Monthly Archives: November 2021

CeramicArte — Deruta ceramics in Umbertide

On a street nearby, Via Cibo, is a shop called CeramicArte. The lovely young woman, Laura Tomassini is the proprietor and the artisan who creates these beautiful ceramics. She is affiliated with one of the ceramics workshops in the town of Deruta and she paints traditional Deruta patterns, using traditional pigments.

First a little history of Deruta and it’s famous ceramics. Deruta is a medieval hilltown in Umbria and is mainly known as a major center for the production of painted earthenware since Renaissance times. Production of pottery is documented in the early Middle Ages but there are no surviving pieces until about 1490. It reached its artistic peak in the 15th and early 16th century. It was the first Italian center to use lusterware pigments, usually yellow, ruby or olive-green.

Laura is following in the footsteps of centuries of artisans. A noble endeavor. I walk past this shop often. Always, there she is, creating beautiful works.

Laura at work
The shop

She’s been busy with Christmas things. Ornaments, jewelry. Take a look at these! Bellissimo!

All white cutout ornaments
Gold leaf
These are pendants…they come with a chain. She also makes tiny earrings like these. Nice gifts.

Our recent guests ordered some of her ceramics. She makes things to order. You pick the design and what you’d like. Two years ago, I commissioned a bowl for my niece Rachel and her soon-to-be husband Alex. Here’s the bowl. Peacock design. I picked the red and black. Laura will inscribe the back for a special present. Like the back of the bowl below.

When they were here they commissioned a plaque with their house number for outside their front door with the same pattern. That will be a unique addition to their house!

Mike and Anne chose some salt and pepper shakers. Mike, once he was here for a while, got very into our Italian coffee. Yay for him. When he got home Rachel and Alex gifted him an espresso maker. Of COURSE he needed espresso cups which he ordered after he went home… Pretty!

These are on their way to the US. As I posted in my last post I bought a luminary. And I also have a couple of pretty lamps the same type of design. If you come to Umbertide, be sure to visit this unique artisan, and her shop. And if you like, you can also commission things using her email below and she will ship to you.

CeramicArte is a treasure in our town. I’m happy they are here and if you come visit, you can commission some for yourself!

Buona Domenica a tutti!

Before and after the storm

Saturday morning. It was sunny and no fog. Always a good start. But it is chilly. And windy. We are headed to our first freeze on Monday. During the night the wind had come up and it was rattling the shutters, which I had to partially close to stop the banging. When I looked out our big picture window I saw, across the horizon to our north, a large cloud bank. I thought nothing of it. I looked out at the piazza to check the mercato. Half of the vendors didn’t have their tents erected because of the strong winds.

I did some chores and returned some time later … the cloud bank had crept closer. I checked the weather report. Sure enough, Città di Castello was getting a storm. In a short time the cloud was looming ominously. I took a picture. Such blue sky ahead of the storm.

Suddenly, the rain came lashing down. I could hear it pounding on the high, terra cotta ceiling in the living room. I worried about the vendors. But they had figured it out and had gotten their tents up in time! The rains lasted only a short, but violent, time.

I was cooking a pot of black beans on the stove but as soon as they were done I headed out to the market with my big camera to shoot some photos. I also visited the stalls and purchased some nice produce. I dropped in on Books for Dogs. They weren’t busy so I chatted for a bit. Next I visited CeramicArte, the Deruta ceramics shop here in town. Laura Tomassini is the proprietor and incredible artist. I had purchased a small luminary which I wanted to pick up, and I also wanted to take some pictures of her beautiful works for sale. I plan a blog in the next day or two about Laura and her shop. Here is a picture of my luminary. A candle goes inside.

So without further ado…enjoy the photos. First, the clearing after the storm…

Just some of the veggies in the market.

The extremely huge green vegetable below is not a big celery, although it looks somewhat like it. It is called gobbo in Italian and cardoon in English. I made it once but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

I took a little stroll and noticed the oak tree in the parking lot was loaded with acorns. Too bad there are no squirrels to eat them. These oaks do not lose their leaves in the winter, unlike the ones I am used to on the US east coast.

Our new path behind our house and down to the river is finally finished. New cobblestones and lighting the whole way. It WAS awfully dark back there. So nice!

I went to the Egyptian vegetable stand for avocados. They have consistently the best. I am making chilli and wanted them to go with it. I stopped into Angelo’s Alimentari downstairs from our casa as my final stop to grab some cans of tomatoes, they are also for the chilli. I love a good chilli on a cold night. I told Angelo about it. He and I like to exchange recipes. Like all Italians, he loves to cook, eat, and talk about food. And he speaks no English…so I get to practice my Italian 🙂

Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 was a far cry from Thanksgiving 2020. Then, we were headed into a long, strict lockdown. No gatherings were allowed. So it was especially joyful today, to spend a day with friends having a scrumptious pranzo, and giving thanks. Calagrana had sent out a Thanksgiving menu invitation for Pranzo today. Susan and Gary decided to host a table of nine, of which we were two. There were six Americans and three Italians. A nice mix of the two languages.

