Category Archives: Cars

Smokey lentil stew with potatoes and leeks

My friend in Virginia sent a recipe for this stew that is from the NY Times. I am a big lentil fan and even though I make soups with lentils often I thought this one sounded a bit different.

And how! It was it different. The key ingredient is the smoked paprika. It adds a big smokey taste. I made it today for lunch and we both loved it. I will make it again as a dinner meal and add some sausage. It is a perfect winter-time stew.

I made quite a few changes to the Times recipe. First off, I simplified things. For instance they used three (!) pots to make it…I reduced that to two. I didn’t put the onion in with the cooking lentils but added it in with the leeks. I totally took out the saffron. It was such a small amount in a huge and highly spiced stew. You never could’ve tasted it and besides, it is an expensive ingredient. Waste. I sautéed the spices in with the leeks and in the oil to bring out their flavor. Anyway it was a hit with us! I put the recipe in the recipes in the top menu bar. Tap the title twice if it doesn’t come up with only one tap.

We’ve also gotten some much needed errands finished. Every January we have to renew our enrollment in the National Health. It involves obtaining a stamped and signed statement from the Social Security office in the American Embassy in Rome. I wrote in early December and received the statements. We had to call the health department for an appointment this year because of Covid, and that was on Monday at 9AM. Before we went though, I had to copy all of our cards and documents. That included our expired Tessere di Sanitaria, our Codice Fiscale, our Permessi di Soggiorno, our Carta d’Identita, our passports, make an extra copy of the social security statement, convert the amount to Euro and then compute the amount we owe for the year and print that out. Whew. At the appointment we met with Laura. Once our nemesis, she either has gotten used to us or she has mellowed. So she isn’t quite as scary as she used to be. She took all the papers and checked our calculations and sent us off to the Poste to pay for the coverage. There were about 8 people ahead of us in line where we all waited outside. Did I say it was frigid? Well, it was. Finally we got that done and returned to give Laura the receipt. She had everything done and we signed multiple times and – tada! We were finito. Of course they would only give it to us until April because we are STILL waiting for our new Permessi from the Questura. Seven months and counting. When we get it we visit Laura again and get the Tessere extended…to June. Which is when our NEW cards expire AGAIN and then in June I am sure we will have to go and get them extended to the end of the year…eyeroll. We pay for the whole year in January. They know we are getting our Permessi, so why not give us the card for the year? So much less work for us AND them!

Today, we took the VeeDub to the shop to get its oil changed and get its every other year inspection renewed. We will pick it up tomorrow. So the beginning of the year errands are sorting themselves out slowly.
A friend asked me to include a sentence in Italian with pronunciation with my blogs. So I am starting that today. Here goes! “Abbiamo fatto le nostre commissioni!” It means “We have done our errands”. Pronounced abbey-yamo faht-toe lay noh-stray com-miss-see-oh-nee 🙂
Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene! 🌈

Buona domenica!

Sunday in Umbertide. Hard to stop posting when it has become part of my life! But at least I don’t feel like I must, which takes the pressure off. 🙂

I went up to Calagrana to pick up the food I ordered. It is kind of gray but I’ve never seen so many motorcycles and bicycles out as I saw today! On my way I saw this cool little car. It was in perfect condition and I love it’s drop top.

Calagrana was all set up for its first lunch since the shut down. It looked beautiful. Ely was very nervous and hoped all the guests would abide by the rules.

When I got back to town they were having the mass. But it was outside. Excellent idea.

Hope everyone is staying safe. With the loosening of everything it feels dangerous to me. I am just waiting for the spike. 😢

Puppy rescue!

