Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

Pici, fatta a mano

I bought a bunch of big fat pasta called Pici. It is the special shape common in Tuscany. Our special shape here in Umbria is Strangozzi. So I have to keep it a secret that I’ve gone rogue and am cooking the evil pasta Toscana. Just kidding! I bought it here so it must be OK.

Years ago, on my first trip to Tuscany, we were traveling with my sister and her husband and stopped in a village outside Montalcino. During dinner a nonna carried her small table over beside our table at dinner and began making pasta by hand. I didn’t know at the time that is was the special pasta Pici…fatta a mano…made by hand.

Pici
Pici alongside Strangozzi.

For dinner tonight we had pici con funghi misti. Very yummy.

Italian phrase. “stasera, ho cucinato la pasta” in English, “tonight, I cooked pasta”. Pronounced… sta-sera o cuch-in-atto la pahs-ta. 🙂
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Say home. Wear your masks. Be careful. The vaccine is coming.💕

Snow!

Today was our coldest day so far. It barely reached freezing. January is always our coldest month. And we normally have around five days of this kind of weather. Then it stays cold but normally above freezing. I don’t like January. It is too long, too dark and too cold. February is nice and short, and it begins to warm. By March we are into springtime.

We had a surprise snowfall this morning. It probably snowed for 3 or 4 hours at a good pace. It covered all the roofs and ground. The trees had snow on their branches. It was beautiful. We have enjoyed looking at it all day. Here are two pictures I took. The first one was today just after the snow stopped. The second is the hillside below the hill town of Montone a couple of days ago. It caught my eye because of the sun and clouds and the light on the olive groves.

Todays Italian phrase is “oggi ha nevicato“. In English it means “today it snowed“. Pronounced O-gee ah nev-ee-caht-oh.
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Stay safe everyone. Big week coming up!

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.

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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.
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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 🙂
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene! 🌈

I miss root vegetables

I never thought I would type those words. Not that I’m a huge fan but when you can’t have something, well… anyway we just don’t have root vegetables here. No beets, no turnips, no parsnips, no rutabaga, no celery root, no kohlrabi. Once in a blue moon I’ve seen them, and if I do see them, I snatch them up. I like these vegetables in wintertime. They are filling and earthy and warming.

My friend Elizabeth told me yesterday, when I was whining about this, “they are not Mediterranean. Why would you expect them here”? But as you know, my friend Vera brought me some turnips from her mother-in-law’s garden. So they DO grow here just fine.

I guess it is a matter of taste. And a matter of tradition. Italians are very, very traditional. If it was good enough for their nonno, it is good enough for them! It is why we don’t have any Thai, Indian, or Mexican restaurants to speak of here. At least in rural Italy. Italians don’t tend to embrace new tastes and flavors. In the big cities you will find more diverse foods.

Anyway, as I leafed through my Six Seasons cookbook to look at the last season in it, winter, I realized there were very few recipes I could actually make here. Oh well. It doesn’t matter. There are many other things to make.

I was out at the local market this morning and made a concerted effort to see if I had just overlooked them in the past. Sadly, there’s were none. There is an abundance of winter veggies here in the winter, so I won’t complain. I came home with full bags.

A friend sent a recipe for lentil, leek and potato soup. I need leeks and potatoes to make it. Oddly, there was a big run on leeks. I was waiting at one stand and the guy in front of me bought them all! tutti! Grrr. And there were a bunch too. Then I went to the next two stands and they said “finito”. Finally at the last stand were about 8 left. So I waited my turn. A guy came up and told his wife he would get the leeks…over my dead body!! Success. (I’m nice, so I left him half…)

Tonight I have a nice fire. It is really cold and snow is predicted this weekend. The fire warms the kitchen…I hardly ever have a fire without using it to cook. So today, at the butcher, we got a Bistecca Fiorentina. Or Steak Florentine. It is huge!! But it will be good…

The things we do to amuse ourselves! Stay safe and well everyone.

Italian – la lingua

I think it is important for those of us who choose to live here in Italy, to have the courtesy to try to speak the local language. In the big cities like Milan and Rome, more people do tend to speak English. As do people in the heavily touristed towns like Florence and Venice. But, even there, the tradesfolk who you will need to hire and interact with will not necessarily speak English. And, out in the rural countryside, you will find even less people who speak English. Nor do important people, like medical doctors speak fluent English and I’d say, when it comes to your health, mutual understanding is important.

I’ve been studying Italian for 7 years. I started before I moved from the US when I took an Italian 101 beginners class in Community College. It did give me a little base in the very basics of the language.

