Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Making Friends One Sip at a Time

Since we've been hanging out at the enoteca, we've met some lovely people coming through trying wines, and enjoying the hospitality that only the enoteca can provide.  It's become rather interesting to me to see the reactions of different people when Roberto offers them more wine, only to share his passion for the exquisite wines that he carries; Americans feel like he's pushing them, Brits love it, and are willing to try it all, and the Italians are always up for another glass of wine.  It's gotten me to thinking about how we view others; Americans are a suspicious lot, I've decided, and while I've been here, I've tried my darndest to encourage people to try the other wines---it's the opportunity of a lifetime to try wines you won't see anywhere else---they are exclusive---so why do we feel that someone else's hospitality obligates us?  This is difficult for me, I grew up in a household where everyone was welcome, and have tried to be that way with our friends, our kids friends, and anyone who happens to show up on the doorstep. 
I've learned a lot while we've been here, my Italian is getting better and Dr. C. and I have been meeting some very interesting people coming through.  It will be difficult to leave on Friday when we head to Rome for the last part of our trip.  Ryan arrived on Monday and spent the day with Dr. C. exploring Spello and then partaking of pizza at Orlando Furioso at the bottom of the hill. Tomorrow they will head to Florence on the train for the day and I will be working at the enoteca, Roberto describes this as my "stage "---I'm learning the wines, the flavors, and the territory, and it's all good.  As I write this the church bells at Santa Maria Maggiore are peeling madly since it is the end of May there is a huge procession going up the hill.  Hopefully I'll have photos for tomorrow, until then, buona notte from Spello. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memories and Rememberance

As we honor the fallen from the military this weekend, I can't help but think of my dad, his brother and their generation; most have died, but the few who survive have stories to tell and history to relate.  The military of World War II were young, and willing, the same as the men today fighting for our country in Afghanistan and holding together the fragile peace in Iraq.  What we seem to forget on these 3 day weekends is why the third day is a holiday.  This weekend in cemeteries across the US you will see small flags decorating the graves of veterans...this happens because people remember the sacrifice of those who served. 
 These photos are from Normandy, where so many young lives were lost.  The brave soldiers who stormed this beach saved Europe and the free world from the tyranny of Hitler.  

Peaceful and serene today, Omaha beach "ran with blood" on the day of the invasion.  

This weekend as we remember the fallen, let's also take a moment to remember those who are serving in remote parts of the world: a crag in Afghanistan, a tiny base in Diego Garcia a dot on the map in the Indian Ocean, on a ship in the Mediterranean, and the families who carry on without them.  They are the true heroes in our world.  

This video is from Ronald Reagan's speech at Ponte do Hoc in Normandy, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.  My cousin at the time was a White House Photographer and told me it was all he could do to keep his composure it was such a moving speech.  Wishing you all a weekend filled with memories and remembrances as we celebrate memorial day.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

You Gonna Eat That? Part II

Wild asparagus picked in the forests on Mt. Subasio.  We have had this in frittate, pasta and then yesterday we had wild asparagus canneloni, which I ate so fast, I didn't take a photo.  BUT, la mia sorrella  Daniela took me through the steps to make this and it's absolutely simple in its preparation.  I'm assuming that your grocer may not have wild asparagus for you to buy, but the pencil thin variety will do just fine for this presentation. 

Canneloni di Asparagi
Serves 6 to 8
Although there are a few steps to make this, it's a winner and can be made ahead and then baked when you are ready.  Refrigerates for up to 2 days ahead.  If you want to add a bit of protein, cooked chicken, crab, shrimp or halibut would work well here.  

Romano Cream Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
I've lightened this up a bit with some chicken broth, or you can sub. veg. broth.

¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
3 drops Tabasco
1 1/2 cups freshly grated aged Pecorino Romano
  1.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, and add the flour, whisking for 3 minutes, until the flour is cooked.  
  2. Add the chckien broth and milk, and bring back to a boil.  
  3. Season with Tabasco.  
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Pecorino, whisking until melted.  (the sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

11/2  pounds pencil thin asparagus
Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, and cut the asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces.  Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for 30 seconds, and remove to a bowl filled with ice to preserve the color.  Save 1 cup of asparagus, and stir the remainder into the cream sauce.


