Thursday, May 30, 2013

Una Mostra; and we meet Francesco

In Italian, una mostra is an exhibition; it can be cars, flowers, antiques, and it can be grande or piccolino.  Today we were leaving the apartment, and our landlady was at our door, making sure everything was OK, when another neighbor, invited to see his mostra.  Even though I was pretty sure I knew what he was saying, we followed him to a door on the alleyway that connects our apartment to the main street, and we found this.  It's a treasure trove of old tools, and many very old things, like this wine press. 


For those of you with a passion for antiques, and old things, or if love the shows Hoarders or American Pickers, this is the place for you. Dr. Chuck was getting a bit queasy since it looked like his parents' attic.
Old farm implements, and of course a cow bell!

On the left is an old shell casing from WWII
None of this is for sale, it's just his way of showing the things he's collected over time, and wants to share it with those who will be coming to Spello for L'infiorata this weekend. He's only open this weekend.
L'infiorata is the annual festival held here in Spello to celebrate the feast of Corpus Domini which falls on a different day each year, since it is part of the Catholic liturgical calendar.  The residents pick flowers, peel off the petals, and then arrange them in designs on the streets from the bottom of the hill to the top. 

As we were getting ready to leave our neighbor invited us downstairs to the grotto Romano -- I have to admit, I'm not good in enclosed spaces, and so I very timidly made my way down steps into a series of tunnels way below the streets of Spello where the residents hid during the wars---this was pretty amazing.

I kept envisioning the movie The Secret of Santa Vittoria, a classic film with Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani that takes place during World War II when the Italiani were trying to hide their wine from the Germans occupying Italy.  This looked like the perfect place to hide olive oil and wine. 
As we were leaving, I introduced ourselves to our host, and he said his name was Francesco---with Assisi being the next town over, there are a LOT of Franceso's here in Spello.  These little moments are what make living here all the more special, being invited in and getting to know our neighbors.  Wishing you a buona sera from Spello.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day and Mama Rose's Meatballs

Today we celebrate Mothers Day.  Mother’s Day has different meanings for all of us—as I think back on my mom, a Navy wife, who moved us every two years, I’m grateful that she kept it all together for us.  She didn’t do everything right, and neither did we, but she did get us from one place to another, and her kids probably weren’t as grateful as we could have been, but she did the best she could, given limited funds, and an absent husband. 

I meet moms all the time in my classes, and in my daily life.  We all struggle with how we have raised, or are raising our kids.  We don’t get instruction booklets when kids are born, we do the best we can, and we go with our gut instincts most of the time. Since I’ve been in Italy, I have watched mothers with their kids, and no matter what the culture, we all struggle with the same things: discipline, love, saying I’m sorry, being angry, and being sad. 

When my kids were little we would go out for the requisite mother’s day brunch, and no one was happy—my kids, who didn’t like to get dressed up for anything sat there uncomfortable for 2 hours, while someone else served me.  I finally had the light bulb go on over my head, and decided that for Mother’s Day I wanted to go to the happiest place on earth—and so for many years we would head to Disneyland for the day.  No one had to get dressed up, no one can be sad at Disneyland, and the surroundings made us all very happy.  

