Monthly Archives: October 2021

Our first guests!!

We were so happy to welcome Luther’s brother Mike and his wife Anne. Along with their daughter Rachel and her husband Alex. They had not managed to visit since we’ve been here so it was great to show them around. Their trip was only for five nights here so a whirlwind visit. They brought gifts! Hominy in cans for me and some beautiful spices. And a couple of boxes of cigars which Luther sent to his brother before they came.

Our normal strategy with guests is to do a mix of things but lunch is always the focus and the big meal of the day. We try to choose from our favourite restaurants to give a variety of foods from basic Umbrian cuisine to more adventurous chefs. We were blessed with pretty much perfect weather almost the entire time.

WARNING: there are a LOT of food pictures on this post .

As always, travel is fraught with uncertainty. They were booked to fly from Washington DC to Montreal to connect with a direct flight to Rome. They missed the flight to Montreal so were re-booked through Paris. This put their arrival around six hours later than planned. But still they managed to get here in time for our pizza night dinner at Calagrana. Always fun and the pizza is the best. We headed back home to put them to bed. Speaking of that, we have three bedrooms but it felt a bit crowded so we rented an apartment at Borgo Fratta, a new vacation apartment property here in Umbertide, walking distance from us. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Mike and Anne were very comfortable in their own space and we had Rachel and Alex with us.

The Gang!

Monday. Our first day and we had an appointment at a winery in the Montefalco area. Cimate, a winery new to us but they could give us a tasting and tour so we went with that. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Paolo is the owner and he took us around. At the end we had a tasting and a lovely plate of cheeses and meats that complemented the wines.

The winery had beautiful views.

Here are our tour and tasting pictures. This was the first winery who “raisins” their grapes, or part of them, prior to making the wine. This increases the sugars and reduces the juice. The sugars become the alcohol in the wines so this doesn’t mean the wines will be sweet. The first three pictures are the racks and the grapes drying.

Paolo with the group in the aging room. Sagrantino is undrinkable until it ages a minimum of five years.
Aging barrels. Usually French or Slovenian oak. They had a ton of money tied up in these barrels.
Tasting room. They also serve lunch if it is reserved.
Terrific Rose.
The heavy hitter….Sagrantino di Montefalco. As you can see it is 6 years old. It gets much better with a few more years aging.
We each got our own tasting plate paired with the wines. The fatty meats and some of the cheeses went with the white and Rose.

We headed to explore the small town of Montefalco and had lunch there at l’Alchemista. It is situated in the unique piazza which is in the hill top and a round, rather than square space, with all the streets radiating like a wagon wheel. It was sunny and warm and wonderful. This happens to be the time of year for Sedano Nero, or the black celery only grown in Trevi, a nearby hill town. It is a Big Deal here. l’Alchemista always has menus featuring these local ingredients. This top picture is of my Sedano Nero appetizer. Very reminiscent of lasagna but with celery instead of pasta. Nice and light.

Lamb chops were, as always, good.
Pork filet with grapes and carmelized Cannara onions.
Pasta made in house with white truffles. They are the winter truffles and they are just coming in now.
Alex got the Piccioni or pigeon prepared in many ways. Note the slider 🙂

I made a Stuzziccheria for us for dinner. It was meats, cheeses, and fruit. Then we had a big surprise for dessert – Luther noticed they had just brought in Panetone Christmas cakes, the very first of the season, at our wine store, so he brought home a caffe and cream one. Yum.

Tuesday. We planned to go to Assisi today. Always a treat. I never tire of this town.

Fortress

We visited the Basilica di San Francesco. They seem to be forever changing how you can visit. This time we entered the lower church, visited the crypt and then ascended to the upper church. It was empty. There were not the throngs of the past.

Then we wandered up the shopping street and settled in at Osteria Piazetta della Erbe, one of my all time favs. It was shady under our tree once we switched with a group of women. This restaurant has a “traditional” and a “fusion” menu. Both so good. But for me it is fusion all the way!

My starter…ceviche – OMG so good! Fusion menu.
A dumpling panino for Luther and Rachel. Fusion menu.
Luther’s lamb. Traditional menu.
Gnocchi with white truffles – traditional menu
Salmon with bok choy. Fusion menu.

After Assisi and lunch we headed to Deruta for ceramic buying. Everyone found things they liked. This night we had Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce at home for dinner.

Wednesday was a designated “down” day. No long car drives. First, cappuccini at Bar Mary, and people watching in the piazza. The big market was in Umbertide this day, so we explored the market. We picked up some Porchetta pannini and explored a little of our town. Rachel and Alex bought a plaque from our local Deruta ceramics shop, for their front door with their house number. It will be sent to them when it’s completed.

We then drove to Montone. It is just ten minutes away and a lovely little hill town. We took in the views of the mountains and fields and wandered the small streets. Then we went to Antica Osteria for lunch.

