Hi everyone! I guess I have some catching up to do. It has been a busy couple of weeks. I have had a spot of trouble with my website so I held off posting until I could do some cleanup and fix a few problems with the help of a friend (thanks Roger!)
We had a very cold snap which pretty much killed off the remaining plants on the terrace. I built the first fire in the upstairs fireplace and after about four hours it finally warmed up that floor which at present has no heat. I also grilled a whole branzino for our dinner so as not to waste the heat in any way.
Speaking of upstairs things are moving along with the kitchen. I met with Irma, our architect, and we have nailed down all the colors. We also went and met with Nicoletti who will make the cabinets, order the appliances and install everything once the preparation is done. The builder who will do the demolition came to see how we could move the heavy flooring upstairs and the countertops. I have insisted that the counters not have any seams. Both the kitchens I’ve put in here have had seams and this time I was determined they be in one piece. There are two and they will be heavy. So they will use an elevator truck to bring these things up.
We had a lovely pre-season lunch with three of our friends in Spello. We each brought something and it was great fun. We all get along well and the conversation flows. Here is one of the arches in Spello. It is a lovely hill town.
The Christmas tree was delivered to the piazza but this year I didn’t see it delivered as I have done in every other year. So I decided I would put up my own tree which at least brings some festiveness to our house.
We had some company for a couple nights and we did a bit of sightseeing. We picked them up in Foligno and we went so DiFilipo a bio winery near Bevagna. This is our first visit to them since pre-Covid. They have upped their game. They have many more wines now and they have created a nice outside space with tables and chairs — not that we could use it in this weather but they did build a nice fire for us to enjoy inside.
This winery does not use any pesticides. It also doesn’t use any machinery in the vineyards. They use horses to plow and cut the grass between the vines. And they use geese to control the insects. Before going in we went to visit the animals.
We had reserved a tasting and they brought us goodies to enjoy along with 7 wines.
After the tasting we didn’t want lunch so we paid a short visit to Bevagna. They had a small Christmas market. This was L’Immacolata. The immaculate conception. It is a national holiday and the official beginning of the Christmas season. After we returned home we walked into town. It was very cold. We had a drink in Bar Mary and waited for them to light the tree. Right on time – there it was!
Next day was Saturday and we did have a tough time doing anything I had planned. We headed to Assisi. We got there around 10:30 and were turned away by the police as there was no parking left. I had to cancel our lunch reservation. So we decided to visit Perugia. Our guests had not been to either city. Well, we headed to the MiniMetro and found the big Saturday market was there. But we still went to the metro station where we found the place a mob scene. So we decided to just walk through the market and go over to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch.
It was one of the prettiest days ever. Not as cold, in fact it got into the 60s, and it was crystal clear with bright blue skies. Perfect to visit the lake.
We chose Ristorante Il Molo. Known for creative food and a good wine selection. The food was quite creative for sure.
These next are my table mates food and I cannot remember what they all were but everyone like theirs.
Here we are and we had a nice view.
Afterwards we went for a walk around the town. There were quite a few people there but not crowded. Just folks out enjoying a rare warmish sunny day.
Upcoming for us. We planned a trip to England. First one since before Covid. We are glad we got our boosters (first in two years) last week. We leave on Friday and will spend five nights in a National Trust Cottage in a town called Corfe Castle in Devon. We look forward to pub lunches, touring the towns within reach and maybe a walk on the cliffs for which the area is known. We hope there will be some Christmas merry olde England style too! Of course there will be a trip report. 🙂
After Rachel and Alex left we managed to squeeze in a lunch with friends. Our weather is still amazing so we MUST take advantage of it since winter is not far away. The “gang of five” met up at Lago Trasimeno in a restaurant called L’Opera. Our “gang” are Doug, our friend who has been keeping busy renovating his home here and now is studying for his Italian drivers license, and Roselyne and Steve. They live in Spello and came here from Miami. Roselyne is French with an EU passport making their move here easier than it is for most of us. We meet up as often as our schedules allow and always enjoy each others company.
The restaurant is all seafood and the owners are Sicilian. Consequently, there are a number of Sicilian dishes which I love!
