Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Tough Goodbye

  Back home in California now for several days…still feeling a bit out of sorts. 
  Jet lag? 
  I don't know…I think it might just be a sadness that comes with the fact that wanting to be in two places at one time is just not possible…
  Saying goodbye to Umbria was really hard this year. We made so many great memories…met so many fine new friends….revisited favorite spots from years before…it's a tough goodbye. 
  We have two lives now. Each has it's own wonderful rewards, but it's becoming more and more difficult to live "in-between", I think…..

  Plus, I've been frustrated because my laptop conked out in Italy the last couple of weeks, which made it impossible to write/blog there…or see photos, etc. Finally got it back from the computer hospital here, so I can do some catching up on this bloggy…This is a long one, dear readers…..

  On one of our last days in Panicale, we took a favorite walk, and found some places to set the camera up for pictures of the both of us. Ten seconds to pose….and….SMILE!

Taking the walking sticks back out to the forest

A nice stroll up the hill above Panicale...

The walking sticks are back where they belong, and
it's time to get moving on...

Up near the top, at the old cemetery.
I'm going to miss this walk….

  It's not that I feel sorry for myself….that would be silly. I can't imagine I'd get much sympathy on this one. But... I think it's ok to be a little sad about leaving. 
  The weather was turning warmer, we were beginning to enjoy life outdoors in the evenings…nice. Plus, all the roses were coming on very strong.

Looking at Panicale through rose colored roses.

The roses in Roy & Diana's garden

  I really enjoyed visiting gardens of friends in town. Though I had every intention of doing much more, I really dropped the ball on working more in these gardens. I did get to do a little weed pulling here and there, but not near what I meant to do. I love having the opportunity to hang out in the gardens, chatting  about plants, and just getting my hands in the dirt. 
  I miss my own garden while in Italy, so it's a nice way to spend an hour here and there...

One of the prettiest gardens in the walls of Panicale.
I love this garden, and adore it's owners, too.
Thanks, Goode & Jurgen….

Here is my own little "garden"…. I hope the next
guests enjoy and water it a little….

  Another favorite garden belongs to Mariolina.  She is a wonderful gardener in her own right, and we spent some nice afternoons here. Plus a very special Birthday Evening, too. Lots of friends, great weather, good proseco and tasty treats for all….

It's a garden party…with a view, too.

A special evening for a very special gal.

Food & Friends...

The radiant Birthday Girl herself.
And such a great person.

 Most nights we spent in front of the fire, reading books or getting frustrated by the internet connection,  or lack thereof, which came and went on it's own odd schedule. Damn You, Internet!

  It's so quiet at night, just the occasional echoing sounds of someone walking along the cobblestones towards town. 

Love the fires at night.

 This year we did much more socializing, which was very nice. It gave me more chances to share in some cooking, and also made us both feel more a part of the community…seemed like every week there was a dinner party going on.
  So, anyway, we were always happy to have an excuse to go to a friends house for a little food, drink, and conversation...

We had a blast visiting Giullia & Roberto…plus we were able to
revisit the place we stayed  back in 2012.

Everyone chipped in to make this fine meal happen

Boys Gone Wild.
Really. Johnny was in rare form this particular evening.
Watch out, Roberto!

  One night, we got together with a group of friends at Il Pellicano, a favorite pizza place about ten minutes drive from Panicale. This place is classic, and perfect for large groups. It gets noisy fast, and stays that way until the wee hours….we like it because there are a zillion different types of pizza, and half a zillion are vegetarian.
   Rumor has it that Mario Batali has "stolen" several of the pizza recipes from here, and charges ten times as much at his place, of course! Trust me, he can't come close to copying the wild ambiance here.
  This was a long, loud and ridiculous night….fun though.

Where's my pizza?!?
And we look like such a nice group of people….sigh...

  This is part of the reason it was harder to say goodbye to Italy this year, I guess. We connected with so many people, new and old friends…the older friends became closer to us, and we look forward to seeing the new folks we met again next time. Certain people come and go at certain times, so you start to get to know who will be arriving when, or leaving when…
  The Europeans are so close…so lucky to be just a couple of hours away. Like us driving to Sonoma for a family visit. Pretty sweet. They can come and go several times a year.

  As our time to leave got closer and closer, I had to take some pictures of the familiar faces we look forward to seeing again….

Our dear pals, Katia & Massimo…
Ciao, Carissimi!

Trust me, you don't want to know…
"I Fratelli".

Hanging in front of Bar Gallo with Tonino & Ruth.
Two of the sweetest people you'll ever meet.
Tall, too…..

