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“Filled with warmth and the rich and simple drama of a beautiful life. The evocation of country dishes is mouthwatering, the lyrical beauty irresistible.”
–Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town
“A love poem to de Blasi’s professional life as a chef.”
“Rich with food, weather, romance, and, above all, life . . . [De Blasi] immerses her readers in life’s poignancy, brevity, and wonder.”
The gorgeous things they're cooking are zucchini blossoms, fat and velvety, almost as wide and long as lilies. And the frying dance is precise: drag a blossom quickly through the nearly liquid batter, let the excess drain back into the bowl, lay the blossom gently in the wide, low-hipped pot of hot, very hot shimmering oil. Another blossom and another. Twelve at a time in each of four pots. The blossoms are so light that, as a crust forms on one side, they bob about in the oil and turn themselves over and over until a skimmer is slid in to rescue them, to lay them for a moment on thick brown paper. The paper is then used as a sling to transport the blossoms to a linen-lined tray. One of the cooks fills a red glass bottle with warm, sea-salted water. She fits a metal sprayer onto the bottle and, holding it at arm's length, spritzes the gold blossoms with the salty water. The hot skins hiss and the perfume of them is whipped up and out into the moist June Tuscan breeze.
Pan-to-hand-to-mouth food, these are sustenance for the twelve-minute interval before supper, and so when the first hundred are ready, the cook, the one called Bice, hands me the tray and says 'vai,' 'go' without looking up. A kitchen directive from one colleague to another, from one chef to another, she says it with familiarity, as though we've worked together for years. But tonight I'm not the chef. I think I'm a guest or am I the hostess? I'm not at all sure how this festival got started but I'm happy it did.
Happy and still unwashed from the morning's journey, from the afternoon's work, I'm salty as the blossoms I offer to people, who take them without ceremony. The same familiarity is at work here as each one smiles or pats me on the shoulder, says grazie bella, thank you beauty, as if I'd been passing them hot, crisp flowers all my life. I like this. For one moment it occurs that I might run with the basket to some dim corner of the piazza to devour the remaining blossoms myself, eyes half-closed in a lusty swoon among the shadows. But I don't. Some people don't wait until I reach them but come to me, take a flower while sipping wine or talking over their shoulders. People are collecting about me now, rooks swooping in for the things until nothing is left, save errant crumbles, crunchy and still-warm, which I press onto my finger and suck.
Deep-Fried Flowers, Vegetables, and Herbs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups beer
1/2 cup cold water
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 ice cubes
Peanut oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying
Zucchini blossoms, nasturtium flowers, and borage flowers, rinsed, dried, and stems trimmed
Celery leaves cut in branches, rinsed, and dried
Whole sage leaves, rinsed and dried
Tiny spring onions or scallions, stems trimmed to about 4 inches in length, rinsed and dried
Warm sea-salted water in a sprayer
In a large bowl, beat together with a fork the flour, beer, water, and sea salt to form a thin batter. Let the batter rest for an hour or so, covered and at room temperature. Stir in the ice cubes and let the batter rest for an additional half-hour. Stir the batter again. It should now be smooth and have the texture of heavy cream. If it’s too thick, add cold water by the tablespoonful until the "heavy cream" texture is achieved.
Over a medium flame, heat the oil in a deep fryer or a heavy pan to a depth of 3". The more slowly the oil heats, the more evenly it will heat, helping you to avoid hot and cold spots and unevenly fried foods. Test the oil by dropping in a cube of bread. If it sizzles and turns golden in a few seconds, the oil is ready.
Drag the flowers, herbs, and spring onions through the batter, shaking off the excess. Place them into the hot oil and let them bob about for half a minute or so, allowing them to take on a good, dark crust. Turn them with tongs, to finish frying, then remove them with a slotted spoon to absorbent paper towels. Using a virgin plant sprayer, spray each batch immediately with warm sea-salted water and keep them in a 100-degree oven while you fry the next batch. Better, gather people around the stove and eat the things pan to hand to mouth. A very informal first course.
2. San Casciano is itself a living, breathing character in the book. What is your most vivid impression of the town? How is it similar to, or different from, impressions you had about Tuscany prior to reading this book?
3. How do the author and her husband adjust to living in the rustic world of San Casciano? What does de Blasi see as the most rewarding and challenging aspects of this new life? In your view, what would be most appealing about living a similar existence in a simple, rural town? What would be the most frustrating?
4. How does de Blasi reconcile the tension that sometimes exists between “the simple life” and the march of progress, especially as she acclimates to her new environment? How do the villagers respond to this conflict—of “tradition versus the new”—in their own ways? Have you ever struggled with a similar tension in your life?