They grow a lot if pistachios in Sicily so they use them in a lot of ways. Palermo was conquered by Arabs who brought along couscous which you’ll still see on the west side of Sicily. ~~~~~~ We had a nice lunch at Calagrana Sunday with the purchasers of our former apartment, Christie and Jane. They are always fun and the food is always delicious and as I can’t help saying – again! the weather was amazing. I took a photo of this Range Rover convertible (I had no idea they made a convertible) sitting next to a vintage yellow Cinquecento.
I had two of the best things I’ve ever had there. An asparagus appetizer with a fried egg and black truffles. It was perfect. My second course was a ravioli whose filling was ricotta, sultanas, pear, pumpkin. It was served in a butter sage sauce. Delicious. Pictured below. And the next picture is Luther’s veal chop with arugula and tomatoes.
On Tuesday our friends from Florida who have a house in Pisticci in Basilicata down south drove up to visit a couple days. We had Christie and Jane over for aperitivo and we all had fun. I didn’t take a picture!
Meanwhile we had been dealing with getting blood work done for the Great White Cat, Rocky. Both of our cats are 14 now and we wanted to check Rocky. The first test came back that he is hypoglycemic which gave us a scare. They retested after we made him fast overnight and happily, he is fine. Whew.
Sadly, the weather will be changing for the worse next week. Rain and much colder. And we have not gotten our stufa cleaned or pellets and wood ordered. I guess we better get crackin’!
We’ve been busy! Our Niece, Rachel, and her husband, Alex, came to visit for the second time and we were thrilled to have them. They are easy guests and up for anything. Our way of touring is to try to arrive at our destination for that day around eleven-ish, giving us a couple hours to walk and tour until lunch at around one. Lunch being the focal point of the day. I am sure many wouldn’t focus all around Pranzo, but we do! 🙂
They arrived on Saturday late-ish. We drove over the mountains on a twisty road to get to the train station at Torontola/Cortona and got them at 7:45. All along the way we saw the cinghiale or wild boars who come out around dusk for their nightly destruction. They are big and you wouldn’t want to hit one. Luckily they are also smart so keep out of the way. We returned and went straight to C’era una Volta. Always fun because there isn’t a menu. It is recited to you what they have that day. ~~~~~~~ Sunday. We had planned to go to Siena. We had tickets to see the duomo and then a reservation for lunch in a new place. The Duomo was amazing. I have been there before but this time we went inside and really appreciated it. The floors in particular are amazing. And we learned the church is black and white striped because of the legend of the origins of the city and the black and white horses the leaders rode. There is also a library of illuminated manuscripts from the 1400s which were amazing.
We headed over to the Campo. It is an enormous piazza in a shell shape where they hold the Palio twice a year, a bareback horse race held since 1633. Yes, 1633. There are 17 contrade in Sienna. These are neighborhoods. Each has an animal and a flag with that animal on it. 14 of these contrade get a horse to run in the Palio. It is decided by a lottery which get a horse. The contrade are fiercely competitive. The fish street light below is from one of the contrade.
We walked to our lunch destination in a rather off-the-beaten-track neighborhood. I chose it from reading the write ups and also because the chef is Japanese and the food is Italian with Japanese influences. Campo Cedro
Monday. We went to our nearby winery Vineria Carmine. We opted for the lunch and wine tasting. It was lovely as always. We toured the cellar which happens to have been designed by the Architect who is designing my kitchen here. They have two amphorae which they got in one of those recycle places here. Italians don’t throw anything away and always reuse things, like roof tiles, paving stones, doors etc. No one knew where they came from or how old they were. Turns out they date to the 700s and are from Puglia. No one knows how they got here.
Tuesday. We headed to Montepulciano, a pretty Tuscan hill town. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. We found a good pay parking lot near the bottom gate into town. It is a pretty long walk up the hill and around the end to the Piazza Grande. We looked in the many small shops. Some pretty nice things! I bought a new purse. Rachel got one too and Alex got a beautiful black leather jacket, soft and smooth as butter.
We walked back down the hill and drove to our restaurant which was at the base of the hill next to the Tempio di San Biagio, a beautiful church across from which was our restaurant, La Grotta. We’ve been going here since 2001, even before we moved here. It is wonderful.
