Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lunch And Dinner At Masolino's

 While we were in Panicale, Umbria earlier this year, we were so lucky to have friends visit. It was fun to share what we love so much about the area, one thing being the great food experiences. 
  Last year, we had a very fine lunch at Ristorante Masolino, right off the main piazza in Panicale. We looked forward to trying it again, and did. Three times this year! 
  The first time we were treated to a lovely lunch by our dear friends and guests, Christopher & Loreen, and we loved it. I think it was a special treat for us all, and especially for Christopher's up coming birthday, which arrived a day or two later. We were thrilled that they wanted to take us to Masolino. We walked by the menu almost every day, and I saw Loreen and Christopher scoping out the place a couple of times....Thanks, again, you guys!!

Dining room at Ristorante Masolino

  We decided to share a couple of appetizers, and I suggested the ceci bean bruschetta, something I try not to pass up if I see it on a menu. We also tried the panzanella, which was divine. Made the traditional way, with lots of good left over bread and heavily seasoned. Tomato, cucumber, lots of garlic...

Fantastic panzanella

   Loreen and Christopher had to try the bruschetta with lardo and fresh truffle, which we "ooohed" & "ahhhhed" over, but of course didn't try, being vegetarians. Later on the trip, our pal Tasha had this dish here, also. It certainly looked and smelled awesome, and they all said it was great.

A quickly disappearing lardo and truffle bruschetta!

   I had umbricelli, the local specialty, with radicchio and walnuts, while Christopher tried an interesting house special, tagliatelle in a tomato and baccala sauce. Loreen had the tagliatelle with leeks, porcini, and truffle, while Johnny tried the very interesting ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta and wild nettles.

My pasta, with grilled radicchio and walnuts, a favorite.

Christopher's presentation of pasta con baccala e pomodoro

Ravioli with ricotta salata on top, fresh ricotta and wild nettles inside. they were really yummy.

A couple of side dishes to share...grilled eggplant and cannellini beans

  Of course, I didn't get a photo of the famous Masolino special, "Crostino alla Faraone" which Loreen also had. It is raved about by everyone in the area, and beyond. I believe it is chunks of roasted Guinea fowl served on small rosemary toasts, almost like another type of bruschetta, but not quite. Loreen loved it, and said it reminded her of Thanksgiving flavors. I must get a photo next time we are with guests, and someone orders it.
  We had to have dessert, too, so we shared two. Both of them rocked.

Panna cotta with "frutti di bosco"(fruits of the forest), which I finally figured out
 were huckleberries!

Had to share some flaming creme brulée.

  It was a great lunch, a special treat, and a perfect day. Our pals enjoyed it, and we felt so touched to be treated to such an elegant experience. I know we had a bottle of something red, and knowing Andrea, the son and head honcho in the dining room, it was just right. He has never done us wrong, that's for sure.

  Speaking of Andrea, he and his sister, Stefania run the front of the house, while Mamma Bruna is busy in the kitchen, with her helper. All the pasta is made by hand, certo!
  We enjoyed a second lunch with Tasha, as I mentioned, which was just as good as always. 

  Our third trip to Masolino's this year was for our goodbye dinner. 

  We were so happy that it was nice enough to take advantage, and sit on the small but super sweet terrace. The evening was beautiful, and we planned to eat at sunset, enjoying the view over Lago Trasimeno. The swallows were in full force, and it made us happy and sad at the same time, knowing we would be leaving the day after next.

Enjoying some of our last hours in Panicale, sitting on the terrace at Masolino's

Golden sunset light, making the town look even more beautiful.

   As before, and because I just can't get enough of it, we started with the ceci bean bruschetta.... Yes, I have tried to make it at home. No, it doesn't come out the same. Is it the ceci? The olive oil? The salt? The rosemary? The bread itself? Don't ask me. I'm convinced everything just tastes better there. This should be easy to replicate, but I can't seem to get it.
  So, for now, I'll just have to go back to Masolino's for my fix. Fine.

Ceci bruschetta, please.

  Because I just had to try a bite of Loreen's pasta at our lunch together, I knew I wanted to order my own plate of tagliatelle with leeks and porcini, topped with thin slices of truffle...

Oh, Heaven on a plate, how I do love thee......

   Johnny enjoyed the umbricelli with walnuts in a light gorgonzola sauce. Bummer, right? No......

