Anatomy of a market day

I am always fascinated by our weekly market. I like to shop there. I love the slice of life when the people from up in the hills come to shop and socialize. I even like all the Expats who come and fill up Bar Mary, sitting in the sun and having their first drinks. So today I decided to try to take a series of the life of a market set-up. Actually, I’d love to know more about the behind-the-scenes of the markets, but I’ve been unable to do that yet. Once I’m more fluent in Italian I will ask. In the market there are very small individuals who sell one thing. Like the young man in a white van with his Famous onions from Cannara. He does sell dried beans, lentils. Also fresh fava beans in spring and Cranberry beans in summer. There are also four Porchetta trucks selling their famous pork. Everyone has their favorite. There are the very big industrial vendors, and the small ones with their own produce. I have two favorites. One is a local family that I like to support, and across from them a larger, not-quite-industrial one which I go to for their citrus and seasonal things. The Polizia Municipale walk through and check all their permits. There are a few musicians who, when they come liven up the scene. And the inevitable people asking for money from you. So, that description got a little long! I just wanted to try to paint a picture of the scene. And now I will talk about the set up and break down of this market, week in and week out.

I got up at 5AM to take the first picture. The two what I call “industrial” vegetable vendors begin earliest because they have the biggest trucks which need to be unloaded and then get out of the Piazza. The one on the right with four tents is the biggest. But the one over by the building is about the same size. They mostly bring the produce from the south. Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia, Campagna. They are the cheapest stands. AND they yell…at the top of their lungs…to attract customers. Or so I’m told. I also noticed the markets in Sicily operate exactly the same with the same men yelling. So I’d hazard a guess that these big vendors are from there.

Early birds start to shop at the, just set up market. This is the market just before it officially opens at eight. There are smaller trucks who come in later than the big guys and set up last. There is a large blue cheese and cured meats vendor and it is a treat to watch that thing fold itself up.

Starting to break it all down. This is about 1PM. The market closes at noon but they will sell you stuff for an hour or more until they have it all packed. As you can see, the little trucks are mostly gone.

Before cleanup. This is one of the two big trucks. The workers have it all on pallets and roll it in.

They leave behind PILES of trash, but they kindly separate it into plastic, biodegradable and wood.

The first town trucks arrive about 1:30PM. These are the Umbertide trucks. They have small trash trucks, each picks up a different trash. After that the town street cleaner truck shows up. You may wonder why the town has to clean up after these people. Well, not just any town can have a market so it is considered an asset and privilege. It brings in business. So the town does its part.

The last “Industrial” vendor waits for his big truck. These guys have it all on the pallets and ready to go. Where is that damn truck? They do have a long day. I assume they must have a warehouse where they load the truck even earlier than the 5AM when they show up here. Then they are still here until 2:30 or so.

And finally – back to normal. Hard to imagine there even WAS a market today. it is amazing to watch.

Spring Trip to Montefalco with Friends – redux

Oh for crying out loud! I pushed Publish by mistake so please look at this one as it will have text in it! Operator error!
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We had friends visit and help us out with a cat sit. We took them to a couple of wineries. The countryside in early spring was just incredible.

Early vines.

We visited Montefalco for lunch. Pretty walkways and doors.

Lunch was excellent at L’alchemista.

Sicily for Easter week with friends

Another trip report so skip if you’re not interested.
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Palermo April 2019
Off to Palermo with Susan and Gary. Took the early morning flight from Perugia to Catania. Only a bit over an hour flight. Ryan Air was efficient as usual, if not the most comfortable. I had plenty of room in my seat. I had, unfortunately caught a cold which I came down with just the night before we left. Slept little because of the coughing.

We landed at about 11am and took a taxi into Catania. We had until 3:30 to catch our train. Along the way, on the roadsides, were vegetable stands with bright red strawberries among the mix, and every one had a grill, grilling meat. A slice of Catanian life. I had chosen a restaurant using TripAdvisor and we got the taxi to drop us there, even though it was too early to eat. A man was standing in the doorway and we made a reservation for lunch and he kindly kept our suitcases for us.

