Monthly Archives: October 2023

Medical stuff

I don’t think I posted about my recurrent sinus infection? I think not. I had an infection back in June. I started at the dentist because I thought the pain was from a tooth. She said I needed to see an Otorinolaringoiatra, or in plain terms a ENT doc. In June he gave me an antibiotic and it made it go away. It came back just before our cruise. It made that a bit difficult and when I came back I started to try to find treatment. I got more antibiotics and a prescription for a CT scan. The antibiotics didn’t work this time. I made an appointment at a diagnostic center in Città di Castello north of us. I got the CT scan (€120). Back to the doc yesterday. He wants yet ANOTHER scan. So tomorrow I go back for a different scan. Then he thinks I need an endoscopy of my nose. Ugh. But I feel really crummy. I want this fixed, if possible.

For those interested in how this works here, all this has been private pay until yesterday. The ENT doc charges €100 for a consult. Fine. That’s not bad. The scans are not expensive. But yesterday, the appointment when I returned with the scan was free. And the endoscopy will also be free under the Italian health system. The way Luther and I do it is pay for the first appointment then normally we get into the system so the treatment is free. This isn’t true for tests like an MRI, radiograph or CT scan. Those you do at a private diagnostic center. But they are cheap compared to US costs.
One pet peeve I have is the ridiculous waste they have here for medicines. These, in the picture below, are for one month of blood pressure meds for me. I take 2 pills a day. Unlike in the US, where they come in a plastic bottle, here they come in bubble packs and boxes. This seems like an inordinate amount of waste. I don’t know why it is this way.

We had a nice lunch on the weekend. Here are a couple of pictures. First one is on the way. I tried to lighten it but if I did I lost that dramatic sky. So, it is what it is!

It was a nice lunch.

Olive harvest and Etrusco

We have a few loose ends to tie up. We had a nice lunch with new friends who own a house in Centro. I gave them a little help by accepting their Amazon deliveries before they came. We went to Vineria Carmine for lunch. It was a windy day and a little cool but we did sit outside. We also asked if we could see the kitchen since my architect was also the architect here. (There will be a posting soon about my kitchen) Here are a few pictures.

Yesterday I “harvested” my olives from my little tree 😂 hahaha. I may cure them. There aren’t many, but it would be an exercise!

Speaking of the raccolta – harvest, we are awaiting news from friends who may allow us to help them harvest again this year. It has been very spotty here in Umbria. I know some who had none, but most had some. Our friend Fabio is in the middle of his harvest and says he has less olives but the quality is good. I will buy some oil from him.
We had friends join us for Pranzo last week. This is how we manage to entertain on the terrace without a kitchen upstairs. We use my little cart and it goes up on the elevator. The next one is the table all set.

It is the weekend. I went to the Saturday market and then Luther and I went to Bosco, a town south of us, to buy beef and pork from our favorite butcher. Their meat is amazing. And they have cuts not seen in normal butchers here. I bought two tomahawk pork chops, one tomahawk steak, their primo hamburger patties, and filet steaks. All this was not all that unusual. We also got skirt steak and flank steak. Neither is found here and I do miss them. They also gave us a regalo, gift, of some interesting looking popsicles…just kidding…they are like pork (or maybe beef) cylinders on sticks to grill. THIS should be FUN!

Etrusco burger!
Flank steak

Our weather is still fairly nice. We had storms come through yesterday and now it is cooler but not bad. Tomorrow should be fine, so let me wish you all a buona domenica!

Agriculture in Umbria

Umbria is a heavily agricultural region. I have written about the four main crops, winter wheat, corn, sunflowers and tobacco. Today I got to see a farm with animals. It was the first time I got a real idea of how this all works here. Many of our guests have commented on the fact they never see pastured livestock. Yes, sheep are often seen but cattle are not. They are mainly kept in the barns and fed or they have small outside pens. No pastures. It is due to the lack of manpower, fencing, space.

Today, I was part of a group of women, our former apartment buyers and two of their friends who are friends with Angela Pauselli, the daughter of the farmer who makes this pasta. I was happy to give us all a ride over there. I bought a lot! More than this picture!

This is an artisanal pasta maker here in Umbertide — Pauselli. They use old wheat varieties milled special for the pasta. We have purchased from them before but the shop is simply never open so I haven’t been able to get more. Sadly they are farmers and not marketers. They don’t promote the product or try to sell it. It makes me sad because it is very special and a very excellent product. It will disappear soon with no one to help. I am betting the slow food people would want to promote this. I will try to see what I can do.

We got a tour of the farm facilities from Angela’s dad. It is an extensive farm with a lot of livestock. They have a large solar farm so are somewhat sophisticated. Plus, as always they grow grapes (make wine for the family to drink), grow olives for oil, I saw a peach orchard, there were maybe 30 chickens. And pigs. The cattle were segregated into barns. The first was all the castrated males, destined to be butchered at about age two for meat. These cattle live in a barn. They are not pastured. Not the best life 🙁.

