Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bay leaves

One ingredient I’ve never found here is bay leaves. They just don’t have them in the store. Well I found out why. Everyone has a laurel tree and they just pick the leaves off!! I don’t have a tree but a friend brought a branch to me. Who’d have thought it!

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Yesterday we had a big cold front come through. In the morning it was almost 60F but by afternoon it had dropped to near freezing. In the process we had a big hail storm and very strong winds.

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This time last year we were just winding up our house hunting trip. A lot has changed since then!

Deruta ceramic pick-up and home improvements

Today was a busy day! We headed out this morning to the “home depot” – OK it’s called Leroy and Merlin – I have mentioned it before. We bought shelves for our pantry and a shower rod and curtain for the guest bathroom.

This bathroom has a tub. It has a hand held squirter. It was hard to take a shower without a curtain and since this is the one guests will use we wanted to make it more user friendly. Now, with the rod and curtain you can stand in the tub and use the squirter to wet and rinse. Still not the best but way better than having to sit in the tiny tub. It is a clear-ish curtain with a pattern. Looks OK.

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The new shelves for the pantry I put together myself. This allowed me to store all the buckets, mops, brooms that Vera uses when she cleans. Plus a lot of other things that needed a place. Still plenty of room for more.

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Next we were off to Deruta to pick up a ceramic piece I had ordered back in December. I needed it to be a specific size because it needed to fit into the shelves behind the counter in the kitchen and allow the sliding door to open. I measured 15 centimeters. Back in December the man helped me find an oblong shallow dish that looked like it would do the job. I got to pick the colors and design I wanted so it is a one of a kind piece. I got the word it was ready so we picked it up. Here is a picture plus two others showing how it sits on the shelf.

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Finally here is a picture of the amphora that Don and Jodi brought us last week as a gift. Apparently over at the recycling place near them people often throw these away. They offered to grab one for us and bring it over. And here it is! Very pretty.

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Lunch with Vera

First a report on the lunch last Friday. The chicken stew was good. The panna cotta was just the right consistency using two sheets of gelatin and the cranberry sauce was perfect with it. Hah!

On Sunday we were invited to lunch with Vera, who cleans our house. Apparently she invites all her clients once a year for pranzo (lunch, the Italian main meal). She is a jack-of-all trades type person. A real survivor who lived through the war in Bosnia. She was born muslim and once the war was essentially over and her family could move they went to Slovenia where her father was. He had arranged a marriage for her which she objected to. Her only real choice was to run away.

She came to Italy and was a nanny. Not sure the rest of the story but she now is married to an Italian with two of the prettiest little girls I’ve ever seen. They both have gorgeous red curly hair. I think they are 6 and 8 years old. Anyway, Vera does anything. She manages houses for people who live part time in other parts of the world, cleans and manages swimming pools, cleans houses and cooks. She even converses with Luther in Italian!

Her house is a shared place that is four stories tall. The bottom floor is the construction business that her husband has. The whole property is full of equipment and supplies, like bricks and stones, etc. The next floor is her in-laws. Vera and her family have the top two floors.

It is a cozy house and there were 12 of us. Vera and her husband and 10 clients. Gary, Joseph and Paul came as well as me and Luther. That was the American contingent. The rest were British and had lived in Italy for 30 years or more. They were fluent in Italian, well after thirty years you should be, and very eccentric.

We had bruschetta, one liver, one truffles. Then the primi was wide pasta with cinghiale ragu (wild boar). The secondi was the boar roasted with tomatoes and olives along with roasted potatoes. Finally the dolce was a Carnivale sweet which was puffed pastry with powdered sugar and two other cakes. The whole meal was really good. The boar had been shot in the hills near their house by her father-in-law.

Today, Wednesday, is market day. I went to get some fish for dinner. It is a cold clear day. The market is mostly limited to winter vegetables if you buy from local producers. The Wednesday market is not only local produce so you can get other things like bananas and lemons which are obviously not local! The lemons could be from Sicily perhaps. We got salmon trout, salad greens, potatoes, pears, a cross between cauliflower and broccoli thing and eggs. The eggs are sold by a man who brings in animals in a truck. Ducks, chickens, guinea hens, geese, little chicks etc. all alive. I guess the adults are eaten. A lady bought a bunch of chicks. They also have eggs and I asked for 10. He piled them all in a bag. Huh! a bag of eggs! Another thing here is that eggs are not refrigerated. I remember it from when we lived in Germany.

