The Italian language never fails to surprise – and make me crazy. It makes me realize how descriptive English is. As in it has so many different and nuanced ways to use the language. Here, I have always been frustrated by the words hot and warm. In Italian if it is hot it is caldo, and if it is warm, it is caldo. Even worse the words niece, nephew and grandchild are ALL nipote. I just don’t get that! I wanted to say sibling today, so I looked it up. It was fratello. But , I said to myself, that’s the word for brother! So there is no distinction between brother and sibling. What about the girl siblings? ~~~~~~~~ Now is the season of the red spiders. They are on all flat surfaces by the thousands. They are very small. The sun really brings them out. If you wear socks on the terrace the soles become red with squished spiders. It is impossible not to mash them. This is an annual occurrence. It doesn’t last long. Thankfully!
~~~~~~~~ We just read that Italy will require all new construction, both public buildings and private homes, must include solar panels. I think this is such a good idea. It should be just part of the price of building. ~~~~~~~~ This is also the time of May snow (neve a maggio)! One tree here lets loose its fluffy seed puffs into the air. It is so thick in the air it is just like snow. We are lucky to have installed screens in most of our windows. Italians don’t normally have screens. Our big picture window in the living room has no screen. It tips in so we can let in fresh air. But now we cannot open it. It actually will build up until you are wading through heaps of it on your floors. Below is the river, which has a lot of the fluff build up.
Today is a beautiful, if cool day. We heard about a little French fest in Città di Castello, this is the next town north of us in the Tiber valley. Luther, myself and our friend Jen decided it would be a fun outing. Off we went in the brilliant sun and blue sky day.
Città di Castello is about twice the size of Umbertide. It has a complete ancient wall enclosing the old Centro Storico. It also has some beautiful towers and buildings.
We park in a free parking lot. It is just outside the walls. There is a crosswalk and a small door through the wall and then escalators up. It is not that far because Città is not a hill town. You come out in a lovely park just next to the Duomo. Then it’s a short walk to the main piazza. All the vendors are French. It was nice to hear French. We first came to a spice and tea vendor. These two are the ones I bought. They smell devine!
We walked. And looked. We were here on the first day of the fair and many stands were not finished setting up. On the good side, there were no crowds. I am sure tomorrow and Sunday will be very crowded. We also bought French soap, mustard from Dijon, and cherry preserves. I bought a new scarf, because a lady can’t have too many scarves!
Suddenly! There were cheeses! Beautiful French cheeses. We used to live in Germany very near France. The Alsace was our favorite place. Lo and behold there was Munster cheese. It must hold the prize for the stinkiest cheese. But it has a lovely mild taste. It has been many years since I had it. I bought half a round of it. and another very pretty cheese. Here’s a picture.
The next stand had a guy behind a plastic partition with multiple ovens and he was producing the most amazing things to eat. I bought a lovely baguette and a seeded bread to go with the cheeses. We bought lunch, I got a baguettino with goat cheese and almonds. Jen got the same. Luther got an individual quiche Lorraine. All very yummy.
It was an excellent outing to enjoy this cool spring day. ~~~~~~~ Today, we also have an apartment viewing at 6 o’clock. We have been working very hard to not open the frig because inside lives the Munster cheese. And honestly, it can permeate the entire house with its pungent aroma in an instant! Could be off putting to potential buyers. 😁
Buono fine di settimana…much easier to say have a good weekend!
Yesterday, we dumped the last bag of pellets we had bought this winter into our stufa. We declared it officially Spring! We went through around 80 sacks this year at €5.50 each. We know the amount because this year we had most of them delivered and hired people to carry them up to our apartment. The pellet stove keeps our living and dining room nice and warm all winter… and it saves on gas.
I bet most people don’t know that the Italian government regulates when you can start and must end using your heat. Umbria is in Zone E. This zone is second to the longest allowed time (meaning we are second to the coldest region). We are allowed to have the heat on 14 hours a day from October 15 to April 15. They also regulate the temperature. The warmest you can set the thermostat is 20C or 68F. This explains why such a large proportion of the population use wood or pellets as a supplemental (or primary) way to heat.
