the pan
13. Grill the bread slices on both sides
14. Place a slice of bread on each bowl and ladle the soup over. Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese and add a drizzle of olive oil. If you like a little kick you can use chilli oil as the garnish – but just a touch!

Special note:
If I cannot find fresh porcini mushrooms I add a small packet of dried porcini mushrooms that have been reconstituted in 250 ml of boiling water (reduce the amount of stock by 250ml in the listed ingredients if you do this). Roughly chop the softened mushrooms. Use the mushroom liquor in the soup but be careful not to pour in the dregs as these can be a bit gritty.

I served this with a full bodied chardonnay (preferably not too oaked). Or, if you prefer, it would be well-matched with a light red such as, a Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy.

Enjoy!

,

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Pampered Pooches to Sponge Cakes

Greetings from the Southern Highlands. The leaves are now turning on their magnificent autumn display. I am amazed at the intensity and vibrancy of the colours – bright yellow through to the deepest red and every hue of rust in between. I almost drove off the road as I was too busy admiring the beautiful scenes in Kangaloon. Isn’t that a great name! Almost as good as where I live – Burrawang! Anyway, as I was reminiscing, time has certainly flown this year and it is already May.

One of the cultural highlights of the year so far was the Robertson Agricultural Show. This is certainly a red letter day on the local calendar. As usual, it rained. It is always great fun to visit a country show and tromp about in the mud carefully dodging cow pats and puddles.

The day started with a visit to the poultry pavilion with its fine feathered specimens. All the exhibits were crowing, cackling and quacking in unison. What a marvelous cacophony.

The dog judging arena is a must see. I am amused by the handlers let alone the dogs. The canines are primped and coiffed to perfection. They are certainly prissier than any blonde going out on a Saturday night date – as the saying goes “the bigger the hair, the closer to God”. The amount of hairspray and blow-drying that these pampered pooches endure is beyond the pale. Why is it that dog people grow to look like their dog?

In the main show pavilion one can enjoy a display of assorted local arts and crafts but the big ticket is the cakes and preserves. The local ladies are stiff competition but I am not daunted as next year I am going to enter my sponge cake so stand by for a big announcement of my winning entry in 2015.

My particular favourite is the children’s vegetable modelling. I had no idea that 5 potatoes of varying sizes and a number of toothpicks could be sculpted into a horse. What imagination!

A trip to the show is always topped off by the sight of handsome cattle, fine looking horses and men wandering around in big hats.

The lead up to the show always has the village abuzz. Our local butcher, Darryl is a very civic minded chap and he creates the Robertson Show in miniature outside his butcher shop for all the locals to enjoy. All the children in the village bring their toy tractors, trucks, cars and a variety animals with which Daryl works his magic. He creates a fabulous miniature show with various events including the now famous potato sack carrying competition. The sight of Barbie crowned as Miss Robertson Showgirl is a hoot. Well done Darryl.

I am looking forward to next year’s Robertson Show. There is nothing like a country show to bring out the community spirit.

Categories: Cake, Dog, Food, Wine and Cooking, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Calling All Tarts – Is Baking a Science or Black Magic?

The words “sponge cake” strike terror into the hearts of most people when they are contemplating baking a cake. Why is that so? I can tell you why… as evidenced by my first and only attempt some years ago to bake a sponge. This experience left its mark. The result was humiliation and nausea – after oh so carefully whisking, beating, sieving and folding, what emerged from the oven…? Two cake tins containing steaming, unrisen cakes, better described as pancakes.

So, when it was my brother-in-law’s birthday last week and I offered to bake him a cake – what did he ask for – yes, you guessed it, a bloody sponge cake!

So all week I sweated over the various cook books and read every recipe for sponge cakes that had been written over the last century, including Mrs Beaton.

The day of reckoning dawned and down I came to the kitchen armed with my recipe from “The Country Show Cookbook”. The book is an omnibus of recipes gathered from all the prize winners at the country agricultural shows. After careful consideration, I selected a recipe submitted by Mary Yeo (a regular prize winner) from the Mendooran Show. Mendooran is a spec on the map about a 5 hour drive northwest from Sydney. I decided on this recipe as I knew that my mother, also a great country cook, would have approved of Mary and her recipe.