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A while back I mentioned that I couldn’t find vanilla extract. They do have the beans though so I got some vodka and made my own. I used some in the panna cotta last week and it was good. Here it is!

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Tomorrow we will do something fun. I have ordered a small platter from a ceramic place in Deruta and it is ready for pickup. So we’ll pop down there and pick it up. We will probably visit a winery as is our norm and then have lunch somewhere, maybe in our favorite Deruta place. Looking forward to a little fun.

Cooking, kitchens and fireplaces in my Italy house

So, we are having guests for lunch tomorrow and it has again, been an adventure. I planned a classic chicken stew which is American comfort food and non-threatening in every way. Of course it called for boneless chicken thighs. Not happenin’ in Italy. So I bought the closest thing. They just chop the crap out of the legs so there are splintered bones throughout. I did my best to de-bone them but I will warn my guests of possible hidden bones. Here is the stew.

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Next I wanted to make Panna Cotta. This is a classic Italian dessert so I figured it would not be hard. The first hurdle was the gelatin. In the US it is powdered. Here it is in hard sheets. Plus I had to look it up on the internet (thank you that there IS an internet!) and got a picture of what I needed. Then I found it at the Coop. Then I had to guess how much to use. The recipe calls for strawberries over the panna cotta. They don’t have them here at this time of the year but I had a great idea that I could put some of the frozen cranberry sauce I made for Thanksgiving on it. I bet that will work great. I hope it turns out OK.

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This was the first time I spent a lot of time sitting in the kitchen. That got me to thinking about cooking in the big fireplace here. I opened up the wooden doors and peered up the chimney. Scary.

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I also noticed that it was once a cooking fireplace. Note the iron hook to hang meat or pots from…Cool!!

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Now I am pretty psyched about this. I think what needs to be done is that the wooden doors need to be removed and I need to have a custom wrought iron with glass door made. Uh oh… costly… well we shall see. Here are the existing doors and the fireplace behind them.

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Finally a note on the ridiculous refrigerators here. They are sooo small. And we got a big one! I knew of this before we came but, maybe you didn’t. And to boot, the freezer is not frost free. Frost free!!? what is that?

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Yea verily, this is the entire inside of the frig.

Lastly I got a lovely, olive wood cutting board that a friend made for me to my exact measurements. It covers the drain on the sink that I did not want and gives me more working space. Here it is!

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Follow up

So today we returned to the Dipartimento di Salute to finalize our health insurance. We could not ‘jump the line’ as we thought but this day was far calmer with fewer people waiting. After only about 40 minutes we went in to see LL.

What a surprise! She was quite nice to us. But she really opened up when we began discussing restaurants that we had been to. I guess food is a subject close to her heart 🙂 given her girth! We were given cards and assigned a doctor. We asked for the one Susan and Gary have. The only glitch is that our Permissi run out in June so it is only good until June. We have to go start up our Permissi process again and then they will extend it until the end of the year. Our doctor has hours and you just drop in. I’ll let Luther go first so I see how it goes.

On Sunday we drove to Citta della Pieve. It is very close to the Tuscan border and is a very pretty hill town. I was impressed that it was a really active place with lots of people about. Nice bars and outside spaces. Here is one of the pretty streets.

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We found one of the restaurants that we had read about called Zafferanno Pievese.

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The menu had a surprise on it. Hamburger!

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But WOW was it expensive. Note the price above. I guess since it was made from the famous Chianina beef with bernese sauce and to top it off the Famous Onions of Cannara. Perhaps it was worth the price. I resisted ordering it. Maybe if we go back. Below are our two appetizers. They were good but a lot of food. I did not care for my primi but maybe it was just the ingredients. Luther liked his steak.

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It was a fun day!

Italian medical coverage

Sorry it has been too long since my last post. I have been thinking about how to describe the experience of getting medical coverage here. I probably can’t get it across but here goes.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 8:30AM and 12:30AM the health department is open to enroll people for insurance. Susan graciously volunteered to accompany us. We arrived about 8:15AM and took a number. 65. I spent a long time looking at this so I thought I’d scan it in for posterity.