  We had our favorite mixed roasted veggies for our side dish. Always so good, simple, and pretty, too. I think I have photos of this dish from our lunch last year. Johnny keeps saying he wants to go in and just order several plates of these tasty bites. 
  Andrea had suggested a wonderful red wine to accompany our meal, and it was just so good. I think it was a Sagrantino di Montefalco, just not certain which label... Thanks, Andrea. We keep threatening to have him order us a case and ship it home, but it hasn't happened yet. We always wait until it's too late, and time to leave. Next year, Andrea!!!!

The best roasted veg ever. I'm serious.

  We don't always order desserts, and if we do, we will usually share one. But for whatever reason, we really went for it. Friends we'd met in Panicale said that Masolino's had the best tiramisu around, so that's what we ordered. Two of them, please. And thanks, again, Andrea, for bringing us the wonderful dessert wine we so loved. And also want to bring back home!

Tira-I miss- U....

A job well done. 

  We didn't want the evening to end, that's for sure. Everyone was so nice, and we said goodbye, knowing we'll be back next year. It was fun just chatting with Andrea, and seeing the family at the end of the night, done and ready to get home.

Calling it a night.... Mamma Bruna and Stefania chatting with customers

Andrea with customers, while we wait to say goodnight...

  Another little foodie memory for me to share, and also to look forward to.

  As we get to know the folks in Panicale more, even if it just means saying "Ciao" to each other on the way to market, we get a real thrill. We love this double life that is slowly emerging, a life we have dreamt about, wanted, worked and sacrificed for. We really didn't know if we could make it happen, or not. So far, it's looking pretty good. Our time is short here, so why not live two lives? 
  Makes perfect sense to me, my friends.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


  On our morning walks, I often have the pleasure of viewing the big red-tailed hawk that hangs out in the eucalyptus grove in the dunes. Sometimes there are two of them together. It's always a treat. I actually wave and say "Hi, Hawky", as I walk or run beneath the big branches. I like to think it recognizes me, nodding it's regal head my way in greeting.
  I love to watch hawky fly in or out of the trees, wings spread wide and beautiful, screeching loud to let the world know just how grand it is to be alive. I have to stop myself from flapping my own arms in unison. 

  As kids, summers were long, leisurely and sometimes hazardous. We would spend hours and hours just running wild through the neighborhood, or even better, through the hills just over the fence. I was one of the boys, for the most part. Tomboy. That was me, either proving myself on a bike or with firecrackers, or playing "booty on the board", a truly painful game involving a basketball, that really tested your capacity for pain. Wearing the "hand me downs" of my brother, and sporting a very short haircut for swimming, I didn't really feel like I fit in with the boys or the girls in the neighborhood. 
  I found that what I enjoyed most was being by myself, hiding out in the hills and flying. I liked hopping the chain link fence that designated the county property line, and heading off on my own.
  I could spend the whole afternoon running through the waist high grass, arms open wide, jumping as I ran, just to gain some "air".  I would be a hawk, a falcon, an eagle....I would screech loud and proud, knowing that no one could see or hear me. It was a special freedom you could only have as a kid of a certain age. I was old enough to know better, but young enough to still believe it could be, if I wanted it bad enough. 
  I read ''My Side Of The Mountain" and cried because it wasn't my life. I checked out every book on hawks and falcons that I could get my hands on. I remember stumbling across a series of books in the local library about this couple in Norway or Sweden...they would take in abused eagles and owls, birds of prey that should never have been in captivity in the first place. This couple would hear about these poor birds that were in zoos, or in some idiot's backyard or garage, tethered to some metal pipe or old piece of rotten wood, their talons frozen, or feathers pulled out, often starving...Most times they were saved, but often it would be too late. There were three or four books in this series, all true, all heartbreaking. I read them over and over, writing to the authors and sending them five dollars, a huge amount of money to me at the time, to help their cause. I've looked for these books as an adult, but no luck.
  I even researched what I needed to do to become a falconer myself. I wanted to find birds of prey to save and release to the wilds. Sigh. So young. I actually wrote to the Fish & Game Department, only to discover that: 
1) I was under the age of 16, too young to have a bird of prey, and
2) You never own a bird of prey, the State does, and they can come at any time for a welfare check and confiscate the bird, if warranted.
  It was hard for my little 10 or 11 year old brain to deal with. Perhaps things have changed. That was a long, long time ago. 