The castrated boys destined for butchering.

Animals are not generally pastured here. They are in the barns or in small enclosures. They feed them from the enormous, round hay bales they harvest during summer. The “girls” who were all together, along with the bull, and away from the young castrated males were mostly Limosine, Chianina or Charolais cattle. Almost all pure white. In the past the Chianina were used for all facets of a farm. They pulled the plow, pulled the cart, provided milk and provided meat. To me they are beautiful, large and known for their gentleness and docility.

Mom and calf.
The bull. He was huge but seemed sweet.
Bales of hay for the fodder.
Spewing the hay into the troughs.
Future prosciutto.
Happy chickens!

When I got home I made pasta for dinner, 🙂, what else! I used my butter roma tomato sauce and some guanciale and pecorino romano. Mmmm.


Keeping busy!

After Rachel and Alex left we managed to squeeze in a lunch with friends. Our weather is still amazing so we MUST take advantage of it since winter is not far away. The “gang of five” met up at Lago Trasimeno in a restaurant called L’Opera. Our “gang” are Doug, our friend who has been keeping busy renovating his home here and now is studying for his Italian drivers license, and Roselyne and Steve. They live in Spello and came here from Miami. Roselyne is French with an EU passport making their move here easier than it is for most of us. We meet up as often as our schedules allow and always enjoy each others company.

The view from the restaurant patio. Photo by Roselyne.
The gang, minus Steve and adding, Georgia Doug’s sidekick. Photo by Steve.

The restaurant is all seafood and the owners are Sicilian. Consequently, there are a number of Sicilian dishes which I love!

Raw seafood starter
Pasta with gamberetti (small shrimp) in a pistachio cream sauce. Delicious!
Couscous with mixed seafood.

They grow a lot if pistachios in Sicily so they use them in a lot of ways. Palermo was conquered by Arabs who brought along couscous which you’ll still see on the west side of Sicily.
We had a nice lunch at Calagrana Sunday with the purchasers of our former apartment, Christie and Jane. They are always fun and the food is always delicious and as I can’t help saying – again! the weather was amazing. I took a photo of this Range Rover convertible (I had no idea they made a convertible) sitting next to a vintage yellow Cinquecento.

I had two of the best things I’ve ever had there. An asparagus appetizer with a fried egg and black truffles. It was perfect. My second course was a ravioli whose filling was ricotta, sultanas, pear, pumpkin. It was served in a butter sage sauce. Delicious. Pictured below. And the next picture is Luther’s veal chop with arugula and tomatoes.

On Tuesday our friends from Florida who have a house in Pisticci in Basilicata down south drove up to visit a couple days. We had Christie and Jane over for aperitivo and we all had fun. I didn’t take a picture!

Meanwhile we had been dealing with getting blood work done for the Great White Cat, Rocky. Both of our cats are 14 now and we wanted to check Rocky. The first test came back that he is hypoglycemic which gave us a scare. They retested after we made him fast overnight and happily, he is fine. Whew.

Sadly, the weather will be changing for the worse next week. Rain and much colder. And we have not gotten our stufa cleaned or pellets and wood ordered. I guess we better get crackin’!

We have had some favored guests!

We’ve been busy! Our Niece, Rachel, and her husband, Alex, came to visit for the second time and we were thrilled to have them. They are easy guests and up for anything. Our way of touring is to try to arrive at our destination for that day around eleven-ish, giving us a couple hours to walk and tour until lunch at around one. Lunch being the focal point of the day. I am sure many wouldn’t focus all around Pranzo, but we do! 🙂

They arrived on Saturday late-ish. We drove over the mountains on a twisty road to get to the train station at Torontola/Cortona and got them at 7:45. All along the way we saw the cinghiale or wild boars who come out around dusk for their nightly destruction. They are big and you wouldn’t want to hit one. Luckily they are also smart so keep out of the way. We returned and went straight to C’era una Volta. Always fun because there isn’t a menu. It is recited to you what they have that day.
Sunday. We had planned to go to Siena. We had tickets to see the duomo and then a reservation for lunch in a new place. The Duomo was amazing. I have been there before but this time we went inside and really appreciated it. The floors in particular are amazing. And we learned the church is black and white striped because of the legend of the origins of the city and the black and white horses the leaders rode. There is also a library of illuminated manuscripts from the 1400s which were amazing.

Ceiling of the Library
Loved the organ. See the trumpets? It must be amazing to hear.
Campanile. Again the black and white motif.

