Category Archives: garden

How does your garden grow…

I know at least a few people would like to see the last garden that I will ever have on Via Grilli. It was a really good year. The two basil plants have kept me busy making pesto. They have been so prolific I had a hard time keeping up! This is the first year I grew sweet peppers. They did very well. So did the habaneros.

Sweet pepper on the right. Basil under it. Habanero center top. Foreground is the tarragon and just behind it the mint.
Lemon tree on left is chock full of lemons. Basil is next to it. Habanero just next to that . Oregano, thyme and parsley center.

I have enjoyed my little terrazza container garden over the years but I am looking forward to an expanded one in our new space next year. I am going to try square foot intensive gardening. I plan to buy some raised containers and see how that works. Two to start, then expand to four. Picture of the one I like. Easy on the back 🙂.

I know you’re all on the edges of your seats to see what’s happening at the Fratta dell’800 festa 😁. I think I should explain than Fratta was the name of Umbertide before it was changed to Umbertide. And even before that it was called Pitulum by the Romans. Since this is the festa ’800 or 1800s best to use the name from that time. Out our window all the preparations are done, including the cannon on the left, which they shoot off at random times to scare our cats and us to death! Events start tonight at six with the Opening Parade. It is a bit rainy so I hope this doesn’t impact the events tonight. [an aside…our new address will be on Via Fratta 🙂]

Buona festa!!

New week!

This will be a little newsy post. This and that. It has been hellishly hot. There is a heat dome over Europe and all countries are suffering. Since air conditioning is not the norm throughout Europe it is even worse than the US. We have two units, one in the living room, and one in our bedroom. In a normal summer, we use these units seldom. This year has been different. It is not a normal summer. We used the bedroom one only once so far. The living room tends to get hot in late afternoon, it has a big roof and the wall with the picture window faces west. So they both catch the full sun all day. The unit is small for the size of the room, but now I turn it on around 1 pm and it keeps the room comfortable. This means we mostly stay inside. We go out early for errands and exercise and then close up the shutters and encave ourselves for the day. I don’t cook a lot in this heat either. We eat a lot of vegetables and salads. If we have fish or meat, it is quickly sautéed. I sometimes prepare cooked things in the early morning which we eat later at room temperature. Caprese salads, gazpacho, and panzanella are my friends!

Today we had errands to do. We had to get cat food and groceries. We had been putting this off as long as we could. We normally go to the Coop in our town for major shopping. It is the biggest store in Umbertide. But it isn’t a super-store. Monday morning would normally be a good day to shop. But today! It was chock full of vacationers who arrived here and need to stock up their homes or vacation rentals with food. This usually happens right around now or in August. The two big months to travel. But I had never seen so many. It must be that pent up desire to travel this year after all the Covid lockdowns. I saw two Belgian cars, five UK cars, four Netherlands cars, one German, and one from France. Wow!
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All has not been chores. We were invited to lunch on Friday by good friends who live in the mountains between here and Gubbio. You might remember during my lock-down postings here Jill kept me cheerful by sending pictures of her beautiful gardens. Lunch was lovely as always. The food was yummy and the conversation ranged far and wide. We also met a new friend, Jane. The gardens and the views are beautiful.

On Saturday our friend Doug, who just arrived here to live full time, came up and I helped him fill out his packet and make copious copies of documents needed to apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno or Permit to Stay. A new resident here has just 8 days to fill out and apply for this permit. When a non-EU citizen moves to Italy they must first get a Visa to come here. A good analogy is the Visa is like the taxi that takes you to your house. The PdS is what allows you to LIVE in your house. So the Visa gets you into the country, the PdS allows you to live here. It must be renewed annually and it takes the place of the Visa which never needs to be renewed. Doug has now embarked on the merry-go-round which is Italian bureaucracy. 🙂
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House hunting — This coming Thursday we have an appointment to view three more houses. These are in Spoleto. I have high hopes for one of them. The other two depend more on the location than anything else. Watch for a house hunting post later this week!

