Happy Thanksgiving!

23 Nov

On this day for giving thanks,
I am most grateful for the love of family and friends,
both near and far.

May your day be filled with whatever makes you happy,
and a little bit of rest at the end of the day!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Ciao,
Judy

Life Photos in Black and White

12 Nov

Let me begin by saying that I am not an avid user of Facebook. (When I was in college, people still used typewriters for term papers!) Some years ago, however, I realized that FB was a simple way to keep up with or reconnect with relatives/friends, especially those who live in different cities and time zones around the world.

Recently, I noticed a thing on FB called the Black and White Photo Challenge. Simply said, people would post a B/W photo of their everyday life, for seven consecutive days, and challenge a friend each day to do the same. No people. No explanations.

For someone who has always loved photography, this challenge struck me as interesting. And then a dear friend from the UK challenged me. 

The word “Challenge” was thought-provoking. I took it not as a contest or competition, but rather as a self-reflection. Which of my photos represent my life? 

I have always loved photography and have taken thousands of photos over the years. Before I posted my first photo, I took time rolling through years of them. It was soon clear to me that not all color photos express their meaning well in black and white, while some black and white photos lose their impact in color.

After some time, I created a file with more photos than I needed, then chose one for each of the seven days.

Rarely do I leave home knowing what I might photograph, yet I’ve always felt that I see the world through pictures. We stop frequently on our walks and thankfully, Len is very patient, only to share later, “Wow, I didn’t see that at all.”

Photos of my life. No people….and then I remembered something Ansel Adams, American photographer and environmentalist, said:

There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer.

Photos of my life. No explanations…and then something else Ansel Adams said:

“A true photograph need not be explained,
nor can it be contained in words.” 

And so I share a few more photos with you. No people. No explanations.

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And now my challenge to you – If you have a phone, camera or computer full of photos, and a bit of time, try it yourself. Look through some of your photos and select seven that represent your life. If in color, adjust them to B/W. And remember…No people. No explanation needed. 

Ciao,
Judy

 

Still Saying “I Do!”

30 Oct

Wednesday was the last night in Cortona of our 9th stay, and also happened to be our 30th anniversary. 

We began the day with a wonderful walk through the parterre, bathed in sunshine and enjoying the magnificent October weather and views.

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We ended the evening, surrounded by friends, at our favorite Tuscher Caffè.

We had told Massimo and Daniela we wanted to host a Brindisi D’Anniversario, or Anniversary Toast, with simple finger food…but of course, they always do so much more than expected. 

We arrived a bit early to find Dani and Edoardo making the final touches on the buffet…

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and Massimo ready to open the Prosecco.

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The food was not only delicious, but so creative! 

As we waited for our guests, Len rehearsed his toast. When all had assembled, we took our first group photo. Well done, Francesco!

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After more toasts and eating, Len asked for attention. He began by apologizing for his Italian, but was quickly reassured by the group that his effort was well appreciated. Toasting our friends in his best Italian, he thanked them for their sincere friendship and for making us truly feel that Cortona is our second home.

And then he turned to me, with these words, also in Italian… “You are the butter on my bread and the fire in my heart.” Melted.

While the food was being cleared, we made some attempts at gender photos…

And then we were doubly surprised by the dessert…

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First, that it was a gift from dear friends from Toronto, Carrol and Larry, and second, that all this time I thought I was married to LEN! (Technology can be great as we were able to FaceTime them in Toronto while cutting the cake!)

Such a wonderful evening, full of laughter, smiles, stories, and most of all dear friends. 

30 years ago, 

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And today…

As I reflect on the the past 30 years, what comes to mind most is how blessed we have been and how thankful we are for our loving family, our dear friends, and our ongoing adventures. 

Hoping to get just one more group photo before we departed, we stopped a person walking by outside and asked him to take a photo. It was quickly evident this was not something he was used to doing… with his finger half over the lens and quite shaky!

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But alas, with pure luck, he took this. A little finger shadow top left, but all in all, a great memory of a wonderful evening!

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Many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for their hard work…we so love having parties at Tuscher. And our heartfelt love and thanks to family and friends, whether with us at Tuscher or from far away, for the wonderful anniversary wishes. I hope they all do come true and that we have many more years to celebrate.