Wednesday. This was the day we chose for Rachel and Alex to rent bicycles and go for a little giro around the Upper Tiber Valley. I guess they rode for four hours or so. Then we all met up for a spritz at Bar Mary.
Thursday. We decided to go to nearby Perugia. We rode the Mini Metro up to near the center. We strolled around the beautiful 24 sided marble fountain and down the Corso Pietro Vannucci the main shopping street in the center. We visited the underground city. During the 16th century, the Baglioni Family, who held absolute power in Perugia, were fighting among themselves making the city vulnerable to a Papal interference. In 1540, the Pope made things worse by mandating that Perugia purchase their salt from Papal saltworks, at a higher cost compared to the salt from Siena, Tuscany.
Since salt was crucial for food preservation, this increase in price resulted in widespread starvation among the population. In response, Perugia declared itself a Republic and resisted the Papal troops, but was eventually defeated. It was during this period, known as the “salt wars,” that the custom of unsalted bread emerged. To this day Umbrian bread is made without salt making it flavorless.
At this time Pope Paul III was building a very visible and impressive fortress to show the power the Pope had over the city. This required the demolition of the Baglioni family’s main houses and fortified towers. The roads under the city are the original medieval roads roofed with impressive vaults to support the load of the fortress above of which nothing remains today. It was destroyed after the 1860 reunification of Italy to show how despised the Papal power was in Perugia.
Friday. We had decided to visit a casaficio or cheese making farm. Fattoria Calcabrina is an organic goat cheese farm near Montefalco and Bevagna. It is not set up to give tours and has a basic counter where they will let you taste the different cheeses. Rachel is very inquisitive and had many questions which the owner/cheese maker seemed happy to answer. It is not the optimal time for cheese in autumn. Spring is when to go when the kids have been born and the goats graze on the new spring grasses and herbs and are giving much delicious milk. We tasted all they had on offer and I bought one flavored with chives. There were a horse and several dogs and chickens but we didn’t see the goats. Here is Rachel with a Maremma dog happy to be petted.
After visiting the casaficio we went to see Bevagna. It was very quiet at this time of year. We strolled the pretty streets, took some pictures and ate at Ottavius.
Alas, all good things come to an end. We took them to the train station to catch a train to Fiumicino for their flight home tomorrow. They brought an empty suitcase which they filled up to the brim. Pastas, booze, leather goods, chocolate. We love having them as guests. They are up for anything with enthusiasm. In addition to our lunches out we dined out for dinner once, we got pizza once and I cooked pasta twice. The other nights we had varied stuzzicherà which is a meat, cheese, fruit, bread feast that is called a snack here. In the evenings we watched a series on YouTube which I highly recommend to those who love art, food and Italy. The first of the series is called Sicily Unpacked – three one hour segments. The next two seasons are called Italy Unpacked.
We had a great time with our latest guests who only stayed two nights. Sadly. We began by picking them up in Arezzo where they had spent one night. There are two parking lots near the Duomo. One is free, the other is paid. The free lot is always full. The pay lot is always empty. We parked in the pay parking lot and took the escalators to the Centro. In the parking lot was this beautiful plant. It had long trailing arms loaded with buds just about to pop.
We had arranged to meet our friends at the Bar Duomo, which was near their hotel. It has been years since we saw them but we recognized them right away. We decided to have a caffè before leaving. I loved the artistry of my caffè macchiato. Looks just like my cat Rocky!
It was a beautiful day so we decided to stop in Città di Castello because it was on the way. We walked around and stopped for some refreshments. Then headed for Umbertide. Before going home we visited the Montecorona church. One of my favorite places on earth.
We arrived and checked into our apartment 🙂 …well, they checked in, we live here! We had a light lunch of prosciutto e melone, cheese olives, breadsticks, crackers and bread. During our lunch we were serenaded by a thunderstorm. Perfect timing. After lunch, and after the rain, we walked into town and we showed them around.
That evening we had meant to dine at C’era una Volta, near us but they were full due to a political meeting. Our mayoral election is coming up this weekend. So we had to form a Plan B. We decided to go up to Montone for dinner, which we did. We picked Erba Luna. We were the only patrons. Dinner was very good. Our friends had the antipasto plate with local meats and cheeses. Some had lamb chops for secondi. Very good.