Yesterday was an exciting day. I helped a group of FaceBook people in the UmbriAliens group find someone to raise two little puppies that had been discarded. They were found in a plastic bag hung on a tree limb. There were six, so young their eyes are not open and they still have their umbilical stubs. There were six. Now there are two. Four died. People don’t neuter their dogs here and when there are resulting puppies their solution is to kill or discard them. The good news is that these two are now going to be hand raised by my friend Angela here in Umbertide. The person who had been caring for them (Sarah) drove them all the way from south of Rome to Umbertide. Several others involved came along to see the babies and watch them find their new temporary home. No one is sure of the breed but the think they may be pit bulls. Which is good news for them because pit bulls are rare in Italy which will make them adoptable. There is one boy, and one girl. Pictures from Sarah.

Other happenings in Umbertide recently included a vintage car show. I had no idea they were all outside in the Piazza until I happened to glance out. These weren’t all exotic types. Many were ordinary cars of their time. Here they are.

All lined up and driving out. I always wonder where they go. Maybe to another town?

I really am ready for the spring produce to start coming into season. This time of the year there is very little new growing  yet. I’m sure seedlings are being nurtured but they aren’t in our local market yet. Just the same old boring winter veggies. I love them but I’m ready for something new. I always visit the Saturday Kilometer Zero market – our local growers and producers. This time in hopes there might just be something new. Not yet…alas. But the sun was shining and everyone was in a good mood so I snapped a few photos. Still waiting for spring…

Curly kale. Green and purple.

Cabbage and leeks. The leeks are sweet. I poached some in butter the other day which were delicious.

Dried grains are always around. Ceci beans, Cannellini beans, lentils, etc.

Umbrian olive oil – the best!

Specialty of central Italy, Porchetta. Whole boned pig stuffed with herbs and roasted overnight for about 12 hours. Addictively good.

Umbria is the land of Pecorino cheese from sheeps milk. And ONLY Pecorino cheese. The good thing is they make it in many ways, from fresh and soft, semi-hard, aged, and flavored. It is good but sometimes I miss the variety.

And everyone is starting to think about planting spring flowers. So far I’m holding off.

Senore Honey was there with all his products. Honeys from different types of flowers. I bought chestnut honey and was very surprised at the strong flavor. Not sure I like it. He also has bees wax candles and other things.


So, you decided to move to Italy…

I just put up a page, accessible from the top navigation, with a summary of information about moving and living in Italy. It is called “So you’ve decided to move to Italy”. I will constantly update it with things I learn that I think will be useful. Go to the page here.

August trip down the shore…

We had two birthdays to celebrate back in June and July but found we were too busy to go anywhere. We wanted to go to Senigallia which is on the Adriatic coast. There is a wonderful seafood restaurant just perfect for a celebration. SO we decided to celebrate late and I made reservations for August 10th for an overnight.

I had not really been to this coast and was excited to go to the shore. We really needed more than a day though. We drove through the very rugged and magnificent Appenine mountains, the tallest of which run like a spine through Le Marche. There has been a road through there for thousands of years winding along the river that cut the gorge. Now there is another road which is under construction. They have to drill many tunnels. You can see them along the way, half completed. It took just about an hour and a half to get to our destination. Traffic was pretty light. I was not sure what to expect given that this is August and the sea is where everyone goes.

We arrived at the town and drove to our hotel which was the Terrazza Marconi. It was situated right on the beach in the best position. We checked in and went to their little seaside cafe for a light lunch. Each hotel has a little piece of the beach where they have restaurants, cafes and their umbrellas. It is free for guests. We were surprised at how uncrowded it was. They had just finished a week long feste so that may have had something to do with it. After lunch we walked along the promenade and watched all the people playing all sorts of games like volleyball, basketball, something like soccer played using heads, knees, chests to hit the ball over the net like volleyball (just no hands) and other games.