Catania is exactly what you think of when you think Sicily and teeming cities. Not that it was bad, but it was all, narrow streets with balconies rising 5 stories. Some with laundry, some with large barking dogs. Much ornate iron work and many very run down buildings. Narrow streets full of cars with honking horns. You had to watch your step, not only because of the rough, uneven surfaces but because there are more dogs than I’ve ever seen. You can imagine the mess!

A side street.

The Duomo down at the end.

It was Palm Sunday. Everywhere stands selling woven palm leaves. You are supposed to buy one and keep it in your house for a year for good fortune. We set off on foot and went through a large gate. At the end of the street stood an imposing dome. We decided it was as good a destination as any. Turned out to take us to the main square. Huge Duomo. We went in the church and they were having Mass. We watched a bit and left. Outside, it was noon, and one of the biggest, deepest bells I’ve ever heard began it’s slow tolling. Soon it was joined but many smaller bells. Beautiful. I love bells.

Woven palms. You are supposed to buy them and keep them all year for good fortune.

In the main square. One of the churches.

We wandered the squares around the area with schools, universities, and government buildings. We sat and had a glass of wine where we watched boy scouts and girl scouts try to sell their palms to the Carbinieri with no success.

We walked back to Ai Due Corni. It filled with Catanians having their Palm Sunday lunch. Good we reserved! There was, unfortunately a lot of horse meat there. Even a horse meat butcher just beside it. I don’t eat one of my favorite animals. But we had a good meal. Right away we had five plates of assorted antipasti. A spicy eggplant, a layered dish with roasted peppers, little sausage filled pastries, and others I don’t remember. We had two pitchers of red wine and a bottle of water. Then we ordered secondi. 3 got the calamari, one the grilled fish plate. After lunch Susan and Gary indulged in the famous canolli. I need to do this but I had the fresh strawberries. Luther had a amaro. Lovely lunch surrounded with Catanian families. And the bill? €65 euro. For all of that!

We got a taxi and went to the railway station. All the taxi drivers have been nice. We got our slow boat train. Took 3 long hours across the beautiful Sicilian center. Arriving in Palermo about 6:30 we caught a taxi to our apartment hotel. We had two one bedroom apartments in the oldest part of the city. I felt so bad by this point I was longing for medicine and bed. I barely took stock of my surroundings. Luther went for breakfast stuff and wine and snacks for his dinner.

This dog was a terror! Susan said she’d shoot herself if she lived near them.

Watching.

Some of the Easter sweets along the way.

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Monday
During the night we had terrible storms. Very high winds which woke us because the shutters on the outside were banging. Thunderstorms later. I had taken the Italian equivalent of NyQuil which did help me sleep better. But still not great. There was a 9am walking tour of Palermo booked but I felt I needed to continue to rest and I didn’t need to be walking around in the rain. So I did not go. But while they were gone the sun came out intermittently.

They returned at about 1:30. Much later than the expected 12 o’clock tour ending time. I was dressed and ready to go. We walked down the street to an open restaurant. They had grills set up outside and were roasting fish and steaming shellfish. What’s not to like. It was an excellent feed. No menu(or prices) brought a big bowl of assorted shellfish — mussels, claims, winkles, razor clams. And a plate of overcooked octopus. After that they brought a big platter with mixed grilled seafood. Whole, individually sized orate, swordfish, big prawns, cuttlefish. All quite good. Except the overcooked cuttlefish. At the end they brought lemoncello, grappa, amarro. It was good but not worth the €140 they charged for the 4 of us. Since there’s no menu there’s no price you can point to. I enjoyed myself so I didn’t mind so much. But I’m sure the locals wouldn’t pay that much.

That said, there were no locals in the place. A big table of mostly Americans that were a tour group. Extremely loud. One woman had an ear piercing voice. Her laugh was worse. And put all together we could hardly hear ourselves over them. We stopped them on their way out and found most were from Colorado. Then another couple came over. She was from New Zealand and he was Italian. They live in Abruzzo, our next door province. Nice folks.