Just this week Italy announced that this year they will also regulate, and limit, the use of air conditioning, but only in businesses and schools. Italy imports 95% of its gas, and 40% of that comes from Russia. Italy says we will stop importing any gas from Russia within 18 months. Applause! We have two air conditioning units but very rarely use them. Perhaps on the hottest days of August we use it for around three or four hours in the living room since it gets the full afternoon and evening sun. Otherwise, it cools off very quickly in the evening so the windows are open to the night breezes.
We took a nice drive over the weekend. Down through the mountains. I got this castle photo in the town where we ate lunch, Capodacqua.
Yesterday was Liberation day, a big holiday here. 25 Aprile 1945, the end of WWII for the Italians. It’s complicated! In Umbertide is is even more complicated because the very same day but one year earlier in 1944, the Allies dropped 2 bombs on Umbertide while trying to destroy the Tiber river bridge. Seventy-eight citizens were killed and an entire block of houses destroyed and never rebuilt. So it is a bittersweet day here. Anyway, all over Italy one hears the Bella Ciao! song. Here is a still of of our marching band and all the citizens entering the Piazza. Photo borrowed from a video my neighbor Christie got.
Bella Ciao! By a local group – Nuova Brigata Pretolana. A rousing rendition!
It’s been a while…so to do some recap. We have been working on the Certificato d’abilita’ and I will report back once we have gotten it. I visited the Saturday mercado which was pretty sparse. The vendors who came had very limited produce because we are at the changing seasons. One vendor, who wasn’t there yesterday, had sweet radishes last week (I know, an oxymoron but it this case true ) and also local asparagus, so I was hoping for that. I was sorry he wasn’t there.. I settled for local potatoes, onions, lettuce and spring onions.
After my shopping we had a meet up with friends who live in Foligno. We hadn’t seen each other since pre-Covid…about four years. We met up at Ristorante UNE for lunch. I posted about this restaurant recently. It did not disappoint. Here are pictures of our lunch.
Today I made a soup. It is cold and very windy outside. It feels like soup weather. Soon, it won’t be soup weather anymore. The soup is made from a legume native to central Italy, so it is not something a person can make elsewhere. The legume is Cicercchie. I posted about it previously. It must be soaked and rinsed for 24 hours because it has neurotoxins. They are not dangerous if not eaten everyday. If you visit Italy keep an eye out for some.They are delicious. Here is the previous post.
My soup today is super easy. Cook a chopped onion until soft. Add water or stock and soaked and drained (several times) Cicercchie legumes plus 3 peeled and cut into chunks potatoes, salt and a sprig of rosemary. Cook 1+ hours until the soup is thickened. Adjust salt, add plenty of ground pepper. Serve with parsley, good olive oil and cheese if desired. So good, and healthy too.
In Italy, there is a word they use often, ”Lo stress”. Yes, it means exactly what it sounds like – The Stress. Today, we are dealing with lo stress of dealing with the Italian bureaucracy once again.
If you’ve been reading this journal for a while you know of what I speak. For those who don’t know — a short recap. When you move to Italy, after you get your Visa, the first thing you need to do is apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to Stay – PdS). It should be done within eight days of your arrival. I won’t go into details of how you get one but suffice it to say it takes time, several appointments, and money. In Umbria, one must apply to renew it every year before it expires. The process can take a year and then you begin again. The light at the end of the tunnel is the possibility, after five years continual residence, of getting the Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (ex carta di soggiorno) – elective residence. This is a permanent long term permit to stay. Need I say this is a coveted thing?
We will have lived here eight years in June. We are past due for this card. Covid interfered with us pursuing this. We tried last year but two documents were expired. So this year, we try again. Today was our appointment at the Questura. We expected to find out if we would be getting the Card. I bet, no matter how thorough you try to be when you apply, they will find something that you missed. Today, we found out the two things that we are missing.
One item is a document from our Comune which attests to the fact that our house meets the standards for two people to live here. We had our Geometra do the assessment and we included this in the packet, apparently, they need this other form. We visited the Ufficio Technico where we found out what to bring to get this document. Fifteen minutes later we returned with said papers and the office was locked. We checked the hours. They were supposed to be open. Sigh. Happens all the time. We will try again tomorrow. Comically, I can look right into this office from my Living Room window!
