Category Archives: cooking

Lemon harvest!

My little lemon tree had 12 lemons on it! I am amazed at the output of these little trees. They flower and fruit all year. Already we have many new flowers and baby lemons. So I harvested ten of the pretty lemons and decided to make preserved lemons with them. Then I can make some Moroccan food this fall. They have to sit for at least three months.

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Bellissimo view with our new Tende di Sole open.
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Table set for dinner all’aperto. Nice. Did you know Al Fresco doesn’t mean eating outside in Italian? It means spending time in jail!
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Kilometer zero market

Beautiful weather has brought EVERYONE outside for the Kilometer zero market. I’ve mentioned it before but to explain again, it is a market of only local and self producing or growing vendors. Diverse but much smaller than the Wednesday market. I bought a jar of tiny preserved artichokes and the nice lady gave a jar of asparagus paste to put on bread, fish, chicken, just about anything. I also browsed through all the stands, thoroughly enjoying the scene.

Items for sale by the nice Senora
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The local Alpaca farm called Maridana Alpaca brought in their wares. All natural colors of the Alpacas.
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The baker from Citta di Castello is always at this market with pizza bread, focaccia, breads, donuts(!) and sweets.bread

Next weekend is Pasqua which is Easter. Everywhere you go there are small to giant chocolate eggs and specialized cakes and biscotti. This is a cake all wrapped up and ready to go! Today is Palm Sunday and I was treated to a lovely bell serenade from the big bells in the old church on the Piazza. They are wonderful.easter_cake

This is my favorite greens and vegetable man. He also sells herbs and plants for the garden.greens

Local honey and products of the bees.honey

Black kale is what the sign says but I’ve never seen any like this before. I didn’t buy it. I think you’d prepare it like any cavolo nero.
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And here is the Slow Food booth. They had all sorts of free food for the taking. I tried that square cake. It was apple and super moist.   slow_food

Anyway, that was my day at the market. And later that afternoon me made the Passagiata (stroll through town) along with a bazillion Italians. Then sat in Bar Mary to have an aperitivo and watch the action. We are happy it’s spring!

Gorgeous Saturday

We are just back from a three night trip to Torino (Turin). I will post about it soon. But today we are just enjoying this beautiful spring weather. Everyone is out and about and Umbertide is coming alive after the long hibernation. I bought some more asparagus today. This time it is wild asparagus that people around here go out in the fields and woods and forage. I am looking forward to trying it tonight.  I am now using my new Canon EOS 100D camera. Takes nice pictures! Click to see larger versions.

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I also got a tip from a friend about a butcher I had never tried. I don’t know why I hadn’t as it is very close to us. Perhaps because there is a large butcher just before you get to it that I always went to to buy our meat. This butcher shop is quite small. The selection is different too. They always stock Pork Belly or Pancetta in big slabs. I got to try it recently and it was melt in your mouth good with great cracklin’ skin. They also always have lamb and of course beef and chicken. I decided on a pork leg and first seared in the oven, then slow cooked it. We will eat it tonight.

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This time of year is artichoke season. I do love them. But I don’t buy them like the Italians do! they get dozens at a time! Goodness knows what they do to them. I’d like to know!artichokes

And these are the beautiful “famous onions of Canarra”. They are very sweet. Two people come with their van every week. A very old man and a young man who must be his grandson. They are very nice and I always tell them buongiorno even if I’m not buying that day. The onions are beautifully braided. I buy whole ropes of them. They are perfect on salads and roasted. They also caramelize like a dream.onions

This is the old man. I’m sorry his face is in shadow. It was a very sunny day. His grandson is in the van behind him braiding more onions.

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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.
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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!
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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!
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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!

 

Pranzo

Last Sunday we were happy to join Alberto the chef at Calagrana, the nearby Agriturismo, for Sunday lunch. Ely is in England tending to her Mom. We missed her. But we enjoyed Alberto’s “old fashioned lunch”. It consisted of a starter of lasagna bolognese (no picture – ate it before I thought!). He said it was his grandmothers recipe. Next we had steak Diane. It brought back memories of my sister making this for my mother. It is traditionally made tableside.