When we came to Italy I began language lessons, first, jointly with Susan and Gary and Luther. Susan and Luther are more advance so took a class together, and Gary and I, being of similar capabilities, had a class together. We did this for a couple of years before we decided to stop. Then we signed up with individual lessons with our teacher, Marilena out of Perugia. She came to our house and we each had a one-on-one class.

Time passed. A pandemic came. So our classes moved online. By now, I’ve gotten through pretty much all the grammar I could need. I still take tests on my own for practice, and we review them in my class, but most of the hour is practice in Italian speaking.

Today, I began a new, additional, conversational class with a friend who grew up here. She is English so speaks both Italian and English as a native. She is trapped here (by the virus) with little to do so this will keep her busy and give her a bit of money and it will, hopefully, help me with conversational Italian. Cannot hurt!

The topic of learning Italian comes up a lot on my blog, and on the different forums for expats I read. There are many opinions how to learn. In my heart, I know that I don’t do enough. I should be reading more in Italian. I should be watching TV more in Italian. I should be conversing with townsfolk in Italian. I actually can speak Italian fairly well. I just don’t have the confidence I need for real conversation. I also believe some people have more talent to learn languages than others…but that might be a cop out! So, comunique, today was just another added step to help me be more fluent. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t hard. Either that or I’m am supremely stupid!
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Stay safe…andrà tutto bene 🌈

Epifania

Today is the last day of the twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany. The story goes that the three wise men arrived at the stable where the baby Jesus was lying in the manger on this day. It is a holiday here. Growing up Protestant we didn’t celebrate this day. Our Christmas season ended on January 1. After tonight our beautiful tree won’t be lit anymore and it will be chopped into pieces and carried away in the next days. Always sad. Especially sad this year because it is such a pretty tree. So I took a short video last night. We can watch it twinkle forever now.

Stay safe everyone…the numbers in the US are terrifying. Here, we slowly get them back under control. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Buon Anno a tutti! 2021!

We are again under lockdown for the weekend ahead. Intentionally to keep people from gathering or traveling. So, everyone being stuck at home, what to do to celebrate the new year? 🤔 …. I know! Fireworks!

But first…we had a nice dinner, partly courtesy of Calagrana. We drove out yesterday morning and picked up our special dinner. We decided to not try to eat it all at once (there were 4 courses plus contorno) so last night we had the delicious Salmon Carpaccio as a starter. We also had a bottle of special Champagne. Vintage 2004…well, here, let me show you!

It was delicious. We watched a movie and then some news and Luther hit the sack. It was not long until midnight so I decided to see the new year in.

I switched over to RAI 1, one of the Italian state stations. It was inane as I knew it would be. They are so hokey! It’s unbelievable.

Meanwhile, outside the firecrackers had begun and as the hands of the clock hit twelve the fireworks exploded!! Everyone was shooting them off. I went outside on the terrace and watched the explosions, bursts and fountains of light. I have NEVER seen so many. All along the horizon and up on the mountains there were flashes of light. I guess everyone is happy to see the back of 2020. And being stuck at home, they let off steam as they could. Quite the celebration. But it scared Rocky and Simba to death! I didn’t make a movie as some of our friends did. Everyone was amazed by the shear numbers…abbondanza!
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I am surprisingly hopeful for this new year…but I think we will all need to have a lot of patience. There’s a vaccine in our future if we want it, but waiting is the name of the game. Here in Europe where all the countries have National Health systems we have an infrastructure to vaccinate our populations already set up. But, even so, here in Italy, we have such an old population we are far down the list to receive the vaccination. First the health care workers (almost 2 million), then the over 80 year olds (8+ million!). So estimates are, for my group, April to June.

Alas, the US does not even have the infrastructure that Europe has. And right now the States are supposed to administer it to the population. So far this is not going well. I hope a Federal mandate will come out to organize things better. I feel it is necessary in this situation…to save lives.
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Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to 2021! Despite the difficulties it will be a far better year I’m sure!! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Covid update