I recall, as a young girl I used to marvel how my Mum could pull a cake out of the oven at the drop of a hat – and her sponge cakes were legendary. I would often come into the kitchen and see Mum in a cloud of flour, stoking the stove to get it to the right temperature, freshly-laid eggs frothing away in the MixMaster and a chaos of ingredients on the kitchen table. Then miraculously, out of this bedlam, wonderful food would appear, apparently effortlessly. A friend of mine fondly recalls a famous family story when the phone rang during one of these flour-dusted baking marathons and Mum answered the phone – without asking who was calling, she called into the phone, “I’m making a sponge, call back in 20 minutes!”.

So here is the fool-proof sponge cake recipe from Mary Yeo.

Ingredients
• 4 eggs, separated
• ¾ cup of castor sugar
• 1 level cup self-raising flour
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• 3 tablespoons hot milk

Method
• Preheat oven to 180C degrees (350F)
• Line and grease 2 x 20cm (8in) cake tins
• Beat egg whites until stiff
• Gradually add castor sugar
• Beat until sugar is dissolved
• Add egg yolks slowly until mixture is creamy
• Sift flour & baking powder twice ( I did it three times for good measure)
• Fold flour into mixture at small intervals
• Add the hot milk (not boiling)
• Fold until creamy but do not over work the mixture
• Pour the mixture evenly into the 2 cake tins
• Bake for 20 mins in the centre of the oven

10 Tips for a successful sponge cake
1. Follow the recipe exactly
2. Baking is a science, so measure all of your ingredients carefully
3. Use the freshest eggs you can get
4. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature
5. When the cake mixture is in the tins bang the cake tins on the bench a couple of times to get the large air bubbles out
6. When adding dry ingredients, use a large metal spoon to gently fold the mixture until just combined (Don’t use a wooden spoon)
7. Don’t open the oven door while your sponge cake is baking
8. When your sponge is cooked, it will come away from the sides of the pan, and spring back when touched lightly in the centre
9. Turn your cake out onto a cooling rack covered in a clean tea towel
10. Have fun – a happy cake baker will always produce a light cake

Mum (and Mary) – you would have been proud of me – it was a great success!!!

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Recipes, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Easy Recipes for Winter – Porcini and Truffles

IMG_0975

 

This week has been very wintery here on the Southern Highlands with strong winds that drill through your body wrapping their icy fingers around your bones.   This has made me retreat inside to sit in front of the fire with my cookbooks rediscovering some of my favourite recipes for winter. I particularly love to cook with mushrooms at this time of year. The shelves of my local grocer are packed with a myriad of varieties. They are weird and wonderful with their fanciful shapes and colours. Portobello mushrooms are the king of these as they are the size of dinner plates. Seeing them brings back childhood memories of wandering through the paddocks after the rain and picking these for a special dinner.

I think this was the first thing that I cooked with my Mum. She would let me sit with her in the kitchen and peel the skin off the top of the mushroom cap and remove the stalk. These days there is no need to peel mushrooms as they are all clean and respectable but remember these were field mushrooms so there was plenty of cow poo around. Mum would then put a large iron fry-pan on the wood stove and in it would go a huge slab of butter. When that was sizzling she would put in the mushroom and fry them off. Just before she served them she would add some fresh cream, salt and pepper and a handful of very finely chopped parsley. We would enjoy a feast of mushrooms on toast for dinner that night.

Porcini and Mozzarella Pie with Pine Nuts and Truffle

Sformatini di funghi porcini e mozzarella con pinoli

Ingredients

• 300 gms fresh porcini mushrooms (or other favourites)
• 200gms fresh mozzarella cheese (not that horrid hard stuff wrapped in plastic)
• 6 eggs
• 1 clove garlic
• 5 tablespoons cream
• 20 gms butter
• Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish
• 1 handful roasted pine nuts
• Leaf salad
• Fresh truffle
Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees C.
2. Clean the fresh mushrooms (do not wash) and chop
3. Melt butter in frying pan and add chopped clove of garlic and fry untill golden
4. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper and cook with lid on until tender
5. Cut mozzarella into small cubes
6. Mix eggs, cream and salt in a bowl and add the mozzarella and cooked mushrooms
7. Grease and line the bottom of ramekins with baking paper and spoon mixture into the ramekins
8. Place ramekins in a large baking dish and gently half fill baking dish with cold water
9. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes
10. Serve on a bed of salad leaves and garnish with toasted pine nuts and shaved truffles.