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We looked around and the seats up and down the hallway were full. There was no place where the numbers were displayed to tell who was being waited on. There were several numbered doors. Only door number 1 was handling health insurance. Coincidentally Joseph and Paul, our American neighbors were ALSO there. They had arrived at 7:40AM. We hadn’t realized you could come early. SO there we all sat along with untold numbers of Italians and other nationalities. A Large Lady in a purple tunic sweater and black leggings, heretofore to be known as LL was taking people in, one at a time. I should mention that the numbers are never called. It was up to the people waiting to police themselves. Whenever the door opened whoever thought they were next would go in.

Joseph and Paul went in and when they exited related that LL had no calculator, pencil or piece of paper on which to figure out how much they had to pay for the insurance which is 7% of your income. A small gray haired woman would come in and out and run to the front office to use the calculator. Such inefficiency!

Time passes. The Italians around us were just as annoyed that they had to wait so long as we were. It was very Kafkaesque. I should mention that around 10:30AM or so the numbers in the machine ran out. People would come in and look at the machine with no numbers, look around the hallway, look back at the machine. The gray haired lady at one time announced that when the numbers ran out they were taking no more people. So as folks came in, someone would tell them they were too late and to come back another day.

After about 3 hours (!) we got to go in. LL is said to be the meanest person in Umbertide. She apparently spends much time screaming at other people on the phone. I had brought in the statement from my Social Security as proof of my income. Luther does not yet get his so we just claimed mine. Again, the gray haired lady came in, took the figure of the income, ran to the front office and ran the numbers. 1,065.22 Euro a year. There was an issue with our Permessi because they run out in June and the insurance is for a year from January. At first we thought she was going to tell us we couldn’t get the insurance but Susan explained that the Italians raise objections but generally that doesn’t stop them from going forward. I guess they just like to complain. So we told her we’d start the process of renewing our Permessi.

Now we were told we need to take the number of Euros we owe to the post office and pay it. They will give us a receipt which we are to bring back to LL. We are told we can jump the line once we have the receipt. We decided we would come back on Thursday to pay and then return Friday.

Thursday we head over to the post office where we take a number. When Luther went to the window the lady said we needed the bank account number that the money was to be deposited into. Wouldn’t you have thought that the LL would have given us a number when she said we had to pay at the post office? But no. So we went over to the health office. We could hear voices behind door number 1. Luther knocked. The door opened a tiny crack. LL peered out and told us to come back Friday between 8:30 and 12:30. We quickly explained we needed the bank account number. She closed the door in our faces. We stood there wondering if she was coming back. Well she did, with a number written on a torn scrap of paper.

We returned to the post office and successfully paid the money. We did not go on Friday so I cannot yet tell you we actually GOT insurance. Tomorrow is Monday and we will return to jump the line and see the LL. If she does give us our insurance then we get assigned a doctor who will oversee our health. The good news is we get to do this every year!

We had some fun on Thursday with Susan and Gary. We visited a winery but we had made an appointment so they arranged a tour. We tasted the new wine in the big vats. That was interesting. It was still cloudy because the sediments had not settled. Pretty interesting. It was actually pretty good and you could tell what it would be like when it matured. They provided plates of tasty bits of food to eat as we tasted the five wines. One white and four reds. We purchased several cases and headed for lunch in Bavagna. The man at the winery called ahead and told them to treat us nice. We had a nice lunch. Sorry to say I forgot my camera!

Today, Sunday we are off to Citta di Pieve which is a nice hill town. I will NOT forget my camera today.

New car caviar!!

Well it finally happened. We got a CAR!! Gary gave us a ride up to Citta di Castello and we picked up our shiny, very white, VW Golf. It is pretty basic but should be a good car for us here. Plenty of room for four people and luggage, or toting stuff. It gets about 60 miles per gallon which will be great and it is a diesel engine so fuel is “cheaper”. Since we arrived here last June the price of diesel has fallen from 1.48 Euro per liter to 1.32 now (about $5.00 a gallon). To top that off the Euro has fallen from 1.49 to about 1.18 now. Anyway, we are very happy with the Golf.

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It would have been good of them to mention that new cars here come with ZERO gas! We noticed on the Superstrada and quickly got of with the range on the odometer at zero. We lucked out and found a station but not without some angst on our part! Apparently this is normal but we didn’t know.

