Category Archives: Eating

‘Tis the season of the Cinghiale hunt – wild boar

Our friend Vera gave us a good amount of wild boar meat for a Christmas present. I must say, there’s a first time for everything! Her father-in-law is an avid boar hunter and always has a freezer full. I plan to make it for our New Years Eve dinner. She even brought a good bundle of herbs to cook it with, juniper, sage, rosemary and thyme. I will stew it until it falls off the bone and make it into a ragu or I will just make a stew. Mm mmmm good! I will report back. I plan to cook it on New Years Eve.

We happened on a boar hunt last week. There were probably fifty cars along the mountain road and hunters with guns everywhere. A fire burned to ward of the cold. Dogs were in cages in the backs of trucks. It was around 10 AM and the hunt was already finished.

After a hunt. (They can kill any number of boar. There is no limit. It is not unheard of to kill 100 at a time!)
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Not knowing much about it I looked it up. Also I borrowed the pictures herein. Here are some facts I learned. There are about 150,000 wild boar in Tuscany and Umbria. A female boar has two litters a year with 3 to 13 piglets in each. Even though 30,000 boar are killed a year it is impossible to keep up.

Mama and her piglets.
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70% of the hunters are from Sardinia, Tuscany and Umbria. And Italy being Italy, each region claims its boar is superior to another region’s. Tuscans will tell you that the fiercest boar lives in the Maremma. Tuscans will also tell you their boar tastes best because it feasts on the chestnuts that grow in the area’s forests. Sardinians will boast that theirs, being an island boar, is closest to the animals the Greeks first found on Capri and thus is the true Italian boar. They claim it’s tastiest because it feeds on the acorns that fall from the island’s groves of oaks. Umbrians contend that their boar is the most refined and the best tasting, for a reason that is hard to argue with: The countryside is rich in pungent black truffles, a favorite food of the boar’s throughout the winter.

Cinghiale hunts called cacciarella (“small hunt”) are highly choreographed and organized activities. The season begins 1 November and ends 31 January. Squadre (teams) for each territory need official registration, a boss and at least 50 members, all of whom must take a hunting course. They must re-register annually and renew their firearm licences every six years. If on the day of the hunt less than 20 hunters show up, the hunt cannot officially proceed.

Hunting days are specified by law with three days per week assigned to each locality during the season. The teams work year-round training their dogs, who have a high possibility of being killed during the hunt. And not in a pretty way.

On the day of the hunt, the team divides into canai (the men with the dogs), postaioli (the men in position with rifles) and tracciatori (the trackers).

A typical start to the hunt involves 20 tracciatori searching for fresh traces. Once done, they go back to the base to confer with the capocaccia (boss of the hunt), who decides on the best zone. The 30-50 postaioli form a horseshoe close to the fresh tracks, keep still and wait.

Next the 10 canai come along, each with seven or eight trained dogs. At the capocaccia’s command, they release their dogs in hopes of flushing out a cinghiale and directing it towards the horseshoe-shaped trap of the gun-wielding postaioli.

Hunters may shoot only straight ahead, so even if a hunter sees the boar first, but it is not directly in front of him, he must wait for his fellow postaiolo to shoot so as not to endanger the lives of others.

Once the boar has been shot, it is taken to the hunting headquarters, weighed, identified by its teeth for age, and written in the records; then it is hung and bled, skinned and left for two days at 0°C to frollare-develop flavor and relax the flesh. Then the team divides the boar, with each person on the hunt getting a piece.

In Italy no part of the cinghiale goes to waste. The meat, of course, gets eaten, either as hard salami, softer salsiccia, or ham, while the best boars are often cured and aged as that great delicacy, prosciutto di cinghiale. The white tusks are occasionally carved into buttons and knife handles or mounted in gold and worn by women as pendants. The thick hair is used for hairbrushes, toothbrushes, dartboards, and the little sprigs you see on traditional Tyrolean hats.

Male boar.
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I read this account of one hunt on an estate in Tuscany. “It is tradition in Italy that there be a feast provided by the lord or lady of the estate after the hunt. We were not disappointed. Roast pork, Tuscan steak, pappardelle, spaghetti, sausages, cured meats, hunks of cheese, countless bottles of wine, and more were spread out on a giant U-shaped table set for 40. The hunters traded tales from the morning. We finished lunch a couple of hours later and walked outside to have coffee.”

