Musical Advertising

Over the past few days I’ve come across two street signs advertising products using lyrics from popular songs. The first was a clever play on words for a housing/rental company.

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And just in case you didn’t quite get the reference there’s a nod to the band at the end.

The other one is another play on words, however not as subtle, but extra points for the image added to the advert.

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No points for guessing what number 2 is selling. (Not sure how legal this is but it’s funny nonetheless)

Oasis (not the band)

I’ve only been living in the new place for 76 days and so I’m still not very savvy about the local area and amenities: The corona virus and lockdown hasn’t helped exploration either, but today while on dog-walking duty I found a real gem, an oasis of calm just a few minutes from my back door, and so after the dog decided he wanted to go home I returned to explore.

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It’s a patch of woodland with a path that meanders through clouds of cow parsley and the sound of the nearby houses is diffused by the trees until as you walk further it becomes almost like white noise.

Today the sun is prising its way through the canopy, sending shadows and shapes racing across the ground as I stroll off the path and into a small clearing, where it’s obvious, that while the world is locked in a battle with a microscopic enemy, nature continues unabated.

Like most cities, ours has a proud industrial heritage. Before the 1980’s, when cheap imports of dinnerware from Asia began to flood the market, chance was the plate you’d be having your lunch on or your teacup would have come from Stoke on Trent – there’s a reason we’re called, The Potteries. (Don’t get me started on how greedy management/owners destroyed the industry in their quest for fast profits.)

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An internet search will bring up archival photos of bottle ovens belching smoke and dust into the air, but things change and those historical clouds of smog are gone; along with the skills of the city’s people. But enough of that, let’s get back to today.

Despite our industrial past our city has lots of green spaces, in fact as Misha Herwin said in her blog, we have a green city.

Stepping back onto the path I find some bluebells standing proud among the grasses and the sky coloured flowers remind of my childhood before the plants were protected, when, with my sister we’d pick armfuls of them, breathing in their delicate perfume.

Just a few feet away from the bluebells is a patch of buttercups, their happy yellow heads held high in the stillness of the morning. IMG_0272

There’s no breeze but there’s a definite aroma of garlic in the air, I take a few more paces and the smell is stronger, and there nestling in a shady spot I find a strip of wild garlic growing, it’s white flowers standing out in bright defiance against the broad dark green leaves.

Further down the path is a patch of forget-me-nots, forgotten among the undergrowth, their leggy stems holding the pale blue flowers aloft. I look at these tiny flowers and not for the first time, I wonder why they’re also known as scorpion grass.

It’s amazing how just a few minutes disconnected from modern living can top you up with a feeling of well-being. Simple things can often be the antidote to stress and anxiety, and nothing is more soothing than the tranquillity of a woodland walk.

My favourite discovery of the walk is four dandelion clocks standing proud, waiting for a breeze to tell the time. I like them so much I that I can’t decide which of my photographs I like best, so I’ll post both of them.

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Time

Time seems to be passing quickly for some and dragging on for other during this strange time we’re all in.

Misha Herwin

Clock

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I don’t know where today has gone. Waking at seven, I did the usual walk, my Monday Skype lesson with Maddy, cooked and ate garlic mushrooms for brunch, worked on the computer, watched the news, then sat a little in the sun before planting out the sweet peas and chopping down some more privet. The hours have flown and even as I’m typing, I’m watching the clock to see if it’s time to phone Mum for our daily chat.

There are still a number of things I need to do, the most important of which is to get back to my story plan for the next adventure of Letty Parker. Will I fit them in? Who knows?

The nature of time has always fascinated me. I write time slip novels and one of my favourite books is “The Children of Green Knowe” by…

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Floral Focus

One of my favourite parts of our Italian home is the space outside the front door, this space opens out from the kitchen/diner onto a patio with a large expanse of grass with wildflowers and herbs. I particularly like the patio where I previously had lots of pots filled with flowering plants and my ultimate favourite, my large hosta box that thrived despite the sunshine and heat. The rear of the house has a garden with gazebo overlooking the valley, my orto (veg plot) and the woodland. The rear is south facing so in the afternoon is often too hot to use, so the front patio became our most used area for lunch, entertaining friends and just chilling in the sun.
With our stay in the UK looking likely to become more protracted due to Covid-19, hospital appointments and other reasons too boring to go into here we moved into a new house with a small garden to keep me horticulturally occupied. It has a small rear area, (north facing) and an enclosed front garden complete with border of white stones and a bland square of lawn. As I love flowers; especially cut flowers for the house, the space to grow for indoors is too limited with the garden so I have also acquired an allotment; namely, Plot 51.