The next day, their only full day here, was going to be a perfect day! They had lucked out on the first part of the trip and had really nice weather the whole time. They had chosen Gubbio for our target to tour. Before we visited, the night before, we viewed videos of the Festa dei Ceri which is the biggest festival they have (always May 15) and it is famous. I knew the city would be madly preparing for the event. Being very hard to describe I will try a bit here and then I will post a good video of it. Ceri is the word for candles. The fest starts in their main square and it is literally packed. The town has three Guilds left over from the medieval times. They compete in this fest, to carry three heavy (700 lb) tall wooden structures (Ceri) up the mountain, and it is steep and a long way. The Ceri start out as prone, parallel to the ground. On a command the teams tip the heavy things up so they become vertical. Then they must circle the flagpole in the center of the square three times before going up the mountain with the Ceri. They are mounted on long poles and eight or ten strong youths are carrying them. As they tire, they get replaced with fresh men for the long run ahead. It is worth it to watch this video and then I have a very sweet video to share after you’ve seen how the whole fest works. I won’t ever go. It is too crowded and quite frightening to be in the crowd.
I just took this one picture of where the rotation happens and the crowds gather and the Ceri begin their run up the mountain. The entire city was decked out in its finery. The neighborhood flags were everywhere.
This was precious. In the Piazza was a class of little kids. Dressed in their pink or blue smocks. The teachers (or some volunteer!) had made miniature versions of the Ceri. The kids split into neighborhoods and guilds. They gave the signal and round and round they went with their miniature Ceri while all the other kids cheered them on. Someday, they will be grown up and will participate in the Festa! Traditions. Passed along over the centuries.
The Duomo stained glass and nave.
Our next stop was a wine tasting and lunch at our local winery, Vineria del Carmine. They have a good chef and you can just have a small appetizer, which we normally get. This time, since it was lunch we decided the wine tasting with the light lunch would be good. First we were served freshly made bread sticks along with two dips. Very delicious. They also served bread, their olive oil, and truffle salt. Our guests had never tasted good, Umbrian olive oil (the best!). It’s hard to find in the US. I was proud to see they really appreciated it and said it was the best they’d ever had. Then they brought us a Sfromato di zucca gialla su letto di fonduta di parmigiano — which is a flan of yellow squash and truffles on a bed of parmesan cheese cream. At the same time they brought a cool soup of fennel and chive oil. To finish we had cheeses with truffle honey and meats. Along with the meal we tasted two whites, both Trebbiano, one 2019 and the other 2020 (Umbrian indigenous grape) and two rosés, one a Merlot and one a Sangiovesi, and three reds all blends of Merlot, Cabernet, and Sagrantino, in differing quantities. It was a leisurely lunch and I think we all had fun. The sommelier is a nice guy and we like him a lot. I only remembered to take one photo!
We left and I have to say, the countryside in this little valley is incredibly beautiful. Some pictures. The poppies are blooming everywhere now. My favorite.
Final dinner was at Calagrana, because, well, it is Calagrana! The weather had turned horrible. Much cooler and plenty of rain. So we ate in the cozy inside. I took one picture. My asparagus with a fried egg and parmesan cream topped by shaved truffles. So incredibly good.
Today, we delivered our guests to the Foligno train station to catch the Frecciabianca (fast train) to Rome. They brought the good weather with them, and gave us the bad weather when they left. We hope they come back soon. 😉
We have had visitors for the past few days so I haven’t been posting anything but I have many pictures. Let’s start with Pasquetta lunch. This is the Monday after Easter and everyone goes outside or has a big lunch with friends or family. We had been invited to a lunch to see old friends who were selling their house. It was a lovely fixed menu, all seafood. I took a couple of pictures. First one is the antipasto course. A salad of faro, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, calamari and shrimp. Delish. I missed the primi but got the secondi which was salmon Wellington. Quite nice and now I am being hounded to make it by Luther!