The Christmas season

For us it has been a lovely time. We welcomed guests, had a small get together with the guests and friends, a beautiful Open House that we attended, a pizza Christmas Eve with friends, and a lovely Christmas lunch at Joseph and Paul’s house to which we all contributed.

Our friends arrived on December 18. There were three of them, two who live in Doha, Qatar and one in Jersey City, NJ. I know George from when he was a colleague of mine at MITRE Corp in the 1980s. We kept in touch and George and Mary visited us in Germany in the 1990s. Since then we know where each other are but seldom see one another so we were very happy that they got the time to come to Italy for Christmas. I am sure it is very different from Doha!  Warren, their friend from NJ, we had not met but were very happy to make his acquaintance. We only had a short time so we took them to Assisi, which is the top stop in Umbria. It was lovely for Christmas dressed up with many Creche. The Basilica of San Francesco took their breaths away as it always does mine. I was absolutely amazed. When we arrived– We. Were. The. Only. People. In. The. Upper church!! I have been countless times but not in December. Wow. It was a very spiritual experience. We have always jostled with crowds. The vistas from the town, even though the weather was spitting rain, were pretty. We had a special lunch at Piazetta delle Erbe, our favorite restaurant there. It was very good here are a few pictures of the beautifully presented food.

Risotto
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Salmon
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Pork
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The next day we stayed in Umbertide for the morning market. Everyone tried the Porchetta, a local specialty of slow roasted pork with cracklin’. On a roll it makes the perfect breakfast! We perused the produce and checked out the “walmart” come to town with other wares. Afterwards they shopped at Buscatti for Umbrian textiles and the cashmere shop for beautiful fashions from Umbria. I bet many people don’t know Umbria is well known for it’s wonderful cashmere made right here.

We headed to lunch in Montone. a nearby hilltown, at a place called Tipico. Excellent, locally sourced Umbrian dishes. The day was beautiful. Not at all cold and blue skies. The views from Montone are spectacular.

This evening I had invited most of our American neighbors over to meet our guests and have a little refreshment. It was very much fun, I think, for all. Here is a very bad picture taken with my Ipad. Sorry.
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Alas, all good things must come to an end and we escorted them to the train station and sent them on their way for a few days in Venice. It should be pretty at Christmas. Italian towns go all out with the decorations and Venice, with it’s canals, must be beautiful with the lights.

Now things have settled down for a long winters sleep. We watch the fields that, even now, are awakening with the winter wheat, bright green. January and February are long, dark and cold but we take heart that the days grow longer now and spring comes here in March. A belated Buon Natale and I wish you all a Buon Anno!

A US wedding trip

We are just back from our trip to the US to help celebrate our nephew’s wedding. A good time was had by all.

We arrived in DC on a Sunday and crashed. Then we did a couple of days sightseeing and a day of shopping. We visited the newly re-opened Smithsonian Gallery of Art – East Wing. The building is in itself a work of art designed by I.M. Pei.

3000It’s only flaw was a limited amount of exhibit space. With this redesign it now has much expanded space and they opened two of the three towers. On the roof terrace is a big blue chicken sculpture by German artist Katharina Fritsch.dsc06475

We also got to see the recently de-scaffolded US Capital building. When we moved away it was completely covered. Now it gleams in the sun. It has never looked this good.

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We dined on some ethnic food to include Oyamel, a great Mexican place, and Rappahannock Oyster bar which has world class farmed oysters. We’ve missed them! The big splurge was Komi which many said should have received a Michelin star in the recently published guide. I will say it was mighty fine. There is no menu. They bring about 12 courses, starting small and getting bigger as they go along. So good. And we elected to get the wine pairing. We never do this but we were glad we did. The sommelier is excellent and all the wait staff made us feel very special. Recommend it.

On Thursday we rented a car and drove to The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA – about a 3 1/2 hour drive. We attended the beautiful wedding of our nephew, Dave and his bride Shira. It was a Jewish ceremony although our nephew is Christian. It was lovely. I did not take pictures. It was outside and the weather was fine. We partied into the night. I wish this young couple all the best in life.

