Il Pozzo “Tabacchi” Cortona

29 Sep

When you spend time in Italy, you quickly learn the value of a Tabacchi. It is a place to buy bus and train tickets, stamps, postcards, gum, candy, lozenges, etc.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

You can recharge a phone card, buy a lottery ticket, often send a fax, and at most tabacchis, sort through various dollar store types of souvenirs. And yes, the word Tabacchi means tobacco, so, that too.

But when is a tabacchi much more than a tabacchi? When you find this large  “T” sign and awning on Via Nazionale in Cortona. Then it’s a destination.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

No matter how often I visit, there is always something new and creative to see. And the best news? Most items are actually Made in Italy, many from local and nearby artisans. Here are some examples.

These purses, ornaments and wallets are made from old sheet music, newsprint and/or comic pages, formed into shapes, laminated, and then woven together.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

There are numerous prints of familiar Tuscan scenes, towns, buildings and monuments, available in many shapes and sizes, 

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as well as whimsical pieces of art.

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Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

As for me, I can never have enough kitchen towels, especially when they depict places I’ve visited or recipes I want to remember.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Planning to attend Carnevale in Venice or a Mardi Gras party? They’ve got you covered.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

There is beautiful pastel stationery, as well as bound journals, all hand-made with 100% cotton paper, and each journal is individually embossed.

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Traditional Florentine notecards and ornamental angels come in a rainbow of colors.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Need a birthday or anniversary card? There’s an abundance to choose from.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Italians love beautifully fragranced soaps, especially Campostrini soaps that have been produced  in Firenze since 1894.

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Like so many businesses in Cortona, Il Pozzo Artisan’s Gallery and Tabacchi is family owned and operated, and generally open daily. If you’ve been to Cortona, you probably recognize these faces. 

Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

(L-R) Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

Ivan speaks English well and is an incredible resource for most questions, whether about an artist, a painting, the Etruscans, or local antiquities. It’s no wonder many of us consider him Cortona’s ambassador. 

If you are heading to Cortona, be sure to add this wonderful place to your list. You’ll be so happy you did!

And one last note: At the back of the tabacchi, take the winding staircase down one flight to visit the beautiful Il Pozzo Galleria. In addition to seeing many more interesting and beautiful works of art, you will also see an ancient well, or pozzo, hence the name Il Pozzo. Ivan actually uncovered the well during excavation, but I’ll leave that story to him.

For more info and photos on Il Pozzo Galleria, please click below:

Il Pozzo

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

September Days in Cortona

18 Sep

Autunno, or autumn, is my favorite time of year in Cortona. The days are shorter, the winds are cooler, and the tide of tourism transforms.  It is a calmer time of year that lends itself well to contemplating all that meets the senses.

Parterre Changing Colors©Blogginginitaly.com

Parterre©Blogginginitaly.com

Saturday Market©Blogginginitaly.com

Saturday Market©Blogginginitaly.com

Fall Harvest©Blogginginitaly.com

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Fresh Porcinis©Blogginginitaly.com

Porcini©Blogginginitaly.com

Lavender Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Lavender Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Choco Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Choco Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Choco Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Choco Festival©Blogginginitaly.com

Art Exhibits©Blogginginitaly.com

Art Exhibits©Blogginginitaly.com

And endless antiquities:

Via Santucci, Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Via Santucci, (Our street), ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Signorelli Arch©Blogginginitaly.com

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Autumn – The third season of the year, when crops and fruits are gathered and leaves begin to fall.

A good time to take time to ponder.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Sunflowers, Take Your Bow

8 Sep

If you close your eyes and imagine a Tuscan landscape, it’s hard not to picture a field of sunflowers or girasole. 

