Monday, June 30, 2008

FINISH THIS PHRASE: ARTICHOKE _____ ?

Artichoke flower6Did you say "hearts"? I know I would have, but the answer today is....FLOWERS! Yes, artichokes go to flower if left unpicked! No, it's not really surprising, but have YOU ever seen an artichoke in flower? I know I haven't. When we stopped by our friend's house last week I was amazed when I looked down and saw these beautiful purple flowers. In this shot the flower looks like one giant succulent, but you can see more flowers and different views on our FLICKR PAGE

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Friday, June 27, 2008

LA BUONA CUCINA AMERICANA - MADE IN AMERCIA - HAMBURGER BUNS

It's Friday, so it's time for another American recipe. Mary was supposed to be taking her turn today, but baby Luigi decided it was time for him to meet his parents, so right now Mary is resting up and enjoying her beautiful new baby! Judith graciously steps in to share her recipe for HAMBURGER BUNS. Making the perfect burger here in Italy isn't easy in Italy....the ground beef is usually too lean for a really juicy burger, and the hamburger buns sold in some Italian groceries can be too sweet. We've solved the problem of the lean beef by having the butcher add some extra fat into the beef as it's ground, and now I can make my own buns, American style! Judith calls these sandwich buns, but I rarely use hamburger buns for anything but hamburgers...I guess that's a little short-sighted of my, isn't it? These could also be made smaller and used for cocktail size buns.

If you've been following along, you'll know that Judith over at
THINK ON IT first came up with the idea of sharing some really good, really American recipes, mostly to show our Italian friends that we can do more than make delicious sweets...

Judith also has a
LIST OF ALL THE RECIPES HERE, just in case you'd like to see if one of our favorites might become one of yours! La vera cucina americana!!

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

SELLING A HOUSE IN ITALY

We’re still trying to figure out the best way to market our house for sale. It’s trial and error, hoping and praying, relying on the good will of friends and family, seeking advice from those who have done this before.

It’s a strange process, selling a house in Italy. Things here are still so localized, and even with the internet to help us, it’s still hard to know how to best reach those who might be our potential clients.

Italy doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) like we do in the states. Although there are a few real estate franchises, such as
TECNOCASA, each office still deals with it’s own specific area. The Tecnocasa agent won’t show houses listed with other companies, which obviously puts the burden on the buyer to find the right property on their own.

Additionally, Italian real estate companies often require an exclusive agreement, which would of course limit the number of people who would see information about our house. I guess if you list with an agency with a good client base and a high internet rating it’s not a problem, but still, it seems so difficult to try to find that one special person who’ll love our house and our town as much as we do.

Italians don’t move nearly as much as Americans do. Houses stay in the same family for generations. Perhaps the younger people are beginning to move away from the family hometown for school or a job, but this is a slow process, still strange to most Italians we know.

When we bought our house it had been the summer home of a man who now lives in Bologna. His brother and sister jointly own the other half of the house, and they too live in Bologna. The family has roots here in San Venanzo though, and this is where they grew up. Coming back “home” to San Venanzo every August is a ritual repeated all over Italy each year.

Because no one in the family was interested in what is now our house, and because no one else in town was interested in it, we doubt that an Italian will buy it. For this reason we’ve concentrated our energies on marketing our house to foreigners…Americans, Canadians, Australians, and of course citizens of the European Union.

The British pound is quite strong against the euro. For this reason we thought this, and the fact that the Perugia airport is now served by Ryan Air, might bring us a buyer from Great Britain. We advertised in
ITALY MAGAZINE but got only a few inquiries. At about $90 an ad, this isn’t something we can afford to do if it’s not going to produce results.

It was suggested to us that we advertise in some of the English newspapers, but my concern is that an ad in something like the
THE TIMES would be seen by only those living in the greater London area. Although that might be a considerable number of people, I’m still not sure that it would be the best place to spend our advertising money.

I’ve also considered placing an ad in the
THE NEW YORK TIMES, but once again, these ads aren’t cheap, and I know from personal experience that the real estate ads are only published in the New York City area, thus severely limiting the scope of our advertising dollars.

I’ve placed internet ads on several Craig’s List sites, on the
SLOW TRAVEL WEBSITE, on various expats message boards like EXPATS IN ITALY, and on assorted other expat internet venues like HOMES ON SALE, ESTAPLACE, THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE and WANTED IN ROME.

Various other sites have been suggested, but most of them are sites I've never heard of or come across during my searches, so I don't think it's worth the bother.

I try to post on the blog regularly so that it’ll come up in internet searches. My sister helped me design a trifold brochure that we’ve passed out, sent to local B&B’s and carry with us, just in case we happen to meet someone who’s “just looking”. Our friends Larry and Jill, who sell their wonderful
PHOTOS OF ITALY at the weekly outdoor market in Redmond WA, have handed out quite a few brochures for us.


Additionally we’ve received some nice publicity when James Martin wrote about our house on his WANDERING ITALY BLOG and when Kathy McCabe who produces the DREAM OF ITALY NEWSLETTER wrote about our house on HER BLOG.