  Still fascinated by the big birds, I seek them out every chance I get, pointing them out to Johnny as we drive along to work or play. I am beside myself when I see a hawk in the birdbath in our garden, though they come rarely. I have watched, transfixed, as it drinks and splashes it's too big body in the little birdbath, then swooping along to it's next adventure. 
  I find it's never too late to dream of being a hawk, falcon or eagle. Never too late to stretch out those arms, running, jumping, taking off to soar up, up, up. And for sure, never too late to let out a loud screech, just to let the world know how grand it is to be alive.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Roses: The Big Show

  It was such a joy to be in Umbria during the better part of spring. We were able to watch as the trees, shrubs and fields went from winter nakedness to full blown spring glory. And I mean like dressed to the nines... (btw, what does that mean?).
  The wisteria were amazing to watch come and go in early April, and I loved every day watching them bud up and bloom. Since it was really warm the last part of March, the wisteria came on super fast and were done over night, or so it seemed. This made it even more special to watch in anticipation, wondering if I'd even get to see the roses bloom before we had to leave. I swear, there were some I would make a point to check out every day, waiting for the buds to pop open and reveal just what type of rose it might be. 
  Just like here in the States, the Banksia roses were the first to go off...

Yellow Banksia on the walls of Panicale

Close up of the above.

Another in full bloom....nice.

  I've always loved Banksia roses for their incredible texture, both in bud and in bloom. Yeah, they only go off once in early spring, but what a show.

  This trip I really tried to notice where the old roses were hiding. The bare branches, early in the trip, were slowly covered in new foliage, and then was like waiting for Christmas morning as a kid. Like I mentioned before, what a treat to be able to watch the first blooms come on...

A little lovely in La Mura.

We walked by this cool farmhouse, below, on our morning constitutional. It's a place we dream about. Not fancy, not big, not all spruced up...just a simple country farmhouse occupied by a sweet old couple we would "Buongiorno" as we strolled by. Always, the Nonna would respond "Buona passeggiata!" Basically, "Have a nice walk!" This is a true home, complete with cats, a little dog, chickens, tractor, awesome wood pile, and the most dynamite garden, of course!
  Oh, and a great niche, covered in red roses. Sigh.

The grapevine and kitchen towel knock it out of the park.
Keeping the dream alive.

Because one picture is not enough. Notice the stars?

  Almost all of these roses were close by, and I would spy them on our various walks around Panicale, or towns close by. As a long time gardener myself, I was quick to notice the different colors of the new growth on all the different rose bushes...and I was curious about whether these roses would succumb to mildew, blackspot, rust, or mine at home do. 
  Mainly, I just enjoyed seeing the buds getting bigger, and realizing that I would get to see some color this year.

Another stunner along the walls of Panicale. I do believe that is an almond tree behind it...?

A gorgeous Rugosa we came across on a walk near Tavernelle.

  The roses that are growing against old stone walls are like picture postcards, come to life. 

Just too good.

Love the beautiful new growth and yellow blooms with the stone wall.
In Citta di Castello.


 When I took the photos of the big climber, below, the woman tending this yard came out to see what I was up to. I just let her know that I loved her roses, and complimented her on them. As all of us gardeners are wont to do, she let me know (in Italian) just how bad the year had been for them, how the caterpillars were destroying them, why she needed to spray them.... in general just how terrible they looked. I understood. Gardeners are their own worst critics, to be sure.
  I thought they looked amazing. But I get it. In our own gardens, we gardeners only see the stuff that needs fixing, never the beauty that the public sees.
  It's a crying shame.

An old climber just outside of Paciano.

A close up shot. Perfect, right?

This is also in Paciano, only this one is spilling over the town walls.
One of my favorite colors for roses...creamy apricot...

  Though I didn't come across many actually in bloom, I was thrilled to see this clematis,below, in all it's glory. Especially against this old wall... this was on a walk right at the end of our trip, over near Oro. 
  Not a rose, but a rose's favorite companion, right? I just had to include it here....

The light was perfect for this photo. 

  In our "own" garden, at Villa Adriana, we had several rose bushes. They came into bloom the last week or two of our stay and I made sweet bouquets of roses, lavender, small olive branches and fragrant stems of philadelphus.
  Can I just say how much delight it brought me to have a garden during our stay? I may have missed the big show that went on without us back in our garden at home, but it was ok.
  We didn't mind too much.

One of many roses we enjoyed at Villa Adriana in Panicale.