These are the happy faces I love to look at in photo albums
Which brings me to Mama Rose.  I met Mama Rose two years ago here at Enoteca Prozerio.  She is the mother of my friend Grace, and we talked food for 2 1/2 hours in the garden here.  She is amazing--still cooks for herself, drives a hot new Volvo and loves her family.  We have kept in touch through phone calls and letters since then. 
Early one evening, as I was chatting with a couple from Chicago, when Rose, her daughter and son-in-law came up the street---I had not realized they would be here for dinner and I was delighted.  We made a date for me to learn how to make her meatballs and sauce, and so Wednesday I cut school and headed to Todi.  After a quick cappucino at the bar in Izzalini, we headed to the villa and proceeded to make meatballs and sauce alla Mama Rose.  
We had 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef, about 4 slices bread that had the crusts removed and were soaked in bread, about 1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano, 4 cloves of garlic mixed, about 1/4 cup minced parsley, salt and pepper.  We added one egg, she began to mix with her hands, and said "needs another"---like most Italian (or good cooks) she goes by feel, rather than a recipe.  When she had shaped the meatballs (we had about 16 two-inch meatballs) She dusts them in flour, and dusts them again before frying in vegetable oil.  This gives them a great crust. 
The sauce is simplicity itself; saute 1 small onion with 6 gloves garlic over very low heat.  Once the garlic and onion have sweated, then add two large cans Cirio brand tomatoes, a handful of parlsey and some chopped basil, along with salt and pepper.  As the sauce comes to a boil, add the fried meatballs and cook, (as she said) until done---about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  I have no photos of the meat, because I scarfed it down so fast, but it was stupendo as they say here.  We served it with enormous rigatoni, some sauteed Swiss chard from the garden and fresh mozzarella.  What a meal! Great conversation, and amazing food, made with love and simple ingredients. 

I have threatened to kidnap Mama Rose from Grace and her husband Michael.  I miss my mom, miss talking about food, and her childhood in Old Forge, PA and in Bayonne, NJ.  Rose pulls no punches, and states her opinion---she's great---I love her wisdom and I love her, so Rose, Happy Mother's Day wishing you a day filled with love and laughter in the company of those you love.   And, thank you to Michael and Grace for sharing her this week.

Grace and her mom Rose
To all the mothers out there, wishing you a day filled with sunshine, and your family--and to all you kids out there, call your Mom!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Skipping School

This may turn into 3 different posts; I had so much fun yesterday! I took the day off from school to visit friends who own 2 villas in Todi near Orvieto. My incentive was to spend time with them, and Mama Rose, who is one of the sweetest women on the planet. She was going to teach me how she makes her meatballs and sauce. The plan was to make the meatballs in the morning and then go to La Villa La Foce in the early afternoon to tour the gardens, and then return for a meatball and pasta dinner at Santa Cristina. 
A little background on La Villa La Foce: last year I read the biography of Iris Origo, as well as the diary that she kept during World War II throughout the German occupation and the liberation of Italy. 
She was a fascinating Anglo-American woman, who with her Italian husband the Marquese, owned La Foce in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. Their plan was to bring farming back to this area in Tuscany that was virtually deserted.  With what seemed an unlimited supply of money and workers, they created La Foce.  Click here to read about La Foce, better yet, buy the books!
Iris loved gardens, having grown up in the Medici villa in Florence where the gardens were designed by Cecil Pinsent. She hired Pinsent to design gardens for her at La Foce; he lived at La Foce for years, creating different gardens for the family and designing other homes in the area.  Her story is fascinating, and these gardens are stunning. The photos can’t give you the aroma of the wisteria in bloom, the boxwood, or the lemons, but I hope this entices you to think about a trip here. La Foce is located quite close to Montepulciano, and the tours are every Wednesday at 3, 4, and 5 and the first Saturday of the month. My advice is to get there well in advance, and buy your tickets: €10. I also urge you to read her story, it’s fascinating.   

Boxwood and Cypress are everywhere--definitely an English style in Italy

La Foce is now available for rental--wouldn't this be nice?

Stepping into the first garden was like inhaling lemon and wisteria--heavenly--every Italian garden has a lemon tree

This one has a lot!

The plants that will freeze are brought in during the winter

The rear of the house from the "lemon garden"

The formal garden--they do weddings here

Pinsents' last architectural masterpiece here at La Foce was the folly in the at the rear

Iris and Antonio commissioned Pinsent to design a road for their view---I know, how much money did that take!  Eventually Pinsent designed homes on the road

Canopies of wisteria---intoxicating

Tree peonies

The Val d'Orcia

Butterfly enjoying the garden, too

This was a spectacular day to view these gardens, I hope someday you'll be able to visit.