Friday, June 09, 2006

BUSY BUT STILL COLD

We seem to have hit the ground running, and it’s a good thing because it’s still unseasonably cold here…around 50º at night. The daytime temperature depends on whether it’s cloudy or sunny, and whether or not the wind is blowing. The past few days have been sunny, giving us at least a psychological boost.

Last week we invited Ben and Martha, expat wannabes who we know from the message boards, to lunch. Amazingly, Martha and I grew up not far from each other in Louisville, but she went to Waggener and I went to Seneca and our paths never crossed.

We knew we’d see each other at the expats GTG later in the week, but thought a nice leisurely lunch might give us more time to talk and get to know one another. It was as we were sitting outside in the garden that we realized how cold and windy it had gotten, and as we would later discover, the cold would continue, and would extend up into Tuscany, the site of the GTG.

The IperCoop adventure of buying the umbrella was the next day, then we had the Oriente family and Giacomo for dinner one night. I think I’ve already written about those events.

On Friday we went to the town picnic. Virgil was the only Oriente brave enough to face the cold and the rain with us, although I do have to say that Rachel and her daughters had just returned from a long walk and were just frozen through.

It was obvious that the crowd would be much smaller than last year, but we grabbed a free table and set up some folding chairs. The nice thing about the folding chairs was that they had gotten wet yet, as a bench would have.

The huge grill already had a roaring fire going, and bruschetta was waiting for us. We filled our plates with both plain and tomato bruschetta, and before we were finished, the pasta course was being served! I have to tell you that the tomatoes on the bruschetta were soooooo sweet it was incredible!

The pasta was cooked perfectly, as expected, and the sauce was just right…just a hint of spiciness and of course at that point, shivering under an umbrella, the warmth was quite a treat.

Bottles of wine and water were brought to every table, and once we’d finished the pasta Virgil and I went to see when the meats would be ready.  While we were in line I was able to introduce Virgil to our mayor, Senora Valentini-Rellini, and also to our neighbor Adamo. Later Virgil would meet Elvio, our electrician, and Luciano and Rosalba, Adamo’s brother-in-law and sister.

By the time the meats were ready it was apparent that the weather was just not going to cooperate. One minute you’d think the rain was going to stop, the next it would be raining even harder. Although we had dressed warmly and had raingear with us, it just doesn’t make for a fun day when you’re shivering.

As we made our way back to the car, Adamo called us over to the table where desserts had been set out. There was quite a variety, and Adamo insisted that we take a piece of the one he had made. Normally the Italian idea of cake doesn’t quite jive with our American idea of cake, but these were all pretty good.

We ate our cake, talked to a few more people and walked back up to the road where our car was park. At least Virgil had gotten to meet a few people and to get an idea of what the town picnic was like. Maybe next year we’ll have better weather.

On Saturday morning we got up and headed to Tuscany for the first Expats GTG. The Oriente family followed us in their car, and we made good time, arriving right at noon. Everyone had a name tag, and as goofy as that might sound, they were really needed and appreciated. So many of the people use pen names instead of their real names, so trying to match faces to pen names, then to real names was a bit of a challenge.

Because of the cold weather, everything had to be moved inside. Originally when the picnic was planned, everyone expected that June 3rd would be hot and sunny. At least we didn’t have rain, but it was cloudy and cold.

There must have been close to one hundred people there, and even though we didn’t talk to people we already knew and concentrated on meeting new friends, the time just went by too quickly and there were just too many names and faces.  I’d rather have several smaller gatherings so that I could get to sit for a while with each person and really get to know them.

We left around five, and offered to give Isabella a ride home. She’d come with Bruce, who lives north of Perugia, and since the Oriente’s weren’t riding with us, we had room to give her a lift. It was nice to be able to catch up with her on the way home, and at the GTG we’d introduced her to another expat couple, Gianlucca and Adrien who also live in Todi.

On Monday we had lunch with Stephen and Janet, a couple from London who we’d met at the Perugia GTG last September. Before driving to their home in San Feliciano, we stopped at the garden center and bought ten more bags of pine bark mulch. I sure hope this stuff catches on in Italy so that the price comes down. The price per bag was €7,40, although I did ask for and receive a discount of 40¢ per bag

We loved the hillside location of Janet and Stephen’s house, a cute three bedroom, two bath house with several balconies and small yard in front and in back, just large enough to plant a few flowers and put in a small table. The views of Lake Trasimeno  were wonderful, and we were able to watch as a storm came through…the water changed, the sky changed, and it was easy to see why they’d chosen this spot.

After a great lunch of a really wonderful chicken pasta dish and a dessert of cheeses and fresh cherries, we drove back to San Venanzo so that I could begin the process of removing the laterite and putting down the pine bark mulch. We stopped at the garden center in San Martino in Campo for the last few flowers I needed, and I was surprised to see that they too now had mulch.

I worked for quite a while in the garden, moving the laterite and replacing it with the mulch, then potted up the plants I’d bought, watered everything, the gratefully accepted Art’s offer to fix dinner. Luckily neither one of us has a set notion about who should do what.

I’m much happier working in the yard, and would rather put in a full day of gardening than vacuum and dust. Art, on the other hand, is much more sensitive to a dirty house, and doesn’t hesitate to vacuum, mop or dust as he sees fit. It’s a good arrangement for both of us.