12 sheets fresh pasta for lasagna (generally 5x7-inches--depend on your pasta shop)
Asparagus cream sauce (preceding recipe)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggianno cheese
  1. Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
  2. Spread a thin layer of the cream sauce onto the bottom of the pan.  '
  3. n a flat surface, lay one sheet of lasagne, top with a few of the reserved asparagus, and 2 tablespoons of cream sauce.  
  4. Roll up and place seam side down into the casserole dish.  
  5. Repeat until the pasta and cream sauce are used up.  
  6. Top the canneloni with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the Parmigiano.  
  7. Bake the canneloni for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbling and the cheese begins to turn golden brown.  Allow to rest before serving. 

Pollo Umbriaco
Serves 8
Umbriaco means drunk, and this chicken is soused!  Drenched with white wine, extra virgin olive oil and rosemary, it's heaven on a plate, and all you do is bake it--it literally cooks itself!  New potatoes are being sold by the roadside here, and they are like candy when roasted --- they are also drunk having been doused with white wine, and olive oil.  

3 pounds new potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
Two 3-pound roasting hens, cut int half

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In 2 large baking dishes, arrange the potatoes, sprinkle with half the oil, wine salt, pepper and rosemary, and stir to coat.  Lay two half chickens skin side down over the potatotes, and sprinkle the interior with some of the oil, wine, salt, pepper and rosemary, turn the chicken over and repeat.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.  Bake the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, coating with some of the pan juices 1/2 way through the cooking time.  Serve the chicken and potatoes with a mache salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.   


I will admit that I could eat my weight in the potatoes alone, but was very good and left a few for the other guests!  We have met so many interesting people who stop by the enoteca to purchase wine...this really is what travel is all about...meeting new people and enjoying the moment.  It has been over 85 degrees the past few days, and it's really not weather for walking around ruins or touring, so we've been hanging out enjoying la famiglia.
Buona sera from Spello.

You Gonna' Eat That??

The California legislature is considering labeling Genetically Engineered Salmon when the FDA approves its use nationally, but can't get enough votes to support the measure. What is wrong with politicians???---there is a straight line if I've ever heard one..... The photo above shows the difference between the GE salmon (on top) and the farmed salmon on the bottom.  There are a lot of reasons not to eat this fish, the number one reason is because it has been injected with the gene of an "ocean pout", a member of the eel family---guess what??? It's NOT  a salmon.
There are many reasons to write to the FDA and to your congressional representatives about genetically engineered foods, most of all because what you will be eating isn't really what's labeled....at the very least these foods need to be labeled.  THE FASTEST WAY TO TAKE THESE "THINGS" OFF THE MARKET IS NOT TO BUY THEM.

 The danger of these GE salmon getting into the wild salmon population is already a given, and could wipe out whole species of wild salmon, not to mention the possibility of allergic reactions to the "ocean pout". 

At testimony before a California congressional committee several years ago, industry representatives said that labeling "would confuse the consumer."   Selling something that isn't really what it appears to be seems to me to be deceptive advertising, and I for one will not be eating salmon any time soon. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reviews: Consider the Source

Remember this guy from the movie Rattatouille?  He didn't adhere to the "Thumper principle"---- Remember Thumper from the movie Bambi?

While we have been on this trip, I've had time to read reviews of different restaurants and hotels, and books on the internet.....and have decided that the power that we have to downgrade or to comment on someone elses' work gives us incredible power, and as they say, power corrupts.

As you can see in this scene, this critic whose name is Ego (how apt is that?) loved being in charge, having the power to destroy a restaurant with one bite and then the stroke of a pen, until he was reminded of being a child and having his mother cook for him. 