While there we strolled the grounds and played a rousing game of mini-golf with Luther’s brothers family who were there from California. Again, the weather was perfect. The trees were beautiful.

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We are back home and I am happy to say we have finished our travels for this year. I am glad to be home in tranquil Umbertide. Long trip back. While we were gone there were three (!) earthquakes of 5.6, 6.1 and 6.6 on the Richter scale. No damage in Umbertide but in the mountains just 40 miles away is devastation. So much lost. One of my favorite cathedrals collapsed in the town of Norcia. Here is the picture I took about 2 years ago. Sadly it is almost totally destroyed. My heart goes out to the people. The one good bit of news is, no one was killed.

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On our way home we stopped for provisions. I spied, of all things(!) corn on the cob! Now, if you’ve been reading this you know I have searched for decent sweet corn since our first summer here. I found some inedible this past summer. So I slyly put my finger nail into a kernel and lo and behold! it squirted juice. This meant it wasn’t totally gone to starch. I notice they are grown in Umbria so are local. I bought two cobs and cooked them last night. They were decent! Sweet. Not as good a fresh summer corn but, good. The only thing that puzzles me is…it’s November! I mean who heard of corn in November?dsc06501

Coincidentaly, I had ordered corn to be sent to my sister. I picked it up on our trip so next year I will have corn! I hope to find someone with garden space to lend or rent. But one of these packets has “Container Corn”. It can be grown in pots! So next year my terrace will be farm-like. I am pretty excited about this!
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White Roads…and wine!

We are just back from a fun quick trip to Montalcino in Toscana. This town/area is famous for the Brunello di Montalcino, a wine from just this small area of the world. And, of course, very famous and it draws many visitors. That said, the town of Montalcino was a nice hill-town. It had its share of tourists (mostly American) but seemed to have it’s own life and locals living their lives within the walls. I read a book called “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” about life in this town. Pretty good for Italy fans.

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We visited two wineries on the way. Little did we know almost all the wineries in this area are on White Roads. These are gravel roads that are not meant for a car like ours. We also should have called for appointments. The first one, Innocenti the person was not there until afternoon. But along this White Road I snapped some spectacular pictures. The day was just perfect. Look at that sky!
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We visited Sasso di Sole winery on the way back down the white road. Their wine was pretty good. We bought some. The nice woman there recommended a restaurant down the road a bit. It was in a spa, or hot spring town called Bagno Vingnoni. It was lovely. The main part of the little town surrounds the walled in spring which is where the main, hot spring surges up from underground. You can see the bubbles roiling the water. Surrounding this area are restaurants and spa buildings. We visited Il Loggiato and had a very tasty hamburger of Chianina beef, the famous white cattle of Tuscany. Perfect lunch outside under blue skies. Nice. I would never have known to go here! Very below the radar.

This is the penned up spring.
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Water really bubbles up from below.dsc06452

My burger. Unconventional bun with olive oil, But why not!?  dsc06454
After the spring bubbles up it flows underground and out into spillways where people sun bathe and soak for free.  dsc06459

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Finally flows into this river.
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Water running down the wall for probably centuries has built up quite a mineral deposit.
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We returned to Innocenti and this time we got to try their wines. Nice man. I was amused by the fact that he asked us after the wine tasting if we wanted to taste the olive oil. I said I preferred Umbrian oil so no thank you. Well after we had purchased some wine he brought out a bottle of the oil and gave it to me as a “gift”. Ha. I guess he was miffed at my comment and was going to try to get me to change my mind about my preference. Sweet.

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We arrived in Montalcino in late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town which advertised “free parking”. We drove the Porsche and when the proprietor saw it he said maybe we shouldn’t try to drive to his parking. Turns out the road had been badly washed out and a car like ours had a VERY hard time getting down it. We did but it was not pretty. We did drag the undercarriage a few times. The hotel was quite nice called Vecchia Oliviera. The proprietor was nice. Rooms very spacious with really pretty views. Not many people were staying there. We could easily walk to everything in town.