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Roasted Veal with Porcini Mushrooms

Arrosto di Vitello con Funghi Porcini

Ingredients

  • 700 gms single piece of veal and flatten with a mallet (not too thin)
  • 200 gms mortadella
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 clove of garlic chopped
  • 2 stems of rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100gms dry porcini mushrooms
  • 1 Tbs grated parmesan chees
  • Dry white wine
  • Olive oil

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C
  2. Soak the porcini mushrooms in hot water for 10 minutes
  3. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt, parmesan cheese and 1 Tbs chopped rosemary
  4. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and make an omelette – set aside
  5. Drain the porcini (saving the water) and cook in a frying pan with a little olive oil and garlic
  6. Lay the meat on a chopping board and cover with the slices of mortadella, then the omelette and finally the mushrooms
  7. Roll up the veal, place a rosemary sprig on top and tie the meat up with string
  8. Brown meat in a cast iron pan (suitable for the oven as well)
  9. Add the porcini water and white wine
  10. Roast in the oven for about 45 mins to one hour
  11.  Remove the meat and rest
  12.  Reduce the roasting juices and pass through a sieve and serve with the meat

I love to serve this with rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes and spinach Roman style.

Hint:  To stop potatoes sticking to the pan when roasting or sautéing them, place a sheet of baking paper on the bottom of the pan. Guaranteed crunchy potatoes every time!

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Spinach Roman Style

Spinaci alla Romana

This recipe appeared in The Times Magazine in an article by Judith Barrett, who adapted it from “The Food of Southern Italy,” by Carlo Middione.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of the smallest available raisins, black or golden
  • 4 medium-size bunches of spinach (about 2 ½ pounds), washed at least twice, but not dried, and trimmed of stems
  • 1/3 cup virgin olive oil
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and well crushed
  • 4 tablespoons pine nuts
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 6 or 7 grindings of fresh black pepper.

Procedure

1. Put the raisins in a small bowl with enough warm water to cover. Soak for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Put the wet spinach in a frying pan large enough to hold it all and cook over a high flame until it collapses and turns dark green, stirring constantly. Transfer the spinach to a colander and set it aside. If the frying pan is wet, dry it with a paper towel.

3. Pour the olive oil into the frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and brown it, being careful it doesn’t burn, and then remove and discard it. Take the raisins from the water, squeeze them as dry as possible and add them to the oil with the pine nuts. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the nuts turn a golden color. Be careful, because the nuts can burn easily.

4. Return the spinach to the pan, stir it with a fork and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients and continue cooking for about a minute. You may add additional olive oil if you think the spinach looks dry. Serves 4.

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Olive Oil – The Life Blood of Italy

Last week I met Gabriella, for lunch at a winery on the south coast of NSW not far from the village of Milton and the town of Ulladulla. Cupitt’s Winery sits snuggly on a hillside overlooking a lake and in the distance, the hills rise up to meet the clear blue autumn sky.

Over a delicious lunch and a glass of mulled wine (to keep the autumn chill out of our bones) we reminisced about the time that we’d first met in Italy in October 2012. We were both attending a week-long photographic workshop at the magic destination of Dievole winery in Tuscany.

Dievole is the quintessential Italian experience. The rolling Tuscan hills are covered in olive groves and vineyards where the vines leaves are changing to vibrant reds, oranges and rusts in the crisp autumn weather; quaint hillside towns and villages; cafes where you can sit in the sun sipping strong coffee and let time pass you by; small family-run restaurants serving fresh, local produce such as autumn truffles, freshly picked mushrooms of many shapes and colours, fresh farm cheese and a variety of meat and poultry. Every meal was an excuse to try something new, a specialty of the area prepared by the chef in his/her own style, or that of his/her mother and grandmother and all the generations of cooks before them. Culinary traditions run deep in the Italian kitchen and are held in awe by those behind the stove.

