Our new Prime Minister

After the collapse of our last government here, the president of Italy, Sergio Matarella, appointed Mario Draghi as our new PM. It was deplorable for a previous PM (Renzi) to upend the government in the middle of a pandemic, in my opinion, and I had liked our previous PM who got bumped (Conte). But I’m pleased with Mario Draghi. His name means Dragons in Italian. I think that’s perfect! We need dragons now to get us through this. He served as President of the European Central Bank during the Eurozone crisis, becoming famous throughout Europe for saying that he would be prepared to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the euro from failing. And he did. So I think he’s a fighter and we need that now.

The newest thing to happen, is that Draghi has blocked AstraZeneca from exporting the doses of the vaccine that they manufactured in the EU, out of the EU. They have not yet met their contractual obligations to the EU. I’m so glad we’ve got someone in our corner fighting for us right now. We have such a measly amount of vaccine here. And we all wait for our vaccinations while the disease surges. Here is the new map for Italy and it’s zones.

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Stay safe everyone…andrà tutto bene…🌈

Regional meal — Umbria

Tonight is Regional meal night from Calagrana. This time from our very own Umbria. We opted in for the wine since it is a new one to us. I am especially looking forward to the Torta al Testo. Fatta in casa….home-made.

Torta al testo is very old and it originated in the Umbrian area. It began as an unleavened alternative to traditional bread. There are two variants: the original one with wheat flour, and later came one with corn flour, after corn arrived from the Americas. Normal ingredients are only water, flour, salt and baking soda. In the upper Tiber valley, where we live, I read there’s is a similar cake called ciacca (probably dialect), the recipe involves the addition of an egg. This, I have not yet verified.

The cooking surface, a disc about 3 cm thick, is called “testo” from the Latin testum, or the brick tile on which, in ancient Rome, focaccias were baked. Originally it was made at home by making large stones into a smooth surface and placing it into the fire to heat. Now it is possible to buy a special Torta al Testo pan made of cast iron or concrete.

Traditionally the Torta al Testo was split and eaten with any meats or foraged greens. But it is most often seen eaten with the pork products for which Umbria is famous. Our friend Vera invited us to lunch in the Before Times and she asked her mother-in-law (suocera) to make some. She does make the best I’ve ever had. They have a huge outdoor wood oven to make it authentically. It smelled so floury and bready, and it was very soft. I could’ve munched it all day. But this day I learned the traditional way to eat it, with halved sausages and cooked spinach. It was incredible. I had to borrow a picture. Photo credit to Dreavel.com. This is the traditional way. I may have to try my hand at making some myself!

I didn’t actually know Pollo all’arrabbiata (arrabbiata means angry and says it will be spicy) was an Umbrian dish. I must look it up. We finished our meal and it was scrumptious. Here are pictures.

plated and ready to eat
Eating!
Torta al testo
Vino

Italiano phrase…”fare la scarpetta”. This needs some explanation. Literally it means “make the little shoe” but it is a saying. If you have sauce left on your plate you use the bread to sop up the sauce. Or you “make the little shoe”. Pronounced fah-ray lah scar-pet-ta.
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Stay safe everyone, andrà tutto bene 🌈

Beautiful day for a walk

There was good news in the Corriere della Sera newspaper yesterday — Mario Draghi — our new Prime Minister — has installed his own people as the covid team and he’s calling up the civil defense and the army logistics command. The civil defense will be administering shots, and the logistical people will be making sure the vaccines keep coming and get to the right places. They want herd immunity by summer. Spero di si! It would be nice to have a “normal” summer. I am a sceptic so will wait and see.

I also read in the US news today that numerous states are reducing restrictions and opening businesses after the lowering of cases. Texas is even removing the mask mandate. I can see why they want businesses open. But why remove mask mandates? These moves will inevitably result in an upswing in cases again. Do they NEVER learn from the past? It is too soon and there have not been enough vaccines administered yet.
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Last year our old Conad grocery store closed, as did the butcher next to it. The Conad was our nearest grocery of any size. A new store, Carrefour, took its place. A French chain. It is bigger, cleaner, and has more products. Yesterday I saw a sign outside advertising fresh made sushi. I was surprised and pleased. But today the sign is gone. So I assume this means that fresh sushi is not an everyday thing. Investigation is in order.
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I went for a nice walk in the evening. The weather was very pleasant with temperatures in the 60s F and sunny. There is a park nearby. I had not visited it in some time so I went there and walked today. Here are some pictures.