Carciofi in Umido

Since today is the last day of April, I wanted to do a post showcasing a dish from the book “The Tuscan Year”. As you may recall, I have been doing an excerpt from the book each month. The month of April was dedicated to Easter. The traditions are strong. Easter Saturday is the traditional time to plant vegetables. Beans, peas, zucchini, carrots, onions, potatoes, parsley and basil.

When this book was written in the 1980s, the parish priest still visited households to bless the house and family during Holy Week. An ancient tradition. The house was cleaned, top to bottom and the Priest sprinkled holy water into each room. Later the Priest returned for a big lunch after visiting other houses. Blessing is apparently hard work!

The culinary traditions are also strong for the Easter Feast. The Primi, or pasta course is always the celebratory dish, Lasagna. Roasted lamb is always the Secondi. Artichokes, in abundance at this time, were prepared multiple ways as part of the antipasto. I decided to try to make the Carciofi in Umido, stewed artichokes. Lets hope this one has better results than my disastrous frittata in March. 😂
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Recipe – Carciofi in Umido
Four Roman artichokes
50 gr butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
salt and pepper

Trim the artichokes of the stems and outer leaves. Enlarge the hole at the top, between the leaves. Dice the cold butter, mince garlic and parsley and mix together. Add salt. Place some of this mixture inside each artichoke. Put a very little olive oil and a spoon of water into a pan. Place the artichokes in, leaves facing down. They should fit tightly in the pan so they won’t fall over. cover with greaseproof paper and cover the pan tightly. Steam them gently. They are done when the stem end can easily be pierced with a knife. Serve with a little of the buttery garlic sauce which will have collected in the bottom of the pan.

Local Roman artichokes.
Leaves separated for stuffing.
Stuffed with butter and garlic.
Smallest pot I have.

Today, my lunch is stewed artichokes. They turned out delicious. Just right for a light lunch along with some of the Munster cheese from the French market.

Tomorrow is European Labor day. May Day. A holiday but since it is Sunday not a big thing. Buona domenica, and buona Festa dei Lavoratori!

Catching up

We took a drive Monday up to Arezzo in Tuscany. We visited a big grocery there that we like. We drove the Porsche which hasn’t been driven since January. The trip takes around 40 minutes. It was nice to see new scenery for a change. And to stock the larder with food.

Over the weekend we were awakened at 5am by our resident Hoopoe. Our bedroom window was wide open and he perched on the clothes line just outside where he proceeded to sing his (loud) two note song which is the origin his name, they say. Oddly, just last week I opened a bottle of wine which had a glass stopper rather than a cork. I noticed something painted on it. It was a Hoopoe! It seems every time I turn around I’m reminded of this cool bird.

Saturday local market was cheerful. We still have mostly winter vegetables. But I saw asparagus today. Also, everyone has piles of fresh eggs. The chickens lay more eggs in the spring apparently.

Plant booth had some pretty plants but I was going to take a trip up the hill outside of town to the big greenhouse so I just admired his flowers.

I’m happy to see both of the bars are welcoming folks.

San Giorgio, the restaurant across the piazza from us. They are happily serving lunch and dinner again.

I went out to the nursery just outside of town. I bought petunias and a bunch of herbs. I still need the sweet alyssum I normally plant and couldn’t find. I guess it will become a quest! This is the view up to Civitella Ranieri, the castle that hosts fellows in the art world. They were empty last year so I hope all goes well this year. Isn’t the sky pretty and the winter wheat so green!!

Spur of the moment we decided to have lunch at Patrick’s Enoteca. I’ve missed it. The “clown” train passing on the tracks across from Patrick’s.

Lunch.