Misty morning view from our room.
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That evening we walked up into town to a restaurant called Drogheria Franci where we had a good meal which was not traditional Tuscan. A little more innovative than one would expect. The town of Montalcino is not very big but on a hill. At the top was the Fortress. We were near this.

Next day we were off on quests for more wine. We were off on yet another White Road! After 3 or 4 kilometers we finally got there. This one was called Fattoi. A nice young girl gave us a tasting (it was 10 am!). We bought some wine and headed out to find more. The countryside in this part of Tuscany is extremely diverse. It ranges from verdant wine areas to barren wasteland. I do not know why this is.

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We were unsuccessful in finding our next winery. It seemed to be on a White Road that was impassable without a 4 wheel drive. Resigned, we returned to Montalcino. We visited an enoteca which was also a restaurant. It filled up quickly and I only heard American voices. The lunch was quite good and the views were killer across the valley. Back to our room for a nap.

Lunch.
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That evening we had reservations at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was up near the Fortress. Food more traditional Tuscan. Very nice place.

All in all a nice getaway. I am a little tired of traveling and am looking forward to staying home for a couple of weeks.

Our company has gone :-(

Well we had a terrific visit with Lenny and Mary. They arrived a bit late for lunch and we had Pasta Amitriciana for dinner. Little did we know then that the small town, Amitrice, where that pasta was invented was to be mostly destroyed by an earthquake just a few days later. We were awakened by our beds shaking in the night.

On Sunday we had been invited to a pre-wedding celebration lunch at Calagrana and we figured Lenny and Mary, being fun-loving folks wouldn’t mind going. The day was beautiful and we drove up to Citta di Castello beforehand for some photos. There must have been 25 people there and Tom and Carol, the honorees, were late. By the time they arrived the Prosecco had been freely flowing and most were buzzed a bit. That was OK, it was a celebration. The food was good and the people nice and there was even dancing.

On Monday we went to Gubbio. It is such a gorgeous medieval city. One of the best in Italy.

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It is difficult to reach by public transportation so not as crowded as most towns around. Lenny snapped away. He is a big photographer. We also both bought lovely Etruscan style pottery. Mary and Lenny got a pitcher with pretty gold etching. Very elegant. I went with more austere – I was drawn to the shape of this one.

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Afterwards we drove to Montone to Erbe Luna for lunch outside. It was very breezy all day and quite pleasant.

Tuesday we drove to Assisi. Of course it was very crowded, being August and such a sacred site. I tried to hurry us along to the Basilica because they now have a metal detector you have to go through. I knew the line could be long. We didn’t get there quite as fast as I tried to but it was only about a 20 minute wait. Next visit, if it’s in the summer, I will insist we walk quickly through town, see the Basilica and then shop and photo to our hearts content afterwards. That said, by the time we left the churches the line was amazing! It was probably at least an hour wait…and in the hot sun too. We had lunch at Piazetta del Erbe. We had been before and very much like it. They didn’t have our reservation for some reason, but were sweet and set up a table in the shade for us. Here is my food, grilled octopus in a lime mayo and seared tuna on a caviar base. The octopus was tender with the tips crunchy from the grill. Yum!

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On Wednesday we visited our market and picked up stuff for dinner. Then headed to Tiberini for a wine tasting. We had to insert ourselves into a group of ten so it wasn’t as nice as usual. Then we headed to Montefalco for lunch at L’Alchemista. Good as always and sat outside in the Piazza. Next up shopping! We went to Deruta where we bought pottery. Here is my new bowl. I love the vibrant colors and the handles!
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Alas, Thursday arrived and we took our guests to the train station to head down to Rome. It had been a fun trip which could have turned out badly as JUST before they came we decided to get the car all cleaned up. Nice of us huh? But it turned into a fateful encounter with the washing machine which pulled the entire nose piece of our car off. One side hung down onto the floor. GEEZ. Well we tied it up with a bit of string and went to our auto-body guy. He proceeded to put in bigger screws and managed to secure it. All you could see were a couple of scratches. We did order a new part but this worked for taking the four of us around. We have no idea what we would have done if not for this quick fix. Thank you Senore Auto Body guy!