That evening we went to Madonnina del Pescatore. It is rated a one star by Michelin. Lovely place with minimalist decor. We opted for the 8 course tasting menu called Vicino alla Tradizione. Here is a run-down of our courses. No pictures. Thought it may be tacky. First (and not counted among the courses) was a parmesan cheese ice cream sandwich. It was a square of frozen parmesan ice cream between thin, cheesy crackers. Good but rich. The other courses were: A plate featuring anchovies; cold anchovy soup, and featured three other ways. Then thin sliced seared tuna with a mayonnaise. Next Octopus salad. Then salt cod salad with panzanella and balsamic vinegar. Then a very light lasagna filled with shrimp (we think). Then a sort of soup with shellfish. Finally dessert which was strawberries with a meringue top, coconut and lime. The final dessert was kind of precious. They brought little plastic maps of the world with the volcanic areas in red. They brought tiny chocolate balls with flavors for that part of the world. I can’t remember them all but the mexico one was with chili powder, Italy was with basil, Japan had wasabi in it. There were others. They brought out a gigantic cotton candy cake for the birthday people. We all pulled off chunks. It was a lovely dinner.

The following day we had breakfast on the 5th floor roof. What a wonderful view. The breakfast was spectacular. Here are pictures. The beach stops at a breakwater nearby. A couple of people  told me they must have hired Germans to do these umbrellas. It DOES seem somewhat non-Italian!

This is the most famous sight, a beautiful pavilion.

This is the view from the roof down the other direction which is the main part of the beach.

We went out and sat on the chairs under the umbrellas for an hour or so before leaving. We all really liked the hotel although the rooms were VERY small. The lady at the desk said to contact them directly and they would give us a sea view room with balcony next time. So I will be sure to do that. There is an old city that we did not even begin to explore. It was established in the 4th century BC on the river Misa. A friend told us when we go back we should search out the digestivi that they are famous for in Sinigallia called Trinchetto. Sold in the tiny sweet shop on the main shopping street near the river gate.

On the way out of town we were amazed to see this car –>

Blast from the past! I wonder how they afford to drive it. Must have gotten 12 miles to the gallon and a gallon of gas here is about $7.00! Ouch!

What transpired…

On the way out of the train station, I tripped and fell flat hitting my chin on the platform. Ouch! I did cut my chin which proceeded to bleed for several hours and my jaw and teeth were badly shaken, knees bruised. Just lovely!

Well when we got to the dealer the car was sitting right where we had parked it. They hadn’t done a thing. Long story short, the very rude service manager curtly told us they couldn’t even look at it for five days. So we left. The tire was holding air. We were nervous but what could we do? We drove five hours and made it OK. Not a very comfortable trip.

Luther got on the phone while I drove and lit some fires under the Italian Porsche roadside assistance people. Finally getting someone who said they could repatriate the car – I guess that means they’d tow it back. And give us a rental. But by then it was too late. Maybe they should have done that sooner. Oh well.

So now we are in Bled Slovenia, our last stop. It is a very beautiful place among pretty mountains with a lovely lake, island, 1,000 year old castle and small village. Our hotel is called Blec Hotel Garni. It is extremely alpine with lots of wood and flowers everywhere. We have a nice, big room with balcony. A little worn at the edges maybe but very comfortable. Here is our balcony and the view from it.


We took a walk down into the village which is very small. There are a few restaurants and shops. Luther got a couple of bottles of room wine. We sat at an outside terrace beside the lake for a glass of wine and to enjoy the view. This is the village church.
This is the island and lake. I am sure I’ll get better pictures tomorrow.

We had a very nice dinner at the sister hotel called Pensione Blec. They have very fine dining on the lawn, weather permitting. It was very good. I had black risotto with octopus and a lamb confit. Luther had a cheese and meat plate and mixed grill.

I am OH so happy to see the backside of Hungary. I found the Hungarians less than friendly. If you asked me now I would say I will never return.

Today we plan a walk around the lake. It is about 6km. I should get some pretty pictures.

Calagrana has reopened!

Today is Sunday, clear and cold with pretty blue skies. Susan and Gary told us that Calagrana, one of our favorite restaurants has reopened after being closed for much of the winter. Alberto, the chef and co-owner with his wife Ely, had taken a catering gig in Wales to make some extra money since winter is so slow here. He’s back and cooking! So today we went for lunch.

