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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How do they classify Brunello di Montalcino?

Every year the Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino classifies the new wine production. The evaluation takes place in January. The wine rating is expressed in stars corresponding to the following classifications:

  • One star- insufficient vintage
  • Two stars- fair vintage
  • Three stars- good vintage
  • Four stars- excellent vintage
  • Five stars- outstanding vintage
    The declaration of the stars assigned to the latest vintage is announced each February.


Hand painted tile on wall in Montalcino.   #instatuscany #winetour #Brunello

Starting in 1992 the Consorzio has commissioned a commemorative tile to place on the wall of the town hall in Montalcino.
The tiles are created by people from all backgrounds and all parts of the world.
The tiles are hung in February during the ‘Benvenuto Brunello’ event.

Brunello tile Montalcino Italy


Some of the tiles are shown here with Venus my Chihuahua!

Montalcino Consorzio del Vino Brunello tiles with my Chihuahua Venus

Come and be part of the new release event!
Let me help you plan your trip now.

If you like to meet and mingle with the locals and see
what Italy is like without all the “tourists.” See pics of our adventures.

This is a perfect time of year to visit.

Montalcino street in early March without tourists. Come see Tuscany in the off season!

This photo was taken in Montalcino in early March.

Just another reason to visit Italy in the off season with ‪#‎italyunfiltered‬


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!

Who is the birdman of Berardenga? A Mystery in Chianti Tuscany Italy

Who is the birdman of Berardenga? A Mystery in Chianti Tuscany Italy

Who is the Birdman of Berardenga?

Ok I will be truthful I am not actually sure this person is a man. I am just making an assumption.

I have come to use this name in honor of the well-known classic movie, the Birdman of Alcatraz.

My first encounter was very close to home. Home right now is the little town called Castelnuovo Berardenga in the Chianti Region of Tuscany Italy. I have adopted this quaint village during my stay in Italy this summer.


Castelnuovo Berardenga, My Suggestion is to call it CNB

Castelnuovo Berardenga, My Suggestion is to call it CNB

You may be thinking that the name Castelnuovo Berardenga is a mouthful, and I couldn’t agree more. So from this point on it will be written as CNB. You know how we Americans love acronyms and I am no exception. In fact I have started an informal campaign to see if the locals will accept my suggested acronym, but that is fodder for a whole new blog, TBC (to be continued)

Back to the birdman. Some of you may recall an earlier blog post of mine in which I wrote about unusual Italian road signs such as the one below.

Dogs Pollute… more Italian Signs

This sign from earlier blog, about the more unusual signs I encountered in Italy

This sign from earlier blog, about the more unusual signs I encountered in Italy










So imagine my surprise when I spotted this particular road sign at the entrance to my little apartment. I admit at first I thought it was a genuine sign. One I could not for the life of me figure out. What could a pigeon on top of a commercial truck possibly mean?


My first encounter with the Sticker Artist

My first encounter with the Sticker Artist

Upon closer inspection and confirmation with my Italian friend Massi, I realize I have been duped! This is someone’s artistic expression. Yep sticker art. Sticker art AKA sticker bombing or sticker tagging is defined as a form of street art, in which an image or message is publicly displayed. The birdman had indeed tagged a road sign with a black of a pigeon sticker on top of the truck. Clever enough. It made me smile. In Italian they would say ‘divertente’ meaning something quite funny or amusing.


A couple of days later and less then two blocks away I spot a new bird sicker strategically placed on another road sign. This time an owl. I have always loved small owls for some reason, and this one I thought was striking with the addition of the white eyes and red beak.

Note the addition of white eyes and red beak

Note the addition of white eyes and red beak

Ummm I say to myself, in Italiano, ‘interssante’. Two bird stickers within two blocks of one another. What does it mean? Who is the tagger?






While walking to the local farmers market in CNB, I spot another modified road sign. This one with a delicate flock of birds.

