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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…

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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

S. Margherita Festival Cortona

21 May

This weekend, the people of Cortona celebrated the feast of S. Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint, and kicked off the two weeks of the Medieval Giostra dell’Archidado.

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Events began Friday night with the Colata dei ceri, or the casting of the candles, a religious practice that dates back to 1325. At the time, wax was collected and used by churches for candle making and also sold as a source of income.

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Locals dressed in traditional costumes of the time and processed into Piazza Repubblica accompanied by drummers and flag bearers.

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S. Margherita was eventually led into the piazza

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and a few events from her life were reenacted.

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If you look closely in the pink part of the photo, you will see a headsman or executioner. After Margherita was willing to sacrifice her life in place a convicted criminal, her followers cried out, “She is a saint!” and the criminal’s life was spared.

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Saturday was the Offerta dei ceri or the offering of the candles. Large candles were carried into the piazza and blessed by the bishop.

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Each quartiere or neighborhood of Cortona was represented in a procession that portrayed nobility, religious and workers of the time.

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Following the blessings, the flag bearers delighted the crowds with their skills.

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Then the candles were taken to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.

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On Sunday morning, several masses were held at the Basilica. We walked up Via Santa Croce…

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where beautiful mosaics of the stations of the cross are built into the wall.

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S. Margherita died in 1297 in a room behind the old church where she had lived the last years of her life. Over the years, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Margherita was rebuilt in her honor.

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Her body is preserved in a silver casket on the altar. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.

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On my way out of the Basilica, I turned once again to admire its beauty, said one more quick prayer, and as I headed toward the door, a gust of wind blew it open. Really.

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Such a wonderful weekend and such an interesting way to understand and celebrate this important part of Cortona’s history.

Ciao,
Judy

San Feliciano Umbria

18 May

After many years in Cortona, I thought we had visited most towns and villages that surround Lake Trasimeno, but not surprisingly, there is always another gem to discover. Knowing we love fresh fish, some friends suggested we head to Ristorante Da Massimo in San Feliciano, Umbria. The restaurant is nestled on a quiet hill overlooking the lake.

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Meet Massimo, chef and proprietor of this over 25 year-old restaurant.

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We began with appetizers, and they were so good, we jumped right in and I didn’t get photos. Len and I shared an enormous plate of spaghetti con vongole (clams), one of the best we have eaten in Italy, while our friends shared a mixed seafood appetizer – first cold seafood then hot.

While this is not what we ate, I was able to get a photo of this spaghetti with mixed seafood.

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For our second course, Len and I shared grilled spigola, or sea bass, and it was delicious!

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Our friends ordered the oven roasted version with potatoes and olives.

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To accompany our meal, we drank a light sparkling white wine, perfect with seafood.

After coffee, we decided to take a walk in the town. From Cortona, the winding scenic ride along the lake eventually brings you to this small fishing village, perhaps “on the map” as it is one of the places you can catch a ferry to Isola Polvese in the lake. San Feliciano is about 35-45 kilometers from Cortona, depending on your route.

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Being that it was a weekday, and not quite summer, the town was quiet and we had much of it to ourselves. Not sure how busy it gets in summer, but there are campgrounds nearby, so our timing was perfect. In addition, in late July each year, the town hosts the annual Festa del Giacchio, a festival that pays tribute to an old fishing technique dating back to Etruscan times. Although the technique is no longer used on the lake, during the festival there are demonstrations, competitions, and opportunities to participate in all kinds of events.

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Len has long wanted to rent a small boat and fish in Lake Trasimeno, and San Feliciano seems to fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps the best part for me is that Len can throw back whatever he catches, and after a relaxing day, we can all eat well at Ristorante Da Massimo, no fish cleaning or cooking required.

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Ristorante Da Massimo and San Feliciano, two great additions to our list of favorite places!

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Ciao,
Judy

2017 Orto Planting

6 May

Finally, finally, our plants are in the orto, or vegetable garden. We waited two weeks later than last year due to cold weather and are so happy we did. We have some friends who planted in April and now need to replant due to frost and a recent 0° night. In fact, we know several people whose fruit trees suffered a lot of damage and now won’t produce fruits like figs, apricots, cherries, etc. this year.

It’s hard to believe this small bunch of plants will populate Fernanda’s orto…
12 tomatoes (4 varieties); 12 red onions; 4 zucchini.

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As you might recall, four of us, all novices, planted a vegetable garden last spring at our friend’s home in the country. And here’s a reminder of last year’s success!

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Having set the bar pretty high, and wanting similar results, some advice was sought (“offered”) from more skilled neighbors. It’s a funny thing about “orto rules”…there seem to be as many as there are vegetable gardeners. In addition, Italians who live in the country are known to have superstitions about doing things on certain days of the week – but we didn’t let that bother us.

First step was for Len and Loreno to count off the space needed for the tomato plants.

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Once measured, building of the cane structure commenced. There was some “debate” this year about teepee style (last year’s) vs. box style, but after much consideration, box style won.

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Looks like a tying lesson is going on here.

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Tomato plants were added, water troughs dug, and once completed, the perfectly aligned tomatoes looked like this.

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Then the onions and zucchini were planted in the rear of the garden where there are also garlic and artichoke plants, hardier plants which had been planted earlier in the season.

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After a very productive afternoon, Fernanda treated us to a delicious dinner and the day treated us to a beautiful sunset.

