Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

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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Buon Anno a tutti!


Cold and incredibly clear here now. Night temperatures are getting down in the mid-twenties Fahrenheit. Brrrr. My lemon tree is inside for the duration.

New Years Eve saw big celebrations and dancing into the wee hours in the piazza. I guess they had to dance to keep warm. Italians don’t really dance…they hop. Up and down, up and down. Really quite amusing to watch.

For New Years dinner we made a trek on New Years Eve to Bosco, a town south of us, to buy a good steak from Etrusco macellaio. They have the BEST beef. We always stock up while there. I built a fire and warmed myself waiting for it to get good and hot. Meanwhile I made Hoppin’ John for luck. I bring dried black-eyed peas from the US. Here in Italy the dish to serve is sausages and lentils. Lentils are shaped like coins and will make you rich in the new year.
Anyway you do it, Happy New Year to us all! Hoping for a transitional year ahead.

Panettone

The whole world probably knows the Italian Christmas cake called Panettone. But, before I lived here I had only had poor, mass produced versions of the wonderful cakes. I bought them in specialty stores in the US and they were dry and stale.

After moving to Italy we saw that the cakes were just everywhere. They showed up as early as September. Talk about pushing the season! And by December entire supermarket aisles were dedicated to piles of the boxed cakes. All types. There are two traditional types of cakes…one has candied fruit. I’m not a fan of candied fruit myself. But there are other types. The second type of cake is pandoro. Plain cake with lots of butter in it and it is powdered with sugar when served. The Italians seem to be split in their preferences of these two holiday cakes. No Christmas dinner is complete in Italy without either panettone or pandoro, but often both. It is a real problem for many Italian families, because they are often split between panettone lovers and pandoro lovers. Some think pandoro to be too plain and buttery; the group usually don’t like raisins and candied fruits which are always in traditional panettone. So often, there are both types to please all people.

Pandora came from Verona. Pandora means “golden bread”. It is yellow in color and shaped like a star. It is dusted with powdered sugar before it’s served. It looks much like pound cake but since it is made with yeast, it is light and airy, rather than dense like pound cake.

Photo courtesy of Italian Gourmet

Panettone came from Milano originally. It is a yeasty cake filled with raisins and candied fruit and dome shaped. A legend shared with me by my friend says the name came from the fact there was a banquet in Milano  and the original dessert got burned. A pastry chef, named Toni, made a quick cake from left over ingredients and it turned out to be a big hit. All the attendees asked what it was called, and the head chef said “pane di Toni” hence the name 🙂.

Photo courtesy of Gambero Rosso

We have bought cakes from the grocery store. And we’ve bought cakes from a specialty wine shop. We even brought them back to the US in our suitcase for gifts on trips home at Christmastime.

But this year I decided to order a fresh one from our local bakery. It is family run and produces delicious bread and pastries all year, but at Christmas they put their energies into artisanal cakes. They do have the two traditional ones but they also have some amazing other flavors and types, from chestnut to chocolate to pistacchio.

Bakery on the left as we approach from our house. It is only a few steps away.

Here we are, Il Panificio La Rocca. The place was full of people buying cookies, bread and cakes.

Price and product list for the cakes.

This one is all dressed up, a gift for some lucky person!

The case full of torte waiting to be picked up. SO pretty!

Oh my goodness! What a difference. The cake was amazing! I will never buy a mass produced cake again. Yes, it was a LOT more expensive but it is artisanal — baked right down the street from us in the family run forno. So you pay for that. There were all kinds of cakes to choose from lined up on the counter when I visited to order mine. There were the traditional ones, of course, but there was a magnificent chocolate one covered in chocolate icing and sprinkles! And one enormous one which looked like it would feed an entire extended family! The one I chose was pistacchio with a frosting studded with whole nuts. Inside were cherries juicy and whole, not candied. And it was filled with a pistacchio cream. Oh my! I ordered it for a dinner at our house and the six of us nearly ate the whole thing.

And here is our Pistacchio panettone. Bellissimo! Bravi to the people at the forno who created it.

If you ever get the chance to eat one of these fresh bakery made cakes, jump at it!

Christmas season begins…

Last night they lit our town Christmas tree. We went down and joined in the fun. It was mostly for the kids. Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) was in his hut, and there were lots of performances by the kids. We went to Bar Mary. It was very mild out so we sat at a table outside. We were joined by some friends who happened by. Then there was the count down – dieci, nove, otto, sette, sei, cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno!! And the tree was lit!

Here are pictures! First the unlighted tree. Then when it is lighted up.

Chestnuts roasting.

One of the vendors selling Christmas ornaments.

I call this “Cityscape” – projected lights on the buildings (I’m not sure I’d want to live there!)

And with the Rocca in the shot.

Our Collegiata, lit up for L’Imacolatta – with the moon and sparks.

And one of the many sconces of lights on the streets.

Enjoy the season! Buon Natale.

Doctors, and wineries, and la cena – Oh my!

Yesterday was a Very Busy day and I want to share it with you.

