Author Archives: Nancy Hampton

The fruits of our labor

We were given six liters of olio nuovo yesterday by our friends Joanne and Mark 🙂. It is a portion of the oil produced from our harvesting effort on Friday. They told us the yield was low but the quality is good.

Look how pretty this is! So green! We just had some bread dipped into the oil today. Bruschetta perhaps tomorrow. The flavor is wonderful. Grassy and peppery and slightly bitter. It will smooth out as it sits but I just love the new oil for its brashness. You can only get it like this one time a year so it is very special.

Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Chicken dinner

I have a go-to roast chicken recipe that I’ve been using, and sharing, for a few years. It is a Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry) recipe and so simple it is ridiculous. I made it last night for the bazillionth time. It is no-fail and always delicious. When you can get a plump chicken at the store for €3 or about $3.50 it is very economical. We can get two, plus, meals out of it and still have the bones left to make chicken stock for soup.
Here is what you do, and a few pics.

Put the chicken on the counter and pat it as dry as you can get it. The lack of liquids during cooking helps the skin crisp up perfectly. Let it sit on the counter for an hour or so to dry even more. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F or 250C. Put chicken in the pan (no oil in the pan) and salt it generously. I read someone say, “salt it like the road” 🙂. Put it in the oven for one hour. Do not baste it — do not open the oven. Resist the temptation. See, I told you it was easy. 🙂

After an hour remove and sprinkle with dried thyme.

I usually cook this ahead of time and just leave it sit until dinner. It’s good at room temperature or warm. Cut into quarters to serve. For a nice extra touch mix some mustard with some of the juice in the pan (use juice sparingly because it is very salty). Serve the mustard on the side with the chicken. Easy peasy!

I also saw a recipe from ItalianFoodForever.co posted on Facebook for roasted sweet onions with balsamic. It looked so good and since the oven was hot already I decided it would make a nice side. I always keep a rope of the sweet, red, Cannara onions on hand. I peeled and halved them. I used a small pan which could hold the onions snugly. In the pan I melted some butter, added a little olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar and mixed. Then I put the onions cut side down in the oil/butter and placed in the oven for 20 minutes. Flipped the onions and went another 15 minutes. The cooking time depends on the size of the onions. They came out all sweet and carmelized and went well with the chicken. Mmmm!

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I don’t need to tell you what day this is…but I will — it is ELECTION DAY! 🇺🇸 I stay away from politics on this blog for the most part. I don’t mind telling you, though, that I am on pins and needles here. The wait is unendurable. We, being 6 hours ahead of the East Coast, won’t really know much until Wednesday morning…so we will be up early in the wee hours watching. I love my country and I hope the election goes smoothly and without incident. I hope the aftermath is not violent. I am worried about that. I know a lot of people are. I saw pictures of the stores in the big cities boarding up like a hurricane was coming. How can this happen in the USA? How could violence be a part of our (once) free and fair elections? 💔
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Stay safe everyone…

Sadness

Umbertide after six during lockdown lite. Silent. Dark. Damp. The fog rolls in. Winter is nigh. Cold. Depressing. Winter. All our efforts were for naught. Sadly, the Covid cases in Italy rise exponentially. During our last lockdown it was the beginning of spring here. Each day grew longer, each day grew warmer. Things began to grow. It was so much easier to accept then. So much harder as we do the opposite. We head down that dark tunnel into winter.

Even in Umbria, we are now listed as one of the regions with the fastest growth. Umbertide, my small town, is showing 8-10 new cases a day. The hospital here is virtually shut down due to most of the staff testing positive for the virus. We fully expect a complete lockdown in the very near future. The numbers are out of control and drastic measures are necessary. So many have Covid fatigue. It is a worldwide phenomenon. I have it too. I am stoic about it. I can’t change it.