Hardly noticable, this flock of feathered friends

Hardly noticable, this flock of feathered friends

If you had asked me if I am intrigued at this point? The answer is a plain old YES, or as I can hear from recent memory how my friends from Minnesota often exclaim ‘you betcha!’





At this point I have photographed all three signs with the intent to create a future blog post. Like many other great ideas and stories, this one it too filed away in some compartment in my brain for later use.


One late night as my friend Massi and I were returning from diner in a neighboring village, I spot a Flamingo on a road sign. Now yes I must admit I had consumed a couple of glasses of tasty Chianti wine that evening, (that is why I was not driving) and when I saw the sticker, I announced out loud to Massi, FLAMINGO! I am certain he thought the wine was having a strong effect on me. The sign was on the passenger side of the road, and he did not see it as we drove by. We pull over, turn around to verify that indeed I did see a flamingo and to take a photo.

The following week I had a busy schedule and I make another note to myself to write this blog.

Having plenty of projects here while on vacation, both by myself and with other friends in Italy, keeps me fairly busy. The blog remained unposted……..

But something is clearly on my mind. I now notice that as I am either driving or a passenger, I find myself checking almost every road sign. It is like I half expect to see a bird where there was not one before.

There is no shortage of road signs in the Chianti region, most the standard easy to understand, some not so much. But I take note that my brain has now been switched on to “search mode” whether intended or not. I can’t seem to switch it off. Thanks birdman.

Not a bird tagged sign, just one that may be fun to come up with caption for the BIG Glove!

Not a bird tagged sign, just one that may be fun to come up with caption for the BIG Glove!










AUGUST 15, 2014 

Yesterday was the defining moment in which the budding blog post was to move from my head public posting on-line.

As I drove home from Siena into my village of CNB,  I spied the following Toucan where there was none the day before.


The defining moment this blog post was born

The defining moment this blog post was born

So here we are, blog post written, photos posted and here is where I am seeking help.

Welcomed either fact or fiction. Is there by chance anyone in the local area who may have a clue as to the identity of the “birdman” is.

I am willing to listen to all insider tips, whether rumors or not.

Any additional photos of bird stickers spyed either here in Italy or abroad also welcomed. Please share your comments, and photos, would love to see them.

Ciao Ya’all

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

The Palio in Siena, is it really only a 90 second horse race?

The short answer is YES. The true answer is NO.

I traveled to Siena Italy last summer and witnessed both Palio. Known as il Palio.

When I first heard about the historic horse race in Siena, I could not believe my ears. Was it truly only a 90 second, three lap race? It seemed maybe I was missing something, and I began my quest to understand what this race was or was NOT.

Palio in Siena

Early on I knew it was NOT your typical pick your trifecta Saratoga Travers Day Race. No siree, get out of your American mind set. Take a look around and remember:

  1. You are in Italy
  2. You’re in Tuscany
  3. You’re standing in Siena, a medieval city in which the first inhabitants were Etruscan, dating back to 900-400 BC.

The race is called The Palio and actually takes place twice every year in Siena on two dates:

JULY 2nd and AUGUST 16th.


Don’t make the mistake like I did and say hey wait those dates aren’t weekend dates. I thought how could something so famous and important take place on a Tuesday as it did on July 2, 2013? A local quickly reminded me that this race has been taking place (as we know it today) since around 1856. So basically with a few exceptions on these same two days for over 300  years. I was told I was missing the point. It is the day that is important not the day of the week. These two days are considered holidays, and with the exception of the hardworking shop workers, restaurant, and other tourist based employees, everyone else will have these two important days off.

starting line August 2013 Palio

Pre-race trials for August 2013 Palio

*An important note is that there are actually 4 days of preparation for the actual race day, (with trials etc.) and if planning to attend and witness this truly spectacular event I recommend adding as much time to the beginning of your trip as you can in order to grasp the excitement and emotional build up that occurs within the walls of Siena during this time. See photo above; note the jockeys are not in their colored costumes for this trial.

