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.
She’s been busy with Christmas things. Ornaments, jewelry. Take a look at these! Bellissimo!
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!
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 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 🥺.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I love our big lake called Lago Trasimeno. It is the biggest lake on the peninsula, with a surface area of 49.4 sq miles, it is just slightly smaller than Lake Como. The lake’s water quality is very good. This is because of the small population living in its watershed, and a lack of large farms in the area. Trasimeno is shallow, muddy, and rich in fish, including pike, carp, and tench. During the last 10 years it has been 5 meters deep, on average. It has no outlets and only two minor streams feeding it. It is mostly reliant on rainfall, and fluctuates in depth because of that.
There are three islands in the lake — Isola Polvese, the largest — Isola Maggiore, the only island with year round residents (population 35) — and Isola Minore, a private island which once had a town with a population of 500. It was abandoned due to malaria.
I’ve always been fascinated with the fishing culture and history of the lake. Fishing is done only with nets, and many of the families on the lake have been fishing for generations. A fisherman’s life on this lake depends on the catch. If the morning catch is plentiful, they will sell their fish to the co-operative. Then they will clean their nets and go out again the next morning. If the morning catch is small, they will often go back out in the afternoon to try again.
The inhabitants of the communes around Trasimeno and the Umbrian people have successfully protected their lake, whose waters are fit for swimming and whose surrounding valleys and islands are protected. In 1995 a natural park was established over the entire surface and the shores. A 50 km (31 mile) bicycle path was opened in 2003 around the lake that allows tourists to explore. There are also cross-country paths, especially over the hills on the eastern side. Inside these limits no motorized boats are allowed. They limit the length to 9 meters at the waterline, and they can be propelled only by oars or sails. This keeps loud, disruptive jet skis and motor boats away. For this reason Trasimeno is calm and beautiful. Perfect for enjoying nature and meditation.
The Trasimeno Fishermen Cooperative located in San Feliciano, was established on 23 September 1928 with the aim of improving the economic conditions and quality of life of the fishermen.
It is made up of a workforce of at least fifty people, it defines itself as the guardian of the natural environment of Lake Trasimeno; a fragile ecosystem in which the fishers live in harmony with their catch, protecting their balance through fully sustainable fishing.
The Trasimeno Fishermen Cooperative has seen, in the last decade, an important generational change, which has reduced the average age of the fishermen from 75 to 40 years. This means the traditions will continue and prosper. It is one of the many things that I love about Umbria…Here, the traditions live on.
The Cooperative is helping preserve the profession of lake fishermen. The younger workers contribute to the income of the Cooperative by giving the fish to the Cooperative’s warehouse on a daily basis, guaranteeing the supply of fish, which is processed for the purposes of storage and distribution of the fresh and frozen lake fish to operators in the tourism-hospitality industry, and to individuals, in the two distribution points in San Feliciano and Sant’Arcangelo.
The Cooperative also offers fishing tourism activities: for instance, excursions on Lake Trasimeno — fishing trips with traditional techniques that allow you to discover the landscapes of the lake and to admire the pretty sunsets, accompanied on board by fishermen.
Because we can, and because it is a gorgeous autumn day, we went to San Feliciano for lunch and some photo taking. Da Settimio and Osteria Rosso di Sera are our two favorite restaurants there. Both specialize in lake fish and seafood.
And now for the mandatory food pictures.
For another perspective on the lake, here is what it looks like from the mountains that ring it.
In summertime it is a party place with lots of camp grounds, discos, restaurants, hiking, biking, boating and swimming. I think it is pretty much undiscovered except by Italians. It is a beautiful place.
We were so happy to welcome Luther’s brother Mike and his wife Anne. Along with their daughter Rachel and her husband Alex. They had not managed to visit since we’ve been here so it was great to show them around. Their trip was only for five nights here so a whirlwind visit. They brought gifts! Hominy in cans for me and some beautiful spices. And a couple of boxes of cigars which Luther sent to his brother before they came.
Our normal strategy with guests is to do a mix of things but lunch is always the focus and the big meal of the day. We try to choose from our favourite restaurants to give a variety of foods from basic Umbrian cuisine to more adventurous chefs. We were blessed with pretty much perfect weather almost the entire time.
WARNING: there are a LOT of food pictures on this post .