There was one table there when we arrived and one table set for fourteen! We were urged to order before they showed up, which we did. Alberto out-did himself. One of the menu choices was little plates for antipasti. There were probably ten different things. Each coast 4.50 Euro. We each ordered two or three. Then most of us ordered the roast chicken. Here are pictures to make your mouth water.

Susan ordered polenta with roasted tomatoes and little cakes made from chickpeas with a dipping sauce.DSC03841

I had little roasted onions filled with onion and gorgonzola and goat cheese with sprouts on roasted beets. DSC03842

Luther had baked cod cakes, vitello tonato, and something he can’t remember but liked.DSC03843

Our roasted chickens.DSC03844


While we were eating another guest informed us that we had a puncture in our tyre. That’s British for a flat. Something to look forward to. Here are the valentines day cupcakes Ely made. So pretty!

We walked out and I snapped a picture of the stone guest house and views. This is an Agriturismo as well as a spectacular restaurant. It is a working farm as well. It has beautiful rooms and in summer is a dream! Go to their website to see more Calagrana. Susan and I agreed that the Niccone valley, where Calagrana is, is the prettiest valley in Italy. Even in the dead of winter.




Now for the fun bit. Fixing the flat. New car to Gary. It, like most cars has no spare. It had the little kit that you squirt something in and then plug a pump into the cigarette lighter and pump it up. It worked well and wasn’t too hard. Fortunately we were in a beautiful place, in the warm sun, and not on a busy highway.



When we got back home the Piazza was filled with little kids in costumes throwing confetti at each other. From upstairs I watched some of the events and plays for the kids I guess. Another puzzling Italian thing.



New car caviar!!

Well it finally happened. We got a CAR!! Gary gave us a ride up to Citta di Castello and we picked up our shiny, very white, VW Golf. It is pretty basic but should be a good car for us here. Plenty of room for four people and luggage, or toting stuff. It gets about 60 miles per gallon which will be great and it is a diesel engine so fuel is “cheaper”. Since we arrived here last June the price of diesel has fallen from 1.48 Euro per liter to 1.32 now (about $5.00 a gallon). To top that off the Euro has fallen from 1.49 to about 1.18 now. Anyway, we are very happy with the Golf.



It would have been good of them to mention that new cars here come with ZERO gas! We noticed on the Superstrada and quickly got of with the range on the odometer at zero. We lucked out and found a station but not without some angst on our part! Apparently this is normal but we didn’t know.

We immediately went to the grocery store to buy big heavy things we couldn’t buy without a car. We got a couple of cases of wine and 4 bags of pellet for the stuffa.

When we got back we made an appointment with Marco who owns some buildings just across the river. He has a bunch of underground garages and we are looking into renting one. It will be for the Porsche eventually but right now we can use it for the Golf.

Other than that exciting news I mentioned in my last post that it was Epiphany. Sure enough, they had a gigantic rally of the Vespa club in the piazza. There were hundreds!


The Christmas tree was sawed up into little piece on the 7th, the day after Epiphany. They sawed off all the limbs, then chopped up the trunk. Much faster coming down that going up. They also took up all the red carpets and removed all the lights in the streets. So it is now bleak January. It is really quite warm right now. I was out on the patio and it was like spring. We hope we have some good cold snaps because it is needed to kill off the bugs that infected the grapes and olives last year.

Here is a final photo of my Bolognese sauce cooking on our stove in my Mom’s big ole cast iron pan. Just nice.


January 2, 2015

We enjoyed our New Years Eve at Patrick’s Enotecca. He had a nice spread of food, some of which was from the Tyrol in northern Italy as his wife comes from there. It was paired with some wines from that region as well. The town shot off fireworks at midight which we watched until we were too cold. Afterwards we walked back into town and the band was in full swing. We headed on into our house while Susan and company stayed out and hopped up and down to the music as the Italians do. The noise was quite bearable and the cats seemed to have acclimated to the constant fireworks which everyone seems to have.

