Road trip! Abruzzo!

This is a mini trip report. We decided to do an overnight to one of our favorite areas, Abruzzo. We also traversed Le Marche on the way. The motivation was to revisit a restaurant we had visited a couple years ago that we really liked then, and also to arrange a winery visit and tasting. To get away for a while. Change of scenery.

We were just coming off of a bad heat spell that had broken with storms. We left on a Tuesday morning with fresh air and sunshine. Perfect top down weather. We drove south through Spoleto and headed east along the river and through the gorge that cuts through the mountains to Norcia. Then over the mountain pass and down into the flats near the Adriatic sea.

Our winery, called Tenuta Torretta, was up in the hills just into Abruzzo. We had an appointment at 2:30. We were having some pretty spectacular thunderstorms. The winery had amazing views to the Gran Sasso mountains and the sea. And a ringside seat to the lightening show as the storm moved up the coast.

Here is the storm over the Adriatic. Lightening streaked from clouds to ground as we watched.

Later, after the storm passed. The sea is a pretty aqua.

Here is the view towards the Gran Sasso – I’m sure it’s spectacular when the storms aren’t around.

The view out over the olives and through the vineyards is gorgeous.

We were met by Cinzia (the Italian version of Cynthia, my sisters name). And afterwards her sister-in-law and her father. It became a real family affair. I think they have missed having visitors during the Corona lockdowns. Anyway we sat outside at plastic tables and tasted three whites, a Vermentino, a Pecorino, a Chardonnay. The big surprise was the Cerasuola, a wine made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes which they allowed to sit with the skins for only half a day. Then the skins removed. But in that short time the wine becomes quite red, redder then a Rose but served chilled just the same. And more full flavored. Then we had two reds. Along with the wine we had good bread and sausages.

I liked all the family. The two sisters were super friendly. And the Dad mostly talked to Luther about the winery. He was probably our age. We bought three cases (of six). It was WAY more than a tasting and I think it lasted almost 2 hours! This is the kind of experience I enjoy most here.

Cinzia.
Dad.
The brother is missing. They missed having visitors I think!

Here are pictures of the wines we tried and the sausage nibbles we had along with bread.

Cerasuolo. Interesting cross. Not quite red, not quite rose, and served chilled
Cerasuolo – see the color?
Chardonnay. Vines were very old.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – the big red of this region.

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We headed down to our destination for dinner, Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele. The hotel is mostly empty. From the breakfast tables there were five rooms occupied. It is also a very basic place. It sorely needs an upgrade. The bed was comfortable enough and the AC was great.

The claim of this place is its restaurant. It does not have an a la carte menu. Just tasting menus. Differing sizes. We didn’t feel up to a 12 course dinner so we chose the smaller menu. It was good-ish. Not as good as I remembered from last time. The biggest downside was the dining was inside. Widely spaced tables but still, I am not comfortable in an enclosed, interior space. And most tables were full.

Good bread.
Stuzzichino – gift from the chef.
Gift from the chef. Mousse.
Chitarra di patate – literally, Guitar of potatoes. The circle is pasta made from potatoes. The type (shape) of the pasta is Chitarra. Loved this course!
Bianco di tacchino con finocchi, arancia, nocciola – Turkey 3 ways.
Ravioli di burrata allo Zafferano deL’Aquila e Lenticchie di Caprafico – mmm mmm good.
Stinko d’Agnello – Shin of lamb
Nettarine e bavarese bianca
Our wine. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The terrace where people had drinks and got the menu.
The dining room. Pretty well spaced tables but I’ve been reading a lot about ventilation carrying the air hither and yon.

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The morning dawned very cool and partly cloudy. Someone said, we went from August to October overnight! We had a nice view of the Gran Sasso mountains, the biggest in Italy and they are now a large park. We had a nice breakfast in the basement. The hotel, after reopening from the lockdown, moved the reception into the basement.

We set off for home, deciding not to visit another winery. We drove through almost continuous thunderstorms all the way up the coast super strata. This highway is very nice. It runs from Bari all the way to Ancona. We turned inland and passed through some of the pretty Marche countryside. The rain finally let up just after we arrived in Umbria. All in all a nice short getaway and change of scenery.

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Stay safe everyone and be vigilant. 🌈 andrà bene.

Busy Sunday

Busy day. We had a shopping trip to accomplish for friends, John and Libby – residents here with Permessi di Soggiorno so they are allowed to return from the US. They got trapped there by the Virus lockdown. They will have to quarantine for two weeks. This means no shopping, no going outside at all, complete isolation. They sent us a long detailed list. And if I was just returning to Umbria from being trapped in the US I’d be craving all the wonderful foods here. I can tell they are too, from their list.

