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.
This Sunday started out cold and rainy. It is autumn after all so the season is definitely changing. And so is my cooking 🙂. Today I made several things, just because the weather was dreary and it felt right to me.
First I made some of the cheese broth for soup that I periodically make with saved cheese rinds. It makes a nice rich broth. With this broth I made the Spinach orzo soup I posted about last spring. My first soup of the fall! I stashed that in the refrigerator for soups this week.
Then I made a bolognese sauce for pasta. My niece and her husband are arriving next Saturday so I wanted something to make pasta in case we eat at home. That went into the freezer.
Last I made our dinner for tonight which is pork chili verde. A new recipe I wanted to try and it is a nice autumn dish. Luther liked it. I was OK with it.
To be honest the day actually got better around midday. We still had occasional showers and it stayed cool but there was quite a lot of sun. Here is our sunset last night, with some of my flowers in the foreground.
Managed to pay for the refrigerator today. Luther went back, repeatedly (three times) to get the bill to pay. Italy is the only place I’ve lived where you’ve got to chase them down to pay them. The thing is, we buy our appliances from a store here in town called Formica. Family run and they will get anything you want. Yes, you pay a bit more for it but they bring it, set it up and if there’s ever a problem make sure it gets fixed. Plus you support a local family and store. And yes, you’ve got to chase them down to pay them! But it’s all good.😁 ~~~~~~~ I had lunch with a new friend in Assisi today. What a cool location. The hotel, named Borgo Antichi Orti has indeed got an ancient vegetable garden. It sits beneath the basilica of St Francis. The lunch was nice and meeting my new friend for the first time was great.
On the way to lunch I got stopped in a random traffic stop. These are common. The Carabinieri hold out what everyone calls a “lolypop” looks like one, it is red and means pull over. They check the cars papers and your driving license. This was a first for me. Luther has been pulled over three times.
Here is where we ate lunch. The glass doors were the restaurant and looming above was the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. Amazing.
Scorpion – first one I’ve seen in this apartment. Rocky was playing with it. Luckily they are not dangerous here. But still creepy. ~~~~~~~ Today was a rainy day, the first one since back in the spring. I like the occasional rainy day. I puttered about the kitchen, using up ingredients I bought to make random things. First, I parboiled and peeled some Roma tomatoes from the Saturday Mercato so I could make more of the delicious butter sauce.
Then I spent a looong time chopping 3 bell peppers, 4 cucumbers and 2 onions into tiny dice to make sweet pickle relish. You can’t buy that here so I’ve taken to making my own. Now I prefer it to store-bought. It is easy to make but there is a lot of chopping!
Last I roasted some of the recent tomatoes from my garden which, as is expected, aren’t as good a summer ones. When you roast them with olive oil and slivered garlic it makes a delicious sauce and resurrects a poor tomato. This was dinner tonight. Felt kind of Greek. I liked it but it isn’t a keeper.
Last night I tried a new recipe (of course with some of my own adjustments/additions!) called Spaghetti quadrati con zucchine. Luther subscribes to a website calle Doctor Wine. He is always sending along recipes that he thinks he would like. When he sends one that I ALSO like I save it. This one was one of these.
It was bit unusual. Beginning prep was to cut a large zucchini (I used yellow summer squash), or a couple of small ones, into strips. And chop up a few cloves of garlic. I also added a few mushrooms. Then you sauté in olive oil until brown and crisp. (I also added pepper flakes for some zip). Add the garlic at the end. This is now ready for the spaghetti at the end.
For the quenelles (for two people) you put a couple of big, rounded spoons full of ricotta in a bowl. I had fresh goat ricotta from the market. Add a quarter cup grated pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) and a drizzle of olive oil and mix up. The recipe called for zucchini flowers but I didn’t have them. If you do, then remove stamens and chop them, then mix in now. Roughly tear fresh basil leaves and mix them in. Form into rounded spoons full. Set aside.
Cook spaghetti until not quite done. Save some water. Drain and added to the previously made squash and garlic along with some water and more torn basil leaves [EDIT – also add more grated cheese now]. Sauté and cook until pasta is al dente. Place in bowls and put a quenelle on top of each portion. Drizzle with more good olive oil. Serve.
We visited a caseificio, or cheeserie, today called I Formaggi del Pastore. It is owned and operated by the Monni family who moved here with their herd of 300 Sardinian sheep in 1960. These sheep have milk of excellent quality. Land was scarce in Sardinia but Umbria was full of abandoned farms with lush pastures.
I know them because they sell at our Saturday kilometer zero market and are my favorite cheese source. Besides the Pecorino cheese, from the sheep, they sell goat cheese which is unusual here, also fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta and fresh eggs. They have other Sardinia specialties like cheese filled pasta which makes a quick and delicious dinner. We visited the farm for the first time today. We are scouting out possible places to take our niece and her husband who are coming to visit the first week in October. She would like to see them making the cheeses. We were unable to see the proprietor today so we will try to talk to them Saturday at the market.
The farm is just below the pretty hill town of Montone. The views on the roads to the farm are nothing short of amazing.