In the restaurant there were several other tables. A table of seven Americans who we didn’t know next to us. A table of six, four which were friends. Two Americans and two British. Then another table of four which we knew, some Americans and some British. And finally a table of two British who we didn’t know. On the way out I wished the table of seven next to us happy Thanksgiving. They were visiting here and had rented a villa. There were the matriarch and four daughters and two spouses. They were from Portland Oregon, Sacramento and New Jersey. I think they said they were here for a couple months until January. Our meal started with appetizers, four types, an egg roll with dates inside, cheese, sausage rolls, and fried shrimp. Then we had spiced pumpkin soup. Yummy.

Then the main course. Of course Turkey! And a whopper, a 38.4 pound Tom turkey. Here, there are female turkeys which weigh minimum 15 pounds. And male turkeys which start at about 33 pounds.

Sides and sauces. A really good cold green bean salad in a slightly vinegary sauce and toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Cranberry sauce is not possible here so we had a sauce of sweeter berries. Brussels sprouts.

Dessert was a apple plum tart. Everything was scrumptious. The company was fun and warm and it was such a pleasure to be, once again, sharing a holiday with friends. Two years is a long time to be bereft of friends and family. Speaking of which, I called my sister when I got home. I miss being with her a lot. Especially on holidays like this one. FaceTime is nice but not quite the same 🥺.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

It’s Santa Cecilia day!

Every year, on November 22, Italy celebrates Santa Cecilia, patron saint of music. Here in Umbertide it is a long-standing tradition that our town band rides through the streets and Piazze of Umbertide on a flatbed truck playing music at the wee hour of 3:50 AM. I woke last night to the sounds of our band, enthusiastically waking everyone nearby with their trumpets blaring and the drums pounding. I wrote a post about Santa Cecilia in 2019 which tells about this Saint. In 2020, of course, the band could not assemble because of Covid restrictions, but I was puzzled to still be awakened by the sound of music! This time a stereo system was on the truck instead of the band. A little sad but the tradition lived on, I guess. This is the type of thing, this keeping of traditions, that I love about living here.

Last night I snapped a couple of pictures, poor quality that they are, I decided to share them here.

Town clock. Why always at this exact time! I don’t know the answer.
The renowned Umbertide band!

Buongiorno di Santa Cecilia! 🎶

Azteca Squash Soup

Nowadays, since it is autumn, the ubiquitous gigantic zucca, or squash is everywhere. It is orange fleshed, slightly sweet, and similar to the acorn or butternut squash we are used to in the US except these are enormous. I’ve written about them before. The one here is about half the whole one. They cut you off a piece as you indicate how big.

Anyway, I was gifted a huge piece of one of these things. This picture is just less than half of the piece I got.

I wanted to make soup so I searched through my saved recipes and found one for Azteca Squash Soup. I don’t know where it came from. I do like to source my recipes but I searched the internet and found oodles of recipes very much the same but none exactly the same. No pretensions for this soup to be anything like an Italian recipe! But all the ingredients are easily available, except for the frozen corn which is nonexistent here. I used canned, sadly as it is all I can get, but it tasted fine. It was very good and warming on a chilly fall day.

The amount of the squash that I used was probably more than the recipe called for, or maybe I just added less liquids to the purée. I wanted it to be thick-ish. The finished soup was indeed slightly thick, unlike the pictures shown in the online recipes. Luther and I both enjoyed it so I thought I would share. This is the link to the recipe. Here is a picture.

Newsy post

Sono raffreddata. I have a cold! How could that be? I always wear a mask. Except when I’m eating or drinking of course, which means I got it either when I went out to lunch, or had a coffee or drink with friends. All of which I have done recently. I haven’t been sick since before Covid. I had planned to go to lunch at a favorite place tomorrow with friends. But in these times I figured I would scare everyone with my coughing, which I cannot control.

My friend encouraged me to take the home Covid test. I went over to our pharmacy and bought a test. €9.90 or about $12. Came home and read the, not clear at all (!) instructions. End of the story…I tested negative. I have a classic cold with no fever so I wasn’t worried. At least now I know how to do the test.

