Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Only Wine Festival – Città di Castello

Every year we have meant to go to the Only Wine Festival in the town just north of us. This year we did. The purpose of the festival is to promote young winemakers around Italy. The winemakers must be under 40 years of age. It helps them get publicity and visibility they may not have gotten elsewhere. The festival has a website and we checked it out. There were many special tastings such as a Whisky tasting, Sparkling wine tasting, Cigar tasting, beer tastings, regional wines such as Umbrian, Tuscan. These had to be reserved and had a fee. We decided to go for a targeted wine tasting of wines grown in volcanic soils around Italy. We really didn’t know what to expect so this was an exploratory mission. entrance_to_fest

wine_tent
We arrived around 5:15 and our tasting was at 6PM. This left time to do some of the regular tastings. There were many different venues. There also were two full floors of a palazzo that had numerous wine stations for tastings. Ostensibly you paid 15 Euro and that entitled you to five “Free” tastings of the wines. Only in Italy would they say you were getting free tastings but you had to pay the 15 Euro for them. Anyway, since we were going to the Volcano tasting we decided to just get one “Free” tasting for the 15 Euro and we’d share it. They give you a nice glass with a little sack you put around your neck to hold the glass and five tickets for the tastings. Turns out no one takes your tickets so you go in and it’s unlimited tastings for as long as you can stand up! It wasn’t too crowded because it was early. We enjoyed all the young winemakers who were eager to talk about their wines.

tastings
Then we went upstairs to the Volcano tasting. We didn’t know where it was and there were no signs. Typical. We asked but no one knew. Finally we found the room way back in a corner. We went in and there were tables set up with six glasses at each setting. The room was hushed. We sat at a table in the front and after we sat down three other single men came in one after the other and joined us. A sommelier came and introduced each wine as they were poured by numerous pourers throughout the room. Of course I didn’t understand everything he said . But I did manage to catch the grapes for each, whether they were aged in oak and for how long, and the region they came from. The first one came from Lazio, north of Rome. Next two from Orvietto. Then one from the Veneto and finally two from Sicily on Mt. Etna. All were white except for the last one, a light red. It was quite interesting. One of our table-mates asked if I could understand it and I said, maybe 30%. Turns out hes a vintner from near Orvietto and one of the wines was his. It is also a vineyard we tried to visit once and were turned away. We will try again soon. One amusing aside, they had a signer for the deaf. She had both Luther and I suppressing giggles every time we looked at her. Signers have the most expressive faces and she was one of the best with rolling eyes, smacking lips, pursing lips and bulging cheeks. I wondered if the sign language in Italy was the same as in the US…

volcano_wine_tasting
The sun was setting when we left and walked through this park to our car park. Beautiful!
CdC_park

We will go back next year but this time we’ll stick to the regular “Free” tastings.

Errand to Rome

This past week we took a day trip to Rome. We are STILL trying to get our German drivers licenses converted to Italian ones. We started this process last year and hit a road block. Italians like every document to match perfectly. In our case our Italian documents say we were born in a city in the US, while our German licenses list our state. Even though we brought in our birth certificates which list both they said no. And we’ve learned two main things here. One, when a bureaucrat makes up his or her mind you have no recourse. And two, they each make up the rules as they go along. We gave up until it occurred to us that we could just try another place and hope for better luck.

So we went to the next town called Trestina. And we visited the little auto services place there. A nice woman is helping us and we took in all of our copies of all of our documents. We waited and she called and we returned. This time the discrepancy was not only our places of birth but Luther’s name. On his Italian documents he is Luther Pearson Hampton III. On the German drivers license he is merely Luther Pearson Hampton. Oh no! So, she explained we had to do an attestazione to swear we were who we said we were even though we were born in different places and had different names. And we had to do this in Rome at the American Embassy.

So we created our attestazione and took the train to Rome. It was a pretty day. It takes about two hours to get to Rome on the train. Then we walked the maybe ten minute walk to the Embassy. They were super nice there. Nothing like the Florence Consulate. We went through the security and the man took our papers and said they get this all the time. We paid $50.00 for each notarization. Cash cow for the Embassy! Another guy stamped and witnessed our signatures. Mission accomplished. We were back home by 6pm.
attestazione

Next steps, we have to get four photos made. And we have to affix one to a piece of paper stating who we are and our address. Then we have to go to the Comune and get them to attest that we are who we say and that we live at that address. First we have to find that office since all the people from the Comune are scattered around town due to the renovation. I sure hope we can get the licenses after all this!

We made it!

Well it’s here…March. Meteorological spring. And it shows. The winter wheat is brilliant green. The forsythia is blooming. And I found some new things in the Wednesday market.

First, a picture from my kitchen door. Still wintery mountains but blue skies and the temperatures are reaching the 60s sometimes.
IMG_1121
I’ve seen agretti, or monks beard, always the first spring vegetable we see. Since Luther is not fond I don’t buy it but it’s a real delicacy only found in central Italy. This week I found asparagus! The first of the season. I asked the lady selling it where it came from and she said Spoleto which is here in Umbria. So I bought some!
IMG_1122
I also found these small cartons of tomatoes. They were grown in Sicily and reminded me of the Cherokee Purple variety. It also says on the carton I can see who grew my tomatoes on their website!
IMG_1115

I bought a new camera so I need to come up to speed on it so I can again post good pictures. We’ve also been doing our beginning of the year chores. Signing up for our health care this year was a royal pain. Normally we just take our social security statements in and pay our money. This year they told us they needed our paper to have a stamp on it from our American embassy in Rome. All of the stranieri were scuttling about trying to figure out how to do this but finally, after a phone call we managed to get it sorted. The Social Security section of our embassy has all our records…a surprise to me…so they were able to stamp it and send it to us via the Poste Italiane. So that’s done.

