Category Archives: Italian life

Around Umbertide

Spring is fully in progress. Today is April 25, Liberation day for Italy and the end of WWII so a national holiday. In Umbertide it is a more somber day. On this day in 1944 the allies bombed the town killing 78 people and destroying about a quarter of the Centro Storico of the town. They were trying to hit the bridge over the Tiber and the railroad to block the retreat of the Germans. They had to try four times before they hit the bridge, meanwhile doing a lot of damage. The sad part is that Perugia knew they were coming an didn’t warn the citizens, who were mostly still asleep in their homes. Had they been warned they may have evacuated. A sad tale. Anyway, they have a Catholic ceremony in Piazza 25 Aprile and the band plays and everyone comes out early in the morning to remember when it happened.

As I was watching from my window the Carabiniere showed up in their shiny black and red car. They are the State Military police whose spiffy uniforms were originally designed by Armani. Anyway, they climbed out of the car and started toward Bar Mary for a caffe but as they walked a woman called out to them and one broke off and went over to her, giving her the double kiss of greeting. I couldn’t help comparing them to our police in the US. Hmmm.
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Yesterday my friend Jen and I went for a little drive around the neighborhood. I took her to one of my favorite places nearby, the Abbey of San Salvatore in Montecorona. The Romanesque church was built with three naves and an octagonal bell tower and was consecrated in 1105. My favorite part of the church is the crypt. It feels very ancient and special. The crypt has five-naves and three apses dominated by roman and old medieval columns, each one different from the other. Check out my pictures.

Row of columns. Note the differences.

I loved this face. Is it a beast? A bull?

In the very front are a row of frescoes. The rest of the crypt is just stone.

The Octagonal tower.

Montecorona is also known for its famous peaches. These trees are just down the road from the church. The church is situated at the foot of Montecorona, a small mountain. On its top is part of the abbey associated with the church. The road itself is the old Roman road that followed the Tiber river valley south. It is very narrow. Barely room for two cars to pass in places.

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On Saturday Luther and I made a nice excursion to Deruta, the famous ceramics town. I have slowly been gathering a six place setting of ceramics. I ordered another set and some salt and pepper shakers. And I bought this pretty little serving plate. It is the pattern that I chose but each place setting is a different color. This time it’s teal. Last time it was navy, and the time before it was a wine red color. See the detail on the serving plate I bought. Every intricate pattern and dot is hand painted. Hence the cost!


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And a mundane issue. My Lavatrice — washer — died last week. So we walked over to our local Formica store. Formica means ant in Italian. No idea why a chain of stores would be called that! Anyway, they had a good selection and we chose a new washer and drier which were delivered and installed the next day. We went back and paid for them after I tried them out. They are so much better than the old ones!

Buon Natale a tutti!

I have been a very bad blogger! A quick catchup!

Way back in November we were invited to another Thanksgiving extravaganza hosted by our good friends Susan and Gary at Calagrana. Ely outdid herself preparing a 15 kilo turkey, or about 35 lbs. Twas excellent.
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We all brought side dishes and got totally stuffed. There were 14 of us.
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We have a new American in town named Jennifer. She is here without a car which is challenging given our lack of convenient public transport. We decided to a girls day out with three of us taking a bus to Città di Castello. It was quite quick and comfortable and we learned something useful. We also visited an art museum while there and had lunch.

This is a winged pupi.
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One of the towers in Città di Castello.
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But there is good news about the train that used to connect Perugia, Umbertide, Città di Castello and Sansepolcro. This train stopped running about two years ago because of track issues and lack of funding to fix them. A bus nominally is filling in. Well, UmbriaMobilità has gone belly up and the rail system was taken over by TrenItalia. This is good news. And sure enough crews are hard at work pulling up the old tracks, grading beds, laying new track and the concrete ties. Right now they are going north from Umbertide. In the past Umbertide was on a main line from Perugia to Arezzo. And now it looks as though we will be again!

