A Mid-Winter’s House and Garden Update

We might be smack dab in the middle of winter but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening in the house and garden. Here’s what’s going on. (Plus, a link to one of my favorite winter citrus cake recipes.)

My inner alarm went off one sleepless night a couple of weeks ago and I wondered if it was time to plant fruit trees, so I visited our local Vivaio (the Italian word for a plant nursery). As was evident by the many gallon-sized plants outside the store, I answered my own question. We left with two types of figs (black and green), two types of apricots, an apple, a plum, an almond tree, and a bag of organic horse and cow manure. In the yard already are rows of cherry trees, a couple of peach trees, olives, pomegranate, loquats and hazelnuts, none of which produced anything last year due to a very late frost and a super-hot, dry summer except our pomegranate and olive trees. The olives produced a whopping (sarcasm) 23 olives in total, which I water-brined and ate. We had enough pomegranates to juice and Tom made pomegranate cosmopolitan cocktails. Last week we planted the new fruit trees after having the field “winter-plowed” (a rough plow to turn over the soil and nurture it with last summer’s vegetable remnants, grass, etc.). Here’s hoping the weather gods are with us this year.

Daffodils are springing up in unlikely places. Once done blooming, I’m determined to uproot them and put them in more logical places next year.

We’ve developed a nice little relationship with Paolo, an older, retired gentleman who the ex-owner found for us. He’s our garden plower, field grass cutter (“grass” is being generous, they’re really weeds), junk hauler, and last summer’s bean seller. He had a bumper crop and really wanted me to buy a few kilos. I did so gladly, despite the three hours of shucking time, and we’re still eating fresh cannellini beans from the freezer.

Before having our field plowed, we had 6 remaining Brussels sprouts plants left in the garden to uproot. It’s amazing that they survived many hard frosts. I decided to roast one whole with the sprouts still on the stem to save time. It’s a great technique. I put a little olive oil on it and roasted it in the oven at 400 F (200C) for 30 minutes.

It’s funny how we re-charge as people. Truth be told, I wasn’t really ready or looking forward to the new growing season, because last year was taxing. The first year always is. But once we visited the Vivaio, bought trees and had the garden plowed, my spirits are renewed, and I can’t wait for the warmer weather.

The pruned tree in the center of the photo is a hazelnut. Don’t let the perspective fool you, it’s still a good 12 feet high. It used to be double the size but it blocked views, which is why I wanted to reduce it. Will it live? I’m not 100% sure, but i think so.

Apparently, our contractors for our house renovations are waiting for warmer weather to begin work, as well. Or so it seems. In a way, they have good reason to delay as the rules for all these government “bonus” programs keep shifting. Up until this year, those pursuing energy and efficiency bonus rebates didn’t have to pay upfront for things like solar panels, windows, etc. They were rebated directly to the vendor from the manufacturer, and thus, they’d be free to us. However, Italy, living out its best stereotype, had about 800 million euros go missing from the banks through fraudulent bonus program activities. Oops! The bonus programs still exist, thankfully, but now the end client (e.g., us) must pay for the projects upfront and wait for the banks, often 180 days, for reimbursement. This is going to significantly slow down all the projects we wanted to accomplish because we can’t front all the money at once.

Our cherry trees are budding nicely. Fingers crossed we get some fruit this year.

There is some good news on the horizon. We are neck deep in the process of selling our apartment in the historic center of Lucca. The bureaucracy is mind-numbing! We just completed all the required inspections (electrical systems, water heater, etc.). We also got an estimate from a moving company for our furniture. Let’s just say the quote we got was for “Rich Americans”. We’re Americans, but we certainly aren’t rich. It’s a challenge here when some Italians see a blonde person from the US. I can only imagine the cash register sound going off in their heads “Cha-Ching!”  Instead, we rented a truck and moved ourselves.

In the meantime, since the days are often mild even in winter, we’ve turned our attention to the yard and garden, pruning, plowing, shoring up fences, laying down gravel in the driveway… productive activities to keep us sane as we wait for our dreams to fully manifest.

As promised, here’s a link to one of my favorite fast winter citrus cakes, Annabel Langbein’s Orange Lightening Cake. But first, a few notes. She uses an 8-inch (20 cm) cake pan, which I don’t have. I use a 9-inch (23 cm) pan, so I must reduce the cooking time by about 10-12 minutes. I also prefer to use 4 tangerines/clementines/cuties, etc., instead of one orange because I think they are so much more flavorful. If you decide to use an orange, be sure you use one with a very thin skin.  Enjoy!  https://www.langbein.com/recipes/orange-lightning-cake


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Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

4 thoughts

  1. I love all of your blog posts! The recipes, the stories, catching up. Thanks for the well written insigtght into your lives through your delicious foods! We’re all watching too, and waiting for your dreams to come true. ❤️🇮🇹😋

    Liked by 1 person

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