Category Archives: shopping

Storms

We are having storms thoughout Italy. Some areas are getting snow. We expect rain. But the way the weather is moving through we are getting some very dramatic skies and mountain views. We expect heavy rains later today.

Yesterday we took a trip to the biggest shopping mall around here, Quasar Village. It is about half an hour from us. We were just doing a big grocery shop and knew the gigantic SuperConad store was there and we wanted to explore. It is an enormous store. Back in Virginia I was always intimidated by the big Wegmans stores. There was just too much to take in. This store was the same. I should have taken photos. I didn’t think of it. But some things were amazing. For instance, they had whole and half goats and lambs. Butchered and packaged for a feast. They even had suckling pigs! Butchered and trussed, ready to roast. The seafood was dazzling. The cheeses and charcuterie went on for blocks! I borrowed a couple of pictures to just give an idea. Next time I will take pictures, I promise!

The store was also chock full of Christmas. Decorations, chocolates, panettone, toys, and did I mention chocolate? Yes there was a LOT of chocolate. Plus champagne, all sorts of vino, grappa, brandy, amaro… such riches. Back in Virginia I used to hit the Costco in Arlington right before Christmas. It was like this. Every luxury item you’d want was there. Whole lobsters, entire beef tenderloins, prime rib roasts, champagnes, on and on. I enjoyed that trip every year. I can’t say it was quite the same at the big Conad, but it was close.

I had been yearning for a comforting pot of Coq au Riesling. Many years ago, we lived in Germany, but within driving distance of the Alsace region of France. One of the specialties there was Coq au Riesling. It is like Coq au Vin but with white wine (Riesling) instead of red. Also it has cream. I bought all I needed at the Conad and made it for dinner last night. I think I could eat it everyday, with crusty bread or egg noodle pasta to soak up the sauce. Mmmm. Heaven.

Ciao y’all!

CeramicArte — Deruta ceramics in Umbertide

On a street nearby, Via Cibo, is a shop called CeramicArte. The lovely young woman, Laura Tomassini is the proprietor and the artisan who creates these beautiful ceramics. She is affiliated with one of the ceramics workshops in the town of Deruta and she paints traditional Deruta patterns, using traditional pigments.

First a little history of Deruta and it’s famous ceramics. Deruta is a medieval hilltown in Umbria and is mainly known as a major center for the production of painted earthenware since Renaissance times. Production of pottery is documented in the early Middle Ages but there are no surviving pieces until about 1490. It reached its artistic peak in the 15th and early 16th century. It was the first Italian center to use lusterware pigments, usually yellow, ruby or olive-green.

Laura is following in the footsteps of centuries of artisans. A noble endeavor. I walk past this shop often. Always, there she is, creating beautiful works.

Laura at work
The shop

She’s been busy with Christmas things. Ornaments, jewelry. Take a look at these! Bellissimo!

All white cutout ornaments
Gold leaf
These are pendants…they come with a chain. She also makes tiny earrings like these. Nice gifts.

Our recent guests ordered some of her ceramics. She makes things to order. You pick the design and what you’d like. Two years ago, I commissioned a bowl for my niece Rachel and her soon-to-be husband Alex. Here’s the bowl. Peacock design. I picked the red and black. Laura will inscribe the back for a special present. Like the back of the bowl below.

When they were here they commissioned a plaque with their house number for outside their front door with the same pattern. That will be a unique addition to their house!

Mike and Anne chose some salt and pepper shakers. Mike, once he was here for a while, got very into our Italian coffee. Yay for him. When he got home Rachel and Alex gifted him an espresso maker. Of COURSE he needed espresso cups which he ordered after he went home… Pretty!

These are on their way to the US. As I posted in my last post I bought a luminary. And I also have a couple of pretty lamps the same type of design. If you come to Umbertide, be sure to visit this unique artisan, and her shop. And if you like, you can also commission things using her email below and she will ship to you.

CeramicArte is a treasure in our town. I’m happy they are here and if you come visit, you can commission some for yourself!

Buona Domenica a tutti!

Autumnal Umbria & Rocco Ragni Cashmere

I cannot tell you how beautiful Umbria is in the fall. Breathtaking. These two were taken by Barbara Roy Chawk Skinner a virtual friend of mine who recently visited Umbria. They were taken from the Montefalco wine region. Exquisite.

