Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tavola Calda

   Tavola Calda.
   These two words start my stomach growling. They translate to "hot table" in Italian. This refers to a type of eating establishment that is kind of like our "buffet" restaurants. Only the tavola calda has warm dishes of freshly made, awesomely good, incredibly inexpensive choices. They will have everything from grilled veggies to braised meats, amazing pastas, casseroles to die for, fried goodies that are light and crispy, all hot from the kitchen. The dishes are made fresh, with new things coming out every few minutes, it seems. The difficult part is deciding what to indulge in.
  We always order too much, are shocked at the minimal price, and gorge ourselves. It goes without saying that there will be decent, inexpensive wine to be had, as well as bread and desserts, if you aren't little piggies and have room left. We are little piggies. We've never had room for desserts.
  I love these places, and will search them out in every area we visit. I have noticed that you don't find them in smaller towns, but most bigger towns and all the cities have them. They aren't fancy, and cater to the working population of a neighborhood.  It's like fast food, only fast food that a fabulous Italian Grandma just pulled out of her oven. You will see men in suits, truck drivers, families, women dressed to the nines, city street cleaners... everyone in these places. Often you sit at long communal tables, sharing water carafes and condiments. It's GREAT!
  The drill goes like this: Grab a tray, plate, glass and silverware. Get in line. Start checking out what's available, as your turn comes up. You will be asked what you want by one of many people working behind the glass counter. Point, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Once it's your turn, you get the full attention of your server, and they have always been nice to me. Order this , that and that, and oh, some of that.... some wine, bottled water, maybe... and off you go to find a spot to sit. The turnover is pretty fast, so there is always a place available.
For we vegetarians, this is heaven.  Baked tomato,  steamed potato-zucchini&carrots with amazing herbs,
steamed spinach with evoo and lemon, cauliflower baked with marinara and a touch of parmesan, roasted fennel with cheese, and in the middle, an unusual bitter green that looks like grass in the market. I can't remember it's name... but I really like it.

This place is near Lake Trasimeno. We over ordered, over ate, loved it and took a long walk around the lake after lunch. They have a large outdoor eating area that has lake views, which was great.
 (this was for 2 people... just in case you were wondering...)

Waiting for my turn to order, checking out all the options.

This place is so popular, you take a number!

The best roasted potatoes EVER, wonderful veggies, and "torta al testo", an Umbrian  traditional bread, hot from the open fire oven.
  The tavola calda may not be the most romantic or atmospheric place to eat in Italy, but for me, they are a taste of the true day to day Italian life, and that's what keeps me on the lookout.

Friday, April 29, 2011

You Did Not

  Yes, I did. Really. And something tells me I'm not the only one.
  I got up at 2:15 this morning to watch the Royal Wedding. William and Kate...gettin' hitched.
  Maybe it was because I haven't been watching all the lead up to this event, so I was all fresh for it. Also, Johnny is a total romantic, old school style, so he was up at 1:00 to catch every minute. He promised to wake me up at 3:00, but I guess my interior clock went off automatically as soon as the Bentleys and Rolls Royces started up their engines.
  It was sweet. We curled up with blankets and oohed and aahed for 2 hours. I think I even saw a little glisten in my dear heart's eye as the two exchanged vows. I'm not kidding. A real love fest, on a grand scale.
 The men looked dashing, the women had fantastic hats, the kids were cute, it didn't rain on the parade, and Kate's gown was just lovely. There were thousands of people lining the avenues, waving little British flags, hoping for a glimpse. All was well in that little world.
 I guess that's why I enjoyed this spectacle. I had to drop my snarky, cynical side for a bit. I can be quick to criticize in a moment like this one, and normally would have done so with gusto. Instead, I really looked at them, listened to the prayer they wrote to be read aloud, noticed how they looked at each other, and kind of marveled at the fact that we were all watching a true love story.
 In the ever relevant words of Elvis Costello: "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?"

 OOO-OO-OOOH...   Nothing, that's what.


