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Celebrating with Friends

23 May


My most heartfelt thanks for all the birthday wishes I received yesterday via hugs, phone and video calls, emails, messages and social media. The best part for me was seeing the names of special people in my life –  family members, relatives, dear friends I’ve known forever and new friends I’ve made along the way.

One of my brothers-in-law suggested that whatever I do, I should share the day in photos, so here are some of the wonderful highlights.

Breakfast at Tuscher:

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Hair Cut at AF:

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Lunch with a few friends (they brought the party items!) at Cafe Braceria Chianina:

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The chef, server and the piping hot grill:

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Shared antipasto:

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Various menu items ordered –  Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil,

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Filet topped with bacon,

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Stuffed rolled turkey breast,

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and my favorite – grilled chicken breast!

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Dessert was self-select, and I managed to only get a photo of the tiramisu.

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After a most leisurely lunch, we headed to Fernanda’s for caffè and sambuca,

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and then Len engaged in his new favorite pastime – small Tuscan cigaros!

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Later in the evening, with no one hungry, we had an impromptu toast or “brindisi” at Tuscher.

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What a perfectly wonderful way to spend my birthday, being utterly relaxed, showered with gifts and loving wishes, including an upcoming CUBS night game from Benita, and sharing it all with dear friends in Cortona. Len said he wishes my next birthday could come sooner, but I’m quite happy to wait another year!

Till then, many many thanks to all who helped make my day so very special, and most especially, this guy.

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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

 

Training at Tuscher Bar Cortona

7 Oct

Recently, I was invited to write a piece for Chowhound. Their “Features” section has food and beverage articles written by food writers, chefs, cookbook authors, etc. For my first article, I decided to write about cappuccino, then headed to my favorite bar in Cortona, Tuscher Bar, to get some “barista” training.

As I have written many times, Tuscher Bar is our go-to place in Cortona for breakfast, lunch, and aperitivo. If you’ve visited us, you’ve been to Tuscher. It’s the place where you meet old friends, make new ones, and where Massimo, Daniela, Niccolo and Edoardo make you feel at home.

I had such fun learning how to make Cappuccino Tre Colore, both hot and cold, and you will too. If you are in Cortona, visit the experts at Tuscher Bar on Via Nazionale. If not, have some fun making it yourself, and let me know how you do!

Cappuccino Tre Colore©Blogginginitaly.com

Cappuccino Tre Colore©Blogginginitaly.com

For step by step photos and instructions, click below for my article:
Impress Your Friends this Fall with New Barista Skills.

 

Ciao,
Judy

 

A Beautiful Italian Birthday!

23 May

44 years ago, I celebrated my 21st birthday at Gino’s restaurant in Rome with a wonderful group of friends/fellow students. Shortly after, I would return to the US with my badge of honor – a driver’s license showing I was 21.

Yesterday,  I celebrated my birthday, (you can do the math!), with a wonderful group of friends at Tuscher Cafe in Cortona. Soon, I will return to the US with another badge of honor – a red, white and blue Medicare card!

Yesterday was the kind of day one would order – sunny, warm, and filled with blue skies and wonderful greetings from family and friends, near and far, including this:

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Len decided we should start the day at Tuscher with brunch and a prosecco toast – sounded good to me.

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Afterward, we went for a long walk and enjoyed vistas that never get old.

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Time for lunch – back to Tuscher for Edoardo’s new fish sandwich with fries… we split one, and enjoyed people watching as we sipped some vino.

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Feeling the need for another walk, the antique fair in town was the perfect venue. Finally, we headed home for a rest before dinner.

At 8pm, we arrived at Tuscher, (yes, it was definitely a Tuscher kind of day!) to a beautiful table and waited for our guests to arrive.

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Massimo and Niccolo took care of us as Dani and Edo worked their magic in the kitchen.

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Although the invitation said no gifts please, our guests claimed to not understand English!

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Len had already given me a relaxing day at the local spa, and Benita surprised me with family tickets to see James Taylor at Wrigley Field this summer.

Dinner began with Champaign and appertivo.

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Often interrupted for photos and toasts…

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I brought hand-made honey candles for each guest and created a bit of a game around their choice.

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First course –  spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil…delicious!

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Second course – beef filet cooked to order, roasted rosemary potatoes and sautéed artichokes. Perfect!