Where does our capacity to hurt  others come from?  Is it our desire to be better than someone else, who has spent years developing a business or a lifes' work in print or the arts, or is it just that we don't want to compliment someone on a job well done because we haven't been given the same courtesy?  I've yet to figure it out.....I've made it a point not to comment on others unless it is to encourage or to urge others to visit somewhere that I think is extraordinary.  There have been a few times when food (Charlie Trotter airline food? No thank you I'd rather eat McDonalds!!) has been so bad that I need to warn you, but other than that, I try to be Thumper in my writings.

Why bring up someone's mistakes, or their shortcomings. or have them slip on a banana peel?.......it doesn't serve any purpose but to be mean spirited.....I guess I'm referring to Amazon reviews of books, and Trip advisor reviews.

The Trip Advisor reviews by people who travel in Europe are the ones that are especially damning, since those that write them have obviously looked at Europe as USA East, and expect everything to be the way it is back in East Oshkosh (my apologies to those in East Oshkosh)  Complaining because the restaurant won't prepare something off the menu (come on, how many times does that happen in the states??) or that the bed/bath accommodations aren't the same---IT'S EUROPE!  If you travel anywhere, it's an adventure, it's not more of the same.....there is discovery, there is adventure and there is the joy of meeting others and understanding that we are all the same, our languages are different.

So next time you take that pen in hand, remember who you are writing about, and why you are writing---

Today is hot and stuffy in Umbria and we are waiting hear if our son will be coming to join us---he's been quite ill in Indiana, and we are waiting to hear what the Doctor says this afternoon--the 6 hour time difference is a bummer when you want your news NOW!  Until next time, when I have a few recipes for you (did someone say wild asparagus canneloni?), buona sera.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lawn Art Italian Style

 I've always loved lawn art in the states; there is something about that plastic pink flamingo that really says to your neighbors, I don't care what you think, I love flamingos!  

Or the odd gnome in the garden always strikes me as a bit of whimsy, rather than something tasteless like this.....

So as Dr. C and I have been walking the streets of Spello, we've been marveling at how there are no lawns here, but each front door step is decorated with gorgeous displays of plants and flowers

Italians tend to take great care with whatever plants they have and this town takes that to the limit, with gorgeous container plantings and lovely window boxes, until we came to this place..... 

Yes indeed, here among the flowers are Snow White and her dwarves....and on the doorstep....

a few cheerful gnomes....don't think this place will be winning any prizes for the best flowers during the festival, but at least they have a sense of humor.  

Just like these people----can you imagine waking to this every morning when you walk out to get your paper?  Or how about this?

It's been a slow day in Spello, as you can tell, but I bid you a buona notte. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Don't Trifle with that Truffle!

There is nothing trifling about this truffle our friend Roberto Angelini is holding; not only is it enormous, it's also heavy! Here in Umbria truffle hunting is an ancient art; having used pigs for years, dogs are now used to hunt for the truffles, and as you can tell this doggy brought home a winner!

  Just thinking about all the luscious things one could prepare with this baby is mind boggling.....I could go on like Bubba in the movie Forest Gump where he talks about all the ways you can cook shrimp, but instead talk about truffles! 

Truffle Pasta
Truffle Risotto
Truffled Eggs
Truffle Bruschetta
Veal Coated with white truffles

 My mouth is watering just thinking about all the lovely dishes one could make from such an amazing specimen!  Roberto will also pair the perfect wine with this beautiful truffle.....today at lunch we had an amazing new wine Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia 2008....if you have had Sassicaia, you will love this wine! A super Tuscan, by the Bolgheri family (yes, those Bulgari's) the wine is just as beautiful as their jeweled creations.   
Our daughter and her family left this morning, and we are missing them already, but our son Ryan will be arriving on Thursday evening into Rome, and we are looking forward to introducing him to Italy.   Wishing you buona sera from Spello.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Having an Epiphanie

So before coming to Italy, I was obsessed with taking the right day bag with me.  I wanted something that I could lug my camera in, maybe a guide book, notebook for recipes and wine selections, 2 pairs of glasses, water bottle, credit card wallet, and Euro wallet.  I wanted the bag to be light weight, but to have a shoulder strap and a place where the camera wouldn't get knocked around.  I discovered Epiphanie bags when I googled camera bags for women, and the result is the Ginger bag pictured above.   

