Category Archives: Umbria

Another Sunday, another Sagra…

sedano_neroThis past Sunday we decided to visit Trevi, a hill town between Foligno and Spoleto. I had passed this pretty town perched way up on its hill many times but had never stopped. The occasion was their annual Sedano Nero festival. This means black celery. It is grown only between Borgo di Trevi and the Clitunno river on a small strip of land. It is not black but dark green and does not go through any processing, like whitening. It is planted and grown by strict traditions. The seeds are planted during a waning moon on the day before Easter. It has to be carefully supported as it grows. Most of the work is done by hand. It is one of the six Umbrian Slow Food specialties.

Trevi from above.
trevi

Trevi is also known as the Capital of Oil
olives

This is the very beginning of the olive harvest. I bought some of the new olive oil. See how cloudy it is. And incredibly green. It is unfiltered.
oil

The sedano nero was stacked like firewood everywhere!
sedano

It is a beautiful green. They say it is stringless. Not sure I’m buying that. So I bought some to bring home. I am here to say, it does have strings but less that normal celery has.
sedano2

Also on offer were lots of specialties. We tried lots of cured meats. Many specialties were, of course, celery based. For instance, celery jam and celery cream.

This stand had many types of cured meats and sausage.
cured_meats

A discerning nun.
discerning_nun

It was a very warm day so I felt for this man who was cooking up the sausages.
fire_walk_with_me

We decided to have lunch in Taverna del Sette. We sat in a pretty courtyard at the end of the short street. The sky was mesmerizingly blue.
sky

Luther went for the celery soup.
soup

And he tried the stuffed celery. It sure looks good.
stuffed_celery

I tried the cinghale ragu. Wild boar.
cinghale_ragu

After lunch we decided to make a short stop in Bevagna since our friend Jennifer had not ever been there. It was Sunday and there was a small flea market going on. But for me, the best thing was coming upon a group of men just finishing up lunch outside a restaurant. They performed an impromptu a capello melody. It was hauntingly beautiful, the voices blended seamlessly. I wished I had a way to record them.
acapella

Scenes in Bevagna. Such a beautiful town.
bevagna2 bevagna1

The old guys. Every town has its own cadre of old men. They sit together companionably on benches, or they gather to play Briscola, the national Italian card game.
old_men

The Sedano Nero festival was one of the better ones I’ve visited. Not too crowded but plenty lively. And Trevi is a beautiful town that few tourists visit. Too bad, their loss. It was a lovely outing made super by the dazzling day.

Vendemmia 2017 Festa in Montefalco

Sunday was the last day for the Montefalco Wine Harvest festival. It’s a four day event to celebrate the harvest of the famed Sagrantino grapes among others. We had made reservations for lunch in L’Alchemista for lunch and invited new friends to join us. The weather was perfect. Very fall-like, a bit cool at lunch as we were seated next to a downward tiny street up which a strong, cool breeze was blowing. montefalco_street

Lunch at L’Alchemista was good, as always. They were packed so service was a bit slow. As we sat there crowds started gathering in the piazza and announcements were made from an upper balcony on the Comune building. And a group of costumed women sang folk songs. There was to be a parade of floats pulled by tractors. I love stuff like this. No pretensions.montefalco1

Down the main street we found the building where they were holding the wine tastings. This was our main reason for going. You pay 10 Euro per person and you get a glass and a little bag to wear around your neck to hold it. Then you can do unlimited tastings. There were a LOT of tables with a LOT of wine. One of our friends concentrated on the Sagrantino while I tried the Montefalco Rosso as well as the Sagrantino and a white made from Grechetto, Vigonier, and Chardonnay. All were very good. The Sagrantini were very dry to the point you felt all your saliva disappear.

wine1 wine2

Once we’d gotten our fill we headed back up the hill to the piazza where the parade was in full swing. They drive the tractors up another street into the piazza and park them around the edges. The floats, of course are wine oriented and lots of fun to see. Here are some pictures.

I love how this guy had put a yoke and harness on the front of his tractor, like it’s a horse…I guess it is, more or less.
parade1

And these folks are sitting on the float “a tavola” enjoying wine and a repast! parade2

Loved this giatantic wine bottle on one float.
parade3
parade4
parade5

It was one of the best Sagre I’ve ever been too. I’d go back!

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Storms over Umbertide

A couple of pictures of the major storms we woke up to on Saturday morning. The storms here generally come from the west. Our view is West/Northwest. These storms relentlessly moved from left to right and ever so slowly got closer and closer. Finally they got here but we were spared the brunt of the rain. Later in the day I noticed the Tiber river was swollen with rainwater and brown with mud. All came from up-stream where these massive storms must have dumped copious water!

Pigeons fighting the winds.
pigeons
storm_castle
storm

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
street3

The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
laRocca

As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
briganti_band

He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
fav_briganti

And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
night_ladies

I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.

