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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

Pasqua and Pasquetta

17 Apr

Yesterday throughout Italy, families and friends gathered after mass for warm hugs, long Easter lunches and lively conversation. Intermittent rain showers didn’t dampen any spirits, although we were happy we ate inside.

We joined some friends at their beautiful home just past Pergo, a short ride from Cortona. We’ve been before, but it is always a pleasure to return as the setting is incredible.

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Len, of course, needed to check out the 1975 Fiat 500 parked in the drive.

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The house, built in the late 1700’s, was originally a farm-house, but is now a beautifully restored/renovated home with guest house, covered pool, garage and incredible 360° views, (and it is on the market as grandchildren live too far away!)*

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We began on the terrace with a Prosecco toast.

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Then lunch was served in the dining room.

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Unfortunately, I missed taking photos of the delicious chicken with gorgonzola lunch, but desserts included a traditional Easter colombo – a dove shaped cake…

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as well as fresh strawberries and cream on sponge cake.

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After a few attempts, we even managed to take a timed selfie.

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Afterward, some of us took a leisurely stroll around the property, admiring the views…

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while others retired to the terrace.

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Many thanks to our gracious hosts, shown in a photo I took of them on our last visit.

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Pasqua and Pasquetta, Easter and Easter Monday, two holidays in Italy, the first religious, the second not. Once again today, Cortona was packed with people. In fact, both yesterday and today, there were traffic jams.

But today, Pasquetta, is a day set aside for relaxation. All the solemnity and preparation of Easter are over, and it is a day to relax, except, of course, for restaurants and retail shops who serve the masses of people enjoying a day off.

Strolling is the norm, so strolling we did. The park was filled with people,

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taking in the views.

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Others were enjoying entertainment in the piazzas, including the Old Florence Dixie Band,

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and just appreciating the beautiful day.

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Between the park and the piazza, we found an empty park bench and literally put our feet up as we took in the view.

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Late afternoon, we headed home for a brief riposo (rest) before meeting friends for dinner.

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And that’s what one does in Cortona for Pasqua and Pasquetta, a perfectly lovely few days.

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Ciao,
Judy

*Note: Many have asked me what the inside of an Italian house looks like. If interested, you can see more photos via the listing link below.

http://www.abodeitaly.com/property/68c/tuscany/casa-giordano-piazzano/arezzo/farmhouses-and-count/4-bedrooms

 

 

Risotto Made Easy

3 Apr

Although my mother was a great Italian cook,  risotto was not something I grew up eating. My ancestors were from southern Italy, so pasta with red sauce was the norm.  When I finally learned about risotto, it always seemed like something that required too much patience and time to cook.

Lucky for me, my native Italian friends have taken the mystery out of risotto.

Tonight I made risotto con cipolle e piselli – risotto with onions and peas. Perhaps the most important tip I have learned is to use Carnaroli rice. It seems foolproof and makes a wonderfully creamy risotto. A second tip is to flavor the water or broth with what I am adding to the risotto.

Obviously, you can make risotto many different ways, but I thought I’d share my simple recipe for others who are hesitant to make it. And, Len said it was really good!

Tonight’s Simple Recipe: (measurements are suggestions!)

Ingredients:
Carnaroli rice, onion, garlic, water or broth, peas, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

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Directions:
Start with two pots: one for the liquid and another for the risotto. Use a ratio of about 3;1, liquid to rice.

  1. Add 3 cups of water (or broth)  to the small pot and 1/2 cup frozen peas; heat to boil, then lower to keep simmering.
  2. In the larger pot, sauté one medium onion and one garlic clove in olive oil for a few minutes, then add one cup of risotto, and sauté a few more minutes. Don’t burn the rice!
  3. Begin to add the hot liquid to the risotto, one ladle at a time. Stir a bit and when the liquid is almost absorbed, add another ladle and stir, and continue in this process until the risotto is done, about 15-20 minutes. Note: I used all of the liquid, but did not stir constantly.
  4. Turn off heat, add parmesan cheese and stir. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and enjoy.

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Ciao,
Judy

Note: Broth and white wine are great liquid substitutes or additions (when you have them!), but water works fine, as do any number of vegetables, e.g., roasted red peppers, mushrooms, asparagus.  Be creative and let me know what you come up with!

 

 

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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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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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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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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And the result?…Perfect!

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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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Divine!

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

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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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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.

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

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

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Just Picked

18 Aug

The time has finally come for our tasting – will the vegetables we planted in the spring taste as good as they look? Let’s start with the tomatoes.

And the verdict is?

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Pop in my mouth delicious!

And the zucchini?

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Affirmative again!

Our onions did well, and not so much the peppers, but those tomatoes – they just keep giving and giving! This was our pick for the day, not including those we ate as we picked.

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Getting ready for dinner, Carlo cut some sunflowers for our table,

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while Fernanda worked her magic in the kitchen. Appertivo included hot from the frying pan amazing zucchini flowers:

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and stuffed zucchini flowers, before going in the oven.

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We built our own caprese and enjoyed grilled zucchini, fresh pecorino with homemade plum and orange marmellata, and of course, prosecco.

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Pasta was served with a light sugo (sauce) made from our fresh tomatoes and onions. The breeze was light, the temperature comfortable, and the proud smiles abundant.