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©Blogginginitaly.com

They are as much a part of the vistas as olive groves and vineyards. These magnificent yellow flowers are planted each spring and perform their role admirably throughout the summer, standing tall and delighting all who seek them out. They generously pose for hours on end for cameras, never complaining or shying away from the sun. And they are a beautiful addition to any table setting.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Then in the fall, after months of performing, they stand together and begin their final bow.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Even after they have lost their bright yellow color, sunflowers still have much to offer in harvest. As mentioned before in a previous post, …

  1. Sunflower seeds are edible, whether eaten raw, cooked, roasted or dried. They are a nutritious snack containing protein, vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, nitrogen and iron.
  2. Some people ground the seeds to make flour for cakes and breads.
  3. The seed heads are a source of food for birds and animals. Sunflower seeds are a major ingredient in commercial birdseed.
  4. Sunflower oil is a popular vegetable oil known for its light colour, mild flavour, low levels of saturated fats and ability to withstand high cooking temperatures.
  5. The oil can also be added to soap, lubricants and candles.
  6. Sunflower oil can help relieve skin conditions, hemorrhoids and ulcers.
  7. Sunflower roots can remove radiation from soils and water. They were used to clean up the Chernobyl disaster.
  8. The root of the plant is also used in traditional herbal medicine to treat snake bites and spider bites.
  9. The flowers can be used to make an all natural dye.
  10. The stalks are used to make paper and clothes.

So, as the sunflowers take a well deserved bow, it’s nice to know we benefit from them in so many other ways.

Ovation, please!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

Award Winning Tomato!

6 Sep

Planting an orto or garden in Italy last spring was delightful; sampling the results was delicious; but having an award-winning tomato was divine. In fact, the neighboring farmers were scratching their heads.

Our prize tomato, a Cuor di Bue, weighed in at nearly 2.2 pounds or about 1 kilogram!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

It was so heavy it actually broke the branch during a storm, but fortunately, it had a soft landing and remained unbruised.

©Blogginginitaly.com Cuor di Bue

©Blogginginitaly.com Cuor di Bue

We let it ripen another two days out of the sun.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

You might recognize this tomato as a Beefsteak variety. Its name, Cuor di Bue, literally means heart of an ox because of its distinctive shape. It matures late and when ripe, has an orangey-red color.

Now for the tasting. The team consisted of Fernanda, who selected the plant from the nursery last April, Len and Carlo, who planted it, and yours truly, documenting everything.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Since the normal weight for this tomato is about 7-8 ounces, and ours weighed 2.2 POUNDS, I was a bit concerned that such a large tomato might not taste great, but then this is Italy, the land that loves its tomatoes.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

And the result?…Perfect!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

It even had few seeds, which I have since learned can make a tomato more acidic.

Cuor di Bue are ideal for eating with fresh mozzarella and basil, as we did. Our tomato produced four extra-large steaks.

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Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, add a dash of salt and pepper, and enjoy!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Divine!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

A Tuscan Sunset

4 Sep

Il Rifugio, (The Refuge), is a private Tuscan villa for rent by the owners. It is a lovingly restored seventeenth-century stone farmhouse that sits on a Tuscan hillside in the village of Montanare, community of Cortona.

Accepting an invitation to dinner from friends staying at Il Rifugio was easy. We knew the group would be fun, the conversations lively, and the food and wine, well, as we’ve come to expect in Italy, delicious.

What we didn’t anticipate, however, were the breathtaking views. Suffice it to say, one can easily understand the advice from their website: “Slow down, review your dreams, and rethink your life…” 

Just  yesterday, a friend was saying how relaxed and unstressed he is here. I believe it is a common sentiment for many of us fortunate enough to be part of this.

And if you can’t be in Tuscany…

when you have a moment to relax, fill your favorite glass, click on the photos to enlarge, and enjoy a view that only nature can paint.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

Rilassamento = Relaxation

2 Sep

No better way to relax than to head to one of Lake Trasimeno’s islands in Umbria. Yesterday, we took the ferry to Maggiore, the only inhabited one.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Some of our group chose to relax inside the ferry,

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©Blogginginitaly.com

while Fernanda and I enjoyed the breeze on our faces.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The calm ride offered beautiful views, and we arrived eager to explore the island.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Maggiore is a small fishing village which reached its height in the 14th century. Today, I am told, only 17 residents inhabit the island year round. Most of the buildings date from the 14th century. We climbed to the top and saw these historic buildings along the way.

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©Blogginginitaly.com Villa Guglielmi

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

©Blogginginitaly.com Church of San Michele Arcangelo

It is on a path, beneath this Church, that St. Francis spent 40 days and nights in prayer.