When I took this next one I thought it would not come out. But I was pleasantly surprised. Tiny white flowers in the forest. Sweet!

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I heard a rumor. A new restaurant will be opening in Centro of Umbertide. It makes my heart feel good that there are optimists still willing to fling themselves into creating something new in the chaos of the Pandemic times. And a restaurant to boot. I hope this rumor is true!
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Italiano sentence for today. “Ho trovato un albero con piccoli fiori bianchi nel bosco.” English — “I found a tree with tiny white flowers in the forest.” Pronounced…oh trove-ah-toe une al-bear-roe con peek-co-lee fee-or-ee bee-ahn-key nell boss-co.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene!🌈

Moonset – times two…

I was up at 6am Saturday and from the window I saw the full moon setting with a reflection in the Tiber. I went out in the cold in my nightgown to snap a picture. Brrrrr. Mornings are still very cold here.

But, Saturday was sunny and warm in the Piazza. We headed out to do some errands and visit our local market to see what was to be seen. I bought a few things at the market. Broccoli/broccole and Cauliflower/cavolfiore are always around this time of year. Some fresh eggs. And I got the ever present Cavolo Nero or black kale. Luther bought six bottles of vino bianco from our local winery. The nice lady there is always so excited when we come. I don’t think she sells much 😞 So we are happy to support them and the wine is good!

We also drove to a store and bought some pellets for our stufa, and visited the grocery for some supplies. I bought carciofi romana…artichokes …because I saw a picture of someone cooking them and it made me drool…🤤
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Carciofi Romana Why have I never made this before! It is so good. And really not so hard. I had four artichokes and I cleaned them and prepped them for the pot. Then I rubbed them in garlic, mint, salt and pepper.

I put them into a pot and poured the olive oil over them, then added the water and brought to a simmer. I put a lid on the pot to let it cook.

After thirty minutes they were done. Very yummy and garlicky. I served them as a first course before our hamburgers 🤣😂

The ingredients are few. I did four artichokes but you can do as many as you want. You can look on the internet to see how to trim them if you haven’t done it before. You’ve got to be pretty ruthless. Most of it goes in the trash. If you’re not cooking right away put them in a bowl of lemon water so they won’t discolor. Chop about a tablespoon of mint and garlic fine, add a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Rub the artichoke cut parts in it. Put them face down with stems up in the pot. Put the heat on medium. Pour about half a cup of olive oil over them. Add about a cup of water. Lower heat and simmer 30 minutes. Serve warm.
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Moderately good news. Umbria has gone back the Orange Zone. This does very little for us except people can sit outside a cafe for coffee, and the dress shops will be open again. I think that’s about it. We still can’t leave our Comune. I don’t mind telling you, we are all bored out of our gourds here. If they’d let us go into a Zone Yellow we could at least travel in the region of Umbria and the restaurants could open for lunch. Maybe soon 🤞🤞
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Italiano for today. “Ho incontrato un amico in piazza e abbiamo fatto due chiacchiere” In English, “I met a friend in the square and we had a chat.” Pronounced — oh in-con-trah-toe un ah-me-ko in pee-ahtz-zo A ahb-bee-ahmo faht-toe dew-ay key-AH-key-err-ray. The word Chiacchiere is a really hard one for me to pronounce. They really accent the second syllable. And they roll all their Rs. Really roll them which I cannot put in my pronunciation. Many English speakers have difficulty rolling their Rs. When I was little I used to do a lot of sound affects with my toys. So rolling my Rs is natural! 😁
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Stay safe everyone, buona domenica! 🌈

La cena regionale

The weather has been so perfect lately, I took the opportunity to walk around town and take some pictures. I got a lot of doors but I am going to save them for the next post. Pigeons have plenty of places to perch and nest. This is one of the defensive towers in the town walls.

Laundry day and sunny walls.

