Category Archives: cooking

Corona virus 18

462 cases in Umbria. Up 17%. 10 deaths now.

53,578 cases total in Italy. Growth of 14%. Worst news is there were 793 deaths report yesterday, Saturday, in 24 hours, here in Italy. Seven hundred and ninety three.
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Well they finally did it. They proclaimed that running or walking outside will be against the law outside your own yard. You can still walk your dog 200 meters from your house. So, of course I will comply. Too many people were misusing this loophole to congregate. I understand, it is for the best. But it did ruin it for me. I’m not sure how I can keep my knee progressing in this small apartment. Sigh. Walking was the best exercise.
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Today is Sunday. We now pick up our pre-made dinners from Ely (of Calagrana – our favorite restaurant) every Sunday. We pre-order by Wednesday. Today we decided to walk separately over to the parking lot where she comes so as to not attract attention…soooo, I guess one of us will take the car next Sunday! The Carabinieri stopped and told us to wait at home. Boy did they NOT want us to approach their car!! Technically, Ely is supposed to deliver to our homes we think. Also Ely got stopped by them, and another lady there said she’d been stopped. They are OUT there today. They are definitely tightening up.
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I’m watching the news everyday. Only in the evening. I watch the news conference with an ever-changing cast of characters…but always the same Emcee. (?) hmmmm.

I’m pleased to see five states have initiated a lock-down. But I’m sorry that ONLY five states have initiated a lock-down. California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois, and not mandatory. I’m not sure how they can make it mandatory like they can here. But they must. The US is sadly following in the footsteps of Italy.
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I’m reasonably sure nothing else is going to happen today in Casa LUNA…LUther NAncy…so, since I don’t have a picture of any interest, here is one my friend Tom said I could use. From his beautiful house on the mountain nearby…

Stay safe…stay well…stay home! Wash your hands…
Faremo insieme!!

Corona virus 15

247 new positives in Umbria for corona virus. 25% increase. 2 new deaths.
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I got out for some much needed fresh air and a solitary walk yesterday.  I took some pictures as a nice break from all the dire news. It was beautiful out. But I did feel a little weird. Then I reminded myself, we are allowed to go out for exercise alone. We must immediately return home. We must carry ID and the autocertificazione form. I complied with those rules. We are hearing rumblings they may stop all outside exercise because some people are not following the rules and are ruining it for us all.

I started off going straight out of town towards the river. I’ve always loved this path. It is directly behind our apartment and it is, strangely, called Via Grilli — the same name as our street. We know this because more than one visitor was sent down this path by their GPS…worse…it ends in a concrete ramp and metal railing. You must back out..😂

Along this path is a small corpse of trees. Bright green spring growth. It was the home of a colony of feral cats until recently.

Here is a sign, made by children in a nearby apartment. It says andrà tutto bene —- everything will be better ❤️

I went to the ATM. In our Piazza. Normally a beehive of activity with two bars,  stores open and people mixing … it is sad to see it like this.

And finally the churches of Piazza San Francesco. I sort of got trapped by cordoned off path so had to cut through here back to my casa.


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I am following the news from the US and other countries. I am happy to see some US cities are putting into effect the same type of shelter-in-place regiments as Italy has. But, sadly most of the country has been slow to adopt these measures.

About 10 days ago we went into full lock down here. Not just suggestions that we stay home, or that just the elderly have to stay home. Or that we can’t have a gathering of more than ten people…or 50 people or whatever damn random number they decided was “safe”. No one is kindly asking us to “please stay home”. Here, we get arrested and charged with a felony if we are caught out with no good reason. Here, it is a serious quarantine where the only reason we are allowed out is to shop for food or medicine.

I realize no one wants to hear this, but the way forward has been made clear by other countries facing the same epidemic.

I hear people in the US say “Italy looks like us except they are a week or two ahead” but that is ONLY true if you enact the (admittedly draconian) measures we have taken here, and enact them, right now, today. If the US doesn’t take these steps it will have missed the opportunity to save thousands of lives. The time is now.

