Author Archives: Nancy Hampton

Sunday Pranzo with la nostra famiglia Italiana

I like to think of Vera, Graziano, Desiree, and Maja as our Italian family. For a long year plus we weren’t able to socialize with them. Vera loves to invite her clients and friends for meals together. We missed this so much. Things are better and we feel relatively safe being vaccinated and boosted so we accepted an invite for Sunday lunch.

Over the years we have met, and made friends with, many other people through Vera at her meals. And did I say she’s a great cook? And adventurous like few Italians are. She loves trying new things, but also traditional ones too. Yesterday, it was clients of Graziano’s who had been invited. They are a British man, Phil, and his wife also named Vera who is Swiss. Graziano wanted other English speakers since they weren’t strong Italian speakers. The couple own a very large house up in the mountains not too far from Vera between Cortona and Mercatale. He had a stroke recently, I can’t imagine how they do the upkeep in the place. And why would just two people want such a huge house? But different strokes as they say.

We arrived at 12:30. Vera likes us to come a little early so we can have a drink and she can show me what she’s cooking. The menu started with a traditional ragu di cinghiale bianco. Wild boar ragu. If it is called bianco or bianca it is made without tomatoes. This one had some cream to finish and was served on pappardelle. Excellent. Then she served two secondi. A whole roast duck with roasted potatoes. She makes great patate arrosto. And the other one was roasted lamb shoulder with prunes and served with saffron rice. I got pictures of everything except the pasta primo. Darn. Anyway, here are the pictures.

Roast duck
Magnificent roasted potatoes
Lamb and saffron rice.

…and lastly, here is the gang. I’m taking the picture. From left, Luther, Vera (cook extraordinaire), Maja peeking out, Graziano, Desiree, Phil, and Swiss Vera.

A buona domenica and excellent lunch with friends. 💕

Musings…

We had snow this week. It was pretty. But as usual, it’s just cosmetic. It looks nice falling down but it melts soon enough, as in nearly immediately. It is still quite cold nonetheless.

Interestingly, I’ve got a friend with a nice Agriturismo over in Tuscany, near Montepulciano. She said that not a week goes by that an American client doesn’t ask them if their pool is open in January/February. I found this very amusing. All they have to do is see the above picture to know it is not all “Under the Tuscan Sun” here in wintertime. 😁
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Different subject. Our friend Vera has two daughters, Maja and Desiree. These two girls adore our two cats. But first…a little background. Many Italians think (their father among them) that animals belong outside…not inside. And that they should live their lives in a natural state. Another way to say they do not spay and neuter. Much to my surprise, Vera was persuaded to adopt a kitten (chiefly by Maja), now nearly a cat. A boy cat. For some reason Graziano, Vera’s husband, has allowed this kitten into their house.

Since they are not familiar with the ways of cats I felt I should explain the ways of Tom cats to Vera. And also that they don’t make good indoor pets if not neutered. They spray, and mark their territory. An unpleasant thing to have happen in your house. Graziano is, like many Italian men, against “cutting” males pets. But she managed to get it done. Her mother-in-law took the cat to the vet while the family was away on vacation and had him neutered.

But the odd thing is, Vera is keeping this all secret from her daughters. Maja was asking about the shaved spot on the cats tummy. So Vera made up some story. I asked why not tell them the truth, and she was all, well it’s not natural and they wouldn’t understand. I wish she’d tell them. It will maybe change their attitudes so future pets of theirs will be neutered. I tell you, I just don’t get Italian attitudes sometimes.
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Italy has issued new maps of the different new color coded regions. You will notice Umbria is an island of white in a sea of yellow.

The color coded zones don’t affect people who’ve been vaccinated but they do show where the virus is rising. Italy has mandated all people living in Italy, citizens or not, over 50 years of age, must be vaccinated. I read the Umbertide Notizie Facebook page and they said 429 people are testing positive here, all but two of which are isolating at home. The two are in the hospital.

Life here, if you’re vaccinated, feels pretty open now. But each of us has to follow our own hearts about what to do, what not to do, when to go, and when not, who to see, and where. We are staying home mostly. Discussions are on going about a winter trip. But to be honest, I feel it is prudent to wait.

I am sorry to see the cases elsewhere, to include the UK and the US are soaring. They said there could be 300,000 people in the hospital in the US by next month. We can only hope it will peak quickly without too much death.

Ho hum

Beginning of the year. After Epifania in January 6 all festivities stop. Then we all hunker down for the doldrums of winter. And we have to do some mandatory chores of everyday life.