I had already bought a bunch of beautiful produce for them from our local market Saturday. Sunday we went to the local Coop, our biggest and best market in Umbertide. It is a cooperative which you can join and get lots of discounts and they have a reliable level of quality for their store brands. I found out it is a hold out from the days when Communism was strong here.

Much to my dismay, the store was packed. This weekend is the first weekend in August, which is the BIG vacation month for all of Europe. Just about everyone there was foreign. British, German, Dutch…they were all wearing their masks, but the stores aren’t metering entry anymore so it felt a bit close. They were all buying stuff for their houses, or vacation rentals.

We finished the shopping and headed up to Montone. We were met by Calvert and Tom, who live just across from John and Libby. They let us in and we unpacked the stuff. They had also invited us to a summer lunch which we happily accepted and after the delivery we went to their nearby beautiful home.

We sat on their loggia. It is my favorite place in Montone. Although it is over 100F today it was comfortable. We had some interesting wines, thanks Tom! And lunch of cool things, thanks Calvert! We had a tomato, watermelon, cheese salad (many other things in there too) and then a cold gazpacho. With yummy bread. A few pictures. Is this not a beautiful space?

This is the view out across the valley from Montone, such a pretty hilltown.

Note the fireplace to the left! I’d love this!

Gazpacho. So yummy.

Thank you so much Calvert and Tom for this lovely lunch. It was so good we went home for naps! 💤 .

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Stay safe everyone. 🌈

Pronto soccorso (emergency room)

Today I visited the Pronto Soccorso for the first time. It is a weekend and I am unable to see my doctor. Yesterday we decided to give our two cats their yearly bath. Simba objected. And at one point he went totally nuts and while struggling with him he bit down on my thumb, right through it and for a moment I wondered how I was going to get him to let go. And it hurt! A lot!

I know a cat bite is one of the dirtiest bites you can get. I’ve also heard horror stories. I asked a friend of mine who used to work with animals and she said a veterinarian she knew lost her thumb due to a cat bite. That kind of lit a fire under me. I am never anxious to go to a doctor or a hospital, or worse, an emergency room. But we live in Umbertide. We have a hospital and we can even walk there. So we walked over to the Pronto Soccorso.

We rang the bell and explained why we were there. I had to fill out a form about how I was feeling today (Covid related) and they took my temperature. Then I got to go in. I had to go alone as they won’t let more than one at a time. I was pleased I understood everything they asked me and could answer all the questions. My Italian has improved quite a lot I’m happy to say.

The doctors were nice, interested because I am American. One even looked up Virginia on his phone and started listing the states all around Virginia. I showed them my Tessera Sanitaria, my health card enrolling me in the system here. They were surprised but I explained I live here and am in the health system.

There was no discussion about the cat bite. It seemed almost a given that one must get treated for a bite from a cat. They examined my thumb and redressed it. Then they gave me a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics and dressed my wound. I have to return in 6 weeks for a booster tetanus shot. The visit cost nothing. I do love the Italian health care system 💕.

Afterwards we walked back and I drove to a farmacia to get my prescription filled. All in all a painless (mostly 🙂) visit. I’m glad I broke down and went. I won’t be so reticent in the future.

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Yesterday and today I made pesto. The Basil is going wild. I harvested these two. They aren’t so pretty and bushy now. If you want to keep your basil producing you must cut it back as it starts to flower down to just above the juncture with two small leaves at the intersection of the stem. These small lives will grow into new, robust basil branches. I have regular basil and violeta.

Here is the jar of regular pesto I made.

This one is an experiment. Thai basil pesto. It has a dark color because of the purple leaves, and it has Thai flavors like fish sauce, sesame oil, etc. I haven’t eaten it yet. I will report back.

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I have more to report as today was a busy day, but I will save it for tomorrow 🙂

It is still ungodly hot but supposed to break on Tuesday I think. Stay safe y’all. 🌈

Nice dinner and…US news 😢

Last night we went out to dinner! This is a rare occurrence. Instigated by Joseph and Paul. There were 6 of us, all the Americani in the Centro of Umbertide. We wanted to support a local restaurant, Appennino . It is just steps from our door. And we overlook their dining terrace from our own terrace. 