We immediately went to the grocery store to buy big heavy things we couldn’t buy without a car. We got a couple of cases of wine and 4 bags of pellet for the stuffa.

When we got back we made an appointment with Marco who owns some buildings just across the river. He has a bunch of underground garages and we are looking into renting one. It will be for the Porsche eventually but right now we can use it for the Golf.

Other than that exciting news I mentioned in my last post that it was Epiphany. Sure enough, they had a gigantic rally of the Vespa club in the piazza. There were hundreds!

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The Christmas tree was sawed up into little piece on the 7th, the day after Epiphany. They sawed off all the limbs, then chopped up the trunk. Much faster coming down that going up. They also took up all the red carpets and removed all the lights in the streets. So it is now bleak January. It is really quite warm right now. I was out on the patio and it was like spring. We hope we have some good cold snaps because it is needed to kill off the bugs that infected the grapes and olives last year.

Here is a final photo of my Bolognese sauce cooking on our stove in my Mom’s big ole cast iron pan. Just nice.

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Bafana

Today is Epiphany. I looked it up and it is the day the Magi came to the baby Jesus. The day before Epiphany is called Twelfth-night or Twelfth-day and marks the end of Christmastide. In Italy the Eve of Epiphany is when Befana comes bringing gifts for the children.

The Piazza was filled with booths selling things. Many of them seemed to be linked to Befana. I noticed LOTS of stockings for sale like we are more used to seeing at Christmas.
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So I looked it up on Wikipedia and here is what it says:

In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their stockings with candy and presents if they are good. Or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.

Pretty familiar. I liked the sweeping away the problems of the previous year. In Umbertide Befana arrives in an Ape (pronounced app-ay). One of those little 3 wheeled vehicles with a truck bed. How perfect! They attached a chair for her to sit in and she throws candy to all the children who surround the Ape. It drives around the Piazza. There was a band of course. The Ape beeped it’s horn as it went.

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I was shooting these with my zoom from our house so they are kind of blurry but you get the idea.

I am not sure if there is any activity associated with the Epiphany. I heard the church bells ringing this morning at 8AM. I believe there is supposed to be a feast.

Luther is now fighting the cold I had. We also are waiting for Emanuele to bring some packages of things I ordered. Last night when Luther went into the kitchen all the lights went out when he turned them on – there was a POP sound. uh oh. So hopefully Emanuele can fix them.

January 2, 2015

We enjoyed our New Years Eve at Patrick’s Enotecca. He had a nice spread of food, some of which was from the Tyrol in northern Italy as his wife comes from there. It was paired with some wines from that region as well. The town shot off fireworks at midight which we watched until we were too cold. Afterwards we walked back into town and the band was in full swing. We headed on into our house while Susan and company stayed out and hopped up and down to the music as the Italians do. The noise was quite bearable and the cats seemed to have acclimated to the constant fireworks which everyone seems to have.

On January 1 we had a very nice New Year lunch with Susan and Gary and her sister, husband and Joseph and Paul. Very nice food catered by Colagranna. My cold caught up with me and I was a tired puppy afterwards and hit the sack early. Too much partying!

Today, January 2 I felt better but still not back to normal. Today was the day we had to drop off the Clown Car. We had decided we could live without a car for the time we needed to wait until our car was ready. We dropped the car at the train station in Perugia and then took the MiniMetro (only 2 blocks away) up to the top of the town. Then we wandered down to the Etruscan Museum that we had wanted to see. It was very good but a few more English write ups would have made me happier. After we were there a couple of hours and I was all Etruscan and Roman artifacted out we went up and had lunch at Pasticeria where we had eaten a couple of times before. The place was PACKED. It had always been pretty empty before but this time they had two big groups and lots of families with little children making it pretty chaotic. We had a nice lunch though and walked down to the OTHER train station. This station is a short line that only goes from Perugia to San Sepulcro. But it is pretty convenient and it dropped us off right in Umbertide.

Monday is the day Befana comes to town. In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. But children get gifts from both Father Christmas and Befana. Lucky kids. I will keep a watch out for her arrival. Maybe grab a picture or two! But here she is as I could find her on the internet.

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Next week we pick up our car… or we THINK we will. After all this is Italy. One never knows…