Saturday, December 25, 2010

Officina Ristorante Colle Di Val D’Elsa Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Whether you use it or not, social media, such as Facebook, connects people, and sometimes in wonderful and otherwise unlikely ways. It was through Facebook and our common love of Florence, Italy, that the Diva of Divina Cucina, Judy Witts Francini, and I met. I am not sure if I have met anyone as intensely interested in most everything as Judy is. It is no wonder that people from all over the world come to take her cooking classes and her tours of Tuscany.

While I was still in Italy this past summer, Judy introduced me to the Officina della Cucina Popolare restaurant in a little town called Colle di Val d’Elsa, not far from her home in Certaldo. The drive from Florence was lovely. If you would like to see some of my snapshots along the route, visit my Facebook album about the Italian countryside.

I would have preferred to eat lunch there so that there was time to explore the medieval town, but my schedule would not allow it. Colle di Val d’Elsa is known for its lead-glass products and appears to be one long stretch of a town, running along the spine of a hill. The light on the long days here was starting to fade and I tried to get off a few images before the sun was completely gone. We parked (for free) outside of a very castle-like looking entrance all the “Porta Nova.” Not far inside is L’Officina on the right.

We sat outside to enjoy the evening air. The restaurant is very simple and therefore not overly “Italian” as more touristy places can be sometimes. The place had few visitors when we arrived on a Friday night just as they opened, but Italians eat later and the place was completely full before half-way through our dinner. The food was creatively prepared, beautifully displayed and a wonderful sensation for the taste buds.

The owners prefer a more organic way to live, serving food grown by sustainable local farmers and friends. Their menus are from recycled materials, such as these sides of wine boxes that you see in my photos. Their glasses are cut wine bottles.

I am not difficult to please when it comes to food, generally being happy if anyone but me prepares it. However, in the hands of people with passion for food, I can be completely blown away by the quality of the dining experience! This dinner was superb. I can honestly say that I never felt so … enchanted . . . with a bowl of cheese soup before. Pictured here with the fresh celery for dipping, mmm mmm mmmmmmmm

So, I apologize for not recording exactly what I ate here – sometimes it is difficult to live life and record it at the same time. The meat dish was wonderful and the one image shows Judy demonstrating to me how the traditional Italian cheese gourd-shaped ball is “unraveled” and eaten by locals.

Of the four friends who own and operate the Officina, I met Nicola Zak Bochicchio (isn’t he beautiful?) that evening as he successfully tempted us with the dessert menu. Like me, Judy prefers to order different items and then have all the table guests taste a little of each as they choose. I include three of our choices here. Please note that these are just snapshots with a flash (horrible!) and yet, these desserts still look so yummy (and they WERE)! And to top it all off, the prices were surprisingly affordable.

This last image is one I took that night as we exited through the same Porta Nova. I may not know much about food, but I have a pretty good understanding of the beauty of light. I will be returning to Colle di Val d’Elsa and definitely to the Officina, only for a longer visit next time. I hope you have a chance to experience this kind of traditional Tuscana too.

May the Yule Tide Spirit of Christmas be with you always.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Madonna Fiorentina

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Street painting in Italy has helped me to meet a great number of people that I would not have met without this art activity. One of my colleagues in the art of the madonnari is a Florentine-born young woman named Laura. I always thought her face striking and of a certain type that seemed so classical in shape and coloring that I had recognized from this part of the world. For years, I had thought to paint her face.

As luck would have it, back in 2009, she told me that she wanted to try modeling. So I hired her for one of my Open Studios in Florence and drew the charcoal sketch of her portrait that you see here.

I am not sure what exactly made me re-create this work with Laura as a Madonna portrait, but it probably had something to do that we both work as madonnari. Madonnara is the Italian word for one female streetpainter. The word is based on the history of these artists creating devotional drawings to the Madonna in the streets in front of the churches in Italy.

I created this artwork titled Madonna Fiorentina in pastel on Pastelbord. She is 12” x 9” I include a detail shot here because I want to show you how softly textured pastel on board looks. It is quite lovely.

Happy Birthday, Mamma Mia!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Daddy Longlegs

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

One of the benefits of working outside is noticing all of the “critters.” The other day I got to see a single ladybug on my marble “Gymnast” sculpture project. I do not really see ladybugs that often here, and that red round body contrasting with the white marble was fun.

More recently, I approached my marble work to find a Daddy Longlegs hanging out under the figure’s right arm. They are harmless and friendly enough. But I do worry that I will damage one of those delicate legs. I shooed him away, but then realized that my electric rotary tool apparently had no juice. After trying several sockets and wiggling lots of wire parts, I took it into the shop to take things apart.

Inside, one wire just pulled out WAY too easily. Most wire is coated with only the tips showing exposed metal. In this case, this tip had broken off inside the tool. Fixing it was just a matter of cutting away more of the plastic tubing around it and reattaching the wire.

When I returned to my carving site, my Daddy Longlegs friend was back, hiding under the left arm this time.

Nature's holidays are best - happy solstice! The skies were solid clouds (still are) over my home in central Texas, so I missed any chance of seeing the lunar eclipse last night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Klimt Copy Kiss

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Long-time readers of my blog might remember that last year I won a blogging award from Casey Klahn for the entry I made about my trip to Vienna to see live Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”

In Italy this August, I wanted to recreate this artwork in the streets of Portofino, a charming coast town on a northern Italy peninsula. But the police and city hall were having none of it (streetpainting), despite our having found a few small surfaces on which we could have created some art in chalk and pastel without being in the way of pedestrians or cars. Boh!

Anyway, as it happens, there seem to be a lot of requests for copies of famous artworks, Klimt’s “Kiss” being one of the favorites. So, I broke down and painted one in mixed media. My copy of the famous painting is only 22” x 18” -- MUCH smaller than the original.
I hope you like her. She is available for sale . . . only $1600. Oh, and I did not recreate the coloring that I noticed in the original artwork. I decided to keep the whole image pretty much warm and keep the romance going . . .

PS. I have been re-posting lots of images that some of my friends in Florence, Italy, have been taking of the unusual snow layers blanketing the Renaissance City now. They are quite charming! If you would like to see some, please “befriend me” on Facebook. In the meantime, I hope that you have someone to snuggle with in the chilly temperatures of winter. Also, check out the total lunar eclipse on Monday night. Click here for specific details about when and what.