Category Archives: Random Thoughts


Warm, delicious, versatile, easy to make, plays well with most foods.  Comfort food on a rainy afternoon, or for breakfast, as you see fit.  Stop buying prepackaged bread, try this yourself.  It is fun, and happy, and delicious.  I love the aroma of the yeast rising.  When I was making this focaccia, my entire staff did not leave the kitchen until we served huge slices.  There is a very good side to working at IL Fiorello, Kitchen in the Grove.  What is the song…Food, glorious food.

Paired with a favorite topping, this is a very versatile bread.  With the instant rise yeast packets, I can walk in the house, make the dough, feed the cats, change my clothes, pour a glass of wine, and the dough will be ready to shape and bake.  It really is as easy as that.

If you do not eat all the focaccia (really?), you can save some for sandwiches the next day.  Just slice the focaccia in half, and layer delicious treats of cheese, meats, and vegetables.  Even kids love this for school lunches.



2 cups AP flour & 2 cups 00 flour (fine grind)

 Or 4 cups AP flour

2 packets instant rise yeast (make sure the date is fresh)

2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

  • ½ cups water (warm) about 165 °

Additional extra virgin olive oil for the bowl and for the topping, about 1/3 cup in total

For the topping

                Sea salt or your best coarse salt

                Olive oil


A list of alternative toppings follow the recipe.


  1. Place flour in the bowl of a food processor or Cuisinart
  2. Add the yeast
  3. Add the salt
  4. Add the sugar
  5. Turn the machine on low and slowly add the warm water.
  6. Combine until all is well mixed and begins to form a ball.
  7. Remove from the bowl and knead the dough until it is silky and soft.
  8. Place in a bowl that is well oiled so the dough will not stick.
  9. Cover with a towel and place in a warm draft free spot.
  10. Allow to rise until doubled about 1 hour.
  11. Punch down and roll out to a sheet pan or cookie pan.
  12. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again about 30 minutes
  13. Using your knuckles punch down again, making depressions in the dough.
  14. Fill the little depressions with olive oil
  15. Sprinkle with sea salt
  16. Bake at 375 F ° for about 30 -40 minutes
  17. Serve warm from the oven with more olive oil.


During rising, place the bowl in the front seat of your warm car.  No drafts and a lovely way to make your car smell like fresh risen bread.

In very dry areas, like California, you may need to add extra water to make the dough resilient, and for the flour to come together.


  1. Sprinkle the warm bread with shaved chocolate and allow the chocolate to melt and become one with the oil.
  2. Sprinkle with fresh herbs
  3. Sauté mushrooms
  4. Sun dried tomatoes
  5. Grated parmesan
  6. Add cooked bacon bits to your dough before baking
  7. Add fresh rosemary to your dough before baking 2-3 teaspoons chopped.

Ann’s favorite

I love a fig and prosciutto topping.

Justin, our Sous Chef’s favorite

Add an apple and cinnamon topping to your bacon focaccia.

Finished with sea salt, more oil, and chocolate.  Decadent and delicious

MARCH 2019

In like a lion and out like a lamb, or this year in like a lamb and out like a lion. Either way, Lake Berryessa is full and we will have water for irrigation beginning in April. That is impressive given the last few years of drought.  Each year is different, and a lesson in farming is that each new year holds opportunities and challenges.  

March heralds Spring. Time change; Spring Forward. More light and lovely Spring evenings to enjoy; Spring greens from the garden.  Also, the Sievers’ Birthdays. LET’S CELEBRATE !

Irish cooking classes and Irish celebrations. Lots of fun and great eating in our Irish Cooking class. We had a little nip of the Irish favorite, Guinness after the class. And some Irish coffee before the class. Surprises all around.  Learning, eating, and enjoying is a great way to celebrate with friends.

In the olive grove, the trees are trying to begin to set their bloom.  This is the first harbinger of our olive crop for this year. We wish for a little rain, no hail and no strong winds. But in Suisun Valley the wind is always in our favor as our olives are wind pollinated and our main pollinator is the Pendolino Variety.

 We expect our bees to return next month to enjoy the blossoms, but they do not have a large role in pollination of the trees.  Bees are important on a bio-diverse farm, and they love our lavender.  We have honey for sale in our retail room.

In the gardens, all our spring onions, new lettuce, radishes and kale are already on our tasting plates at the Visitor Center. Tender and delicious, the Chefs love this bounty from the garden. Nick has started seeds for tomatoes, cucumbers, and the 100 other seeds that we have ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

It is an explosion of flavors and colors from the garden.