Locomotive with flatcars full of new ties. Photo courtesy of Tom Gilmore.
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Still working on our Permessi. Lots of new monkey wrenches in the works this year.

Last weekend I also made a US style turkey dinner with all the trimmings for our friend Vera and her family. The little girls were agog at an entire turkey cooked and on the table. This is not done in Italia. Turkey parts, yes, but entire birds, no. And this morning Luther took the carcass outside to the feral cats in the woods behind us and we watched from our apartment as the feast ensued.

More big news came out over the weekend. There seems to have been a coup and the entire town council resigned and the mayor quit. So we are leaderless until the spring when special elections will take place. Unfortunately we have heard this will impact public works projects and we are crossing our fingers they will finish the outside work on the Comune. The men are still working so that’s a good sign.

Umbertide has its share of people who have physical and mental disabilities. They are accepted as part of our town life and people watch out for them. One that we see often stops by the bakery every morning and they give him a roll. He happily munches on it as he walks back to the Piazza or Bar Mary. This morning Luther was returning from his jog and this fellow flagged him down as someone he recognized and reached in his pocket and pulled out a watch. Luther thought he was going to try to sell it to him but he motioned that he only wanted Luther to put it on his wrist for him. Luther came back and told me about it and said it just a funny thing that happens in small towns. He said, “no one ever asked me to put his watch on for him before”.

Batch of chocolate chip cookies as a gift for Irene at Bar Mary and Angelo at the Alementari. Two sweet people who work hard for a living and would do anything to help a person.
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And finally, our Christmas cakes, or Panettone. We always disliked them in the US but these are worlds apart! Trust me. Buon Natale a tutti!
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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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Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
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Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
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Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
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You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
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Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

My sister’s visit

Well, all things must come to an end. My sister has flown away home. She brought the best weather with her and we enjoyed it completely. Here is a brief recap.

On Monday we went to Gubbio and walked our socks off. It is very hilly.
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This was my appetizer at lunch at Ristorante Taverna del Lupo. It was a truffled egg. Looked better than it tasted.

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Next day, Tuesday we were off to the Montefalco wine region. First stop Di Filippo winery. It is a bio-winery so they use no chemicals, let the geese free in the vineyards to help fertilize, and even cultivate with horses.

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Lunch was in Montefalco at Locanda del Teatro. A new place for me right in the town square. They have a lovely terrace out back where we ate. I tried out the pasta with tiny, wild asparagus and fresh fava beans. Yum! and it was as good as this picture looks.

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Bye Cindy and Bill! We really loved that you came to see us in our “native habitat” as you say.

Calagrana has reopened!

Today is Sunday, clear and cold with pretty blue skies. Susan and Gary told us that Calagrana, one of our favorite restaurants has reopened after being closed for much of the winter. Alberto, the chef and co-owner with his wife Ely, had taken a catering gig in Wales to make some extra money since winter is so slow here. He’s back and cooking! So today we went for lunch.

There was one table there when we arrived and one table set for fourteen! We were urged to order before they showed up, which we did. Alberto out-did himself. One of the menu choices was little plates for antipasti. There were probably ten different things. Each coast 4.50 Euro. We each ordered two or three. Then most of us ordered the roast chicken. Here are pictures to make your mouth water.

Susan ordered polenta with roasted tomatoes and little cakes made from chickpeas with a dipping sauce.DSC03841

I had little roasted onions filled with onion and gorgonzola and goat cheese with sprouts on roasted beets. DSC03842

Luther had baked cod cakes, vitello tonato, and something he can’t remember but liked.DSC03843

Our roasted chickens.DSC03844

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While we were eating another guest informed us that we had a puncture in our tyre. That’s British for a flat. Something to look forward to. Here are the valentines day cupcakes Ely made. So pretty!
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We walked out and I snapped a picture of the stone guest house and views. This is an Agriturismo as well as a spectacular restaurant. It is a working farm as well. It has beautiful rooms and in summer is a dream! Go to their website to see more Calagrana. Susan and I agreed that the Niccone valley, where Calagrana is, is the prettiest valley in Italy. Even in the dead of winter.

