Category Archives: garden

Trying to move onward with the knee

One of my posts prompted a comment about recuperation in the US vs Italy. I opined that in the US everything is go, go, go and get well, and back to work. Here it is piano, piano, take it slow, heal, you’ll be fine in good time. So which is better? Hard to say. I’m following instructions and trying not to feel competitive with those who are moving faster than me…after all, whats my hurry? 🙂 piano, piano.

That said I am not really happy with my walking ability. The knee is quite weak with it buckling unexpectedly when I take steps. This makes me less confident in my ability to walk. Other things are going well. The knee bending is very well. Sleeping is easier but I wake a lot when shifting positions and going from bent to straight leg. Next week I plan to go to the local pool with my friend Joanne who will show me the ropes there. Then I can do aqua exercises. I’m told this is an excellent way to work the knee.
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Other than the knee last week I had a unique experience. I had received a letter in the mail with an appointment for my annual mammogram. So we headed to Città di Castello to the hospital. I’d been once before so felt fairly confident going again. I sat at the desk where the woman, in pretty violet scrubs, looked up my records online and nodded to a man, wearing brilliant red scrubs, who came and took me to the scanning room. I had a bad feeling about this. His hame was Marco. He asked a couple of questions and indicated I should take my shirt etc off. Well. I had never had a male mammogram techician before but one has to go with the flow as it were so I did. It wasn’t so bad. I just have to wonder why a man would choose this profession. Yes he gets to see and touch lots of breasts but it is hardly titillating.
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Afterwards we visited one of our butchers. We needed provisions. Then, while Luther parked the car I made a loop through our Kilo zero market. The veggie people have just what is growing nearby. Cabbages…many sorts. Kale. Chard. Spinach. A few root veggies. This is the time of the year when the farmers who lived off of their crops are ready for some spring growth. They have been eating the available greens growing now, supplemented by the preserved bounty from last summer. Nearly gone. The good news is that spring has started to put in a pretty steady appearance. I am starting to look forward to the spring early veggies.
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I’ve also started to clean up our terrace. I bought a nice wood rack for the wood we didn’t use.

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And I’ve been scrubbing the grout and tiles. My pots are being slowly dug up and the old plants relegated to the trash. I will be ready in May when we start to plant again. I am thinking about what to try this year. Always fun to plan! I have lots of pots now since my failed corn adventure last year.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

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And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
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Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
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The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
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Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
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And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
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The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
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And cauliflower…
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And Cabbage…
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And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
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petunia

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CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

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Shucking.
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All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
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um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
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Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
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My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
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My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
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And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.

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

Ciao a tutti! Today I’m posting about a food that is near and dear to my heart. Sweet, summer corn! When we lived in the US as SOON as the corn started coming in I had it frequently. I am a corn snob, however, and when I was buying at the farmers market I would push my fingernail into a kernel and if there wasn’t a squirt of liquid I wouldn’t buy. It is a sign of freshness and when it was picked. As soon as corn is picked the sugars in the kernels start to turn to starch and harden. No longer a succulent sweet ear but a hard starchy one. I had a garden a couple times in my life in which I grew corn, my mantra was…get the water boiling, go pick the corn off the stalk, immerse in boiling water for 5 minutes, slather with butter and a sprinkle of salt and EAT! Heaven.

The sad story is that here in Europe, all over as far as I’ve seen, people see corn as animal fodder, not for human consumption, on the whole. In Italy they do have canned corn, they do NOT have frozen which is infinitely better. I have searched for corn here and on two occasions last year I found some. The first had been allowed to stay on the stalk far too long and was all starch and inedible. The second, from Umbria, in the super market, in NOVEMBER(!) was actually almost good. SO…

I decided to buy seeds and find some way to plant some. On the Burpee website I came across Container Corn. It is corn that will do well planted in pots. So I bought some to try. I also bought two other types in hopes of finding an outside place to plant. I did manage to partner with my British friend Angela and paid for a plot to be prepared. It was hardly optimal. Good sun but the soil really wasn’t tilled deeply enough. We planted anyway so we’ll see.

I’m happy to say my corn on my terrace is doing really well. Angela told me the corn there was up and growing. I think I will have at least some corn this summer. Happy days!

