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A Beautiful Birthday!

23 May

Many, many thanks to all for the thoughtful birthday wishes, calls, emails, FB posts, etc., I’ve received. Since the most common theme was “Hope you have a great day!”, I wanted to share my day with you.

Some dear friends treated me to a grand lunch at Fischio del Merlo (whistle of the Merlo bird) in Passignano, another new restaurant for me.

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The setting, overlooking Lake Trasimeno, is so peaceful, especially on a Monday afternoon.

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The idea to come here was Loreno’s, as the restaurant is owned and operated by his sister Lorena. She started with a pizzeria on the lake, then built this entire place over the last 20 years.

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As Fischio del Merlo is so much more than a restaurant, a tour of the grounds was our first line of business.

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There are so many places to eat, whether around the glistening pool;

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under one of the sun drenched canopies filled with hand painted ceramic tables from Deruta;

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inside one of the many inviting and interesting rooms;

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or surrounded by a wonderful wine collection in the cantina.

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The attention to detail is amazing as Lorena is a collector of many things, including antique cars and this vespa.

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Len and I gave our best version of Roman Holiday…

©Roman Holiday

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Then it was time for lunch. Our al fresco table was ready and so were we. And since the large weekend crowds were gone, Lorena could spend time with us.

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We asked Lorena to choose the meal, and in traditional Italian style, the plates kept coming and coming, in between many toasts with delicious wines.

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We asked to see the chef and gave him a hearty applause! Lorena hired him 20 years ago and taught him well…I know, he hardly even looks 20. And that’s Bruno in the back.

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When I thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out came this delicious light white cake covered in chocolate, fresh raspberries, rose petals, mint, and a flower made from melon – served with one’s choice of digestivo.

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Following a chorus of Tanti Auguri, it was time for me to make a wish, blow out the candle, and thank my wonderful hosts.

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To Len, …”like birds of a feather we stick together… “(My Guy)

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and to our dear friends and fellow orto planters, (L-R) Carlo, Bruna, Loreno, and Fernanda,

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thank you so very much for a beautiful birthday filled with wonderful food, laughter and smiles, and best of all, your friendship.

Ai nostri cari amici e colleghi di orto, vi ringrazio molto per un bel compleanno pieno di cibo meraviglioso, risate e sorrisi, e, soprattutto, la vostra amicizia!

And a final note, you can have a simple meal here as well, and if seafood isn’t your thing, no problem. The restaurant is located just off the Passignano est exit, or just a short drive after you pass through the town.

So, did I have a great day? INDEED I DID!   Will I be back? Indeed I will!

Ciao,
Judy

Happy Mother’s Day 2017 – Buona Festa della Mamma!

14 May

Although similar to a post I wrote last year, the sentiments are always worth repeating…

Mother’s Day is a special time to remember
how fortunate I am to be part of a long line of strong,
intelligent and loving Italian women.

Maude©Blogginginitaly.com

Paternal Grandmother Maude ©Blogginginitaly.com

Serafina©Blogginginitaly.com

Maternal Grandmother Serafina ©Blogginginitaly.com

 

Benita©Blogginginitaly.com

My Mother Benita (at my wedding) ©Blogginginitaly.com

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(L-R visiting Paris) Aunt Marilyn, Mom, Aunt Kiki ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Aunt Marion ©Blogginginitaly.com

It is also a day to celebrate
my incredible sisters, nieces and cousins, who are not only amazing Mothers,
but determined women who incorporate
the traditions learned from our ancestors as they create new ones.

To all of them,
and to the dear friends/wonderful Mothers
I have met throughout my life’s journeys…

I wish you all a beautiful day filled with love and relaxation.
Happy Mother’s Day – Buona Festa della Mamma!

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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

 

 

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe! Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the family, and it is a feast day celebrated by Italians everywhere.  It is also Father’s Day in Italy.

Most of the rest of this post comes from a previous one, but the thoughts and sentiments are the same.

Growing up in a neighborhood filled with many Irish and Italian families, I was always happy that the Italians also had their day in March to celebrate.

Joseph the Carpenter, 1642, Louvre, by Georges de La Tour

Joseph the Carpenter, 1642, Louvre, by Georges de La Tour

Of course, not quite as loud or rowdy as St. Patrick’s Day, we nonetheless celebrated the feast of St. Joseph with a food fest. And while the Irish had their green beer and accessories, the Italians, often sporting something red, had their zeppole, a cream filled fried pastry that originated in Napoli.

