Monday, April 30, 2012

Sunrise, Panicale

  I'm thinking that the fewer words the better for this particular post. The short video at the end says it all.
  Photos taken from our terrace, at about 5:30am one day last week.... I love all the birdsong at this time of morning...
  Pretty magical.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Festival For Artichokes

  We live near a town in the States that is called "The Artichoke Center Of The World". There are loads of fields full of big, green, globe artichokes that are just beautiful. And they are shipped all over the world, for sure. We love them, and enjoy them as dinner, with some roasted potatoes on the side. Yummy. 
  This being said, I was pretty excited about being here for the annual event, "Chiusare in Piazza in Primavera".  Each April, weather permitting, (it was, thank god) on the weekend before, as well as the 25th of April, this very small medieval hill town hosts a festa celebrating the regional artichokes known as Morellino artichokes. From what I have heard, they were almost completely gone, extinct, but were brought back as part of the whole Slow Food movement here in Italy. Now the town holds them in high esteem, and people from all around come to eat, drink, and be merry with the little purple wonders.
  We drove close to two hours to partake in this event. The drive is a beauty, and gave us a chance to show our guest and good pal, Tasha, the lovely country side. The drive up the hill to Chiusare is a doozy, but offered some outstanding views. We were glad to have arrived early, because parking spaces were limited. The first artichoke-y thing we came upon was this very cool wall planter...we saw them all over town.

Fantastic color combo here.

  There were a few local food producers set up to sell their goods, and we bought some treats to bring home. It was really easy to figure out where the real action was, though...

Arriving into the main Piazza of Chiusare.

  There was a ticket booth with the main "menu", and we checked it out to see what looked good. Everything. A very short, artichoke-centric offering, to be sure. We bought our tickets to present to the main food booth, and moved on.
  One interesting item on the menu were "carciofi crudi", or raw artichokes. We didn't order any, and later, watched a young couple as they each slowly devoured these tasty delights. We ended up buying some to try at home later. They were really good, dipping each tender, but crunchy leaf in salted olive oil...

The artichokes to be eaten raw, plus the lovely color, shows here.

Raw artichokes before and after being cleaned for eating raw. So pretty!

  For me, well.... it was all about the carcifi fritti, fried artichokes. What can I say..... they just looked so good. How could we resist?  Johnny went for two cones, right off the bat. I restrained and had only one, and Tasha totally bowed out and just took a shared bite. Good Girl...(what was she thinking? I could have eaten 5 cones!)

Crunchy, salty, yummy. Oh, kind of nutty, too.

  The other non meat options on the menu were a local pecorino cheese, to be eaten alone, or with the fresh fave. Tasha had a bowl of the artichoke soup, which really was awesome. The plates came with a small bowl of salted olive oil for dipping the fave in. Oh, scrumptiousness.

A lunch fit for Kings & Queens.
  Having stuffed ourselves to the gills, we needed a nap, but went for a walk around town instead. Good choice. The small walkways and arches offered all kinds of great photo opts and views.

A back "street" in Chiusare.

Johnny wants a nap, but takes the high road and walks, instead.

The view from the top of town. It was pretty windy, but the sun was warm.

  It was fun walking all around, because we came across a nice local garden full of the artichoke plants we had just eaten from. The purple color of the artichokes with the grey/green foliage is a match made in, well, Chiusare. So different from our variety at home....

Another great garden we found on our walkabout.
  We sat on a bench in the sun, just soaking up the good full feeling and the warmth... listening to the muted sounds of the festa going on below us, and the millions of birds. After dozing off for a bit, we headed back down to the main piazza again, finding more fun attractions on the way...

What appears to be a row of old chicken coops, or maybe for sheep..

We, too, are grateful for the wonderful Carciofi.

  We all agreed it was a long, but fulfilling day, and a good way to see the countryside, and share a special time with a great friend. I will be happy to attend next year!
  Ci vediamo prossimo anno!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yellow And Green All Over

  No matter how often we walk around the walls of Panicale, or take the short drive to Castiglione del Lago, I am just stunned at the colors in the fields. I know it's going to change.... jeez, it's changed a lot since we arrived in March. I just can't get over the intensity of the greens and the yellows. Throw in some blue or grey skies, and it's mind blowing. At least for my little mind.
  I've been snap, snap, snapping pictures the whole time we've been here, and it's always fun to comb through what I've shot to get inspired. Pretty easy with this lot... color and texture are my thing, and if I could put down a soundtrack it would be Sigur Ros. The feeling for me is both transcendent and nostalgic....