Fun restaurant posting

Today, for Luther’s birthday, we decided to try a recommended restaurant called L’Umbricello del Caccio. It is nominally in Magione which is between Lago del Trasimeno and Perugia. This restaurant is south of both of these towns up in some modest hills. Very pretty countryside with lots of olive groves and yellow fields of just-harvested wheat stubble.

We arrived in a small hamlet with an old church with a pretty clock. The bells rang every quarter hour. There is plenty of parking and the restaurant is on one side of the small road through the village while it’s dining terrace is on the other. This terrace sits right on the edge of the hill. Too bad the view is marred by three unsightly power lines. For this reason I didn’t take a photo.

The fun part of this post is that, like almost always when we walk into a restaurant, they spoke English to us and automatically gave us English menus. We have gotten used to this fact of life here. Somehow we are nailed as foreigners before we open our mouths. I’ve figured out they don’t know what sort of foreigner you are generally. German, English, Dutch usually. When we spoke in Italian to him he asked if we understood Italian. We said we did so he brought over Italian menus.

Here’s the fun part. This is a good example why I hate getting the English menu. They don’t really translate it fully or correctly. The first picture below is the English version of the Antipasto menu. The second picture is the Italian one. I count 10 choices on the English one and 16 on the Italian one. This illustrates how much tourists miss out on if they don’t at least understand “menu” Italian. What a difference! The subsequent pages were equally deficient.
antipasto_english

antipasto

They specialize in a dish called Caccio e Pepe. It is made by putting the hot pasta into the hollowed out rind of a parmigiano cheese. The cheese is scraped and stirred so it melts into the pasta. They also specialize in house-made Umbricelli. It is a very fat, dense, chewy spaghetti type of shape. Luther’s pasta was made in house and was what they call integrale or whole grain. Hence the slightly unappetizing color. Worm-colored…don’t think about it. He liked it! His second course was Cinghale or wild boar which they do wonderfully here. Sorry, my picture didn’t come out.

Here is the wheel of parmigiano in which they make the pasta.
caccio_pepe

Luther’s Umbricello.
luthers_pasta

I had caprese salad. The tomatoes should have been better, especially at this time of year. It tasted good. Then I got Umbricello too but mine was Carbonara with truffles. I had not had this is a long time as it is not normally on menus in Umbria. Carbonara was invented for the American soldiers after WWII in Rome because they had eggs!

My pasta.umbricelli_tartuffi
fork_umbricelli

We were sent on our way by a sweet angel. It was a nice outing…if very HOT!
angel

Corn – part 2

I took a quick drive up to my friend (and corn partner) Angela’s house to see the corn we planted for the first time. As you may recall, I was not at all sure it was going to grow at all, given the earth was not tilled very deeply, but it has come up and looks OK. We can only wait and see if any of it produces ears of corn.

Here is a picture.
corn

On the way to Angela’s house. Olive grove. It was a brilliant day!
olive_trees

And here is an update on my terrace corn. It is doing quite well and I think we will get some corn from these plants.
terace_corn2

Mozzarella and Burrata

Hot, hot weather now. Big heat wave covering most of Europe. Here in Italy this front is called Guida, or Judas for obvious reasons. It blows across the Mediterranean from the Sahara and is HOT.

So, hoping to beat the heat, today I descended the stairs to visit the weekly market aiming for cool things, like salads. The wonderful tomatoes are in now and we are loving them. I aimed to buy some and some mozzarella and burrata. There is a man with a small truck who is here every week with the best. It’s sent up from Paestum (mozarella) and the Burrata comes from Puglia.  When the burrata is sliced open, a spurt of thickened cream flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. I you’ve not had it, it is a literally a bag tied up and inside are the creamy leavings from Mozzarella making. It is a useful way of using up the ritagli (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella. But it is oh so much better than that!

Behold, burrata fresh from Puglia!buratta

Sliced open to reveal the creamy inside.
sliced_bag

Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
opened_bag

My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
lunch

Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
mozarella

Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
buffala

And it’s summertime in Umbertide. The outdoor cinema is open on Piazza San Francesco. It has seats outside with beer and wine sold and on Thursday they screen original language films.
cinema_al_centro

Dealing with health issues in Italia

I’ve avoided writing about something for a while now and it’s time I begin to chronicle this new adventure (?) Last year I began to have problems with my right knee. I went to my doctor and she prescribed anti-inflammatories and icing. For a while it seemed to improve but took a nosedive earlier this year. We are very new to the Italian health care system so are groping our way along with many false starts.

We went back to our doctor and I asked for an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. Dotoressa Mommi wrote a prescription for an appointment. And said it was urgent enough to get done in 30 days. The only available doctor was in Deruta, about 30 minutes south of us. We visited him and he was frustrated that we had no X-rays or an MRI. All he could do is proscribe something which turned out to be pretty useless. We decided to go and get an MRI on our own and pay for it. If I didn’t want to pay I could have gone and asked our doctor to prescribe one and waited (again). So we went to a diagnostic center and I paid 126€ for an MRI. Not bad.