The inside of mine is pink and it holds a ton, but doesn't seem that heavy to carry around.   With a bright interior, it's easy to find all the junk that floats to the bottom. There are lots of pockets on the outside, 1 on the inside, along with velcro dividers for each thing.  It's the perfect bag for me....actually I would have bought one of each of the styles (love the aqua and red ones!) if Dr. C. hadn't been looking!  That empty spot on the side will hold two cameras---my old Kodak and my new 3/4 DSLR.  The websites states they are saving women from the "man-bag"....to that I say AMEN!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Il Cuore Verde

Umbria is known as the Green Heart of Italy and it's no wonder it inspired Henry James to write about Italy so memorably.  James was particularly inspired by the Umbrian towns of Assisi, Perugia, Cortona (more on that in a sec) and Arezzo. 
James wrote that Italy was, "the most beautiful country in the world" and his writing was inspired, in part, by not only the beauty of Italy and Umbria in particular, but by it's people.  He recommends in an article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthlyin 1861 that travelers must, "ignore the dream of haste, walking everywhere very slowly and very much at random." 
If we had been in a car careening through this small hill town, we would have missed this beautiful fresco on the outside of a building.  It is stunning. 

Or this beautiful garden........

Although James didn't write as extensively about the people in Italy as much as he did about the sights, his advice to take it slow and easy or as my grandmother used to tell me, "piano, piano"..... you will miss the gentle nod of the head and "buon giorno" as you walk into a shop, or the laughter of children at play (a lot of soccer balls!) the men playing cards outside the gelateria, or the hand of friendship extended after a glass of wine, or a meal.  These are all things that make Italy a place to be savored, not dots on a map to be connected in 4 days or a week.  This is a place where your inner clock can slow down and recharge by just being Italiano
Oh, and about Cortona;  Although Frances Mayes wrote her book, Under the Tuscan Sun from her home in Cortona, there are parts of Cortona that are actually in Umbria, and a book called "Under the Umbrian Sun" wouldn't have sold nearly as many copies as hers did.   Although Cortona is a beautiful little citta, it is overrun with tour buses and touristi looking to recreate the book or movie in their lives. 

Last but not least, the food!  A simple plate of prosciutto di Norcia with melon and a crisp white wine are just the thing for a perfect summer lunch....no need to reinvent the wheel here, this is a classic, and it's always a winner!

Wishing you a weekend filled with sunshine and joy. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Going to the Dark Side

Since Dr. C and I decided to come to Italy for a month, I knew that the standard one suitcase for books and one suitcase for clothing was not going to fly....so I broke down and bought a Kindle a few months ago.  I have to be frank with you---------I LOVE the feel of a book, like an old friend, the binding, and the feel of the paper and the print on the page all speak to me. 

Yes, this could be my house....

So, I bought the Kindle, loaded a few books on it, and some Italian language books, (there aren't very many that are for beginners)  and was ready to go.  I didn't touch it for months, left it at my son's place when I was in Indiana, and wasn't that interested.

Then I had breakfast with my agent when she was in San Diego, and she said, "this is the future."  When she speaks, the room stops and you listen.  And so, I am reading books on the Kindle while I am here in Italy, and not leaving them in hotel rooms, or on buses or trains, and it's working.

I know it's not a book per se, but it does the job and I am able to read whatever I want whenever I want, which is actually quite nice; not having to head out to a book store here to find English language books is a bonus, when you just down load them to the Kindle.

We are on babysitting patrol for the next three days with our granddaughter Poppy who is 20 months old.  She loves pasta, and apples, and asparagus, and pizza, so she's enjoying her time here in Spello.   Today we had two helpings of gelato, but we did a jog up the hill after our first gelato, so that wore some of it off!
Wishing you a buona note from Spello.