Numbers of Covid infections are going up all over Europe. Italy and Spain are going up the least because we have higher rates of vaccinations. Close to 90% for each. But still, the numbers are ticking up here too. Among the unvaccinated for the most part. I am reading this won’t mean restrictions for the holiday season but the color coded risk system is still in affect and there are three regions in danger of going to Yellow Zones.
Big news in Umbertide! I had heard from our friends, who have an apartment in this building, that the building is getting a badly needed paint job. Italy got a tremendous amount of stimulus money from the EU because we were so hard hit by the pandemic. And it seems, it is now just going out to towns and cities all over. Umbertide is doing a LOT of refurbishing and renewal. The owners in this building applied for a grant to have it painted. It is right on our main piazza and is kind of an eye sore so this is very welcome and will really make a big difference in how the town looks. The owners have to pay part of the cost but it is a very small, and reasonable, amount per apartment depending on size. I snapped a photo of the scaffolding today. You can see how grungy the paint is now. Can’t wait to see the results! I heard it will be a darker color. Brick, or peach, or reddish.

They are painting the smaller building to the left too. This will make our house look kind of dingy. Maybe we should look into a grant.
The blog wouldn’t be complete without food pictures would it? 😁 This was the Spanish lunch at Calagrana last week. Really yummy paella, there were tapas before. And the dessert pictures are here too.

Stay safe everyone. 🌈

Autumnal Umbria & Rocco Ragni Cashmere

I cannot tell you how beautiful Umbria is in the fall. Breathtaking. These two were taken by Barbara Roy Chawk Skinner a virtual friend of mine who recently visited Umbria. They were taken from the Montefalco wine region. Exquisite.

Looks like it is not real. But it is!
Sagrantino grape vines turn bright red in the fall.

On Monday my friend Susan and I went to the Rocco Ragni outlet shop. Did you know Umbria is well known for the manufacture of quality Cashmere? Well it is. There are many high-end, as well as lesser known, manufacturers here.

I’ve always been curious as to why it is produced here in such quantity. The raw material comes from goats in Kashmir. It is the undercoat they produce to survive the very harsh winters there. Super fine stands with air pockets for insulation. I read it is called duvet! Hence the name of our warm covers!

At the end of the eighteenth century this material – thanks to the English and French trading companies and then to the subsequent textile revolution in the following century – took on an ever-increasing value. These were the times when cashmere shawls cost more than a horse carriage, when queens and empresses would confirm the noble qualities of this material by wearing large and rich cashmere capes and cloaks. So it became very profitable to produce. I still don’t know how Umbria started to produce this material.

Rocco Ragni is a famous producer. We happen to have one of his three boutiques in Umbertide. He also has an outlet store in Compresso. A little Borgo of 1,500 people. It is in an impressive old stone building and this is also where they produce these fine products. The family lives in Compresso, and the Headquarters is there. They also have a showroom in Milan. I will say, although their sweaters are not cheap, the prices here are not exorbitant like some of the more famous houses. This is where the outlet store is. Would you have guessed? Sometimes things are hard to find here!

After I bought three sweaters….😁…then I took some pictures of the outside scenery. This place is up in the Umbrian hills and quite remote, hard to find, but amidst very beautiful, perfectly Umbrian, landscapes.

Enjoy the season!

Colatura di Alici

Tonight I made Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici. Mainly because I was pressed for time to produce a dinner. It is fast, easy, and very delicious.

Colatura di Alici is translated as “anchovy drippings”. It is a sauce or condiment, made from anchovies. Don’t let that scare you away!! It is Umami to the max! Friends told me they stayed in the little town where it is made, Cetara, in Campana, a small fishing village on the Amalfi coast. The fish are harvested just off the coast. They are only harvested between March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation and July 22, the Feast of Mary Magdalene. This is typical of the traditions here where dates and moon phases still tell people when they can plant or harvest. The sauce is a transparent, amber colored liquid, produced by fermenting anchovies in brine. Here’s mine.

I did some research and found that something similar was produced in Ancient Rome. The recipe was recovered by monks in medieval times. They made Colatura di Alici in a primitive manner letting the brined fish drip through from wooden barrels. Now wool sheets are used to filter the brine.

My Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici. It has just five ingredients in the sauce plus spaghetti, and lemon zest and parsley to serve. Comfort food, Italian style!

Yummy lunch

If you are like my husband, you would NOT like what I made for myself for lunch today. I thought it was perfect and very yummy. At the Saturday local market, I spied beets! We don’t see them all that often here and I love them roasted. The proprietor of the veggie stand seemed very pleased that I was excited to buy his beets. I explained that I loved them, but that mio marito (my husband) doesn’t like them. I bought three, and roasted them today with salt, pepper and good olive oil. I diced them and added them to a salad of some maiche, left over Gorgonzola and toasted pecans, tossed in a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper it was a devine lunch for me!

Ciao, ciao, ciao!