Sunday, April 24, 2011


  Easter was a pretty big deal when I was a kid. Being raised a catholic, there were the church events, like Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Lent, and the Big Day itself.
   Lent was always tricky, because you had to make certain you "gave up" something that would pass as a sacrifice, but really wasn't so bad to be without. After the first time, you learned not to give up TV again.... or sweets.  Giving up talking on the phone was always a good bet, because your friends would agree to do the same thing, and we could always talk at school.
  Ash Wednesday was such a trip. All the catholics in town were branded with a black smudge right between the eyes. It was a small town we lived in, and I just assumed everyone was catholic until I was old enough to get smudged. That's when I noticed all the kids and grownups who weren't. Ah, the questions that we must have posed to our parents... what? who? where? and , of course, why?
  I loved dying easter eggs. My brothers and I would get to make a righteous mess on the newspaper covered kitchen table, one of us always creating the brown "dipped-in- every- color" eggie. Mom would be there to help us stand each egg on end in the little decorated cardboard holder that came with the egg dying set. You would use this little wire spoon thing to dip and lift the eggs.
  Good times, Good times...
  Now, decades later, having left behind all that, Easter is something entirely different. Glorified day off, drive in the countryside or down the coast, gardening opportunity... maybe a picnic. Or like today...I'm actually at work. I don't have kids, don't attend church, so it's a bit of a non-event. Except for one thing.
  Every year, without fail, I get the Phone Call from Mom.
  "Oh, honey... do you remember that lavender and white plaid dress with the pinafore I made you that year. You were so cute in your little patent leather shoes... and the black velvet jumper I made you from an old Lanz dress I had....I miss making little outfits for you!"
  It kills me every time. She does not disappoint, I'll tell you that. Every year.
  So for me, Easter isn't about the Greatest Story Ever Told, or going to church, or roasted meat of some sort, or even about dying eggs...
  For me, Easter is all about that phone call.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Umbrian Lunch

  While sitting at my work desk all day, I think about many things...but mostly I go back to the two things that really take up all my brain space. Italy and food. Thank the "powers that be" that I work for myself. I would have been canned a long time ago for surfing food blogs and Italian real estate sites. Oh, and the hours I spend on Google Earth? Let's just not go there (well, at least not until after I finish this post...).
  There was a time, not that long ago, that I considered myself quite the luddite. Now that I am at a desk, and have given up my previous life as a professional gardener, I see the light. The computer screen is like TV. I like TV. And now, with this blog, I get to interact a bit, and keep the dream of travel fresh in my mind.
  With that in mind, I'd like to share a delightful lunch we had on our last trip. I did mention that we are vegetarians, not vegan, and I have found that most Italian menus are easy going for us. We would never go into an osteria that specializes in offal expecting to have lots of veg options...but chances are they would have a few. What I do look for are menus with interesting starters, pastas, or side dishes that are chock full of seasonal veggies so prevalent in Italian cooking.
   I have found that in most trattorias and osterias, there isn't a problem ordering only anipasti, pasta and "contorni", the vegetable side dishes. Typically, the Italian menu has antipasti, "primi"(the pasta course), "secondi"(the meat course), contorni, and desserts. There may be regional cheese plates or plates featuring typical cured meats of the area..that sort of thing. The menus are often interchangeable in some places. It may be because there are strong ties to the regional cuisine, and an area may specialize in something, so you find it on all the menus. Umbria is no exception. Truffles, lentils, porcini, black celery, cannara red potatoes, goose sauce,...all regional to Umbria.
  On one of our walks to the nearby hilltown of Paciano, we spied "Osteria La Loggetta". It is located right inside the gate at the lower end of town. It was closed, but I checked out the menu, and noted that they were open for lunch on Sundays. Great! When Sunday rolled around, after Johnny painted and I took a long walk, we cleaned up and headed on over to La Loggetta.

A wonderful starter of soft cheese covered in corn flakes(!) and fried-
served with a sour cherry/balsamic reduction, greens.  Spread
on bread, it was warm, gooey, crunchy...amazing.

My choice-- tiny potato dumplings served in a saffron cream
sauce with almond slivers and pecorino.