I’m very sorry to write that. But please, you must realize your reality is no more. Your everyday life has changed for the foreseeable future. It is time to accept and embrace your new reality. I want you to be OK, and for all of our lives to go back to normal…but that will have to wait. Forza America, forza world…
💕

Refrigerators

A thing I struggle with here is my small Italian refrigerator. It stands tall but is narrow. And the freezer has three drawers which limit its capacity. The top is also small necessitating constant juggling. I’d guess it is about the size of half of a big French door frig in the US. I should also mention my refrigerator is considered a large one here 😳 !

Here is my frig.

But I now have a wonderful, very large refrigerator! I can fit just about anything I want in it. Very commodious. The only issue is, it is a temporary refrigerator. Sadly, I cannot use it all the time.

Here is my large refrigerator! And I am not alone. Everyone has one of these! 😀

Buona domenica a tutti!

Winter market

Very cold here. When we woke it was -3C. That’s about 26F. The fields were frosted white. The sky bright and sunny. I love winter days like this. We had planned a couple of mundane errands. We had to go pay our tax lady who is about 25 minutes away, a peaceful drive to the small town of Mercatale at the head of the beautiful Niccone valley, where the road splits. One fork goes over the mountains to Lago Trasimeno, the other goes over the mountains to Cortona. That chore done we headed back to another valley just north of that to where we buy our pellets for our stufa.

Back in Umbertide we unloaded half the pellets at our house and I parked. The Saturday Kilometer Zero market is going today. I really felt like buying some of that beautiful, locally grown winter produce. Since it is all from right around here, it is limited to the beautiful winter greens, root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, the big zucca or winter squash, etc. I bought 3 big leeks (I see potato leek soup in my future) 3 turnips, a big dark green cabbage, 2 heads of my favorite garlic (big heads with spaced out big cloves and very firm), carrots, a big head of cauliflower and some spring onions (don’t ask how that happened! I never see those here). All for €6. local and healthy. No pesticides. Gotta love it.

Take a look at the bounty!
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Compare and contrast

So, I’ve completed a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) of therapy at Prosperious. It is hard not to contrast it with therapy I got at Casa di Cura Liotti. For one thing, I’m in a lot of pain now, after my sessions. I admit this was not something I was seeking out! But it tells me that there’s a difference between the two. I cannot put my finger on what, exactly it is. I raised the issue with my therapist and he assured me it was normal. Next week, I hope I will be able start working out in the swimming pool. The Prosperious doctor needs to assess my incision first.
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Beautiful autumn day. Our Saturday K-zero market was up and running. I bought some things for soup. I experimented with a soup his past week and really liked it. It had winter squash and a couple links of sausage. Also some fennel, pasta, and chick peas. Nicely hearty. So I bought more squash and some nice dark cabbage for another soup this week. The squashes here are huge, like pumpkins, so they hack them up into pieces and you just buy what you need.

My piece of squash…soon to be in my soup!

Last night we fell back…our time changed to standard time. I’m told it is the last time it will happen here in the EU. They have decided to scrap the whole thing. Should make for some confusion ahead!

Rehab – Day four

Il Capo Dottore came by as usual this morning. He speaks good English. He’s married to an American woman from San Diego. He confessed he was unhappy that she is a die hard trump supporter. I’ll say no more. I relayed that Luther went to Prosperious and they told him they would call the hospital here and arrange for my discharge. One guy said it probably wouldn’t happen until Saturday. I guess it doesn’t matter since I’m getting PT here. And I’ve told Luther to stay home until I’m discharged since I don’t need anything. No sense in making him drive all the way down here.
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PT today was a hoot. The PT therapist had about 11 of us there. The lady next to me began to give him (he looks to be late 30s) her recipe for a chicken dish. I was thinking, only in Italy. He was noting it down while we were warming up. So he asked l’Americana for a recipe. I had just been talking about cooking Mexican, Thai, Indian so I decided to give him my Chicken Fajitas recipe. It is simple enough and doesn’t require a lot of strange ingredients. He was happy.
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My roommate, Francesca was slated to leave after PT today. But just before she was coming they realized they had never removed the staples in her incision. So she stayed and I went up to PT. I was afraid she’d be gone and I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye…and I was right. She was gone when I came back. So sorry. She and her family were lovely. Her son would cut her meat, open the bags with the utensils and the Grana Padano bag for her soup or pasta, and peel her fruit. Sweet, taking care of la mamma. I’ll miss Francesca, we were truly the odd couple!


