Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

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.😋

Magical

Just before Christmas we were happy to be invited to dinner with our Italian friends Simone and Simona. We were invited, along with Susan and Gary, to their agriturismo called Podere Vallescura up in the nearby mountains. They are Milanese. Both technically educated. He inherited his family property here and moved away from the hubbub of Milan. It had been uninhabited for 40 years so it has needed much work. They are totally off the grid. Solar and wind plus batteries. Sheep, chickens, olives — all biodynamic. They rent a vacation apartment. Not a lot of cash flow but they make it work. Lovely people.

When we went into the house they had a tiny wood stove with sizzling polenta and sausages going and a lovely big fire in their large corner fireplace. Everything is built by them but it works. It was cozy. They had invited a woman from Merano, up near the alps. It is the German speaking part of Italy. She has a ruin she’s restoring nearby. Her name is Renate. The polenta was served unsalted but with the very salty sausage it was perfect. I’ve been craving it ever since! Then Simone made a lovely risotto with fungi. It was served with their amazing olive oil and bread and also a very special rosemary infused oil. Simone has a still and so he distilled it. Really good. They should sell it! Then we had cheeses — a Parmesan, a nice goat, and a Gorgonzola dolce. With fennel that was cooked tender. And finally, home made yogurt with cinnamon and sweet crumbly and lebkuchen cookies that Renate made. There were also shelled walnuts from their trees.

While I was there I pictured us in their warm, cozy house as though viewed from above, with nothing else nearby in the dark mountains. We were seven people, a pinpoint of light and camaraderie, who enjoyed a special meal and our own company in a warm cozy haven. It was magical.

The drive back was a bit difficult as it was dark and there were creatures in the road. Gary, bless his heart, drove. The roads are paved but narrow and winding and high on the mountainside. The moon, nearly full, illuminated the countryside.🌖 As I said, magical.✨

Whoo hooo!

A Christmas present. I just checked the Polizia di Stato website and our Permessi are ready!!! We applied to renew them in early February. And here it is, only TEN months later and they are ready! The old ones expired in June. So I told Luther, when we go to collect them we’ll thank them and say “OK, see you next month!” Which is about right to start the process all over again. 🙄

Good deeds for those in need

In Umbertide, like most of Italy, there are needy people. Mostly immigrants. They are forever begging, or trying to sell trinkets like tissues, lighters or socks. Many are black Africans or Muslim. There seems to be almost an organized quality to them. The sellers usually seem to have the same things to sell. Are they going to distribution centers? And every grocery store in town has what seems to be its “assigned” person. Usually an African man. They are cheerful and try to be helpful. Many speak English. People tolerate them. They ask to take your basket back so they can get your one Euro deposit.

There is a government support system for immigrants. A place to stay and a stipend is provided. They must adhere to Italian values like religious freedom and gender equality which may not be the case in their own societies. They must send their girls to school. They must learn Italian, integrate into the community, volunteer. They will be put on job lists. And housing lists.

I’ve noticed shopkeepers in town are regularly hit upon to give them something. The same people go into, for instance Angelo’s Alimentari downstairs from us. Once a week or so he gives them something. They seem to be amicable to one another. Today, I was in Angelo’s and a woman came in with a baby. She was drawn and wan looking. She asked Angelo for something for her baby to eat. Cheerfully, he asked her what sort of pizza bread she would like. Pomodoro she said. He took a piece of tomato pizza bread and wrapped it and gave it to her. I gave her 2 euro. She gratefully accepted. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, just her little one.

Unfortunately not a rare occurrence. And good deeds don’t just happen at Christmas time.