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

On Monday my friend Susan and I went to the Rocco Ragni outlet shop. Did you know Umbria is well known for the manufacture of quality Cashmere? Well it is. There are many high-end, as well as lesser known, manufacturers here.

I’ve always been curious as to why it is produced here in such quantity. The raw material comes from goats in Kashmir. It is the undercoat they produce to survive the very harsh winters there. Super fine stands with air pockets for insulation. I read it is called duvet! Hence the name of our warm covers!

At the end of the eighteenth century this material – thanks to the English and French trading companies and then to the subsequent textile revolution in the following century – took on an ever-increasing value. These were the times when cashmere shawls cost more than a horse carriage, when queens and empresses would confirm the noble qualities of this material by wearing large and rich cashmere capes and cloaks. So it became very profitable to produce. I still don’t know how Umbria started to produce this material.

Rocco Ragni is a famous producer. We happen to have one of his three boutiques in Umbertide. He also has an outlet store in Compresso. A little Borgo of 1,500 people. It is in an impressive old stone building and this is also where they produce these fine products. The family lives in Compresso, and the Headquarters is there. They also have a showroom in Milan. I will say, although their sweaters are not cheap, the prices here are not exorbitant like some of the more famous houses. This is where the outlet store is. Would you have guessed? Sometimes things are hard to find here!

After I bought three sweaters….😁…then I took some pictures of the outside scenery. This place is up in the Umbrian hills and quite remote, hard to find, but amidst very beautiful, perfectly Umbrian, landscapes.

Enjoy the season!

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! 🌈

Slowly, slowly…our supplies dwindle

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! 🌈

Thanksgiving – let’s give thanks 💕

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. In Italy, the holiday doesn’t exist except sometimes in the American and foreign community. In any event, there can be no big celebrations here this year with friends, because gatherings aren’t allowed. Having a non-pod member into your home is also taboo. I say pod — all people in your normal household are your “pod”.

As you know, we are celebrating on our own. A normal Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and all the trimmings. I’ve even got a small container of frozen cranberry sauce left.

We ordered our turkey last week. From our local EuroSpin supermercato. These are the bargain basements of food stores. They all have the same pattern. The center of the store is canned, boxed, and bottled goods. Cheap, and I don’t buy any because they have off brands and the quality can be iffy. BUT around the middle, along the walls are individual stands owned by independent contractors. They provide produce, cheeses, prepared foods, bakery goods, meat and fish. These people have great stuff. Here, we get our turkey from the butcher. Italians like turkey but never, ever whole! We carefully explain we want — tacchino femmina intera. Turkey female whole. Here they have two sizes…male and female. Male is 15 kilos and up (~35 lbs+) and females 6 kilos and up (~15 lbs+). My oven can barely fit a smaller one. So we asked for it to be as small as possible. We picked it up today and it weighs 7.1 kilos or 15.6 lbs. This should be enough for us and the friends we are sharing with.

We are celebrating it on the Thursday, not that I have to do it on the exact day… yet… I want to. I’m needing that right now. Things in their proper place and time. The normality of the Before Times. I’m going to miss my sister this year. We try to celebrate at least one holiday together. We usually fly to the US. But this particular year we had planned a Windstar cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon. It would have encompassed Thanksgiving and since it’s an American line I assume they would have had a “turkey with all the trimmings” dinner. Sigh. Maybe in a future, unseeable now, it will happen. But meanwhile we celebrate how we can. And we stay safe, and we keep our families safe. We’ll always have Paris…ooops wrong movie! 😁

The fact that we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving like normal, doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t stop and think of what we ourselves have got to be thankful for. And we have a lot. Think on it. We’ve got food. A bed to sleep in at night. Running water. Toilets.  Plus first world extras like WiFi and computer… and wine or booze (probably). There are hundreds of millions of people in this world who do not have the basic things. They are hungry most of the time, they sleep on the ground or floor. They don’t have plumbing or clean water. We are the winners in the lottery of life. So, let’s stop our kvetching and remember WE are some of the lucky ones. Let’s not forget. And let’s be thankful. And hopeful.
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I’m heartened to see more State Governors are mandating masks in the face of enormous numbers of cases. Keep Covid-safe everyone…Andrà tutto bene 🌈 and Happy Thanksgiving. 💕

Busy Sunday

Busy day. We had a shopping trip to accomplish for friends, John and Libby – residents here with Permessi di Soggiorno so they are allowed to return from the US. They got trapped there by the Virus lockdown. They will have to quarantine for two weeks. This means no shopping, no going outside at all, complete isolation. They sent us a long detailed list. And if I was just returning to Umbria from being trapped in the US I’d be craving all the wonderful foods here. I can tell they are too, from their list.