I also watch the disaster happening in the US. The daily new cases climbed above 100,000 yesterday for the first time. And yet, nothing is being done to slow it down. I read there were 30,000+ new cases and hundreds of deaths attributed to the maskless political rallies. It will grow and grow and spread and kill. I’m very sad for the US. At least, here there is an effort to slow things again. Sigh.

To bring things into focus for myself, I am trying to remember other times of troubles. I think of London during the Blitz. Years of bombing, sirens, taking shelter in the metro tunnels. Rationed food. Deprivation. Loss of life and loved ones. Their time of tribulation. Our time of tribulation is now. We must rise to it. It will pass.
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I am sorry for such a downer post. I AM feeling a little down. Let’s hang together and work to last through this thing. We will have a vaccine sometime. And always remember … Andrà tutto bene.🌈

Raccolta 2020

Raccolta means “harvesting”. Raccolto, means “harvest”. We participated in the olive raccolta, yesterday. It happens like clockwork every October and November here. We were invited by our friends Joanne and Mark who have 75 trees of varying age.

It is hard to overstate how important…how much a part of the yearly cycle, the olive harvest is to Umbrian life. For people who live here it is a way of life. It is something to look forward to, something that brings people together to work, and after a days work they join together in a meal. It is tradition.

Last week you may have read we visited our local hardware store. At this time of year it is chock full of all things raccolto. Hand rakes, long rakes, beaters (battery powered implements to shake the olives down), nets, crates, and all manner of containers to store it. Everyone is excited, getting ready for the new oil. It is a happy time, lord knows we need some happiness nowadays! The frantoio, or olive mill, is a happy place. It processes the olives 24/7 with the farmers and olive grove owners looking on lovingly as the “green gold” comes out of the spigot after the processing.

The new oil is unfiltered, so it is cloudy. But it is bright, brilliant green. Much greener than the olive oil most of us use daily. And it is only this way for a short time. It must be savored atop bruschetta or tagliatelle during the short time each year we have it. We put it on something mild flavored so the oil is the star! The qualities of Umbrian oil are a grassiness, and a peppery taste in the back of the throat. It has a very strong aroma. There is nothing mild or reticent about the oil from Umbria. It is a brash and in your face oil 😋. I love it completely. I really hope everyone who loves Italy can visit Umbria during the raccolto so they get a chance to experience the new oil. It is spettacolare. Most restaurants showcase it during meals at this time of year.

Yesterday dawned gray and foggy as it does for most of the winter here. We left at nine and drove to our friends house up in the mountains between us and Lago Trasimeno. They have restored an old abandoned farmhouse over many years. They are now retired here. Their property has an olive grove. It seems most properties have a grove if you’ve got any land at all. So in the fall, it is hard NOT to be invited to help in the raccolta. We really love it. Open air, good honest work among friends. In these Covid days it is nice to be safely among friends.

On the drive up the twisty road into the mountains we were first in dense fog. But the higher we got, the brighter it got. Until suddenly, we popped out above the clouds which created the fog below. Are these not spectacular pictures!?

We arrived and got to work. The fog had not yet burned off at this elevation so it was still quite cool. We worked until after two and then lunch was served. I was famished. Most people were pretty tired. Luther and I went back out and finished the tree we were working on and then headed home. Here are some action pictures and pictures of the views.

The fog was just below where we were working. Spooky looking!
Tina and Joanne hard at work.
Carol and Heather.
There was some autumn color across the valley.
One person is using the “beater” . The nets are spread under the tree to catch the fruit.
Just 3 of the 25 boxes that were picked.

The 25 boxes went to the frantoio last night. I haven’t heard how many kilos we got nor how many liters were produced. I will include this in a future post.

It was fun as always to get outside with friends and do some honest work. To be able to participate in an Umbrian ritual that’s been going on almost the same for thousands of years is part of the reason we love living here.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Around town and beyond

We have been out and about a little the last few days. Saturday we had a long-standing date to have lunch with a couple we had not met in person. Virtual friends. Matt and Zeneba.