We had 11,000 new cases in Italy yesterday. Our positivity rate was 8.8. This is excellent. I read in the London Times there was a record high yesterday of more than 53,000 Covid cases in the UK. I looked it up they have 6.7 million population. We have 6.0 million. The case numbers are significantly higher in the UK with nearly the same population. They are probably going into a hard lockdown for their own good. Their hospitals are near to having to decide who gets care…. and who does not. 😢
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The poor weather continues. We had a nice stretch of sunshine this morning so we took advantage to go out to the market, and do a few errands. We bought some wood pellets for our stove and some cat food and I did a small grocery run in town. We were astounded (🤣😂😅) by the “heavy” traffic in Umbertide. I’m joking because I’m from Northern Virginia and we had some of the worst traffic in the US. I’m no longer used to it! It is one of the things I love about living here – no traffic. Today is the last day of Zone Orange here. Tomorrow we go back into complete shut down – Zone Red – for 4 days. I guess everyone went out to get supplies for the holiday coming up.
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I had a lovely drop-by visit from Vera. I had lamented to her that I could not find turnips, called rape, here. Apparently they are considered animal food. As are parsnips, which the British around here love. If anyone finds any of these in any store or at the market, it goes on FaceBook instantly. Then they are all gone. So anyway, I was very pleased when Vera told me her mother-in-law had these in her garden! So I’ve got a nice bag of turnips which I will use happily. Also, share with Joseph who likes them too. Not only that, she brought me pickled turnips from Slovenia (popular there!) and turnip jam! Who knew?

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Stay safe everyone! Only one day of mean old 2020 left!! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Family 💕 friends 💕

Our Christmas was special in so many ways. Although we were alone, physically, we had several wonderful FaceTime or Facebook calls with friends and family.

First call was from good friends in Florida. It was really nice to see their smiling faces and catch up.

Then my sister called. The ability to chat with her happily and without constraints is liberating. Like we are actually together. Not as good as being there, but pretty good.

Then a call from Luther’s family. Oh my! This made my day. This family is special to us. We don’t have children so seeing the nieces and nephew and Luther’s brother and his wife, Anne made us happy. We love those kids! So much happening with them. We miss out on all that. Rachel and her husband Alex. Rachel is a nurse at Johns Hopkins on the Covid wards. Dave and his wife, Shira who is “roundly pregnant”. I love that descriptor! She is due to give birth to our grand nephew, Daniel, in late January. And Sarah, the youngest and a free spirit. 🙂 It was happy-making for us to see them all and catch up. They were all coming last year to see us but Covid nixed that. Maybe this coming year they can come…but even if they all cannot, I hope Rachel can come for some much needed RnR from the sadnesses she must have seen. If anything can help her heal…Italy can 🥰. The good news is, she is changing jobs in the hospital and will no longer be working on the front lines. And she will have regular hours. She is also getting her Covid vaccination next week..yay!
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Christmas dinner. Peking duck. Spectacular fail! I cooked it using a recipe I’ve used before. But this time the meat was pretty desiccated. I was able to salvage enough from the underside of the duck for our dinner. The pancakes I made were pretty good. I made the hoisin sauce which was nice and spicy. Here is one of our pancakes. So, although the duck was mostly a loss, our Christmas dinner was good enough. Win some, lose some!

Stay safe everyone…andrà tutto bene….🌈

Christmas day

I’m making a soup for our lunches. And a duck is slow roasting in the oven. The duck comes from an old lady who raises them nearby. They are from her yard so biologically raised on corn and scraps. But I laugh to think of that. People back home in the US are so conscious of these “labels”. “Is it biologically raised?” They ask. But this is just the way it’s always been done here, and still is. It is “bio” but it is also “normal”. She speaks to her ducks as well, as she tends them. Then she dispatches them herself. The cycle of life and death I guess.

The duck came with its feet, neck and innards. I’m thinking a delicious stock will be in our future. I’m happy it didn’t have the head…I’ve gotten chickens here with heads…🙄. Once, in a fancy restaurant Luther got the rooster head right there on his plate!
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I am a basket maker. Have been for many years. This week I felt the urge to make one. I have a supply of reed I bring from the US. How odd they don’t have this here. Anyway. I finished this on Christmas Eve.

Our small, auxiliary cat, Simba, took a liking to the circle of cane I put on the sofa before making this. He thought it was just right for a nap.

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Soup is ready. It was made with vegetable stock, the normal sofrito, plus lots of greens and grains. Some tomatoes and also a rind from some Parmesan cheese, a rosemary sprig, bay leaves, some dried pepperincino, and a roasted zucca (squash). Drizzled with some of the brilliantly green new olive oil – it can’t be beat!

Tomorrow I will show what I did with the duck. I will say…I’m missing my sister a lot. And I miss Luther’s family – brothers, nieces and nephews…maybe next year we will be together… I’m hoping for visitors next year! 🤞😌 Meanwhile this year there will be FaceTime.🙂
Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.