Sunrise over the Vineyards - Tuscany

Sunrise over the Vineyards – Tuscany

We woke early on our first morning to find the valleys shrouded in mist which created an ideal atmospheric “shoot” for our first photographic excursion. During the week we enjoyed many wonderful forays into the countryside, towns and villages snapping away to capture “the moment”.

One excursion I remember most fondly was visiting a nearby farm and oil press. Which was in the midst of its annual harvest and oil production. The owner gave us a tour of the press which was “all systems go” at the time as many local farmers had bought their olive crop in for pressing. At the end of the production line the oil was decanted into a variety of cans, bottles, flasks and any other suitable containers that could be mustered for the occasion.

Olive oil is a staple in Italian cooking and runs in the veins of every Italian. We were treated to the fabulous experience of tasting the year’s production on-site. In the pressing room, there is an open fire-place where crusty bread was toasted over the coals then doused with lashings of rich, peppery olive oil fresh from the press, on top of which were placed generous slices of pancetta and pecorino cheese. This mouth-watering combination was washed down by the vineyard’s red wine.

We stood next to the fire, chatting to the hum and clatter of the machinery as the giant stone wheels whirred around pressing the olives and extracting every last drop of liquid gold.

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 2

OK – now you know what “must have”, you can start looking and the first step is ….

Research, research and then some more research.

Sounds like a lot of hard work – but it is not if you look in the right places.

1. The internet
This is the easiest way to find a villa/apartment. But you may be overwhelmed by the volume of choice. My tip is refine your search as to the
• Location
• Type of accommodation
• Key characteristics that are important to you such as pool, golf, mountains, seaside etc

So examples search strings could be:
• “Luxury villa” + Tuscany + pool
• Budget + “holiday accommodation” + Italy
• “Apartment to rent”+ Venice + “San Marco”
• Beach+pool+villa+amalfi

When your internet search is delivered, look at the first few sites and see if they carry the stock of accommodation that you’re looking for. If not – refine your search string.

Don’t spend too long on each site but bookmark (add to your favourites) the websites that look interesting to come back to later for an in depth search. I tend to shortlist about 5 sites.

Now that you have your rental checklist of “must haves” as well as a shortlist of sites, the fun really begins.

Most sites have search criteria from which you can select, so plug in your “must haves” – number of bedrooms, rental period, pool, location, etc. Now carefully read the detailed descriptions and inclusions of each of the accommodations. If the details do not match your “must haves” there is no point getting hooked on the pretty pictures – move on. When you see a property that matches your criteria either print off the details and pictures, or bookmark that particular property.

I admit that I have a secret pleasure. Once I have a shortlist of say 10 properties I love to get into bed that night and read the detailed descriptions and peruse the pictures at leisure without interruption. I have found that during the night, while I sleep, one or two properties percolate up through my subconscious and in the morning, I have the shortlist in my mind. I then rate the property descriptions by most liked and least liked. That way I can concentrate on a handful of “most liked” properties for in-depth investigation.

Above all, make sure you carefully read what has been described, not what you “want” to read. It’s all too easy to “think” you read about some attribute only to find when you excitedly arrive at your destination that the swimming pool you’ve been dreaming about is in fact a paddling pool, or some such other disappointment!.

2. Ask friends and associates for referrals
Referrals are a great way to source accommodation. If other people have had a good experience when dealing with a particular vendor or renting a particular property, then half the hard work is already done for you.

However:
• Trusting someone else’s opinion is great as long as you have similar tastes and/or requirements.
• How long ago did they rent this property?
• What could have changed since then?
• Has the property been well maintained?
• Is the same vendor and or agent managing the peoperty?

3. Check out the bona fides of the agent/vendor before you send any money
I hear loads of people say they are nervous about dealing with vendors over the internet. I completely understand and have felt the same in the past. The following are a few tips that I use to check the bona fides of the vendor I am about to deal with:
• do they have a corporate website
• are there testimonials on the website
• check out the reviews the villa/apartment on Trip Advisor – contact the most recent reviewers and post a question
• start an email conversation with the vendor and get more information about items and conditions that are on your “must have” list
• ask for a phone number and call them
• ask for references from previous clients
• make sure that you have adequate travel insurance before you send any money

Money, Money, Money!

