Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Umbrian Lunch 2

  Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with food? Recently? Well, ok, I still am. This fact most likely will not change anytime soon. 
  While hanging out at Bar Gallo in Panicale this past March, we were introduced to some wonderful folks from Great Britain. Richard, Kat, and their pal Jill, if my memory serves me. Really nice people we hope to connect with again next spring. After meeting and chatting with them a few times, they told us about this place nearby, GMB. They told us we should check it out... great pastries, savory and sweet, and a fun place to have an aperitif, or a meal. They told us it was in an odd area, and that we wouldn't believe there would be a cafe there. Hmmmm. Sounded good to us... 
  GMB is located in an area we would call "light industrial", I guess. Really off the beaten track. First, you have to pay attention for the little sign that points out the little side road, then you take a left into an area of warehouse looking buildings. We passed right by GMB the first time, and had to start over. We did find it, and we were glad we did.
  Walking from the parking lot, you pass through the wonderfully hidden outside seating area. I bet this place rocks when the sun goes down. It just has that vibe. Once inside, it's like a big, wacky, jewel box. We had to just take a long moment to take it all in. Kind of shabby chic, kind of elegant, very bizarre- in a good way. The front room has a full size giraffe in it, along with an odd "80 Days Around The World" balloon, hanging front and center. There are tables, but also big, stuffed couches, and slip-covered easy chairs. A great place to just spent some time with a cappuccino or glass of wine.
  After going through the front dining room, you are in the main cafe/pasticceria. The little sweet treats looked amazing, and more French than Italian. There was a nice selection of savory little bites, too. We came for lunch, but I am going back next time to indulge in the small bites of pastries, maybe at happy hour with vino. While we were looking at everything, several people came in and left with pretty boxes full of mixed delights, all done up with ribbon. Nice touch.
   We took a seat and were served by a nice young man. The menu didn't have much for we vegetarians, but he was certain that the chef would be happy to create a nice lunch for us. Great! We ordered 2 glasses of the now favorite Grechetto, a nice white wine from the area. The waiter came back in a little while with a salad for me, and a sandwich for Johnny. These were both amazing. My salad was gorgeous, full of greens and fresh veggies, cheeses, and served with 3 different types of bread, all fabulous. Really, I can't believe we didn't go back for bread to have at home. GMB has some of the best whole grain bread I've ever tasted. Johnny's sandwich was full of grilled veggies, mozzarella cheese, and we both had the most beautifully colored hard cooked eggs included on our plates. Man, the colors on these plates were so fresh.
A lovely feast for me. The dark liquid in the jar in back is a fruit and balsamic reduction, to be drizzled on whatever.
This was one of the best salads I've ever eaten... so simple, so pretty. Notice the color of the egg yolks.

Johnny's sandwich was amazing. The roasted pine nuts added some nice crunch, and the bread
was a dream. Again, so very simple. 

GMB front dining room. The door to the right leads to the cafe area..

Entrance table at GMB- I love the decor, slightly elegant, slightly shabby chic... very fun.
 We ate every bite on both our plates, really enjoying it all. It was fun watching people come and go, mostly picking out things to take with them. I think many of the people that work in the area come in for treats to take home later, or maybe even sandwiches to go. GMB is close to Castiglione Del Lago, the largest town in the area, and must do a good business with the locals. We heard that they have a great "happy hour" crowd. Next year...
  We couldn't leave without trying some sweet treats with espresso, so I went and picked out 3 little bites of heaven. Johnny trusted me to pick well, and I did. I don't think you could go wrong.

Sadly, I don't remember, but one had hazelnut cream..all were too yummy. A very nice way to end the meal.
  GMB- Just one more place we can't wait to try again. It's like the best French bakery, right in Umbria. If you are in the area, make it a point to search this place out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cabin