And yes, after 30 years, I am still saying “I Do!”

Ciao,
Judy

The 2017 Olive Harvest

23 Oct

Every year, around mid to late October, many Cortonese hope to begin harvesting their olives. I use the word hope because Mother Nature plays a huge role in the success of the harvest. While 2015 was a bountiful year, the complete opposite was true for 2016 due to the dreaded mosca (fly).  And this year, the 2017 harvest was severely limited by the drought…hence,  small quantity but good quality olives depending on the location of one’s olive grove.

Nonetheless, October begins the eagerly anticipated time “olio nuovo” (new oil) signs begin to appear in restaurants and stores. And it is also a time when locals invite friends to celebrate their production. Lucky for us, friends invited us to dinner last night, but didn’t tell us they had already been to the frantoio (mill) to begin processing their olives.

As soon as we entered the cantina, we knew we were in for a treat. The bright green color and the light peppery taste of freshly pressed olive oil is unlike that of any other oil.

 

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Lapo and Paola like to call this a peasant dinner – simple and fresh food picked from the garden or locally sourced, all designed to highlight the taste of the new oil.

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New oil is traditionally first tasted as a bruschetta  – toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with the oil. We each made our own. Delicious.

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We also added the oil to a dash of salt in tiny bowls – a wonderful dip for fresh vegetables from the garden.

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Next came what Len calls an Italian version of hummus, this one made from ceci (chickpeas), drizzled with the oil and topped with a sprig of rosemary. Can’t wait to try this myself.

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The dish that followed was a type of bread soup, pappa al pomodoro, topped with a drizzle of oil. Simple, delicious and perfect for an autumn evening. 

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Now this is Italy, remember, so you know there is more to follow, and what followed was rosemary roasted chicken and potatoes, with a splash of oil of course!

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Now not all olives are turned into oil, as was the case with these tasty herb and orange marinated olives, served as a side dish.

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For dessert, we were treated to Paola’s delicious torta della nonna, (grandmother’s cake), a traditional Tuscan dessert with a light custard. (I forgot to ask if she added a drop of the new oil to it!) Not being much of a baker, I bought the others at a local pasticceria. 

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So that’s how we celebrate the olive harvest in Cortona, enjoying what Mother Nature provides, combined with the hard work of locals who pick by hand. 

From this…

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to this. Doesn’t get much better.

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Our thanks to Lapo and Paola for an always entertaining and delicious evening together. Complimenti to the cook and grazie for your friendship!

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Ciao,
Judy

Chocolate and Red Wine – Who Knew?

12 Oct

Somewhere in my past, I picked up the notion that red wine would make a stuffy nose stuffier, so all week when Len and I had meals, I drank water. 

Two days ago, I decided to check the data, and to my surprise, here’s what I found:

Red Wine: 
Red wine actually helps fight a fight a cold. (Am I the only one that didn’t know this?) Antioxidants contained in red wine, resveratrol and polyphenols, can prevent cold and flu viruses from multiplying once they’ve entered your system. 

Interestingly, a few Italian friends suggested this “before going to bed” remedy: 

Boil a cup of red wine, (thus deleting the alcohol), add a few red pepper flakes (optional), drink down and in the morning, the cold will be gone. 

Len says this is what he plans to do if he catches my cold.

Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) is loaded with zinc and like red wine, contains a lot of antioxidants which help fight a cold. While it is advised to not overindulge, small daily portions can help boost the immune system.

So there you have it, two over-the-counter remedies to consider adding to your shopping list should the cold bug strike. But then, why wait for a cold! 

 

And no, the wine doesn’t need to be a Brunello, but when it Italy, why not?

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Fighting a Cold (raffreddore)

9 Oct

In October, when the night air turns cooler but the days are still warm, Tuscan colds are a plenty. The locals blame it on the change in weather and I’m becoming a believer. But when the sky is bright blue and the weather is in the 70’s, it’s hard to nurse a cold in bed. 

Still, not wanting to spread my germs, we headed to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch. We were also curious about the lake level due to both the summer drought and more recent rains.