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Then we had a Lemon Padlova which was unfamiliar to me but was excellent.
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Archie is the resident terrier and happy to visit.
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Last week, I was craving banana pudding but realized I could never make it here without Nilla Vanilla wafers. BUT! I remembered a resource I had not tried called My American Market based in Europe to provide Expats with ingredients they are craving. Once I got on their site I couldn’t resist the other items and figured it was worth it to buy them all at once! Sure!
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Here’s my haul. Pam is something I’ve been wanting for ages. You cannot bring aerosol cans on airplanes so there was no way to get it here.
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Winter snow

Winter here in Italy has been brutal so far. Friend in Abruzzo, next region to us, had 3 feet of snow! Other friends way down south in Basilicata and Campagna are also slammed with frozen water pipes and lots of snow. Yesterday earthquakes south of us triggered a tragic avalanche in Abruzzo which completely buried a hotel. 4 dead and 27 missing so far. We felt the quakes here but they were not strong. There were 10 quakes in the last 24 hours.

We have had our first snow. It was only a dusting but probably the most I’ve seen here since we came. I heard it was much worse up in the hills surrounding us. Still it was pretty.

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Montone is the hill town nearby. This is the mountain upon which it sits. It was snowing so the view is softened.DSC06612

Luther wanted a steak yesterday. Cuts here are very different from the US but this one is familiar. Here it is called a Contrafiletto. In the US it is a ribeye. Ready to grill!DSC06615

The fire was welcome in more ways that one. It warmed my frigid kitchen up and I sat close by to enjoy the warmth. It also cooked our dinner of steak and two potatoes wrapped in foil and embedded in the coals.
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Finished product. It was pretty good. They don’t finish beef on grain here so it is not as marbled. Hence it is not as tender. Good flavor though.DSC06618

Cinghale Stew on New Years Day

OKAY for all you folks waiting with bated breath for the results of my Cinghale stew (wild boar stew) here are two pictures. First is the boar after marinating for 2 days in red wine plus other stuff.
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This is the final product which we ate last night.
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It was surprisingly yummy. I don’t own a crockpot but I looked up how to emulate it. It said to cook in an 200F oven for 6 hours, covered tightly. This worked well. The meat was tender and falling apart.

I got this recipe from the internet but modified it some. Here it is:

Wild boar – cinghiale – Stew

2 pounds wild boar meat, cut into stew-sized pieces

Marinade:
1 bottle red wine minus 1 glass
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, 1 onion, chopped into big pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
Juniper berries, whole (to taste); approx. 1 Tbsp.
Sprig rosemary
Sage if desired
Red chili pepper flakes (to taste); approx. 1-2 tsp.

To finish:
Olive oil, 5 Tbsp.
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) passata, plain tomato sauce, or tomato puree

Prepare the marinade with the wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes. Pour marinade over the boar meat, stir to coat, and marinate, covered, for at least 8 hours or overnight. (I marinated it two days. You can’t really over-marinate)

Drain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid. Chop the vegetables into smaller pieces and sauté them in 5 Tbsp. olive oil for several minutes, preferably in an enameled, cast iron casserole or any heavy stew pot. Remove.

Now add the wild boar meat to the pot, salt and pepper it, and brown the meat in the oil in batches. Return the vegetables to the pot. Add one soup spoon of the wine; let it evaporate at high flame. Now add the reserved marinade liquid, the tomato sauce or puree and bring to a boil; Cover tightly with a lid and foil to keep in the moisture. Put in a 100C/200F oven for six hours. This emulates a crockpot. If you have a crockpot then you can use that. The meat should be melt-in-your-mouth tender when done.

Delicious with roast potatoes and cannellini beans (white beans).

Buon Appetito!

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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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.

My de-boned leg.DSC05554

Stuffed leg.DSC05555

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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Ready to taste. DSC05626

View across the valley.DSC05630

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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My carpaccio.DSC05632

My soup.DSC05633

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…

 

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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