During lunch I heard all about the tour I missed at lunch. They walked miles, with lots of steps. I could have done it but not while sick. They enjoyed it. Apparently the tour guide is a very opinionated 55 year old native of Palermo.

After that we walked to find a farmacia but it was closed. As luck would have it they arrived to re-open as we were deciding what to do. We asked for medicine for my cough and cold. Which I now have so we will see if it helps.
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Didn’t help. Ah well. I brought some things from home so will use them. We stayed in tonight. Sad news on TV about Notre Dame burning. Big loss.

Tuesday
Tour today of the 18th Century Villas of the Piana del Colli. We were met by our guide Iolanda. We took a taxi out of the main city. The place we visited is were the king and the very rich would go in summer. First place we saw was the Palazzina Cinese. Where King Ferdinando of Bourbon lived during his exil in Palermo. Strange place. Had fake Chinese gates and even fake Chinese characters painted on its walls. Inside was a huge mish-mash. One room would be Chinese, one Grecian, the next, Arabic. The queens quarters were upstairs just above the guards quarters. Handsome men at the ready to service the queen 🙂 but, from her picture she was no beauty. But duty calls! The kings bath was on the bottom floor with a handy door next to the bath where the current mistress could escape when the queen put in an appearance. But the couple still managed to have 16 children 😳.

Next we visited Villa Niscemi which belonged to the Valguarnerano Princes who inspired Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for his characters described in the Leopard. It is set in pretty gardens with ponds full of ducks as they were thought to be good luck. The Villa is used even now to greet dignitaries who visit Palermo. Beautiful place.

Palazzina Cinese. Basement door, which I thought pretty.

Palazzina Cinese. Interior decorations.

It wasn’t really 3-D but sure was a trick-the-eye painting.

Loved these dragons. In every corner of the ceiling.

Another ceiling.

Wooden inlay doors.

Marble spiral staircase.

The kings bath. We were told the door was for his mistress to get away if the Queen was coming.

Villa Niscemi

After we returned we went just across the street from our apartment to l’Ottava Nota. Very good Michelin rated place. We had a lovely lunch. Mine was puréed fava beans with tiny crispy squid and for a secondi, scallops in a very complicated construction to include a fried artichoke which was hard to eat, a few blueberries, lingonberries, and many other things I can’t remember. The scallops were good, the rest, not so much.

It was a pretty restaurant.

We returned to rest up and nap. At six I decided I could go out with Susan and Gary to find the bar with a view we were told about by our tour guide. She must’ve gotten it wrong as we found nothing. We did stop at another place for aperol spritzes. Luther was still ailing (as was I) so he stayed in.

Wednesday
This was our street food tour day. It was my choice. It was an excellent tour. We were joined by 7 other people. Two Australians, a single woman meeting up with her mom, and an American family who live in Barcelona. Our guide, Liviana, was young and friendly and enthusiastic. I told one of my fellow tourers it felt like a friend was showing us around. We walked and tasted a variety of things, some of which I couldn’t eat. First thing was veal gristle and leavings from the abattoir floor, all organs and parts. It was fried in oil and served on its own or in a panino. My stomach just couldn’t do that today.

Then we went to a wonderful ice fruit drinks place. They had oranges, lemons and pomegranates which you could get over ice in any combination. They squeezed them to order. Refreshing.

Then we sat at a table and tried three things. A chickpea flour patty breaded and fried, a little log of mashed potato breaded and fried. It had caraway. Last was an arancina (I think that’s right) which is rice formed into a ball around a bit of sausage and…you guessed it, breaded and fried! They were all good. The arancina was seasoned with saffron which is abundant here.

Chickpea fritters

Mashed potato roll, reminded me of my Moms potato cakes.

Arancina

Inside arancina

We walked through the market with all the vegetables. Some I didn’t recognize, like this one. If you know, do tell.

Ugly lemons, but I’m sure they are good.

Tiny wild strawberries.

Foraged, wild asparagus.