One thing I noticed that is different here in Italy than in the US is that there are no advertisements in our mail. No catalogs. Nor are there requests for financial support by charities or foundations like the ubiquitous Alzheimer’s Association. We ONLY get real mail. The occasional card or letter from a friend or utility bills. That’s all we get. BUT people do get Pubblicità — junk from stores stuffed in all the mailboxes advertising sale items or weekly specials…these are not through the Poste. They are carried by people hired to distribute them. And there are a LOT. They are messy. They get rained on or they end up on the ground, tossed there by someone too lazy to take them to the trash. You can put a sign on your mailbox that says “No Pubblicità“ and in theory, you will stop getting these. We have a sign. And for the most part we don’t get the ads. Once or twice a week we get something stuffed in, even with our sign. Here is a typical group of mailboxes stuffed with Pubblicità.

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Tonight is the next stop on the Calagrana Regional Culinary Tour. This time it is from Toscana. Our next door neighbor. We are only a few miles from the border.

And….here’s dinner!

Italiano phrase – “ci sono troppe pubblicità” In Englese – “there are too many advertisements” Pronounced…chee so-no trohp-pay poob-blee-chee-TA.
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Buon fine settimana! Stay safe….Andrà tutto bene!🌈

Clean-up on the terrazzo

It is time for clean up of the pots and old plants before we can get new plants for the upcoming summer. Oh joy! Summer! I am debating whether it’s too early to uncover the table outside. I’m thinking it is not. Only severe weather will affect it and I don’t think we will have anything VERY severe.

I am thrilled that my tarragon plant is sending up pretty, green, new shoots. Shout out to my friend Joanne for providing me a new plant last fall after my previous one died. French Tarragon is not to be found in Italy. Only Russian, and it has no smell or flavor. It seems strange since we share a border with France. Joanne brought two plants back from Germany for us a couple of years ago. I’m so glad mine survived the winter this time. I do love tarragon chicken.

I have a lot of sweet alyssum that is still very much alive. I usually pull it all up but I’ve seen some massive specimens around here so I’m going to leave it and see. My friend Doug told me it is mostly considered an annual in the US, but since it is native to the Mediterranean it will probably come back. The stems are very green inside.
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Italian phrase for today…”dentro è ancora abbastanza freddo per poter usare la stufa a pellet” in English “inside it is still cold enough to use the pellet stove”. Pronounced…din-tro A ahn-cora ahb-bah-stan-za fred-doh pear eu-sahr-ay lah stoo-fa a pel-let. I should mention my pronunciation that I write here is as good as I can make it by saying it and trying to spell the sound. The A that I put in is really a long A sound, like the a in jay. I couldn’t seem to phonetically spell that.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.

Sunny Sabato

It was sunny when I started writing this on Saturday. It clouded up later but I know for a fact next week will be beautiful. Well…I actually don’t know “for a fact” because the weather reports here are so unreliable. Luther and I follow different reports on-line and they NEVER agree…so we pick the one we like best! It is something I have always wondered about. In the US, in the Washington DC area where we came from, the nightly news weathermen were stars. I always loved Bob Ryan on Channel 4. They are actual meteorologists and they have so much technology at hand and are usually very reliable. Here, the weather report is only reliable for about eight hours ahead of time. Useless.

We went to the grocery store yesterday. Since we are still in the Zona Rossa we can’t go together into the store. So we each grab a cart and go off on our own. They always take our temperature to get inside. We bought all we needed and returned to our side of town. Before dropping of our purchases we drove to FOXX, the pizzeria across the river and ordered pizza to be delivered for dinner last night. This was our first time ordering from them for delivery. Then we dropped off all our purchases as well as the kitty litter and four bags of pellets. Big carry for Luther. I drove and parked and returned via the Saturday market in the piazza. I ran into Jim in front of Bar Mary, he was our realtor and was our first acquaintance in Umbertide. I was saying life was boring and he was pretty funny and upbeat. He’s good with doing fuck-all every day, he said. He gets up. Makes tea and coffee. Reads Facebook, Twitter and the news, and then it’s time to get dressed. After that it’s time for lunch. And so it goes…day in and day out. Very much like my days. I did look up fuck-all and it is a term used in Britain which means “absolutely nothing”. Handy descriptor for most of my days.🙂
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We had very bad news in Umbria this week. 80% of all cases in Umbria are variants. 60% Brazilian which reduces efficacy of vaccines. Since we are not vaccinating at a fast pace it means the disease is getting ahead of us. Our numbers continue to rise and we are in Code Red already. Even here in little Umbertide we are having between 10 and 20 new cases every day. Very discouraging.
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A photo of the sunny yellow Comune building just across Via Grilli from our front windows. I love it in the sunshine.