My challenge for this year, albeit within the constraints of lockdown is to create a colourful front garden (theme as yet undecided) and a wealth of veg and cut flowers for the home.
The year started with sowing seeds as usual and my electric propagators earning their keep. I’ve scoured seed catalogues and online garden centres but as yet resisted the temptation to buy perennials and herbaceous plants and also I’ve looked away from adverts for allotment ready fruit and veg for sale.

I’ve made a conscious decision to have a change. Thus far there’s not a hosta in sight. I’ll be raising from seed some plants new to me and some that are not widely available on the high street. Some of these being, Catananche caerulea (Cupid’s Dart) a perennial that’s not seen in gardens very often now. Amaranthus (Love Lies Bleeding) an annual that I’ve wanted to try for years but never got around to sowing, Mina Lobata (Spanish Flag) a climber new to me and Molucella laevis (Bells of Ireland) a tall green-flowered plant that has seen its popularity fade in favour of more modern vibrant coloured flowers. There will be sweet peas on the allotment: What is summer without a vase of perfumed peas on the sideboard? But for a change I’m going to try another plant that I’ve always passed over, for my trellis at home, I’ll be growing, Morning Glory. I’ve sown two varieties of these blue flowered vines, Grandpa Otts and Star of Yelta. Fingers crossed all goes well for a successful flowering season. I’ll no doubt keep you updated.

Etna Sauce

Yesterday I made three jars of what I lovingly call Etna Sauce. It’s a chilli sauce that’s sweet like Thai chilli sauce but as hot as the lava from Mount Etna. Because it’s so hot I only make it in small batches because not many people like the intense heat – I do.

I posted an image on Instagram and Facebook and Alexandra asked me for the recipe, so here it is:

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Ingredients: 400 ml white wine vinegar. 650 g white granulated sugar. 60 g dried chillies. 150 g red pepper (de-seeded) 120 g fresh red chilli (de-seeded) I use the small hot red chillies rather than the larger sweeter ones. I also think it’s the addition of the dried chilli that gives the sauce it’s intense heat, but if you can handle it do feel free to add an extra 10g of them. (If you can’t get fresh chilli use 160 g of dried ones).

Put the vinegar and sugar into a large saucepan over a medium heat and let the sugar dissolve. Meanwhile add the chillies to a blender/processor and blitz until fine. Once the sugar has dissolved add the chilli and pepper mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Let the liquid boil for 12 minutes then turn it off and take off the heat and let it stand for 25 minutes.

Sterilise your jars in hot water and let them air dry before filling with the sauce.

The sauce has a consistency between jam and sauce and can be spread on cheese sandwiches, bacon or sausages and goes great if warmed in a pan to make it more liquid and added to chicken or ribs.

For my apple and chilli jam click here NB: most people who’ve tried this say it’s a tad hot so reduce the chilli down to 150g.

Plans And Plants

I love this time of year, there’s so much to look forward to, sunshine, days at the beach and a riot of colour in the garden. Being in Italy means I can start off my seed sowing earlier than if I was in the UK, but first I like to be organised and have a plan: some would say it’s OCD, but whatever, it works for me.

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The best time is when I have sorted the seeds and decided what I’ll be growing and at the end of January out of storage comes the electric propagator. Seeds trays are washed and disinfected and two trays of compost are popped in to warm overnight.

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Not everything works here in Italy though, some plants just don’t thrive in the summer heat, but it’s fun trying different ones. Despite being native to Sicily, Sweet Peas have failed every year for me and this year is my last attempt, so I started them off in November so they’ll be bigger and stronger when they go outside: I have some outside already in a pot which I can bring in if we get a forecast of snow.

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Space is limited in the propagator and with marble windowsills that can be too cold for seeds once they’ve been removed. I had to come up with a way to keep the seeds insulated. So I started to save polystyrene food trays and I drop the young seedling into these to keep them warmer. I’ve found it works really well and promotes good root growth.

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I also enjoy the preparation that seed sowing and gardening brings, above is one of my sunflower trays. I scrounged the polystyrene trays from the local butcher and the growing pods are toilet rolls cut in half. This system keeps the roots contained and can be planted direct into the ground once the plants are large enough. It helps when you’re planning on sowing 70+ sunflowers.

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Finally, the joy of pricking out. Above is a tray of 15 Coreopsis, I only want six plants for the garden so this means there’ll be nine left over to donate to friends. I’ll no doubt during the summer be sharing photographs of the garden with my readers here. Until then, happy gardening everyone.

Power Of Attorney Explained

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So you’ve decided to go ahead and buy a holiday home in Italy but it’s not possible for you get over to sign the contracts at the final act. What can you do?

Set up a power of Attorney to give another person the chance to close the deal for you. Sounds simple and I’m often asked how this is achieved. So here’s a post to answer questions about using a PoA to buy or sell a property in Italy.