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Lunch was good today. Risotto with asparagus, and turkey polpette or turkey meatballs with tomato sauce and peas. Kiwi for dolce.

Once I do the second PT, which is after lunch sometime, then it is mighty boring. I’m sure it’s why they do the passaggiata everyday, get themselves out of their rooms! The evening stretches on endlessly. Sigh.

Fall is upon us

It is amazing how fast the seasons change here! It was just a little over a week ago that it was blazing hot! Now it’s cool and a few showers. It feels very autumnal 🍁. Nights cool down so much we have to wear sweaters to sit outside in the evenings. We have friends visiting right now. They are staying at a friend’s vacant house in Montone. They said it’s like the desert [edit – ha ha ha, no it’s not like dessert! Sorry!] the way it get so cool at night.

Autumn Umbrian tapestry.

It is also the end of the growing season. They are busy harvesting the grapes. They started with the white Trebbiano Spoletino. Then, surprisingly they said the Merlot was next. It will continue through September and into October/November with the Sagrantino grapes, the Cabernet, and the Grechetto.

Sagrantino

I also am harvesting my bumper crop of hot peppers. We grew Jalapeños, cayenne, and two types of habaneros- chocolate and orange. We also have a small bush-like pepper with tiny hot peppers. It’s very ornamental.

Here is just part of my crop.

Next post will be about a fun visit with one of my besties and her husband.

Enjoy the season!

Ceci Neri

Things are pretty quiet around Umbertide this time of year. But we are moving slowly towards spring. The days are getting noticeably longer and the temperatures are no longer as cold.

I tried a new, for me, ingredient I found at the market. Ceci Neri, or black chickpeas. I guess it is popular in Indian cooking. I decided to make soup with them.

Dried ceci.

After soaking overnight.

Sofrito.

I wanted something green in the soup so I added Beatole.

The finished product. Pretty good.

I posted this picture on my FaceBook page but I thought it was worth a repeat here. A surprise guest. For dinner a couple of days ago, I was making roasted Cauliflower. I rinsed and trimmed it and when I returned I found this! His name is Stan and he’s on the terrace now. Good luck to him!

More experimental fireplace cooking

I bought a nice, plump chicken for dinner and decided not to use my usual roasting recipe by Thomas Keller. I wanted to challenge myself and warm up the kitchen at the same time. So, I decided to roast the chicken in the fireplace. Our fireplace obviously used to be the cooking fireplace as it comes with an iron hook that swings out over the fire. A while ago I had bought a piece of chain thinking I could make a cage in which to hang food from the hook.

Here is the trussed chicken before cooking.

I got the fire going well and suspended the chicken.

The advantage is that the fire kept me warm and cozy too! It was at this point I realized I had a design flaw. Uh oh. I could see the bird was only cooking on the bottom nearest the fire. Not good. So I carefully removed it and undid the chain, turning it so that it was hanging the other direction. Then I re-suspended it. Next time I need to come up with a detachable part with hooks or something so I can flip it more easily. After that all went fine.

Nearly finished. I used an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature from time to time.

An finally…ta da! the finished product. It came out smokey and crispy.

I served it with egg noodles and roasted cauliflower. Just a way to have fun on a winters day with the added bonus of a meal at the end!

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.😋