The chickens are drying out after such a wet February. They are still producing lots of eggs, and we all look forward to our egg class in April: It’s All About Eggs. Poached, Fried, Soufflé, Frittatas…lots to discuss in the egg class. Lots of delicious foods to cook and eat together.

We will have green eggs and ham if I have any say in the menu.




Athena: The Greek goddess of oil, peace & war, also the daughter of Zeus.

Athens, the capitol of Greece is named after the Goddess Athena; she is the goddess of Wisdom and War. She is known for her strategic skill in warfare, is often portrayed as a companion of heroes, and is the patron goddess of heroic endeavor.  Athena was born from Zeus after he experienced an enormous headache, and she sprang fully-grown and in full armor from his forehead.

Athena serves as a guardian of Athens, where the Parthenon serves as her temple. The olive trees on the Acropolis remain a symbol of Athena’s work.

The owl was her bird, and the olive tree was hers to protect.  We have owls at IL Fiorello to watch over the farm.

Wielding wisk and ladle, pots and pans, hair blowing in the wind, our beautiful weathervane by Phil Glasshoff is also named Athena.  She is the symbol of our cooking school, the Kitchen in the Grove, and she points our way forward into the Suisun wind.

We named our award-winning oil, Athena’s Blend, to honor her history, a heroic endeavor.   This oil is a field blend of Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino. We harvest the olives by hand. We mill the oil with great care, and with strict temperature and time controls, to protect the flavor of the oil.  We store the oil in a dark temperature-controlled room, and cover it with an inert gas to prevent oxidation.  We do just-in-time bottling to ensure the freshness of each bottle. Athena’s Blend is one of our most highly awarded olive oils.

The flavor profile

                Frantoio – Bold and pungent

                Leccino – Luscious with a velvety texture

                Pendolino – Green and herbaceous

We enter olive oil competitions to benchmark our oils, to make sure that we are presenting the very best oils in the world to our guests.  We are named by the New York competition as one of the world’s best olive oils. The 2017 harvest of Athena’s Blend won the following medals in six competitions.  

Japan International competition – Gold

New York International competition – Gold

LA International Competition – Bronze

Yolo California competition – Bronze

Napa California Competition –Best of Show, Best of Class & Gold

State Fair California – Silver

Our 2018 harvest was devastatingly small, an 80% reduction in crop size; so, we did not harvest our Athena’s Blend.  Rather, we allowed the trees to rest and recuperate from the 2017 harvest and heavy pruning.  Next year will be better. Farming is interesting and humbling.

Please enjoy our Athena’s Blend; it is one of the best in the world.




Olive Oil is good for you. Olive Oil is delicious. Olive Oil plays well with other food.

Choose your food. Choose the oil you love with that good food.

Eat lots of vegetables and whole grains.

Eat a balanced diet.

Do not follow food fads.

Walk during the day.

No surprises, this is better health and happiness.

Recipes that will make you feel better.

Spring Asparagus with Pendolino Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olives & Beans

Black & green olives and cannellini beans on warm rustic ciabatta bread.

Served with Athena’s Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a little fresh garlic.

Vegetable Wraps

Just the way Chef Gloria loves to present good food. Delicious and beautiful

Tuna and Frantoio

Simple beautiful tuna from Real Good Fish, Frantoio Extra Virgin Olive Oil and fresh lemon.

Balance and simplicity

I would be remiss if I did not mention great dark chocolate and olive oil and red wine.

Come to our Visitors Center. Everyone who tastes our wine gets a treasure of dark chocolate made with Frantoio olive oil. Surprise. Chocolate, Frantoio Olive and Red Wine. Great for your health and wellbeing.



That is the question.

The answer is:  PRUNE

Olive trees are sturdy and resilient.

An beautiful Italian saying “Prune your olive trees so that a swallow can fly through without touching its wings”

This beautiful saying gives the olive grower a visual target for pruning.

Pruning and Training Systems for Modern Olive Growing, Riccardo Gucci and Claudio Cantini, CSIRO Publishing 2004

Here are some tips for pruning

  1. Lift the trees’ skirts. Keep the branches from touching the ground
  2. Bring the tops down to harvest height – you prune to harvest. Mark says you do not want to harvest by helicopter.
  3. Clean the inside and all dead wood from all the branches.
  4. Take off all old fruit – called mummies – that were not harvested last year. They are a harbor for the olive fruit fly.
  5. The goal is to help shape the tree into a goblet or vase shape.
  6. Prune to allow wind and sunlight into the center of the tree, to prevent mold, scale and mildew.
  7. Feed your trees.
  8. Always prune suckers that arise from the base of the trunk
  9. Prune only 1/3 of the tree each year.
  10. Remember that olive fruit grows on second year growth in the presence of sunlight.
  11. Olives are alternate bearing; so plan your heavy pruning after a heavy harvest. Conversely light prune after a light crop. This helps to try to equalize your production over the years.