We left there and went to buy bread and cheese and Sicilian olives which we carried to Taverna ta Azzurra. A real hole in the wall where we spread out the noshes we’d bought and had some local wine. It was sweet wine. I was unfamiliar with it, it was reminiscent of a sherry.

We headed down the street and stopped at a stand where a man was making another odd dish. Spleen which he served alone or in rolls. I didn’t try it. Most people did, some even liked it.

Finally we stopped at a great gelato place. Super and unusual flavors. I chose cinnamon and jasmine. The jasmine is only this time of year and you won’t find it many places. The weird thing is they served it on a brioche. He sliced the brioche and put the scoops on it and topped it with whipped cream if you wanted, and stuck the end of a cone on top! Well, it just seemed a bit much for me so I opted for mine in a cup.

Some pictures along the way. Street band. They were good!

Starbucks knockoff.

A building that may have been beautiful once.

Street Jesus.

Street art.

We walked back home. It was fun but I am still poorly so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

Thursday
Today, we visited Monreale the famous cathedral here with the largest mosaics in the world. 6,400 square meters! Much of it gold. It is incredible. The cathedral was begun in 1,174. So that puts it built at the same time as Notre Dame. We arrived on Giovedi Sante (Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday) and there was a mass going on. We stayed on the sides and listened to the beautiful music and the homily. The bishop spoke about the similar ages of the two cathedrals and the terrible loss to the French people and said his heart ached for them. This church’s ceilings are all wood too. A huge hazard over time I’m sure. But it made being there very poignant looking at the beautiful mosaics glowing all around and appreciating that they are there and safe, for now. Very moving.

I loved when the service was over and people were leaving. The organist could pull out all the stops (pun intended) in the recessional. He blew my socks off with a fugue of magnificent proportions. Wonderfully discordant, swelling to fill the huge space. It is an amazing organ played by a maestro. Built by the Rufatti firm of Padua between 1957 and 1967, it is the sole European organ with six keyboards with 61 keys each; 10 thousand pipes in wood and metal subdivided in three sounding bodies; the console is, among those which are movable, the largest in the world; and there some 400 commands, or stops. In 2015 the chancel was hit by lightening which knocked out the organ. It took two years to repair. Happily it is fine now and I loved hearing it.

OK here come the pictures. So, so beautiful. I couldn’t decide so there are quite a few.

Organ. Just one half. The other half is opposite.

The mosaics in the church are breathtaking. Be sure to click for a better look.

This is the Nave.

The ceiling is wood.

Much of the walls are Bible stories.

The following are some of the carved tops to the columns in the Cloister. They are all different and very intricate.

The cloister columns are also all different.

Fountain in Cloister

The day was the best yet. Beautiful blue sky, slight breezes, perfect temperature. We had a great cab driver. Very garrulous. And opinionated like they all seem to be. Susan gets them started and they are off and running.

View from Monreale of Palermo.

Friday
The death march. It is an arduous journey. We had to kill time until 1:30 before boarding the very uncomfortable, two car train. We knew what we were up against after our journey here. And we wanted regular seats. We had gone to Track 7 as advertised and at the last minute they said track change to 10. We were fartherest away and were outrun by all the teenagers and 20 somethings. We all managed to find a seat, if not the best seat. After 1.5 hours a lot of people got off so we had a bit more room. It is a long, boring ride.

Arrived in Catania at 4:30. Took a taxi to the airport. It was a little weird. There were probably ten taxis out front of the station. The person allocating the taxis talked to some, who apparently rejected us. The most ratty taxi possible was available. It was a real rattletrap. But the driver knew the roads. And when he saw a backup he veered off and we went through some very sketchy neighborhoods, and what smelled like the main fish market. Flying down these tiny twisty streets with people BBQing along the edges. It was wild. Our driver was silent until he hit a final traffic jam and got very animated. I think he had had a choice of two ways and opted for this one…and wished he’d gone the other way. It was amusing. We all shook hands with our toothless driver, who was very competent.