During our lunch there was a funeral right in the piazza. Here, when someone dies, they lay in state in their home and all their friends and family come and pay their respects. Then they transfer the body to a casket and they remove it to a hearse. During this time the funeral bells ring and the onlookers watch respectfully.

Our lunch.

Egg and truffle starter. The white truffles are only served on mild flavored food.
Eggs or tagliatelle are preferred.
Anne’s lamb chops

We stopped for gelato for dessert after our dinner. We got chocolate, pistachio, and cherry. Tonight I made pasta e fagioli. We practiced at playing Briscola, the Italian card game. Interesting.

Thursday. Today it was off to Gubbio. An excellent medieval city not far from us.

Rachel

After visiting the church at the top of the town we headed back down, and winded our way to the Funivia. A method of transport to the top of the mountain to visit the church of Saint Ubaldo, patron saint of Gubbio. This method of transport is a lift composed of individual cages holding two standing people. It is a bit scary for most so only Rachel and Anne went up.

The empty cage going up.

Here is the video of their descent. https://youtube.com/shorts/VCO6GV3GptA?feature=share

Then we had lunch at Il Lepre (the rabbit). It was pretty good. Mike really loved his pork.

Pasta with pears and greens
My lasagna.
Luther had the rabbit.

After lunch we tried to visit our local Frantoio, or olive mill to show them the process. Alas, it was closed. There just are no olives around here this year. Then we drove to the Chiesa di Monte Corona, an ancient church near Umbertide. It has a crypt built in the 1000s and an upper church consecrated in the 1100s. It is to me a place of calm, but also power. There is a monastery up on top of the mountain with monks who tend the church. this night we had Pici con Ragu di Cinghiale. Pasta with wild boar ragu which I had made prior to their visit.

Every night we had all watched L’eredita, a game show which we’ve been watching for years on our own visits here. It is helpful for learning Italian. Lots of words. It is funny how people get into this game even if they can’t speak Italian. We’ve initiated many, many of our friends and guests to this show and it is always a hit. It comes on RAI1 every night at 6:45. If you want to watch it you can stream it on RAI on your computer from anywhere. Do the time conversion. It is good to help learn Italian too!

Friday. This was their last day with us, and the day they head back to Rome for their early flight on Saturday. We decided to caravan down to Orvieto to visit the town and famous cathedral and then have a farewell lunch and launch them on their way home. We ate at Trattoria la Palomba, a very traditional place with great food. It was a short visit that flew by but we all had fun, I think.

Cathedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. No crowds. Tourism is not yet back to normal.
Frittata with truffles.

All good things come to an end. At the moment I write this they are near to landing back in the US. I sincerely hope they can come back soon. Next time we will go somewhere together as a group and rent a villa. Maybe in Puglia. It will be fun! Thanks for coming to beautiful Umbria and we will see you soon! 💕

I am so happy to have had this return to normalcy and I hope this continues. My niece Rachel, a nurse, spent a long year working the Covid wards at John’s Hopkins. A very hard thing to do. She is our hero!

Ciao ciao ciao! 💕

US and European work

I am enormously interested in what is going on in the US job market. Having lived in Germany in the ‘90s I worked in a German bureau. I learned that the Germans work very hard when they are working. They are the most productive people outside maybe Japan. Yet they work only 37.5 hours a week with 6 weeks vacation a year. I also saw they worked when they worked, and when they didn’t, they had a life outside of work. They started at 9 and they left at 5. They took a 1.5 hour lunch with coffee breaks in the morning and snack breaks in the afternoon. They didn’t work weekends. They took all their vacation time. In other words, they worked to live their lives and enjoy themselves and their families. I thought this was brilliant. And when I returned to the States I refused to work ridiculously long hours. My bosses didn’t like it, and maybe I didn’t get promoted, but I was fine with that.

Now I read that people in the US are reassessing their work lives. After Covid allowed them more freedom to work from home and lose the long commute they have decided maybe there is a better way. Is this the silver lining from Covid? Maybe so.

I had a comment on this blog which prompted this post. She seemed to think people were being incentivized to stay home by the current administration. But those incentives have expired. I truly believe that corporate America is getting a wake-up call. They can’t continue to abuse and underpay their employees. And give them no benefits. Like the restaurants, retail and service industries routinely do. People have realized they have options. And power to them, I say! Corporate America can afford to pay their employees, (without which they cannot operate) fairly.