Johnny had "umbricelli", an Umbrian pasta, very dense texture and a good chew to it.
The pasta had a sauce made from
purred broccoli, pecorino and a hint of rosemary. I want to recreate this one...
  We also had a half carafe of the house red, something that never seems to disappoint, no matter where you are ordering it. A very fine meal. When we went back to try it again, sadly they had closed for a little down time before the busy season kicked in.
  There's always next year, and I can't wait!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Little Vehicles

  One lovable thing (there are so many...) about Italy, and Europe in general, is the variety of little vehicles. Gas is expensive there...none of this $4 a gallon stuff...we paid close to $8 a gallon, with the exchange rate. We had a Fiat Panda that was wonderful, and got pretty good gas mileage, too. No complaints. That being said, what we lusted after were the little bitty modes of transportation-mainly because they were so damn cute.
  You will see these in small towns, big cities, in the farmlands..everywhere. The colors are fun, and in the case of the 3 wheeled motorcycle/mini-flatbed named the "Ape"(translates to "bee"),  they are very trendy with the young folk. They put all kinds of stickers and stuff on them and tool around with music pumping them along. Sweet.
  I found myself obsessively snapping pictures of them. Here are just a few favorites:

Love the vintage Fiat "Cinquecento"

We saw this one on our morning walks. It's so small! 

An "Ape" with fuzzy dice. Classic...

Another oddity we came across in Florence

Only in Rome!

Johnny's dream 

We loved seeing this work horse on our morning walks...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Me And Food

   I love to eat. Have I mentioned that? Ask anyone who knows me...spend more than 15 minutes chatting with me and I will turn to the subject of food somehow.
  Most of my favorite films have great food scenes in them. In the film "Big Night", right near the end, there is a scene in which the Stanley Tucci character whips up some scrambled eggs for his brother and the kitchen helper. Just eggs in hot olive oil. No dialogue. It takes mere seconds to cook the eggs and plate them up. So simple. To me, this is the best "food in film" scene ever. It really sums up my feelings about food, on a few levels.
  The food I love is usually simple.
  Food should be made to share.
  Food can heal.
  Food is family.

  Below are some shots of meals we made at home on our recent trip. These photos give an idea of the way I like to prepare food. Eating out is another story altogether, and I plan to share some of those moments soon.
  The food photos will be a recurring event here at Live Pronto, I'm sure.
  I think I hear my stomach growling...

The little alimentari we shopped at all the time. It was just down the way from the apartment.
We went to the local open markets, too.

One of the many lunches we enjoyed on the balcony.

A fine lunch of cheeses with fig jam, pear, and the best roasted- in- the- shell almonds I have ever tasted.

Sunday lunch.

Tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, capers and arugula.

A rainy day lunch...roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts on arugula, with yummy black olives.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Texture In The Garden

  Yesterday when I got home from work, I took a walk around the garden. It's staying light later now, and I love that I can spend some decent time in the garden at the end of the day. The fancy "gallery girl" clothes come off, the grubby garden clothes are thrown on, and out I go.
  What was so noticeable in the early evening light were all the unplanned texture combinations. I would love to take credit for these combos, but that would be a big old lie. Many of the plants in my yard reseed themselves in the most wonderful ways...then they get too big and become a pain. But that's another story. At this moment, I will enjoy them and marvel at how fab it all looks. ( and maybe even take a little credit... )

Well, this is just one plant, a beautiful viburnum that has bronzy new growth.
I like the little sparks that the flowers make.

This variegated plectranthus is a favorite of mine, and I keep making cuttings to add everywhere.
Here, it is creeping up through the young leaves of geranium "Maderense".
What I love is the burgundy maple leaves with it.

More of the plectranthus, but here it
mingles with a variegated ivy geranium. They both do well in the semi-shade
Thanks to my good pal, Tasha, for sharing the ivy geranium!

This is great...the bluish succulent is so fine with the chartreuse flowers of
 euphorbia "Dean's Hybrid".

I can't remember the name of this variegated grass, but just recently the coprosma "Marble Queen"
started to work it's way through, making a stunning "garden moment".

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pizza In Rome- REMO!

