Category Archives: Umbria

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 house 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 do-it-yourself 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! 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.✨

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.

L’Immacolata

Today is L’immacolata, a national holiday. The immaculate conception. Not being very sure about this day because I’m not Catholic I looked it up and discovered I was wrong about what it meant. Turns out it is the day that Mary was conceived to her mother. I had thought it was Jesus’ conception but was confused as it is only two weeks before his birthday.

Anyway, it is the day that ALLLL of Italy lights its Christmas trees. And St. Nicholas comes to the Piazza for the little kids. I actually managed to get pictures of the crowds outside before and after the tree was lit. And I heard the countdown and saw the tree lit for the first time. It is not my favorite tree so far, however. But as we all know from Charlie Browns tree that all trees are beautiful in their way.

We also visited Montone for lunch today. Tipico, our chosen restaurant was really crowded. Everyone was out for lunch on the holiday. A few pictures.

View from the walls. A beautiful, clear, and not too cold day.

Montone street dressed for Christmas. They are quite traditional there.

The Christmas tree. The Piazza was bright and the tree was not so the picture isn’t so good.

Tipico showcases two oils. One light and one stronger. The bread is always good there too.

Outside now, as I write this, the children are singing and the band is playing. There are little stands with things to sell. Happy Immaculata!

Olive Oil

I paid a visit to Ely at Calagrana to pick up the oil she was sharing with us after helping with the harvest. Brilliant green.

I visited the new lambs!

And we sat in a sunny spot with coffee and caught up a little.

I got to meet the newest addition to the family…Sparky…she arrived in the engine compartment of a workman’s car. Maybe she’s Sparky because of the spark plugs? Anyway she lives up to her name!

When I got home I put some of “our” oil on bruschetta. It was peppery and grassy…the way I love it, and why Umbrian oil is the BEST!

A dream come true! 🙂

On domenica I helped my friend Vera reach her dream!! Who would think I could ever do such a thing? But, when I tell you her dream it will be clearer. She told me her dream was to cook a whole turkey…tacchino in Italian. Last year I invited Vera and her family to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Her two girls were spellbound by the whole turkey. Turkey is eaten here but only in pieces. Like a drumstick, or a breast, or slices. And Italians are notoriously unwelcoming to the unknown. Vera and her immediate family are different. They welcome different things. So, her dream was to cook and serve a turkey to her more extended family. And she needed my help. Ahem.

It was quite an experience. I got up at 5am and got ready and arrived by 6am. It was soooo foggy! I had a hard time driving there. We prepped the turkey (guessing it was 16-17 lbs) with butter and layered pancetta and stuffed it with orange and onion. Salted it and toted it down to the forno (outside wood oven) which Vera had been fueling all night. This was also a new thing for me and I was none too sure how hot it was nor how long to cook the turkey of unknown weight! Oy. So when we approached the forno it was smoking like mad. She said “uh oh”. When she opened the door a blast of flame came out and she ducked! Wowsers! So we decided it had to wait till the oven cooled for her to put it in. I left her with it. Of course the suocera (mother-in-law) had to get involved later, adding oil and wine to the pan. It was OK really.

So I returned about 11am and we went to check the bird. I had an instant read thermometer. It was a little overdone but not bad. We took it upstairs to rest. Then I made the gravy from the drippings and the broth Vera had made from the turkey bits. Malia and Desiree, her daughters were mesmerized. I had brought the stuffing I made from home. And frozen-from-last-year cranberry sauce. And Vera had boiled potatoes which I mashed with milk and butter. She also had spinach and kale for veggies. And, just in case someone wouldn’t eat the tacchino she made cinghale ragu. She served it as a first course with pasta. It was wonderful!

In attendance there were Vera, her husband Graziano, and the two girls, Vera’s dad, Graziano’s brother and his wife with tiny baby and their other daughter, and la Nonna (grandmother). Il Nonno (grandfather) was hunting boar. Vera had said the wife of the brother wouldn’t eat the turkey. But she was pretty enthusiastic. She loved the turkey, dressing and the cranberry sauce. La Nonna brought a scrumptious dessert. I’ve had two of her desserts now and she is amazing! Sooo good. I could have eaten several pieces!😋

Such a fun time with our Italian friends and an American feast. Always an adventure.

Stock makin’s. I don’t think we’d have the feet in the US !

Turkey with pancetta covering. Ready for the oven.

Oven!!! Hot!!!

Cinghiale ragu on fresh pasta.

The finished tacchino

La famiglia with our pasta.

Serving all the traditional thanksgiving foods.

I had fun! I think most everyone had fun. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Visit to the frantoio!

Ely had an appointment at Frantoio Rossi at 7AM. She was second in line and good thing as it got crowded fast!!