The second item is a 2022 tax form certifying our income from 2021. We contacted our commercialista – she said the form does not exist until June. And that the 2021 form is in force. Sigh. I think we should just take the email we got and the form for last year back to the Questura. Luther says he will call them.
To be honest, I think this is not too bad. It looks like we will, eventually, have these two items. The only issue is when…and whether, in the meantime, those two time sensitive forms will expire — again. It is always something! ~~~~~~ Let’s talk about something more fun. I am a notoriously poor baker. But I threw caution to the wind and decided to make a quiche for dinner last night. First hurdle was making the crust. I tried a recipe I had and miracle of miracles, it came out perfect! Then I used another recipe for quiche I but substituted the vegetables, using some things I got at the market yesterday. I used leeks, mushrooms and broccoli rabe. It called for cheddar cheese but that’s very hard to come by around here. So I used the cheese most common here, pecorino fresca. I added an extra egg and a little more cream because the eggs here are not graded by size. No such thing as extra large eggs. These were fresh eggs from local chickens. Anyway, the quiche came out perfect and it tasted great. I served it with a green salad…a perfect dinner.
We have had visitors the past few days. They arrived in Malpensa in Milano and made their way to us on the train. They have a house in Basilicata, in the south. They will head off to Rome tomorrow and from there, onward to their wee house. Unfortunately the weather was pretty awful so we didn’t do too much. We did manage a nice lunch on Sunday at Calagrana.
Finally today, Monday was a nicer day. Blue skies and warm if you’re in the sun. We had decided to visit a house that a friend of ours is buying on Monte Subasio between Assisi and Spello. The house has spectacular views. It has it’s own olive grove. It is springtime so everything is green and flowery.
We decided to stop into Santa Maria degli Angeli. It is the town just beneath Assisi, which sits on the mountain above it. It is an important catholic center. The basilica was constructed between 1569 and 1679, enclosing the 9th-century little church, the Porziuncola, the most sacred place for the Franciscans. It was here that the young Francis of Assisi understood his vocation and renounced the world in order to live in poverty among the poor, and thus started the Franciscan movement. St. Francis died in the Porziuncola in 1226.
We walked around the little town a bit then we went to a small restaurant and had a nice lunch. A nice day with friends…at last ☀️
Here it is already Thursday. It’s been a very cold week. It would be nice if we could get some warmer weather. I didn’t write about our lunches out with friends last weekend. There were good things, and bad things but it was great to see friends.
Saturday we went to our nearby Restoro restaurant with friends who own a home here. The last time we were there was in the summer, when we had to fight off the aggressive chickens. This time we were treated to a show by the resident peacock. I prefer Mr. Peacock! I think he was showing off to his own reflection in the door. Gotta defend his territory from all intruders!
Our friend kindly brought Luther some cigars which he ordered and had sent to them. They also brought a roll of reed for my basketmaking. Thanks! Lunch was not terribly remarkable. But the company was great. My tagliatelle with bolognese ragu. Good.
On the way home, Bob was driving, they were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. Bob and Debbie are dual Italian/American citizens. This allowed them to buy and register a car. So when the cop sees the Libretto for the car is in his name but he doesn’t have an Italian drivers license, he upbraids him for driving illegally. He says, if you live here more than a year you must have your Italian Patente. We had even discussed this at lunch and I was unsure of how the law applied to them. Anyway, to keep the nice police person happy Luther drove back. Then Bob drove home.
For those who don’t know, if you are a resident of Italy, after one year you are required to get the Italian Patente. Since you cannot buy a car until you are resident, if you own a car this tells the police that you are a resident. There is no way around the rule to change your license to italian. If you are a US citizen there is no reciprocity. Some think they can just keep their International driving permit but that is merely a translation of your US permit so it is not legally a drivers license. The test is notoriously difficult and it is only given in Italian. Many people say it is the most difficult thing they had to do to live here. The page I created on this website explains the whole thing and gives links to the practice tests and to other peoples testimonials. Scroll down to the section on cars and driving.