Once you have the numbers of participants confirmed, you need to receive a non-refundable deposit from them. This deposit is refundable only if other participants take their place. Otherwise other members of your group will have to absorb this extra financial burden.

OK – Now you have your ideal villa/apartment sorted it is time to get the finances sorted.
Show me the colour of your money
When renting with friends and family members you need to make sure that you get a firm financial commitment from them prior to you parting with any of your own hard earned cash. You certainly don’t want to commit to renting a 6 bedroom villa and then a month before you leave on your holiday, someone pulls out of the deal and leaves you carrying the financial burden.

So my advice is to get all your companions to “show you the colour of their money” (and commitment) early! Well before you have to make your initial deposit payment to the vendor.

I work on the basis that the individual cost will include:
• rent
• optional outgoings (air-con, heating, pool, chef, maid service, etc)
• housekeeping (this covers groceries, wine and liquor, household incidentals, etc).

What about housekeeping?

In the past I have found that asking everyone to chip into a housekeeping kitty prior to leaving is the best and the most hassle free way to manage the day-to-day expenses while you are living it up in your villa or apartment.

I have loaded the housekeeping kitty onto a designated credit or debit card for the sole use of making your purchases or getting cash from the ATM. I keep all the receipts and regularly reconcile these against the housekeeping kitty. This is the best way to make sure that everyone feels that there has been an equal contribution to the running expenses and also, as the organiser, you are not out of pocket.

Depending on your anticipated lifestyle, and the group that you are renting with, the housekeeping kitty can vary from $100 per day to $200 per day. That should be ample. Towards the end of the rental period if there are surplus funds in kitty, I have also paid for some meals when out at restaurants, entrance fees and bar bills etc.

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In the next blog I will give you some ideas of making the most of your holiday such as:
• discovering those exciting out of the way adventures
• finding the best local produce
• dining with the locals
• shopping
• making your villa a home away from home .

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 1

“La Dolce Vita“

A Guide to Renting a Villa/Apartment

Do you want:
• a hassle free Italian vacation?
• to experience living in Italy and being part of the local scene?
• to be not just another tourist
• to eat great food just like the locals?
• to experience “la dolce vita”?

Yes?

Then the answer is; rent a villa or an apartment and get in touch with the real Italians and the unique experience of living the Italian dream.

Renting a villa or an apartment is a sure-fire way to have a fun holiday in Italy. Going to the local supermarket and doing your groceries, getting to know the butcher, the baker, the fruit and veggie man, the wine merchant (really important!), eating fabulous food at restaurants the locals go to, and discovering all those hidden out-of-the-way places that are not in the guide books.

I hear from lots of people that they would love to do this. But for many it just seems too hard, or they don’t know where to start, or they are afraid they will get ripped off.

I have rented apartments and villas all over Italy (and other countries) and I would like to share with you my guide to hassle free renting. Here is a checklist that will help you along on your journey:

Work out precisely what type of accommodation and location you want:
1. Who will your companions be for this rental; just you, or are your family joining you, are your friends coming along as well, and how well does everyone know each other?
2. How many bedrooms and what type of beds will you need in each room – – single, double, queen or king and is the linen provided? Also – be careful if bedrooms join each other, or you have to walk through a bedroom to the shared bathroom/toilet. Very difficult if you have a call of nature in the middle of the night.
3. How many bathrooms do you need – bath or shower? There is no point on having 12 people in a villa and have only 2 bathrooms/toilets. If the bathrooms are not en-suite, I work on the basis of one shared bathroom to 4 people. Separate toilets are a good idea if you have a large number of guests.
4. Is there a washing machine? Finding and then washing your clothes in a laundromat is no fun when on holiday.
5. Is there an outdoor entertaining area? You will want to eat your meals “al fresco” and enjoy those wonderful warm evenings.
6. Is there a pool? Usually pools are open from late May to October. Also, are there any costs incurred in running the pool?
7. Is there air conditioning or heating? Will you need to use this? Italy can be stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in autumn and winter, and importantly, is the cost included in the rent? If not – how is it calculated and paid for?
8. Are there extra cleaning services available and what is the cost per hour? When you are on holiday the last thing you want to be doing is scrubbing the toilets. It is a good idea to organise at least one to two extra cleans a week if there are a large number sharing over a period of a few weeks. Often, there is a weekly clean included in the weekly rental.
9. Is there a chef that will come to the villa and cook for you? Does the chef bring all the ingredients and is this included in the cost? Having a chef is a great idea if you are not in close proximity to restaurants, and after all, you are on holiday and you don’t want to cook dinner every night. Also, you can learn a few cooking tips to impress your friends when you return home.