In January every year we have to renew our Tessera Sanitaria. Our access to the Italian Health care system. We have to visit our ASL – Azienda Sanitaria Locale. We are required to bring copies of our “certified by the American Embassy in Rome”, Social Security statements. Only Umbria requires this, as far as we know. Then we pay 7.5% of that amount at the post and return to the ASL for our new cards. But first, we needed appointments, which we have for next week. An annual ritual.

Now is also the time to pay our auto Bollo, or our tax on the Volkswagen. And also, this year, the inspection which is bi-annual. The Bollo can be paid online but only after you get a SPID which is a secure email address. It took Luther a good deal of time to get that all worked out. The inspection will be week after next.

The poor old Volkswagen gets very little love. She hardly ever gets washed, and gets the minimum of maintenance. She is our workhorse, a really a decent, everyday car. So anyway, we took her to Happy Car for a much needed bath.

It was our first time here. There were maybe six workers? All hustling like their lives depended on it. Maybe they did? First, you park outside and they vacuum the car. Then, they drive into the building for the wash, two guys. High powered spray but wash all by hand. Then outside for drying and interior washing, floor mats are returned, wheels are cleaned, tires blacked. I don’t know how the money is split. The rent on the building and the water etc must be paid. Maybe the rest is split? Or maybe they are just hired by some Fat Cat who runs the show? Don’t know. The workers aren’t Italians, but they hustle like they get a piece of the action. Bottom line. This hand wash, interior vac and cleaning cost €10 or about $11. A bargain.

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Covid cases are up here, like everywhere. I read a tip about the self tests. The instructions say swab inside your nose. But i heard Omacron starts in the throat so it doesn’t show up in just a nasal swab. So, do your throat first, then your nose. Because it doesn’t show up in nasal swabs, a person is contagious for around 3 days even if testing negative (in the nose). Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Brodetto alla Termolese – The Dish!

Such fun to make something new. Our lunch was not formal nor fancy. But it was good, and fun! It was especially fun to share with friends.

First thing I had to do this morning was de-head, de-shell and de-vein the shrimp. I wanted to use the heads and shells for my shellfish stock. Once done I browned the shells in olive oil. Then I added tomato paste for a couple of minutes and the vegetables (carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaves, spices) and finally, I deglazed the pain with white wine. It smelled great. I added the canocchia. Thanks to Phil, one of my readers, I now know the name of the unknown crustacean🙂. I simmered for about an hour and then strained it all through cheesecloth. I ended up with a beautiful rich stock for the brodetto.

I used my big cast iron pot for the final product. I sliced the pepper and sautéed it, I added garlic and tomatoes and simmered it all for fifteen minutes.

I scrubbed the clams and mussels. Then I soaked them in salt water so they could expel their grit. After their soaking, I cooked them separately in a big pan in wine.

I added the whole fish to the pepper/tomato mixture and then some broth. I cooked it a bit. Then I added the shrimp.

At the end I strained the cooking liquid from the mussels and clams. Then I added them and some of the broth to the pot. Finally it was all ready go!

It is served with toasted bread to soak up the juice. I will say it was a feast!

Seafood

Big project tomorrow. Il Brodetto alla Termolese on the menu for Pranzo. Two friends will join us. you might remember my friend Jen and I had this special fish soup in the town of Termoli in Molise on our trip together (see post about the trip). We have been craving it ever since.

I went out to the big Wednesday market to see if my normal fish truck was there. It was missing last week and, alas, it was missing again today. Probably because of the holidays. So I decided to visit the other fish truck. I don’t know why I don’t normally go to him. Maybe because the lines are always so long. Today, I was out early, even before some of the stands were set up. So there was no line at all. As I looked over the large amount of very fresh seafood, I noticed about 40% of it was still moving. Now, THAT’S what I call fresh! It was really beautiful stuff. He even had oysters. I wanted to buy some, but I didn’t.

I bought all the food for our feast tomorrow. Two whole spigole, which are sea bass in English, shrimp, mussels (cozze), tiny clams (vongole) and the funny crustaceans they have here to make stock…not much meat and a pain to eat but for stock they should work well. I forget their name.

Cozze
Vongole
Shrimp
The mystery crustacean.

The mussels, clams, and the mystery crustaceans are all still alive. I remember once, long ago, I bought mussels at Whole Foods. They are always sold alive so you must let them breath. When I got to the checkout counter, the checker, a young girl, tried to tie the plastic bag, which held the mussels, closed. I told her not to do that since they were still alive and must breath. The shock on her face was priceless! She obviously didn’t know!