As always, travel is fraught with uncertainty. They were booked to fly from Washington DC to Montreal to connect with a direct flight to Rome. They missed the flight to Montreal so were re-booked through Paris. This put their arrival around six hours later than planned. But still they managed to get here in time for our pizza night dinner at Calagrana. Always fun and the pizza is the best. We headed back home to put them to bed. Speaking of that, we have three bedrooms but it felt a bit crowded so we rented an apartment at Borgo Fratta, a new vacation apartment property here in Umbertide, walking distance from us. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Mike and Anne were very comfortable in their own space and we had Rachel and Alex with us.
Monday. Our first day and we had an appointment at a winery in the Montefalco area. Cimate, a winery new to us but they could give us a tasting and tour so we went with that. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Paolo is the owner and he took us around. At the end we had a tasting and a lovely plate of cheeses and meats that complemented the wines.
The winery had beautiful views.
Here are our tour and tasting pictures. This was the first winery who “raisins” their grapes, or part of them, prior to making the wine. This increases the sugars and reduces the juice. The sugars become the alcohol in the wines so this doesn’t mean the wines will be sweet. The first three pictures are the racks and the grapes drying.
We headed to explore the small town of Montefalco and had lunch there at l’Alchemista. It is situated in the unique piazza which is in the hill top and a round, rather than square space, with all the streets radiating like a wagon wheel. It was sunny and warm and wonderful. This happens to be the time of year for Sedano Nero, or the black celery only grown in Trevi, a nearby hill town. It is a Big Deal here. l’Alchemista always has menus featuring these local ingredients. This top picture is of my Sedano Nero appetizer. Very reminiscent of lasagna but with celery instead of pasta. Nice and light.
I made a Stuzziccheria for us for dinner. It was meats, cheeses, and fruit. Then we had a big surprise for dessert – Luther noticed they had just brought in Panetone Christmas cakes, the very first of the season, at our wine store, so he brought home a caffe and cream one. Yum.
Tuesday. We planned to go to Assisi today. Always a treat. I never tire of this town.
We visited the Basilica di San Francesco. They seem to be forever changing how you can visit. This time we entered the lower church, visited the crypt and then ascended to the upper church. It was empty. There were not the throngs of the past.
Then we wandered up the shopping street and settled in at Osteria Piazetta della Erbe, one of my all time favs. It was shady under our tree once we switched with a group of women. This restaurant has a “traditional” and a “fusion” menu. Both so good. But for me it is fusion all the way!
After Assisi and lunch we headed to Deruta for ceramic buying. Everyone found things they liked. This night we had Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce at home for dinner.
Wednesday was a designated “down” day. No long car drives. First, cappuccini at Bar Mary, and people watching in the piazza. The big market was in Umbertide this day, so we explored the market. We picked up some Porchetta pannini and explored a little of our town. Rachel and Alex bought a plaque from our local Deruta ceramics shop, for their front door with their house number. It will be sent to them when it’s completed.
We then drove to Montone. It is just ten minutes away and a lovely little hill town. We took in the views of the mountains and fields and wandered the small streets. Then we went to Antica Osteria for lunch.
During our lunch there was a funeral right in the piazza. Here, when someone dies, they lay in state in their home and all their friends and family come and pay their respects. Then they transfer the body to a casket and they remove it to a hearse. During this time the funeral bells ring and the onlookers watch respectfully.
We stopped for gelato for dessert after our dinner. We got chocolate, pistachio, and cherry. Tonight I made pasta e fagioli. We practiced at playing Briscola, the Italian card game. Interesting.
Thursday. Today it was off to Gubbio. An excellent medieval city not far from us.
After visiting the church at the top of the town we headed back down, and winded our way to the Funivia. A method of transport to the top of the mountain to visit the church of Saint Ubaldo, patron saint of Gubbio. This method of transport is a lift composed of individual cages holding two standing people. It is a bit scary for most so only Rachel and Anne went up.
Then we had lunch at Il Lepre (the rabbit). It was pretty good. Mike really loved his pork.
After lunch we tried to visit our local Frantoio, or olive mill to show them the process. Alas, it was closed. There just are no olives around here this year. Then we drove to the Chiesa di Monte Corona, an ancient church near Umbertide. It has a crypt built in the 1000s and an upper church consecrated in the 1100s. It is to me a place of calm, but also power. There is a monastery up on top of the mountain with monks who tend the church. this night we had Pici con Ragu di Cinghiale. Pasta with wild boar ragu which I had made prior to their visit.