  The Cabin. Summer Defined.
  As a kid growing up in the San Francisco East Bay Area, there was one big event to look forward to every summer. Going to the cabin. Our family cabin is located in the Cascade Mountains, close to Mt. Lassen. It is the second cabin. The first one was located in the Siskiyou Mountains and was swept away in a flash flood.
   I never saw the first cabin. It was the cabin my Mom and her generation spent summers at when they were young. The photos from those days are great. All black and white beauty:  Mom, Aunt Mary, Aunt Pat, Uncle Ben...all kids back then. And the grown-ups: Grampa & Grandma Dottie, Aunt Carol & Uncle Al, various fishing and hunting buddies...and friends. Both cabins loom very large in our extended family history. 
  All the cousins in my generation, and now their kids, have big memories that rap all around the cabin. Well, at least I know I do. I feel confident saying we all do. As young cousins, we remember being there all together, like a pack of feral puppies, running around the forest all day and sleeping in sleeping bags on the deck at night. A freedom not to be matched in our "real" lives. It's amazing we lived through some of the antics we got into. Honestly.
  At night we would do our best to freak each other out, what with all the Bigfoot sightings, bears, axe murderers and general creepy crawly stuff. Some nights it seemed like we didn't sleep at all. I remember all the times I'd wake up and see that the entire sky had changed. All the stars would be replaced by all the other stars. Over and over, at each reawakening. And the falling stars would always scare me. They still do. It's the sound they make.
  We got to see our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles feeling the pull of freedom, too. I know now that the moms worked hard keeping us fed and somewhat clean, but at the time we loved seeing them in shorts and sneakers with no socks, laying back and reading, reading, reading... usually on a chaise lounge on the deck, cigarettes and highballs close at hand. Reading was, and still is the favorite way to pass time, especially as we've gotten older.
  It was a true life lesson going fishing with Uncle Al or Grandpa Dottie. They tied their own flies for years, but we always used salmon eggs: stinky, sticky little balls colored with #2 red dye. I don't know what the hell they were, but we would carefully put them on our hooks, cast the line up river as far as we could, and watch it slowly drift downstream. Even if you didn't catch a thing, it was a mesmerizing exercise. If you did get a bite, it was too exciting reeling in the poor fish, and yanking it onto the creek bank. Then it would be put into the grass-lined creel, still flopping around like crazy. Back at the cabin the fish were cleaned and then fried with eggs for breakfast, or fried and served with red potatoes and greenbeans for dinner. Because my uncle could never get enough of catching fish, there was always a glut of trout. These extras would be placed vertically in milk cartons filled with water and stored in the freezer. We would not starve at the cabin. At all times there were trout "icicles" just waiting. To this day, years after the passing of Uncle Al, you always must leave a six-pack of beer in the fridge when you leave, just in case of a drop-in visit.
  I loved that the cabin was the only place we ever saw Grandma Dottie in "dungarees". Or with a walking stick. Back home, in "real" life, she would never consider using a cane, or be caught in anything but a dress with low pumps. But at the cabin, she walked everyday with her walking stick, wearing her slacks and comfortable shoes. She would walk a good ways, too. Down to the store for her beloved San Francisco Chronicle (she loved the green sports section, and the word puzzles), and often in the opposite direction to the stop sign at the crossroads...a good hike, indeed. Of course, this was only after waking early to stoke the wood stove and get the coffee started. Sweetness, to wake up to the twin fragrances of wood smoke and coffee brewing.
  I have very strong feelings for the cabin, for our "Camp Coyote", even though I don't get up there very often anymore. Knowing it is there, the same, is reassuring to me. The world around me spins out of control on so many levels, but I know the cabin is there, waiting to wrap me up in it's smoky embrace whenever I feel the need to be a kid again. I think about the cabin all the time. It's the one place that has remained a constant in my life for 50 years. I walk through that door and smell that cabin smell, check every little thing that I've loved for so long, listen to the sounds that stay the same. To sit on the deck and watch the last light of day, the sun setting on the hills across the way... it is my touch stone. The sound of driving into the driveway, walking to the "waterpipe", tripping out into the first, second or third meadow, going to the store, hiking down to the creek. My kin and I know these things, share these memories as though we were hard-wired together. And in a way I guess we are, in no small part due to the cabin.
  Johnny and I were up for a couple of weeks way back in 2008. Since then, I've been up for a couple of days with my brother to close the cabin for winter, and for a couple of hours last year to help close up. Just a tease of a stay. We need to make some serious time, Johnny and I. My inner feral self needs some cabin time. Pronto.
Johnny giving a big old hug to my favorite road in the world.

The Smoking Rock that marks the 3rd meadow. This rock has a serious habit.

My favorite road has some sweet banking curves,
perfect for bike riding.

Johnny likes to paint at the cabin. This is the start of a painting of
the Hannah Ranch. Another very favorite spot.

A view down by the creek...I dream of these views on a regular basis.

Last of the sun hitting the tree tops...

  In 2008, I paid tribute to artist Andy Goldsworthy by creating a rock dam across the creek. It took two days to make. I searched the entire area for stones that had a pinkish color, knowing that the effect would be a red dam when the water ran over it. I loved doing this project. It's always a blast splashing around in the water, and soaking up the sun. A few years back, I made a perfect 15' diameter circle of white stones under the shallow water. It looked so cool from above, like an alien had been there. What I love about these little "art works" is that they are very temporary. I doubt anyone else ever sees them, but it would be cool if someone did. 