We met at one of our longtime favorite restaurants, La Grotta in Montepulciano. Unfortunately it was a rainy blustery day so I didn’t get any photos from along the way. The scenery, being Tuscany and the famed wine area of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – the Noble wine of Montepulciano, was manicured. Many vineyards with pretty vines all in their autumnal yellows and reds. The grapes, long harvested, are in the process of turning into the beautiful wines of the area.

While stopped at a railroad crossing, I looked to my right at this pretty little terrace right on the road practically. I loved the still life of pumpkin and pretty gourds.

Here are the obligatory food pictures. But first the church across from La Grotta. San Biagio.

Sweetbreads with mushrooms.
Luthers lamb chops. Don’t you love the beans? 🙂
It is porcini season and they had them a few ways. Zeneba had them as an antipasto. I had this tagliatelle.
Dessert was pistachio gelato with chocolate cakes. Mmmm.

It was a fun little trip and we enjoyed meeting new friends. We vowed to meet for lunch between us every so often. They live in Lazio, south of Orvieto. We have to wait a bit until our new restrictions ease up.
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Tuesday – we decided to do a few errands. It was a crisp day. The colors stood out brilliantly clear in the bright sun. The sidewalk on our way, covered in leaves.

First we walked to our hardware store behind the train station called Emporio Casa. That sounds very fancy doesn’t it? But it is not at all. It is a long narrow building full to the brim with anything and everything you will ever need for around the house, yard or garden. You can’t browse anymore, due to Covid, but the men working there are very helpful. We got our necessaries and headed to our appliance store nearby.

The store is named Formica, I had always thought it funny to name a store for an insect — Ant. But someone clued me in that the name is the last name of the family who own it! Haha. We had ordered a new refrigerator a little over a week ago. They brought it to our house but it turned out we needed some carpentry modifications to make it work. Lucky for us they had brought a carpenter! They removed the cabinet doors and he did some measuring. Then they took out the old frig and put the new one inside the cabinet sans doors, so we’d have something to use. Last week the carpenter returned and changed out the hinges etc and it all looks great. So today, even though no one had asked us for any money yet, we decided to walk over and pay them. Would that happen in the US 🙂?

Next stop, the Tabacchi. These stores do many things, they sell the tax stamps we often need, tickets for the train or bus, lottery tickets, and you can pay your bills there. I paid my friends electric bill for her today. Along the way to the Tabacchi we passed the elementary school playground which was ablaze with beautifully colored trees.

Last stop, the Carrefour, our closest grocery store to our house. We picked up a couple things we needed and headed back home. It was a nice little jaunt which had the double goodness of getting a few things done. I love that we can do all of this sort of thing on foot within a few blocks of our house.

Have a beautiful day everyone, wherever you are. Enjoy the autumn day. And be Covid-careful as always.

New semi-lockdown in Italy

Italia in semi lockdown…
’New anti-Covid rules and regulations in force from midnight Sunday to 24 November.

  • Bars, pubs, restaurants and gelaterie and pasticcerie must close at 18.00.
  • Only four people to a table (except for groups from the same household).
  • Home delivery of food is allowed until 24.00. No food can be eaten in the street outside the take-away or nearby.
  • Going out of your Comune — ‘You are strongly recommended to stay in your Comune (using public or private transport) and not go into another Comune (or Region) where you are not resident or do not have a house. Exceptions to this are for work, study, health reasons or to carry out activities or use services not available in your Comune.
  • Receiving people in your home who are not part of your household — You are strongly advised not to have people in your home who are not part of your household. Exceptions to this are for work or particularly urgent situations that may occur and to wear a mask when people are in your home who are not part of your household.
  • No receptions or parties are allowed after religious ceremonies – No receptions and parties allowed either inside or outside after religious ceremonies such as weddings, communions and baptisms.
  • Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and betting parlours – closed – Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and betting parlours of all sorts are to stay closed.
  • Open air performances are not allowed.
  • Museums do not have to close. (ALWAYS check if they are open anyway, and you will probably have to book).
  • Swimming pools and gyms remain closed – Swimming pools, gyms, spas and wellness centres must close.
  • Amateur ‘contact’ sport continues to be banned.
  • Schools – The materna, elementare and medie schools remain open as before. In high schools, 75% of lessons will be ‘live’ in the school buildings and 25% online at home.
  • Closing specific piazzas – Mayors may decide to close piazzas where crowds are likely to form, after 21.00.
  • Live congresses, conferences, etc. are banned – Live congresses, conferences and similar are not allowed. Even local council meetings must take place online.

