A Pop-Up Proposal Picnic in Chianti

A Pop-up Proposal Picnic in Chianti

We were the first to know….. Joey and Liz were engaged

I received an email from Joey, who asked about our Chianti Picnic option. He explained that he wanted to propose to Liz his girlfriend of 10 years with a romantic picnic. He asked if we could help make this picnic a little special, so could surprise her with ‘the proposal’

Our signature Chianti Picnic is one of our favorite tours to host. It is a fun way to entertain, dine, and showcase some of the local delicacies of Tuscany. We provide all the fixings for a lovely relaxing meal. The table is set with linen table cloth, crystal wine glasses, plates, cutlery, fresh flowers, and of course all the incredible food and wine.

We chose one of our favorite spots, under a shady old oak tree, overlooking the Chianti wine country hills, complete with a picnic table.  It was the perfect setting.

We were the first to know….. Joey and Liz were engaged!

Something only old friends and family may know about me is that at one time I worked for a catering company. I started right out of college after receiving a degree in culinary and liberal arts.  Catering for me is all about the details and the organization. You can cater almost any type of event at any venue, with forethought and detailed planning. This is pleasing work for me.

So here was a chance to be part of someones special day. My mind starting filling ideas of extra little things I could do to make this a most memorable day for these two lovebirds.

Joey and I emailed each other back and forth over the next 4 days. In that time we came up with a way to make the picnic a real surprise for Liz. I decided we would post brightly colored signs, along the road, that simply had the word PICNIC with an arrow. (of course I had given Joey the actual address for his GPS).  Joey suggested to Liz that they spend the afternoon exploring the Chianti hills, and in the evening enjoy dinner at a top restaurant.

Joey and I had agreed on a pre-determined time in which we would have the picnic table all set up for them. Knowing when they would arrive allowed us time to set up and then disappear, out of sight.

So the plan was this, Joey would drive in the direction of the picnic, and make a comment about the brightly colored picnic signs and arrows.  “I wonder what these signs are all about?  Maybe we should follow them and see where they lead us”?

After a few of miles through the beautiful Chianti countryside, Liz said, “a picnic sounds so nice right now. I would love to have a picnic, even more then a fancy dinner tonight, I wish we had thought of that”

I am not sure I could of kept a straight face after that comment, but he later told us, he was as cool as a cucumber, and did nothing to give the awaiting surprise away.  Finally they pulled up to the parking spot just in front of the old oak tree to find a picnic table all set for two, and ready to go. We were just up the hill and out of sight.

“I wonder what these signs are all about?  Maybe we should follow them and see where they lead us”?

Joey said he would make the proposal within the first 15 minutes of their arrival. The plan was for us to wait approx. 10-15  minutes before we arrived with a chilled bottle of Prosecco. We did not have to guess when the exact moment the BIG QUESTION was asked. We could hear the laughter, the joy and emotion in Liz’s voice from where we were ‘hiding’

This was the signal for Massi, my husband and business partner to congratulate them and open a bottle of Prosecco. Massi shows up with a saber (sword) an ice bucket and two glasses, he then ceremoniously opens the Prosecco with the sword!

We give them privacy and time to enjoy the picnic lunch. We provided, prosciutto, salumi, pecorino cheeses, with fruits and jams. All locally sourced and presented just for them. We even brought dessert. Joey asked for something chocolate, so we went to one of our favorite bakeries in Siena for just the right double chocolate pasticcini.

After lunch Joey and Liz wanted to thank Massi and I for our efforts on their special day. We toasted to their exciting news, and snapped a few photos for them to remember this special day.

Just a side note, Joey had a fun way of throwing Liz off the trail for a moment. After they arrived and settled in at the picnic table,  Joey handed Liz a small gift box, but instead of the box containing a ring, it contained a necklace. Poor Liz, I can only imagine, what must of been going through her mind. Joey quickly handed her an envelope, and card inside had the message.


There was a second box with a lovely ring.

As I mentioned earlier, by the sound of their voices and the excitement we heard, we knew the reply was a clear YES!

We hope to meet this lovely couple from Australia, again soon. Perhaps they will return to celebrate a wedding anniversary sometime in the near future?


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Getting Fresh In Italia

Getting Fresh in Italia

I enjoy exploring Italy during the winter months. Lack of tourists has its benefits, many will agree. This winter is the first time I am here in Italy as a student at Siena School for Liberal Arts.


Hallway with old photos at Siena School for Liberal Arts in Siena, Italy







A few years ago, I traveled to Sicily with my friend Libby during summer. This was her first time to Italy. She told me about her Nonna who used to make stuffed artichokes for her.

Libby, la prima volta in Italia

Libby, la prima vo;ta in Italia








It came as a bit of a shock to Libby that the dish she so desired was not available.

Wait staff would smile and tell us artichokes or Carciofi as they are called here, are a winter vegetable, and you will not find ANY in Sicily during this time!

In hindsight this makes perfect sense, if we can for a moment step out of our America mindset. What is so natural for an Italian, had us caught us slightly off-guard.

Since that trip, I have come to enjoy the traditional way of eating that defines most of Italy. Fresh, local and in season. When something is in season the locals can’t seem to get enough.

Italian Peppers






When I first arrived three weeks ago, I noticed towering mounds of artichokes offered at local produce stands. Shoppers almost elbowing each other to get to the wonder thistle home to the family dinner table.







