Archive | August, 2013

15,000+ Views!

31 Aug

I am delighted to report that this week, surpassed 15,000 views! Pretty amazing, especially as it began as a fun way for me to share our travels with family members and a few friends.

IMG_1809Over the last two years, my blog has been my journal, giving me a place to record my thoughts, experiences and pictures as we travel around Italy.


To my surprise and delight, its reach has broadened and now includes viewers from over 80 countries.

IMG_0020 2

Many thanks for all your thoughtful comments and encouragement. Writing my blog is an endless learning curriculum for me – one that is filled with never-ending yet truly satisfying homework.


It’s a joy to share my reflections about Italy with others who love it so, and a privilege to share it with those who can only dream of going.



I can think of no better way to say thanks than by sharing some of my very favorite views.




And of course, let’s not forget the food!









Finally, to Len, with whom I have seen all of these views,

a little something we saw on a hillside…


Ciao, Judy

Judy in window


26 Aug

Whether you’ve been to Italy many times, or hope to visit someday, eating gelato is no doubt on your list. As the summer heat intensifies, what better way to cool your palate and bring a smile to your face than with some delicious gelato.


Gelato is Italy’s version of ice cream, yet tastes much better. Why? I wondered, and did a little research. Although I am much better at enjoying gelato than making it, here are three major differences I discovered:

  1. Gelato generally has less than 10% butterfat, compared to ice cream’s typical 18-25+ range. The lower butterfat causes the gelato to melt in your mouth faster and provides an immediate blast of flavor.
  2. Air is not added to gelato, giving gelato a higher density than most ice cream. This density results in gelato’s rich taste and very creamy texture.
  3. Although gelato is a frozen dessert, it can be served at a temperature 10°+ warmer than ice cream, adding to its creamier consistency.It's the picture of Italian ice-cream in a sho...

It seems as though you can find a gelateria, or ice cream store, in just about every town in Italy. Some have several, and the larger cities seem to have one on every corner. Cortona has several.




Although gelato is almost always good, the taste and quality can vary. I tend to shy away from outdoor ones in direct sunlight. You can just tell.

Gelato is typically presented in stainless tubs in large cooled glass displays.


Some newly designed modern displays are even becoming popular.



Cup or cone? Large or mini? Whatever you prefer.

Gelato Cones (Florence)

Need free samples to decide? Assolutamente!



As for flavors, think of the rainbow, or better yet, a large box of new crayons. Pink and yellow are not just added colors.


You can often expect actual pieces of fruit in the frutta gelato such as peach, pineapple, mango, banana or apricot. Creme are the creamy gelatos such as chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, caffé, and pistachio.


What’s the most popular? Seems to be chocolate, although it comes in many varieties such as dark, extra dark, fudge, milk, etc. And the names seem to be as creative as the flavors. Learning them is like Intro to Italian I.

Gelato 2

Gelato 2 (Photo credit: minonda)

So, whatever your palate, there is always one flavor to please…in fact, probably several.  Thanks, Grandpa!


And of course, don’t worry if it starts to drip a bit. Besides tasting great, gelato is always finger licking good!


Gelato anyone?



Sagra della Bistecca

18 Aug

Each year, same time, same place, Cortona offers up the same wonderful steak-lover’s paradise. Cortona’s Ferragosto is an Italian chiana beef steak fest filled with celebration, amazing aromas, seasoned chefs and smiles galore.

As reported  in a similar blog one year ago, the Latin “Feriae Augusti” denoted the “August Rest” which was a month-long holiday period proclaimed in the 18th century by Emperor Augustus. It was a time when people could relax after all the hard work associated with the harvest and the end of the year’s main agricultural work. It was also a time when nobility mixed with the workers.

Over time, the festival shortened to a few weeks and eventually became a one-day event, celebrated on August 15 each year. For Italians, this bank holiday combines elements of both ancient and Christian worlds, as August 15 also commemorates the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Cities throughout Italy celebrate this day with great festivals. If you happened to be in Cortona, you no doubt enjoyed the annual Sagra della Bistecca, or beef steak festival, held in the normally quiet parterre, or public garden pictured here. A beautiful and moving war memorial graces the park’s entrance.



Beyond the statue lies this fountain,  providing a quiet place to reflect or toss a penny.