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Thinking back to last April, I can’t remember that we had grand expectations for our garden when it looked like this:

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In fact, we felt we planted a bit too early as the garden had to endure several hail storms and lots of heavy rain. But neighboring farmers have commented that their tomatoes aren’t nearly as tall or productive as ours, and that we did well to get the plants in the ground when we did. As it turns out, some of them had to plant a bit later than planned due to the soaked soil.

And while planting a garden is certainly not an Olympic event, in keeping with the times, here’s to our gold medal zucchini and tomatoes,

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And the sense of accomplishment it bought to a bunch of Italian and American city folks working together. Auguri!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Bragging Rights

4 Aug

Let’s begin with this amazing photo:

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This is one tomato from our orto, one of hundreds I might add, in a garden that might be about 12 feet wide and 60-70 feet long. I’ll measure next time as I am curious myself!

As you might recall, we built cane trellises for the much-anticipated tomato plant growth, but who would ever have guessed that Carlo would eventually have to add an overhead cane trellis?

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The garden has done incredibly well under the watchful eyes of Carlo and Fernanda, but in truth, the true bragging rights belong to the Italian soil!

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There is much advice available on how to plant a garden in Italy, including testing the soil and adding nutrients, but we did none of these other than till the land well. Luckily for us, our soil type and pH must be near perfect, but then this is Tuscany.

Len recalls that we bought 12 tomato plants total, of 3-4 different types. After we left a local family nursery, however, we realized that we didn’t have any idea which was which, as they don’t put those nice little white tags on each plant. So watching our garden grow had extra elements of daily surprise. And grow it did – more so than we had ever imagined.
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Now grant you, size and quantity alone do not spell success. And thus far, I’ve had to rely on the smiles and photos from our friends who have eaten from our (ok, their) garden. But I suspect, from our conversations and the photos, that the taste will actually surpass my expectations.

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Other than the soil composition, the only added products have been patience, sunshine, water and love. Talk about organic!

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Stay tuned for my upcoming taste test results. And Memo to Me: wear a dark shirt as I already visualize a delicious burst of tomato seeds when I bite my first pomodoro ciliegino (cherry tomato!).

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Orto Update

24 Jul

Just over three months ago, we planted an orto, or vegetable garden, in our friend’s yard in Tuscany. https://blogginginitaly.com/2016/04/22/planting-an-orto/

We decided on zucchini, peppers, onions, and of course, tomatoes. And just to be sure our tomatoes would grow, we built cane trellises for them. No slouches here. Last April 22, the orto looked like this:

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Despite several spring hail storms, and thanks to the watchful coaxing of Fernanda and Carlo, the plants flourished in the fertile Tuscan soil. Each week, we anxiously awaited our photo progress reports.

Tomatoes and onions

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Peppers

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Carlo adding another row of cane

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And just three months later, here are some of the amazing fruits of our labor.

Large and small tomatoes over six feet tall!

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And bright zucchini blossoms loving the sunshine.

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The beautiful yard is also full of fruit trees, especially susine or plum trees, perfect for making marmellata di susine or plum jam.

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Needless to say, lots of serious picking going on these days…

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and of course, lots of delicious eating…

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and an assurance from our friends that there will still be much to pick and eat when we return.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Un Buon Lavoro!

28 May

Translated, the title means A Good Job, and in this case, several good jobs were accomplished at our friend’s home in the country. It all started with adding some cane to the iron fence for added privacy.

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After that, we planted the garden or orto, which despite two bouts of hail, is doing quite well…tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and onions.

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When Len asked, “What else?” Fernanda said the next job was too big, but alas, off we went in search of the best wooden sheds. And soon, the building process began.

Using extra bricks from the garden…

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And some pallets …

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ingenuity set in and the foundations began to emerge.

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Oh, did I mention she bought TWO sheds?

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Neighbors Bruna and Loreno heard the noise and wanted to be sure we had food for lunch, so they generously donated “supplies” from their very large garden and healthy hens.

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Shortly after, Loreno added his expertise to the construction team. As Carlo would say, Len was the design engineer,

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Loreno was the boss of the workers, and Carlo was the worker and translator.

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It was so interesting for me to observe the communication. Loreno speaks no English; Len, just a little Italian; and when Carlo needed to run to the store for more supplies, Len and Loreno’s hand gestures, smiles, frowns, grunts, eye movements and laughter worked well.

Since Fernanda was at work, my job was to be sure the team had espresso and biscotti breaks often, and also make them lunch, which in Italy, always includes pasta.

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By the time Fernanda came home from work, the first shed was nearly complete and the team was tired but satisfied.

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A few days later, work commenced on the second shed. Understanding the construction better, the work went smoothly,

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and roofing shingles were added for extra protection.

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Mission accomplished – two wooden sheds and a big smile from Fernanda.

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Fernanda planned a BBQ dinner celebration to thank everyone involved, and as you might expect, it was quite a dinner. She and Bruna headed to the butcher for the meat: ribs, sausages and steaks.

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Bruna brought supplies from her garden.

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Loreno was in charge of the grill – his hand-made steel grill which he brought over from his yard.

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Len and I brought lots and lots of wine. And then the eating began.

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Afterward, Barbara surprised us with her homemade desserts.

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It was a wonderful evening filled with great food and lots of laughter.

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Before the sun set, there was one more thing to do…

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The three “artists” each signed a door as a happy reminder of their effort. Un buon lavoro – A job well done, for sure!

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Next up? Time to return to Chicago for some rest!

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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©Blogginginitaly.com

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!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

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

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

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!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

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