Category Archives: Friends

Sunday Pranzo with la nostra famiglia Italiana

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

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

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

Roast duck
Magnificent roasted potatoes
Lamb and saffron rice.

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

A buona domenica and excellent lunch with friends. 💕

Musings…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brodetto alla Termolese – The Dish!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buon Natale

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

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

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

Christmas open house with friends

Sunday was a cold, clear, crisp day here. My friend Elizabeth Wholly invited us to her house for an open house to ring in the season. Elizabeth is an accomplished cook and an accomplished writer. She is known for her book “Sustenance – Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland”. It highlights many of the artisanal products produced in our river valley and surrounding hills. She also has a blog focusing on Wines of Italy called the Wine Girls. She is a multifaceted and delightful friend.

The group was diverse. Some I knew, some I didn’t. They ranged from Canadians, Americans, UK residents, Danes, and a lone Italian, a neighbor. The table was set with all kinds of beautiful sweets. We were in what Elizabeth refers to as her party room. It is a good description. It is a big, long room filled with a long table that would easily seat fourteen. Flanked by a small sitting area in front of a lovely fireplace and next to that her “summer kitchen”. There are double doors onto a patio perfect for catching the low winter sun. She also had a crackling bonfire in the yard. It was beautiful. I took some pictures of course.

The goody table in the party room. Very festive!
Beautiful fireplace and decorated mantle,
The sun trap patio.
!The loggia, which we didn’t use. It is great in the summertime.
Bonfire
Sun trap patio from outside
Our December sun is setting.

Getting colder…time to go!

Thanksgiving 2021

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 🥺.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Autumnal Umbria & Rocco Ragni Cashmere

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.

Looks like it is not real. But it is!
Sagrantino grape vines turn bright red in the fall.

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.

Enjoy the season!

Recent adventures

Well, maybe not “adventures”…but stuff we did 🙂. Mostly eating. What’s new?!

Anyway, we had lunch with new friends we had not met before last week. They bought a house in Gubbio and were visiting the first time since Covid. It was a pretty day. We sat outside. We were at Ristoro di Campagna. It is a very Umbrian place. No menu, they come and recite what they’ve got. And we dined with chickens! A first for that!

Our view.
Mr. Rooster
….and the little lady

Today we drove to Montepulciano. It’s about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes from our house. We were meeting up with an old friend, Rod, that we both worked with in Germany. Twenty six years ago!! 😳 We dined at La Grotta, one of our favorites. Been many times. It was pretty and we ate in the garden. It was great to catch up, and great to meet Ana, Rod’s wife. Yummy food and nice conversation. Here are my dishes…mmmm.

Hand made pici with almonds, olives and sun dried tomatoes
Perfect lamb chops
Semifreddo

Stay safe everyone!

Pizza night at Calagrana

Every Sunday is pizza night at Calagrana. Fun and casual. Albi mans the wood burning outdoor pizza oven with his assistant. We ran into many longtime friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time. All were in good spirits and have weathered the pandemic. Also we saw newly returned friends Linda and Evan. They will be here enjoying their apartment and the pretty autumn weather. We brought along our friends Jane and Christie who now own the little apartment overlooking the square where we stayed while renovating our apartment. We all tucked into our pizzas, hot off the fire. So good! Thanks Team Calagrana.

My pizza bianche with ham, funghi, olives and artichokes
Luther’s more traditional with salsiccia.

Buon Ferragosto!

Tomorrow is Ferragosto. The August holiday which is dead center of the month. The month of VACATION!! Big parties tomorrow.

This is a mundane post. I got out early since the predicted high today is 38C. That’s 100 degrees in US speak. Hot. So I was up and out before eight. I did my shopping at our local market first thing. The high summer bounty of fruits and vegetables are beautiful. It was hard to stop buying. Here are a few pics of the deliciousness to come.

Zucchini, borlotti beans, eggplant, sweet red onion, greenbeans
Every week we go through quantities of tomatoes. And I’ve not even gotten to making sauce.
What’s better than a Caprese salad when the tomatoes are at peak? This is locally made near Montone

I ran into some friends and we had a chat. Mostly about their recent vacation to Como, and the wonderful food in the market. We shared some recipes.

I didn’t only go out to shop. I wanted to get in my walk early before the heat. And like I often do, I decided to combine my walk with an errand. I had finally gotten some more charcoal and was planning to grill. I’ve got a skirt steak that I aim to make into fajitas. It was calling out for an avocado to go with it so I walked to the so-called “Egyptian” market 😁 It is owned by immigrants and I guess people think they are from Egypt so they call it the Egyptian market. I kinda doubt that. But anyway, they have things available there that cater to the immigrant communities in Umbertide and the surrounding towns. Things like cilantro. They have it reliably. And they have avocados that are perfect, and reliably good. So I make a point to get my avocados from them. So, as part of my walk I got two avocados and while there I even decided to buy four ears of corn. I’m sure it won’t be up to my standards of sweet American corn, but I want it so badly, I’ll try anything. I’m going to grill two, for a salad, and boil two, to test how good they are. I asked where they came from and he said Sicilia. I think most of their stuff comes from there.

Here is the corn. All trimmed up.

Doesn’t look so appetizing but we’ll give it a go.

On my way back, I was amused by this little grill on the sidewalk at our little corner store that sells all sorts of things for the household. The amusing part was that it said it was a barbecue “Professionale”. Right. Looks pretty flimsy for professional use!

That’s about it. I’ll try to remember to post a picture of our dinner tonight. And the corn whichever way I do it.

Ciao for now…buon Ferragosto wherever you are! 🌈