Category Archives: garden

Trivial issues and tomato sandwiches

In the grand scheme of things, considering the really dire state of the human race on our earth, my small problems matter not a whit. It is true. And truly, if I never get Saran Wrap again but the Corona Virus is vanquished, I am more than fine with that.

Last night I used the last of my Saran Wrap. I can manage with the Italian plastic wrap, but Saran is much, much better. During normal times I would be traveling home to the US once a year or so. And I always stock up on all the things I like from there (I bring an empty suitcase). Needless to say we won’t be going home anytime soon. And we won’t have any guests from the US anytime soon, so I will make do.
Dead soldier…


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Tomato sandwiches were a staple of my childhood lunches. My mother adored in-season tomatoes. She would have called them “home grown”. She would make a sandwich with Wonder bread, mayonnaise and thick slices of tomatoes with salt and pepper. That’s all. And I grew up eating these. Since “home grown” tomatoes are only around a couple of months I tend to eat them everyday here. How? You ask? Watch me work!

First, and don’t you people be shouting about this because it is in all the Supermarkets here, I buy a nice loaf of American Sandwich bread. Just like Wonder Bread 🙂.

Then, I slather on lots of mayonnaise…and not just ANY mayonnaise but the real thing! Hellman’s! Also available here at selected supermarkets.

We don’t have what Americans call Heirloom tomatoes in our markets, but what we have are outstanding!

The Romas on the left are destined for Gazpacho. The basil will be pesto! Mmmm I love summer.

So, using all these fine ingredients 🙂… I make my daily Tomato sandwich. Mmmmmm. Sorry…half eaten 😋

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I also got my haircut this morning. First time since lockdown. Whew. Nice to get it cut. I drive around 40 kilometers from Umbertide to Sansepolcro. Nice small city in Tuscany. I love Stefano, my hairdresser.
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Stay safe everyone! 🌈

Day 54 – Covid-19

197,675 positives in Italy. Up 1.2% – 26,644 total deaths since beginning of the outbreak.
There are 1,368 positive cases in Umbria. 64 total deaths.

961,983 cases in the US – 54,400 deaths. 
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Sunday night dinner, prawn salad with Harissa dip. Thank you Calagrana! So good. Luthers favorite.

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US news…
”The resumption of public life is poised to accelerate across wide areas of the country in the coming days and weeks — mostly in Republican-governed states and despite warnings from health experts as Covid-19 cases in the United States near 1 million. You’ll be able to eat out at a restaurant in Tennessee starting tomorrow, potentially congregate in an Idaho church next week and go shopping in Missouri next week”
Face palm.
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I also read the epidemic has begun to move outside of the major Metropolitan areas where it has been prevalent until now, into small towns, small cities, and rural areas. Places where there will be more difficulty dealing with due to lack of facilities.
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Such a perfect day here today. Here are a few of my own flowers and herbs on my terrace. Also one of the view. It has gotten so green!

Sage in the upper left survived the winter. Just below it is the regrowing tarragon my friend Joanne brought me from Germany. Tarragon is not a “thing” here. Happy it’s coming back. And that’s mint on the right.
My new oregano is happy! Old rosemary behind. It will probably renew but I am considering replanting.
Chives. Cipollina.
I don’t know what this is but it is so pretty, and very purple. My friend Rosemarie will like my terrace this year. Much purple.
This is rhododendron. It is never blue. How do I help it be blue?
Is this GREEN or what?! Since just a week or so ago. I adore it.

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Today is day 7️⃣ until the loosening for us prisoners here. We are all looking forward to a small bit of freedom. At least to walk and jog. If not much else. 🌈

Day 46 – Covid-19

172,434 positives in Italy. Up 2.1% – 22,745 total deaths since beginning of the outbreak.
1,337 positives in Umbria. Two more deaths at 57.

718,185 cases in the US – 37,730 deaths.
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Have you heard that one of the sure-fire symptoms of the Covid-19 virus is a loss of the sense of smell and taste? Well, for the last week or so it seems I smell nutmeg all the time. Is that something I should worry about? What do you think? Last night when our pizza was delivered all I could smell was nutmeg. Maybe I have Covid-20…I am not making this up!