A close up of the "red" dam.

The red dam from up above the creek.

  Oh, and where's the picture of the cabin? It's right here in my head.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Questa Vecchia Casa (This Old House)

  One afternoon Johnny and I took a little drive into the countryside outside of Panicale. He was looking for somewhere to set up and paint, while I was just stoked that it was such a gorgeous and warm day. As beautiful a day as you could ask for. I knew I would be taking a nice long walk while he painted. What I didn't know was that it would be an adventure, too.
  One thing I love about Italy, (if I had a dollar for every time I thought these words... well, I'd have a place in Italy) is that you don't see fences very often. I mean out in the countryside. I think I've mentioned this in an earlier post. You can walk all over the place and nobody minds. It's so great for someone like myself. I love to explore. Mind you, I am always a respectful guest. 

Checking out the old orchard on an old property.

  So, as Johnny was getting into the zone with his work, I wandered off in the direction of an old farmhouse that was being renovated. It was over that-a-way, and a good long stroll. No workers around, so I had the place to myself. They were doing a nice job. Really great old beams and original looking was a blast walking through all the unfinished rooms. I love how they drill these channels in the stone to install the wiring so you won't see it once it's plastered over. I could tell where the kitchen would be with it's killer view. The living area had a fireplace going in. It was all too good. I even ventured up the stairs a little, but my older self told me to "come back down from there", so I listened.
  I moseyed on back to where Johnny was, or had been. He had set up a little further down the road to start another painting. I decided to go in the opposite direction, to see what I could find. I walked around the corner, past a large stand of Italian Cypress trees, through an old orchard in full bloom and onto an old property that looked very interesting.

I'm sorry, but I can't resist you.

  I had to get a closer look. There were no doors or windows really, so I just carefully went inside. It was amazing. All the rooms had old doors and windows stacked against the walls. That's where they were! It was either being worked on, or it was storage for a large project that was going on nearby. One room had floors covered in straw for sheep, I think. The straw was all matted down.

Careful, lady.
   I was being extra good about where I placed my feet. I wanted to see as much as I could, but I sure didn't want to break or move anything. What I really wanted to do was back a pick-up truck next to it and start loading in all the fantastic stuff I was seeing.
  Note to Whomever: I would NEVER really do this. Truly, not my thing.

  Then I looked up.

   The ceilings were once painted, and now just barely held onto the memory of another time. They were so beautifully done, with color that still had amazing richness.  It was so easy to imagine the music, the voices, the clothes, the sounds and smells coming from a kitchen down the hall.
  I kept thinking that someone had to come along and kick me the hell out of there. In really intimidating Italian, il piu certamente!

Beyond the beyond.

  I ventured in a little further, careful, careful. There were stairs leading to a second floor, but I'm no dummy. All I could think of was how freaking mad Johnny would be if I broke my head, or worse, somehow destroyed someone's property. The stairs were gorgeous, the light amazing. And all the architectural goodies just laying around. I'm thinking "Italian Pickers" the whole time I'm in this place.

Another lovely ceiling

The room with straw on the floor... the sheep bedroom.

  While I was poking around, a truck came by with 3 young men. Probably working guys. They just gave a wave and went on their merry way. It was lunch time, after all.
   I wish I had done a little more exploring inside, but as adventurous as I am, I really didn't want to be doing anything wrong. I felt lucky to have had the good fortune to see as much as I did. 

More stuff.
  Outside, the gardens were clean and kept up. Around back it looked as though there were sleeping quarters for the work men that must have been somewhere near by. For me, it was the ultimate little afternoon adventure. I felt I had stumbled into another era. I stopped and just listened. The sounds of so many birds filled the air. Walking all around the property I could sense the pride of place it must have had at one time... and from the looks of it, would hopefully have again sometime soon. 
  If this place is just "storage" for some other project, it would be a shame. There was a feeling of nobility here... I look forward to returning to this spot next year, just to touch base and see what's going on. In the meantime, I look fondly and with much longing at these photos. My secret adventure on a sunny spring day in Umbria.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Piccolo Pete