What we found didn’t surprise us as Umbria and Tuscany sustained spring and summer months with virtually no rain and intense heat. The lake had not only receded, it actually uncovered sandy beach areas we had never seen before.

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After our walk, we stopped at a caffé for a light lunch, but more so to sit in the warm sun and be mesmerized by the clouds dancing on the ripples across the lake.

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Walking back to the car, I couldn’t help but stop at this structure for a few more photos.

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Tonight for dinner, we made a red and yellow pepper risotto that turned out quite well. 

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All in all, a perfect way to not have a cold ruin a beautiful day! 

Ciao,
Judy

In Love with Liguria

27 Sep

(hopefully reprinted with full photo views)

Liguria, a four-province region in northwest Italy, lies on the Ligurian sea.

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Wikipedia

It is bordered by France to the west, Piedmont to the north, and Emilia-Romana and Tuscany to the east.

Due to its breathtaking coastline, Liguria is also known as the Italian Riveria, as this narrow strip of land lies between the Mediterranean, the Alps and the Apennine mountains.

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While parts of Liguria have familiar names – Cinque Terre, Portofino, and Sanremo, others are much less known.

Liguria is the original source of pesto, and it is easy to understand when driving through some of the towns. Basil is grown in an abundance throughout the year.

Trenette is a traditional form of regional pasta served with pesto alla genovese, which can also include potatoes and green beans boiled in the same water.

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We had never been to Liguria before last week, and now it is one of our favorite places. Town after town graces the Mediterranean, yet each has its own identity. We visited several with friends, one of whom calls Liguria home.

After a literal 2-hour complete shut down of the autostrada near Arezzo, and a 5+ hour drive, we were happy to finally arrive in Loano. My first sight of the sea, albeit cloudy, brought a smile to my face.

Then off to join Daniela’s family who welcomed us with warm hugs and hot soup.

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The next day, we walked along the sea and took in the views from Loano and Verezzi. The photos tell the story best.

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After a beautiful morning of sightseeing, we enjoyed a Tuscan lunch, complete with chianina beef, sausage, and Sangiovese brought from Cortona. And yes, there was even a large collection of pet turtles to entertain us!

Now, one would think this lunch would suffice for the day, but hey, this is Italy, so later that evening, we headed out for seafood, a major staple of Ligurian cuisine, as well as Lumassina, a local white wine.

After dinner, we visited a dear friend’s shop to purchase some fresh pesto.

Wednesday was Monaco/Monte Carlo day, about 60 miles from Loano. I had visited both when I was a student in Rome, and while the sights remain beautiful, today the tourists and cars are dense.

On the way back to Italy, we stopped for what turned out to be a rather “rude” lunch in Menton, along the French border, so we were happy to join Italian cousins for dinner later that night.

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Thursday was my very favorite day. We headed to Alassio, a neighboring Ligurian town, for a most relaxed morning of boating and swimming.

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Up next, a moto ride for me around the harbor before a delicious seafood lunch.

Afterward, we strolled through colorful Alassio and learned some of its history.

In the early 1950s, Alassio was a capital of international highlife along the Riveria. The owner of Caffè Roma came up with the idea to create a wall with the autographs he had collected of famous people that came to the bar, including Ernest Hemingway. Hence, the Muretto di Alassio was born and now boasts about 550 tiles.

After our walk, we drove to the top of the cliff to visit Santa Croce Church and take in the marvelous views of the sea and Isola Gallinara.

Now just in case you’re concerned we might not be able to handle this lifestyle, we found our motto early on…

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Our last night was a “typical small Italian family” gathering for pizza. 

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It was hard to leave this beautiful part of Italy, but we know we’ll return. To ease our “sorrow”, we stopped in Portofino for lunch on the way home. 

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Len and I began planning our trip to Liguria a year ago. It ended up being so much more than we had ever expected – the natural beauty, the sea, the people, the food, the colors, and most of all, the incredible hospitality shown to us. 

And now since it is Wednesday, I can finally say:

Buon Compleanno, Dani. Tantissimi Auguri cara amica!

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Grazie per una vacanza che ricorderemo sempre!
Thank you for a holiday we will always remember!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

The Garbage Caper

5 Sep

Let me begin with this: I’m guilty.