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And what about those poor people stranded in a train station in India?! Oh my. And I thought we had it bad. Wow.

Varanasi, India — The main train station in the north Indian city of Varanasi is a sprawling building that has witnessed its share of delays over more than a century of rail travel. Sometimes the waits are long, and sometimes they are pleasantly short. But it has never seen anything like this.

Inside a high-ceilinged room, a group of travelers from across India have waited in vain for more than three weeks for trains that never come.

They are parents and children, construction workers, managers, pilgrims, students, a lawyer and a marketing professional. They have one thing in common: They were all stranded hundreds of miles from home when India abruptly suspended its passenger trains, which carry 23 million people a day, then imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Ever since, the passengers have spent their days confined to a waiting room in a state of uncertainty worthy of an existentialist play, unable to continue their journeys and forbidden to leave the station.

In some ways, they are lucky. The station staff, accustomed to handling more than 100,000 passengers a day, have busied themselves taking care of the fewer than 50 who remain. Those stranded get three meals a day, hot tea, a morning yoga session and nightly showings of Hindu epics on a newly mounted television screen.

But they are stuck. “Is this life?” 

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Let’s talk about my lemon tree. I got this tree the first summer we were here. All my life I had wanted a lemon tree but it was too cold in Virginia. So I bought this little tree from a nursery. Not knowing much about lemon trees I didn’t really notice that the tree was trained to encircle a metal cage supported by four bamboo stakes, rather than have one central trunk. At first that didn’t matter too much but as time passed it became more and more skewed. So this winter I decided to remove the cage and severely trim and shape it. I removed most of the branches on one side to encourage growth towards the center. It ended up with a sturdy trunk, but it was growing at an angle to the pot. See picture #1 below.

Picture #1. Tree after most of the leaves and branches on the left side were removed.

This next picture has a couple of arrows pointing at a new flower which is a potential lemon, and new leaves. This tree puts out a lot, lot of leaves. Did you know lemon tree baby leaves smell strongly of lemon? Mature leaves do not.

Picture #2. Lemon blossom and new leaves.

Picture #3 has a depiction of lemon fruit if allowed to grow in the main tree. The fruit will be heavy and exert a downward pull straight down from the fruit.

Picture #3 shows downward pull of gravity on the heavy fruit if allowed to grow on the left of the tree.

Picture #4 is my depiction of the twist and pivot the pot would do as it is pulled sideways by the weight.

Picture #4 Pot will topple over from the weight.

And last is Picture #5 showing where I will try to allow fruit to form so it is centered over the pot beneath it. Thus keeping the center of gravity to the right.

Picture #5 showing the fruit centered primarily above the pot.

Well, that was fun wasn’t it? And now everyone will understand what I’m talking about. Do you think this tree is worth saving? Or should I start anew? If I keep trying, I will take pictures as the summer goes on. The fruits start like tiny limes. A lot of them don’t ever mature and fall off when small. The ones that remain don’t get big until autumn and don’t ripen until January. Every year, this little tree produces about 20 lemons. My friend George gave me a great book called The Land Where Lemon Trees Grow. All about the history of citrus in Italy. I know a lot more about it after reading it.

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Guess who went for a walk yesterday! 😀 My loop takes about 8 minutes per loop. I was surprised at the number of people out. Everyone was alone (except for some young men 😡)  so that was pretty good. Here are some pictures I took.

Rosemary are shrubs here, not just herbs.
The small Torrente river which meets the Tiber.
The walkway next to the Torrente.
My friends house along the way.
Annoyed to see five regazzi (guys) gathered together barbecuing. Grrrr.

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Buona domenica. The bells are tolling outside calling people to Mass…sadly, no one can go. The day will be fine. I hope you enjoy yours…stay home and stay safe everyone…
🌈 Andrà tutto bene…

Day 44 – Covid-19

168,941 positives in Italy. Up 2.3% – 22,170 total deaths since beginning of the outbreak.

1,329 positives in Umbria. One more death at 55.