Of course we bought some cheese. This one is classic semistagionato Pecorino. That means it has been aged for three months. It is still soft but it is firm. It’s my favorite. Luther likes stagionato, which is aged from three months to one year.
Hopefully, if all goes well we will be taking Rachel and Alex back to the caseificio to see the process. I will, of course, be taking pictures. Ciao!
I haven’t posted much about the new kitchen upstairs. I find it very hard to figure out how to use these two floors that we have. The very idea of a kitchen on each floor is hard to get my head around. And how best to use them both. The thing is each floor has a living area and a dining area plus other rooms and the top floor the terrace. So to use those spaces on the top floor DOES mean there needs to be a kitchen. We have been entertaining on the terrace some. It is difficult and requires a lot of thought about what you make.
On Saturday we invited our friends Debbie and Bob over for lunch. I made potato salad ahead. I grilled tandoori chickens and grilled veggies on the day, both of which I did a little ahead and let them rest while we chatted. It was pretty easy except for carrying all the cutlery, glasses, serving bowls and plates up and down the stairs. Debbie brought the dolce, (thanks Debbie!). ~~~~~~~ Yesterday we got our new, ginormous refrigerator delivered, which was no small task let me tell you! This was to the 4th floor (North American). Lots of steps. It is an LG French door refrigerator with ice maker. This will help with entertaining…I think. I can at least bring up cold dishes and wine and water ahead of time. That will help a lot. Anyway check out Moby Frig.
And this view is the space where the new kitchen will be. The refrigerator is where it will be, that wall will be torn down and the back wall will be cabinets, sink, oven and dishwasher. In front will be an island with cooktop. Still much to decide.
Deciding what to do with the floor has been a big decision because there are already two types of tiles/stones. Irma (my architect) thinks we should take out a larger portion of the old floors than I wanted so that the three flooring types will stay separated. I’m still thinking about that. I already chose the flooring which will go in the new kitchen. It is a product called gress. It is a very hard, almost indestructible kind of material. Very easy to maintain, zero absorption. They produce big slabs, 2.20 x 2.80 meters. We want to go big so there will be fewer seams so it won’t be busy to clash with the other two floors.
Here is what the product looks like when installed. This is not my color choice.
My color choice is Trust because it is warmer and there is just a hint of red in it and I “hope” it blends with the other two which also have red.
So, once I find my architect, who seems to be MIA since we returned from our trip, I will have a better idea about when this work will start. Not looking forward to the noise and mess. But having a kitchen will be nice. ~~~~~
We are home again, in Umbertide. While we were on vacation we missed our big annual fest Otto Cento. We used to live up above the piazza so we were in the midst of it all. Now we would have to walk into the Centro. Our new neighborhood has an annual street fair. Piazza Carlo Marx in front of our apartment is closed as well as surrounding streets and they built booths on one side and allowed trucks and tents to be erected on the other side. This is our first year here for this so we will see how it shakes out!
It was loud last night. They have bands for the three nights. It’s down the street but we could hear it just fine. The people fill the street, strolling and looking, seeing friends and chatting. Many strollers and children. Old people, young people. They have fun.
Today, Saturday, we went out to check it out. We had attended one of these Fiere a number of years ago and it was much the same as I remembered it. Most of the booths have clothing, shoes, purses, pots and pans, foods of all sorts, lots of sweet nuts and popcorn. I was amused at the one that sold only liquorice. There were also ones that sold big stuff like, wood stoves, pizza ovens, mattresses, vacuums, easy chairs, lawnmowers, backhoes. I could go on. All the regular stores along the way also get into the act with tents outside and merchandise for sale. Anyway, it was a nice day, we went in the morning before it got too hot and I took some pictures. There will be captions.
So, this is what our new neighborhood does for fun! It was fun to walk around and see what was happening.
Sunday & Monday September 3 and 4 Sunday was our last day aboard. I hate the final day. It is hard to think it is over. At the same time, I am always anxious to get home after about 2 weeks. Sadly, they lay a mat on the bed that protects it from dirty luggage so now the reality of repacking all the clothes hits home.
The ship sailed down the Gironde river for several hours. It was peaceful. I got up early because I wanted to see us enter the river. So I got the sunrise. Just before we arrived in Bordeaux we had to go under a drawbridge. It was very unusual. The section of the highway actually lifted up. It slid on four big pylons. Picture below. The last picture is of the place we docked. There were several riverboat cruisers parked there too.At least it wasn’t a gravel pit like the last one. This one was pretty and had a bikeway along the river. It was quite the show for everyone to watch us dock.
We had 2 full days in Bordeaux; one while on board, and one after we debarked on Monday. We had booked a tour of the Medoc wine country for after our arrival. We booked a night in a small hotel in the city center called Yndō.