I remember a holiday where I organised a chef to cook every second night. He was very open to showing us a few of his cooking techniques however most of my friends were uninterested in cooking lessons but when this Adonis turned up there was not one female left on the couch. Not only did he bring all the ingredients, prepare the food, serve and cleared the table, he then washed up and left the kitchen spotless. Worth every Euro I say!


10. What is the access to the villa? Are there many stairs or a steep pathway to your front door? Remember – everything that you carry in also has to be carried out and that includes your suitcases, groceries/wine, and no doubt, the many wonderful purchases that you will make during your Italian vacation. Also remember that all the trash has to be deposited in the communal garbage and recycling bins on the street.
11. Check the restrictions for car parking. Is there off-street parking and for how many cars? If not, what are the restrictions for on-street parking?
12. Is the accommodation in a quiet area? Check out Google maps/earth, or ask the vendor if it is close to a busy road, train line, industrial or commercial area. I once rented an apartment on a pedestrian only street in Taormina, Sicily. Great I thought – a really central location and no cars. Alas, people partied till the wee hours up and down the street and then all the commercial deliveries had to be made before 7.00am. Thank goodness the windows were double glazed.
13. Is there an Internet connection and/or mobile phone coverage? We are now totally reliant on easy communication and expect that we can call our family and connect to the internet anywhere we go. However – that is not the case in Italy. Find out if your accommodation is connected (wi-fi or dial-up) and is there a cost to you.
14. Is the accommodation child friendly? Stairs – internal and external, a fenced-in garden, a fenced- in pool area, is the garden area safe for children (water features, steep cliffs etc)?
15. Do you want to be close to a village or town? This is important because you will need a car to get around if you are in the countryside. If you have a car and you rent accommodation in a town or village what are the parking arrangements/costs?

16. What services does your local village or town have? Restaurants and bars, supermarket (co-op), specialty food vendors, bank and/or ATM etc, doctor, chemist, etc
17. What are the closest transport links? Train services vary in Italy from rapid express to very, very slow! What is the closest airport and car hire place?
18. What area of Italy do you want to vacation in? Are you hankering for a remote location to commune with nature? Or, are you an urbanite that needs to be near all the action? Or are you someone in between – nature and action? Check out what your locality has to offer: culture, art, music, scenery, nature walks, parks, gardens, boating, beaches, golf and tennis etc, shopping, wineries, food, historic locations, museums etc…
19. Consider the time of year that you take your holiday in Italy? Spring (March to May) and Autumn ( September to November – however take note that late October and November can be cold) are the best. Summer (June to August) can be really very hot especially late July and August. Note – Italians take their holidays in August and tend to holiday in Italy. Consequently, many shops and restaurants will be closed and the prime holiday destinations such as the seaside, islands and the mountains will be very crowded with holidaying Italians.
20. What are the costs?
• Rent per week/month (Remember to ask for a discount for longer bookings or when making low season bookings).
• Rent per week/month (ask for a discount for longer bookings or low season bookings)
• Money transfer costs/bank fees
• Consider the exchange rate – are the rental costs quoted in your currency or the Euro
• Security deposit (refundable how? and when?)
• Chef – paid directly to the chef or the booking agent/vendor
• Extra maid service – paid directly to the maid or the booking agent/vendor
• Extras such as – air conditioning, heating, pool etc
• Are there any other staff such as a gardener or housekeeper who may need to receive a tip?

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OK – now you have your list of “must haves”, you can start looking….

Next blog we will discover how to go about finding your ideal villa or apartment.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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