A dreamy landscape near Villastrada in Umbria.
  Most of the yellow comes from massive fields of wild mustard. Or at least that's what it looks like to me. There are all these fantastic graphic lines created by these plantings, making the landscape look just like an abstract painting from up along the walls of Panicale. It's pretty fantastic to see over and over everyday, changing all day long with the light.

I just took this today, April 28th. The greens are really changing... but the lines are still so cool.

    We drive by this casa vecchio, or "old house", several times a week, going here or there, and it is just as enchanting each time we go past it. It isn't really a ruin, but man it could be great if someone would take the money and time to fix it up... The yellow field in front is just a little icing on this old cake....

All I need is a few more euros....
  We drove up to Siena, in Tuscany a couple of weeks ago, and I enjoyed the change in landscape...still all the yellow and greens, but just a little different in some way. The area south of Siena is referred to as "The Crete Senesi", which is a reference to the clay like soil found there. They grow a lot of wheat here, so the hills are just green waves, with yellow wildflowers thrown in here and there for eye candy fun.

The classic Tuscan landscape.

Wow, did I take this shot...? Why, yes, yes I did. Good one, kiddo.
Another Tuscan scene.
  The land just in our immediate vicinity is this lovely mix of the greens, yellows and also the celadon green or heather blue of Lago Trasimeno. The lake changes color with the sky, of course, so it has been  different each day, it seems. Now, as we are getting to the end of April, more and more of the fields are being turned over from their cover crops of just a few weeks ago. It's a real treat to be here long enough to watch these changes.

The field in front was fave just a week or two ago.  I'm loving the splash of yellow with the color
of the lake....

Panicale seen through a field of yellow....

Another shot from the same camera couldn't decide
what to focus on, and I kept it. I like this.

  I remember once, in my wild youth, looking across the valley at the hills opposite. The wind was blowing pretty good, and the grass covered hills were being blown in a way that made me think of hundreds of bunnies running in unison... I have never forgotten this imagery. It was the softness, and the waviness of it.. anyway, around here it is happening, and I am in awe again. I think this is all wheat,  but don't know for sure. All I know is that it keeps me sighing.

A green and grey wonderland

These moments are what remind me that I am somewhere very different than home.

I just love these fields...
  So the day before yesterday, we head back over to the island, Isola Maggiore, so Johnny can do some painting, and I can explore more. We didn't hike around much on our earlier trip, and I was blown away by the forests of wild fennel growing here! I mean, everywhere...and these plants were huge. Like five feet tall and growing. All through the olive groves on the upper sides of the island. A perfect ending to my yellow and green postcard from Umbria.

Wild fennel gone WILD!
Some up close fennel love.....

  You can learn more about Umbria, and also plan your own adventures by checking out my friend Katia's website:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Artist Husband...

 Just so you can see another side to the story, this is the blog my husband, Johnny, is writing while painting in Umbria. It's pretty cool, and a different take on our whole trip.

 We also have a website for our little gallery in Carmel, California. When we get back home, Johnny takes the small paintings he has done here in Umbria, along with all the inspiration he gets, and paints amazing large scale pieces, abstracts, inpsired by our time here. Check it out, when you have a minute!

Monday, April 23, 2012


  When Johnny is painting, I like to either read, or take a little walk. For me, it's always a nice way to see what's growing along the roadside, or in the fields. There is always something interesting to check out. It also gives Johnny the time to settle in with his agenda of painting, without wondering what I'm going to do.
  We often drive just a few miles into the countryside, and find a good spot to pull over the car. He sets up to paint, and I head out for a stroll. 
  Other mornings, we like to walk to the next little hill town, Paciano. I always find interesting plants to ponder over. Sometimes I can totally tell what type of plant it is, and what the flower will be like, and other times I can't wait to see what the bloom will be.
  Since it's full blown Spring, there is a lot going on in the ditches, and along the paths....

Wild violets and cyclamen just starting to show up 
These cyclamen are so tiny and sweet...
   Along the road to Paciano, there are several areas with old stone walls, all dry stacked. It's a perfect place for wild things to pop up....

Ferns and moss in the crevices of the dry stacked walls.

I am loving watching these ferns coming on!
   I wish I was going to be here to see all the wild clematis blooming...I'm seeing it coming up everywhere, and even seeing the spent "puffy" seed heads from last season, but have no clue what color they may be. I am assuming white, or creamy yellow..