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According to my fellow blogger, MariaGiovanna, (Sharing My Italy) the “Zeppole di SanGiuseppe” originated in Naples, Italy, “where the first recipe was put on paper, in 1837, by the famous Neapolitan gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to be in Italy to enjoy a zeppole. In Chicago, they can be found in authentic Italian bakeries such as Ferrara Bakery on Taylor Street. Light, airy and filled with cream, it is fun to see the smiles they generate on those wiping the cream from their lips.

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At this time of year, Ferrara’s and Italian bakeries everywhere are busy filling and selling hundreds of dozens of the cream filled gems.

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So, to those looking to get beyond the grey days of winter, here’s an idea – participate in a St. Joseph’s Day custom by sharing some food with the needy and with some friends, and, of course, be sure to bring some zeppole!

And a very Happy Father’s Day to our Italian friends.

Ciao,
Judy

La Cannuccia, C. del Lago

10 Oct

Winter arrived today, so say the Italians, as the winds were strong and the dark clouds made the temperatures drop. Suddenly, fashion consisted of turtlenecks, an abundance of scarves, and “puffy” (down) coats and jackets. Luckily for us, we were prepared.

With a sprinkle in the air in Cortona, we got in our Fiat 500, destination unknown, and soon found ourselves in Castiglione del Lago. Stronger winds and bigger clouds greeted us,

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but without rain, and a goal of fresh air and exercise, we were happy to walk as we had the lake and view to ourselves.

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Water is mesmerizing, and as we walked, we watched the waves crash upon the rocks. The seagulls were playing what looked like Marco Polo, that “catch me if you can” game we played as kids and they played with the waves.

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After awhile, the clouds broke across the lake and the sun shone like a spotlight on several of the hill towns.

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Eventually, we stopped for lunch at La Cannuccia, our lakeside go-to cafe. We ordered our usual split lunch, a grilled panino and mixed salad, which is served with delicious warm rolls.

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After lunch, Riccardo asked if we were football fans.

“I’m a big baseball fan at the moment,” I replied, “as I’m from Chicago and …”

“Chicago Cubs!” he said and smiled.

“We live about two miles from…”

“Wrigley Field!” he exclaimed.

“You must like baseball,” I said.

“Not so much. It can be boring, especially when there is a pitching battle,” he replied.

“Like the first game the other night…” 

“When the Cubs won 1-0 against the San Francisco Giants,” he quickly replied.

“We haven’t won in over a century, and…” 

“The goat,” he said, and raised his hands like Italians do. “I don’t believe.”

By now, Len was intrigued. Since our dear friends, Carrol and Larry, had left weeks ago, Len had not found anyone to have a good baseball conversation with. And here was Riccardo, born and raised locally, owner of a bar in Castiglione del Lago in the center of Italy, speaking English, he – a fountain of knowledge about American baseball, a sport that wasn’t even his favorite.

After they talked baseball for a bit, I asked what Il Cannuccia means. “It’s the tall grass that grows in a swamp,” he said, as he pointed to the bottom right of a giant photo on the face of the bar.  100 years ago, much of the lake was a swamp.

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The present bar was built in the 50’s. It has been in Riccardo’s family since the mid 70’s and is now operated by Riccardo and his brother Simone.

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

I asked if I could take a few pictures.  “Sure, but the best view is looking out.”

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

Easy to see why he thinks that and one of the reasons we keep returning.

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After lunch, I considered having gelato, as theirs is very good. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Ricardo asked if we like cream. “Sure, why not,” I answered, and he set off to make something special for us.

He arrived with this.

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This incredibly light “sugar donut” is called a ciambella. He quartered it, and topped it with  panna fresca, (fresh cream,) and cacao candela, (cinnamon). My sister Florence and her husband Vince would have ordered this and skipped the salad and panino. Benita too.

Castiglione del Lago in Umbria is about 30 minutes from Cortona on the SW corner of Lago Trasimeno. Although Cortona is a city where you don’t need a car, if you have one, it is such fun exploring all the neighboring towns, taking in the sights, and making interesting new friends like Riccardo. Who knew???

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

 

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

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

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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:

https://blogginginitaly.com/2013/09/14/il-pozzo/

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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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 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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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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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.

©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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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

 

 

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