We checked in and did security and found a table at the only food place there. Had wine and we all, over time, had food. Then we boarded and flew the little over an hour to Perugia. Finally down to the last leg. The drive home. We fetched Lucca the wonderdog, Susan and Gary’s pup and headed to Umbertide. It was Good Friday, just after ten. The collegiata was lit up so pretty. There were candles burning in all the shop windows and doorways. We walked towards our apartment. There were lots of folks in front of Bar Mary. As we turned the corner to our street we were confronted by the Good Friday procession. Respectfully we waited for the priests, candle bearers, the dead Jesus statue, the mourning Mary, upright on her platform, all followed by the band and all the towns people. Finally able to get to our door we were home!

It was a tough trip for me. Towards the end it was much better. I won’t do best and worst. We liked our apartments and the location. Butera 28 Apartments. And the restaurant l’Ottava Nota was very good. We did enjoy sitting at a nearby bar in the evenings. A good trip, overall.

Puppy rescue!

Yesterday was an exciting day. I helped a group of FaceBook people in the UmbriAliens group find someone to raise two little puppies that had been discarded. They were found in a plastic bag hung on a tree limb. There were six, so young their eyes are not open and they still have their umbilical stubs. There were six. Now there are two. Four died. People don’t neuter their dogs here and when there are resulting puppies their solution is to kill or discard them. The good news is that these two are now going to be hand raised by my friend Angela here in Umbertide. The person who had been caring for them (Sarah) drove them all the way from south of Rome to Umbertide. Several others involved came along to see the babies and watch them find their new temporary home. No one is sure of the breed but the think they may be pit bulls. Which is good news for them because pit bulls are rare in Italy which will make them adoptable. There is one boy, and one girl. Pictures from Sarah.

Other happenings in Umbertide recently included a vintage car show. I had no idea they were all outside in the Piazza until I happened to glance out. These weren’t all exotic types. Many were ordinary cars of their time. Here they are.

All lined up and driving out. I always wonder where they go. Maybe to another town?

I really am ready for the spring produce to start coming into season. This time of the year there is very little new growing  yet. I’m sure seedlings are being nurtured but they aren’t in our local market yet. Just the same old boring winter veggies. I love them but I’m ready for something new. I always visit the Saturday Kilometer Zero market – our local growers and producers. This time in hopes there might just be something new. Not yet…alas. But the sun was shining and everyone was in a good mood so I snapped a few photos. Still waiting for spring…

Curly kale. Green and purple.

Cabbage and leeks. The leeks are sweet. I poached some in butter the other day which were delicious.

Dried grains are always around. Ceci beans, Cannellini beans, lentils, etc.

Umbrian olive oil – the best!

Specialty of central Italy, Porchetta. Whole boned pig stuffed with herbs and roasted overnight for about 12 hours. Addictively good.

Umbria is the land of Pecorino cheese from sheeps milk. And ONLY Pecorino cheese. The good thing is they make it in many ways, from fresh and soft, semi-hard, aged, and flavored. It is good but sometimes I miss the variety.

And everyone is starting to think about planting spring flowers. So far I’m holding off.

Senore Honey was there with all his products. Honeys from different types of flowers. I bought chestnut honey and was very surprised at the strong flavor. Not sure I like it. He also has bees wax candles and other things.

 

Not good news

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I had knee replacement surgery here in Italy in January 2018. I learned a lot about the Italian system before and after the procedure. I learned all about what to expect when you go to the hospital. And what to bring with you, which is very different here.

2018 Knee replacement part 1
2018 Knee replacement Part II
2018 Knee replacement Part III

I learned that the nurses don’t help with many basic things like bringing water. Or ice. They do blood pressure, medications, take blood for tests, basic bed making and body wash. But for your personal self, it’s on you to have a wash cloth, water, soap, a basin and toothbrush, toothpaste etc. for personal clean up. For anything like this you would need a helper. A family member or friend. Odd but true. Different hospitals have different rules. And, of course, very few people speak English. It makes for a lonely time without being able to speak to anyone.

OK so, my operation last year was fine, the PT in hospital was good, if painful. No opiates or pain killers in Italy. I was released but didn’t really understand I was supposed to go into in-patient rehab for 3 weeks. When I found out, this floored me. I couldn’t face it. After being in the hospital for a week I wanted only to be home. So I didn’t go. We arranged a nurse to help with re-dressing the incision. And hired a private therapist for PT in house. And all went ok.

