Today was sad as we had to put Spotty Dog down. In the last days he had lost the use of his hind legs and was suffering so the time had truly arrived. He was, however, lucid which made it all the harder.
I must admit to shedding a tear or two. It seems maudlin to do so over a dog but Spotty and Minnie were great dogs and in the winter we all live here together, humans and dogs, and it is a great time!
By coincidence Spotty's end arrived when Jonas, the boy to whom Spotty was completely devoted, was here. Spotty was put down at the back of the Red Bungalow with us, and Jonas and Haike to keep him company.
It is a bit like 'Puff the Magic Dragon', one day it did happen and Spotty will come to the back of the Red Bungalow no more.
The photo of the day for today is Matthew caramelizing the sugar on the Creme Brulee's that he had made.
This year has seen the biggest change in the La Faula kitchen since we started and it is all due to Matthew.
Matthew is a volunteer from Glasgow. He is volunteering here with a friend from home, Declan, and Marlene who is undertaking at La Faula the compulsory work experience required by her course at Hotel and Catering School in Carinthia, Austria.
Matthew also volunteered last year and during that time he asked if he could cook some of the recipes that he liked to cook at home. Here it must be mentioned that Matthew will later this year begin his degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Glasgow University so he is a self-motivated cook (luckily for his family!). His focaccia was a big hit earning the accolade of 'the real taste of Italy at La Faula'.
This year Matthew again expressed an interest in cooking as did Marlene who cooks as part of her schooling. They wanted something more challenging than simply food preparation, salads and washing dishes and cleaning-up. Declan, on the other hand, had never set foot in his kitchen at home except to snaffle food from the fridge!
It seemed a big step to let these 17 years old cook for guests. Obviously there was the issue of whether they would apply in a completely rigorous fashion the rules regarding hygiene in food preparation. Then there was the substantive issue of whether they would be able to prepare meals of a standard that guests could realistically be asked to pay for. And, finally, there was the presentational issue of what guests might think about having 17 years old cook their dinners!
The first issue regarding hygiene in the kitchen was relatively easy to meet as we require it of the volunteers in the kitchen anyway. The big surprise for them, however, was to learn - and more importantly, come to believe - that most contamination of food comes from the kitchen workers themselves and bad work practices rather than 'bad' raw foods.
As to the more substantive issue of whether the volunteers would be up to cooking well, we looked to the database of recipes that over time we have built up in our website www.faula.com/ricette.php This has been a handy repository for Luca and myself, and a resource for people doing cooking schools at La Faula. The challenge would be to modify the recipes to make them internally self-explanatory and complete to enable the full preparation of a course by someone without years of cooking experience behind them. Of course, I would be always in the kitchen guiding and advising and at the beginning taking the volunteers through each recipe a bit at a time but over time the recipe would have to move to being a self-sufficient resource.
For 3 weeks I worked modifying a set of the recipes, simplifying them and structuring them to be a logically cascading sequence. They were tried out and lessons learned incorporated. Commonalities between recipes were identified and standardisation achieved between similar recipes. Experiments were undertaken, changing recipes to see if greater efficiency could be achieved in the kitchen (kids are big on 'greater efficiency' and this often rhymes with 'less work') but generally these didn't work (especially creme brulee and creme caramel which have too tight tolerances to really allow of much variation in their preparation!).
An issue that arose was of timing: when should the various courses be prepared. Personality traits showed themselves: a tendency to procrastinate meant preparation was often too close to serving while planning ahead and initiative was rewarded by a relaxed working environment in the kitchen.
It seemed to myself and Luca that after three weeks - and putting aside the experiments of mine which didn't get there - the quality was up to that of our own cooking. Here I should mention that I generally prepare the second course while the volunteers prepare the first course, salads and dessert. The quality of each course can thus be easily compared with that of the others. I'm sad - and glad - to say that I don't always come out ahead!
The big question that remains in our mind is how it appears to the guests when they see that dinner is a collaborative effort between myself and two 17 years old. On the one hand, we could have chosen not to publicise the fact. But I want the volunteers to know that they are identified as the authors of the various dinner courses. It imparts discipline knowing that they must account for their creations and allows for praise when something is really special.
In summary, as the result of Matthew's input this year and last we have arrived at this way of doing things. For better or for worse, it is a step on in the evolution of La Faula!
On Saturday the vet came and put Minnie down. She was 14 years old which was a fine old age for a Maremmano. She had reached the end and it was the right thing to do.
We had Minnie from when we began our adventure here at La Faula. Our great adventure. She shared with us and was witness to all the different events and happenings, phases and changes that we have been through creating a business at La Faula where before there was not one.
Her leaving us is a full-stop in a chapter of our lives and we felt sad also because of this. We are no longer two (relatively) young guys embarking upon the road to create a modern winery and agriturismo out of the historic structure that had been in Luca's family. Now we are mature guys, the agriturismo, for better or for worse, is what it is. It is easier now because we have a familiar rhythm to our lives and the challenges seem less. But also those challenges at the beginning brought up in us the desire to prevail and create something which was ours.
We have done it. And we feel greatly satisfied to have got this far but one of our fellow-travellers and companions, albeit canine, has just left us. The memories, of course, are with us always but the substance is reduced.
ON 3 JULY EWAN WROTE:
This is Ewan. We're coming to stay one week with you. We're looking forward to seeing the dogs! Is the fountain pool ready? Are all the big dogs alive?! How old are they?
See you soon,
I'm sorry for not writing back earlier. Unfortunately, Minerva - the mummy big white dog - died on Saturday. She was 14 years old which is very, very, old for a dog of her type.
We were very sad but she had a good life with us so it was nothing more than nature taking it's course.
Now Minerva lives with us always; in the memories we have of her here at La Faula she is always present and she brings us happiness and joy just as she did when she was alive.
There are some photos of the funeral we had for her on Saturday. She is buried in the garden.
All the other dogs were a bit sad too but they also have happy memories of Minnie and, in the end, happy memories of happy events are the best things that one can have. The events are ethereal and can never last but their echo is always present.
We should be happy for her and happy that we knew her and have the other dogs to love and play with!
Hector sends his biggest love!!
See you soon - Paul