Thursday, July 30, 2009

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS!

Last weekend we celebrated Art's birthday not once but twice! On Saturday evening we drove to Panicale, a charming village overlooking Lago Trasimeno. Our friends Greg and Marguerite have a house there and were able to spend several weeks in Italy this summer. Marguerite fixed a wonderful dinner - lasagna, roast chicken, veggies and potatoes, salad and bread. A stroll around town helped to make room for the wonderful dessert they had for Art - this beautiful chocolate cake! I know Marguerite won't be offended when I tell you that she didn't make it, but discovering the new pasticceria that made this cake was definitely a find!


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Auguri!




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On Sunday we had a wonderful lunch at Angelino and Peppa's, Art's favorite local restaurant. Luckily I had run into Angelino at the doctor's office early in the week and told him we were bringing a group on Sunday. He told me they were going to be very busy but assured me there was still room for us. When I called to make the reservation later in the week the woman who answered the phone said no, they couldn't take us because they were full! I told her I had spoken with Angelino, and everything was okay.

It was a beautiful day, not as hot as it had been, with a nice breeze. Our usual table outside was waiting for us when we arrived. I had made a lemon meringue pie as a substitute for Art's favorite Key lime pie, and Stefano, Angelino's son graciously offered to put it in the refrigerator for me while we ate.

If you've been reading this blog for long I know that you know about the amazing quality and quantity of food that's served by here, all lovingly cooked by Peppa, Angelino's wife. Hot torta al testo, fresh pasta, home made lasagna, chingiale, meats roasted on the grill....everything was as delicious as it always is, and of the the wine flowed freely along with the conversation.

Once dinner was over Angelino came out to apologize for not having made a special dessert for Art, but I explained that I had made Art's favorite American sweet. The servers brought out the pie, and along with the leftover chocolate cake we all somehow managed to eat a few bites!



Birthday Group


We all chipped in a few euro each to buy a lottery ticket for the record-breaking €105+ superenolotto to be drawn on Tuesday. Winning that would certainly make this a birthday to remember, but even if we don't win, having such great friends to share special occasions with comes pretty darn close!



Art

Sunday, July 26, 2009

LIFE ON THE FARM

Another weekend, another celebration! Summer in Italy is one big party,and any excuse will do. Our neighbor, Daniele Spaccino decided to throw a party on his farm, showcasing an old wheat thresher and life on the farm (fattoria) as it used to be.

We didn't arrive until about six, and the small gravel road was lined with cars. It wasn't easy getting closer to the farm, and at one point we thought we'd made the wrong decision to drive on. We were afraid there would be no place to park and no way to turn around. Luckily there was a parking lot area roped off in a flat area right next to the old hay-baling machine so we parked the car and began wandering.

Of course there were horses and cows and baby goats. In the barn were tons of porchetta sandwiches, plenty of water and wine, and of course biscotti and coffee to finish. And what would an Italian gathering be without music? Elvio had his accordian, and later there was a band hired to entertain us. Naturally dancing followed!





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Chiana cow pregnant_7530



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All the pictures from that day are on our FLICKR PAGE.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

DESSERT - AND A WORK OF ART!

A few weeks ago I wrote about our lunch with Brad and Palma, and about how all the dishes were works of art. Not surprisingly, the desserts were the most elaborate and over-the-top.....here's one. with close-ups!



L'antico forziere - meringue with strawberries and spun sugar



L'antico forziere meringue and spun sugar



L'antico forziere - spun sugar cage

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DINNER AT LA FATTORIA DEL GELSO

Our dinner with Bill, Suzy and friends at La Fattoria del Gelso was a feast for the eyes as well as tastebuds!

antipasti plate

dinner at la fattoria del gelso

And here's a slideshow of all the photos from that night. Sorry there aren't more pictures of the food! Trust me, the pasta, meats and vegetables were just as gorgeous (and of course delicious), but once the food started coming all I was thinking about was eating!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

LESS THAN SEVEN DEGREES OF SEPARATION

A few days ago I wrote about how most of the expats we meet here seem to know one another, or they know someone who knows someone else, and we're all pretty much connected by far fewer than seven degrees of separation. This fact was recently proven to me (again) when we were having dinner with our friends Bill and Suzy at their villa just outside of Cannara. They've brought several couples with them for a tour of Umbria and some concerts at UMBRIA JAZZ, and had invited us to join them for dinner.