  Well, I normally will choose pasta over pizza pretty much every time. That being said, when the pizza has a very thin, crispy edged crust, I'll enjoy. And the simpler, the better when it comes to toppings. I should mention that I'm a vegetarian. I do dairy, though.
  Anyway, when we decided to spend a few nights in Rome before heading up to Umbria on this recent trip, I did some restaurant research. I had booked an apartment (through  in the Testaccio neighborhood. Wouldn't you know, the highly recommended Pizzeria da Remo was right across the little park from our apartment. Oh, joy! We stayed 5 nights, and had dinner twice at Remo.
  This place is super casual, with lots of young people and folks from the neighborhood coming in and out...some just getting pizza to take away. We enjoyed sitting front and center to watch the magic behind the counter. The guys (mostly guys) waiting tables and working the counter were a hoot. You could tell these fellows have been here for a long time. One  sweet gentleman did speak a little English, and with my minimal Italian language skills, we had a grand time. The place really rocked after 8pm. As in most Italian eateries, no one minds if you camp out for as long as you want, so with grins plastered on both our faces, we just hung out and watched the show.

  The pizzas were amazing. I had a classic Margharita, and Johnny had one with zucchini flowers, rape, and mozzarella. The crusts are almost as thin as flour tortillas, and they cook them in a wood burning oven with super high heat, so the crust gets nice and charcoaled on the edges. I noticed lots of people folding the slices like a sandwich. The sauce is spread on thin, but is so tasty they don't need much. They use buffalo mozzarella, and it was mild and creamy.
  I want Remo Pizza RIGHT NOW.....please...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dreaming in Umbria...

  No matter how hard I try, my mind keeps pulling me back to our little apartment in Panicale. Today I was remembering what crazy dreams both Johnny and I had the first week or two we were there. We would wake up and one or the other of us would say "I had the most amazing dreams...." answered by "me, too!"
  I decided that it was our brains being stimulated in ways they had not been for some time. Between the language, driving in a foreign country, sights and sounds unusual to us...just everything. Sparks were just flying up there between our ears. I mean, my dreams were like full length movies-really incredible.
  I can't help but chastise myself for allowing the old noggin to get into such a rut. I guess we all do it...just the routine day to day living...a little stimulation, Italian style, and it's party time for the grey matter. I must work a bit harder here at home to keep the sparks flying.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Springing In My Yard

  As I mention in my first post, I need an outlet while waiting for the next trip. My husband Johnny and I just returned from 5 weeks in Umbria, and it's been really hard getting back into the day to day. I know, "poor you"... I don't want to come off all whiney, so forgive me. I feel really fortunate to have made the trip, and to have a sweet home and garden to come back to. I can't help the guilt, I was raised Catholic. thing that has made it a whole bunch easier getting the feet back to the ground is my garden...a lot happened in the garden while we were away. I was told it rained quite a bit in March, and it shows. Everything is on the brink of a major explosion. I just wish I had put in favas before we left. I think it's too late now. 2 years ago, I had a nice little patch of fava beans. They are so pretty, and good for the soil. I harvested enough to make 2 nice batches of fava puree for crostini. Yum. The veg garden isn't very big, but I enjoy having a few tomato plants, lettuces, potatoes, herbs...the basics.
  Here are a few shots Johnny took yesterday..

Looking over the veg garden towards the potting shed. The spots of magenta are "Hansa", a rugosa rose.

I love my japanese maples..the painting studio is through the gate. 

The veg garden through the rose arbor. This arbor has "Buff Beauty" climbing it.
  All the roses are well budded, with lots of new red growth. In a couple of weeks it will be fantastic. I like to tell people that the garden looks stunning for about 10 minutes, and then ...well, then we wait for next year!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Here I Go.....

 With me heart pumping in my chest, I am finally starting to blog.
 Why so freaked out? It's one thing to have a little chat with friends, but going public with my thoughts, hopes and dreams? Well.
 What I want from this is an outlet for myself while waiting for the next trip. A way to share travel, food, gardening..and with luck someone out there will enjoy and follow. I don't profess to be an expert at any one thing, just an active participant in the things I love.
 So, it's time to get this thing started, yes? Yes.
 Oh, and the "Live Pronto" title? It sort of translates to "live ready". I'm down with that.