I had already bought a bunch of beautiful produce for them from our local market Saturday. Sunday we went to the local Coop, our biggest and best market in Umbertide. It is a cooperative which you can join and get lots of discounts and they have a reliable level of quality for their store brands. I found out it is a hold out from the days when Communism was strong here.

Much to my dismay, the store was packed. This weekend is the first weekend in August, which is the BIG vacation month for all of Europe. Just about everyone there was foreign. British, German, Dutch…they were all wearing their masks, but the stores aren’t metering entry anymore so it felt a bit close. They were all buying stuff for their houses, or vacation rentals.

We finished the shopping and headed up to Montone. We were met by Calvert and Tom, who live just across from John and Libby. They let us in and we unpacked the stuff. They had also invited us to a summer lunch which we happily accepted and after the delivery we went to their nearby beautiful home.

We sat on their loggia. It is my favorite place in Montone. Although it is over 100F today it was comfortable. We had some interesting wines, thanks Tom! And lunch of cool things, thanks Calvert! We had a tomato, watermelon, cheese salad (many other things in there too) and then a cold gazpacho. With yummy bread. A few pictures. Is this not a beautiful space?

This is the view out across the valley from Montone, such a pretty hilltown.

Note the fireplace to the left! I’d love this!

Gazpacho. So yummy.

Thank you so much Calvert and Tom for this lovely lunch. It was so good we went home for naps! 💤 .

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Stay safe everyone. 🌈

Winter market

Very cold here. When we woke it was -3C. That’s about 26F. The fields were frosted white. The sky bright and sunny. I love winter days like this. We had planned a couple of mundane errands. We had to go pay our tax lady who is about 25 minutes away, a peaceful drive to the small town of Mercatale at the head of the beautiful Niccone valley, where the road splits. One fork goes over the mountains to Lago Trasimeno, the other goes over the mountains to Cortona. That chore done we headed back to another valley just north of that to where we buy our pellets for our stufa.

Back in Umbertide we unloaded half the pellets at our house and I parked. The Saturday Kilometer Zero market is going today. I really felt like buying some of that beautiful, locally grown winter produce. Since it is all from right around here, it is limited to the beautiful winter greens, root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, the big zucca or winter squash, etc. I bought 3 big leeks (I see potato leek soup in my future) 3 turnips, a big dark green cabbage, 2 heads of my favorite garlic (big heads with spaced out big cloves and very firm), carrots, a big head of cauliflower and some spring onions (don’t ask how that happened! I never see those here). All for €6. local and healthy. No pesticides. Gotta love it.

Take a look at the bounty!
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Panettone

The whole world probably knows the Italian Christmas cake called Panettone. But, before I lived here I had only had poor, mass produced versions of the wonderful cakes. I bought them in specialty stores in the US and they were dry and stale.

After moving to Italy we saw that the cakes were just everywhere. They showed up as early as September. Talk about pushing the season! And by December entire supermarket aisles were dedicated to piles of the boxed cakes. All types. There are two traditional types of cakes…one has candied fruit. I’m not a fan of candied fruit myself. But there are other types. The second type of cake is pandoro. Plain cake with lots of butter in it and it is powdered with sugar when served. The Italians seem to be split in their preferences of these two holiday cakes. No Christmas dinner is complete in Italy without either panettone or pandoro, but often both. It is a real problem for many Italian families, because they are often split between panettone lovers and pandoro lovers. Some think pandoro to be too plain and buttery; the group usually don’t like raisins and candied fruits which are always in traditional panettone. So often, there are both types to please all people.

Pandora came from Verona. Pandora means “golden bread”. It is yellow in color and shaped like a star. It is dusted with powdered sugar before it’s served. It looks much like pound cake but since it is made with yeast, it is light and airy, rather than dense like pound cake.

Photo courtesy of Italian Gourmet

Panettone came from Milano originally. It is a yeasty cake filled with raisins and candied fruit and dome shaped. A legend shared with me by my friend says the name came from the fact there was a banquet in Milano  and the original dessert got burned. A pastry chef, named Toni, made a quick cake from left over ingredients and it turned out to be a big hit. All the attendees asked what it was called, and the head chef said “pane di Toni” hence the name 🙂.