Laura, the proprietor, has been trapped in Cuba, of all places, since Lockdown. She has an apartment there. She only got back a few weeks ago. She has re-opened her restaurant. She says she has good business so far. The terrace out back is a wonderful place and being outside it is good for distancing. But she can’t find any Italiani to help. Weird to me. With all the unemployment and bad economy here, you’d think people would want the work. Right now it is just her, and her mom working. 

Anyway, we had a nice meal and great (and amusing) conversation. It was damn hot, even outside after sunset. We mostly had lite meals.  Most had a pasta for second courses except for one pizza. For apperitivi: two had a nice carpaccio. Two had buratta with guacamole, or pesto and prosciutto, and one got a beautiful shrimp tartar. 

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I figure you all know how I feel about how this damn virus has been handled in the US. And it gets worse.  People just want consistent and coherent leadership in times of crisis. When they get conflicting information it makes them anxious and suspicious. And they don’t know WHAT to believe. It seems like it should be simple…

This, from The NY Times…

Why is the U.S. enduring a far more severe virus outbreak than any other rich country?

There are multiple causes, but one of them is the size and strength of right-wing media organizations that frequently broadcast falsehoods. The result is confusion among many Americans about scientific facts that are widely accepted, across the political spectrum, in other countries.

Canada, Japan and much of Europe have no equivalent to Sinclair — whose local newscasts reach about 40 percent of Americans — or Fox News. Germany and France have widely read blogs that promote conspiracy theories. “But none of them have the reach and the funding of Fox or Sinclair,” Monika Pronczuk, a Times reporter based in Europe, told me.

Fox is particularly important, because it has also influenced President Trump’s response to the virus, which has been slower and less consistent than that of many other world leaders. “Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically,”The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has written.

And don’t get me going on the masks. It is the simplest way to get this virus under control. This is proven in multiple countries. Does the US want to get back to work? Do they want the economy to recover, jobs to return, kids to go to safely back to school, life to return to our new normal? Then. Wear. The. Damn. Mask. Period. It’s not hard.

I know many of you want to come visit Italy. And Italy wants Americans back in Italy. To enjoy la dolce vita with us. The beauty that is here. And I, for one, would like to travel to the US without worrying about catching the virus. Let’s go people! You have a job to do…just like we did here in Italy.
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Rant over. Sometimes I just have to. Sorry. Please stay safe miei amici…🌈

Heat spell

We are just entering our first, longest, and hottest spell of the year. Some people love it. I DO NOT. The house has to be “managed”. Close it all up by 10am. We don’t re-open until sunset. In the early morning sitting on the terrace with my coffee is very nice with the sweet, cool air. In the evenings we watch our Netflix movies and shows out on the terrace. Very pleasant. The good thing is it cools off at night so sleeping is not bad. If we had to, we have an AC in our bedroom, but normally we don’t need it.

Today we walked to the Poste to pay a bill for our friend that could only be paid there. We went early before it got too hot. We walked. On the way we saw a big cherry picker extended to the top of the bell tower in town. This is the one that rings our times all day, and rings for the Masses on other days, as well as at six PM each night. I guess someone noticed all the plants growing on the roof and in the gutters. Looks like the were spraying it to kill it off.

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🌈 andrà va bene! Now this saying is for those in the US.

Sunday dinner

I made a wonderful dinner tonight and I thought I’d share it. The recipe is called “string beans, pickled beans, tomatoes, and olives on Tonnato”. It is from the Six Seasons cookbook. It has started to get hot and we have at least two weeks coming up of very hot weather so salads are nice.

I read the recipe a few weeks ago and made a jar of pickled beans. They’ve been curing in the refrigerator for a while and I thought they were ready. I added a few things, like endives for crunch, and a soft boiled egg. The description of the recipe said it had evolved from the Salade niçoise. The egg added a little more umph so it wasn’t “just a salad”. The tonnato sauce underneath the salad was great and you could get some with each forkful. It was quite filling. I’d make this one again.

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🌈 mask up everyone! 💕

Old lady carrello

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless 🙂, she calls these “old lady carts”.

I admit, the little old ladies here DO use these for their shopping. They don’t have cars so these are a big help to them. But…. I say defensively…. I have also seen younger people, and even (gasp) men with these. I decided to get one. The one above is mine. Sitting in front of our door. Deluxe model. You may note it has the high tech, coolio, triple wheel action, handy for curbs and stairs. Note to my anonymous friend (who lives in Perugia, a hill town 😳), you need one of these!! 💕

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The weather has turned gorgeous. Not at all hot. Brilliant blue sky with no clouds. It gets very cool at night. The Saturday market is going strong. I got my shopping done. The peppers on the left I harvested this morning from our own pepper plants. They are all spicy.

