SOCIALIZING, ITALIAN STYLE
From the beginning, Art and I have been in our own little world, just the two of us. It’s not that we don’t have friends, or don’t enjoy socializing, but our work schedules always made it very difficult. Both of us had to get up very early for our jobs, and most days Art went to his second job at Churchill Downs after his job at the Post Office was finished. He worked every weekend, sometimes both jobs. Additionally he never had a day when he didn’t work somewhere! His off days from the track were really the only time we could socialize or be together, so usually on Monday and/or Tuesday afternoons we saw a bargain movie and treated ourselves to a Mexican dinner. Socializing with friends on a Monday or Tuesday evening was nearly impossible because we both still had to get up very early the next morning. And so, it was just the two of us for the most part.
Now that we’re retired and in Italy, socializing is a bit different. Of course we have the time, but the choices of where to go are somewhat limited. We don’t understand Italian well enough to take in a movie, and other than local weekend festivals, there’s not much else to do besides hosting friends for a meal, or being hosted. And so here we are, still somewhat on our own for the most part, joined at the hip for better or worse!
This past week has proved to be the exception to the rule since we’ve been invited to dinner not once but several times. We feel as if we’re on a social merry-go-round! We’d had both lunch and dinner with Larry and Shelly when we helped them pick olives on Sunday, and after having Rhonda visit for a few days, we thought things would be quiet, at least until Thanksgiving. We were wrong.
After we dropped Rhonda off at the train station on Monday, Beverly and Ron called to say that Hurray!, their heating problem had been identified AND repaired, could we possibly come for lunch the next day? We were happy to accept, not just for their wonderful company, but also for the chance to see their house, just south of Todi.
I’m a house nut. In the states HGTV was my friend, and I loved every house show that was on TV. I loved going to open houses on Sundays and checking out new housing developments. I wasn’t planning to move, but I just love looking at houses! Here in Italy there are a few home renovation shows that I can watch, but open houses don’t exist. I love to see what other people have down with their houses…how they’ve renovated, what changes they’ve made, and what wonderfully creative ideas they’ve come up with. Not only would we get to spend time getting to know Ron and Beverly better, but we’d get to see their house!
Their house, placed down a quiet lane, almost a communal driveway, offers peace, tranquility, and wonderful views if you peek through the trees. The house itself, like so many here, is a work in progress, and I enjoyed seeing the “before” rooms as much as the “after”. The house is composed of three sections, all opening onto a central courtyard.
The large fireplace in the kitchen made it cozy and welcoming, and the stone walls, terra cotta floors and doors salvaged from a medieval monastery gave it a sense of history. After a wonderful lunch (thanks for sending that pear dessert recipe, Beverly!) we had a tour of the house and of the grounds, complete with olive, fruit and nut trees.
You know, I have to admit this…sometimes when people contact us to say “I’ve read your blog and we’ll be in Umbria…..”, sometimes a part of me says “Noooo!” Maybe I’m afraid I won’t like them, or more probably, I’m afraid they won’t like me. On the positive side, I know that anyone who’s read my blog knows where I stand politically, that I say ‘fuck’ with some regularity, and that I’m very opinionated. Okay, they’ve been forewarned, so usually I welcome visitors with open arms and an open mind. All in all, I’d have to say that 95% of the time we’ve really hit it off with everyone we’ve met thanks to the blog or various message boards. Maybe because we all share such a strong love for Italy, maybe because like-minded people seem to find one another, whatever it is, it’s almost scary how easily we’ve fallen into friendships with people, and Ron and Beverly were no exception. We had such a good time with them and really look forward to spending more time with them when they return to Italy.
On Wednesday the day was dedicated to making the pies for Thanksgiving dinner with Larry, Shelly and friends. Those recipes have already been posted, and I have to say that I really liked the apple pie with the dried cranberries, so if you thought you might like to try it, I can now heartily recommend it.
Last year we’d all been hopeful that this year’s Thanksgiving dinner would be celebrated in Larry and Shelly’s new. larger kitchen, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. The project seems to drag on and on, but Shelly remains vigilant and continues to push for the work to be completed. Luckily the group was small this year….me and Art, Wendy, Judith and Alison, and of course Larry and Shelly.
Judith made a jellied cranberry dish with grappa…a nice way give our American tradition an Italian twist, huh? If you’re looking for a way to spice up your cranberries, you can find the recipe HERE. Alison made an apple pie with a wonderful crunchy crumb topping, and Wendy brought pumpkin bread. The dinner itself consisted of roasted turkey…not a whole one, but rather smaller parts roasted in the oven….whole turkeys like we have in the states aren’t easily found here in Italy! We also had dressing, sweet potatoes (again, not easily found here), turkey gravy and broccoli. Did I forget something? If I did it was only because the typical excesses of the day overwhelmed me!
With our house for sale, the thought that is might be our last Thanksgiving in Italy made it a little bittersweet…but definitely delicious! As usual, it was a real challenge to eat dessert, but we all made a valiant effort!
During the course of the evening Shelly passed on yet another dinner invitation….for dinner at the house of her friend and Italian teacher, Milena, and her husband Marco. Since Milena didn’t have our number she asked Shelly to contact us, and of course we were happy to accept. We agreed to meet at Larry and Shelly’s house on Saturday evening, and we’d just follow them to Milena and Marco’s house, just outside the centro of Massa Martana.
Another friend, Quinto, also joined us for dinner. Quinto does work for Larry and Shelly, taking care of their property when they’re in the states, and we’d met him when we’d picked olives. Although Shelly is teaching English to Milena, and despite the fact that she understands a fair amount of English, like all beginners, she’s very hesitant to speak English, meaning it was an all Italian night!
The table was set when we arrived, and at each place was a plate filled with our antipasti: a slice of salami, a small ball of mozzarella, prosciutto wrapped around a prune, and a few other simple yet delicious treats. Once this course was finished we were served roast beef, cooked on the stove-top I would guess. What was interesting about this dish was that there were olives sprinkled throughout. After the beef came another meat course, this time sausages and pork ribs cooked over the fire.
Dessert turned out to be familiar….the apple/cranberry pie I’d made for Thanksgiving, as well as a slice of Wendy’s pumpkin bread. After that was cantucci with Vin Santo, coffee, then a wonderful treat….a homemade blackberry liqueur, made something like limoncello, with a base of grain alcohol. It was smooth and delicious, not at all harsh as I had feared.
Facing a drive of 45+ minutes home, we made it an early evening. Larry had to catch an excruciatingly early flight the next morning, and I’m not sure he and Shelly got more than a few winks of sleep that night. At least Larry could sleep on the plane, and Alison had asked Shelly to stop by on her way back from Rome, so maybe a few cups of coffee helped her make it back safely.
I’m not sure what’s next, but Alison was talking with Wendy about organizing a Sunday lunch based around some wild boar that Wendy has tucked away in her freezer. Here’s hoping…….