On Monday we are off to Portugal – Rome to Lisbon RyanAir – to re-connect with our Australian friends. We will drive to the villa they rented and spend three nights and then drive to Lisbon for three nights. We have never been to Portugal and it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

All good things must come to an end…

For the last week I have been hosting a group of the BEST EVER women. They are five members of my stateside book group. We have been together for nearly twenty years. And good years they have been. I’ve missed going to the get togethers very much so I was really looking forward to seeing them and showing them around our neck of the woods. The original criteria for joining our group were: being in close proximity to one another, and you must love to cook, eat, drink wine and read. Since we formed we have been through marriages, divorce, the births of four children and retirements. Some of us moved away. One to Los Angeles, one to Naples FL, one to Maryland (so still close-ish) and me to Italy. The five who came are from CA, FL, MD, and two from Virginia. Because we are food and wine oriented my planning included good places to eat, a wine tasting and a cooking class.

We picked them all up at the Rome airport after renting a car big enough for seven. We caravanned to Montepulciano the first day for lunch at La Grotta. It was a good first lunch. Then we drove the two cars to Calagrana where we were staying two nights. Ely was the perfect host for our group for the entire stay there. Luigi, our driver AKA Luther my other half went home to take care of the cats. The group had a light dinner at Calagrana that evening and it was good as ever.

Breakfast at Calagrana – homemade pastries!
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Sunday we drove to Umbertide and picked up Luigi and drove to Perugia to do some touring. We took the MiniMetro up into town. Afterward we drove to Roncolfo to eat at one of our favorite fish places. It was Mothers Day so crowded and slow but we had fun…and four bottles of wine! The food was good. We drove back to Calagrana and had a picnic of prosciutto, cheese and bread. They serve only lunch on Sunday there.

The five in Perugia. Pam is behind Melissa. Sorry Pam!
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Monday I had arranged that we have a cooking class with Alberto, the chef at Calagrana. It started at 10am.

Pam and Mitzi, ready to work.
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Lynn, Ellie and Melissa watch attentively.DSC05537We first prepped the eggplant for the ravioli. We created a dice which was fried and then added a prepared, roasted eggplant into the mix and some Parmesan cheese. It was the essence of eggplant!
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We then took some mashed potatoes which were mixed with flour and tossed it in our hand to make a ball. We then used the side of our hand to make a little knob which made it resemble a pear. To finish the illusion we took a clove to be the end of the pear and a piece of spaghetti to be the stem. This would be deep fried as a side for the chicken.

Ellie finished her “pear”.
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Melissa tries her hand.
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Finished potato “pears”DSC05549

We then prepared a mousse of chicken and truffles to stuff the upcoming chicken leg.
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We started the makings of a warm salad of greens, a lemon and oil dressing, chicken livers and polenta croutons. Chef showed us a bunch of uses for polenta to include polenta lasagna. Good for gluten free folks. For the salad we were going to make polenta croutons (below).

DSC05605We next learned how to debone a chicken leg and stuff it with the mousse. We dipped it into oil and salt and pepper and rolled the finished product in aluminum foil. It was baked for 30 minutes and would hold in the oven for two hours making it a nice dinner party entree.

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Legs rolled in aluminum foil and labeled with our names. We each will eat the one we made.
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Next we made pasta. Alberto does not create a well in flour and incorporate the egg as we previously had learned. He uses a bowl and kneads it into the flour until a dough forms.
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After he runs the dough through the pasta machine at high setting to knead it.
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Cut into rectangles.
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Never leave dough unwrapped or it will dry out. Wrap in plastic wrap.
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We did hands on finishing it up using the manual pasta machine. We learned how to make many shapes and how to freeze them for future meals. Chef Alberto is all about making a large amount if you are going to the trouble, then freezing it. We made eggplant ravioli and Chef flash froze it before cooking. He says all pasta should be frozen and not thawed before cooking. Just toss the frozen stuff into the boiling water and return to a boil and it will be done.