5. The author has said that this book is a companion piece to A Thousand Days in Venice. How does the book function as one standalone memoir, and how does it provide another piece in the puzzle of the author’s life? Do you think all readers would benefit from reading these books in tandem? If you’ve read both books, does de Blasi’s mindset change from one to the next, with her change in location?
6. A Thousand Days in Tuscany is separated into sections delineated by season. Discuss this organizational technique. How does the framework of the book mirror the way that rural Tuscan life unfolds? Could you imagine this book organized in any different way?
7. On page 99, de Blasi writes, “Right now all I know is that in love there must be some form of desperation and some form of joy.” Do you agree or disagree with this idea? How is this statement exemplified by the relationships in the book, particularly the one that de Blasi shares with her husband and the one between Barlozzo and Florìana?
8. De Blasi develops a passionate relationship with the land itself. Why does she so enjoy the grape and olive picking she becomes a part of during the course of the book? What connection does this give her to the earth? What activities do you enjoy that might impart that same sort of feeling?
9. “Both my clothes and I are survivors of some other time,” says de Blasi on page 133. How do the clothes that the author chooses to wear evoke her personality and character? Why does she choose to wear one particular ensemble per season?
10. How does de Blasi’s discussion of food throughout this memoir impact your understanding of her life? Do you plan to try any of the recipes that the book includes?
11. Why do de Blasi and Fernando nickname Barlozzo “the duke”? Why do you think Barlozzo immediately takes de Blasi under his wing? What characteristics do the two share? How does Barlozzo’s counsel and involvement shape the life that de Blasi and Fernando construct in San Casciano?
12. How does Barlozzo’s story about his past give clues about the formation of his adult personality? Ultimately, how is he constrained by the ghosts of his parents, and how is he able to triumph over them? Have you ever felt a similar struggle with the past?
13. What about Florìana was so compelling, and to the author and Barlozzo in particular? Why do you think she was so private about her illness? How did her fellow villagers respect her need for privacy and, ultimately, for companionship?
14. The note that Florì leaves for Barlozzo reads, “I wanted death to find me dancing.” How does Florì’s attitude about death mirror the one she holds about life? If you needed to leave someone a similar note at the end of your life, what would it say?
15. In which ways are de Blasi and Fernando a study in how “opposites attract”? How do their different personalities and cultures play a part in their relationship? How are the two similar, both in their approach to their relationship and to their new life in San Casciano? How does their relationship evolve during their time in Tuscany?
16. De Blasi tells Misha that security “is a myth.” Do you agree with her statement? What prompts Misha’s concern about his friends’ safety and security? Do you think that Misha fears change? Why? Does de Blasi value “risk more than comfort,” as Barlozzo contends? What is the largest risk you’ve taken in your life? How was it rewarding?
Posted October 20, 2004
There's no doubt that she's ardent, intense; sometimes fiery. Marlena De Blasi is a passionate woman. Make that passionate with a capital P. A chef, she has a passion for food. Married to Fernando, a Venetian with 'blueberry eyes, ' she has a passion for Italy. Her exuberance is so contagious that readers will relish every page of 'A Thousand Days In Tuscany' (as well as the recipe that ends each chapter). Ms. De Blasi waxes so enthusiastically about her subjects that it almost seems she writes in bold print to extol the virtues of wild herbs, fresh cheese, and the Tuscan twilight. She is a firm believer in love, and an advocate of life, as well as the living of it. As many will remember with 'A Thousand Days In Venice,' Ms. De Blasi first visited Italy perhaps a dozen years ago. On her first day there as she was sitting in a café with her traveling companions, she noticed an attractive man who seemed to be looking at her. Next, in true Danielle Steel style, a waiter told her that she had a phone call. It was, of course, the mysterious man urging her to meet him. She declined but returned to the café a few days later to find him there. They saw one another until she returned to St. Louis. He soon followed. Fernando, we learned, was a banker who had never married. He would later say that he knew she was the one the moment he saw her. Although she did not share this initial surety she gave in to his pleas. Much to the astonishment and concern of her grown children and friends she returned with him to Venice where they married. She had imagined an apartment overlooking the Grand Canal. Instead she found a square concrete house on the Lido. Little did that matter - there was Fernando. And, there is still Fernando who came home one day to announce that he has quit his job at the bank, and they're moving to Tuscany. A redone stable lacking central heating, a phone, and other amenities in the small village of San Casciano dei Bagni becomes their new home. It does boast a closet size kitchen with a refrigerator akin to what one might find by a hotel mini bar. She writes of their contract with the stable owner: 'There had been a well-defined agreement with Signora Lucci that the house would be clean and that it would be empty. Neither is the case.' The signora's furniture is 'all in the form of irrefutable junk.' Nonetheless, the ever resourceful De Blasi is soon trimming the windows in her Venetian drapes complete with tasseled tiebacks, and delighting in her first taste of fried zucchini blossoms. The bar or restaurant in the village becomes almost their second home. It is there that they meet the villagers and take their morning espresso. They're adopted by an elderly gentleman, Barlozzo, who tells fascinating stories and indoctrinates them into the ways of the region. He teaches them how to pick olives- one by one, harvest grapes, and hunt for wild mushrooms. Florina or Flori becomes another special friend. She of the shy smile and warm heart. Times, we learn, have changed very little in San Casciano dei Bagni. It is here by the site of the ancient Roman baths, where Horace and Ottaviano Augustus vacationed, that Ms. De Blasi learns 'the great secret that living in the moment and being content with one's portion makes for the best of all lives.' If the reader is fortunate, that is only one small lesson learned during this idyllic sojourn in the Tuscan hills. - Gail Cooke