When we arrived about 6:30 people were scattered all over the place. Some were lounging around the pool, some were helping out in the kitchen and others were resting or showering for dinner. We were introduced to everyone as they wandered in, but didn't really know how each person was connected to Bill and Suzy, or to each other.

At dinner we had two long tables - one for the men and one for the women. Suzy said they'd used this method before and found that it worked really well. I certainly enjoyed getting to know all the women, but after dinner still had no idea who was married to whom! (Let's face it, I wasn't even sure of the names of all the women - Suzy, Frances and Wendy I knew, Debbie was Suzy's sister, but then the others - Nancy? Linda? and maybe that was Diane on the other side of the table?)

During dinner I heard one of the women, (Diane) refer to one of the men as both 'John' and 'Jonathan'. That fact would later help me to realize who this man was - and how he was connected to me through just two degrees of separation.

After dinner everyone got up from the tables and stood around chatting and enjoying dessert. I heard one of the men talking about writing, and although I don't remember exactly what was said, I suddenly realized who he was and how I 'knew' him. When there was an opening in the conversation I asked him "Jonathan, didn't you live in Perugia a few summers ago?". When he answered "Yes", I said "I think you lived right next door to our friends Bob and Rosemary" - and yes, I was right! This man was the author Jonathan Harr!  When he was in Perugia his book "The Lost Painting" had just been published and because of Bob and Rosemary's recommendation I later read the book. (I wrote about it here.) I enjoyed the book so much that on our next trip to Rome Art and I did a mini Caravaggio tour.

So, throught two degrees of separation - Bob and Rosemary being one, and Bill and Suzy being the other - we'd once again proven that all expats in Italy are somehow connected to all other expats in Italy.

(Jonathan also wrote "A Civil Action" which was made into a film of the same name starring John Travolta and Robert Duvall. Jonathan's wife Diane is also an accomplished artist. You can view some of her work on her website, dianeharr.com.)

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Friday, July 17, 2009

DINNER AT OLIVASTRELLA

ProseccoYou know how it is - you meet up with an old friend unexpectedly and when you part ways each of you says "let's get together and do something! I'll call you!".....and then nothing happens? I guess we're all so busy and it's hard to make the time, but sometimes all it takes is for one person to call, to set a specific date and suddenly you're having dinner with friends and having a great time!

That's how our dinner at OLIVASTRELLA happened. A few weeks ago at the festa in San Venanzo Janine was telling a group of us about the great meal they'd had at a local agriturismo, OLIVASTRELLA. Of course we all agreed that it sounded great and that we should get together for dinner to see (and taste!) for ourselves. But - had it not been for Janine, we'd still be waiting. Janine took the bull by the horns, emailed everyone to ask what days were good for them, settled on one day that was open for everyone, called Salvatore and made the reservation - DONE!!!

Here are a few pictures from our dinner at OLIVASTRELLA. ( You can read what I wrote last summer about Olivastrella HERE, and all the pictures are on our FLICKR PAGE.


San Venanzo



Appetizer



Part of the group

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Monday, July 13, 2009

PASTA CON TARTUFO!

We discovered the reason for the mini-festa this weekend: the speech/presentation about tartufi that was given earlier in the evening was filmed for television! The show will air on Umbria TV, SKY (Italia) channel 943 on July 24th at 10 p.m., 25th at 11:30 p.m., and July 26 at 8:30 a.m.

Easting pasta with tartufi (truffles) in San Venanzo


Eating Pasta



tagliatelle con tartufo

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

LUNCH WITH BRAD AND PALMA!

Our SLOW TRAV friends Palma and Brad are back in Umbria! They've brought three other couples with them and are exploring some of the wonderful things that this region of Italy as to offer. Of course they've visited beautiful cities and seen ancient ruins, been amazed by artwork and crafts that are the same today as they were hundresd of years ago, and naturally, shopped 'til they dropped, but still this IS Italy, and it's all about the food!

Palma and Brad asked us to join them for lunch at L’Antico Forziere, a country inn and restaurant located not far from us, just outside of Deruta. We've driven by this place many times but somehow never stopped, so we were anxious to see what they had to offer. Seeing Brad and Palma again after two years would make the day even more special!