What is a power of attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a written permission given by you ‘the donor’ to a third party known as ‘the attorney’ which legally authorises the attorney to carry out certain acts on your behalf.
Most people grant the Power of Attorney to their legal representative, but it need not be a lawyer, you can give the power to a friend, your agent or a relative; the only stipulation in Italy is that the person acting upon your behalf must be an Italian resident.

Is it risky?
As you are essentially giving someone the legal right to act on your behalf it does involve an element of risk. It is vital that whoever you instruct to act upon your behalf is reliable and reputable as you are ultimately responsible for all acts that your attorney does on your behalf  as if you had done these yourself, (provided they are within the scope of the Power of Attorney). In the case of signing the documents for your property purchase the risk is low as you are in effect only giving them the power to sign the final act in your absence and nothing more.

How do you arrange a Power of Attorney?
You can set this up after your viewing trip before you leave Italy. Your overseas lawyer will prepare a bilingual Power of Attorney document, this must then be signed by you in the presence of a notary here in Italy.

If the power is signed in the UK it will need to be signed in the presence of an appropriate notary. A quick call to the Italian consulate should tell you where the nearest notary is to you. (Remember to take your passport and other documents of identification). After the document has been signed in the UK you’ll need it to be legalised with a Hague Convention Apostille by the Legalisation Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in order to be valid for use in Italy.

How much does it cost?
English notary charges are between £100 and £150 per document, but do check the fees in advance and shop around you may get a better price from another notary. The fee for the apostille is currently £30 per document if paid for online and slightly more if paid by another method.

Stock: The Cook’s Best Friend

I’ve just put two tubs of homemade chicken stock inside the freezer as it’s the best thing to have in the kitchen. It’s great for risotto, polenta and soups and much nicer than the powdered stocks with chemicals and added salt. It’s simple to make and currently in my freezer there’s beef stock, chicken stock and roast duck stock. It’s so simple to make, it’s literally just the bones, bits of leftover meat and the meat juices added to a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Strain through a sieve, let it cool and freeze it – job done.

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One thing I’ve learned is homemade stock is good for is gravy. Here in Italy no one makes gravy, occasionally a red wine jus but for us Northern English people, gravy is the ambrosia of the gods.

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I’ve been on the earth for numerous years now and in this last month I’m been proud to say I have learned the art of making good gravy. This is all down to the acclaimed chef Paul Ainsworth. I’ve attempted gravy in the past and it’s always been a horrid brown mess, but Mr Ainsworth was on the TV in December showing how to make the perfect Christmas gravy. I took his advice and since then there’s been no stopping me.

Last evening we had roast chicken, with red cabbage and potatoes and my chicken/garlic gravy. To make the gravy I used: 1 pot of chicken stock from the freezer about 450 ml, some frozen sofritto ( cubed onion, carrot and celery) 4 garlic cloves the meat juices from the roasted chicken and a splash of white wine.

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Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, I take the wings off the bird and add them into the pan too. Season with white pepper and let it simmer for a further 5 minutes then pass through a sieve. Add the liquid back into the pan and add a spoonful of flour to thicken it, stir until there’s no lumps and that’s it, all done, chicken and  garlic gravy.

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The next day I just add the bones and left-over meat to water; after picking a few titbits off for the dogs and simmered, sieved and stored in two trays until it’s needed next time.

Dawn Chaos

Not sure if this merits a blog post or it’s just a rant to appease myself.

I like to sleep with the bedroom window open: There’s something pleasing about being warm under the winter duvet with a crisp breeze dancing across the face as you sleep. Normally I wake up to the dawn chorus however today was dawn chaos.

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I was woken by wild boar crashing about in the land below, with their young squealing, this in turn startled many birds who cried out in anger at also having their sleep disturbed. This then became a cacophony of shrieks and whistles with one particular bird screeching like a demented loon.

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By now I’m properly awake as the boar have now reached the farm down the lane and their four dogs are barking adding their noise to the morning din. So all that’s left is for me to get up, let our two dogs out and let them add to the orchestra of animal voices.

It’s Snow Good

One thing the Italians excel at in comparison to their British counterparts is excellent snow management. Back in the UK when there’s a hint of impending snowfall the local council will get out the gritters and coat the roads in a mix of salt, sand and grit in an attempt to keep the roads clear and traffic moving.

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Here in Italy the council take a more pragmatic approach to snow. They let it fall then get out the snow ploughs and move it, thus clearing the roads and keeping the traffic flowing. Add to this no grit to cause corrosion to your car and you’re winning on all fronts.

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Here they clear all the roads that the school bus will travel on first, then they come to clear even the lanes where only a handful of residents live, like myself.

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So it’s thumbs up to the Italians and their super snow management.