We headed over to the Campo. It is an enormous piazza in a shell shape where they hold the Palio twice a year, a bareback horse race held since 1633. Yes, 1633. There are 17 contrade in Sienna. These are neighborhoods. Each has an animal and a flag with that animal on it. 14 of these contrade get a horse to run in the Palio. It is decided by a lottery which get a horse. The contrade are fiercely competitive. The fish street light below is from one of the contrade.

The campo

We walked to our lunch destination in a rather off-the-beaten-track neighborhood. I chose it from reading the write ups and also because the chef is Japanese and the food is Italian with Japanese influences. Campo Cedro

Gifts from the chef. Gazpacho on left. Salad on the right.
Cod fish.
Pasta with rabbit ragu, buratta and hazelnuts
Pears and cheese for dessert

Monday. We went to our nearby winery Vineria Carmine. We opted for the lunch and wine tasting. It was lovely as always. We toured the cellar which happens to have been designed by the Architect who is designing my kitchen here. They have two amphorae which they got in one of those recycle places here. Italians don’t throw anything away and always reuse things, like roof tiles, paving stones, doors etc. No one knew where they came from or how old they were. Turns out they date to the 700s and are from Puglia. No one knows how they got here.

One of the amphora with Alex and Rachel

Tuesday. We headed to Montepulciano, a pretty Tuscan hill town. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. We found a good pay parking lot near the bottom gate into town. It is a pretty long walk up the hill and around the end to the Piazza Grande. We looked in the many small shops. Some pretty nice things! I bought a new purse. Rachel got one too and Alex got a beautiful black leather jacket, soft and smooth as butter.

We walked back down the hill and drove to our restaurant which was at the base of the hill next to the Tempio di San Biagio, a beautiful church across from which was our restaurant, La Grotta. We’ve been going here since 2001, even before we moved here. It is wonderful.

Tuscan tomato bread soup.
My lemon meringue pie. 😋
Rachel and Alex split this chocolate dessert.

Wednesday. This was the day we chose for Rachel and Alex to rent bicycles and go for a little giro around the Upper Tiber Valley. I guess they rode for four hours or so. Then we all met up for a spritz at Bar Mary.

Thursday. We decided to go to nearby Perugia. We rode the Mini Metro up to near the center. We strolled around the beautiful 24 sided marble fountain and down the Corso Pietro Vannucci the main shopping street in the center. We visited the underground city. During the 16th century, the Baglioni Family, who held absolute power in Perugia, were fighting among themselves making the city vulnerable to a Papal interference. In 1540, the Pope made things worse by mandating that Perugia purchase their salt from Papal saltworks, at a higher cost compared to the salt from Siena, Tuscany. 

Since salt was crucial for food preservation, this increase in price resulted in widespread starvation among the population. In response, Perugia declared itself a Republic and resisted the Papal troops, but was eventually defeated. It was during this period, known as the “salt wars,” that the custom of unsalted bread emerged. To this day Umbrian bread is made without salt making it flavorless.

At this time Pope Paul III was building a very visible and impressive fortress to show the power the Pope had over the city. This required the demolition of the Baglioni family’s main houses and fortified towers. The roads under the city are the original medieval roads roofed with impressive vaults to support the load of the fortress above of which nothing remains today. It was destroyed after the 1860 reunification of Italy to show how despised the Papal power was in Perugia.

Complete with street signs!

Friday. We had decided to visit a casaficio or cheese making farm. Fattoria Calcabrina is an organic goat cheese farm near Montefalco and Bevagna. It is not set up to give tours and has a basic counter where they will let you taste the different cheeses. Rachel is very inquisitive and had many questions which the owner/cheese maker seemed happy to answer. It is not the optimal time for cheese in autumn. Spring is when to go when the kids have been born and the goats graze on the new spring grasses and herbs and are giving much delicious milk. We tasted all they had on offer and I bought one flavored with chives. There were a horse and several dogs and chickens but we didn’t see the goats. Here is Rachel with a Maremma dog happy to be petted.

The goat Brie which I really wanted to try. I’ll come back in the spring. Photo by Fattoria Calcabrina.

After visiting the casaficio we went to see Bevagna. It was very quiet at this time of year. We strolled the pretty streets, took some pictures and ate at Ottavius.

Topina river
Bevagna streets
Luther, Rachel and Alex
Alex had the gnocchi in a special plate!

Alas, all good things come to an end. We took them to the train station to catch a train to Fiumicino for their flight home tomorrow. They brought an empty suitcase which they filled up to the brim. Pastas, booze, leather goods, chocolate. We love having them as guests. They are up for anything with enthusiasm. In addition to our lunches out we dined out for dinner once, we got pizza once and I cooked pasta twice. The other nights we had varied stuzzicherà which is a meat, cheese, fruit, bread feast that is called a snack here. In the evenings we watched a series on YouTube which I highly recommend to those who love art, food and Italy. The first of the series is called Sicily Unpacked – three one hour segments. The next two seasons are called Italy Unpacked.

A la prossima!