On Tuesday morning Art drove to Orvieto to pick up Marie and Paula, cousins we’d met at the GTG. They’d been in Florence for the past two months, not only because they’re Italian and love Italy, but also to see if Florence was someplace they might want to live. We’d invited them to see Umbria when they told us they’d decided that Florence was NOT a place they’d want to live.

I fixed a pasta salad for lunch, and after lunch we took Marie to Marsciano. Her eye right was blood red…it looked as if a capillary had burst, but of course she wanted to be sure that it wasn’t something more serious.

The doctor in the emergency room wanted Marie to return the next day so that he could the level of Kumadin in her blood, but he did give her a prescription for an antibiotic cream and an eye patch so that her eye could rest.

Bob and Rosemary had called earlier to say that they were in Perugia and would be passing by on their way back to Massa Martana, would it be okay if they stopped by? Of course we said yes. I don’t know if Marie and Paula had a chance to talk with either of them at the GTG, but we knew they’d like them. We also called Virgil and Jean, so we ended up with a nice little garden party that afternoon.

By the time the day was over, the scratchy throat that I’d been fighting since Monday morning was getting the best of me, so I went to be early. I left extra blankets out for Paula and Marie, and hope they were warm enough.

The next morning I was feeling even worse, partly because I’d slept so poorly. Art fixed coffee for our guests then drove them back to Marsciano for the follow-up blood work, then a visit to the eye doctor. Everyone agreed that the eye problem wasn’t serious, thank goodness.

By the time they got finished with the doctors, it was lunchtime, so Art took Paula and Marie to the new Nestor Pizzeria…formerly know as Ternana’s. After lunch it was time to drive them back to Orvieto to catch the train back to Florence….and I was still sleeping!

Luckily I’d brought plenty of cold medicine with me from the states, so I started taking pills as soon as I could force myself to get up. I would have gone to the doctor, but I felt too bad to get up and dressed and walk down to the office. I was glad that the medicine seemed to help, because we had more guests coming for lunch on Thursday!

We’d “met” Christine and Franco through the Expats message board. Franco is originally from Perugia, but has lived in the states for the last forty two years. He and Christine have left their home in Florida to see if Italy might be the place they want to spend their retirement. They’re here for a trial run, and are renting a place not too far from us, and they’ve been here since March. Unfortunately they arrived just as we left for the states, so this was a meeting that was long overdue.

I fixed a simple lunch, two recipes that I’d picked up somewhere I thought sounded good. I was able to do a lot of the prep work the night before, so I still go to sleep in….when I’m sick, all I want to do is sleep, sleep and sleep.

We had a really nice time with Christine and Franco, and surprisingly, Christine wants to stay here permanently, while Franco would prefer just to visit Italy and stay in Florida! For one thing he doesn’t want to deal with the cold winters here, and for that I can’t blame him. The damp cold can really go through you, and on those days when it’s dark by five o’clock, it doesn’t seem quite the same as the ‘sunny Italy’ we all imagine.
We were all glad that it was a sunny day, so after lunch we sat out in the garden, under our new umbrella, of course. We were fascinated to hear their story. Franco was a tailor by trade…seventh generation. He went to the states when he was twenty four years old, seeking the American dream. Now that he’s retired, he hates the thought of losing 28%, 30% of his income every month due to the weakness of the dollar. He’d rather stay in the states where he feels things run more efficiently. Christine is like us, in love with the charm of Italy despite the political and social problems. Franco sees how much things have changed in Italy, and most of the changes are not for the better, in his opinion.

We had a wonderful afternoon enjoying the warm (at last!) weather with a glass of wine and new friends. I know we’ve been super busy, but each day has been so much fun, and we’ve met so many new people in such a short time, I’m certainly not complaining. Here are the two new recipes I made for lunch today:

SHELLS WITH RED PESTO -- Conchiglie al Pesto Rosso

3/4 pound (320 g) small pasta shells
2/3 eggs, hardboiled
12 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1 or 2 cans of tuna, drained and shredded
12-15 basil leaves, plus more for garnishing
2 oz (50 gr) peeled almonds, toasted
1 clove garlic
10 parsley sprigs
extra virgin olive oil


Put the almonds into a food processor together with the sun-dried tomatoes, basil, parsley, garlic, and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend, check seasoning, and transfer the sauce to a bowl. Cover and chill.

Cook and drain the pasta. Put it into a bowl with a little olive oil.

Mix the pasta with the sauce and the tuna, top with the sliced hard-boiled egg, garnish with a few more basil leaves and serve.


FRIED FENNEL WITH PECORINO

6 bulbs fennel washed, bottoms and tops trimmed, and sliced
¼ pound (100 g) chopped almonds
1 cup grated pecorino romano
2 eggs
6 slices bread
extra virgin olive oil
Salt

Blanch the slices of fennel for a minute in lightly salted water, drain them, and pat them dry.

While they're cooling, blend the cheese, bread, and almonds in a food processor.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and season them with salt and pepper.

Dip the fennel slices in the egg mixture, dredge them in the seasoned crumbs, and fry them in hot oil until golden.

Drain them well on absorbent paper and season lightly with salt

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