653,825 cases in the US – 31,638 deaths.
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I really do get my days confused now! If I didn’t have my iPad I don’t know what I’d do! We had our Italian class today.  It is one of the only anchors to an otherwise totally random existence.
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Weather is warming up again. Yesterday I planted my plants. Very nice to have them cheering up our space outside.

I severely cut back this lemon tree this winter. The problem is the trunk is bent and skewed making it unbalanced when it gets a lot of fruit. So I am going to keep the new leaves from growing on one side so I can encourage new growth the other way. We will see how that works. Otherwise I may have to get a new tree. I can probably re-home this one. 

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Weekend coming up. Starting last week we decided to make Friday pizza night. It kind of adds a little something different to the weekend.

Stay safe inside everyone… 🌈 Andrà tutto bene…

Day 41 – Covid-19

159,516 positives in Italy. Up 2% – 20,465 total deaths.
1,320 positives in Umbria. Up only one case. Percentage near zero. (Yay!)

572,587 cases in the US – 23,078 deaths.
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Today is the last day of our fifth week in isolation.
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One governor put the choice facing the country in stark terms.

“I fear if we open up too early . . . that we could be pouring gasoline on the fire,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said on CNN. He added: “Right now, the house is on fire, and job number one is to put the fire out.”

I saw the Governors of several states in the NY region (PA, NJ, CN, RI, DE, NY) are joining forces to create a task force to decide on a metered reopening. This is an intelligent plan…
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Today is the first day some more stores can reopen here in Italy. It is a first baby step.
“Tuesday, April 13th, 2020 will see the beginning of Phase2.
Bookstores, stationery shops, clothing shops for infants and children will begin to open for business. Agriculture and certain IT enterprises will begin a gradual return. This will not apply to Lombardy, Bergamo or Veneto regions.”
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So, I had planned for days now, to do a couple of errands today. I find I put off leaving the house nowadays. It is fraught with dangers! But I screwed up my courage, printed out my Autocertificazione and went out. I opened the downstairs door to the street, keep in mind our street is barely a cars width across, and a Carabinieri car was parked in front of my door! Eek! I strolled, nonchalantly out with my bags of trash as camouflage…my mask covered my face, and made my getaway.

First stop was the Tabbacci. I needed to pay the bills of my friend and had been putting off the trip. Not difficult. One person is allowed in at a time. There is a fence across the counter so you have to keep your distance. Finito!

Then, for the fun part of the errand. I drove out of town to a greenhouse I know to see if they were open for me to buy some flowers. They were! I bought a couple trays full. Petunias, geraniums, those little, teensy white flowers I always get. And a cute little purple daisy-like flower. Oh and I found a nice thyme plant as mine had gotten all woody and I pulled them up. It is still cool outside so the lady, who is always very sweet and tries to speak English to me, said they wouldn’t really start growing much until it warms up some more. I have to marvel, I had a mask covering my face, my hair long and hanging in my face, glasses all fogged up…I haven’t bought plants there in several years…and yet…she still knew to speak English to me!! How!!?

View from outside nursery up the hill to Civatella Ranieri (inside copse of trees) – castle where artists spend six weeks as fellows…normally. Closed until August this year.

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I can’t help but be heartened that we have seen the slightest bit of loosening now.  Enjoy your day! I will since I can now plant some plants! Always makes me happy 🥰… 🌈 sta migliorando!

Fall is upon us

It is amazing how fast the seasons change here! It was just a little over a week ago that it was blazing hot! Now it’s cool and a few showers. It feels very autumnal 🍁. Nights cool down so much we have to wear sweaters to sit outside in the evenings. We have friends visiting right now. They are staying at a friend’s vacant house in Montone. They said it’s like the desert [edit – ha ha ha, no it’s not like dessert! Sorry!] the way it get so cool at night.

Autumn Umbrian tapestry.

It is also the end of the growing season. They are busy harvesting the grapes. They started with the white Trebbiano Spoletino. Then, surprisingly they said the Merlot was next. It will continue through September and into October/November with the Sagrantino grapes, the Cabernet, and the Grechetto.

Sagrantino

I also am harvesting my bumper crop of hot peppers. We grew Jalapeños, cayenne, and two types of habaneros- chocolate and orange. We also have a small bush-like pepper with tiny hot peppers. It’s very ornamental.

