culinary capers

We had an inkling, when we were planning our trip, that after a day in Rome seeing the sights and battling the throngs we would be ready to escape to the countryside. Consequently, we signed up for a cooking class and did just that. There were only four participants, the others were a lovely young couple from Melbourne, Ash and Mel. We were picked up at 8.30am by multi-talented driver and sous-chef, Roy, and enjoyed a very comfortable 45 minute ride to the medieval village of Mazzano Romano. There, we met our chef, Elisa, who guided us through the process of purchasing our ingredients. Firstly, to the macelleria where vegetarian Mel opted to wait outside.

Next was the green grocers, bursting with colourful, fresh produce.

The last stop was for cheeses and smallgoods, so much choice in one small shop.

12.shop

Sharing the load, we made our way along narrow cobbled streets, climbing higher into the village.

16.Mazzano Romano17.Mazzano Romano

Arriving at the apartment, built around 1300 AD, we wandered around in awe at the beautiful interior and breathtaking views.

29.neighbours

The kitchen awaited us, ready to create our culinary masterpieces

and the essential ingredient was poured.

34.pre-cooking

Michael’s first attempt at tossing salt in a pan was somewhat overzealous but with a little more tuition, he soon mastered the art.

We were shown some handy tips when it came to preparing vegetables, including an easy way to prevent eyes from streaming when chopping onions. Take a mouthful of water and hold it in your mouth while cutting the onion – no tears. I have it on good authority that it also works with a mouthful of beer! Michael was assigned the task of making the dark chocolate lava cake, I’m not sure how Elisa knew he would embrace the challenge with such gusto.

Meanwhile, Elisa shared her grandmother’s recipe for pizza dough using flour and sparkling water. Served with three different toppings – potato & rosemary, red onion and tomatoes with mozzarella – they were deliciously crisp.

Elisa had a great sense of humour and Michael didn’t mind being the fall guy. Presented with a pot of cooked tomatoes, he was asked to separate the skins and seeds and was much relieved to discover Elisa had a handy gizmo to do the job.

We learned how to make three kinds of pasta,

shaping the gnocchi on garganelli boards required a certain technique.

Rolling the pasta through the machine was more than a one person job.

We quickly produced enough pasta to cook

53.ravioli, fettucine & gnocchi

and Elisa impressed us with her presentation of the ricotta & spinach ravioli,

fettucine with tomato based sauce

57.fettucine

and gnocchi with pesto sauce.

58.gnocchi

We had prepared a salad to accompany the veal saltimbocca, savouring all courses with the obligatory bottle of vino.

We had just enough room for the exquisite chocolate lava cake, prepared with enthusiasm and cooked to perfection.

The time had come to wend our way to the car for a much quieter trip back to Rome. I hadn’t noticed this gorgeous little pink house on the way in, I wonder how many centuries it has guarded the village.

63.pink house

bespoke bureau

Having finished the back room renovation, our thoughts turned to furnishings. We searched for a suitable sideboard but couldn’t find anything that was just right, though we did get a few ideas. The answer was to create our own. We had some old timbers lying around and supplemented our supply with a visit to the salvage yard where we also found four wooden crates (there were two A.B. Tonic ones).

I cleaned up the crates while Michael slaved over the frame using various reclaimed hardwood timbers

and some old fence palings. I found a recipe for rusting nails and it worked a treat.

6.shelves

A few coats of Cabothane brought out the natural hues as well as the perfect defects.

We kept changing our minds about what to use for the centre front and side panels so Michael experimented with rust effects on steel. The polyurethane coating has preserved the colours well.

9.rusted steel panels

Precision placed finger holes and felt lining completed the crates.

Over the years, we have accumulated some beautiful timber slabs and we selected a Huon pine for this project. Trimmed and prepared,

it was fixed to the frame

15.finished

and the steel took its place in the front and sides.

Some more Cabothane on the top highlighted the grain.

We are very happy with the result.

23.finished

Connemara

Leaving Bundoran early on a crisp, autumn morning, we continued our drive through County Donegal heading southwest through County Mayo toward Galway. The journey was broken by the necessity to stop and take photographs of the beautiful scenery. Solitary stone ruins scattered the countryside

1.ruins

and gentle waterfalls tumbled a tune.

2.waterfall

Rivers skilfully traversed rocks before disappearing beneath ancient stone bridges.

3.river4.stone bridge

Shafts of sunlight shone briefly on the mountains before retreating once again behind the clouds.

5.mountains6.mountains7.mountains

As the landscape changed, gentle streams meandered through farmland

8.stream

and  flowed calmly under stone arches.

9.stone bridge

Despite our distractions, we reached Connemara in good time, this old caravan by the side of the road presented a subliminal suggestion.

10.old caravan

We arrived in Leenane in time for lunch, a peaceful village at the head of Killary Harbour. Extending 16km toward the sea, Killary Harbour is the most westerly fjord in Europe, majestic mountains rising on either side make for a spectacular panorama.

11.Killary Fjord12.Killary Fjord

The cemetery has prime position.

13.Leenane cemetery & Killary Harbour

Further along the shore we had a different perspective of the fjord

14.Killary Fjord

and a breathtaking view of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht and County Mayo.