Eating what is in season has many benefits. Not only does it help promote the local food culture and farmers, it also promotes sustainability.

I recommend savoring Italian produce in season, and at its peak. Your taste buds will thank you for it. Try one of our Private Food Tours to experience Italy like a local!

The Art of Scarpetta. YES it is ok to LICK your plate clean in Italy!

Leave any sauce behind on your plate?


This blog post tells you how we LICK our plates clean in Italy.

Have you ever been served pasta with a sauce so delectable you secretly wanted to lick the plate clean?

Well the Italians have solved this age-old problem.

In fact they even have a word for it. It is called Scarpetta.
I was first introduced to the practice when I traveled to Italy,
with my good friend Tiziana to meet her family.

deb & tiz resturant 2
There were many things I leared about Italain culture that summer, but this one comes to mind often. In fact I used the technique this evening as I enjoyed a tasty pasta dish here in Italy.




Scarpetta: the literal translation is ‘little shoe’.
There are a few different versions of the origin of the word, and as to why it has taken on this name. The version I was told by my friends family is that when you drag your piece of bread across the plate to pick up the sauce, the bread looks the shape of a little shoe.

This plate is in dire need of SCARPETTA

This plate is in dire need of SCARPETTI

pig pasta

Pappaerdelle al ragu di cinghiale, local Senesi wild pig

I was happy to know that it was not only acceptable but truly a sign of a good meal and a compliment to the family to not leave any bits of sauce behind on your plate.In other words it is acceptable to ‘lick the plate clean’ by using a piece of bread.

This is how we do it!

This is how we do it!

This evening I returned to Bengodi, a favorite eatery of mine. An enoteca in my neighborhood and ordered the Pappaerdelle al ragu di cinghiale.
Chingale is the local Senesi wild pig, and in this case it was served over a nice wide flat noodle. (Papparedelle)

The sauce was incredible, and I really enjoyed the flavors. In order not to leave anything behind, I did the only thing I know how to do, and that is use a piece of the local Tuscan bread and ‘start mopping up’.
Just take your piece of bread, start at one side and finish to the other. Easy as pie!


Ciao Y’All

Flea Market Finds in Catania, Italy

Being the owner of an estate sale co, www.amberostrich.com what does one do while on vacation in Italy? Find the local flea market, of course!
While in Catania I set my alarm for an early start to the Sunday only flea market near the city center.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Like most good flea markets there is something for everyone, and this market does not disappoint.

Wide variety of books.

Wide variety of books.

Of course traveling under my own self-imposed rule of one suitcase only, I was very limited in what I would allow myself to buy. I was in search of something fun, unique, small and non-fragile.

These tiles and pottery although great looking and reasonably priced, did not fit any of the above requirements for returning with me back to Texas.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

Hocus Pocus Saves the Day and I Make 4 New Friends

Hocus Pocus Saves the Day and I make 4 new friends

This is the story if how I finally figured out how to obtain an internet connection in Italy. After a lengthy search, I find it in the most unusual place: a store that sells Hello Kitty and wide eyed stuffed dogs, and other such items for kids. This is also the towns internet hot spot.

For 2 Euros I get 24 hours (a running total of log in time) Amazing, it is the first time I talk to someone who knows anything about Wi-Fi in this populated resort town. There are a couple of hotels that offer it, but it is strictly for the guests.

Once I have the password, I am ready to get connected, but I am in need of a spot to park and set up my ‘office’ I look for the closest ‘bar’ and there it is a mere 50 yards from the Bibi Store.  The sign hanging outside declares the name Hocus Pocus.

Remember that in Italy, a ‘bar’ is not what we would think of as a ‘bar’ with bar stools, and alcohol being the main purpose,. A ‘bar’ here is more of a combo coffee shop, a place were you can get a coffee, expresso, a pastry,or gelato, and of course alcohol is also served. So think Starbucks with gelato and wine. You are more likely to go to a gelataria for a coffee then a drink.

The name of this establishment is interesting for sure. Hocus Pocus, and like many foreign businesses that cater to tourists, I believe the chosen English name is supposed to be alluring to us. If you are like me, you have to wonder what the name POKER (as in card playing) has to do with mens clothing?

Back to the gelateria, Hocus Pocus, it is owned by Pasquele Sozzil, and he always greets his guests with a smile. To my surprise he speaks English quite well. I chose an out-of-the-way table order a glass of Prosecco and ask if I may surf with my laptop and connect to the internet which is broadcast down the street. All goes well, I am able to connect, get by blog page quickly set up, and check email.

I decide to go back the next day, and am welcomed like an old friend. As I take my usual table, and this time the young man behind the bar, asks me if I would like some carrotte with my Prosecco? this is all in Italian of course, which I did fully understand, Did he really ask me if I also wanted carrots?

I am 100% certain of the word, and can only reply yes thinking that is like a crudite or small snack served with drinks during certain times of the day. I was correct.. almost….here is what arrived with my drink! Very delightful to the eye, carrots in a base of green cream de mint!

Over the next couple of days I get to know the staff, and strike up conversations with them. I am very thankful for their friendly service, and have enjoyed getting to know them.

Olga is from the small country of Moldivia, Tony is from Romania, he goes by Tony but his real name is Shahin. Pasquele the owner is a native Italian.



deb and olga

Below is photo of me with Roselba, I will miss my friends at Hocus Pocus.

deb with Rosa at Hocus Pocus

Italian beer