I was told it would take 6 months to a year to recover. So I waited. And did my exercises… and I was in pain. Especially going up and down our 56 stairs. I returned to the doctor 6 months after the operation with concerns about how my knee “looked”. There was a malformation in my opinion. But the Dottore said all was well. Tutti va bene. So. I waited.

Now, more than a year later I am still in pain. Rising from a sitting position and doing stairs are quite painful. And getting more so. I decided to consult another doctor. I knew him from previous consults. I like and trust him. He sent me for X-rays of specific sorts. I returned and he said I need another operation. There are three issues. First the kneecap is skewed to the side because the ligaments and muscles are not holding it in place correctly. Second the top part of the prosthesis is too large for me. Last the bottom part of the prosthesis is slightly twisted off center. He said I could get lucky and they would only have to repair, realign the ligaments and muscles over the kneecap. But if the other two things seem to be an issue I’ll need an entire new implant. He will only decide once he can see it. Sigh. I have to lay this at the feet of the other surgeon. 😡 Not what I wanted to hear but I expected it, I guess.

My doctor asked me when I wanted surgery. I was taken aback. Last year I had no choice. The doctor put me in the queue. It took about 7 months and I had no real choice for the date. This doctor seems to have his schedule in a book he keeps and is able to pick dates. I will never understand this crazy health system here. Since I have multiple trips planned this year. And I don’t want to cancel them. First a week trip to Sicily in April. Then a 10 day trip to the US for my nieces wedding in May. Finally a special anniversary cruise in the Greek islands in July. I decided to choose end of September, after my friend Eunice goes home from a visit.

So I’m scheduled for surgery on 27 September, in Perugia in a small clinic/hospital and I will be in a total of 18 days. To include rehab. This time I will stay in for the entire rehab. It will be easier if hard to be in the hospital that long. I’m sure not looking forward to it! But it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ll lose weight! Food is awful in hospital.

The news for my blogsters is that I will share another exciting hospital stay experience with you. This time to include all that in-patient rehab! 😳 and Hey! I will learn more Italian.

Meanwhile I’ll enjoy spring in Umbria. And hopefully I can enjoy my upcoming trips. Fino a dopo i miei amici!

Pretty day for a walk on the river

So, it seems the weather is slowly warming. We had a 60 degree day recently and the ENTIRE town was out walking and enjoying the sun. I decided to join them.

The townsfolk. The Nonni and all the grand babies in strollers were everywhere.

Clear blue skies with the town reflected in the river.

A price of winter

The winter fields, ready for planting.

Walls again.

Winter market is sparser but still has what you need.

My lemon tree has been very prolific this year. I counted 23 lemons on it! For January I brought it inside to the guest room where there is some sun and the heat is turned off. It likes it cold, but not freezing. Now that it’s nearly March it is back outside. I have to keep a close watch on the nighttime temperatures and cover it if it is supposed to freeze.

Ceci Neri

Things are pretty quiet around Umbertide this time of year. But we are moving slowly towards spring. The days are getting noticeably longer and the temperatures are no longer as cold.

I tried a new, for me, ingredient I found at the market. Ceci Neri, or black chickpeas. I guess it is popular in Indian cooking. I decided to make soup with them.

Dried ceci.

After soaking overnight.

Sofrito.

I wanted something green in the soup so I added Beatole.

The finished product. Pretty good.

I posted this picture on my FaceBook page but I thought it was worth a repeat here. A surprise guest. For dinner a couple of days ago, I was making roasted Cauliflower. I rinsed and trimmed it and when I returned I found this! His name is Stan and he’s on the terrace now. Good luck to him!

More experimental fireplace cooking

I bought a nice, plump chicken for dinner and decided not to use my usual roasting recipe by Thomas Keller. I wanted to challenge myself and warm up the kitchen at the same time. So, I decided to roast the chicken in the fireplace. Our fireplace obviously used to be the cooking fireplace as it comes with an iron hook that swings out over the fire. A while ago I had bought a piece of chain thinking I could make a cage in which to hang food from the hook.