On Wednesday our friends arrived from Colorado. They have a great trip planned and started with three nights here with us. How nice. We had a dinner out together the first evening. They held up well after their overnight flight. They had requested Calagrana and it just so happened that Ely and Albi were doing a Milanese menu from Albi’s childhood and early years in culinary school. The menu was:
Consomme Marie Stuarda, a chicken Consomme garnished with peas, carrots, zucchini Orecchio di elefante with roasted vegetables ‘Ris e Lach’
The first course was a consommé which Albi learned in cooking school that takes hours and needs to be clarified until it is beautifully clear. The vegetables were raw but were cooked by the hot broth. The chop was pork cooked a La Milanese. I think the Milanese claim they invented it but it is truly a schnitzel and is everywhere in Germany and Austria. The last course, written in dialect, means rice and milk. It was a rice pudding, and it was delicious.
The next day we went to Cortona. Sadly it was a vile day, weather wise. Cold and rain. Cortona is a ridiculous place. Here it is, mid-April, and terrible weather and there was not a parking place to be found. We circled the walls, driving through each lot in turn. No dice. Packed. We turned around at the top and returned back through each in turn. Finally we found a spot that was more invention than spot. That is the Italian way. But as we walked away from the car we saw someone pull out. We all three stood in the spot while luther ran back and moved the car. We felt better having a legal spot since we were having lunch.
We walked up, up and finally got on a shopping street. My friend found the purse she was wanting. We walked around some but the cutting wind was freezing. We went into a bar and had coffee and wine and then walked to our restaurant with thunder rolling about the hills and the sky black and threatening.
The restaurant is Bocaccia, a very traditional Tuscan place, well rated. The owner was one of those that is very ebullient and kind of over the top. He was nice enough and we loved the vaulted dining room. We all liked the food very much. I chose the rabbit tenderloin marinated in lemon. It was served on a crisp salad of mache with carrot and cucumber. It would be particularly good in summer because it was served cold.
Then I had the pici, which is hand made very fat spaghetti type pasta with a tomato-y sauce. I liked, and wondered about, the very hot pepper in the middle.
Today, Friday, was cold and not raining anyway. We had decided to visit a nearby winery called, Vineria del Carmine. It is a beautiful property owned by a wealthy British couple named Sinclair. They had owned a home high above the valley and a large parcel was going to be sold. The vintner said the entire valley was going to be sold. The Sinclairs bought it to preserve their view and then decided to develop the existing vineyard. They are putting a TON of money into the place. They have six wines to taste. A trebbiano (white), two rosés, and three reds. All were very good. My least favorite are the rosés. That’s surprising since I am a big rosé fan.
We got the small tasting which came with freshly made breadsticks and two dips. One a mayonnaise onion and the other truffle cream. Both very nice. Then they brought fresh focaccia, warm from the oven. It was fun. The people are very friendly.
The property is pretty darn spectacular. The valley, brilliantly green with new wheat and budding trees. There were angry looking clouds above the hills which only enhanced the green.
We had lunch in Grace which is on the edge of the old part of Umbertide. It was really good. An excellent day was had by all.
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’m sure you’ve all read here in the blog if you’ve read for a while, that there are some things we love to get in the US and bring home to Italy. Things like spices and ethnic ingredients not available here. Although many things ARE available here and I’ve learned over the years how to find stuff, there are still a few things that MUST come from home.
Last week I used the last bit of my “Fish Fry” coating for fish. I looked it up, as I always do, on the internet and are there are many recipes for “do it yourself” fish fry. So OK maybe I can make it. We will try it and see. But I’d rather just have a new supply from the US 🙂.
Today, I opened my penultimate bag of Carolina Gold Rice, also called Charleston Gold. I keep it in the freezer until I need it. And there is one bag left. Italy, of course, has many very good rice varieties. Most notable are Carnaroli and Aborio rice. A short grain rice used in risotto. I also use it for regular rice. There are also readily available, basmati, brown and multi-grain rice. All good. But none are Carolina Gold.
I learned, years ago, about Carolina Gold rice from a Low Country cook book. Of course I ordered some to try. It was probably the original rice brought from Africa by the enslaved to America. These people also brought the knowledge to grow it. The labor it took to grow, was intense, and were it not for the enslaved, it would never have been possible to cultivate it. A hard life. So it wasn’t surprising when the rice died out after the Civil War. Until the 1960s, when a couple of people bought old plantations and slowly revived the rice. It is now cultivated and sold by these plantations.