10 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2013
I read this book in 2006 and it was a wonderful and CURRENT boook in 2006. WHY does b and n continue to state that a book is coming soon or a NEW release Why dont they do what every other e book company does Include the REAL publishing date and the first e.publish date Many books get purchased a second time Barnes and Noble should correct this or they will continue to loose out to Kindle and Apple ibooks
7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
If you are someone who in fascinated by and wants to learn all things Tuscany, this is a great book for you. Having never been there myself (YET!), the read was like a slow, sumptuous vacation in a Tuscan home, visiting the markets and local restaurants. I didn't want it to end. I am anxious to read her other books, because she did seem a bit guarded about certain things.
7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Marlena de Blasi gives us just the right combination of food, atmosphere, and romance. I highly recommend this book.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2006
I really enjoyed reading this book. It included extrodinary travel adventures, wonderful cooking scenes,and most important, glimpses into the lives of the local Tuscan population. All in all, it is the tale of a couple simplifying life to increase life. Reader, it's a nice read!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 27, 2013
I read the sample, and loved the author's eloquent description of the food, places and ambiance of the atmosphere of Tuscany. I'm purchasing this book!
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 24, 2013
I could taste the food, enjoy the scenery & learned the principles to where they were MY friends. Highly recommend this & I look forward to "traveling" elsewhere w/the authur.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2013
Posted April 16, 2009
This story is nowhere as good as A Thousand Days in Venice! ...Venice held my attention, made me laugh and cry, and filled me with a passion to return to Venice and find all the wonderful places De Blasi visited and worked. The risk she took as a middle-aged woman was inspiring in her first book about her dramatic adventure and life-changes to seek and find her true place and lifelong partner in love. ...Tuscany did not hold my interest. There was simply too much food and cooking descriptions, and not enough about the transformation she went through in finding her new home and life in Tuscany. Though the characters are presumably real people, they did little to inspire me or beckon me back to Tuscany, a beautiful region of Italy with great people, history, and culture. Though I find De Blasi's writing poetic and beautiful, A Thousand Days in Tuscany simply did not live up to my expectations.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 7, 2013
Posted August 25, 2014
Posted July 23, 2014
Appropriate and educational for both men and women. I found myself laughing and then crying throughout the read. Would love to live like this and maybe someday will. She shares her relationships and journey so well that for a time, you are actually with her.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2014
Posted September 27, 2013
Posted September 6, 2013
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Posted August 24, 2013
I wanted to like this book, but i just don't. I find Chou a little full of herself, the writing style a bit wordy, but more than that - I'm just bored by it. There is nothing compelling about the story-line, except for the recipes interspersed between chapters. To be completely fair, I'm only halfway through it, but it's definitely not a book I can't put down. Moreover, it's a book I put down often. If it gets better for me, I'll revise my review-but right now, I give it 2 1/2 stars.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2013
I've been to Tuscany and loved it which is why I bought this book. The story was warm and reminded me of things I liked about Tuscany but it was a little repetitive and wordy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2013
I just finished reading George Eliot's,"Romola" for th first time and felt that I had pleasingly spread my mental faculties enough when I quickly jumped into this book. To me it was an elaboration of "EAT, PRAY and LOVE", about a daredevil couple who had the husband shuck his conventional job as a banker in Venice and sell their apartment and with very little savings start a new life in Tuscany. The wife is a woman who has spent her life enamored with food; joyfully preparing it, always sharing it with others and of course writing about it. This book talks about a couple who are done with the conventional material trappings of this modern world. Her children in the States are grown and she has embarked on a new adventure with this second Italian husband who shares her mindset and free spirit and willingly searches for truffles and gathers the olives and chestnuts from the trees. Of course they quickly bond with the neighbors in the village and from there we see how the romance for the simple life blends with the present. The humanity of the natives impressed me more than the recipes but in the end I was hungry for both.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.