Author Archives: Nancy Hampton

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
corn3

um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
gladwrap

Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
aluminumfoil

Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
water_bottles
lime

You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
twistties

Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
ear

My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
rows

And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.

Fun restaurant posting

Today, for Luther’s birthday, we decided to try a recommended restaurant called L’Umbricello del Caccio. It is nominally in Magione which is between Lago del Trasimeno and Perugia. This restaurant is south of both of these towns up in some modest hills. Very pretty countryside with lots of olive groves and yellow fields of just-harvested wheat stubble.

We arrived in a small hamlet with an old church with a pretty clock. The bells rang every quarter hour. There is plenty of parking and the restaurant is on one side of the small road through the village while it’s dining terrace is on the other. This terrace sits right on the edge of the hill. Too bad the view is marred by three unsightly power lines. For this reason I didn’t take a photo.

The fun part of this post is that, like almost always when we walk into a restaurant, they spoke English to us and automatically gave us English menus. We have gotten used to this fact of life here. Somehow we are nailed as foreigners before we open our mouths. I’ve figured out they don’t know what sort of foreigner you are generally. German, English, Dutch usually. When we spoke in Italian to him he asked if we understood Italian. We said we did so he brought over Italian menus.

Here’s the fun part. This is a good example why I hate getting the English menu. They don’t really translate it fully or correctly. The first picture below is the English version of the Antipasto menu. The second picture is the Italian one. I count 10 choices on the English one and 16 on the Italian one. This illustrates how much tourists miss out on if they don’t at least understand “menu” Italian. What a difference! The subsequent pages were equally deficient.
antipasto_english

antipasto

They specialize in a dish called Caccio e Pepe. It is made by putting the hot pasta into the hollowed out rind of a parmigiano cheese. The cheese is scraped and stirred so it melts into the pasta. They also specialize in house-made Umbricelli. It is a very fat, dense, chewy spaghetti type of shape. Luther’s pasta was made in house and was what they call integrale or whole grain. Hence the slightly unappetizing color. Worm-colored…don’t think about it. He liked it! His second course was Cinghale or wild boar which they do wonderfully here. Sorry, my picture didn’t come out.

Here is the wheel of parmigiano in which they make the pasta.
caccio_pepe

Luther’s Umbricello.
luthers_pasta

I had caprese salad. The tomatoes should have been better, especially at this time of year. It tasted good. Then I got Umbricello too but mine was Carbonara with truffles. I had not had this is a long time as it is not normally on menus in Umbria. Carbonara was invented for the American soldiers after WWII in Rome because they had eggs!

My pasta.umbricelli_tartuffi
fork_umbricelli

We were sent on our way by a sweet angel. It was a nice outing…if very HOT!
angel

Zibu 2.0 Bistro

We have a new Bistro in town. It is a pop-up called Zibu 2.0 Bistro.
zibu_bistro2 There is a restaurant called Zibu 2.0 down the hill from us. They decided to try this pop up idea. The main restaurant has a beautiful space with vaulted stone ceilings. We have found the food spotty but continue to try it every so often. Then they had a wonderful little idea. Open an outdoor cafe with a limited menu in a pretty piazza. It is next to the town Opera House and Theater and La Rocca, our fortress. pretty_tables

It is a bit slap-dash in it’s furniture…mostly recycled things and mis-matched chairs. It also has sofas and places to sit and have a drink. Rather like an informal lounge.

We have gone a number of times. Once for a light dinner and the rest of the time for lunch. It is only a few steps from our door. The menu on the chalk board changes daily. zibu_bistro3

and they have a standing menu as well. menu
A few carefully chosen wines and beer on tap complete the menu. We do really enjoy it so I thought I’d give it some ink.

Today, Sunday, is a gorgous day. So clear with sunny skies and puffy clouds and a perfect temperature…a respite from the heat. We had a plate of fried squash blossoms which we shared.squash_blossom

Then Luther had pulled pork. A surprise! pulled_pork

And I had something called Suppli cacio e pepe. It was risotto with lots of Parmaghiano, shaped into cylinders and then they were breaded and fried. I decided to be adventurous an try it. It was GOOD!Suppli_cacio_e_pepe

 

 

Corn – part 2

I took a quick drive up to my friend (and corn partner) Angela’s house to see the corn we planted for the first time. As you may recall, I was not at all sure it was going to grow at all, given the earth was not tilled very deeply, but it has come up and looks OK. We can only wait and see if any of it produces ears of corn.

Here is a picture.
corn

On the way to Angela’s house. Olive grove. It was a brilliant day!
olive_trees

And here is an update on my terrace corn. It is doing quite well and I think we will get some corn from these plants.
terace_corn2

Mozzarella and Burrata

Hot, hot weather now. Big heat wave covering most of Europe. Here in Italy this front is called Guida, or Judas for obvious reasons. It blows across the Mediterranean from the Sahara and is HOT.

So, hoping to beat the heat, today I descended the stairs to visit the weekly market aiming for cool things, like salads. The wonderful tomatoes are in now and we are loving them. I aimed to buy some and some mozzarella and burrata. There is a man with a small truck who is here every week with the best. It’s sent up from Paestum (mozarella) and the Burrata comes from Puglia.  When the burrata is sliced open, a spurt of thickened cream flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. I you’ve not had it, it is a literally a bag tied up and inside are the creamy leavings from Mozzarella making. It is a useful way of using up the ritagli (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella. But it is oh so much better than that!