Here is the trussed chicken before cooking.

I got the fire going well and suspended the chicken.

The advantage is that the fire kept me warm and cozy too! It was at this point I realized I had a design flaw. Uh oh. I could see the bird was only cooking on the bottom nearest the fire. Not good. So I carefully removed it and undid the chain, turning it so that it was hanging the other direction. Then I re-suspended it. Next time I need to come up with a detachable part with hooks or something so I can flip it more easily. After that all went fine.

Nearly finished. I used an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature from time to time.

An finally…ta da! the finished product. It came out smokey and crispy.

I served it with egg noodles and roasted cauliflower. Just a way to have fun on a winters day with the added bonus of a meal at the end!

Drivers license…Patente di Guida…after two years, the saga is finished

If you haven’t been following our drivers license saga, I’ll give a quick synopsis.

More than two years ago we began the process to convert our valid German issued EU drivers licenses to Italian ones [We had gotten these when we lived in Germany 25 years ago. They don’t expire]. It is mandatory that you get an Italian License to live here. You can drive on a US license for only one year from your date of residency. Some people, erroneously, think a US issued international drivers permit will suffice. It will not. If you don’t get an Italian license you risk major fines, impoundment of your car and your insurance will be void if you’re in an accident. There is no reciprocity between the US states and Italy, so you have to take the tests, which are notoriously difficult.

So, to avoid this test, we enlisted the help of an Auto services firm in the next town, after first being turned down by ACI, the equivalent of the AAA here. The issue was that our names and places of birth differed slightly on our documents and they didn’t want to deal with it. This new agency, though, was very helpful and willing to work through every obstacle, and there were many. The lovely woman there, is named Sandra and we went back again and again, during the last two years, each time bringing new forms, trying to comply with the requests. We even had to go to Rome to get the Embassy to endorse our attestations.

Finally, last fall they asked for proof we had taken the driving test in Germany. We could not get this. I was loathe to give up but finally realized we’d hit a brick wall. I put it out of my mind and decided to drive on the VALID German one. I thought I could explain I’d tried to convert but it was not possible and since it is a EU license and still valid I figured I had a fighting chance with the cops. Luther, on the other hand, had decided to try to do the test. He was studying and was taking on-line sample tests.

Anyway, last Friday, completely out of the blue, we got a call from Sandra. She said…”your drivers licenses are ready to pick up!!” Luther made her repeat it two times to be sure he’d heard and understood correctly. Yes!! It was true!! I was speechless when he told me! I’m like “what!? But why? How?” Who knows. Someone could have been tired of having it on their desk. Or it could have been a new person doing the job and they found it and put it through. But I’m not asking! I’m just so happy! I am TICKLED PINK! Amazing and without a doubt the weirdest thing to happen to us here yet. Today we picked them up. I guess perseverance pays off! Time for a celebration tonight !🍾🥂🎊 (and we took Sandra flowers 🙂 )

And, by the way, I don’t have hair that short anymore. That tells you how long it’s been since we started!

 

Ethnic food and ingredients

As you all probably know, I miss the diversity of foods in the US. Having come from the Washington DC area where you can find a restaurant or foods from every nation on earth due to the diplomatic community. It’s hard to transition to a place like Umbria. Here people are super set in their ways and foods are Umbrian and that’s all.

So if we want something different it’s on me to figure out how to make it here. My top go to foods to make are from the Southwestern US. Chili is one that, in winter, we really enjoy. Everything that goes into it comes from here except the chili powder and Chipotle peppers in adobo. Both of those must be imported from the US when we go.

We also love Chicken Fajitas. Grilled peppers and onions and chicken breast meat from here. I can find flour and (sometimes) corn tortillas here.

I add the marinade of chili powder, cumin, garlic etc. I only need to import the chili powder. Black bean chili and soup is also another favorite. Black beans are found in cans here but not dried, commonly. I buy the dried from Amazon in Germany (really). Or I ask my friends who are coming to bring them 🙂.