What? you may ask, is so special about this rice? Rice is rice, right? But not this rice. It is nutty, and buttery, and has a distinctive aroma when cooking and when on the plate. It doesn’t need any gravy or enhancement to be enjoyed. Both Luther and I adore it and I never have to say “this is Carolina Gold” Luther always knows. It is the aroma.
Anyway. We really love it and bring back pounds of it in our suitcase (much to the amusement of the TSA). Just another casualty of the Corona virus. Unable to go home, and having no guests to bring some we will carefully nurse this rice and hope it can be replenished in 2021. Believe me, there are many other things that are going on my shopping list for when we can go home. 🙂
We rejoice there is now a vaccine, and it will protect our health care workers. And then, later, the rest of us. A light at the end of the long tunnel we’ve all been traveling this year. I have very high hopes for next year. I am itching to have some guests! My guest room has lain fallow for more than a year. It wants friends to come. And we are excited to also begin to plan travel. All in good time. First a quiet and lonely Christmas for most of us. It has to be. We will live to see NEXT Christmas…Stay COVID safe…live to see another year! 🌈
We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.
We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.
The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.
The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.
The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.
Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.
I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.
Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?
In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.
One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds.
After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.
After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.
On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.
That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.
Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.
We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.
Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.
The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.
While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…
For the last week we’ve had a visit from my cousin, Meg and her husband, Rodney from Virginia. They were finishing up a trip to Switzerland with another couple and ended up in Lugano so we arranged to take the train to Lake Como to meet them. It had been YEARS since I’d been to Como and I was looking forward to it. We had to take three trains to get there. A local from our station, a Freccarossa (fast) from Florence to Milan, and another local to Como. We arrived about 3PM and Meg and Rodney were already there.
I had made reservations a few months ago at Villa Flori which is between the city of Como and Cernobbio, right on the lake. It was a priority that we be on the lake. The hotel was one of the best we’ve stayed in. Very accommodating and pretty convenient. We could walk to the Cernobbio dock to catch the boats etc.
We had a lovely dinner the first night in the hotel restaurant Raimondi. I could look down from our balcony and see the restaurant tables all set for dinner.
We were accompanied by Pan.
My pasta was perfect and summery.
The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast we walked to the dock to catch the boat to Bellagio. There are lots of boats and this one was the slow boat which stopped at just about every town along the way. But that was OK since we got to see alot of the scenery. We also enjoyed a spritz. Since we were one of the first to board we got a nice table for 4 at a window. I took a few pictures.
Mountainside flowers and palms
A friendly seagull.
An amazing palazzo with its gardens
Hotel along the way
Approaching Bellagio. Spectacular mountains
We arrived in Bellagio with the crowds. It was packed with people. Nothing like I remembered from our last trip. We did some shopping and then we found a little place for lunch. It was nice, basic Italian food. Rodney finally got his spaghetti with meat sauce (ragu).
Pretty street. The town is on a steep hill and has the dock area and promenade and then the streets go up steeply to another parallel street above.
We opted to upgrade to the hydrofoil on the way back. It was amazing! the entire boat rises up on legs and flies above the water! We got back in half the time. I borrowed the below photo.
The following day we decided to visit Como after an aborted attempt to visit some gardens. Como was blessedly calm and uncrowded after Bellagio.
This was one of the oldest streets.
The cathedral was beautiful.
We had a nice lunch at a place recommended to Meg. It was great. No menu and the lady just recited the food.
View from our hotel balcony.
The next morning we were off on the trains south to Umbria to complete a nice visit with family. Come back soon Meg and Rodney!
We have had an eventful week with friends Carlo, Mary and Mary’s niece Emily. Since they were 3 they rented an apartment in Montone (FaceBook page The Apartments Montone) owned by very good friends of ours should you be interested to visit an amazingly pretty Umbrian hill town near Umbertide.
We had one or two mishaps, which I can now laugh about. We had all planned to go to the Infiorate in Spello on Sunday, Corpus Domini. I had never been to this festival and it is wildly popular. Advice is to go early so we all were to meet at 6AM for a 6:45AM arrival. Well, the mishap was our inability to meet up and ride together. The good news was they went on their own and really enjoyed a one-of-a-kind experience. The bad was we didn’t but that’s not so bad since we can always go next year!