Behold, burrata fresh from Puglia!buratta

Sliced open to reveal the creamy inside.
sliced_bag

Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
opened_bag

My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
lunch

Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
mozarella

Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
buffala

And it’s summertime in Umbertide. The outdoor cinema is open on Piazza San Francesco. It has seats outside with beer and wine sold and on Thursday they screen original language films.
cinema_al_centro

Dealing with health issues in Italia

I’ve avoided writing about something for a while now and it’s time I begin to chronicle this new adventure (?) Last year I began to have problems with my right knee. I went to my doctor and she prescribed anti-inflammatories and icing. For a while it seemed to improve but took a nosedive earlier this year. We are very new to the Italian health care system so are groping our way along with many false starts.

We went back to our doctor and I asked for an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. Dotoressa Mommi wrote a prescription for an appointment. And said it was urgent enough to get done in 30 days. The only available doctor was in Deruta, about 30 minutes south of us. We visited him and he was frustrated that we had no X-rays or an MRI. All he could do is proscribe something which turned out to be pretty useless. We decided to go and get an MRI on our own and pay for it. If I didn’t want to pay I could have gone and asked our doctor to prescribe one and waited (again). So we went to a diagnostic center and I paid 126€ for an MRI. Not bad.

Armed with this we could make an appointment privately with a doctor of our choice. The only one we knew was far south in Spoleto. We visited him and he read the MRI. He said I need a total knee replacement. Sigh. We paid 150€ to consult with him.

Back we went to our doctor. In hindsight we could have asked this doctor we went to privately and he could have put us into the system and done the surgery. But we didn’t understand this at the time. Dot. Mommi explained it to us. And she offered to make an appointment for us with a good orthopedic guy in Umbertide. I prefer to not have to go too far for the procedure mainly because I would like it to be close for Luther to visit.

We visited the orthopedic guy yesterday. He was nice enough and even spoke a little English. But mostly it was in Italian. He too recommended knee replacement. Second opinions are good. So he gave us a form to fill in and email to the powers that be to schedule surgery. As always, everything in Italy shuts down in August. In this case last week in July to first week in September for non-emergency surgery. So we are looking at October-November for operation. Sigh. It is a long wait.

I guess my biggest worry is communication while in hospital and rehab. But on the bright side (?) I’ll learn more Italian. We are told it’s 5-7 days in hospital and then three weeks in in-patient rehab. Seems excessive by American standards…but in America it is all about the bottom line so they kick you out fast! For me, I’m thinking by the time I’m done I’ll be able to do the stairs here. Operation will be in the very nice hospital in Perugia, rehab here in Umbertide.

Since this is what I’m stuck with I am going ahead with plans that I was kind of worried about. We have a cruise on the Crostian coast in August and have a friend housesitting. I didn’t want to cancel either. I may be stuck in my stateroom but… Then we have friends in late September and another in mid October. This will mean I can just do what I can do and I and my guests will have to deal with it.

For my everyday life I stay mostly in the apartment. I descend and ascend the three flights of stairs maybe once a day. So far, so good. Hurts but manageable. The good news is knee replacements have generally good results and are not too hard to recover from. Crossing fingers it will be so for me and I will be good as new. This will be great! 🙂

Project: Corn

Ciao a tutti! Today I’m posting about a food that is near and dear to my heart. Sweet, summer corn! When we lived in the US as SOON as the corn started coming in I had it frequently. I am a corn snob, however, and when I was buying at the farmers market I would push my fingernail into a kernel and if there wasn’t a squirt of liquid I wouldn’t buy. It is a sign of freshness and when it was picked. As soon as corn is picked the sugars in the kernels start to turn to starch and harden. No longer a succulent sweet ear but a hard starchy one. I had a garden a couple times in my life in which I grew corn, my mantra was…get the water boiling, go pick the corn off the stalk, immerse in boiling water for 5 minutes, slather with butter and a sprinkle of salt and EAT! Heaven.

The sad story is that here in Europe, all over as far as I’ve seen, people see corn as animal fodder, not for human consumption, on the whole. In Italy they do have canned corn, they do NOT have frozen which is infinitely better. I have searched for corn here and on two occasions last year I found some. The first had been allowed to stay on the stalk far too long and was all starch and inedible. The second, from Umbria, in the super market, in NOVEMBER(!) was actually almost good. SO…

I decided to buy seeds and find some way to plant some. On the Burpee website I came across Container Corn. It is corn that will do well planted in pots. So I bought some to try. I also bought two other types in hopes of finding an outside place to plant. I did manage to partner with my British friend Angela and paid for a plot to be prepared. It was hardly optimal. Good sun but the soil really wasn’t tilled deeply enough. We planted anyway so we’ll see.

I’m happy to say my corn on my terrace is doing really well. Angela told me the corn there was up and growing. I think I will have at least some corn this summer. Happy days!

Here is my corn.
corn2

I call this my orto. It means vegetable garden in Italian. It has my two spicy peppers and the corn.
corn

I love sweet basil and it’s almost ready to harvest the tops for pesto!
basil

My herb garden: parsley, thyme, sage, rosemarie and chives.
herbs

Flowers
planters

tunias

tunias2

Happy growing to any of my gardening friends. I will post progress reports occasionally.
Buona estate!