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Dinner tonight will be from a recipe from Italian Food Forever. It is called Summer Spaghetti. So easy, and so good in summer with the beautiful tomatoes. No cooking, so it doesn’t heat up your kitchen. You put it together and let it sit 4 or more hours. The flavors meld. You cook and toss the spaghetti into the sauce while it is hot, saving some sauce to put on top. A little pecorino cheese and it is summertime heaven. Mmmm. Nothing makes me happier!

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I have been watching the US news, as I’m sure we all are. It is so sad that if people would just wear that damn mask they could almost stop this Virus in its tracks! Please stay safe and wear your masks. 🌈 😷

Grocery delivery to new friends

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a follower of this blog. She and her husband had purchased a vacation home here and would be arriving in late July. They are Italian/American dual citizens, which allows them to come. One of the few ways a person from the US can come here now.

Anyway, she wanted to understand what Quarantine really meant. Many people think it is like when we were all under lockdown here. When we could go out to the grocery or for an essential reason with a declarazione. But that’s not what it is. It means when you get to Italy, you take private transport (no train or bus), like a rental car, and drive directly to your house or hotel. Then you don’t leave for 2 weeks. And you can’t have anyone inside your house, like a workman, or friend.

Our new friends don’t have a way to get groceries or anything here so I volunteered to do grocery shopping for them. Turns out they could order on-line at the local Coop and we could pick up and deliver.

I didn’t want to arrive at their place with €300 worth of groceries and perishables unless I was sure I could find it. So, on my way back from the hairdressers I did some recon, and found their house. Interesting concept. An old farm complex that has been made into apartments. You’ll find these all over Italy. Especially Umbria and Tuscany. I took pictures of the view. The first one, if you look on the hill opposite, with the rows of cypresses, is Calagrana. Nice pool for the community.

This one is the opposite side of the valley with it’s pretty olive groves and the crops growing down below.

And this one is in a different direction. You can only see those high mountains when you are up high yourself.

We went out this evening after we got their key from Bar Mary where their Architect, Roberto, left it. All worked out fine. We got two grocery carts full of stuff and transported it in our car to their new place. We unpacked everything. It was cool that the Coop has color coded bags. One for refrigerated, one for freezer, and one for non-refrigerated. We stowed the cold stuff, put in the white wine. I for one, would be hankering for a vino when I arrived. But that’s me! 

We are getting a nice favor from them as well. Luther is out of Cigars and we asked them to bring some for us. Luther ordered and sent to them. Also a few wishes I had for a few items. Always nice. And since we can’t go get more we rely on the kindness of friends. 🙂💕
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Be careful everyone. It is not looking good in the United States. 😢. 🌈

Trivial issues and tomato sandwiches

In the grand scheme of things, considering the really dire state of the human race on our earth, my small problems matter not a whit. It is true. And truly, if I never get Saran Wrap again but the Corona Virus is vanquished, I am more than fine with that.

Last night I used the last of my Saran Wrap. I can manage with the Italian plastic wrap, but Saran is much, much better. During normal times I would be traveling home to the US once a year or so. And I always stock up on all the things I like from there (I bring an empty suitcase). Needless to say we won’t be going home anytime soon. And we won’t have any guests from the US anytime soon, so I will make do.
Dead soldier…


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Tomato sandwiches were a staple of my childhood lunches. My mother adored in-season tomatoes. She would have called them “home grown”. She would make a sandwich with Wonder bread, mayonnaise and thick slices of tomatoes with salt and pepper. That’s all. And I grew up eating these. Since “home grown” tomatoes are only around a couple of months I tend to eat them everyday here. How? You ask? Watch me work!

First, and don’t you people be shouting about this because it is in all the Supermarkets here, I buy a nice loaf of American Sandwich bread. Just like Wonder Bread 🙂.

Then, I slather on lots of mayonnaise…and not just ANY mayonnaise but the real thing! Hellman’s! Also available here at selected supermarkets.

We don’t have what Americans call Heirloom tomatoes in our markets, but what we have are outstanding!

The Romas on the left are destined for Gazpacho. The basil will be pesto! Mmmm I love summer.

So, using all these fine ingredients 🙂… I make my daily Tomato sandwich. Mmmmmm. Sorry…half eaten 😋

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I also got my haircut this morning. First time since lockdown. Whew. Nice to get it cut. I drive around 40 kilometers from Umbertide to Sansepolcro. Nice small city in Tuscany. I love Stefano, my hairdresser.
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Stay safe everyone! 🌈