Armed with this we could make an appointment privately with a doctor of our choice. The only one we knew was far south in Spoleto. We visited him and he read the MRI. He said I need a total knee replacement. Sigh. We paid 150€ to consult with him.

Back we went to our doctor. In hindsight we could have asked this doctor we went to privately and he could have put us into the system and done the surgery. But we didn’t understand this at the time. Dot. Mommi explained it to us. And she offered to make an appointment for us with a good orthopedic guy in Umbertide. I prefer to not have to go too far for the procedure mainly because I would like it to be close for Luther to visit.

We visited the orthopedic guy yesterday. He was nice enough and even spoke a little English. But mostly it was in Italian. He too recommended knee replacement. Second opinions are good. So he gave us a form to fill in and email to the powers that be to schedule surgery. As always, everything in Italy shuts down in August. In this case last week in July to first week in September for non-emergency surgery. So we are looking at October-November for operation. Sigh. It is a long wait.

I guess my biggest worry is communication while in hospital and rehab. But on the bright side (?) I’ll learn more Italian. We are told it’s 5-7 days in hospital and then three weeks in in-patient rehab. Seems excessive by American standards…but in America it is all about the bottom line so they kick you out fast! For me, I’m thinking by the time I’m done I’ll be able to do the stairs here. Operation will be in the very nice hospital in Perugia, rehab here in Umbertide.

Since this is what I’m stuck with I am going ahead with plans that I was kind of worried about. We have a cruise on the Crostian coast in August and have a friend housesitting. I didn’t want to cancel either. I may be stuck in my stateroom but… Then we have friends in late September and another in mid October. This will mean I can just do what I can do and I and my guests will have to deal with it.

For my everyday life I stay mostly in the apartment. I descend and ascend the three flights of stairs maybe once a day. So far, so good. Hurts but manageable. The good news is knee replacements have generally good results and are not too hard to recover from. Crossing fingers it will be so for me and I will be good as new. This will be great! 🙂

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.

lemon_harvest

preserving

Bellissimo view with our new Tende di Sole open.
tende_di_sole

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!
dinner_table

Fun with friends…old and new

We have had visitors for in the past few weeks and I’ve documented some of our adventures in pictures below.

Our first visitors were new friends. They own a place down in the south of Italy in a small town called Pisticci. They came to Umbertide for a few nights staying in a nearby B&B. We had fun showing them around. Our first lunch at Erba Luna in Montone. We went to Erbe Luna to escape a gaggle of loud Americans. But damned if they didn’t end up with us anyway. Can’t win. But they gave us our most memorable moment when one of them asked if a dish came with a side of spaghetti…must have been Italian Americans…maybe from New Jersey (no offense New Jerseyans). Reminded us of the movie, Big Night.
Erba_luna

Ravioli with tartuffi, truffles…
ravioli_truffles

Pretty stairs down from the walls above to the outside dining terrace.
erba_luna_stairs

View from Montone toward the Apennines.
Montone_appinines

Sunday was a beautiful day to go to Calagrana for Pranzo. Asparagus, poached egg showered with truffles.
tartuffi_asparagi

Too pretty to eat Scampi with grilled polenta.
2pretty2eat

Such perfect weather. Such a perfect view!
beauty_calagrana

We went to a couple of wineries for tastings and then to Montefalco to our favorite L’Alchemista. The Giro d’Italia was passing through town that day and they were all decorated in pink flags, bikes, and paraphernalia.

giro_d_italia

Ravioli and favas. Spring is the time for fresh favas.
l_alchemista_ravioli

We had a great time getting to know our new friends and plan to see them again soon.

The next weekend Luther and I decided to go to the Cantine Aperte, or open cellars. Many participating wineries. We chose one in Orvieto. It was a beautiful day but all the places we went to were very crowded.
Our picnic. It was a pretty day.
luther

Our next guests were very old friends…well not physically old! We’ve known each other since we all lived and worked in Germany 25 years ago.

We visited Montone for lunch and our great Wednesday market. The next day we went to Assisi. Our final day we visited Tabarinni, one of the best wineries in Umbria, lunched in Montefalco and went ceramic shopping in Deruta. Then, on the way to Rome we stopped in Orvieto mainly to see the magnificent Duomo. We had a light lunch of assorted bruschette and meat and cheese plates.

Lunch in Assisi. Another beautiful day.
Carlo_mary

The grilled octopus appetizer was amazing.
belissimo_octopus
As were the pastas.
pasta_Piaz_erba

pasta_favas

We enjoyed our time with our last guests. Talking of old times, eating, drinking and catching up.

Only Wine Festival – Città di Castello

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

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

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

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

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