15.Mweelrea, Killary Fjord

We were looking forward to exploring Connemara, a region in west Galway known for its National Park, stunning coastline and fishing villages. Our intention was to drive to Clifden on the far west side of Connemara and continue the loop back to Galway. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gone far before a police roadblock informed us the road was closed due to an accident. Taking a detour, we came across a pub in the middle of nowhere and sought to assuage our disappointment with a tasty beverage. Entering the establishment, we were greeted with indifference by the three men at the bar who had seemingly already partaken of the amber liquid. The barman disappeared, presumably to prepare for customers. We waited at the bar, then took a seat at a table while the three aforementioned persons spoke to each other in Gaelic and furnished us with less than friendly stares. We were a bit slow on the uptake but, when the barman failed to return, we beat a hasty retreat and, without looking back, made a beeline for Galway. For those of you who have read of our disgruntlement with Holly, our satnav, here is evidence. She is unable to comprehend that we are already on a road!

16.Holly

beautiful firetail

Venturing out for another bout of gardening, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Expecting to see the resident fairy wrens bobbing around, I was excited to see two little birds I haven’t seen before.

1.beautiful firetail

I wasted no time grabbing my camera and returned to find they were still in the orchard. They certainly weren’t disturbed by my presence.

2.beautiful firetail

I consulted our Guide to Australian Birds book and found out they are beautiful firetail finches. The only finch endemic to Tasmania, (the European goldfinch and greenfinch are introduced) appear to have an olive green head but it actually has the same fine dark barring as the white body.

3.beautiful firetail

The bright red rump and beak, highlighted against black tail and mask, co-ordinate perfectly.

4.beautiful firetail

Males have a black centre of abdomen and undertail, their plumage darkens and eye ring becomes bluer during breeding season.

5.beautiful firetail

Usually seen in pairs, the beautiful firetail eats mainly grass as well as casuarina and tea tree seeds. I don’t know what they were finding so tasty on this occasion, either the grass or some small insects to complement the herbivore diet?

6.beautiful firetail

These birds share an equal partnership, both construct the nest, incubate the eggs and care for the young. Fortunately, their conservation status is secure, hopefully they will visit again.

7.beautiful firetail

The Colosseum

We were both looking forward to seeing the Colosseum while in Rome and had booked a tour well in advance. Not just any tour, one that would take us underground through the  tunnels and dungeons where gladiators and animals awaited their fate. Having to fit in around other plans, we only had one day available to do this and it was a national public holiday. We were very disappointed to learn, two weeks beforehand, that the decision had been made to close the Colosseum on that day. Instead, on a drizzly Roman morning, we boarded a “hop-on hop-off” bus to see the sights. Approaching the Colosseum, it became apparent that it was, in fact, not closed that day. The sheer size of the construction was breathtaking.

1.The Colosseum

We easily arranged another tour with a small group, it didn’t include the dungeons but it was a fabulous experience with a very entertaining guide. We had time to admire the Arch of Constantine before the tour began. The largest surviving Roman triumphal arch was erected in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentius. The arch is decorated with an array of intricate Roman sculptures.

2.The Arch of Constantine

Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was commissioned in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty. The nefarious Emperor Nero had built a huge palace for himself after a great fire destroyed Rome in 64 AD and then took his own life four years later. Vespasian gifted the land back to the Roman people and built the arena as a place for public entertainment. The amphitheatre opened in 80 AD, celebrating with 100 days of games in which more than 2,000 gladiators lost their lives.

3.The Colosseum

The exterior has three storeys of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns of which each storey has a different style.

4.The Colosseum

More than 50,000 spectators, with numbered pottery shards as tickets, would enter the stadium through passageways that led to a tier of seats.

5.steps to seats

The best seats were allocated to the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, followed by the senators. Some of the areas have names carved in stone, presumably reserving the seats for the notables.

6.The Colosseum7.reserved seating

The rest of the tiers were filled according to social ranking, with standing room only at the very top for those less worthy. Gravediggers, actors and former gladiators were among those banned from the Colosseum entirely.

8.standing room only at the top

Measuring 190 by 155 metres, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world.

9.The arena

The maze of tunnels underneath the arena

11.the hypogeum12.the hypogeum13.the hypogeum

were connected to the outside to allow for animals and gladiators to be brought in. There were elevators and pulleys for lifting caged animals as well as scenery and props.

10.tunnels

It seems to me that modern arenas have followed the ancient Roman design, nothing much has changed. At ground level, there are eighty entrances, each one numbered, so the venue could be filled and emptied quickly.

14.exits15.exits

The stadium was used for four centuries, until gladiatorial combats were no longer considered the height of entertainment. The Colosseum was abandoned  and used as a source of building material. Along with vandalism, earthquakes and natural weathering, two-thirds of the original structure has been destroyed. I know I always say this about ancient technology but the complexity of the stonework never ceases to amaze me.

 

There were many different types of gladiators in ancient Rome and each had his own set of weapons and armour, some fought only specific foes. They are represented in these preserved bas relief sculptures.

21.Bas relief of gladiators fighting22.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting23.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting

Various popes sought to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, triangular brick wedges were added to shore up the walls

 

and in the 1990s, restoration efforts began in earnest. We caught a final glimpse of the Colosseum as we went in search of lunch and the opportunity to ponder life in ancient Rome.

26.The Colosseum