The wine tour was not so good. Our guide felt the need to talk the entire trip. We got more random information about all kinds of random things about Bordeaux. He was amusing…sort of. We spent a lot of time in a bus which stopped in front of some beautiful Chateaux so we could take pictures. Then we went to a winery to take a tour and have a tasting of two of their wines. The tour was kind of kitschy with projectors showing what looked like a cutaway of one of the big vats and what happens inside. Then a projection of the wine-maker giving her talk. Sadly most of the wineries in the Medoc are owned by insurance companies and banks now, having been sold by the families who used to own them. Now it is merely business. Takes all the romance out of it for me. Medoc pictures with subtitles.
We barely made it back for the on deck BBQ which they postponed until the last night. We went straight there after arriving back from the tour. The food was good. They always have a huge variety. We headed down to our rooms and showered and then packed up our things. The suitcases had to be in the hall the next morning before 6:30am. After all our hard work we went to the Star Bar for a last glass of wine.
We had a sad and quick breakfast. The last morning is not the fun of the prior days. We went down to say goodbye to our room attendant whose name was Edi. He was Indonesian. He told us today was his last day on ship and he was going home for his shore leave. They work something like nine months onboard and then get five or six months off to go home. He told us he was getting married in December. He was a nice guy. He sing-songed his greetings and best wishes for a good day every morning and evening.
We had ordered a taxi for 8:30 pickup. Things didn’t work out as planned. Our hotel told us that getting a taxi in Bordeaux was not easy. There is a shortage. After waiting an hour the hotel called me to tell me they had found a cab. So we finally made it to our hotel. Entrance to the hotel.
Yndō has only 12 rooms and is in a beautiful old building. Our rooms were both nice but the one we got was super quirky, or “crazy” as the woman said. Our crazy room.
We decided to take a walk right away because the temperature was supposed to get to 98 degrees today. We went to the so-called golden triangle. A shopping area of pedestrian streets. We visited the biggest plaza in Europe (according to our guide to the wine country) with a tall tower holding lady Liberty on top and a great fountain at the bottom.
Our hotel recommended a traditional Brasserie for lunch called la Noailles. It was a perfect last lunch and we splurged and had fun. Here are pictures with subtitles.
We all had a great time and walked back to our hotel to escape the heat. We ordered a light dinner to end the trip together. It was simple and fun. A couple more delicious wines later we were ready for bed. It was great to spend time with my sister 🥰
On our way home Luther and I both commented on how much more friendly the French were on this trip. I wonder if this is a result of Covid? They missed us and our money and now are happier to see us than before? What do you think?
The trip is done. I’m traveling on the train towards home finishing this post as I go. I am looking forward to being back and with my two kitties who were well cared for by our house sitters. Au revoir to France!
Saturday September 2 We docked in a really ugly dock area. Sand, gravel, tall silos, belts carrying stuff hither and yon. The weather looked bad – gray and cold. But the forecast was for it to lighten and brighten and be nice, around 77F.
After breakfast we headed out on a shuttle bus which ran every half hour. It took about 20 minutes or so to get to the center of town. By now it was sunny with blue skies and we all shed our jackets.
The city of La Rochelle has around 80,000 people. It is on the Bay of Biscay and has a deep water harbor. It is where the film Das Boot was filmed and still has a big U-Boat “hanger”, unused today. It was the German submarine headquarters during the war. It was under Allied siege from September 1944 to May 1945 when the Germans finally surrendered. La Rochelle was the last French city to be liberated. The Vieux Port, or old port, is well preserved. They used to have a huge, heavy chain with which they closed the entrance to the small old harbor. It was strung between two towers. La Rochelle has the 6th largest marina in France with over 5,000 boats. We went first to the morning market which is both outside and inside. This area is famous for their potatoes. There were piles of them. The fruit was jewel-like, and the heirloom tomatoes were gorgeous. Finally the bread was to die for. I ached to buy some.
Inside the building were the cheeses, meats, fish, prepared foods and more.
Spreading out around the food market were stands selling clothing and other items. These baskets caught my eye. There were more types than I have ever seen.
Then we walked around town. There were long colonnades lined with shops. Mostly small independent places with small specialities. For instance, there was a shop selling only socks. My favorite kind of shopping, not a chain store in sight! The city is constructed of limestone. The geological area was an ocean so limestone is common.
The vieux port area was very busy with lots of people. Pictures with subtitles.
We decided to wind our way back through more of the small streets. Then find a place for lunch. Surprisingly, to me anyway, France is a big beer region. Lots and lots of artisanal micro-brews.
We were looking for just a light lunch because this evening we had reserved the Candles restaurant which is on deck, weather permitting. So we stopped in a sidewalk place with lots of cheeses and cured meats served on planches. My sister and I got the focaccia sandwich. Luther and Bill the croque-monsieurs. They both came with a beautiful salad with fresh peaches, tomatoes, and lots of nuts and seeds. It was just right.
Candles was wonderful. The evening couldn’t have been more perfect. Warm. Not too much wind. Nice watching the sun go down and the sky darken. The food was only OK, but that wasn’t really the point. We were glad we waited until the end of the cruise hoping the weather would get warmer, and it did!
Tomorrow we dock in Bordeaux. It will be a hot day. We don’t arrive until 11:30 so we remain on board one more night, then the early debarkation on Tuesday.