Thursday, April 15, 2010

Conti – Tasty Tuscan Food Products

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Recently I attended “Mondays at the Markets” with the fabulous Judy Witts Francini. Judy not only teaches Italian cooking classes, but she gives tours on how to buy the right ingredients (and wines), blogs and publishes cooking books, and SO much more. Monday, she took her small group (always small, she says, she prefers it that way) on a tour of the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo (central market) in Florence, Italy, as well as many of the surrounding merchants that she adores.

Today I want to share some of my experiences that day with the Conti family. I met Stefano and Grazia Conti, as well as their son Manuel, who I understood to have recently received some prestigious award that permitted him to be considered an expert on wines or some other culinary honor. [I really need to work in my Italian language skills, not to mention my memory!]

There was so much tasting and so many scrumptious things that I had to narrow it down for this blog post. I choose today to talk about the Conti’s balsamico. I have tasted balsamic vinegar plenty of times – it is a staple in Italian homes and goes well on salads and even pasta. But what we tasted this day was not this. Sure it had the similar tanginess to it, but was so much more intense and pure of flavor (and I think Judy said – no vinegar)! One drop of this thick concoction, and one was thinking of the nectar of the gods. I am not exaggerating.

These images were taken at the Conti’s tasting table inside of the mercato centrale. The first image is of the handsome Stefano and his charming wife Grazia. In the second image, Grazia is showing us one of the family’s offerings, while their elegant and perhaps modest son Manuel lays out the tastings of the day.

In this third image, the fabulous Judy [wearing Florentine purple, the color of the local soccer (calcio) team], explains to us how balsamico is created over a period of many years, moved from one barrel into the next in line. In the fourth image, the lovely Grazia waits for the balsamico to find its way finally to my spoon. When one knows of the time involved to create such treasures and how long it will last (a tiny amount goes a long way), the price becomes reasonable indeed.

And just look at some of their offerings! The bottles are beautiful, as well as the treasures inside: worth every euro. Life can be a dream when we follow our passions. Thanks so much to the Conti family for sharing theirs.

Useful links:
Tuscany Flavours – the site for the Conti Family’s delicious offerings
Divina Cucina – get to know more about Judy Witts Francini and her cooking knowledge
Judy’s blog about food and Italy

Just wanted to acknowledge this: My friend Keith Hogan left this world on the 14th of April. He was a strong advocate for people with disabilities and had the sweetest soul.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fresco Santa Trinita Church

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

This is the last of this series of images from the Church of Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy. I wanted to show you something that is sad and unfortunately quite common in the frescoes in Florentine churches. In this first image, I give you a snapshot giving you an overall view of the church. But look at the upper left part of the image: In a church in which there is quite a lot of symmetry and order, you can see that this part does not. It is because of damage over the years.

In this second image, you can see not only how much of the original fresco is missing, but you can also see how lovely the colors are. I cannot help wondering how beautiful this original artwork would have looked when it was new.

In these last two images, you can see the warmer fresco colors. I also really enjoy the border patterns and how they placed several complete compositions into one giant composition that worked with the architecture. And not unlike when I destroy my street paintings, I often find beauty in the ruins of . . . well, many things.

I am not sure, but I believe that the cracks and missing parts of frescoes give away their secrets on how they were made, or at least, how the work was separated into batches of plaster. I find it interesting that in the third image, one can see that the shapes of the missing art are more organic in nature. This composition, while having a number of straight vertical elements in its composition is quite different from the one across the space from it (image 4). You can see the lost space wrapping around the one figure in red’s robe.

Whereas the last image depicts a rather rectangular composition and the missing painting in the lower right is also a rectangular shape. One suspects that this artist worked in a very methodical manner perhaps based more on his brain’s way of thinking than even on the way the image was originally drawn. I wonder if he was part engineer?

Italy has such a wealth of important art and finds itself the custodian of so much of human culture and history. It must be a great expense for a generally not super-wealthy nation and it is no wonder that so many of Italy’s artworks appear to be waiting for restoration attention. I, for one, am generally happy that more artworks have not been restored after seeing how Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel was ruined by the “restoration experts.” But this is another topic . . .

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Religious Art Santa Trinita Church

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I hope you do not mind this short entry – I really want to paint today. Here are more images of some of the religious art inside of the Church of Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy. These first two shots are in an altar area that lies to the right of the central (main) altar inside the church. One must put a coin into a machine in order to view the art with a light.