On January 1 we had a very nice New Year lunch with Susan and Gary and her sister, husband and Joseph and Paul. Very nice food catered by Colagranna. My cold caught up with me and I was a tired puppy afterwards and hit the sack early. Too much partying!

Today, January 2 I felt better but still not back to normal. Today was the day we had to drop off the Clown Car. We had decided we could live without a car for the time we needed to wait until our car was ready. We dropped the car at the train station in Perugia and then took the MiniMetro (only 2 blocks away) up to the top of the town. Then we wandered down to the Etruscan Museum that we had wanted to see. It was very good but a few more English write ups would have made me happier. After we were there a couple of hours and I was all Etruscan and Roman artifacted out we went up and had lunch at Pasticeria where we had eaten a couple of times before. The place was PACKED. It had always been pretty empty before but this time they had two big groups and lots of families with little children making it pretty chaotic. We had a nice lunch though and walked down to the OTHER train station. This station is a short line that only goes from Perugia to San Sepulcro. But it is pretty convenient and it dropped us off right in Umbertide.

Monday is the day Befana comes to town. In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. But children get gifts from both Father Christmas and Befana. Lucky kids. I will keep a watch out for her arrival. Maybe grab a picture or two! But here she is as I could find her on the internet.


Next week we pick up our car… or we THINK we will. After all this is Italy. One never knows…

Carta d’Identita!! And Buon Natale!

WOW! Today a red letter day! Here is what has been happening. Since we received our Permessi last Saturday we have been working hard to get our Residenza. We went to the Comune (city hall) on Monday morning and they did the paperwork for our house. Putting it into our name and showing we will move in at the end of the year for garbage tax etc. We took that to another department where they filled out our papers to get our Residenza which will include a visit by the Police to our house to make sure we actually live there.

On Tuesday we went car shopping in Perugia. It was not very hopeful. We thought we were going to have to order a car which would take a couple of months minimum. We decided we’d go up to Citta di Castello on Wednesday, Christmas Eve, where they have an auto row type street to see about ordering an Alfa. We went to the VW dealer first. The salesman was pretty helpful. We explained we needed to buy a car as soon as possible. He found a VW Golf Diesel with most of what we wanted in Arrezzo (not too far away). They would install the GPS for us at an additional charge. Seemed like a good deal. We told him we would think about it. We wanted to try the Alfa dealer. He pretty much laughed at us saying what we wanted was impossible. Since we did have the VW in hand we decided to go back and buy it.

We did so. They explained that our Permessi were not enough to buy it. We had to have the Residenza. SO when we got back to Umbertide we decided to visit the Police to see if we could speed it up some. Serendipitously we ran into Jim (our realtor) as we were turning away from the Police door after reading their hours. Jim is not put off by closing time. He rang the bell and ushered us right in. He talked to the Policeman who found our visit request at the bottom of a big stack. He explained where we lived and he stamped all our papers and called ahead and we went up and GOT OUR RESIDENZA permits!!! I think getting our Permessi and Residenza in only 3 business days must be a record.

This means we can actually close the deal on the VW and return our rental without extending it (we hope!). This is a most welcome Christmas present for us!


Other things of interest

We got our guest bed head and foot boards.

Looks and is comfy!

We also went to Castiglione del Lago with Susan and Gary for lunch on Sunday. It was a lovely, very mild day. Lots of folks out and about. We had a great lunch at Monna Lisa. This is a seafood restaurant that we were sure Susan and Gary would love as we had eaten there with Jodi and Don recently.

Pictures of Castiglione.




Finally, at the end of a very eventful year for us, we want to wish everyone a Buon Natale! We will have a nice Christmas Eve dinner with friends tonight.