Cortona has gone to great lengths to set out a garbage collection schedule – specific bag colors for various items and specific collection days. Every homeowner pays for this service and we abide by the rules.

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Tuesday is a recyclable plastic day, so this morning we put our small yellow plastic bag on our door stoop. It is usually picked up in the morning, but when we returned after lunch, it was still there. Occasionally ours is missed as we are higher up the street and around a bit of a curve, but I noticed there were still many yellow bags in front of our nearest neighbor about 20 steps below.

Thinking I would save the garbage collectors from climbing up the hill, I added our small bag to the neighbors’ stoop. Theirs is a complex with several units, thus more yellow bags. Little did I know the garbage guards were on duty!

About two hours later, I imagine after they had conferred and devised my punishment, I heard a bang outside our door. What I found was a large red broken plastic bowl with a 5 gallon empty plastic container inside. Thinking this strange, I looked down the street and saw a man standing in front of the complex gate. 

“What is this?” I asked in Italian. “I don’t want your garbage,” I said nicely but firmly. He sort of shrugged and feigned ignorance, so I looked up the hill and asked some kids who did this. They pointed and said “They did!”

Apparently, after “dropping” this on our doorstep, the feisty elderly ladies, yes those with the socks around their ankles who hang out kitchen windows, hurried inside their gate, leaving the man alone to cover for them. One of them emerged and said, “It’s yours!” I answered that it was not, and then she said as she produced my small yellow bag, “Well, this is!”

Yes it is, I acknowledged, and explained that I was merely trying to save the garbage collectors a few steps. (It’s not as if empty water bottles smell!)

As for their reaction, I do think the garbage patrol was a bit surprised at my Italian. Chalk one up for studying! But as my Mom would always say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” And so the story goes.

Looking down at their entrance, I could see that their bags had been picked up but that they had actually kept mine so it would not. I put it back on my stoop.

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As I returned to my door, I gave a thumbs up to the kids up the hill. They smiled and nodded. 

Moral of the story, when you travel, remember to not only mind your Ps and Qs, but be sure you are aware of the garbage rules!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Cortona: Expect the Unexpected

31 Aug

Teatro Signorelli, built in 1854, is an imposing and beautiful theatre gracing the upper part of Piazza Signorelli. Over the years, it has been home to many cultural and theatrical events. Today, in addition to these events, one can see a movie or attend a conference.

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The Teatro’s grand portico also serves several functions, from a place for coffee, lunch or dinner to hosting a wedding reception. Last night it was host to us, a large gathering of friends coming together for dinner. And while the group size was a bit larger than normal last night, these gatherings are a familiar and wonderful way of life in Cortona.

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And while we expected the evening would invariably be fun, little did we know there would be a DJ in  the piazza. As we sat for dinner, the DJ began with some Italian classical music, including Andrea Bocelli singing Nessus Dorma.

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After our first course, however, the tempo changed to disco and we were out of our seats dancing to such classics as I Will Survive, sung by Gloria Gaynor. 

After our second course, many in our group formed a human chain and invaded the piazza below to join others near the DJ.

Even the canines were enjoying the entertainment.

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My favorite moment of the evening was our rendition of Village People’s Y.M.C.A. Every local Italian I know is familiar with the arm moves – Y-M-C-A– and we didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, I was too involved myself to get a photo – che pecato!

I did, however, manage to get a great group photo. 

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Thanks to our “organizers” and Caffe del Teatro Signorelli for such a fun and memorable evening filled with good friends, good food, and some unexpected and much appreciated good music!

Ciao,
Judy

 

How Does My Orto (Garden) Grow?

26 Aug

Many have asked me that question, especially due to the unrelenting heat wave and lack of rain in Tuscany. In Italian, the saying goes, “non c’è male” or not bad, and that’s my answer. Not great, and not poorly, simply not bad, especially compared to what I’ve seen.

Usually in late summer, sunflowers look like this…

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This year, they look like this.

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As for the orto, since it is small, it has been watered and has some shade. While not nearly producing the quantity of last year,

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it’s not barren either.

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And although small, the tomatoes still taste delicious.

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So while I enjoy them,

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I’ll dream of sunflowers and hope they return healthier than ever next year.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

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