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

The church sits at the top of the island, nestled in olive groves, and provides lovely panoramic views.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Afterward, we worked our way down the hill to the main and only street in this car-less town and enjoyed lunch and the view.

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Who is this man in so many of my photos??? I’ll have to ask Carrol.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

My favorite part was this delicious dessert!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Then off to the dock to return home.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

On the trip back, the sun gave us lovely shadows of the town’s reflection

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©Blogginginitaly.com

as well as clouds dancing on the lake.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Half an hour later, and very, very relaxed, were arrived back in Castiglione del Lago for the ride home. All in a day’s work!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

A Familiar Italian Gathering

31 Aug

Can we have too much of a good thing? Need you ask?

Last night, we held a long-planned “reunion” with the group who built the wood sheds last spring.

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©Blogginginitaly.com (May ’16)

Loreno, a master griller, wanted to cook for us again and we were more than happy to accept.

Stormy weather couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm; we just made a slight adjustment and moved the tables inside at Fernanda’s house.

The apperitivi, created by Fernanda and Bruna, were delicious: an assortment of crostini including tuna, smoked salmon, sausage, mushroom, and chicken liver; prosciutto and melon; homemade pizza.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

In the meantime, while we were enjoying aperitivo, Loreno was working his magic outside. Fortunately, he had the grill undercover as the rain was relentless at times.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

As each plate was brought inside, a wonderful aroma filled the room. While I can give you the basic marinade for all of the meats: olive oil, lemon, rosemary, and salt, I can’t pass on Loreno’s patience and passion for grilling. After all, he built his own grill from steel.

First the chicken:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Followed by boneless pork chops and sausages:

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Followed by steak:

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Then the salad and tomatoes picked from the garden.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

When Loreno finally joined us, he entered the room to a well-deserved standing ovation.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

When I asked if he had had anything to eat, he assured me that he is the primary tester/taster of all things on the grill. So I just filled his glass.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Loreno sat next to Len and me, and we chatted non-stop for over an hour. He speaks not a word of English, yet we talked about life, the challenges and joys it can bring, and so much more. His family, many of whom were at the table, and Fernanda’s, are not actually related through blood, but there are no stronger ties. And now they too have wrapped their arms around us.

©Blogginginitaly.com Carlo and Cousin Giuliano

©Blogginginitaly.com Carlo and Cousin Giuliano

When I think about these gatherings, I am always reminded of how happy I am that my grandparents came from Italy. The love and friendship that I experience here is amazing, yet not surprising. Len and I are both fortunate to have grown up with similar Italian traditions: big family gatherings, always too much food, lots of stories and laughter, everyone talking and listening at the same time, and always room for guests, who just like here, often became extended family members. And fortunately, we continue to experience and pass on these wonderful traditions, both sides of the ocean.

After dinner, we enjoyed just picked fresh figs from the garden, another thing that my grandmother loved…

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Along with limoncello, although we had to wait for it to thaw a bit!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Thanks to our hosts for an incredible dinner and evening, and most of all, for their friendship and love.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Food, Friends, Family

30 Aug

The greatest benefit we enjoy in returning to Cortona year after year is the friends we have made. Many are local and others are repeaters who love the town and its people as much as we do. Being small in size, it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street and not see familiar faces. Friends here become extended family, and spending time with them is a favorite pastime.

Last night, 25 of us gathered for a traditional Italian celebration of friendship. When we arrived, the setting welcomed us with open arms:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

As did three generations of the family:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The beautiful table would soon be filled with food and lots of conversation, and the bbq in the back let us know that grilled meats were part of the dinner.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The challenge, of course, is pacing oneself.

First up, Aperitivo, almost a meal in itself. Everything is freshly cut and sliced. I’ve yet to be in an Italian kitchen that doesn’t have a deli sized meat slicer! This course is generally served with Prosecco, and soon the corks were popping.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

For Primo, we enjoyed homemade lasagna, both meat and vegetarian styles,

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Followed by melanzana, (eggplant parmigiana).

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©Blogginginitaly.com

For someone like me, who generally feels that pasta è basta, (pasta is enough), sticking to smaller portions is essential.