The restaurant workers are an excellent example. I hope the accepted system in America must be changed now, because restaurants cannot get staff to come back. The restaurants pay super low wages ($1.50 an hour sometimes) because they expect their customers (!) to pay the wages of their employees. How arrogant! And no wonder they can’t hire staff. They need to pay a living wage with benefits like any proper job should have. It works in Europe, it will work in the US. They need to bite the bullet and add a service charge to the menu, and raise prices to pay the wages of their employees. No tipping. People do not tip in Italy. You can round up the tab if you want but that’s about it. It is not expected. Increasing pay, benefits and compensation is what is needed.
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This is not to say the Italian system is better, because it is not. So many problems here. Unemployment among the young and very well educated population is awfully high. The young & educated are leaving Italy for other places where they are valued and hired. They don’t want to go, but they have no choices. The system does not encourage entrepreneurs. They actually penalize those with more than 50 workers. It has become a contract economy. The employees are contract workers. The taxes are very high. I am not an expert. But these are the things I have learned.

And in Covid news…as of yesterday all workers must show the Green Pass as proof of vaccination or they will be laid off. Alternatively, they can pay and have the Covid test every 48 hours but this would take a lot of time and they have to pay for the tests themselves. It has come down to, do you want a normal life?
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So this past week we have been readying for our first guests in a long time. I don’t remember when we had our last guests. It is fun anticipating them and getting ready and planning their time here. It is Luther’s brother and wife who live in Virginia, and their daughter and her husband. Of course, I’ll be taking pictures and doing posts.

Ciao, ciao, ciao.

Whoo hoo!

Yesterday, Italy hit the goal of 80% of people over 12 years old fully vaccinated. It is a BIG DEAL. I will say, life is pretty much normal here now. The latest proclamation has opened sporting events to 100% capacity. Gyms, theaters, swimming pools are all open. Of course, one must show the EU Green Pass (or equivalent proof of vaccination from another country) to enter any of these places, plus restaurants. Also, one must still wear the mask inside. Not a problem for Italians, who are not normally rule followers, but are doing it in this case. They, and us interlopers, all wear masks with no drama. Sad to say, a friend who came over from being in Florence, said he witnessed an American woman tourist in a clothing store there who jumped the line to buy something. She had no mask on. The clerk asked her to put on her mask and she said “no”. The security guards ejected her. Why come over here to visit and be so rude? These are the rules of the country who is your host. I sincerely hope this was an anomaly. She was that one bad apple…

Yes, there have been riots in Rome about the Vaccine mandate here. They are organized by a neo-fascist group and definitely not main stream. I read they may be banned. We don’t need this sort of dissent in the middle of a global pandemic.
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Otherwise it is definitely autumn in Umbria. The tobacco is being harvested, the sunflowers have dried and been harvested, the grapes have been mostly harvested. The fall vegetables are now in the market. If I go to the local Saturday market here in town, no one needs to tell me what month it is. All I need to do is look at the available produce and I know. 🙂

Wednesday mercato today, as usual. My market buy today was these beauties!

Porcini mushrooms only fresh in the fall. Many people go mushroom hunting around here. These are plentiful. I’ll be making tagliatelle con porcini – mmm.

Then I bought this…

Salame al Cinghiale. Wild boar salami. It will be for our Sunday Stuzzicheria to welcome our first guests!

Ciao for now!

Bells…near and far

Since my friend, Jennifer and I visited the bell foundry in Molise I have been thinking about bells a lot. I’ve always liked them…been fascinated by them. When we lived in Germany, in the small villages they were always evident, telling the time so no need of a watch…as a matter of fact, until 50 years ago, most people didn’t own a watch so the bells served an important purpose. When we returned home to the US I really missed hearing them.

The foundry was super interesting, and in my investigation for this post I found this nice little video about the Campane Marinelli – Pontificia Fonderia di Campane.

Marinelli foundry.

Before we moved here, and after our return from Germany, we lived in Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington DC. It was founded in the 1600s. There are still many of the original churches in town and they all have their bells. Usually just the one to call to service.

In Arlington, near the Iwo Jima memorial, there is the Netherlands Carillon with it’s 53 bells. A gift, in thanks, from the Netherlands to the US for the liberation of their country from the Nazis. It rings the Westminster Quarter everyday and visiting musicians play it as well. It is played like an organ, with pedals and keyboard.

Then there is the National Cathedral in Washington. It has a full 53 bell carillon too. But to me the best thing is that it has a full set of Peal Bells. I have always been fascinated by this tradition. The Cathedral has ten peal bells. These are rung by a group of Ringers by pulling ropes. Each person has a rope attached to one bell. They are rung in mathematical sequence and are not melodic. This is because each bell can only be rung once every two seconds due to the swing of the bell, the hit of the clapper, and the return of the bell to a position to be pulled again. I won’t go into all the interesting things about “change ringing” it is quite the feat, and art. You can google it if you’re interested, and the National Cathedral site has a nice write up. The tradition originated in the cathedrals in England. So, there are some bells in the US, but not the really personal village church bells like in Europe.

