Sunday, March 30, 2014


  I love a great nursery, and am always on the lookout for something out of the ordinary. This holds true here in Umbria, just as much as back home in California. 
  Most of the local nurseries here are small family run operations that have vegetable starts, flowers for outdoors and houseplants….terra cotta pots, soils and compost, fertilizers….just what you might expect.    They're great, and I love the small greenhouses these establishments are usually housed in. 
  These places remind me of the old days when I worked in a wonderful nursery back home. We propagated lots of our own stock, made our own soil mixes and composts, and did it very "old school".

  Last year, on our way north around Lago Trasimeno, we came across this fantastic place, Giromagi….I could tell right off the bat that we would love it. Something so cool about a sign done on a rusty metal background:

Why wouldn't you stop at this place???!?

  The buildings, made of lots of obviously recycled (or as the young'uns now say, "up-cycled") wood, metal, and old glass windows, were just calling out my name….janelle….janeeellle…..

Oooooohhhh….Me likey.

  They offer a nice mix of new pottery pieces, old architectural salvage stuff, and inside, vintage furniture…. Along with an outstanding selection of cactus and succulents.
  I was amazed at the large pots on display. Where we live, you could rent these out for living spaces. I kid you not…just put in some carpet and a door….

These are seriously HUGE.

This is a 6-7 foot ladder…which Johnny wants to take home. Me? I'll take the pot.

  Where we live, there is a very good succulent nursery…award winning and well known. I'm used to seeing these types of succulents on display, just not here. I was impressed…and glad to see many customers driving off with carloads of these little beauties…
  I have to say, though, like in our neck of the woods, these plants are expensive. The larger they get, the more pricey….but what a great introduction to any garden that has the right climate.

Yep. This is how we like it.

  So, as you get further into Giromagi, you come across the fun stuff….

Yeah, I'll take these for MY garden, and can ya throw in that
fabulous sink thing?

Nice displays of cool cactuses.

Spikey AND fuzzy.

Oh, did I mention the artwork? Love the concept…art, plants, furniture…
and great rusty metal walls. Sigh. Texture Heaven.

Just another shot of the fantastic display of cactuses...

More interesting varieties..these were pretty large specimens, and the price reflects it
I think it says 110 euros….

  Giromagi, from what we learned, is owned by a gentleman from Rome…a garden/home designer, if I remember correctly. This would seem fair, as there are lovely vignettes throughout the place. A wonderful combination of the plant material and the collection of vintage furniture pieces….
  Again, you can see that someone has a great eye for both texture and color here. I love how they have mixed the old pieces with the new glazed pottery pieces.

LOVE this blue door. I want it for a headboard in the bedroom at home.

Playful, as well as smart, design ideas..

  These little corners of "scenes" are so fun! I just fell in love with it all. Using the specimen cactus as part of the design just makes it more delightful...

These colors floor me!

Adding the paintings, which are all original acrylic on canvas, just elevates the whole design
concept going on here. 

  I like how each little area is color coordinated, with the plants, artwork and various furnishings. I haven't seen anything quite like this back home. Close, but not like this. 
  Someone has a serious vision at work here.

Again, the whole texture/color thing just sings…..


  So, we were also told that the interior spaces, which are several rooms filled with the best vintage fun furnishings ever, are for the parties/rental space events they throw here. Yeah, I want some of this action. I would love to be at a big old party filling these spaces! 
  Can't you just see it?

  From what I could gather….this stuff isn't for sale, it's for the parties. Have you seen the film "La Grande Bellezza"? This is what I imagine going on in here. 
  And if you have not seen this film…well, do yourself a favor.

  Seriously, room after room of nothing but really cool places to sit and mingle…of course, here, in these photos, there is no party going on…but I have a damn good idea of how it could be. Especially after seeing the old school turntables and stacks of vinyl...

  Anyway…I'm going to figure out who I need to know to be invited to one of these parties. 
  It will make one hell of a blog post, no doubt.

  In the meantime, I'll just go back and enjoy it as is.

 If you are anywhere near Lago Trasimeno….check this place out!! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Favorite Walk Near Panicale

  We've had a change in the weather. It's sort of gone back to a feeling of winter…colder, wetter and wicked winds, too. I know this will pass, and spring will return. We have been through this pattern before. This is nothing like last year's "Winter Vortex" that lasted way beyond May, even. 
  We were really happy to have our first week and a half of warmer than normal weather, though. What a treat.