 If you have enough volume, have your olive oil certified, both by chemistry and by sensory analysis. The results will help you understand your crop, the right harvest conditions, and the oils characteristic over time.

Don’t forget to spray for Olive Fruit Fly. Spray weekly, from pit hardening in the spring to about two weeks before harvest.


  1. Pruning and Training Systems for Modern Olive Growing, Riccardo Gucci and Claudio Cantini, CSIRO Publishing 2004.
  2. Olive Growing, Ed. D. Barranco, R. Fernandex-Escobar, L. Rallo, Gruppo Mundi-Prensa 2010.
  3. Olive Production Manual , Ed. G Steven Sibbett, Louise Ferguson, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2004.

Valentine’s Day


A special day you care for people that you love.

A Valentine’s Dinner Recipe

Serves 2 from the heart

1 cup cooked pasta, whole grain organic elbow pasta from BAIA

1 cup cooked little white beans (any beans will do but cannellini is best)

1 cup organic crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more if you like, for garnish

2 tablespoons Frantoio Extra Virgin Olive Oil for finishing the dish


Heat all the ingredients till piping hot

Combine each of the ingredients

Serve in beautiful bowls

Garnish with cheese, red pepper flakes and Frantoio Oil


Delicious, warm, heart healthy, simple and perfect for a rainy night.


Light a candle at table

Finish with a little bit of really great dark chocolate.





Everything Citrus

Our citrus trees are in full production and we use all the citrus in Kitchen in the Grove. Endless uses for our fruit; marmalade, candied fruit, soups and flavorings, and plenty of eating. There is a lot of citrus on our tasting plates in the Visitor Center these days. Citrus represents a major component of the flavor profile for this month.


 We are featuring citrus co-milled oils, lime, lemon, mandarin. We even made a kaffir lime oil this year.

We are serving Citrus Mostarda’s as a Chefs Sampler in the Kitchen.

Making Co-Milled Oils

Co-milling means we mill olives and citrus together. It all goes through the entire process simultaneously, from cutting, washing, grinding, malaxing and passing through the centrifuge all at the same time.  The result is beautiful co-milled award winning oils. The balance differs each year depending on the variety of olive, the maturity and the sweetness of the citrus fruit.

The Origin of Citrus Fruit

A DNA study published in Nature in 2018 concludes that citrus trees originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the area of Assam (India), western Yunnan (China), and northern Myanmar.

The three original species in the citrus genus that have been hybridized into most modern commercial citrus fruit are the mandarin orange, pomelo, and citron Within the last few thousand years, all common citrus fruits (sweet oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, and so on) were created by crossing those original species.

Most citrus comes from China. Some of the new DNA studies are able to locate their origins. Some researchers believed that it had originated in Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and then made its way to the US via of China. It is also thought that citrus has been cultivated for over 4000 years.

And I thought that olives were old!

Here is a fun recipe for spicing up winter meals

Whole Lemon Dressing

“When life gives you lemons make a great dressing”

1 organic Meyer or Eureka lemon

3/4 cup Athena’s Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon sea salt, Maldon

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, Tellecherry


Cut the lemon into 4-6 pieces

Place in blender

Slowly add the olive oil while the blender is running

Add the spices, as you desire, just before the dressing is finished

Blend until just smooth

Use immediately or refrigerate for only a day


Optional ingredients:

Fresh herbs:  thyme, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, oregano or even cooked asparagus

Sweetener: honey to balance the tartness of the lemons

Fresh or roasted garlic

Anchovies, My personal favorite

IL Fiorello Spicy Lavender Mustard

Chef’s Note:

Meyer lemons are sweeter, Eureka Lemons are more tart and brilliant tasting

Try both and compare the taste

Serving Suggestions

Salads, Fish, Roast Pork, all vegetables


What do consumers want from their food, and what can a good olive oil deliver? Simple: better taste and better health.

 At IL Fiorello, we maintain that real, certified olive oil paired with good real food is always the best combination and complement for each other.

It is a simple combination, maybe too simple for people to believe it to be true. There is no magic bullet. However, study after study is showing this to be the simple answer. Stop using fake olive oil, use the real stuff. Stop buying prepared prepackaged foods. Use real foods. 