Every dish at L’Antico Forziere was beautifully presented, but in the end the food looked better than it tasted. My main course, pork, was cooked just right: tender, not tough, but there just wasn't much flavor to it. The dessert, a magical display of spun sugar clouds surrounding meringue and strawberries was amazingly beautiful, but I wish there had been more than just a few small pieces of strawberry! I think this restaurant has great potential, but the quality of the food has to come up a notch or two.

Palma has more photos on HER BLOG, and if you want to see our photos the link to OUR FLICKR PAGE is always in the right hand column.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

CIABATTA BREAD

The world gets smaller and smaller every day, and the expat world in Italy is no exception. We've met expats in Italy at the grocery, on the internet and through other expats. It's sort of like the seven degrees of separation: every one of our expat friends seems to be somehow connected to each other, and it's only a matter of time before we cross paths.

Our friend Kathy, who publishes DREAM OF ITALY, recently devoted an entire issue to Umbria. In this issue three fantastic villas are featured, one owned by our mutual friends Bill and Suzy Menard (you can read about their villa, La Fattoria del Gelso by clicking on the link). She also wrote about about two other beautiful vacation rentals, one between Perugia and Assisi called Le Vigne, and a third place not too far fromus,just outside of the tiny village (borgo?) of Piedicolle, Il Casale di Mele Rosse.

As I read about Il Casale di Mele Rosse and looked at the pictures I knew exactly where it was. I said to Art, "hey, remember those two identical houses that we watched being built just outside of Piedicolle - the houses that were built by the two best friends? " Of course he remembered, and then I told him that I thought this villa I was reading about was the same place.

After reading the site for Il Casale di Mele Rosse , I discovered a link to a blog called Italian Food Forever . It was written by Deborah Mele, who owns Il Casale de Mele Rosse along with her husband. Of course I couldn't resist reading the blog, and I found this great recipe for ciabatta! I have to admit that I did make a few changes: I used all all-purpose flour since I didn't have any bread flour. I guess I could buy bread flour from the bakery, but as I've writtne several times before, the flour here is a mystery to me, so I stick with flour "Americana", which is much more like American AP flour than the Italian "0" or "00". Those Italian flours just don't have enough gluten in them. In order to boost the AP flour I also added some vital gluten. Oh, and I have to confess that I didn't deflate the dough every 30 minutes during it's long rise - I might have deflated it 2 or 3 times. And I also added powdered nonfat milk in with the flour, in effect using milk instead of water. I think it helps the bread brown nicely.

CiabattaHere's the recipe as I've written it out for my cookbook, but of course you can read Deborah's take on it on her blog, Italian Food Forever.



Ciabatta

1 Recipe Biga (made the day before -Recipe Below)
3 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 tsp Salt
1 ½ Cups Warm Water (You can substitute milk or buttermilk for all or part of the water)

Biga
1/4 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
1 Cup Warm Water (About 110º F)
1 1/3 cups Bread Flour
2/3 cup Unbleached All-purpose Flour

Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a large bowl enough and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flours and stir to combine. The dough may seem stiff, but will soften up as it sits. Cover the biga tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 6 hours at room temperature. Stir it, and refrigerate it until the next day, or at least 12 hours.

To Make The Bread

Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and biga, and stir until the dough is mixed. It will be quite wet, and rough in texture. Turn the dough out onto a floured breadboard, and using as little flour as possible, knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Keep the dough very loose and moist; it will firm up as it rises. Place the dough into a large greased bowl three times the size of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm spot for 2 - 3 hours, or until the dough has doubled, punching down and turning the dough every 30 minutes or so.

Divide the dough in two pieces and fold each into a rectangle. Stretch the rectangle until it is about 12 to 14 inches long. If you are using a baking stone, flour two kitchen towels, or bread peels with flour, and place the shaped loaves on them to rise. Cover loosely with towels. Preheat the oven (with stone) to 450º F. If using baking sheets, sprinkle them lightly with cornmeal. Place each prepared loaf onto a baking sheet, and cover lightly with a towel.

After 30-45 minutes, place the baking sheets into the hot oven, or move the loaves onto the hot baking stone. Place a pan of hot water at the bottom of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the loaves once during this time, or until the dough is a dark golden brown all over. Remove and let cool on a wire rack.

We hope to meet Deborah and her husband sometime this summer, and I'll bet we share a few recipes when we get together!

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