  It gave us a chance to take one of our favorite walks, up to the old cemetery on the hill. I wrote about it on one of our previous trips, here.
  The walk is just strenuous enough to get the heart pumping, which is always good. Plus, the views of this side of the valley are stunning. The day these were taken, it had been quite warm, and there was a haze of smoke from olive tree clippings being burned in the morning. Still, it had a dreamy quality...

  There are so many olive groves around Panicale. This walk goes through a few, and I always enjoy the wildflowers coming up beneath the trees.

These trees haven't been pruned yet, from what I can tell.

  On the way up to the spot we were walking to, it has a few choice hills, with a pretty good incline. Gets you ready for the benches at the top. 
  I was looking down, most of the time, expecting to see a snake…it was that sort of warm day in spring when you might glimpse a snake…if you know what I mean. Sadly, I only saw lizards, but they are a very lovely shade of green here.

Up, up, up…but no snakes.

   I'll tell you what I did see for the very first time…"cinghiale" tracks! These are wild boars, best know for the pasta sauce that is made from them, poor things.

  We have heard them once, when we were taking a night time stroll in the area just outside of Panicale. It scared me to death, just hearing it. You could tell it was big and also fast and most probably nasty.
  We turned tail that night and walked/ran back home. They make an evil sounding grunt-snort-cough sort of sound.
  Let's just say, seeing the hoof prints is close enough for me, thank you.

Nearby, the leaves and wet dirt underneath were all dug up.
I assume the fellow was rooting around for grubs and worms..

  At the top of the hill, where the old cemetery is, there are two benches to sit on and enjoy the views. The sun was warm, we were ready for a little bite to eat…it was perfect.
  It was even more perfect when Peter, a fellow that lives nearby, came walking up, too. He told Johnny all sorts of wonderful historical tales about the place. 
  It was nice.

Pear, walnuts and some local pane di formaggio…cheese bread. Yum.

  Johnny always sketches or paints here. This day, I think he just sketched. We both spent a good bit of time reading in the sun, too. Heaven.

  Back on the trail, we worked our way down to home. It's a fairly easy hike, as I said, but a real special one. We'll go back up several times before we leave, I'm certain.

  It will change quickly, with the deciduous trees leafing out, and the bulk of the wildflowers still to come. I can't wait for the red poppies!

  Also, this is the trail with one of the great views of Panicale, itself. On a clear day, the lake with it's islands seem close enough to touch. I have taken way too many pictures here.
  This time Johnny wanted to take one of me, which I don't always like….but it was such a nice day….

My goofy old self.

And here's the "Money Shot" again!
Just at the end of the hike. What a gift.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some Home Cooking, So Far...

I'll admit it, right up front…I love to eat out. Here, there…every where. 
  If there is the slightest chance that I can get a decent meal there, I would gladly go to hell today with a smile on my face. 

  Here in Umbria, we tend to fix meals at home more often. I'm not at "work" all day, so I have the luxury of time to go to the market and see what's fresh, as well as take the little extra time to cook up something different. 

  Sometimes (like, all the time….), at home on a work night, I just fix us some soup from a can. It's good, organic "Amy's" soup, but still…It's kind of embarrassing….Don't get me wrong, I'll make a nice salad and have some good whole grain bread(well, every once in the while..), but it can get pretty routine. 
  And here I sit, writing a blog that has an awful lot to do with food…who do I think I'm fooling?
  OK! I'm a cheater! Is that so wrong?!?
  I love to eat, but I may not totally love to cook. I think I'm just kind of lazy….Whew. I said it.

  So, now that I have confessed my biggest sin as an adult, can we puleeeze move forward?

  Here, below are some easy-peasy home cooked meals that I've whipped up in the past week or so...

  I've really been enjoying the produce markets, like always. There is a farmer's market close by almost every other day, so it's easy to get caught up in the beautiful choices, and before you know it, you have too much. 

  This year I'm trying to just shop for a day or two at a time, as the locals have done for centuries. I love that there are certain things only available for a month or so, like the foraged greens and such…they are a wonderful connection to the region.
  We are seeing fava beans coming on, as well as the small, pointy purple artichokes, and the wild asparagus…but I'm staying with some tried and true veg in this first dish….

Zucchini, tomatoes, onions and garlic..good local olive oil and fresh marjoram.

Saute until you get a little caramelization...

Also have some polenta going on the side….

And, Presto!…a super simple dinner for a chilly evening
in front of the fire. Just add a glass of wine, and a fennel salad...

  I actually bring my Japanese style mandoline, because it's so easy to pack, and I love to make these shaved fennel salads. I dress them with freshly squeezed blood orange juice, a few drops of olive oil, and some parmesan. Salt & pepper to taste… this is a quick and satisfying dish. Super fresh.