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Now for the fun bit. Fixing the flat. New car to Gary. It, like most cars has no spare. It had the little kit that you squirt something in and then plug a pump into the cigarette lighter and pump it up. It worked well and wasn’t too hard. Fortunately we were in a beautiful place, in the warm sun, and not on a busy highway.

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When we got back home the Piazza was filled with little kids in costumes throwing confetti at each other. From upstairs I watched some of the events and plays for the kids I guess. Another puzzling Italian thing.

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Beautiful Fall day!

Yesterday (Sunday) we decided to visit a restaurant with Susan and Gary that was recommended by our local Enotecca and also visit a winery in the Cannara area. This town grows the famous Cannara sweet onions to be found only here in the world! The weather was just spectacular for November 9. Warm enough for shirt sleeves and with that lovely Autumn slanting sunlight on the grapevines that have turned red and yellow.

First the winery. We headed up into the hills and stopped at an ultra-modern winery. It was not the one we intended to visit which was further down the road. This one, Tenuta Castelbuono had an enormous tasting room and some sculptures. I cannot imagine how much it must have cost. Perhaps it is um, money laundering? Anyway, they had two Sagrantino wines which we tasted and bought. Here are pictures.

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ENORMOUS tasting room.

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Click to appreciate the colors of Autumn.

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The structure was designed by a sculptor. Very unusual.

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After we visited this winery there were few others open on Sunday so we went to Cannara of onion fame. We drove into this little town which is situated on the Topino river, another St. Francis town with two medieval churches and the site where he gave his sermon to the birds. It used to be to be a lake until it was drained in the Middle Ages. We passed a sign advertising onions or Cipolla for sale. Couldn’t pass that up – world famous and all! We rang the bell and the lady came out and took us into the shed. As we entered the gate another car stopped with a family inside and asked us if they sold onions. We said yes and he was thrilled and gave out a Bellisimo and stopped to buy also. Only Italians would get this excited to buy onions. The lady began scooping onions into a bag, and scooping, and scooping! 2 kilos later (about 4 lbs) we left. Fun.

Now onto our restaurant called Hazienda Ristorante Cafe. What else would you name an Italian restaurant? It was one of those holiday places. It had apartments to rent for holiday makers and a swimming pool, great views of Assisi up on the mountain. We ordered the 4 course degustation menu. After we ordered the owner warned us that it was a LOT of food. Uh oh. Well it was a lot but we managed it. No picture, sorry. We had an antipasti with several fried specialties like onion rings (famous onions!) fried sage leaves etc. Next was a pretty plate with three fried dough circles on which were three poached (famous) onions on top of a parmesan cream sauce with drizzled balsamic (heaven!). Next were Raviolis in a parmesan cream sauce. The Secundo or main course was supposed to be horse but we couldn’t deal with that and had them substitute lamb, grilled, not great. Over done and gristly but thankfully not a lot to eat. We skipped dessert. Burp!

Back in Umbertide they were having a big market with clothes, jewelry, roasted chestnuts and peanuts. Happening place. Pictures.

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Chestnuts being roasted.

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Today, Monday, always a slow day. BUT it was an unusual Monday because our kitchen was due today!! I went over to the house to grab some things I needed and take a little walk. They were washing the floors in preparation for the kitchen.

We also got good news from Gary that Luther’s long-in-coming medicines had been delivered to him (2 months!). It is so funny, Luther’s name was on the package, we had my sister send it to Emanuele’s office but no-one was there. BUT they knew other Americans lived nearby and they MUST know the recipient so went to Gary’s house. He paid the duty and we met on the Piazza to take delivery and pay. Also Susan brought me my share of the Famous Cannara onions. Now I need to figure out how to fix them to take advantage of their special qualities.

Here is the Pedini truck delivering our KITCHEN!!!

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I’ll go over tonight to see the progress. So exciting!!