We also planned another first for us. We booked a tour of the Perugina chocolate factory in Perugia. First we had a lovely lunch in beautiful lakeside town, Passignano sul Lago. We strolled the lakefront promenade, enjoyed a refreshment and headed for lunch. Being a Monday many restaurants had a rest day so were closed. We just went in a lakefront place that was open called Ristorante da Lucciano di Caciatori. Turns out it was an excellent choice and we all enjoyed our lunch.
My panzanella salad was cool and refreshing. It is one of the signature Tuscan/Umbrian antipasti. In the past the people were terribly poor and by necessity, frugal. So as not to waste stale bread they added cubes of it to a salad with a vinaigrette dressing so it became quite damp, along with chopped crisp celery, cucumber, tomato, onions. It is today, a specialty of the area. Adding the shrimp was a nice touch but not usual.
We all had the Orate which is sea bream. it was grilled whole, filleted and they put crispy potatoes on top. Yummy.
Next was the chocolate tour. Perugina was started back in 1907. But later Luisa Spagnoli founded the Chocolate factory which was one of the most important factories in Perugia. During the first world war she had to take over the factory management as well as having to look after her own three children and home. She was very forward looking, so she opened a nursery in the factory so her female employees could continue to work. They brought their babies to work while the men were away at war. The nursery exists in the present factory. In 1922 Luisa, wanting to use up extra hazelnuts created one of the most iconic of Italian chocolates, Baci – the Italian name for kisses. Nearly 100 years later the recipe remains unchanged. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 but made few changes, happily.
Emily in front of the worlds largest Baco. This one is fake but Perugina did make one in 2003 and it has the Guinness World record. It was 2.15 meters (~6.5 feet) tall, 7.26 meters (~15 feet) wide and contained 5980 kg (14,000 lbs) of chocolate. They broke it up and it took 4 hours for the crowd at the annual Chocolate fest to eat it!
Our English tour
Baci Baci everywhere!
The factory was not running on our day there except for a very small section but it was fun to watch all the chocolate bars flying down the belts and the machines wrapping, picking them up by threes and filling boxes. We also got a chocolate tasting at the end with all of the types. There are about 7 or 8 from super dark to milk to white. Yum. Our tour guide, Laura, quickly whisked the chocolate out of reach after a few minutes as some of the Australians on the tour were filling their purses and bags! It was a fun tour.
Wednesday our friends stayed in Umbertide since it was our big market. They shopped for clothes and trinkets while I shopped for lunch ingredients! I made an Antipasti plate with melone and prosciutto and then fried squash blossoms, hot from the oil. Afterwards we had a Strangozzi with fava beans, fresh peas and asparagus. Very primavera. We had a nice afternoon on the terrace.
One day they went to Assisi. I opted out mainly to rest my knee. On Thursday we headed out to Gubbio. It is such a pretty place and we walked up through the streets to the Funivia. It is yet another unique experience. I had heard it is very scary and I don’t like heights. Everyone, except Luther wanted to go. So off we went. In the end all but Carlo wimped out! hah! It looks much like a bird cage that you stand in. It can hold one person or two thin people. It goes up to the monastery with amazing views. At least, that’s what Carlo said. I grabbed a picture from the net since I didn’t think to take one.
We all met up after for a nice lunch at Locanda del Cantiniere. We had wanted to try this place for a long time. It was quite nice but they were between menus. I’ll go back.
The pasta was rich with nuts. A pesto.
All their bread was house made. The dark one was chocolate!
After lunch we walked on up through town to the main square. I think this is the perfect ride in a town like Gubbio. Loved the basket.
View from the main square.
A couple of gents who added a bit of local color !
We bid farewell to our friends. They promised to come back….Maybe even buy a place here!!!
During the week the weather was sunny and alternately we had huge storms. I met up with my friend Crickie who is always wiggling with delight to meet any person!
This is the season when the house martins, thousands of them, nest in the eaves all over Italy. I eagerly await their return. They are a bit messy but eat billions of insects. How can that be bad? They like to nest in condos, i.e., all together. Since our comune was renovated many of their old nests were destroyed so they are finding new places. One right above our office window! Sweet.