We expected it to take a least a year to sell our house. We realize that many people are doing internet searches just like we did, and might be anywhere in the world. We realize that it may take a while for someone who does find our house on the internet or who sees a brochure to actually travel to Italy to see it in person. We know all these things but still….!!!!

I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t had more inquiries, but I’m not sure what our next move should be. Our friend Giacomo will be putting his real estate website on the internet soon, and our house will be listed there, but I’m not sure that as a brand new company the site will be indexed high enough to come up on the search engines.

And so the challenge continues. Maybe we ARE doing what we should be doing and just need to be patient, but it's hard to know for sure. There's a link in the right hand colum of this blog which will always take you to the post about the house. (removed when the house sold!)


We’ll keep trying to think of creative ways to market our house, and to talk it up whenever possible. If you have any ideas we haven’t mentioned, we’d be happy to hear them!

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A FARMER'S MARKET IN MARSCIANO

Marsciano Market

Good news for us! Every Saturday morning Marsciano will host a farmer's market featuring local produce! Although we love our weekly market on Mondays, this Saturday market will not only support our local community of small farmers, but we'll also get the freshest produce available....and probably save money too! I bought four eggplants at the market on Saturday, and while they were small, the cost was even smaller....80¢ for all four! If you're in the area on Saturday morning, stop by the old tobacco warehouse, located just behind the Coop supermarket in Marsciano for the freshest fruits and vegetables, as well as local wine and plants!

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

LA BUONA CUCINA AMERICANA - MADE IN AMERCIA - COLE SLAW

I ate cole slaw long before I ever ate any type of cooked cabbage, and even today, I'm picky about how my cabbage is prepared. Cooked in a stir-fry is okay, but sauerkraut? Never! So much for my German heritage!

I was surprised that our Italian friends really liked this mayonnaise based cole slaw, and I guess the next step is to make my vinaigrette cole slaw to see if it's a hit too. Here's the recipe, although I'm not sure that celery seed is available here in Italy...I've never seen it in Umbria.

Mayonnaise
Cole Slaw

1/3 cup mayonnaise
I Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp celery seed


Mix all ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add to 3 cups shredded cabbage mixed with one shredded carrot.


La vera cucina americana......
Salata Cavolo

circa 85 gr mayonaisse
una cucchiaio grande (da minestra) aceto di mele (o aceto di vino bianco)
2 cucchiaini (di caffe) di zucchero
1/2 cucchiaini (di caffe) di sale
1/2 cucchiaini (di caffe) di semi di sedano

Adding the saltMescolar tutto fina a lo zucchero si dissolva. Quindi aggiungere 300 gr di cavolo tagliuzzato misto con una carota grattugiata.

Celery Seed

Slaw Dressing

Cabbage and Carrots




Cole Slaw

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LUNCH WITH A VIEW

Umbrian viewLunch today was on the terrace of our friends Keith and Janine who live in nearby Rotecastello. We all think summer has finally arrived...we've had two beautiful suny days in a row! There are a few more pictures on our FLICKR PAGE

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

WHERE'S THE SUN?

I’ve said it over and over and over….there is no such thing as “normal” weather anymore. In the states, thousands of people are being flooded out of their homes, while in the eastern United States people are sweltering. Here in Italy the northern part of the country has suffered more rain, flooding and mudslides than we have here in central Italy, but still, it’s been a strange June. Actually it feels more like April….well, like an April from years past, when we expected “April showers to bring May flowers” and temps to be cool with occasional bursts of sunshine.

After a very mild winter, March and April were really COLD….we even had a dusting of snow for Easter! While we were in the states from mid-April to mid-May, our friends reported cool, cloudy and rainy days, and upon our return, it was easy to see the proof: flowers and herbs I’d set out in mid-April were the same size as the day I’d planted them!

A few days after we got back we had three…count ‘em!...three days in a row with beautiful sunshine and thought for sure that summer had finally arrived….but no. Today, the middle of June, I sit here typing in a long sleeved tee shirt…with a sweatshirt over the top! I’m still pulling up the bedspread at night to stay warm, and every day brings a shower at some point. Doing laundry has been challenging! We've turned off the radiators, so my handy 'helper' for drying clothes during the damp winter months isn't available.

We have had a few outdoor activities, but most of them have been cut short by rain, or affected by the cooler temperatures. Our plans to attend a local sagra to hear our friends’ band was were cancelled by a sudden storm. The town picnic was cut short due to rain. The town’s celebration of our local band, and last night’s celebration for St. Anthony were all shortened due to rain. Luckily the school pageant was spared the sprinkles, but the cooler temps had everyone bundled up for the outdoor performance.

Soon many crops will begin to suffer if the rain doesn’t stop and the sun doesn’t start to warm things up. Hay is ready to be cut and baled and other fields still need to be planted. Grapes and olives will be damaged by too much water and not enough sun…..BASTA! At least SKY Italia has decided to carry baseball again this summer, so Art’s been able to keep up with the Cub’s great season.