So that was my week. Oh, except I locked the key to the door of our garage inside the garage. So now we can’t get to the car! And we were going for a ride today. Oh well. We are trying to figure out how to get in! This was the very thing I reminded myself never, ever to do…and I did it 🙄
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Italiano phrase…”era un bellissimo sabato”. In English “it was a beautiful Saturday”. Pronounced — era une bell-ees-see-mo sah-bah-toe.
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Stay safe everyone! 🌈

Clean-up on the terrazzo

It is time for clean up of the pots and old plants before we can get new plants for the upcoming summer. Oh joy! Summer! I am debating whether it’s too early to uncover the table outside. I’m thinking it is not. Only severe weather will affect it and I don’t think we will have anything VERY severe.

I am thrilled that my tarragon plant is sending up pretty, green, new shoots. Shout out to my friend Joanne for providing me a new plant last fall after my previous one died. French Tarragon is not to be found in Italy. Only Russian, and it has no smell or flavor. It seems strange since we share a border with France. Joanne brought two plants back from Germany for us a couple of years ago. I’m so glad mine survived the winter this time. I do love tarragon chicken.

I have a lot of sweet alyssum that is still very much alive. I usually pull it all up but I’ve seen some massive specimens around here so I’m going to leave it and see. My friend Doug told me it is mostly considered an annual in the US, but since it is native to the Mediterranean it will probably come back. The stems are very green inside.
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Italian phrase for today…”dentro è ancora abbastanza freddo per poter usare la stufa a pellet” in English “inside it is still cold enough to use the pellet stove”. Pronounced…din-tro A ahn-cora ahb-bah-stan-za fred-doh pear eu-sahr-ay lah stoo-fa a pel-let. I should mention my pronunciation that I write here is as good as I can make it by saying it and trying to spell the sound. The A that I put in is really a long A sound, like the a in jay. I couldn’t seem to phonetically spell that.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.

Here we go again…Zona Rossa

As of today we are again Zona Rossa, or Red Zone. All of the province of Perugia went Red today from the previous Orange. This is nothing like the full lockdown we had last year. We have freedom to walk or run alone and we can both go shopping for food together. Last year we could not.

We will be Red for two weeks. Then they will re-assess. In reading the restrictions I don’t really see a whole lot different from the Orange restrictions. It doesn’t matter much for us since we routinely stay home except for essentials. The only thing is I just checked to see if our new Permessi di Soggiorno cards are ready – I check every week – and yep, now they are ready. The problem is we can’t travel to pick them up. I don’t think it would be deemed an emergency.
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If you’ve been following this blog awhile you may remember back in our first lockdown, last spring, I did a post about my little, sad lemon tree. (Read original post) It is a very crooked little tree with a twisted trunk. I outlined how I was going to restrict its growth to one side then keep the new branches and any fruit over the base of the crooked trunk to help balance it over the center of gravity and keep it from tipping over. 😁 I had my share of Doubting Thomas’ last year…I am happy to report my plan worked. Take a look at it now and at how the fruit is over the pot. I am enjoying the fresh lemons!

And just playing around with my other new lens…yes, I bought two new lenses.

Well time for my Italian sentence. “il mio albero di limone ha sette limoni” in English, “my lemon tree has seven lemons”. Pronounced…eel meo al-bear-oh dee lee-moan-ay ah set-tay lee-moan-ee.

Hang in everyone…we are hunkered down in Umbria. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Tuscany is Code Red

It’s getting ramped up fast here. We are still Orange but just a few miles from here is Tuscany, and it is Code Red now. The highest. Pretty much a complete lockdown over there. The map below shows how fast Italy is raising the alarms.

Unfortunately I now know of a number of people in our area who’ve tested positive, or of people in self-isolation after being exposed. It is far worse for Umbria in this second wave that it was in the first.

It is Saturday. It’s cold and damp here. I am not even going outside to our Kilometer zero market. We have the stufa burning so it’s cozy inside. Here’s the foggy view from our terazza …No laundry will be drying today!

I had hoped to clean up some in my ortino. Take a look at my biggest producer. I’ve never had a pepper with so many before! These all ripened in the last 3 days. And these babies are HOT. I freeze them but now they are taking over all the space.

Stay Covid-safe everyone. Wear your mask! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

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…