Six years ago, in honour of my 40th birthday, a large group of us rented a picturesque villa in the heart of Tuscany. Having believed I was Italian until I was in my teens (that’s a whole other blog) it made perfect sense for me to travel to ‘my homeland’ (delusion in full swing, but I’m ok with it). I imagined gathering with good people and sharing delicious food and wine under the proverbial Tuscan sun. Well, we did just that and more. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
La Poggiolaia is an elegant hilltop farmstead that is strategically positioned in the middle of Florence, Siena and Pisa. It takes its name from the vast groves of olive trees that surround it in every direction. Believe me, I could go on describing the sights, smells and swirling emotions; but let me just say, it’s heaven on earth.
When I asked the owner of the villa for the name of a chef who could help us with my birthday dinner, Paola replied, “Judy can help you. She lives down the road.” What I came to understand is that when it comes to a deep, rich, culinary knowledge of Tuscany, no one knows more than Judy Witts-Francini. She is a legend in the making with her market tours and cooking classes bringing the very essence of Tuscan living to your core. She is a woman full of purpose and passion, and what she brought to our gathering was a deliciousness-defined that I savour to this day.
I find my open hand pressing on my chest whenever I speak of my time in Tuscany – like holding my heart somehow makes finding the right words easier. Simply put, there’s a beautiful, authentic, rawness about the land, its people and their food. This trifecta join together in a kind of potent mojo, that convinces every part of your being that it’s ok to let go and live, already. Eat bread for God’s sake; drink wine and laugh from your belly; share secrets; build things; dance like a wild-woman; love from your very core; honour family and celebrate friends; make time to stand alone amongst the vines and breathe in the stillness and power of it all (I’m clutching my chest again.)
This trip marked a shift in me. It was there, overlooking the golden hills that my private, deep-down voice said clearly, “Create what you ache for, Laura. It’s time.” I listened.
Now as I sit looking at the shiny new 2016 calendar on my desk, I’m happy to report that my little voice has grown mighty strong and guides me daily. She’s the director of many exciting events this year, one of which is a return to that magical property – this time with my paints and brushes. We’re offering our Beautifully Imperfect Painting Retreat in that magical place. Paola is there ensuring our beds are feathered, and my good friend Judy will be waiting to teach us the secrets of Tuscan cooking and charm us with her local magic.
To mark this New Year and the awesomeness that it holds, I’ve asked Judy to share one of her delicious recipes. I hope you enjoy it.
For information on all our retreats, visit my website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Tuscany, please book before Jan 22, 2016.