Do not buy olive oil that isn’t certified in California. That certification is for your consumer protection. Extra Virgin Olive oil is only olives, nothing else. It is not oil with a hundred additives. If you want other flavors simply add fresh garlic, fresh basil, or other fresh ingredients when you are preparing foods. Who wants year old garlic in your oil? Use fresh!

If you pay attention, use real food, and real olive oil, you will reap the benefits of better all-around health. Some researchers are saying that the balanced Mediterranean diet, using extra virgin olive oil, leads to better thinking, looking and feeling better, and improved stamina and performance. That is a real benefit.

I look for taste in this mix. Better taste – more enjoyment better food.

Protect yourself, use the real stuff. It is very good and really simple.







Milling is done for the year 2018, and we have learned many lessons about olives. Yet again, Mother Nature rules and Farming is a risky business.

Olives are a cyclical fruit, and most growers were down in crop volume from 60% to 80 % this year. Additionally, many people did not even harvest their meager crop. We knew that last year was one of the largest years on record; so, this year would be light. But not this light. Some of the crop reduction is due to the frost at blossom set time last Spring. Some is due to heavy pruning after the large crop of last year. Some is due to…who knows what, back to that risky business stuff.

Many growers were caught between harvesting grapes and harvesting olives. Here in Northern California, wine grapes are usually their primary crop. Olives come second. No climate change, HUH? The very first season we harvested olives, the date was Nov 11. Today, we are harvesting in early October.

The olives that came in were generally overripe. They had a lot of olive fly. Even if everyone sprayed with the only organic spray we have for fly, GF 120 Spinocid, there were less olives so more flies per olive. Some oils may not pass certification because of fly infestation and dryness. This is such a hard year.

One of our growers said to me” this doesn’t taste like my olive oil” my answer…No one’s oil tastes the same this year. Including IL Fiorello. Our oil is very different, not bad or good different, but very different. All the oils we milled tasted different, much less aroma, more bitterness. If you asked us to under-malax the oils, your oil developed with virtually no flavor and you received significantly less volume. If we correctly malaxed, the time in the malaxer for the oil to coalesce, the extraction volumes were enormous, but the flavor was flat. Such an unusual year. Some companies have had to import oil to fill their orders. Strange year.

We have lots of oil to carry us through to next season. (Am I really talking about next season already?) But this year is so very different. It seemed a real struggle to manage the harvesting and milling.

Our mill was better balanced this year; so, the machine was a joy to run. At least one very good aspect of the past harvest season. Our staff is a well-oiled team, so to speak. We have fun working together, and producing great products.

All in all, the operative words are done, finished, complete. Now to bottling and selling certified extra virgin olive oil.

Come visit us and talk olives



This is the time for giving thanks. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Milling is finishing. We have made great oils. The days are cooler. Family and friends gather to celebrate a uniquely American Holiday.

We always cook our turkey outside in the grill. The aroma of the coals and turkey enticing us to finish all the side dishes, and celebrate with a glass of Champagne. My Mother would always say “let me finish the gravy and then I can have a Martini”.  I will raise a glass for her this Holiday.

Wine is poured. Blessings for the harvest are said, and we all have a grand time together.

Sunset over the Mill at Il Fiorello

Our table will be smaller this year, but not necessarily quieter. With one daughter working in Italy and the other in Australia in school, phone calls will suffice for the places at the table.  All enjoying a table of gifts and celebrations.

Thanks to all the IL Fiorello staff new and old, all young at heart and thankful for jobs and good lives. Thanks to all our guests and supporters, without you IL Fiorello would be not nearly as much fun.

Celebrate and give thanks for new oil, and always look forward to spring, and a new crop of olives.

Here are suggestions from IL Fiorello for Holiday Extra Virgin Olive Oil and our Condiment pairings:

For a different type of appetizer, try a cheese like Pt Reyes Toma with our fabulous Lemon or Blackberry Mostarda and our Wine, Apple, and Pear Harvest Compote. Just delicious.

Turkey – use our robust Athena’s Blend at table to add a savory note.

Roasted and thyme-scented Butternut squash and Brussel sprouts with French Blend oil.

Mashed potatoes with a large well of luscious Leccino Oil.

Green Beans with pomegranate jewels drizzled with herbaceous Pendolino Oil.

Harvest Kurri squash and chocolate cake made with Mandarin oil.

Olio Nuovo, interesting pantry items, and Gift sets are now available for hostess and friend gifts.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.


Ann and Mark