I am amazed at both the walls and the plant life at home in them. Clematis just coming on.

The variegated foliage of this particular clump of wild cyclamen blows my mind.
I hope I get to see them bloom... !
   Last year I saw a plant everywhere there was a little moisture and some shade... the clumps of growth reminded me so much of some of the hardy geraniums I love, with variegation, and just the general shape of the leaves looked the same. This year, seeing them bloom, was a real surprise. Yellow! I was certain they would be white or some shade of pink. Not a geranium, after all....

Don't know what it is, but I like it.

A nice clump of euphorbia.

This must be some relative of ajuga... 
These little annual euphorbias are everywhere.
   Just outside of Panicale, near Casalini, we stopped to paint the other day. It was so nice out, and I took a little hike. I went down a dirt path, towards an old farm house, and had a real nice time, just soaking in the sun and sounds around me.

I think it may be a lily of some sort? Very tiny, and cute.

I know this is Lunaria, or silver dollar plant, because I have it in my yard. 

Johnny painting near the car, while I take a walky.

A view of Panicale from the path I was on that day.....
   So you can get a small sense of my little stroll, I have a short video below. It's a real joy being here, and even more fun sharing it this way....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Little Food

  So, anyone who knows me, knows I like to chow down. No kidding around, I like to eat. The past, oh, six months or so I have been nearly starving myself, just so I could eat even more great food while in Umbria, and maintain my, umm, girlish figure. Yes, I know this is an unhealthy thing to do, I know, really. But I have been eating good things, just not extras, and exercising... very boring stuff.
  I swear, in a few short weeks, it's been all about the food for me, and I'm glad I shed(and now once again own) those few extra lbs. How can one resist? It's just one scrumptious meal after another...We try to eat just one "main" meal a day, either lunch or dinner.
  It starts at the market, of course:
Mondays  haul from the Tavernalle weekly market. The guy at one stand threw in the (may I say rather phallic looking) carrot and some celery. They do this for your soup.
  Then there are the places that make pasta fresca (fresh pasta) everyday... always by a few hard working grandmas in the back, it seems:

Tagliatelle, just enough for two servings, per favore...

  Sometimes I'll throw a couple of things together for a simple pasta, or use leftovers for something fun:

Amazing asparagus with tomatoes and garlic...a little fresh marjoram
from my little pot garden.

Not fresh pasta, but a great one dish meal all the same.. toss the above veggies with
pasta, a little parmesan, and a drizzle of Umbrian olive oil. 

  The bread here gets stale really fast, so panzanella (bread salad) is always on menus, and I enjoy making it, too. I like to use good tomatoes and some crunchy, sweet cucumber. Lots of olive oil and garlic... But first the hard bread. Soak slices of it in water just a minute, squeeze it out and crumble it into a bowl. That's how you get the real, true texture. I hate how restaurants at home do it with hard crouton style bread. It should be soft and crumbly.... anyway, season with vinegar and herbs, if you want, salt and a touch of pepper. I like to serve it on a bed of arugula, or any other fresh greens...
  The better the olive oil and veggies, the better the panzanella. A fantastic way to use up stale, but still tasty bread.

My Panzanella, the way I like it. 
   It's been cold, and and raining off and on, so last week I made a big old pot of soup. It was a sweet way to spend the morning, and it made the house smell fab. I even threw in a big bunch of chard from our little garden here. Johnny likes me to put white beans in, so those were added at the end. We served it up in bowls with a piece of good bread on the bottom of the bowl. Parmesan and the requisite drizzle of olive oil....

Home grown chard made it super special.

Don't forget the parmesan!
Now, really, can't you just smell that?
   On the last night that our friends were with us, I made an interesting "raw" salad. I have enjoyed this combo in the past myself, and I hope everyone liked it. It's just super thin slices of mushrooms and artichoke hearts, raw, tossed with good olive oil, lemon and salt. Over arugula and topped with a little parmesan. Spring time in Umbria..

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Earlier that evening, or late afternoon, really, we had all gone on a big hike up the hill for a "pic-nic" happy hour... it was so gorgeous out, and the views were outstanding. I liked all the fun yummy treats the best!

PicNic on an age old stone table. Good enough.
(Ciao, peeps!)
  It's all good here, it seems, and I don't care if I roll home. I'm enjoying my love fest with the tasty things Umbria has to offer. I will be sharing more of these treats soon, for sure. Stay tuned!!