Chef Alberto demonstrates how to roll the pasta on the machine. Do not take the pasta out of the machine as you roll it. If properly floured it will not stick together.
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Ready to make any shape of pasta.
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Many shapes.
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This will be ravioli. Chef wets it with water on one side.
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The eggplant goes about 2 fingers apart. Only make four in a row and then space. Easier to work with.
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Fold the dough across and press lightly. Form into packets.
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Now it’s our turn to try. Ellie manning the pasta machine.
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Melissa gives it a try.
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Mitzi at the machine.
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Lynn with Ely looking on.
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Melissa makes her ravioli packets.
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Pam carefully folds the dough over her eggplant.
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Finally it was time to finish and eat! Alberto sautéed the polenta croutons with pancetta until very brown and crisp. Meanwhile he sautéed the chicken livers. The warm croutons and chicken livers topped the greens tossed in the dressing. So good! Then we created a simple browned butter and thyme sauce for the ravioli. Chef tossed the now-frozen ravioli into boiling water and returned it to a boil. Then he tossed it into the browned butter sauce and tossed until finished. Sublime! Finally the chicken legs which had rested for around two hours were ready and they were sliced through to show the stuffing and were plated with the deep fried “pear” apples. We were stuffed!

Salad of warm chicken livers and croutons.
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Ravioli being served.
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Chicken and “pear”, plated and ready to eat.
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We headed down to Umbertide and took everyone to their accommodations. We had the use of a little apartment on the piazza just next to our house. Three of our people stayed there and endured the 68 steps up. The other two came to our house. This evening we began our Aperol spritz tradition. It is a nice cocktail from Prosecco, sparkling water and Aperol. The later has a slightly bitter orange taste. Refreshing and my go-to summer drink. We enjoyed them on the Piazza at Bar Mary. Then we went to our friends house for a light dinner. It was wonderful.

Tuesday we planned a trip to Assisi. We got an early start with breakfast and on the road at 9:30. It was great because we got ahead of the crowds and had the Basilica to ourselves. The weather was really nice. Not too hot or cold.

The lower church sanctuary.
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Goofing around and having an Aperol Spritz in the square in Assisi.
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I had been thwarted yet again by the restaurants weekly closing day so couldn’t go to the place I wanted. We went to a place I hadn’t tried called Osteria da Erminio. It was on a quiet square and we could eat outside. It was nice.

The fortress above Assisi.
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Wednesday was market day and I wanted them to all experience it. So fun. We all enjoyed the local speciality, porchetta. It is slow roasted whole pig sliced with the cracking onto buns. Breakfast of champions! We shopped around and bought some fava beans, new peas and thin asparagus for our pasta that evening. Also fruit for breakfast. We went to lunch in Montone at Erba Luna. It is embedded in the old hill town’s walls with pretty vaulted ceilings. The food is also very nice here. That evening we had Aperols at Bar Mary again 🙂 This night we introduced everyone to our favorite Italian game show…L’Eredita. Quirky and fun and even non-Italian speakers can enjoy it with a little help from Luigi. Dinner was orchietti with the spring veggies. Tasty!

Thursday we had arranged a wine tasting at Tabarrini in the Montefalco wine region. They are nice and have a good tasting with tasty snacks to go with the wines. Luigi bought three six packs of wine.

Outside it was storming across the valley.
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Then we headed to the hill town Montefalco for lunch at L’Alchimista. Excellent place. Too bad it was rainy so we had to eat inside.

Montefalco street.
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Then we went to Deruta for ceramics shopping. Most folks bought some. This evening we continued the Aperol cocktail hour at Bar Mary and the L’Eredita game show. We ordered pizza for dinner. At dinner my guests surprised me with the gift of a lovely bowl I had admired in Deruta. So sweet!

Vibrant colors!
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Alas, Friday arrived and we headed back to Roma. We stopped in Orvietto to see the Cathedral. It was a very windy day. We stopped at the Autogrill on the road to Roma for panini. Another Italian experience. We arrived in Fiumicino around three and checked into our hotel. We next fulfilled another necessary thing on the to-do list…gelato! Yum! Later we had our final Aperol at our hotel and watched L’Eredita for a final time and then off to dinner in our hotel one star Michelin restaurant. A very excellent dinner. More pricy than in Umbria but that’s to be expected.

Saturday dawned windy and stormy. Off to the airport with our charges. Such a sad moment as I had had SUCH a great time with my friends. We kissed our farewells until a future meeting. These ladies are such a part of my life. I know they always have my back no matter how far apart we live. I love them. Buon viaggio a tutti!