We also are starting to go through the process of getting our Permessi di Sogiorno renewed for the coming year. The fees have actually dropped this year to about 60 Euro each down from about 130 Euro last year. There also  seems to be another thing or two changed so we will have to wait and see.

Next week we again are trying to get our Italian driving licenses. This has been an ongoing saga. Stay tuned!

 

Buona Epifania!

Today is Epifania or Epiphany in English. I looked this up…”On January 6 the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany. This religious feast brings a fulfillment of all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the end of the Advent-Christmas season. Three mysteries are encompassed in this solemnity: the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana. Epiphany is also known as Three Kings’ Day, in other branches of Christianity. A Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.”

Here in Umbertide we also celebrate Befana, the Christmas witch. Amusingly, she arrives in an Ape, a three wheel truck-type vehicle. She distributes candy! I took her photo and she gave me candy! I must have been good this year. Here she is!

dsc06598

And there she goes…
dsc06602

In Italian folklore she is thought to have originated in central Italy near where we live. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. Since before Babbo Natale arrived on the scene, Italian children have been celebrating the annual visit of La Befana.

Befana is said to visit all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.

According to legend Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Christ child was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she said no, that she was too busy with her housework and sweeping up. Later, la Befana had a change of heart, and she tried to search out the location of the baby Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so forever after, la Befana has been flying over the grapevines and olive trees searching for the little baby and leaving children candy in hopes the Christ child is there.

There are many different versions of this legend to this day, some darker than the above. One tells that la Befana was mother to a child that died, and she went mad with grief. When Jesus was born, she sought him out. She thought that he was her child. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave la Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

Now la Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and she has become a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Epiphany held the most importance.

You can find images of la Befana all through Italy. She is not romanticized, she is an ugly hag with missing teeth and a torn dress holding a broom with a crazy grin on her face. I guess Italians don’t want to make their hag a prettier, more acceptable figure. They like her just as she is. A very Italian attitude!
befana

And the Italian children love playing the la Befana game. The words of this song vary in different areas, but what I read is that children gather in a seated circle with a shoe behind each of them. The designated witch walks behind them while the children sing:

Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana

The English translation is:

Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!

Prettier in Italian!

Once the song is over, all the children open their eyes, and check their shoes. Whoever finds the candy that the “Befana” has hidden there wins!

I hope my friend Michelle Damaini of il Bel Centro won’t mind my quoting her here…she wrote, “Because I love celebrating La Befana. Not just for the very Italian-ness that connects me back to the curling fog and hastening twilight of January in Spello. No, you see La Befana as a reminder. A reminder to stop sweeping, look up, and listen. Magic is all around, we just need to be open to it. We just need to listen.” Nice…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Yesterday it snowed…
Just to document it, we had snow squalls here yesterday. South and east of us they actually got a lot of snow. Here it is very cold and blue skies today. See our snow squalls…
dsc06594

dsc06597

It’s a banner day for us!

Luther took his A2 Italian proficiency test week before last and got notification a week later that he had passed! This is our (we hope) last hurdle to comply with our immigration agreement.

Today, we traveled again to the Perugia immigration office. We had copies of our house papers, our Italian health cards and our two A2 test certificates. The young woman there filled out all our forms and printed them out. Next she rubber stamped and rubber stamped dated them all. We went to the head honcho’s office and he signed all the forms, individually! And we were on our way. The top form said:

RE: Outcome of the Immigration Agreement assessment: Certified fulfillment.

The next page indicates we have achieved 34 points on the point system they use here. We needed 30. I’m letting out a big breath of relief. A 2+ year effort! And we didn’t have to take the dreaded Italian Civics class!

See the tree, how big it’s grown…

We brought the Christmas tree that we bought the first Christmas we were here inside for the season. It lives out on the terrace throughout the year except for December. This is the 2016 tree. it is sitting on the floor.
dsc06535

And THIS is the itty, bitty 2014 tree. It is sitting on a stool to make it taller. That’s no longer necessary!
dsc03732

Here is our town tree all lit up.
dsc06561

Today was an exceptionally foggy day. And, unlike many days, it lasted all day. I braved the cold and went out to see what sort of images I could get. I thought they would look better in black and white. Very atmospheric. Here are a few. Click for a larger version.

This is la Rocca or our fortress with a smoking chimney in front of it.
dsc06538bw

The bridge over the Tiber.
dsc06544bw

Road along the river.
dsc06550bw

Interesting tree.
dsc06554bw

The town walls and houses above it from across the river.
dsc06556bw

And finally, a lone fisherman.
dsc06543bw

Thoughts on my recent visit to the US

I’ve been reflecting on my trip to the US. I must confess, I do not miss living there. The random things that I noticed:

  1. The restaurant servers all want to not only serve me my food, they want to be my best friend!
  2. Prices have either really gone up a LOT, or I am too used to Umbria prices. Gasp!
  3. Sales people are very helpful and friendly.
  4. There were a TON of rats in DC.
  5. I knew there were a lot of commercials for pharmaceuticals but it has gotten MUCH worse. I read only two countries allow this, the US and New Zealand. It was relentless.
  6. There was nothing on the news except for the election.
  7. There is a building boom like nowhere else in the world going on, at least in the DC area.
  8. Virginia is The most beautiful state 🙂
  9. Autumn is as pretty as I remembered it to be.
  10. I still love Chesapeake Bay oysters better than any others!
  11. Coffee is still really bad there…compared to Italy that is!

happy to be back in Umbria!