But wait! There’s more! It turns out that our friends are a special case. They are dual citizens registered in A.I.R.E. (Anagrafe Italiani residenti all’estero). This allows them to buy a car without being residents. If you are not a dual citizen you cannot buy a car in Italy until you have become a resident. So they own a car, but are not residents. If you come here to LIVE full time, you will be a resident. If you are not a resident then you do not need to change your license to an Italian one. The police person didn’t know this. It is an unusual situation. So from now on, Bob and Debbie will carry the Decreto which says they can own the car but are not residents. They can show this to the cops if stopped again. Whew, what a relief! ~~~~~~ For our lunch on Sunday we met Steve. He and his wife bought an apartment in Spello and he is here to get things moving on the renovations they want done before they move here in June. He also was kind enough to bring us things we needed from the US. Cigars for Luther, what else? And vitamins for me. Not that I cant get them here but they are super expensive and sold just 30 pills at a time. I’m used to the mega bottles of hundreds of pills. Anyway, thanks to Steve, we are all set.
We decided to meet in Bevagna. Oddly, Spello, which in all other respects a nice town, has no decent lunch restaurants. Dinner, yes, but not lunch. So, Bevagna it was. The restaurant is Delizie del Borgo Bevagna. I loved this little place situated in a park just outside the walls. I also loved the people. They were all super friendly and nice service. But, sad to say, I didn’t like the food much. To start I chose the insalata di carciofi. Below is a picture. it was very thinly sliced raw artichokes, lightly dressed in oil and maybe vinegar. On a bed of lettuce with grated cheese. At first it was pretty good. Super hard workout for the jaws chewing. Crunchy. After maybe half of it, my mouth completely puckered up inside. It was not pleasant. I love artichokes any way, fried, boiled, raw, but I’ve never had so many raw at once. Cumulatively they are 😳 in the mouth!
The boys got the polpette but it was one, gigantic meatball. I think they liked it OK.
My primo was cappolletti in brodo. Cappolletti means little hats. A small stuffed pasta. It was good, if unremarkable. The best thing the lunch had going for it for me was that it was light. Luther got the steak. It looked not very appetizing, but it did taste good. I forgot what Steve got.
We loved the little cups they served the coffee in. Local ceramicist.
It matters not, we had fun and it was good conversation. I wish Steve all the luck with getting his house into shape. I look forward to visiting Roselyne and Steve once they get settled. ~~~~~ Now I want to mention how I feel about this horrible war in Europe. Other than the fact that the price of gasoline and diesel in Italy is the equivalent of $10.00 a gallon. That doesn’t matter to me. It is nothing to what the Ukrainians are suffering. My heart is with them. We are watching the news every night on CNN. Horrible. A number of people have asked if we are worried here in Italy. Some of the young Italiani we know are quite scared. I am not really worried per se but I grew up in the Cold War. So this is not as frightening for me. I’m just so sorry that this nuclear sabre rattling has recommenced. I thought the world had dodged this bullet. That said, should Putin decide to use his nuclear arsenal it will be the end of Europa, and the US, too. It is just as easy for him to hit the US as here. I pray somehow we can figure out a way out of this. Maybe the sanctions will prove too much for the Russian people and they will rise up. After all, Putin, who says he is saving the Ukrainians, is actually destroying them. He says they are Russians…so why is he killing his own people? Andrà tutto bene 🌈 Speriamo di si…😕
We are now, finally, and happily, in March. The weather will be very changeable as it is most everywhere this month. This next week we will have -3C at night which is around 25F. The temperatures in the daytime rise to the 50s. If you find a sun-trap, like in front of Bar Mary you can sit outside for a caffe or vino quite comfortably.
This post will be another one based on the book ”The Tuscan Year” – I am doing one each month. I started in January for those new to this journal. Look for one each month.
February/March is the time the ewes are birthing their lambs. About now the lambs are sufficiently weaned for their mothers to be milked. The milk will make the pecorino cheese. This is the most prevalent cheese in both Tuscany and Umbria. The book goes extensively into how the farm-women make their cheeses.
We can buy the cheeses just about everywhere. I prefer to get mine from the Saturday kilometer zero market. They are made right around here. There are two vendors who bring their cheeses.
The recipe I picked to show here is Frittata con Cacio. Cacio or caciotto are the names of pecorino in local dialect. [I just learned that since the book was written these words have come to have a new meaning. Now they are cows cheese. But I won’t change the title of the recipe.]