  Last week at the Tavernelle market, they had piles of rapè, a cousin to broccoli "rabe" that we get in the states. It's bitter and tastes like it has to be good for you. I like to braise it with lots of garlic and onion, a splash of water and olive oil….it gets nice and soft, perfect for a frittata. 

  The eggs here still blow my little pea brain..the yolks are soooo orange!
  Anyway, I had fixed said frittata one night, knowing we would have plenty left over for another meal. With the weather being so grand (well, until a day ago…), we went out for a painting/picnic foray. It was nice to stop and enjoy our lunch on a bench in Villastrada, a favorite nearby town...

Leftover frittata is always best! I made a small tomato salad, and added in
the wonderful and much loved onion/sage "pizza" from our local baker.

Can you say "Y.U.M."?

   See? I can cook, when I want to. And, oh….I want to, when I'm here!

  Another lunch is another favorite while here.
  I have posted before about our beloved Fontemanna, the nearby family operated dairy that makes the most awesome cheeses and yogurts from their very well treated sheep…we love their whole scene, and always want to share them with the world…
  Anyway, soon after (like about ten minutes) our first visit, I made a very fine lunch featuring their very fine cheese...

Our initial purchases from Fontemmana..
Yogurt, semi-ripe pecorino, and their freshest and softest "Primosale".

This is sort of like a mozzarella, but from sheep's milk.
 It's also saltier, which I like very much.

Take the Primosale cheese, add some tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and arugula..
We have a salad to die for.

  At the same outdoor market that I got the greens for the frittata, I couldn't help buying some agretti, which is only available for about three minutes, it seems. Seriously, we will see it at the markets for a couple of weeks, and then it's done. 
  Traditionally, it's cooked up and dressed with olive oil and lemon. This is what I do, too…only I like to serve it with polenta, which I'm not certain is traditional, but it sure tastes great.

My agretti score. First taste is free, baby!

  I rinse it well, cut it into smaller pieces, and sautĂ© with lots of garlic…once it turns bright green and is wilted, it's done. Toss with lemon and very good olive oil…fantastic!

Agretti and garlic, ready for the pan...

   With it's grassy, briny flavor, I think it's a perfect companion for polenta.

Seriously delicious.

  So, right now it's late Sunday night…tomorrow is Tavernelle market day. What will I find? I'll let you know. Plus, the cheese place is nearby the market, and we are in need of more yogurt and cheese!
  I really can't wait.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Little Rain….A Little Drive

  A little rain……Sigh.
  Those of you who have followed this blog for the last few years know two things:
  I am afraid of thunder & lightening &
  We had way too much rain on our last trip here.

  Ironic, because back in California, where we live, there has not been rain for months and months. Our Governor has declared a state wide emergency. We would kill for a little rain.

  So, with this in mind, I couldn't help posting these two videos I took yesterday.
I reality, we had taken a lovely drive up to Castel Rigone, an old hill town way up above Passegnano sul Lago. The views from there were as awesome as Aldo, our guru when it comes to day trips, had promised.
We spent about two hours here, just walking the streets, and having the requisite glass of wine at the local watering hole….
  Sure, there were some clouds out there, but it was nice and warm, with nothing in the way of wind.

Looking in to the main Piazza, Castel Rigone.
See the sun? The pretty blue skies?

Another photo of a beautiful day in Castel Rigone…..

  Looking back, I'm so glad we left when we did…it would have been a scary and for me, quite brutal, drive down those extremely narrow and winding roads that hugged the cliffs…no railings to be seen,
 in the rain we came across later!

  Anyway, it was nice enough to stop in San Feliciano for another glass of wine, and a quick visit with our pal, who works at our favorite cafe there. We could see that the sky was getting darker, and it also looked like it was coming down, across the lake in Castiglione del Lago. Where we were sitting, it was still nice….people strolling in the park, kids playing all over the place. Nice!

Getting ready to enjoy a late afternoon glass of vino, with my book.
(ps…I love how they always bring you treats, too)

I had to take my yearly "frame" shot, and it captures the clouds
on their way, too….

I was even able to do one of my favorite things …playing with ant hills.
What can I say, it's the ever-present
 thirteen year old boy in me…..

  While we were just starting to think about heading back to Panicale, I felt a couple of raindrops, which got us moving faster. We paid up our bill, and within minutes, it began to get serious. I was so happy that we found had scored a parking place close by!

  The heavens opened wide, and we were in the throes of it! 
  In the first video, we are stopped at an area that had a big mud slide, from before. But the workers are still at it, so they have only one lane open, so we were waiting for the light to turn green. We had already been treated to one very good crack of thunder, so I was pretty nervous, though it sounds like I'm having a fun time!