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When your daily view looks like this…

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how can you not want to plant your own orto?

Here’s to our orto trio, our hard-working contadini (farmers)…can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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Ciao,
Judy

Remembering Ted

25 Apr

Sometimes, people land in a place by chance, yet leave a lasting imprint. Such was the case with Ted Walker.

In late 2013, Ted discovered Cortona. Like so many others, after reading or seeing Under the Tuscan Sun, he found a rental online, booked it, and set his course – never imagining the impact on his life or others.

Over the next several years, Ted became a familiar face to many, and even an important extended family member to some. He also learned to speak Italian quite well.

Ted had hoped to put several health problems behind him and return to Cortona this spring, but it was not to be. His absence has left quite a void in the hearts of his Cortona “family” and friends, who placed a tribute in the local paper L’ETRURIA, dated April 15:

Gli Amici di Cortona ti Salutano

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With apologies for a non-exact translation, it reads in part:

“To our great friend Ted, who arrived in Cortona like many, filled with curiosity to discover what brings people here from all over the world.  

“We are convinced he discovered it right away because he never got away from us until the last moment when his watch stopped.”

The article pays tribute to Ted for reminding locals of what a privilege it is to live in a place like Cortona, and describes him as a generous and kind man. It ends with this wonderful thought:

“If there is life after death, we will meet again to laugh and joke like we started here in this world you loved so much.”

The following are of some of my favorite memories shared with Ted in Cortona.

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Rest in peace, Ted. Riposare in Pace.

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And yes, we raise a Prosecco to you!

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

 

 

Easter in Cortona

15 Apr

In cities and towns all over Italy, religious processions are held during Easter week. Many churches have large statues and crosses that are carried on the shoulders of locals in Holy Week processions through city streets.

Last night, Good Friday, Cortona held its annual Procession of the Stations of the Cross. Signs in English were all over town to remind visitors that this is a solemn event.

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The procession began at 9 PM at the Church of Spirito Santo, a 17th-century church built just outside the medieval walls of Cortona. For those of you familiar with Cortona, picture the church beyond the bottom of steep Via Guelfa and out the wall’s entrance. Noting this is important because the route the procession takes is pretty amazing…either steeply uphill or down, and very rarely flat. (*See below for more of route.)

We waited for the procession at the Church of Saint Francis with others who had lined the steps.

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The Stations of the Cross were being read over a loud-speaker as the procession moved through parts of town.

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Local children were as involved as their parents.

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A group of strong women carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.

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After reaching its highest point, the procession came down Via S. Margherita toward Via Nazionale.

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The final destination was Piazza Republicca, where the statues were placed on platforms.

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At about 10:30 PM, religious dignitaries gathered at the top of the Municipio and a local bishop led all in prayer before the choir sang.

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A year ago, Len and I were in Trapani, Sicily, for their incredible Misteri di Trapani, a 24 hour procession. It was large and dramatic, with musicians and choirs accompanying each heavy statue carried on the shoulders of dozens of men. But Trapani is flat, and Cortona is anything but. So, while Cortona’s procession was smaller, with less music and drama, it was nonetheless incredible to see the procession maneuver through the ancient town. Whether elaborate or small, dramatic or simple, it is each town’s commitment to carrying out tradition that matters.

Today, Saturday, Cortona is bustling with people, here to participate in the Easter weekend. I’m told there is a midnight mass tonight at the Duomo, and masses at various times and churches tomorrow.

The smells of special Easter breads and pastries fill the spring air, and tomorrow most Italians will gather around large lunches with their families and friends to celebrate Easter, as will we.

In Italy, the Monday after Easter is also a holiday called Pasquetta. Though not a religious holiday, Pasquetta is another day for family and friends to gather and also spend some relaxing time outdoors. It was introduced by the government after World War II.

Wherever your plans may take you, a gathering big or small,
I wish you a very Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua to all!

Ciao,
Judy

*Note: for those wanting more on the route,  I believe it was up Via Guelfa, connecting to Via Ghini, up the very steep Via Maffei to San Francesco Church, on past the old hospital to Via S. Margherita, down through Piazza Garibaldi to Via Nazionale and finally ending in Piazza Republicca.

 

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!

 

 

Familiar Footing

30 Mar

Why did we fall in love with Cortona? So very many reasons, but suffice it to say we did –  this being our eighth stay. And although so much is familiar, this ancient Etruscan town never ceases to amaze.

The incredible views…

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Local food sourcing… (10 huge fresh artichokes for under $4.50!)

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Tiny cars that seem to suck in their sides as they traverse the hills and uneven narrow streets – (my Fiat 500).

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And of course, the delicious food.

AD Braceria ©Blogginginitaly.com

AD Braceria ©Blogginginitaly.com

Tuscher Caffe ©Blogginginitaly.com

First day of 2017 outside seating at Tuscher Caffe ©Blogginginitaly.com

The weather has been perfect – blue sky sunny days, cool nights, and signs of Spring’s magnificent return in the colors popping up everywhere.

And while all of the above is wonderful, nothing quite compares to the sincere smiles and heartfelt “ben tornato” (welcome back) long embraces we’ve received from our local friends.

I guess the answer to my opening question is simple: they are truly the reason we fell in love with Cortona and why we happily return.

For now, time to give in to jet lag, but much more to come.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

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

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