Next up, time for grilling. First the steaks…

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©Blogginginitaly.com

cooked to perfection.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

followed by sausages…

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©Blogginginitaly.com

and served with salad.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

At this point, almost all are leaning back in their chairs, taking a deep breath, and thinking they have reached the end…until…

Time for dessert!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Fresh fig and fresh apple/pistachio tortes served with gelato, caramelized figs, and moscato, a sparkling white wine.

Una bellissima serrata, as we say here…a beautiful night… filled with great food, great friends, and lots of love. We also had a surprise visitor during Aperitivo. Our dear friend Ted (who is looking terrific!),  joined us via FaceTime. After everyone said their hellos, we raised our glasses and saluted him and his health with a rowdy round of Brindisino!

To you, Ted, from your Cortona family, buona salute!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And many thanks to our hosts and dear friends for sharing their Italian traditions with us.

Ciao,
Judy

Amatrice Donations and Recipes

28 Aug

As a follow-up to my last post, many have written asking me where they might donate and also for an Amatriciana recipe. Here are some thoughts on both.

Donations:
After the earthquake, I talked to some local friends about ways to contribute. Some suggested a few sites, and at the same time, urged a bit of cautious research. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of the scammers who pounce after tragic events and how challenging it can be to get funds to the intended.  Because of this and especially being unfamiliar with Italian relief agencies, I’ll leave it to others to do their own research. As a starting point, however, many here suggest visiting the websites of Croce Rossa Italiana (Red Cross) and NIAF (National Italian American Relief). 

Recipes:
Locals are never short on family recipes and were happy to share their own for Amatriciana. Being that they are Italian, and also the way I cook, there are no measurements included.

Recipe 1. Ingredients: Guanciale*, oil, garlic, salt, black or chili pepper, fresh or canned tomatoes (if fresh not in season), pecorino romano, parmigiano.

Recipe 2. Ingredients: Guanciale*, oil, chopped San Marzano tomatoes, pecorino romano, parmigiano.

*Guanciale is an Italian cured meat or salami product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. If not available, use speck.

Directions: In both cases, dice and cook the meat in a frying pan until crisp, then set aside. Add the tomatoes (and spices if Recipe #1) and allow to saute in the fat from the meat for about 15 minutes, or until it thickens. In the meantime, cook pasta, often bucatini or spaghetti, until al dente. When the pasta is done, add it and the meat to the tomatoes and toss. Add the pecorino as you mix thoroughly, top with parmigiano and serve.

 LPLT / Wikimedia Commons

LPLT / Wikimedia Commons

You can find numerous variations online, all easily prepared in a short time.

Ciao,
Judy

Amatrice

25 Aug

Amatrice is a remote town along a mountainous stretch in northern Lazio, Italy. If you look at a map, it seems to sit right in the middle of the country.

mapsoftheworld.com

mapsoftheworld.com

Their website carries this banner:

City of Amatrice, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy

boghi_piu_belli_amatrice

As we all know now, yesterday, at about 3:30 am, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook the region. “The town is no more,” Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told CNN affiliate Rai of the village, which has a population of around 2,000 people. (CNN)

Before social media and news channels carried the devastating photos, you may have thought you had never heard of Amatrice. Include me in that list, even though we had travelled near that region last year. And then, after reading about the town, I quickly realized that it is home to a favorite pasta dish, Amatriciana, (or pasta alla matriciana), a traditional pasta sauce based on guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomatoes. The recipe dates back to the 1700’s.

This weekend was to be the 50th annual celebration of the town’s Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana Festival.

Stampa

Instead, hundreds have lost their lives and most that survived cannot return home.

In honor and memory of the town and its people, I plan to make Amatriciana in the next few days. As with all recipes, there are slight variations, so I’ll ask local friends, who are all great cooks, what recipe has been handed down to them over the years.

As we prepare and enjoy this dish, we will toast to the memory of what was and keep the survivors and responders in our thoughts and prayers.
And someday, hopefully, with the strength and fortitude of the locals, there will be another celebration of the town’s Spaghetti Amatriciana Festival.
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Ciao,
Judy

 

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