Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beautiful Scenes/March 2016

  Sure, the weather has been crazy…one day nice and sunny, the next bone-chilling wind and rains…Sigh.
  That's what to expect in Italy in March. We are used to it by now, and come prepared with proper outer wear and good books to read by the fire. And dominoes to play at the bar, where it's warm always.
  Upside to these wacky weather days…some great opportunities for photographing the beautiful countryside here.

  Everyday, first thing we do is see what is happening over Lago Trasimeno, because we can get at least some idea of what the weather might be doing…..We just walk out to the walls of the village and gaze across the valley.

I likey my panoramic setting on the new camera.

  The local country side is slowly changing, and I'll keep taking shots to record the season.
  These photos are all from the past few weeks, and the big changes are starting now that the sun is coming out and the ground is warming up.

This lonely beauty has already lost her blooms…

  The farmers have finally begun in earnest to plow the fields. The land has dried enough that the tractors can do their work without getting bogged down.
  I love the color of the soil here, especially contrasted with the wheat fields and olive trees.

A view I never get tired of…morning walk.

Vertical and horizontal lines…Love.

I can totally see why Johnny says
he could paint these views for the rest of his life….
These scenes have both an ancient and modern feel.

Reflections on the lake in the background..A nice day.
A timeless view.

Paciano, our neighboring village, in the background.

A peek through the foliage…morning walk.

  As we head into April, I see all the local trees starting to leaf out. It seems like this happens overnight, but it's been happening all month in reality.

Perfect light hitting these beauties down at the lakeside.

  Tomorrow I'll begin photographing the changes that will happen in April…I can't wait to watch all the local wisteria come on, as well as the start of the red poppies and wild sweet peas in all the fields. 

  For tonight, I'll end with a couple of sunset views…..

Local olive trees at sunset.

The sun setting over Lago di Chiusi.
 A nice way to end a day, especially with Mr. J and a glass of wine.
Ciao, March 2016...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It' All About The Cheese…Ruzzolone 2016

  This year the annual Ruzzolone, a cheese rolling competition/extravaganza, took place yesterday, Monday 28 March, here in Panicale.

  The day started out pretty, then took a turn towards cold, windy, and just a little wet. Thankfully by 3pm, it calmed down to just being sort of chilly. These are tough folks, so there was a decent turnout, despite the weather….
  From what I could discern, there were two teams. One skewed older, one younger….they took turns flinging the cheese as far as it would roll, around part of the outer walls of town. Whoever made the two...or was it three?...times around, won. 
  The cheese is rolled, then they mark where it lands, so the next team can take it's turn, and then the first team goes from the first spot, etc, etc, etc. Wine is passed around, there is lots of loud trash talk, and all is in good fun.
  It's tradition, and it's a blast to watch.

A younger team member prepares to roll the sixteen pound wheel of cheese.

  I was almost too close…I heard the whip of the rolling strap thingy, and felt lucky it didn't take out my eye…!

  I have written about this event a couple of times, and I do enjoy seeing the now familiar faces of the fellows on the teams.
  I assume these guys have known each other for years, if not their entire lives. The joking and teasing is all part of the scene...

The players all wear their cheese rolling 'straps' proudly throughout the day.

  Slowly working their way around the main walls of town.
  PS..That wisteria on the right will be stunning in about another week...

  It's a tough job, but this gentleman, below, seems to be enjoying his roll as the red team leader, and pretty much the guy that keeps things moving along. Between glasses of white wine, of course...

  This throw, below, was a classic. The cheese went along it's merry way, right into a culvert type hole on the side of the road...

 Of course, the next throw came from the next guy, below, who had to climb into the culvert and heave the cheese up and out….for a pretty sad roll, indeed….
  Lots of hilarity ensued, of course!

I think he kind of enjoyed being down there.

  This goes on for hours. We watch the first go around, and then kind of fade out and head back to the piazza. But I sure do enjoy taking photos along the way.

The cheese rolling strap.
No, I don't know how it works.

Every year the cheese takes a wrong turn
and bounces down this hill, into an olive grove.
This year, it happened no less than three times. Here, folks are just
waiting for someone to retrieve and toss it back up.