Not related to the weather…………

A friend recently asked me about canning kettles here in Italy, and I had to tell her that I’ve never seen a kettle specifically for canning. In the states I had a canning kettle that came with a rack to hold the jars. The rack would keep the jars from rattling together during the processing, and keep them off the bottom of the kettle where they might get too hot. I’ve never seen a kettle/rack combo here in Italy, and as far as I know, people use either newspaper or towels in the bottom of and between jars to keep them from breaking. I’ve also never seen a jar-lifter here, so I guess Italian women must have pretty thick-skinned hands to lift those jars out of the boiling water!

For those of you feeling the pinch at the pump, the last time we filled up our tank with diesel, we paid about $8.75 per gallon. Diesel used to be cheaper than gas, but now they’re about the same. Luckily, diesel engines do get better gas mileage, so we’re still a little ahead. Anyway, next time you’re complaining about paying $4.00 for a gallon of gas, remember: yes, it really could be worse!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

LA BUONA CUCINA AMERICANA - MADE IN AMERICA - MACARONI AND CHEESE

It's Friday, so it's time for another American recipe. Today Michelle shares a recipe for MACARONI AND CHEESE. Because we don't have cheddar cheese in Italy, if you're here you'll have to settle for using Kraft singles. If you're where you can get good cheddar, then of course you'll want to use that...or some colby for a little extra creaminess. So far I've been lucky to have a stash of cheddar in my freezer...some brought by us from the states, some brought by English friends!


If you've been following along, you'll know that Judith over at THINK ON IT first came up with the idea of sharing some really good, really American recipes, mostly to show our Italian friends that we can do more than make delicious sweets...

Judith also has a
LIST OF ALL THE RECIPES HERE, just in case you'd like to see if one of our favorites might become one of yours! La vera Cucina Americana!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE PERFECT BROWNIE - AT LAST!

If you've been reading for a while you know that I'm a confirmed chocoholic, and that I've been searching for the perfect brownie recipe for some time now. I have to wait until we have company so that I have an excuse to bake, and so that Art and I don't eat the entire batch. (Yes, even if a recipe is deemed 'not quite perfect', it's STILL chocolate, and of all the recipes I've tried, I've never found one that wasn't edible!) So....

Several years ago I discovered that substituting (American-style) brown sugar for all or part of the sugar will produce a gooey brownie, and that's a good thing. Additionally the brown sugar's caramel-y taste adds an extra richness and depth, so when I saw that this recipe called for equal amounts of brown and white sugar I was hopeful.

My ideal brownie is intensely chocolate, slightly gooey on the inside but with a shiny, thin crust on top. This recipe ticked all the boxes for me, and for now, this is the one, the brownie recipe I'll use until someone can convince I need to try another one! I used a combination of chocolate: half 60% Ghiradelli and half Lindt 85% chocolate, just because that's what I had on hand. I think using all 85% chocolate might have been too intense, but as I type this, I can't believe what I'm saying! Too intense?? Hmmm....maybe the next time I'll use all 85% chocolate just to see. I've also thought about using the drier brown sugar we buy here in Italy, just to see how much the gooiness is affected. For this recipe I loved the extra intensity of the dark brown sugar rather than light brown.

Here's the recipe, which I'm going to call

The Best Brownies EVER!

2 sticks (8 oz.) butter, more for pan and parchment paper
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour

Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt butter and chocolate together. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl or mixer, whisk eggs. Whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla.

Whisk in chocolate mixture.

Fold in flour just until combined.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until shiny and beginning to crack on top. Cool in pan on rack.

Yield: 15 large or 24 small brownies.

As with most things chocolate, these are better if baked 1 day in advance.

Post script: I later tried this recipe with just 6 oz of butter and 6 oz of chocolate and the brownies were just as yummy...

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

SUMMER HAS BEGUN!

Because of the way the dates fall this year, this weekend is similiar to Memoral Day weekend in the states: it's a national holiday, a long weekend for everyone, and the unofficial start of summmer.

Whenever possible, the Italians always add a 'bridge' day, making a three day weekend into a four day weekend, and that's exactly what's happened this year. Because June 2, the "Festa della Republica" (the day Italy voted to end the monarchy and become a republic) falls on a Monday, many Italians started celebrating early by taking Friday off too. Here in San Venanzo we had a town celebration on Thursday night which started with a dinner and ended with a concert that lasted until midnight. (Youtube videos are posted below this one)

Tomorrow, the official holiday, we'll do as we always do and attend the San Venanzo town picnic. It's held in a wooded area just outside of town, complete with a huge grill to cook the sausages and a cool stream to chill the wine, water and melons. The town grandmothers will cook perfect pasta outdoors in huge pots heated with a gas ring powered by a portable gas tank.

The forecast isn't looking great, but if the weather stays as it was today, just overcast, we'll be in business. Of course on Thursday night during the dinner, when everyone had planned to eat outside, the heavens broke loose and everyone ate dinner standing up, huddled under the few covered sections. We talked with our English friends about how there never seems to be a back-up plan for such events, but somehow everything works out okay. I guess this laid back attitude is typical of Italians, and is just one reason why life is so sweet here.

Be prepared...pictures and probably movies will follow. For now, I hope you're enjoying some wonderful summer weather and a picnic with friends and family!

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