I know you are all wondering what this has to do with Italy, right? Well, in our town we have, so far as I know, three active Catholic Churches, all of whom have bells. [The town seems to have at least eight Catholic churches when I googled but I’m not sure they are active with congregations etc.] We are between two of these churches so we are treated to the bells many times a day. I’ve been here seven years and I still don’t understand all of the ringings and why they are rung when they are rung.

One of the most historic buildings in Umbertide is the bell tower on the edge of the piazza which is all that’s left of San Giovanni Batista (Collegiata), an old church which was hit by bombs in 1944. It has four beautiful bells that now ring for the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’, the town’s main church, which is associated with the Chiesa San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco. Construction of the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’ began in 1559 and it is a unique round building. The four bells in the tower of San Giovanni ring simultaneously for Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. and for High holy days and Saints days. They make an amazing, and to me, joyous cacophony. One of these bells also rings the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. …for those who forgot their watches. 😁 I tried to video the bells ringing but as usual, I was flummoxed by them. One never seems to know the schedules and they change for no apparent reason.

San Giovanni Batista – the bell tower is all that’s left.
Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’

The church behind us is called Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà built in 1481. It also has four bells. Unfortunately the note that one of them has is very flat. To make it worse they play “tunes” on them. At noon and at six p.m. every day they “sing”. They also ring a different tune for masses etc.

Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà

This church also rings the bells for funerals. Each of the four bells, starting from the highest (and flat) one, toll slowly one after another. Then pause and begin again. Over and over. It is mournful and sad. Someone told me they ring them longer, the older the person was, who died. I looked it up and did see this could be true… “ traditional ringing calls for the funeral bell to ring six times (twice three times) for a woman. The bell would toll nine times (three times three) for a man. Then, the bell would ring one time for each year of the deceased’s life.”

The church behind us also rings a bell precisely at 7:30 a.m. every day. For the last year or two, it has been one bell ringing 33 times, then pausing and ringing 33 more times. Yes, I counted. I’m usually still in bed at 7:30 🙂. No one could tell me why they rung this way. I did figure it could have been Jesus’ age. But why twice? On Saturday, October 3, the bell changed! It still rang at 7:30 but only 30 times, and only once. Please tell me why!?

I guess you all can see I am fascinated by the bells. I freely admit it and it is an ongoing fascination. There is much I don’t know, and much to learn.

This is a video I found while researching. It is of the bells in the church behind us.

Company’s a’comin’

That’s right! For the first time in over TWO years we are having visitors! I’m very excited. I will get into the who, the how, and the why…later. But for now, I’m getting ready for them.

Last week I procured some wild boar, called Cinghiale here. We here in Umbria and Tuscany are pretty much over-run with them. They breed twice a year with from 3 to 13 piglets every litter. They are so prevalent here, and so destructive, that there are no limits as to how many you can kill, in-season. I wrote a blog a few years ago about the Cinghiale hunts around here. Highly orchestrated. Interesting reading. Tis the season of the Cinghiale hunt.

Today, I am preparing cinghiale ragu. It takes hours to cook to be tender. And I can freeze it for an evening pasta dinner. I’m sitting here now and smelling it cooking. Devine!

Marinate overnight in red wine, herbs, bay leaves, juniper berries, rosemary, peppercorns, onions,
This is the basis of practically any Italian sauce. Called sofrito. There is this in almost every cuisine, different name of course.
Once marinated I chopped the meat up small.
Up the heat and add to the sofrito until it gives up its juices completely.
To add a bit of fat (and flavor) some sausage is added.
Added the passata…tomato sauce, a basis to much sauce here. And some water. Then simmer three hours or more.
The finished ragu

We won’t eat this now, but I borrowed a picture of what the dish will look like, from the recipe which is an Italian recipe from ideericette.it .

I think we will all enjoy this dish!

Recent adventures

Well, maybe not “adventures”…but stuff we did 🙂. Mostly eating. What’s new?!

Anyway, we had lunch with new friends we had not met before last week. They bought a house in Gubbio and were visiting the first time since Covid. It was a pretty day. We sat outside. We were at Ristoro di Campagna. It is a very Umbrian place. No menu, they come and recite what they’ve got. And we dined with chickens! A first for that!

Our view.
Mr. Rooster
….and the little lady

Today we drove to Montepulciano. It’s about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes from our house. We were meeting up with an old friend, Rod, that we both worked with in Germany. Twenty six years ago!! 😳 We dined at La Grotta, one of our favorites. Been many times. It was pretty and we ate in the garden. It was great to catch up, and great to meet Ana, Rod’s wife. Yummy food and nice conversation. Here are my dishes…mmmm.

Hand made pici with almonds, olives and sun dried tomatoes
Perfect lamb chops
Semifreddo

Stay safe everyone!