This race is attended by thousands and held in the famous Piazza del Campo which is transformed into a makeshift racetrack, a few days preceding the race. Yes I witnessed truck- loads of a special type of clay based soil being brought in by the truckloads, spread around and tamped down covering the Piazza bricks. Wooden barriers are erected in the center to protect the thousands of spectators, padded crash pads on the perimeters of the track to protect the perhaps not so lucky jockeys and unfortunate horses and even wooden bleacher seating called ‘palchi’s set up for this event.

Short Clip Palio Flag Throwing and Drums in Piazza July 2, 2013

There are so many nuances to the race, and the more I spoke to the locals the more intrigued I was to learn more.

First I had to learn about the Contradas. There are 17 contradas, which are like small communities within Siena, sometimes referred to as wards. Note that for each race only 10 of the 17 contradas will compete. Each contrade is represented by it’s own symbol, many are animals such as Pantera (panther), Drago  (dragon), or things of nature like the Nicchio, (shell) or Onda, (wave) The contradas are true delineated geographical regions, all each have their own colors which are  represented in their flags and costumes. There are both strategic alliances and fierce rivalries between the contrade. One can not join a contrada but rather is born into it.

Panther statue in contrada of Panterra

Panther statue in contrada of Panterra

photo of winning jockey & horse Onda contrada

photo of winning jockey & horse Onda contrada

Then slowly I was told of more nuances such for example, the jockeys ride bareback, and there is only one winner, the horse that crosses the finish line first with or without a jockey on his back! Wait a minute; do you mean that they sometimes fall off? YES. In most races it seems to happen and in both that I witnessed last summer that was indeed the case! The horse that comes in second is considered the loser. There was so much to try to understand. I decided to purchased a book, considered by some to be one of the best-written books about the Palio.  It is titled La Terra in Piazza by Alan Dundes and Alessandro Falassi.

To put the Palio into a quick perspective I would like to quote a partial paragraph from the book. The quote below from La Terra in Piazza.

“In order to understand the Palio one would need not seconds or minutes or hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. In fact, it is doubtful whether any one individual could ever articulate all the details underlying the palio, no matter how long and assiduously he studied it. For the palio is endlessly rich in symbol, metaphor, and patterns of interaction.”

Suggested reading for understanding the essence of il Palio

Suggested reading for understanding the essence of il Palio







Phew – now I could be easy on myself! All kidding aside, with the help of this book, and my own conversations with the locals on various trips to Siena, I was able to come to a level of understanding and to be present with this event and the locals. I have the utmost regard for what this event represents to them. I am sure there may be some tourists who think the parades through the walled streets of Siena, with the contrade members in full costumes beating drums are for, their benefit. That could not be farther from the truth. These events are the soul and fiber of their members, and something we would be fortunate to witness with honor and respect.

Contrada procession through the walled streets of Siena

Contrada procession through the walled streets of Siena






The contradas are competing for a silk banner. For the June race the Palio is created to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The banner is the ultimate prize and it too is also called a ‘Palio’. This is a sacred piece of silk cloth and local artists compete with their designs to be chosen to create the coveted Palio. Last year was unique in that the Palio was double sided, and two artists rather then just one were chosen to have their work, one on each side of the highly coveted Palio. I was honored to have met one of the artists, Cecilia Rigaccii. She was introduced to me through a friend.  A close up of her design and all the delicate detail can be seen here.

Close up of Silk Palio as created by Celia

Close up of Silk Palio as created by Celia and one of two winning artists for the June 2013 race. 

If you want to experience this wonderful Sienese event this summer contact me for more information. My next blog post will include more info and photos of the August 2013 race, where I was able to obtain a special ‘window viewing’ of the Palio for my clients. They were very pleased to have such a breathtaking view and all the comforts of an apartment for the duration of the race and proceeding parade.

Hotel rooms book quickly as you can imagine, even if you are still undecided, please contact me ASAP.  Dlarsen5@icloud.com or call 512 569 3560.