  Ooooh, Baby, It's the Fourth of July....well, almost.
  It's a love/hate relationship I maintain with this particular holiday.
  It's not the massive consumption of burnt farmyard animals, or the really unfortunate store front window decorations, it's not the over zealous patriotism... hell, we put up a flag every year... it's the noise. I love the big fireworks, but I really hate all the noise. It scares me. I'm afraid the windows will break, and glass shards will pierce my skin. The same reason I fear thunder. It's irrational thinking, I know. If only we could just have the big show of colors in the sky, sans the window shaking booms that follow. Sigh. Maybe someday.
  Back in the olden days, when I was but a babe, our family celebrated the 4th of July up at the Rose's house. All the gang would be there, loads of kids running amuck, jacked up on sugar. Loads of parents lettin' loose, jacked up on highballs. Big Fun. Everyone would arrive in the early evening, us kids taking straight off for the awesome treehouse in the back yard. If my memory is correct, it was like a club house, only up high. Maybe not in a tree, but way up on stilts of some sort. I do remember a ladder.....That's where we would be until the food came out. All the moms would bring pot luck dishes, the dads would be sucking down the highballs by the bbq, all putting in their 2 cents worth. There were a few picnic tables...paper plates, for sure, and soda. Dig in.
  After the major chow down, and before the big county fireworks display, out came the "Safe for Home Use" Big Box of Fireworks. Oh, yeah. Sweet. Always a crowd pleaser. The dads would get in there and start it all going, while the moms worried about how many ways a child could go up in flames with this stuff.
  In reality, and why I tend to go back to these memories of the 4th, is because it was all so tame. There were the matches that made "snakes" when they were lit, and the tiny, little cabin that would burn down to the ground, sparklers, and Piccolo Pete... the really high pitched whistle thingy. If the parents sprung for a deluxe box, we might get a few spinning, sparkling things, or the type that had sparks that shot about a foot in the sky. The biggest, baddest most dangerous thing you might have, and only in secret, and if you were a boy... would be firecrackers. Good old Black Cat firecrackers. If you really wanted to get your ass kicked right into trouble, you would light the whole pack. Whoa. BAD.
  I swear, now it seems like you can buy M-80's on any street corner, and colorful cardboard what-nots, that, when lit, will shoot 100 feet into the sky and explode like major artillery. Packs of firecrackers? How about entire boxes of them going off at one time? It's coo-coo, I tell you. Not to mention the sad sound of every dog in the neighborhood howling in pain, and every car with an alarm going off. This used to go on for weeks leading up to the big day. At least that has changed. The last couple of years it seems that it's just the week or so prior to the 4th that I need to wear earplugs at night.
  It's ok, you can call me a fuddy duddy. People need to celebrate. I get it. I just wish we could go back to when kids were held in total wonderment by a match that turned into a snake when it was lit.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mirror Shots

  It's always the same... Go on a trip, take loads of photos, come home, look at photos obsessively.... notice there are none of Johnny and I together. Lots of him. Lots of me. One, that we managed to get another tourist to take of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. That's the one we send to the parents, all framed and what-not.
  Hence the "Mirror Shots".
  Perhaps not the best photos of us together, but what fun. Again, I found myself searching out the traffic mirrors wherever we went. Fortunately, there are tons of these mirrors all over the place.  Really, start to notice them, and you will be amazed at how many there are... in town, in the country side,... a lot like those damn Gnomes. 
  What's really cool, is that you get a photo with you in it, plus whatever is in the background AND what's behind you. A great effect, and we had fun with it...

Down Town Paciano

Outside the bar/cafe where we would get our cappuccini in Paciano

Walking/biking signs near one of the gates of Paciano

Even though it's just me, I love this one... all
that countryside in the background...

Drive-By shot!

I like this...the railing on the balcony is so beautiful

  Sometimes we would get silly, and lord knows, Johnny loves to get all jiggy with it.. Don't get him started. He would kill if he knew I was adding these to the blog. Think I'll leave the most disturbing ones in the "Never To Be Viewed" file..

Johnny doing his best to be an 80's New Wave sensation, 20 something years later...

Honestly, don't even ask.

  We loved coming across mirror shots way out in the middle of nowhere. It's a great way to get an idea of the surrounding country side, and have a little fun, too. 
  Sometimes the mirrors were all old and rusty, and sometimes they were shiny and pristine. They look like little spaceships, floating in the sky. On top of a pole, of course.... but still very bubble-y.

This one is so cool, with the smoke from burning olive clippings going off in the background.
This totally brings me right back to March in Umbria.

Just a couple of crazy kids out for a spring drive...

'Nuff said

Outside the walls of Panicale, at dusk.. the beauty hour

  What can I say, I'm totally smitten with Panicale, and I thank god for this little blog-o-mine because it gives me all the excuse I need to go through photos and write on about it, keeping it all right here, close to my heart. And until next spring, when we go back, I will try very hard to be here now.
  And between you and me, here ain't all that bad, either.