A very special day out to visit a wonderful Artist.
The studio, at the left, is magical, as well as the entire property.
Thanks, Renata, Goode & Jurgen, for giving us this treat.

Margaret, you rock.
Can't wait to spend more time together…ASAP!

  Our last night in Panicale, we were meeting our friends Kath, Richard & Gill. We had several people tell us they wanted to say goodbye, before we left, so we told them we would be at Aldo's ….we didn't expect such a large group to show up, but it warmed our hearts.
  I'm just so glad I was able to get this photo, below….

Spending a last few moments at Bar Gallo with Kath, Richard & Gill…
Next year, friends!! We will see you then!

  And of course, we had to take a couple of shots of the ultimate Baristas…Sandra & Andrea….wish I had one of Rita, too….

Ciao, Sandra!

Don't be a bad boy, Andrea!!

  We will miss our four footed pals, too….

Sleep well, ZaZa…..

You, too, Micha…...

  Don't know where we'll stay next time, but we did feel like we were at home in our apartment, Casa del Sarto. 

One of many apartments and farmhouses that
Katia manages...

I already miss the views on our many daily walks around the walls.

  What's a heart sick gal to do? I guess get back to work, so we can go back. Also, enjoy the beauty and bounty of our home, here. I get it, really. I just need a few more days to disengage.
  And I look forward to writing and posting more photos..there's so much more to share.

See you soon, Umbria….

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Springtime Risotto

  Heading into our last week or so here in Umbria, the weather has decided to get a little winter-y…again (though the forecast does have a few nice, sunny days showing…). We are very slowly realizing that it rains here in Umbria, on and off, all the time. Explains why it's always so green.
  So, instead of taking a ride somewhere, Johnny is finishing up some paintings here at the apartment, and I'm making a big pot of soup. It smells great, and with the sound of rain, seems very fitting. Plus, I have a chance to write, pay some bills, and just chill out. 
  A couple of days ago, on yet another rainy day, I walked to the market to get some ingredients for a springtime risotto. Peas, carrots, asparagus..and carnaroli rice, which I prefer over arborio for risotto. With some nice jazz on the radio and a good fire going,  I had Johnny help me shell the beautiful peas I had bought.


Nice to have a kitchen slave…..

Perfect peas, really sweet.

  Even though most of the wild asparagus from the fields and forests in the area are done for this season,  the local markets have the more common asparagus available now. I love how inexpensive they are here, too…makes it easy to have lots around for frittata, pasta, or risotto….

Nice touch of purple.

  Anyway, I like to start with some garlic, carrots and onions…sautéed in olive oil. I save the more tender vegetables to add in near the end. In this case, the asparagus tips and the peas. You don't want to overcook them!

I start cooking up the veggies in olive oil,
just until they are getting "al dente".

 In the meantime, I take all the "unused" bits and use them to make a stock, which I'll add later on.

Way too good to put into the compost just yet.

   When the first bits of vegetables are getting good, I take them out and set them aside, so I can add a little more oil to the pot to start with the rice.

Still a little crunchy, but cooked.

  I always throw in the rice, let it cook until it starts to get somewhat "translucent", and then pour in some good white wine. Stir it while the wine gets absorbed by the rice. The wine really adds a nice flavor.

Smells fantastic at this point, too.

  Now, it's just adding a little of the strained stock, maybe a ladle at a time, and let the rice absorb it, then add another ladle, until the rice is almost cooked. We like it still with some bite to it. Not too hard, but not mushy, either. It's easy to go too far with the liquid, and turn up with sticky, gummy rice. It will taste ok, but the texture shouldn't be too soft.

Keep adding and stirring. 

  Near the end, I throw in the rest of the vegetables, as they only need a minute or two to cook. You should be testing the doneness of the rice, so you'll know when to stop adding liquid. You want the risotto to be almost soupy, served in a shallow bowl, with a bit of liquid still.

It gets harder to take photos, because of the steam!
Almost ready to serve!

Mmmmmmmmm….see all the liquid-y goodness still left?
This is what you want.

  Sadly, my "money shot" with the gorgeous risotto, sprinkled with parmesan….came out all blurry. I was too excited to just eat it! But you get the idea. It was perfect, with the peas and asparagus tips still a little crunchy, nice and flavorful. 

  I can't even begin to tell you how much rice or stock I used…enough, that's all I know. I measured the rice in a coffee mug, and have no idea about the stock…I know I used it all, and even had to add a little regular water at the very end. It was great, though. 
  Too great. What was meant to be two dinners….well…it didn't make it past one. Sigh. 
  Really, how could we not eat the whole pot? 

  And yes, the "kilos" are piling back on, friends!! Thank god we love all the walking we get to do while we are here.