  Everyone seems to have a good time, and I always enjoy seeing all the locals out and about, cheering, yelling and generally making lots of noise. 

  Our pals Roberto & Giulia, rent the Little Pink House every year, and have begun a tradition of their own, serving wine to all who pass by.
  You can see everyone on the terrace in the background, enjoying the show, below….

  Once the cheese and it's various tossers found their way back up the hill, we found our way to Bar Gallo to enjoy the sounds from the ongoing festivities at an outdoor table.
  A very good day, indeed!

This is one very tired cheese.
You did your job well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Gift Becomes Dinner

  Asparagi di Bosco…..Wild asparagus foraged from the woods.
  You know it's spring in Umbria, friends.

  What a treat, and how quickly it comes and goes from the weekly outdoor markets in our area. I'd been eyeing them the last two weeks, but hadn't yet bought any…when we were delighted to receive this gorgeous bunch from dear Daniele and Aldo.
  We were really touched….

  What a perfect way to spend a very rainy and cold afternoon…getting all prepped for dinner later on.

So pretty!

  Unlike the cultivated varieties we find at the grocery stores here and back home, these are truly a wild thing. Locals park their cars along the country roads to head into the woods and play hide & seek with these elusive greens. Everyone has a secret spot, I'm certain.

  They can be tough and woody at the far end of the stems, and the flavor is of the woods and fields. Almost grassy, but with the familiar asparagus taste, though very subtle.
  Because of the tough stems, I always steam the top half until they are tender, and use the rest for broth.

At this point, an ice bath is a good idea to stop the cooking process.
Now they are ready for any dish you choose. Tonight it was risotto.

  I decided to make a simple risotto with the asparagus, and also some leeks. It's such a perfect combination.

Leeks sautéing in good olive oil.

  I like to use the stems and skins, etc. of whatever vegetables I'm making risotto with for the broth I'll be using in the dish. Here, it's just the tougher parts of the leeks and asparagus.

I kept it on a simmer for a couple of hours, then set aside to drain for later.

  Once the leeks were cooked until tender, I just added in the steamed asparagus to get them all mixed together. Later this will be added to the risotto.

Sautéed yumminess.

  I use Arborio rice most of the time. I'm used to it, and I like the nutty flavor.
  As always, just toast the uncooked rice in olive oil until it gets a translucent look and a slight fragrance.

Keep it moving! You must stir so it doesn't burn.

Add a cup of your favorite…in this case a fine local white… wine.

  I will assume you sort of know how to do all this…slowly add broth and let the rice absorb, etc….

  After adding the vegetables from earlier, the risotto came together beautifully, and the fragrance was amazing.

I like to add a good chunk of butter and a healthy handful of parmesan
right at the end. Just a little 'soupy', too.

Did I mention good parmesan?
 Here…it's a-may-zing.

  All I can say is :
  Grazie, Daniele and Aldo!!!! 
  Questo regalo era perfetto per Johnny ed io!

Risotto con Asparagi di Bosco e Porri!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Walks In The Sun

  It's early, about 6:30 in the morning, and the rains came back sometime in the night.
  It's all good, there are no cold winds accompanying this time around.

  While sitting cozy in bed, I thought I'd share some short videos from the fields. Taken over the last week, while it was sunny and Johnny was painting…I sure like to take my little walks...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Light Lunch in Monticchiello

  Last weekend, we took a drive over to Tuscany…. to Bagno Vignoni actually, to check out what was happening at the contemporary art venue 'Art House' that is there.
  It was a beautiful day, though cold, and we always enjoy that drive. Art House, unfortunately, had just  taken down the show we thought we would see, and won't reopen until later in April…oh, well…We enjoyed a glass of proseco in the enoteca and decided to head back to Monticchiello for lunch at La Cantina del la Porta….which was closed, of course.

  Sometimes…..things don't go the way you want. I hadn't called to see if they were open yet, and so there you have it. It's still early in the season.

