Lake Trasimeno’s Isola Maggiore, an Island of Peace

June 18, 2012

In the early thirteenth century, San Francesco di Assisi left behind the woes of the world for forty days of isolation and contemplation on a tranquil island in the middle of Lake Trasimeno. The visitor can still see the rock where St. Francis stepped when getting out of the rowboat upon arrival. There might be doubts about that rock but not about the peace San Francesco must have felt upon arrival: the same peace which still infuses any visitor as the ferry pulls into verdant Isola Maggiore. read more...

Assisi Floral Passione, Spanning the Ages

June 14, 2012

Passione takes hold of one early in Italy: passione for good food, for soccer, for the frescoes in your town church, for music, for one's village festival - and even for flowers. Flowers of all colors, picked in the fields, on thorny bushes, in your grandmother's garden, way up in the mountains off a twisty, dusty dirt road. Young children pick after a hot sweaty hike with a grandmother, teens zip along country roads on their motorbikes in search of specific flowers, specific colors and elderly Gina picks them as she scrambles like a goat up a rocky mountain path with walking stick in hand and cloth bag on her back. Everyone brings the flowers back into Assisi and then gather at night in the old medieval cellars to de-petal the blooms, grinding some, shredding others, drying or chilling as needed to enhance color, preserve the perfume. read more...

La Gallina Vecchia

June 11, 2012

"La gallina vecchia fa buon brodo," ("an old hen makes a good broth") says an old Italian adage, lauding the wisdom of a sage elderly woman. But an old hen does make the best broth as the meat of a young chicken will slip off the bones while the chicken pieces simmer with carrot, celery, half an onion and a small ripe tomato or two (added for color as well as flavor). My Sicilian husband, Pino, remembers that years ago, chicken broth was brought to the family of the deceased as the first food to eat after the funeral and burial of a loved one. After death - hopefully, in the family home, so that the women of the family can wash and dress the body - relatives sat all night with the deceased and relatives and friends would fill the house the next day. Burial was generally within forty-eight hours. Little to no food was eaten in the home during the mourning time before burial. read more...

Cantine Aperte in Umbria

June 5, 2012

This past May, fifty-one Umbrian wine cellars threw open their cantina doors, invited visitors into their vineyards and uncorked bottles of crisp whites and robust reds for the thousands joining in on Cantine Aperte ("Open Cellars"). The festival - launched twenty years ago by Movimento Turismo Vino - is targeted at the diffusion of the culture of wine and developing familiarity with Italy's great wine regions. Bringing to life the slogan "Vedi che bevi" ("See what you drink"), over nine hundred Italian wine cellars welcomed more than a million visitors on the last Sunday in May, 2011. read more...

Feasting in Purgatory

May 31, 2012

Leaving Gradoli, picturesque Latium hilltown on the western shore of Lake Bolsena, you might miss that old stone ruin on the left, but if you stop - as a friend and I did recently - you can feast in Purgatory. That is, at Il Purgatorio. Once a 15th-century monastery in ruins (old arches still remain), una cooperativa of five men, co-workers and friends, rented the building from the Comune di Gradoli and opened their restaurant about twenty years ago. read more...

San Terenziano Celebrates PORCHETTIAMO

May 26, 2012

La porchetta, noble street food of Umbria and central Italy in general, stars in the May festival of San Terenziano, "Porchettiamo". Best translated as "Let us roast suckling pig it", your Italian/English dictionary won't have a translation and you don't need one: just head to San Terneziano to experience "porchettiamo" with the "locals" in this tiny hilltown near Todi. La porchetta (pork roasted on the spit, generously seasoned with garlic, rosemary, sage and wild fennel) and panini di porchetta draw the crowds to the stalls of vendors - or to their customized moveable trucks - in the piazzas, streets and weekly outdoor open markets all over central Italy. La porchetta is omnipresent at every Umbrian fiera, the traditional outdoor market on a saint's feast day (or the day before or after the feast). read more...

Gubbio’s La Corsa dei Ceri:   May Passione   Reigns

May 21, 2012

During Gubbio's May 15th Corsa dei Ceri ("race of the candlesticks"), passione comes in all sizes - from just-hatched little ones to the elderly - and in three colors: yellow, royal blue and black. You'll see more than one infant in a yellow kerchief and tiny yellow satin shirt and you might see a pre-schooler straddling his grandpas's shoulders, both in bright royal blue shirts. An enthusiastic group of small children in black shirts, traditional Ceri white pants and red neck scarves clapping excitedly, danced to the music of the band on the steps of a medieval backstreet as I wandered Gubbio on the afternoon of May 15th. Passione for the Ceri starts early - and lasts a lifetime. The marching brass bands trumpeting thoughout Gubbio during la Festa dei Ceri inflame that passione. read more

Wild Asparagus Bliss, Then and Now

May 14, 2012

Feeling itchy and sweaty, scratched arms and legs, and hands pricked by thorns can all herald bliss: When you scramble up out of the woods, scratched hands clutching a big bunch of tender wild asparagus. Cool weather these days is ideal for foraging for asparagi selvatici: less chance of meeting a viper. Years ago, our farm neighbors taught us the precautions for wild asparagus-hunting: wear high rubber boots and carry a stick to thrash around near the base of the prickly plants before putting hands among the rocks and leaves to pluck the tender asparagus shoots. Vipers move into the cool of the woods in hot weather, they warned. read more...

Assisi Saturday Nights: Eating and Dancing with “the Locals”

May 9, 2012

The Saturday night ballroom dancing season up at Catecuccio, mountain area behind Assisi, starts in mid-October and goes on until late spring. Our farm neighbors gather for banquet dinners of Umbrian rural cuisine, followed by ballroom dancing to a live orchestra. The very elderly to the very young animate the dance floor. read more...