Phrase. “farà molto più caldo questa settimana”. In English “it will be much warmer this week” Pronounced far-AH molt-oh pew call-doh quest-ah set-tee-mah-nah.
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Stay safe. Andrà tutto bene.🌈

Regional dinner…Venezia

Today we are having a dinner courtesy of Calagrana, delivered to our door. A speciality of the Venetian region, and specifically to Venice. Baccalà is salt cod. Reconstituted it is a speciality of many regions. This one, with potatoes, is yummy.

We opted out of the wine pairing on my personal sommeliers recommendation 🙂 The dinner was really good and I’m not a big fan of Baccalà.
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Phrase…”ora di cena. mangiamo” English…”time for dinner. Let’s eat”. Pronounced…ora dee chayna. Mahn-gee-ahm-oh.
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Stay safe…springtime is coming! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Reading Italian recipes

We bought the Corriere della Sera and the Corriere del Umbria at the Tabac this week. I will tell you we buy the newspaper because we need the newspaper for other uses, after it’s been read. Like cleaning out the stufa, or under the cat dishes, or for making a fire…Luther reads it online anyway. And I sometimes read the Umbria version.

So this week there was a whole section on cooking. I love cooking as everyone knows and so I read it avidly…if slowly. I am actually at a B2 level of Cooking Italian. I can normally read recipes and articles about cooking very easily.

I had already thawed a package of coniglio for dinner. That’s rabbit for those who want to know. And there was a recipe for it in this newspaper. I read through the ingredients and saw I had them all. I decided to make it for dinner tonight. One of the ingredients was a cup of coffee… I was intrigued, what an interesting thing to have in the dish. But when I read through the recipe instructions there was no mention of the “cup of coffee” being added. I needed a second opinion. Luther read it through and between he and I we figured out the “cup of coffee” was a “measurement amount” of an ingredient, not an actual ingredient.

This is really quite normal. They don’t use cups and teaspoons and tablespoons here. Most things are by weight so you need a scale. In addition to weights you will see a bicchiere of such and such, or a glass of it. And a cucchiaio of oregano – a spoonful. But I had never seen 1 tazza da caffe aghi di rosmarino. I thought they were two different things…a tazza di caffe, and the fronds of rosemary. But I never thought it was a coffee cup size amount of fronds of rosemary. Now in retrospect it is a funny misinterpretation on my part! You live and learn.

Here is the dish. It said to serve it with risotto con pesto. So I did. But this in itself is a major error on my part. An intentional error as I knew risotto is ALWAYS served as a primi. And alone as it should be. It is NEVER a side. The coniglio is served as a secondi. Never, ever together on the plate. We Americans are used to the meat, the veg, and the starch on one plate. But not in Italy! I’m sure the writer meant them to be 2 different piatti. We enjoyed both courses on our one plate. [recipe here]

Italian phrase. “Domani e venerdì” English “Tomorrow is Friday” pronounced, doe-mah-nee A ven-er-DEE.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Maybe this is our last cold snap?

The days are a lot longer now. Our terrace gets no sun at all in the winter. But as the sun moves along the horizon suddenly the pantry window starts getting sun just before sunset. Today I noticed it’s shining halfway down that wall. It is my method to monitor the progress of the lengthening days and the approaching spring. 🍀 Grateful.
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Tonight for dinner we had Spaghetti Carbonara. The traditional Roman recipe. There was no record of this recipe before 1950. It was first mentioned after the end of WWII. The American GIs had eggs! And they had bacon! No one else did. They shared with the Italians who had little to eat. And they’d bring them to the restaurants and give them to the chefs to use to make some pasta for them. The chefs came up with Spaghetti Carbonara. Anyway, that’s the story! Such an easy dish. Only guanciale or pancetta, egg yolks, grated pecorino cheese, black pepper and spaghetti.

Sentence. “la primavera sta arrivando!” – “Spring is coming!” Pronounced…La preema-vara stah are-riv-ahndo.

Umbria vaccinated 1,331 eighty year olds yesterday. We have begun. Stay safe everyone., 🌈