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Sometime after dinner and singing and stories, and feeling we couldn’t eat another thing, the lights went out…

And Dani and Massimo entered with this incredible wine cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Wow!

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After all other customer were gone, Dani, Massimo, Niccolo and Edo were finally able to close the doors and join us. Applause! Applause!

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Many thanks to all, either with me or in my heart, who made my day so special, and a very, very  special thanks to Len. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

Molte grazie a tutti, sia con me o nel mio cuore, che ha reso il mio giorno così speciale, e un grazie molto, molto speciale a Len. Una conclusione perfetta di una giornata perfetta!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Greetings from Cortona

12 Dec

What is Christmas like in Cortona? Christmas in Cortona makes me feel as if I am still there. Such fun seeing so many friends who live and work in Cortona and make it such a special place. Thanks, AF Travel, for putting this together.

Christmas In Cortona, Tuscany ©AF TRAVEL

Click here and enjoy: Christmas in Cortona

Ciao,

Judy

Olive Harvest in Cortona

14 Oct

Olive harvesting for many in Italy is a family affair. Italian families love their gardens and harvest their olives, like their fruits and vegetables, for their own consumption. Their olives are usually harvested by hand, producing a better quality oil.

Ancient olive trees are among the heartiest of trees – they grow well in most soils and some have born fruit for centuries. The trees even retain their green leaves year round.

Although I have walked by them for years, yesterday I finally came face to face with the first trees I would pick.

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Our friends Massimo and Daniela, and their sons Niccolo and Edoardo, have about 14 trees that were ready for harvesting. With only a handful of pickers, this was a two-day project. Len picked both days,

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As did new friends Sandy and Rudy.

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Picking olives is not difficult but it is time-consuming and at times back aching. Sometimes pickers are on ladders or up in the trees, carefully stripping the olives from upper branches,

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while other times they stand below, working branches at arms reach.

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We placed long orange nets around each tree to collect the falling olives, being very careful not to step on them.

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Sometimes, it seemed as though it was raining olives. A long plastic rake, called a pettina or manina, is used to reach tall parts or dense areas in the center of the tree. The tools are used to gently rake the olives off each branch, and as they fall to the net below, there is the sensation of raining olives. Here Rudy is demonstrating the technique.

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A few olives have a less direct path and may tap you on the head or shoulder on their way down, or even land in your shirt or pocket. I found a few after we got home.

When a tree was empty, the olives would be gently rolled up in the net and then placed in a bin.

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And off we’d go, moving the nets to the next tree. Usually 2-3 would work a tree together.

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Weather is important because if it rains, the olives can rot before they are pressed. We were fortunate. Although the skies threatened, the rain held off and gave us the time we needed to finish picking.

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Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and tried to clean as we went along. I’m told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste.

Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and cleaned as we went along. I'm told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste. Here I am removing any stray leaves, and here is a penny tiny snail that was clinging to one of the leaves. Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

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Naturally, no matter what they are doing, Italians always take time for pranzo, or lunch. I missed the incredible lunch served in the garden on Monday, but yesterday, Massimo served us a delicious lunch at Tuscher Caffe.

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And here are some of the workers enjoying lunch:

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After lunch, Len and I returned with Daniela and Nicco for what we thought was one small last tree. However, there was still work to be done, as all the olives needed to be ready the next morning to take to the frantoia for pressing.

Working in the garage, we sorted and sorted and filled four large containers.

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Until all the leaves were gone…

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So this is what I’ve learned:

Harvesting is more than picking olives. It is a gathering of family and friends, new and old, working together, surrounded by nature’s beauty. It is a time filled with friendship, smiles, stories, and the joy of being in touch with nature. It is a tradition, passed on from generations, and thriving for future ones. And lucky for me, unlike grapes, bees don’t hang out around olives.

During lunch, and after the day was done, looking around at our tired and achy group, I noticed one more thing – we shared the kind of glow that comes from pitching in together for a job well done.

Tomorrow we go to the frantoio to watch our picked and sorted olives become olive oil. And then we get to taste it. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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And many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for giving us this opportunity – such a great pleasure and learning experience. Count us in for next year!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Italy: It’s So About the Food

17 Sep

A sampling of what we’ve eaten in the past few weeks, some out and some at home:

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And let’s not forget the sun-dried fichi (figs)!

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Wish you could taste them all.

Ciao,

Judy

Cantanapoli

11 Sep

The town of Cortona sits in the center of the country, and the speciality, besides pici pasta, is chianina beef.