Tomorrow, the Brodetto. I will post the finished product after we make it. And hopefully I remember to take pictures before we eat it!

What I cooked during the holiday … so far

For the festive season I made several things. We went to the local Coop grocery store for what I call a “big buy”. I keep lists and we stock up on all the things we have run out of. But on that same trip we were surprised that they had an itty bitty turkey! It was only 2.7 kilos. I have never seen anything like this here so I couldn’t resist buying it. On the same shopping trip Luther also pointed out his favorite — anatra/duck. So I decided that would be our Christmas dinner.

We also had friends over for dinner one night so we took a trip to our favorite, amazing Etrusco butcher and ordered a prime rib…called costeletto here.

Anyway, the turkey turned out great and we indulged ourselves with turkey sandwiches for a few days! The costeletto was also very good and we had it as leftovers the next day. Finally the duck was our Christmas dinner.

I have an amazing way to cook duck. I saved the recipe and I’ve used it many times. It is not your usual method of cooking duck. It is simplicity in itself. The recipe is from The Omnivore’s Cookbook. The duck is stuffed with citrus fruit, heavily salted, and the breast skin is scored with a knife but not into the meat. Once this is done you pop it, uncovered into a very low temperature oven, 95 to 120 C / 200 to 250 F for 6 hours. Yes, I said six hours…you don’t touch it. You leave it be. It smells amazing as it cooks. When it comes out the skin is crisp and the meat pulls apart and is very tender. Try this! It is incredible. And, if you set your temperature low, it is fool-proof. If you like Peking duck you can buy or make the little pancakes and serve with hoisin sauce. The meat works perfectly for this.

I’m afraid I didn’t take any pictures of any of these meals…my bad!
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Today, I was craving pasta. So I made Spaghetti con le Sarde. I have made this before from different sources and the ingredients are the same. This recipe is traditional. You can google it. It comes from Palermo, Sicilia. It is the typical moorish inspired Sicilian recipe that is both savory and sweet. Picture. Recipe is below.

Spaghetti con le Sarde – 2 servings

About 3 tablespoons raisins – soaked in warm water
1 tablespoon bread crumbs toasted, or panko
3 tablespoons olive oil
Handful of pine nuts
2 tablespoons onions
1/2 cup diced fennel
anchovy filets – 2 or 3
one 4 ounce can tinned sardines or 250 grams fresh – cleaned and boned
Pinch of saffron
spaghetti or bucatini for 2
Lemon
if you’ve got fennel fronds use them as garnish

Boil water, add fennel and cook 5 minutes. Drain, save water for pasta. In large sauté pan add oil. Cook onions until soft, and the fresh sardines if using. Add drained raisins, pine nuts, anchovies, fennel, tinned sardines if using, saffron, pepper. Cook 15 minutes. While cooking boil spaghetti or bucatini until al dente. Add to sauce and toss, adding a little pasta water if dry. To serve, sprinkle with crumbs and fennel fronds, if using.
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As for news on the Covid front, Italy extended the state of emergency until 31 March. They also came out with a new decree on Christmas Eve. From 25 December, there are new restrictions. The Green pass showing vaccination or recovery in the last six months is required to do just about anything. Even workers who had been doing work-arounds by being tested every two days can no longer go to their workplace. It is mandatory to wear a mask inside and outside. One must wear an FFP2 mask when attending concerts or events or on public transport. No food allowed at indoor events.It is mandatory to wear a mask inside and outside. You must have the pass to go to inside a restaurant or bar. People cannot take a train, plane, bus or underground, use a gym or swimming pool or attend any concerts or sporting events. All nightclubs and discos are closed until 31 January. All New Years celebrations are canceled. The numbers are jumping here by around 5,000 new cases a day. Last number I saw was 55,000 new daily cases. I have a feeling after the holidays we will see even more restrictions.

Buon Natale

It was another unpredictable year. I hope in 2022 we can finally get ahead of the virus. I’m sure everyone is as tired as I am of the uncertainty and the stress of it all. I have heard from multiple people that they are resigned to catching it. I think this is not a good attitude, and we must remain vigilant. It is still dangerous, especially for older folks…

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this journal. I realize at times it is not terribly exciting but life, even in Italy, just ISN’T all that exciting, all the time 😏 And this pandemic hasn’t helped much in that department for sure! We have some wishes and dreams for next year…let’s all make our plans and cross our fingers that our plans all work out! 🤞🤞

Have a happy holiday season everyone, and a very Happy and Healthy New Year! 🎉 🎊

Sights of the market

Today was the last market before Christmas. It was quite festive. Many “buona festa” “buona natale” “Auguri” greetings. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t Catholic, or even Christian. Even our Muslim citizens were out and about and festive. Here are some pictures I took. First a bunch of the buskers and people who sit and ask for money. We have our share of them as probably everywhere does.