Every night we had all watched L’eredita, a game show which we’ve been watching for years on our own visits here. It is helpful for learning Italian. Lots of words. It is funny how people get into this game even if they can’t speak Italian. We’ve initiated many, many of our friends and guests to this show and it is always a hit. It comes on RAI1 every night at 6:45. If you want to watch it you can stream it on RAI on your computer from anywhere. Do the time conversion. It is good to help learn Italian too!
Friday. This was their last day with us, and the day they head back to Rome for their early flight on Saturday. We decided to caravan down to Orvieto to visit the town and famous cathedral and then have a farewell lunch and launch them on their way home. We ate at Trattoria la Palomba, a very traditional place with great food. It was a short visit that flew by but we all had fun, I think.
All good things come to an end. At the moment I write this they are near to landing back in the US. I sincerely hope they can come back soon. Next time we will go somewhere together as a group and rent a villa. Maybe in Puglia. It will be fun! Thanks for coming to beautiful Umbria and we will see you soon! 💕
I am so happy to have had this return to normalcy and I hope this continues. My niece Rachel, a nurse, spent a long year working the Covid wards at John’s Hopkins. A very hard thing to do. She is our hero!
I am enormously interested in what is going on in the US job market. Having lived in Germany in the ‘90s I worked in a German bureau. I learned that the Germans work very hard when they are working. They are the most productive people outside maybe Japan. Yet they work only 37.5 hours a week with 6 weeks vacation a year. I also saw they worked when they worked, and when they didn’t, they had a life outside of work. They started at 9 and they left at 5. They took a 1.5 hour lunch with coffee breaks in the morning and snack breaks in the afternoon. They didn’t work weekends. They took all their vacation time. In other words, they worked to live their lives and enjoy themselves and their families. I thought this was brilliant. And when I returned to the States I refused to work ridiculously long hours. My bosses didn’t like it, and maybe I didn’t get promoted, but I was fine with that.
Now I read that people in the US are reassessing their work lives. After Covid allowed them more freedom to work from home and lose the long commute they have decided maybe there is a better way. Is this the silver lining from Covid? Maybe so.
I had a comment on this blog which prompted this post. She seemed to think people were being incentivized to stay home by the current administration. But those incentives have expired. I truly believe that corporate America is getting a wake-up call. They can’t continue to abuse and underpay their employees. And give them no benefits. Like the restaurants, retail and service industries routinely do. People have realized they have options. And power to them, I say! Corporate America can afford to pay their employees, (without which they cannot operate) fairly.
The restaurant workers are an excellent example. I hope the accepted system in America must be changed now, because restaurants cannot get staff to come back. The restaurants pay super low wages ($1.50 an hour sometimes) because they expect their customers (!) to pay the wages of their employees. How arrogant! And no wonder they can’t hire staff. They need to pay a living wage with benefits like any proper job should have. It works in Europe, it will work in the US. They need to bite the bullet and add a service charge to the menu, and raise prices to pay the wages of their employees. No tipping. People do not tip in Italy. You can round up the tab if you want but that’s about it. It is not expected. Increasing pay, benefits and compensation is what is needed. ~~~~~~ This is not to say the Italian system is better, because it is not. So many problems here. Unemployment among the young and very well educated population is awfully high. The young & educated are leaving Italy for other places where they are valued and hired. They don’t want to go, but they have no choices. The system does not encourage entrepreneurs. They actually penalize those with more than 50 workers. It has become a contract economy. The employees are contract workers. The taxes are very high. I am not an expert. But these are the things I have learned.
And in Covid news…as of yesterday all workers must show the Green Pass as proof of vaccination or they will be laid off. Alternatively, they can pay and have the Covid test every 48 hours but this would take a lot of time and they have to pay for the tests themselves. It has come down to, do you want a normal life? ~~~~~~~ So this past week we have been readying for our first guests in a long time. I don’t remember when we had our last guests. It is fun anticipating them and getting ready and planning their time here. It is Luther’s brother and wife who live in Virginia, and their daughter and her husband. Of course, I’ll be taking pictures and doing posts.