It started out pretty early. We had an appointment with my knee surgeon at the hospital for X-rays. It was the standard 45 day post op checkup. I’m happy to say I’m fit as a fiddle. I’m now cleared to walk normally up and down the steps, which I did with very little problem. I’m very happy!

It was a pretty day (mostly) with a lot of fall colors and watery blue skies. Not too cold. To go from our house to the hospital in the city of Perugia we can take the SuperStrada around the city (faster but busier), the road that goes through the middle of town (tiny one way streets) or the pretty 2 lane road through the mountains. So, on the way to the hospital Luther took us through the city. On the way home I chose the mountains.

The road goes by a winery and agriturismo we like so we stopped to buy some wine. They also raise pigs which become prosciutto. Here’s the big ole sow. The piglets had run inside. The pens are super clean, and have inside and outside parts.

We also stopped at a place we’ve been passing all the years we’ve been here. It is an enormous castle and a beautiful golf course. We were looking for the restaurant that was supposed to be there. We drove up to the castle which is shuttered. Word has been it was supposed to be an upscale hotel, they also advertise condos for sale. For a long time it was covered with scaffolding but it had been removed a year or so ago. Yet still it is not open. Somebody put a lot of money into this property with the 18 hole Trent Jones golf course.

Castle

Old olive groves surround the castle

The golf course. We don’t have many golf courses in Umbria, or Italy, for that matter. It had a number of people playing. The sign at the entrance says welcome in Italian, English, German, and…Russian. Tells you who they are hoping to attract.

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We had been invited to la cena (dinner) by our friend Vera. She is such a gem. Her suocera (mother-in-law) was having a big dinner for friends and family. No special occasion that I could discern. I was a little reticent but decided I need to mix more so we said we’d come. Vera said not to expect much. It was a down-home feast with the contadini (contadino means farmer) so local folks – working people, farmers.

I will tell about it in pictures 🙂 Here is Vera and her suocera.

The meal was going to be in the garage. As garages go, it was a nice one. Here is the cinghiale who watches over the scene.

I asked what the wires across the ceiling were for. I was told they were to hang the grapes that they dry to make Vin Santo. It is for personal consumption. The grapes are allowed to raisin to get sweet before they make it. They don’t make it every year so no grapes were hanging.

What garage do you know that has a crackling fire? It was for warmth but also for roasting chestnuts at the end of the meal.

Beside the fireplace inside sat Silvester, the ancient Tom Cat. He’s 13 years old and never been to the vet. Not castrated…Italian men don’t allow “cutting”… he didn’t want to be bothered or touched. When he moved it was the slowest I’ve ever seen a cat move. He must be hurting 🙁 But he did seem to be enjoying the fire’s warmth.

Just outside is their big forno (wood oven). And the outside fireplace. Both were roaring hot.

Here is the pork liver (I am fairly certain I’ve never had pork liver before) that had been cooked for both the crostini and the secondo, much to Luthers dismay. Not really, there was plenty of food and he tasted it. We were surprised Italians love liver so much!

The meal begins with crostini. One, liberally dosed with the new olive oil, the other, fegato (liver). Very, very rich!

Beginning the polenta. Two kinds of corn meal…Add to the boiling water,  bring to a boil again and continuing adding hot water,  “til it is right”, cook, stir.

Takes a LOT of stirring to make polenta

The polenta is pronounced ready.

To go on top, a luscious ragu. It had simmered for hours and hours in the biggest pot I’ve seen in a home kitchen! It was pork bits. All sorts with bones and all. Plus lots of sausage. By now the meat was off the bones. They scooped the meats out and put them on a separate plate.  Then they took the tomatoes, which the meat had simmered in and scooped it into a separate dish. Rich and mouthwatering.

To serve, the polenta goes in a plate, add meat and sausages, and top with rich tomato sauce.

Two long tables. All men at one, all women at the other – hah! (Kids were upstairs) Very typical. After a while Vera and I moved over to the men’s table. There is no rule or prohibition to sit together. But the men and women prefer to talk of men’s and women’s things so why sit together?

I had fun. It had been a long day and I was pretty tired so we had the dolce (dessert) and headed home before the chestnuts were roasted. A very traditional, home cooked meal that couldn’t be beat! And a unique experience.

Santa Cecilia, patron Saint of musicians

Today is the feast of Santa Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Every year, here in Umbertide, she is celebrated in the dark of night with the city band playing in the streets. I woke last night at 3:54am to the sound of music. I went to the window and a saw below, the musicians riding through our centro on the flat bed of a truck. I love this tradition. Here is her history.

St. Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs. Her feast day has been celebrated since about the fourth century. She was a noble lady of Rome who suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus.

According to the story, despite her vow of virginity, she was forced by her parents to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart, and for that she was later declared the saint of musicians. When the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that watching over her was an angel of the Lord, who would punish him if he sexually violated her but would love him if he respected her virginity. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he could if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized by Pope Urban I. After following Cecilia’s advice, he saw the angel standing beside her, crowning her with a chaplet of roses and lilies.

The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church.