And beyond the fountain is the expansive parterre, often silent beyond belief.


Of course, you might encounter the occasional dog walker.


Or the many cats who call the parterre home. But generally, count on a peaceful and mostly tourist free passeggiata, or Italian stroll.

For the festival, however, the quiet setting is completely transformed. An enormous grill, some 14-meters long, is erected. Locals don chef’s aprons, and with extra long forks, lovingly go about the work of grilling mouth-watering T-bone steaks, Italian sausages, and spareribs for the locals who have crowded the park to enjoy the celebration with family and friends.

Local wines and cheeses compliment the grilled meats and make for a perfect feast and day of relaxation.  If interested, I’ve included a wonderful 2011 time lapsed You Tube clip of the Cortona event:

Hmmm… grilled steaks for dinner tonight? Definitely worth the calories.




14 Aug

One of the joys of international travel is exactly that…the international experience. In Italy, of course, we seek to absorb everything we can about the Italian culture – the people, the food, the language, the customs, the traditions. But sometimes, “locals” expand that experience for us in ways unexpected.

This summer, we had the good fortune to meet Vera, a recent “Cortona local” but non-Italian native. Born in Brazil, living in Australia and now also in Cortona, she is an interesting blend of many cultures, traditions, and languages, which I have fondly dubbed Veranese.

On a lovely summer evening, Vera invited us to her home to enjoy the national dish of Brazil, feijoada. Of course, I had never heard of this, let alone tasted it before, so I was curious.

But first things first. One of the added pleasures of being invited to someone’s home is the opportunity to learn about its history, as every home in Cortona has a story. Since most of the ancient palazzos and villas have been subdivided, Vera’s entrance was, at one time, the stable of this palazzo.


Fortunately, when renovations occur, antiquities are preserved so the horse trough still exists, although modified with plumbing at some point.


Adding to the charm is the old well, still visible behind the grate on the left, both outside her front door

and inside her home.IMG_0005

Enough history and on to the dinner. Feijoada (fay-ZHWA-dah) is considered one of Brazil’s national treasures and one that Vera wanted to share with us. It is a hearty, slow-cooked dish, meant to serve a group. Shopping for ingredients begins the day before, as several kinds of smoked meats, ribs, and beef jerky are needed. These are then slowly simmered the night before with black beans.


Needless to say the aroma was amazing when we entered the house, and even better as the feijoada was served over rice.


Although each cook may have his or her own family recipe, Brazilian Feijoada almost always has black beans and always has a mixture of salted, smoked and fresh meats. Some can be a little spicy; ours was not. Either way it’s traditional to serve this stew with white rice and maybe some sautéed vegetables.

Just before dessert was served, it started to rain, then hail heavily, and the ground turned white. Unpredictable July, and a good excuse to open more vino!


You can see just how bothered we were by the weather…





Before we left, Vera showed us her newest piece of art, a painted antique terra cotta tile.  Beautiful! IMG_0005

Vera, many thanks for inviting us into your lovely home,  introducing us to one of Brazil’s national treasures, expanding our international palate, and teaching each of us to speak a bit of Veranese!



Pizza and More

2 Aug

Missing our Italian friends and food, and knowing that imitation is the best form of flattery, Len and I headed to the market (as in “specialty” supermarket) last Saturday morning. What started out as a pizza dinner for seven slowly transformed into a bit more, but who was counting courses.  All present had been to Italy with us sometime in the past several years, so it was a good reason to share a meal and wonderful memories.

It was too cold (in July?) to enjoy the  beautiful geraniums on our deck,


so we moved inside to eat:


And eat we did!

From my garden,  I made homemade pesto:



and tomato bruschette: (homemade but not from my garden!)

All served with toasted garlic-rubbed Italian bread rounds.


Then some freshly sliced Italian salumi and cheeses:


IMG_0010And a perfect melon!


Plus eggplant alla Judy:


All accompanied by Prosecco, our new primo tradition.

For the next course, it was time for Len to take over in the kitchen and perform his pizza magic. He made the dough the night before…only slow rise, of course!


After reaching room temperature, he gently rolled each pizza:IMG_0018

Topped each per request:


And cooked quickly!



The pizzas were served with grilled veggies:



Italian sausage:

IMG_0002And some great wine!

Feeling like we’re back in Italy…priceless!



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