By the time they read this, they will be home…

 

Merrie Olde England – trip report – days 1 and 2

Another long trip report. If you are not interested just skip this post.

We are just back from Merrie Olde England. Oxfordshire to be precise, just at the edge of the Cotswolds. We flew RyanAir from Perugia to Stanisted. It took about two hours to get to our National Trust Cottage in Buscot village. It is called Lock House and used to be the lock keepers house. It was built in 1790 and has meter-thick stone walls throughout. We’ve stayed in four of these cottages so far and I think this one is the least comfortable. It does not have wifi which, in the future will be a priority. I like to keep in touch with my cat sitter via email. It’s also quite loud outside as it sits just beside a waterfall that roars. I am not sure if this is seasonal as it has been quite wet here. That said, it is fine for our six night stay.

Lock Cottage.
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Rookery. Rooks, like big crows, live in neighborhoods called Rookeries and are raucous. Also, if you park under them your car is trashed. Our rental definitely was!DSC05458

Just outside our cottage this torrent rushed from the river into a wier and thence back into the river. Very loud.
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Path along the canal over to the river.
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The Thames river itself. There is a path the whole way to Oxford.
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Our first day we arrived at about six in the evening and were pretty tired. We drove the two miles up the road to the Trout Inn, a pub. Inside was kind of odd because it had two long tables and a few small round ones in front of a cheery fire. The barman was large, cheerful of face and friendly. The menu was on chalk boards above the fire. At the other end of the room a band was setting up. It was Tuesday so that was kind of a surprise. The gents in the Thames Valley Jazz band as well as all the people in the place were older than us by a good bit.

We ordered the trout (what else?) and it was fried with lemon and butter with two generous bowls of sides. One was veggies, assorted. The other was french fries. The trout was excellent. They farm it in this area.

Trout by the fire. Cozy.
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The band got going and were playing jazz from before and during WWII, which I enjoyed. There was a coronet, clarinet, stand up bass and a banjo. They were all pretty good. Too bad they couldn’t sing.

The second day was sunny and cool. We decided to take the train into Oxford. It is a lovely city. Britain’s oldest university is here. It was founded in 1290. It is made up of many individual colleges, I think about 40. Some of the more famous are Brasenose 1509 (named for the brass nose-shaped door knocker on their main door), Christ Church 1120, Exeter 1314 etc. we picked up a little guidebook and it lists a few of the famous people who attended the colleges. Christ Church had William Penn. Brasenose, Michael Palin. Exeter, J.R.R. Tolkien. Magdalen College, Cardinal Wolsey, Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, Prince of Wales, Dudley Moore and 14 prime ministers. Anyone who is anyone went here! Oh and there is a HUGE rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford. The architecture spans the centuries and so is quite beautiful and remarkable. Just a few pictures of the many I took are below.

This is the pulpit in one of the college chapels.
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For Harry Potter fans. This statue in front of a college building was who Nearly Headless Nick was patterned after. Recognize him?
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Room where the students go to gown-up before graduation. It is a glorious room. These ceiling carvings are each made up of a college donors initials. You had to give 500,000 pounds to get up there.
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One of the beautiful windows in the same chapel.
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The whole room. This also was in the first and third Harry Potter movies. It was the hospital where Hermione was taken when she was hurt.
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Main cathedral.
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Some of the college buildings.
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We had lunch in the Turf Tavern, a 14th century pub. It is famous because it was the place that Bill Clinton said, “…but I didn’t inhale”. Pretty good pub food. We returned to our cottage in late afternoon after shopping for dinner provisions. A nice day.

Days three and four.

A day in Siena

On Sunday we took a day trip to Sienna. It was many years since our last trip on a long ago vacation. We are only 1 1/2 hours away by car on pretty good roads. We had thought last summer to go but decided to wait until there would be less people. We parked in one of the numerous lots and walked into the center. The Piazza is one of the largest I’ve ever seen and it is where they hold the Palio horse race two times a year. The city is divided into 17 contrade, or distinct neighborhoods each centered on a main street with a church. They each have a banner with animals or symbols to identify them and each contrada has its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. The neighborhoods are fiercely competitive and each contrada has a horse running in the Palio. I am told if you marry outside of your contrada each member of the couple still must remain loyal to their own contrada and split up for the meetings and to cheer on your horse.