Cecilia was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus, and later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. In 1599, her body was found still incorrupt, seeming to be asleep.
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These are the things that brought me here, keep me here, and endlessly entertain me. 💕

Taking advantage of a sunny day

We’ve had a lot of wet dreary weather. Not cold, just damp and gray. So, this weekend, Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be pretty and sunny with no rain. We said, “let’s do something!”

Tiber on our way to the garage.

Sunday was the festival of San Martino. One of my favorites. On the 11th of November, Italy celebrates San Martino, a soldier of the Roman Empire who became a Saint for his great humility and generosity.

The story goes that while he was riding at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers, he met a poor, freezing beggar, cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with him. That same night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given to the poor man and thanking him for his compassionate gesture.

It is also said that at the moment he shared his cloak, the sun came out and that is why what in the U.S. is known as Indian summer, in Italy is called Estate di San Martino: a short period of time during the first weeks of November characterized by relatively good, warm weather.

Well, our weather was quite nice today so, in honor of San Martino we went wine tasting!

We visited Arnaldo Caprai winery. There were lots of people there maybe because hardly any wineries are open on Sundays. It was a nice operation.  Pretty tasting room, nice outside space. We did the standard tasting, grechetto white, montefaclco rosso, and sagrantino. We also asked to taste the Pinot nero and another Sagrantino. They brought us plates of bread with the new oil. And also they brought out plates of just roasted chestnuts. In honor of San Martino. We bought some wine and a bottle of the new oil.

Now for lunch. Five years ago, almost to the day, we had dined at Locanda Rovicciano We enjoyed it then so we decided to go back. It is an ancient building at the end of a dirt road. As you drive down the road you pass a number of houses that are surrounded by junk and the neighborhood looks really ugly. But once you pop out at the end it is quite pretty. It is also a B&B and there were several groups of Americans. How they found the place I’ll never know!

We had reserved and it’s good we did as the place was packed. I had the scrambled eggs with white truffles to start. Just outside of where we sat I could see a flock of white chickens. I knew where my eggs came from. They were brilliant yellow as are all the eggs here sourced locally. Happy chickens. The chef brought out two tiny white truffles and placed them on a tiny scale. They are sold by weight. He shaved one onto my eggs and recorded the grams. A yummy treat and not something you can get just anywhere. Luther had maccheroni with cheese and sausage. Real comfort food and a huge plateful.

Fried bread for munchies.

Luther’s maccherioni

My first bite.

Eggs with truffles

For secondi I had the pigeon cooked under a brick on the fire. Luther had the lamb. I had spinach and Luther had the roasted potatoes for our contorni. A nice meal.

Back in Umbertide the festival of San Martino was in full swing. There were booths with flea market type junk and booths with hand crafted things like woolen hats and scarves. There was a big tent with the new olive oil all sourced from just near here. And the fires were crackling with the chestnuts roasting. I bought a cone of them along with a bottle of Umbertide oil from Monte Acuto. The band was setting up on the stage. The Nowhere men. They played old rock and roll. All in all a nice fest and a nice day.

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!

First Prosperious therapy session and…

So, Monday was my first scheduled PT session at our nearby rehab facility, Prosperious. Super highly thought of here in Italy, with both in-patient and out-patient facilities. I can walk there from our house but this is, in and of itself, a workout. First I descend 56 steps…piano, piano. Then I walk about 10-15 minutes. This is all good IMO. Walking is good. Steps, maybe not so much but once I can use both legs then good. Repeat…

Once I reached my destination I was directed to Lorenzo for my therapy. The facility is nice. Big and spacious with lots of folks, of varying ages, in various stages of therapy for various joints. Oh, we fragile humans!

Prosperious from outside

Mostly it is non-weight bearing exercise now with some massage. And afterward, electron therapy. Luther and I laughed at my auto-correct which changed electrode to electron. So they place electrons (-trodes) on my thigh to stimulate the muscles. Luther said it up-ended his quantum physics learning!

And afterwards I walked home. I didn’t pay, I didn’t get my patient card back. I’m sure they will inform the idiot American of her error eventually.😑
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It is not all about medical issues, thankfully! Last night we decided to walk over to FOXX, our new pizzeria just across the river. Short walk for us. We wanted to try their Apericena. This is an interesting mash-up of two Italian words by the way. Aperi is short for Aperitivo, or pre-dinner drink, and Cena is the word for dinner. So you get a drink and bar food. It’s like a happy hour thing. It starts at 6PM. Here are some pictures of the posh new space and the looooonnnggg buffet of food. Order a drink and it’s all you can eat…cost? 8 Euro. Not bad.

My plate

Outside space – it is still nicely warm so many people were outside.

Spiffy bar

Since it was on our way we stopped to check out the 3 pomegranate trees I found earlier this year. I picked a few to see if they are ripe. I know NOTHING about pomegranates. I had to look up how to know if they are ripe, whether they will ripen more once picked, and how to open them up. The one I opened is one of the bigger ones and the seeds are yummy but a little sour. Maybe a bit too early. Pictures…