Source for translation Il Sole 24 Ore and Conte’s press conference at lunchtime Sunday.
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I can’t help but be annoyed by this. After all we went through in the spring. I lay this right at the feet of the Italians who all went on vacation and partied like the Virus was on vacation too. But most of all, the Authorities allowed too many visitors into Italy from other countries who were not doing enough to slow the virus in their OWN country to come here with absolutely no quarantine or restrictions. Now, because of their laxity we have to pay, yet again, the price and try to slow the Virus. 😡

Foraging for mushrooms

An unplanned excursion popped up early this morning. An invitation to go on a hunt for mushrooms. A friend here in town who has lived in this area for 35+ years had posted a picture of the mushrooms she had found and I had chimed in that someday I would love to come along. Well, that someday was today! She called and asked, and I said yes, It is something I’ve always wanted to do so I couldn’t say no could I?

I walked over to her house. It was cold and very foggy. Off we went up into the nearby mountains. As we drove I got a lesson on the types of funghi that grow around here and what types are edible. We drove up and up through the fog and suddenly, we burst out into brilliant sunshine. We were above the fog! Up there, it was a beautiful day.

Monte Acuto Is the tallest pointy mountain. Acuto means acute in Italian. And it is an acute angle.

We parked and started up a steep hill on a dirt road. Jill told me anyone is allowed to forage for the mushrooms, and you can go anywhere even on private property and right into peoples gardens. Unless they are fenced. Foraging is something people around here do routinely. They seem to enjoy the hunt and they use what they find. In spring it’s the wild asparagus they go for, fall it’s chestnuts and mushrooms.

We found a few inedible mushrooms. We saw lots and lots of evidence that the wild boar had gotten there ahead of us. They love mushrooms and truffles and root up the ground in their search. There were also a surprising number of other cars parked along the roads. Hunters of animals, and hunters of mushrooms. Sunday morning is a popular time. Here are the first ones we got. And some that we left alone.

We decided to change our venue and Jill called a friend, Sally who lives up another mountain road. She’s the last house so we could set off directly from there. Along the way we watched the sides of the road and I spotted a few large mushrooms. We stopped and Jill said they are Porcini mushrooms but poisonous.

We met Sally and went into some much better woodland. We ran into another man and his dog searching for truffles. Sally said this area is noted for its golden truffles. I had not heard of them before. The sun was trying to break through the mist and I got a couple of nice photos.

And finally, my fellow mushroom hunters.

I really enjoyed my outing. I may go out and try on my own one day but I won’t trust myself to have any idea if they are ok to eat! I can always show Jill. After I got home, coincidentally my friend Vera sent photos of the mushrooms her mother-in-law found. What a haul!

Buona domenica everyone! Stay safe!

Former Fulling Mill

Umbertide is not on any tourist itinerary. It is never mentioned when people make films showcasing Umbria. It is a nothing burger of a town. But, it grows on a person. I am very attached to it and it has its charms if you look for them. It goes to show even the most mundane town has its secrets and they are fun to dig up.

I have a couple of books about Umbertide and it’s history. It was an Etruscan town before the Romans. Later, it was a Roman town then called Pitulum Mergens. From Wikipedia: In its present incarnation, Umbertide was founded in the 8th or 10th century, depending on the scholar; its original name was Fratta, and it received its present name in 1863 in honor of then Crown Prince Umberto and of Uberto or Umberto, margrave of Tuscany, whose four sons, Adalberto, Ingilberto, Benedetto and Bonifacio, according to tradition, rebuilt the town in 796 on the ruins of Pitulum Mergens.