This fellow below is a regular. I always give him a coin or two. He sits politely, and waits.

The entrance to the main piazza.

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On a different note. I took some pictures of the Christmas windows around the piazza and adjacent streets in the Centro.

The shopkeepers care and work to make their stores attractive for the holiday. I enjoy seeing their efforts. Ciao for now!

Monday, Monday…

The weather has broken and the cold has abated. Warmer and rain is on the way for Christmas 🙁.
Until the last day, it has been crisp and cold with blue skies. A picture of or Collegiata as I returned home from an errand. I love this church. It is unique.

Sunday, we had, at Luther’s request, hot dogs. We bought them at the market. All beef and larger than my usual frank. To my credit I did roast them over the fire. But what amused me was the package for the buns.

One of the things I’ve noticed here…hot dog buns, hamburger buns are not sliced. You must cut them open yourself. Not a big deal. But also, in Italy they don’t cut pizzas into wedges. People usually get a pie each and then just cut it themselves. I guess Italians are cut averse! Hah!
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Today I made an interesting dish for dinner. I had bought a bunch of chard at the Saturday market. I also had the tops from two turnips. I wanted to use them somehow for our dinner. I decided to sauté it in olive oil and garlic with pepper flakes. Then I added a handful of cooked chickpeas and some crumbled feta. I cooked some tagliatelle and tossed it into the chard mixture with some pasta water. To finish I chopped some toasted almonds. I put them on the pasta with some pecorino Romano cheese. I fried a egg for each plate, which went on the top. It was good.

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Numbers continue to go up here. State of emergency was extended until 31 March. This allows the government to act quickly during the pandemic. I think the government is letting people enjoy the holiday, but afterward there will be big spikes of the disease and things will get more difficult. January and February will probably be peaking (yet again) with the virus.
We are again, sadly, staying home for now. I have to say, it is getting old. I want our world back. I want to travel again. But it looks like I’m going to have to accept the fact that life has changed forever. That all said, we need to live our lives. We just need to decide what are acceptable risks. This is all new to us all. We will figure it out. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.

Booster shot

Today we got our third vaccine shot. We just passed the five month mark since our second shot so we became eligible to get the booster. We made the appointment online which was a smooth process. At 5 PM we went to Trestina a small town north of us as we couldn’t get into the Umbertide clinic. Not an issue, it was only a 15 minute drive.

We arrived and there was no line. We went in and each were processed in. We had downloaded and filled in all the paperwork, which was checked. Then we went to the chairs spaced across the room. The woman called out “avanti” to Luther immediately. Within a minute I went in and the two of us went into the next room to get our jabs. We returned to the big room to wait ten minutes and were on our way. The whole process took no more than twenty minutes. Italy has got this DOWN! Here is the waiting room.

We drove straight home. The full moon hung low and illuminated the hills around us. The Christmas lights are all on in Umbertide. I finally took a picture of our town tree.

Exciting news! The Economist voted Italy the Winner of its “country of the year” award. The award goes not to the biggest, the richest or the happiest, but to the one that in their view improved the most in 2021.

From The Economist: “That honour goes to Italy. Not for the prowess of its footballers, who won Europe’s big trophy, nor its pop stars, who won the Eurovision song contest, but for its politics. The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to “shut up and behave”. Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000. Yet this year, Italy changed.

In Mario Draghi, it acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister. For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a programme of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the eu’s post-pandemic recovery plan. Italy’s covid vaccination rate is among the highest in Europe. And after a difficult 2020, its economy is recovering more speedily than those of France or Germany. There is a danger that this unaccustomed burst of sensible governance could be reversed. Mr Draghi wants to be president, a more ceremonial job, and may be succeeded by a less competent prime minister. But it is hard to deny that the Italy of today is a better place than it was in December 2020. For that, it is our country of the year. Auguroni! “
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Finally, a mystery for you all. Here is a photo of a small sticker that has been stuck on the wall on our street for many years. We have googled and have found even more mystery… Who is Ernest Olkowski? And why was he right? 😳

Ciao for now!