Frontoio Rossi

The two vans were loaded full. They had 40 more cassetti of olives to process.

The unloading.

That’s a LOT of olives!

The hopper was full to the brim.

There is a turn screw at the bottom which feeds the olives out.

And they go up the ladder where a mighty wind blows off the leaves and twigs.

Next step the wash.

Calagrana had 880 kilograms of olives on this trip.

The olives go into these tanks where a really big screw type dasher swirls them round and round.

Watching the process.

Now we wait. It takes about 45 minutes to process the olives.

While we waited I took a few pictures of the process. This is the big dumpster where the sludge is collected. I was told it is made into animal food. The black heap is the sludge which falls from those three holes up by the ceiling.

The leaves are another left over thing. You think they don’t weigh much but they do add up!

This is the semi-chaotic scene about 40 minutes after we arrived.

Inside this is the master console and the big blue cylinder is one of the separators. It separates the water, sludge and oil.

Another byproduct.

This man is separating and weighing the oil into the tins.

Tins awaiting filling.

Finally our waiting has produced the results of a lot of labor. We helped just two days. Ely and Albie all by themselves worked the grove for four more full days. Ending up with 40 more cassetti coming in at 880 kilograms and 121 liters of oil!

Here it is!

Green gold.

All the work was worth it.

Calagrana will sell the oil under the lable of the Palazzo Bastia Creti, the estate where the olive grove is up above Calagrana. This is the new oil!

I will post again once I get some of this oil and taste it. Such a fun experience.

Olive Harvest 2018!!

In Umbria, olives are a way of life. The oil is amazing with grassy, peppery notes in your mouth. You drizzle it on bruschetta, meats, vegetables, soups and salads. Everyone in Umbria either has an olive grove or knows someone who has an olive grove who needs help with the harvest. It seems everyone gets involved. It is very inclusive and a real way of life here. The olives are all colors.

This is my second olive harvest. It’s been 3 years since my first one so I’m not a total newbie! There are about 70 trees spread out over the property which is beautiful, by the way. It is up above Calagrana, our friends Agriturismo.

The Appenine mountains poking up in the distance. A dreary day unfortunately so no sunshine.

View from the property down the valley.

We did the bottom field first. We started out being 12 people but by the end we were 9. A couple of the trees were definite overachievers. Just loaded with olives! It is a really full day of work. We help them set the nets under the trees, dragging them about and putting supports at the bottoms to keep the olives from rolling off. Then we use little rakes to rake the olives off the branches reaching as high as we can. Meanwhile someone works the “basher” which beats the upper branches to shake the olives down. Then you have to lift the nets and roll all the olives together and put them into plastic crates called cassetti. Physical labor all on hillsides so lots of up and down walking. I am proud to say I did it! For two full days! Not bad for an old broad.

Setting the nets

Working the basher

The cassetti of olives. All colors!

When you participate in an olive harvest, there’s no telling what will happen. Our group started singing Mary Poppins songs. Turns out several of us knew all the words!! Chimchimanee, I Love to Laugh, Feed the Birds… fun!

Lunch!

Lunch break

By the end of the first day we had harvested less than half the trees and had 43 boxes of olives. A bountiful harvest! We had run out of boxes, and it was getting dark so the end of a productive day. Plan is to take the boxes to the Frantoio, or olive mill, and press them and return Monday for a final pass at the trees. There are some totally loaded trees on the upper slopes. Then they will take the rest to the mill for pressing. A real bumper crop this year.

43 cassetti

We had a lovely after harvest dinner. Albi had prepared chili con carne for us all. Excellent and the perfect thing to fill our empty stomachs after a hard days work.

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Monday we worked a second full day in the olive grove. Ely will pick again tomorrow and Wednesday. There are so many trees still to do. She went to the mill this morning with Saturday’s harvest which weighed in at 950 kilos and yielded 132 liters of oil and she says it is really good. Peppery and grassy. Just the way I like it 😋 This day we picked half again as many (with only 5 people) so should get another 60 liters and whatever else she does back to the mill. I took a tumble as did little Olie as the nets were wet and on a very steep slop. My feet would slide downhill. I could get no purchase. SO I decided to take a couple pictures of this amazing property. Autumn colors.

Ely

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I’m going to the mill to take pictures Thursday with Ely for the final press. Second blog to come on that.

Halloween, Italian style

Halloween is starting to catch on here but it isn’t like our US holiday. Just about dark the kids come out dressed in costumes. Mostly witches, princesses and super heroes. The difference is that they don’t ring doorbells at houses but go into the little merchant shops and bars along the streets. The proprietors are prepared with candy.

I could hear the laughter from our house and went and took some pictures, most of which didn’t come out very good but here are a couple.