Here is just part of my crop.

Next post will be about a fun visit with one of my besties and her husband.

Enjoy the season!

Heat wave

Welcome to summer! We went from cold rain to steaming heat. We are doing our normal “Shutter Management” . We open everything up when the sun sets, and close everything up when the sun rises into the sky. It is still nice and cool at night. Up in more northern Europe, Berlin, Paris etc. the heat was amazing. Records were set. Paris saw 45.7C or around 114F degrees. And remember, people don’t have AC here as a rule. I read an article about all the heating and cooling contractors up there being inundated with requests to install it. And they used to make fun of the Americans for having it. Harumpf. We merely got up to 37C yesterday. Warm but not terrible.

Umbertide is up to it’s old tricks. The Vespa Club hosted Vespa Clubs from ALL over Umbria. I saw shirts from Spoleto, Spello, Todi, Orvieto, Perugia. There were a LOT of vespas!

I went for a walk last week early, before it got very hot. Along the very placid Tivere river.

Along the way.

I had been asking Luther to let me know when the sunflowers were blooming along his running route out in the farm fields. He said today was the day. So I drove out there, after I was released from Vespa madness., to get a few pictures.

 

And finally a shot of our terrazza with all the pretty blooming flowers. A far cry from the horrible mess we had out here while our last pet sitters were here! The rain really delayed everything but I’m happy to say they have all recovered.

Happy Summer everyone!

Trying to move onward with the knee

One of my posts prompted a comment about recuperation in the US vs Italy. I opined that in the US everything is go, go, go and get well, and back to work. Here it is piano, piano, take it slow, heal, you’ll be fine in good time. So which is better? Hard to say. I’m following instructions and trying not to feel competitive with those who are moving faster than me…after all, whats my hurry? 🙂 piano, piano.

That said I am not really happy with my walking ability. The knee is quite weak with it buckling unexpectedly when I take steps. This makes me less confident in my ability to walk. Other things are going well. The knee bending is very well. Sleeping is easier but I wake a lot when shifting positions and going from bent to straight leg. Next week I plan to go to the local pool with my friend Joanne who will show me the ropes there. Then I can do aqua exercises. I’m told this is an excellent way to work the knee.
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Other than the knee last week I had a unique experience. I had received a letter in the mail with an appointment for my annual mammogram. So we headed to Città di Castello to the hospital. I’d been once before so felt fairly confident going again. I sat at the desk where the woman, in pretty violet scrubs, looked up my records online and nodded to a man, wearing brilliant red scrubs, who came and took me to the scanning room. I had a bad feeling about this. His hame was Marco. He asked a couple of questions and indicated I should take my shirt etc off. Well. I had never had a male mammogram techician before but one has to go with the flow as it were so I did. It wasn’t so bad. I just have to wonder why a man would choose this profession. Yes he gets to see and touch lots of breasts but it is hardly titillating.
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Afterwards we visited one of our butchers. We needed provisions. Then, while Luther parked the car I made a loop through our Kilo zero market. The veggie people have just what is growing nearby. Cabbages…many sorts. Kale. Chard. Spinach. A few root veggies. This is the time of the year when the farmers who lived off of their crops are ready for some spring growth. They have been eating the available greens growing now, supplemented by the preserved bounty from last summer. Nearly gone. The good news is that spring has started to put in a pretty steady appearance. I am starting to look forward to the spring early veggies.
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I’ve also started to clean up our terrace. I bought a nice wood rack for the wood we didn’t use.

87A7BB84-0B9F-46EC-B7AE-1D4381BAD7C2

And I’ve been scrubbing the grout and tiles. My pots are being slowly dug up and the old plants relegated to the trash. I will be ready in May when we start to plant again. I am thinking about what to try this year. Always fun to plan! I have lots of pots now since my failed corn adventure last year.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

corn

And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
winter_squash1

Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
winter_squash

The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
citrus2

citrus1

Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
fall_veg

And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
pears

The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
rapette

And cauliflower…
cauliflower

And Cabbage…
cabbage

And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
flowers_lettuce

petunia

lettuce

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
corn3

um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.