Photo courtesy of Gambero Rosso

We have bought cakes from the grocery store. And we’ve bought cakes from a specialty wine shop. We even brought them back to the US in our suitcase for gifts on trips home at Christmastime.

But this year I decided to order a fresh one from our local bakery. It is family run and produces delicious bread and pastries all year, but at Christmas they put their energies into artisanal cakes. They do have the two traditional ones but they also have some amazing other flavors and types, from chestnut to chocolate to pistacchio.

Bakery on the left as we approach from our house. It is only a few steps away.

Here we are, Il Panificio La Rocca. The place was full of people buying cookies, bread and cakes.

Price and product list for the cakes.

This one is all dressed up, a gift for some lucky person!

The case full of torte waiting to be picked up. SO pretty!

Oh my goodness! What a difference. The cake was amazing! I will never buy a mass produced cake again. Yes, it was a LOT more expensive but it is artisanal — baked right down the street from us in the family run forno. So you pay for that. There were all kinds of cakes to choose from lined up on the counter when I visited to order mine. There were the traditional ones, of course, but there was a magnificent chocolate one covered in chocolate icing and sprinkles! And one enormous one which looked like it would feed an entire extended family! The one I chose was pistacchio with a frosting studded with whole nuts. Inside were cherries juicy and whole, not candied. And it was filled with a pistacchio cream. Oh my! I ordered it for a dinner at our house and the six of us nearly ate the whole thing.

And here is our Pistacchio panettone. Bellissimo! Bravi to the people at the forno who created it.

If you ever get the chance to eat one of these fresh bakery made cakes, jump at it!

Anatomy of a market day

I am always fascinated by our weekly market. I like to shop there. I love the slice of life when the people from up in the hills come to shop and socialize. I even like all the Expats who come and fill up Bar Mary, sitting in the sun and having their first drinks. So today I decided to try to take a series of the life of a market set-up. Actually, I’d love to know more about the behind-the-scenes of the markets, but I’ve been unable to do that yet. Once I’m more fluent in Italian I will ask. In the market there are very small individuals who sell one thing. Like the young man in a white van with his Famous onions from Cannara. He does sell dried beans, lentils. Also fresh fava beans in spring and Cranberry beans in summer. There are also four Porchetta trucks selling their famous pork. Everyone has their favorite. There are the very big industrial vendors, and the small ones with their own produce. I have two favorites. One is a local family that I like to support, and across from them a larger, not-quite-industrial one which I go to for their citrus and seasonal things. The Polizia Municipale walk through and check all their permits. There are a few musicians who, when they come liven up the scene. And the inevitable people asking for money from you. So, that description got a little long! I just wanted to try to paint a picture of the scene. And now I will talk about the set up and break down of this market, week in and week out.

I got up at 5AM to take the first picture. The two what I call “industrial” vegetable vendors begin earliest because they have the biggest trucks which need to be unloaded and then get out of the Piazza. The one on the right with four tents is the biggest. But the one over by the building is about the same size. They mostly bring the produce from the south. Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia, Campagna. They are the cheapest stands. AND they yell…at the top of their lungs…to attract customers. Or so I’m told. I also noticed the markets in Sicily operate exactly the same with the same men yelling. So I’d hazard a guess that these big vendors are from there.

Early birds start to shop at the, just set up market. This is the market just before it officially opens at eight. There are smaller trucks who come in later than the big guys and set up last. There is a large blue cheese and cured meats vendor and it is a treat to watch that thing fold itself up.

Starting to break it all down. This is about 1PM. The market closes at noon but they will sell you stuff for an hour or more until they have it all packed. As you can see, the little trucks are mostly gone.

Before cleanup. This is one of the two big trucks. The workers have it all on pallets and roll it in.

They leave behind PILES of trash, but they kindly separate it into plastic, biodegradable and wood.

The first town trucks arrive about 1:30PM. These are the Umbertide trucks. They have small trash trucks, each picks up a different trash. After that the town street cleaner truck shows up. You may wonder why the town has to clean up after these people. Well, not just any town can have a market so it is considered an asset and privilege. It brings in business. So the town does its part.

The last “Industrial” vendor waits for his big truck. These guys have it all on the pallets and ready to go. Where is that damn truck? They do have a long day. I assume they must have a warehouse where they load the truck even earlier than the 5AM when they show up here. Then they are still here until 2:30 or so.

And finally – back to normal. Hard to imagine there even WAS a market today. it is amazing to watch.