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Italy, Sunday October 11, 8:30 pm-9 hours ahead of PDT

It’s official, I am in heaven. I cannot express how happy I am; there are no words. Just emotion and more emotion. We are at Podere Ciona with the women of Tutti a Tavola and I have found my soul mates. Ya ya sisters of another kind, for no one can replace my ya-ya’s, this place is so uniquely special that I will be hard pressed to leave. I will be back. Acres of wine grapes and olive trees, all sloping down to the unseen valley floor. The views here are the most spectacular that we have seen; this region is the most beautiful so far.

We are in Chianti and I would have never guessed that I could love it this much. We arrived in this remote area after only an hour and a half at most, and it is worlds away, even from the beautiful Tuscany. It is a more mountainous region, with the smell of pine trees in the air on this many acres of grape vines and olive groves. We have territorial views that can compete with anything in Western Washington and for me, that is saying something. Unfortunately our apartment has only one bedroom and a sofa-bed, so we will take turns with mom and dad in the suffering at night department. Otherwise this place is idyllic and after meeting the family I want to stay on and on, learning from the ‘mammas’ who are all professional cooking teachers.

We enjoyed some wine on our terrace, overlooking the vineyards and valley, and then went up to the tasting room for a winery tour, wine tasting, cooking lesson, and dinner. I love touring these small production vineyards; everything is pristine and it is small enough to see truly how it all works. Podere Ciona makes the one chianti wine that I have loved and now that I have tasted their other wines I know I will enjoy them all. We have some at the cafe for sale and when we get back the folks on this trip will probably grab what is left, so if you want some go get it now. It’s the monterosso, and it is fabulous!

When we got back to the tasting room kitchen we had a wine tasting and a little Podere Ciona History lesson from Franca’s son Lorenzo, who is here for the crush. Then we had more wine and sisters Franca and Mimma, cousin Lele, and cohort, and a few others, all welcomed us into their kitchen and leaped into my heart immediately. Franca kissed me, Mimma hugged me, Lele grabbed my hand and led me around the table to start the tomato peeling process and the cooking lesson was off! These women are so nurturing and natural and it is like being with a favorite grandmother…times five. The love and the learning that go hand in hand there cannot possibly produce anything that tastes bad! I want so much to be a part of this club!! Cooking, learning, teaching, traveling… Elissa lives here only 6 months out of the year and goes back home to Wisconsin 6 months… and when the mammas come to the states to travel and teach she meets up with them. What a dream of a life, in spite of the hard work that goes into it. Really, this is such an amazing experience, I will be bringing it back to all of you and I hope you can get even just a glimpse of this beauty that I am so blessed with. I have won the lottery of life and this trip is my prize!!!

We got some fabulous recipes: watch for the onion tart and peperonata at the cafe right off the bat! Mimma gave me a CD with 150 of their recipes on it and I am so excited about that! Those of us who wanted to keep cooking did, and slowly we all filed out onto the terrace for more wine and relaxation. More onion tarts and soon it was time to sit down for dinner. Penne all’Amatriciana to start, then pork loin with rosemary, parsley and garlic, and peperonata alongside it. We ended with tiramisu and the wine flowed constantly throughout the meal. Elissa sang to us: Somewhere over the Rainbow seemed so appropriate for watching my dreams come true right before my eyes. Then one of our group, the beautiful Sirena, got up (at our coaxing) and sang a wonderful rendition of Puff the Magic Dragon! It is still early, by Italian dining times, and it is great to be done and enjoying the clear Chianti skies and Siena skyline in the far distance.

Tonight we retire early, and I am ready for that! Tomorrow we have a long day of travel, wine tasting, eating and site seeing. We will report back… this afternoon I could not get the signal and right now I can, so it may be iffy. We will do our best to keep you updated!!

Ciao for now,