I will write more about this in another post. Right now I am focusing on the Piazza San Francesco neighborhood.

Piazza San Francesco is one of the prettiest piazze in town (my opinion 🙂). The books show the buildings ringing the Piazza and what they were originally and when they were built. There is also a gate there Porta Di San Francesco also known as la Porta del Borgo Basso (Gate of the lower village) built in 1612. You can see the remains of a fresco on the top of the gate. Most of the buildings in this Piazza were built in 1612.

Just before you get to the bottom of the hill to the gate on the right you can see the arch that let light into the fulling mill that was here then. Because it was just next to the river there was plenty of fresh water. Fulling was when the newly woven cloth was washed and beaten until it shrunk 15-20%, making it ready for use.

Just outside of this gate were the public washrooms. There were pools that collected the fresh water and the women of the town brought their laundry here to wash. There was a large stone arch which let in plenty of light. On my recent walk I am pretty sure I have found the washrooms. The remains of the old arch to let in the natural light remain embedded in the re-purposed walls of the now-garage.

Just beside this old building are gardens that are lush with produce in the summer. And the town Bay Laurel tree is here. They don’t sell bay leaves in the stores in Italy so everyone picks them from a tree. This one seems to be the one that many neighbourhood people use. Note the bottom leaves and branches have been picked. I found this quite by accident on a walk when we first came and I get my bay leaves here whenever I run low.

A reminder that autumn is definitely underway.

Pretty! Stai attenti everyone! Wear your masks.

We Voted..with a little help from our friends!

This year, being an election year. Oh, you hadn’t heard? Yes, it is a big and very important election for the USA. We had received our ballots via email last month. We decided to send our ballots back via UPS to make sure they got there fast, safe and trackable. We did NOT trust either the Poste Italiene nor the USPS (sadly). To be doubly sure, we addressed the envelop to Luthers brother and his wife who live in our Precinct. We even got definitive proof! So, YES we voted with some help from our…relatives!

Thank you Mike and Anne…you know who we voted for 😁! Now we wait…

Covid resurgence

Unfortunately for the human race, Covid-19 is making a resurgence. Here in Italy we had almost 7,500 new positives yesterday. We aren’t as bad as France, Germany, UK. Czech Republic, and Spain, many of whom are taking drastic measures to try to slow the disease.

The figures below come from The Local website.
Italy’s health authorities on Wednesday reported 7,332 new cases within the past 24 hours, a figure that exceeds the record high of 6,557 seen on March 21st. Italy is testing a lot (between Tuesday and Wednesday there were 152,196 tests) but this is still concerning. The percentage of swabs coming back positive has also risen, to 8.4%. (The figure on Tuesday was 5.4%)

Earlier on Wednesday a leading Italian virologist warned that a second lockdown could be needed over Christmas, saying it would allow Italy to “reset the system, lower the transmission of the virus and boost contact tracing.”

US Covid news from The Washington Post:

In many places where case counts are rising, political leaders are reluctant to impose new lockdowns, because the public is tired of them. But that creates something of a Catch-22: The most reliable way to reverse big outbreaks of this virus has been through strict crackdowns. In the U.S.: The virus is spreading in every region, with the highest case counts in the South and Midwest.

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On a lighter note. A couple of days ago I went for a walk. I drove a short way to a path I had been seeing ever since we moved here and I had always wanted to walk it. It was a glorious fall day. The late afternoon sun was slanting as it only does in the Fall when the sun is low in the sky. Here are a few pictures.

The path.
The tobacco in the fields is turning yellow. Ready for harvest.
Someone’s ready for winter.
Partially harvest tobacco field.

Everyone stay safe. We will probably start staying away from restaurants etc. since it is all inside dining here now. 🌈 Andrà tutto bene.