  Just a mile or two later, we are soon seeing the blue skies, in the direction of Panicale, and you can watch as the rain really eases up.

  The weather in March can be crazy, for sure. We expect to have a few colder, windier and wetter days, but it's all fine. We have had fantastic days so far, and know that it will only get better soon.

  It's just Umbria in the Springtime!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lunch At: Rosso di Sera, Finally!

  Back in 2010, when I was first looking into Panicale and the surrounding are, one of the restaurants that caught my attention was Rosso di Sera (Red of Evening), on the shores of Lago Trasimeno. 

  Naturally, they specialize in fish, but also offer some contemporary takes on local, regional cuisine. They are part of the ever growing Slow Food movement in Italy, featuring local, heirloom-produce based dishes, and seasonal cooking.
  They are located just past San Feliciano, on the way to Passignano sul Trasimeno.

  Basically this means it's right on the lake, between two great lakeside towns. We were so happy to be here, just a day or two into our trip, on a lovely warm day…when we passed by the restaurant and saw it was open for lunch, it was a must stop. 

We could tell right away that we were in for something a little less traditional….

  We popped our heads in, and had a quick chat with the darling owner, who was more than happy to in form us that there were many choices for vegetarians…..too true!

I love a menu with zippo translation, and great prices, to boot!
 Plus, it changes all the time.

  The front area has a small bar and some really cool art work. We chose to sit out on the covered porch, which had open walls with views onto the lake, nearby...

A lovely dining room with old tables, a mix of chairs and fantastic light fixtures..
With a view on the lake, too. We want to come back at night.

  We were a couple of very happy campers, ready for anything…..we felt relaxed and hungry, having just come from a good hike about the old town nearby. The day was warm, fragrant with spring flowers, and tempting us to just go for it!
  We ordered a half carafe of the house white, to start the adventure...

I'm hungry and happy!

I'm just glad to be sitting right here, right now!

  Ok, we have been told that you just shouldn't order things to "share" in Italian restaurants….but we have small appetites, though mighty…..and we always share things at home in the States. For the most part, we will feel the situation out. This is a casual "osteria", and the owner was so helpful with the menu…we knew it would be ok to split a few things.

  This being said, if I knew how totally amazing this onion with pecorino creme crostata was going to be….well I'm going back just for this dish. 
  And I may order two, just for myself.

Half of a slice of the onion tart with a pecorino creme.
Really, one of the best things I've ever tasted. 

  After getting over how great the crostata was, we delved into our next course.

  I had an artichoke "lasagnetta". I assumed this would be thin layers of pasta with some form of artichoke inside. 
  It was a surprise to be served the crispy fried pasta "disks", with a very tasty artichoke puree and melted cheeses between the layers. 
  Not at all what I expected, but really good. The tomato fonduta was just a little sweet, a little spicy…a very fine combo of textures and flavors.

Not your Nonna's lasagna….
And yes, the "shine" is olive oil….


  Surprisingly, Johnny ordered soup, which was a cavolo nero (black cabbage) and bean…the bean being black-eyed peas, of all things. Light, subtle and super "clean" tasting, we switched plates half way through our meal.
  I enjoyed the simplicity of this soup. Outstanding flavors, and very typical.

Perfect and uncomplicated.

  We asked about contorni, or veggie side dishes. We were offered a chef's special of that day, roasted eggplant and tomatoes, baked with a little cheese on top. Sounded great to us, so…."Yes"!
  What we were served was a small casserole which was delightfully rich and decadent….not the sliced and roasted veg we are used to here. I would return to have this dish again.

Hot and bubbly, just out of the oven….

With fresh herbs….another perfect dish we shared.

  We finished every bite, and decided on ordering a dessert just because the guys at the table next to us did. It looked so good….We had what they had….
   While waiting, we relaxed and enjoyed the views onto the lake...

Dreamy, right?
 Well, I think so, anyway…feels to me like a different century altogether...

  We happily awaited our espressos and chocolate torta, just letting the soft winds from the lake roll over us.
  When our dessert was served, we were in a state of contentment, full, giddy, and uber-relaxed.
  In reality, I think we may have just been jet-lagged, but what the hell…we were happy.

Not too sweet, and just rich enough to know
you're being indulgent.

Oh, that crust was to die for, I gotta say.

  All in all, I'm sorry we didn't try this place sooner, but we will definitely return.
 For info on Rosso di Sera, the best I could find is their Facebook page, here. It gives you the info you need for your visit, when you are in the Lago Trasimeno area. Go!!