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When you look at a map, it is easy to understand why seafood is not a mainstay of many of the restaurants.  But there are a few exceptions, several with connections to Napoli.

Last night we had dinner at Cantanapoli with dear friends Fernanda and Carlo. This restaurant is located in Camucia at the base of Cortona. Although there are many pasta dishes on the menu, Carlo asked Mario, the owner, to create our menu – one of only seafood.

Not only was it delicious, it was so fresh you could almost taste the sea. I love this from their website:  the dishes on the menu may vary based on what the sea gives every day.

Our Primo:

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Our Secondo:

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In addition, they serve Neapolitan pizzas which are baked in a wood oven, using DOP buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes from Vesuvius.

The company was great, the food delicious, and the evening a perfect way to celebrate Fernanda’s upcoming birthday. Buon Compleanno, Ferdanda!

Secondi:

Ciao,

Judy

Sitting in our Painting

7 Sep

Two years ago, we bought a wonderful Allesandro Bulli watercolor from Ivan at Il Pozzo Galleria. We chose it because it depicts a view we see here daily – the view from Piazza Signorelli into Piazza Republicca. At home, it hangs over our breakfast room table and brings a smile to my face daily.

Allesandro Bulli

Allesandro Bulli

Late this afternoon, after a pretty steep 4.5 mile walk, we headed to Cacio Brillo for a glass of wine and some bruschette. As we sat, I felt as if I was sitting in our painting enjoying the same view, so I took a photo of it.

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At Cacio Brillo, we chose four bruschette: artichokes/pecorino, fresh tomatoes, fresh porcini mushrooms, and one liver pate for Len (not depicted!).

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Eating the bruschette and sipping some red wine, Len’s was Chianti and mine from Bolgheri, (western part of Tuscany), we took in the scenery as we enjoyed music from a flamenco guitarist in the piazza.

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Piazza life – such a civilized way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Ciao,

Judy

Sharing Cortona

6 Sep

My Chicago Italian teacher, Giovanna, a Tuscan native, and her dear friends Clarissa and Sergio, who live about two hours away in Tuscany, have been with us for two beautiful days. We have walked, talked, climbed, dined, and been welcomed by our wonderful local friends who call this incredible town home.

Among other things, we visited two of our favorite eateries, Caffe Tuscher for appertivo and Prosecco –

Tuscher Caffe©Blogginginitaly.com

Tuscher Caffe©Blogginginitaly.com

and AD Braceria for dinner…

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as well as our favorite gallery, Il Pozzo.

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Il Pozzo ©Blogginginitaly.com

At each, not only were our visitors surprised by the creativity and quality of the food and art, they were also charmed by our friends, the proprietors, who willingly share their knowledge of the history of the ancient buildings that house their establishments.

One of the things I often tell people is that Cortona has a never-ending supply of surprises, and today did not disappoint. After emerging from the Cortonantiquaria, an important antique show that has been coming here for 55 years, we followed a drum beat to the central piazzas. Piazza Signorelli was filled with luxury autos…

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and in Piazza Repubblica, the flag bearers were performing to the beat of the drums.

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In addition, the weather was perfect – bright blue skies filled with sunshine and gentle breezes. Our friends proclaimed, “If we had ordered a perfect day, it would have been today!”

We ended the day at Le Celle, where St. Francis of Assisi spent part of his monastic life.

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At Le Celle, we noticed these caper bushes growing on the stone walls. Amazing nature.

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While we are having many visitors this fall, and look forward to sharing Cortona with them, it was particularly gratifying to see native Tuscans fall in love with Cortona. It is truly a special place – its ancient beauty, its warm people, and its fascinating history and culture. It is not a town that shuts down at sunset, nor a town that has an overabundance of tour groups. It is, as my friend Paula said, a town that works. Bravo Cortona.

Finally, I am proud to report that Giovanna and her friends were impressed with my Italian. When here, I am in language training 24/7, but I would never have progressed without Giovanna as my cara professoressa.

Grazie Giovanna, for coming to Cortona and for introducing us to your dear friends and now ours as well. Auguri!

AD Bracceria©Blogginginitaly.com

AD Bracceria©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,

Judy

For more on Le Celle, including photos and a short video I made a few years ago, please click here: https://blogginginitaly.com/2013/06/12/franciscan-hermitage-of-le-celle-cortona/

 

 

 

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