Here is my corn.
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I call this my orto. It means vegetable garden in Italian. It has my two spicy peppers and the corn.
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I love sweet basil and it’s almost ready to harvest the tops for pesto!
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My herb garden: parsley, thyme, sage, rosemarie and chives.
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Flowers
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tunias

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Happy growing to any of my gardening friends. I will post progress reports occasionally.
Buona estate!

Wending our way through August

We are having spectacular weather. Highs in the 80s and cool at night. We have been enjoying it with the occasional Gelato or Aperol Spritz. Last weekend we had the local Vespa club arrive in all their thundering glory.

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We also had a great time creating and attending a BBQ at an Agriturismo of friends, Simone and Simona. They are from Milan and now living rough, off the grid on the old family farm of Simone. It was abandoned for many years and they have spent years working mostly on their own to make it into holiday apartments. They first fixed up the old barn for themselves. And have spent a LOT of time just on the structure of the old buildings. It is in an earthquake zone so there are lots of rules for stabilizing and protecting everything. They are now getting ready to finish the first apartment inside. Here are some pictures.

This is the main building. Underneath are the large, airy barns where the animals used to live.DSC05939

The views are nothing short of spectacular. They are very high on a ridge. The electric grid stops before their property. They use mostly solar and batteries.DSC05945

The picturesque old chimneys. I love these. They are all over our part of Italy.
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The BBQ grill with Fabio and Gary.
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I had initially invited everyone to our house and was going to make the ribs. But Simona wanted us all to come there. So I got up early to prepare the ribs. I wanted it to be all American so I brought spicy guacamole, spicy salsa with the wonderful tomatoes we have now, and my moms potato salad. We found tortilla chips in the store! Everyone was open to the experience and had fun. We also had great, grilled vegetables, and one of their chickens. He was supposed to be grilled but he was deemed too tough so he was stewed. Dessert was a very light cheesecake and cool watermelon. What could be more perfect?

Random scenes. Here is the wind ruffled Tiber one afternoon.
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I found CORN!! it is one of the things I miss most about the US. Summer, sweet corn. Alas, it was not to be. Tough as an old shoe. Horses probably wouldn’t touch it! BUT the good news is that I have started volunteering at the Books for Dogs booth at the market. It is run by mostly British women. They take donated books and DVDs and sell them to support several dog sanctuaries. Anyway, one of the ladies also bought corn. Later I asked her if we could plant a few rows next year in her garden. So MAYBE next year we will be able to taste that sweet summer corn!DSC05935

Impending storm.
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Volunteer sunflower against a blue sky.
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The placid river in morning.
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Here is a spider who has caught a tasty fly on our pepper plants. If you click you can even see the spiders little face. It looks so much like a human face.
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Finally, we are looking forward to welcoming our next guests, Mary and Lenny! Their first trip to Italy and great old friends of ours. They will be with us for five nights and we will do some lunches, markets, wine tastings and sightseeing. Stay tuned…

May day

Wow do they keep the Umbertide band busy or what?! Friday May 1 is a European-wide holiday similar to Labor day in the US. We had the band out again. The local union leaders and polititians got up on the podium and speechified for a couple of hours. Umbertide is majority communist so labor unions etc. are very important. Later they blessed the tractors… I missed it but I am told it is the tradition.
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After my sister and her husband left I asked them, since they were the first to use the guest room, what it lacked. All in all it served them well. The only issue is the odd steps in our hallway ready to trip you up in a very real sense. These steps are between the guest room and the designated guest bath. For their visit we moved a small lamp from their room into the hallway. It did the job but was a temporary fix. After they left I purchased a night light which is activated automatically. It comes on when the lights go out.

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The weather is very beautiful now. Sunny and warm. It will be in the 80s for the next few days. It makes me want to plant things so I purchased some plants from our market and we got some dirt from the hardware store just down the street. Here is what I call the herb corner.

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Sweet basil. Here they sell it oddly. You don’t get just one plant. Rather you get a densely packed bunch of small stems. I have to see how this works out.

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First of the flowers. Three lonely petunias. There will be more soon.

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View of Umbertide in the evening sun.

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Finally here are my purchases from our Wednesday market. The strawberries are local now. The artichokes are perfect and YES! those are new spring peas. Sauteed them in some butter with salt and pepper. So sweet!

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