“For two people you will need two tablespoons of olive oil, four slices of fresh pecorino cheese. (you can use gruyere or sharp cheddar too), four eggs, salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a heavy omelette pan, put in the cheese slices and cook on each side until they are slightly melted. Beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Now raise the heat and pour the eggs on top of the cheese. Let the eggs set on the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to a very gentle flame and continue to cook untill eggs are cooked through. now, slide the frittata out onto a plate. Raise the heat under the pan until the oil becomes very hot, then smartly reverse the frittata uncooked side down back into the pan. Coraggio! it isn’t so difficult. The Cerottis eat fritatte as a super dish. This would also make a delicious small lunch with a fresh green salad and a bottle of Verdicchio.”
So, I tried to make this dish for Luther and I. Here we go!
First the, very minimal ingredients.
Then, I fried the cheese in olive oil and used a non-stick pan.
I added the eggs after flipping the cheese.
EPIC FAIL. When I had cooked the eggs I was supposed to *slide* the fritatta onto a plate. Uh-huh. The entire thing was stuck solid in the pan. In the end I scraped it together and finished cooking it. My suspicion is that I didn’t have low enough heat to cook the eggs.
It actually was a nice dinner. Very cheesy and eggy, with a crunchy bottom. It just was not a fritatta. We had gone out to lunch today so we didn’t want a heavy, big dinner. So all’s well that ends well!
If anyone tries this, let me know how it goes. If you’re successful do share what you did!
Our weather is foul. It’s the only word for it. High of 5C today, spitting cold rain, with howling winds. Doesn’t that sound lovely? That doesn’t mean I am not enjoying my Sunday. The apartment is warm and cozy. Of course the stufa is burning in the living area. Last week we had 30 bags of pellets delivered which should see us through the winter. We buy them and they bring them to the steps on the ground floor. We then hire two men, our downstairs neighbor, Pietro, and Walter an unemployed but very nice fellow who is a fixture in Umbertide. They are happy to make the money — it is a lot of work. They huff and puff. I have emergency services on speed dial. 😁 At least Luther doesn’t have to carry them anymore. 💕
The stufa has a big hopper in it. You pull it out and fill it and it feeds the pellets in throughout the day. One hopper full lasts a day and a half. We turn it off at night. The living/dining room is a big room with high ceilings so we augment the radiator heat with the stove. Very cozy.
Energy costs are high here, so many Italians heat with wood. Some have whole house pellet systems that heat the water and the house. Others, who have access to wood supplies, use wood. Fireplaces or wood stoves. I, personally, love a real fireplace. When we move, a fireplace or wood stove will be on the ”must have” list.
Tonight I am grilling an enormous bistecca which we bought from our favorite butcher, Etrusco in Bosco. I will grill it on the kitchen fire. The fire will warm the room and also allow me to make a fine dinner. The firewood is brought by a nice Romanian gent named Quintino. He brings five big bags whenever I ask him and delivers it right up to my terrace. I must admit, I pay him handsomely. It is worth it to me, and he appreciates the money.
My beloved region is known as ”The Green Heart of Italy”. It is right in the center of Italy, hence, the *heart*. It is slightly heart shaped. And it is GREEN. Spring is pretty much here, although it is still cold at night. This weekend we will see some of the coldest temperatures yet, but it will shortly pass, and our spring will suddently burst out all over.
Winter wheat is a main crop in Umbria. And just now, it is coming up in so many of the fields – So amazingly green! Umbria is living up to its name. I got a couple of snaps off to show you how beautiful it is. These taken along one of my favorite roads. We always take this road when we return from visiting our favorite butcher. Take a gander at these!
In June these will be rippling fields of yellow grain. Living near to the agrarian society of Umbria makes one notice the seasons as they change; the crops, the seasonal produce, the phases of the moon by which they all still plant, the winter and summer truffles that they hunt, the favorite pass-time of foraging for insalata di campo (salads from the fields), the foraging for wild asparagus (should be starting soon), the game in the fall and in winter (cinghiale – wild boar), the prized delicacy of the porcini mushrooms in autumn, the splendid bounty of summer, the sunflowers in July, the tobacco in the fall…i love it all. I love that it still exists here in Umbria – Italy’s green heart 💚