  What we did find open was a newer addition to this tiny village, La Guardiola. I think it's been here for two or three years, but we'd never eaten here.
  Back in the day, this was the location of the local bar, and we would stop for a glass of proseco or wine every time we came to town. Things change, and now it's become a more modern and upscale establishment. All well and good, I suppose….but I sort of liked the old local bar scene from years gone by….

  Anyway, we just wanted something light, and after checking out the menu posted, we went for it.

    Johnny loves a nice cheese plate, so we started with that, accompanied by a half litre of the house white…..

Three stages of pecorino, as well as three goat cheeses.
 The local honey and marmalades were nice.

  I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would… the cheeses really had nice differences in flavor, and I especially liked the goat cheese.

A nice way to begin a light meal on a cold day.

  We thought we might just share a salad and soup, and what a great idea. The salad, which included radicchio, apples, and small cubes of pecorino was fresh, crispy and tasty.
  It was also huge…perfect to share!

  I had a tough time choosing between the ribollita, a wonderful winter soup with beans, veggies including Tuscan kale and bread…. or papa al pomodoro, a tomato based soup also made with bread.
  These are classic Italian soups of the 'cucina povera', or poor kitchen. Back then, the bread was used to stretch the soup for a few days. 
  They are both yummy on a cold day.
  I went for the tomato, even though tomatoes are out of season…I hoped that the base was from a passata made earlier in the summer….Whatever it was made from, I loved it. It had that summer tomato flavor, with the silkiness of the cooked and softened bread which basically melts into the soup..

Oh, yes.

  We passed our dishes back and forth several times, each feeling totally satisfied by the end of our meal.


I'd like to see what's on the menu later in the season. The service was great, super nice young people running the place…the views are to die for, and the food was done right. 
  We'll see…in this bitty little village, they have some mighty competition….I hope the best for them, and most likely we will return.

 La Guardiola is located just outside the main porto in Monticchiello.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Giromagi Still Excites

  Boy, I must admit, I feel like I am doing the whole Hollywood thing of regurgitating movies that have already been made…. BUT…
  …Sometimes the places I like to write about change, or are just so fantastic, that I need to revisit. 

  This includes walks, trattorias and, in this case, a fantastic nursery/design center nearby.

They just keep getting better!

  The absolutely amazing Giromagi, on the road to Cortona from Castiglione del Lago, is a must visit for anyone at all interested in either dry garden design…or vintage Italian design gone modern.

  As I have mentioned before, this is both a garden design nursery as well as a vintage furniture dreamland/party palace.

  Let's begin with the nursery….

They have redone the entry, and it does not disappoint...

A perfect combination of well grown cactus, succulents and rusty steel…
Not to mention tasty terracotta pots in all shapes and sizes.

  New since last visit…the shipment container turned art/design room….with a baby grand, and good abstract art, of course.

Tiny bits of turquoise blue glass add whimsy….

Just so cool!
I'll take it. All!

  Just walking the grounds we come across fine examples of texture and color and glorious design ideas...

Old wood + cactus = magic.

  Then we venture inside….where the real magic happens...

Who doesn't love the combination of funky vintage chandeliers and cactus displays?

Serious collection of cactuses.

Why not toss in an old motorcycle?????

These Barrel Cactus are HUGE.
Really huge...

Can't I bring home one or two……?

   On this visit, there were several designers working with clients. I understand why. As you venture further along, you get more and more of an idea of the esthetic here. Lots of cactus and succulents combined with big rusty things and distressed wooden stuff.
  My idea of a very good time, indeed….

Oh, forgot to mention the large canvases of good abstract art.
Yeah, it's heavenly.

Another old rusty motorbike…Why not?


  And lots of smaller items, too. Plus inspiring displays all around…

I fell in love with these ceramic bird spheres.

Room after room of mind boggling beauty.

  Going inside…you get to enjoy the vintage furniture, etc. We have been told that they throw big events here. This stuff is not really for sale, it's for big parties. 
  If true…Dude, how do we get on the invite list!?!

  So. Anyway…. you have to visit, if you find yourself anywhere near Castiglione del Lago or Cortona…it's a ten-twenty minute drive…And a must.