Enough of the history. There is tons more. This Sunday happened to be one of two weekends a year that they have a really big market in the Piazza. About half of the vendors were food sellers. The rest were selling clothes, scarves, hats, and trinkets. Here are a few photos of the market. This one shows the scope of this square and the market.

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Cheese.
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Prosciutto and meats.
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Beautiful rosemary encrusted cheese.
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These are not contrade flags. We thought they may have been the flag of the Hapsburgs who used to rule the city. They were pretty anyway so I took their picture.
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The Duomo is one of the prettiest in Italy in my opinion. It was hard to get a picture. The facade was so ornate.

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Inside the cathedral.

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Beautiful marble scenes embedded in the floor. Vibrantly colorful. They keep them covered mostly, and randomly uncover some for a while. You can’t walk on them.

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We also toured the building across from the Duomo. It was the first hospital not run by the church and was built for the common folks as well as the wealthy. They spared no expense on the frescoes inside! A civic hospital dedicated to caring for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims. It is the oldest surviving hospital in the world. According to legend, the Hospital was founded in 898 by a cobbler named Sorore. However, the first known document mentioning it is a “deed of gift” from March 29, 1090. Too bad we don’t care for our sick like the Sienese did way back then.

Frescoes in the hospital.

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And finally…lunch! We had an excellent lunch at PorriOne. Very upscale food. Very unusual combinations

Two appetizers.
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My secondi.
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I didn’t take a photo but they brought a scoop of gelato kind of as a free pre-dessert. It was sprinkled with coarse salt and drizzled with fruity olive oil. Amazing combination and it worked!

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Pasqua or Easter is a big deal here in Italy. They start on Palm Sunday with a Mass held outside with olive branches in lieu of palm fronds. Then on Good Friday they have a procession through town. They have a body representing Christ that they carry behind all the priests with big torches burning. The band plays a dirge and the faithful follow behind with candles. It is pretty moving to watch. I took a film which is below. It is from our third floor window down into the street below as the procession passed by. On Easter Sunday they have the traditional big lunch after Mass. Lamb is the tradition. Tomorrow is Pasquetta (also a holiday) and traditionally all the Italians go for a picnic but sometimes to a restaurant for ANOTHER big lunch! Their reward after Lent I guess.

We have been trying to get out and about more lately now that the weather is improving. We took a trip to Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame). We had been once before on a vacation and in all this time here we had not returned. It was a blustery day and the parking lots, normally full, were empty. The front of the theater has this cool lantern on it
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We went to the Osteria del Teatre for lunch. It is a very old fashioned Tuscan place with friendly service and was pretty popular. Note the projector and retracted screen for presentations on the beamed ceiling.
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I had the baccalà, or salt cod. It has to be soaked for days to go from it’s totally dried out state to something edible. It was good.
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I don’t normally have dessert but my interest was piqued by this odd looking thing below. It had a handle inserted into the center which they turned and a blade shaved it into curls. It is made of white chocolate and ground pistachio nuts. I had it on homemade gelato and it was divine!
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Our wine had the same name as the house from Under the Tuscan Sun. I don’t think they are related, but maybe?
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View from the town. See Lago di Trasemeno in the distance? Also the town, named Terontola, on the flatlands has the main Rome to Florence rail line. You can see the straight arrow of the tracks. This is the station we use to go to either place. It has safe, free parking.
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Then on Friday we drove down to DiFillipo winery in the Montefalco area to taste and buy some wine. They don’t call this the “Green heart of Italy” for nothing!
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And continuing my food theme. Another of the odd differences between Italy and the US. This time of year there is a lot of lamb for sale. Not other times very much. It is hard to find. So I indulged in the lamb shoulder roast as I had a recipe. As I unwrapped it I noticed that it had the actual leg attached to the shoulder. And on the leg there was what looked like the hoof! Or what was left of the hoof. Note below. I am here to report the lamb was very good. I just ignored the hoof!
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