Amazon in German had these. I’ve asked many friends to schlep these but now that I’ve found a source I’m all set.

These I find here. I prefer the dried because cans hold such small amounts.

Other favorites are an Egyptian spiced chicken on skewers which uses African spice I bring from the US. There are African, Chinese, and Moroccan shops around if you search and they have many hard-to-find ingredients. The whole thing takes a lot of time. If I find something I’ve not seen before, I buy it.

Here are many of my ingredients that I’ve scrounged here and there as I find them.

I found a bourbon BBQ sauce recently. Really!

We also love Thai food with coconut milk. Interestingly that’s something I’ve found here and there and snatch up when I see it. Of course there are the really obscure ingredients like Kafir lime leaves and lemon grass that I have to forgo. My friend Ely grew lemon grass in her garden this past year. She gave me some 🙂

In summer I make slow grilled BBQ ribs which are popular with the Italians. I do rub them with chili and spices. I grill them on my Weber kettle grill (which we bought here) and I use soaked mesquite chips, which I found here in one, not convenient, place. But they last a while.

I also make Mexican foods. Mole is a favorite and I have to import the dried peppers, like Anaheims and Poblanos that I use as well as the chili powder. The chocolate is from here, of course. I can find avocados, papayas, etc in some stores but not reliably. Cilantro is super scarce here. People say, grow your own, but it is hard to grow. Our Moroccan store occasionally has it but you have to go in and ask.

We love Indian foods. I did a lunch for our friends of Tandoori chicken, lamb curry, eggplant, rice, cucumber salad which was fun. Another one was Lamb, scampi, eggplant, salad, Naan, rice pudding. I had to make the Naan. Not terribly difficult, and yummy.

Just a few of my spices.

Speaking of that, many things you can make yourself. You can make sour cream and buttermilk, which are hard to find. Vanilla extract is practically non-existent. When we first came I made it by steeping vanilla beans in vodka. Now I have an ample stash from friends. When in doubt I google how to make something. Or for substitutes. Cheddar is hard to find here so we bring it back from the US or Britain. Sometimes specialty grocers will have it. I’ve not been lucky enough to find any though.

Last week we bought a duck. Luther really likes duck any way. I thought it might be fun to try to make Peking duck. It came out pretty good. I found a recipe to slow cook the duck at low heat in the oven for 7 hours. Nothing to do but let it cook, and the house smelled fantastic! When it’s done you can shred it. I also made the pancakes to wrap the meat in. That was a bit tedious but with the duck and cucumbers and onions (spring onions are not common here so used red) it was tasty. Next time I’ll try more spices and will make the plum sauce.

Most recently I did a Cajun lunch for an adventurous Italian family. Gumbo, deviled eggs, quiche, bread pudding. I had to bring the file powder from the US. Also, vanilla extract in the pudding. It was a hit.

Gumbo.

So, we make do here, with the ethnic foods we can recreate at home. And, as you can see, it is not easy to pull it off. My pantry is full of imported dried chili peppers like Anaheims and Poblanos, spicy hot sauces (I made an order from Amazon in the US, last trip, for $76 worth of hot sauces!), dried Pozole or hominy, dried black beans, dried black eyed peas, canned chipotle chilis in adobo, chili powders of various heats, file for gumbos, grits (yep for low country cooking), etc.

Just some of the hot sauces!

The only spicy thing the Umbrians use regularly is the spice Peperoncino. You can buy them whole and dried or powdered or in flakes like pepper flakes. It is super spicy and is added to things like Pasta Arribbiata or angry pasta.

Then there are the things that you just plain miss or cannot get here…which I bring back when I go home. Or sometimes a friend will gift me some from the commissary in Germany! (thanks Joanne)

And it’s not that we don’t love the foods in the Umbrian restaurants too. It’s just that our American palates crave more variety now and then. I’ve seen many posts on forums that disparage a person for wanting the tastes of home. “Why move to Italy then?!” they say. But everyone craves the foods of home. And we can love both.😋