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Lunchtime in Italia

13 Apr

Lunch (Pranzo) in Italy is a great time to enjoy fresh homemade food and local wine with family and/or friends, and yesterday was no exception. Well, actually it was quite the exception due to the incredible seafood feast which was prepared for our return by dear friends. Feast your eyes on this.

First Course (left pot):
Cozze e Vongole (Mussels and Clams)

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Second Course:
Pasta con Cozze, Calamari, Gamberetti e Gamberi
(Pasta with Muscles, Calamari, Shrimp and Prawns)

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Third Course: Gamberi in Padella e Verdure
(Prawns in the Pan and Vegetables)

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The ingredients were simple, the smell and taste divine – fresh seafood, local olive oil, garlic, a splash of brandy, salt, pepper and parsley.

I can’t think of a much better way to spend an afternoon than with delicious food, wonderful wine, dear friends, lively conversation, and loads of love and laughter. And of course, all of this followed by a Torta della Colomba di Pasqua (Easter dove cake), sambuca and caffe.

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Perhaps Virginia Woolf said it best:

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,
if one has not dined well.”

Many thanks and sincerest compliments to our hosts/friends/amazing chefs!

Ciao,
Judy

Montalcino and Pietranera Again

11 Apr

On Monday past, although it was rainy, cloudy and dreary, we drove to Montalcino with friends. Fortunately, the clouds broke just long enough to get some photos, views that if you know Tuscany, will bring a “been there” happy memory to your mind and a smile to your face.

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By chance, Len and I became familiar with Pietranera Brunello (Tenuta Friggiali) back in 2001, and this would be our third visit to the winery.

After a tour and some history,

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Samanta had prepared a great tasting for us.

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We sampled 5 different wines, and as we were discussing them, Samanta said we had a visitor.

We turned to look and in walked one of the owners, Marissa, the wonderful and gracious lady we had met on our very first visit. Len and I were speechless! Marissa lives in Napoli and she had taken a nearly four-hour train ride to Tuscany that morning to surprise us. Imagine, just imagine.

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We hadn’t spoken to Marissa since 2011, but our conversation picked up as if it were last week. She even brought the last Christmas card we sent her just to show us she had kept it.

Since I have written about our wonderful encounter in previous posts, I’ll list them below instead of rewriting.  However, if you only read one, read about our accidental meeting of Marissa…
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/08/04/the-owner-4/

Back then, we were strangers, and now, forever friends. Who knows when and if we’ll meet again, yet we have memories for a lifetime from a chance encounter as well as another peak moment to add to those we are accumulating.

Ciao,
Judy

 

Additional posts include:

Montalcino
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/07/01/montalcino/

The Tour.1:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/07/26/the-tour-1/

The Tasting.2:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/07/29/the-tasting-2/

The Tasting Addendum:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/07/30/the-tasting-addendum/

The Villa.3:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/08/01/the-villa-3/

The Owner.4:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/08/04/the-owner-4/

The Dinner on the Hill.5:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/08/13/dinner-on-the-hill-5/

The Morning After.6:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2011/08/15/the-morning-after-6/

 

An Ode to Springtime in Cortona

6 Apr

When an 8 1/2 hour flight turns into a 40+ hour unexpected project, it is heartwarming to be embraced by the outstretched arms of Cortona – its historic buildings, incredible views, wonderful food and most of all, its warm and gracious people. It’s no wonder that, over Easter weekend, Cortona was ranked the number one preferred Italian destination by Airbnb.

Thus, our familiar walks have inspired my very simplistic verse:

Ode to Springtime in Cortona

With temperatures rising,
the buds are bursting and the sun is shining.

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Many are walking as others are riding.

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As the fog is lifting, it is quite revealing –
the dandelions are popping
and the hillsides are greening.

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All the while,
the bright shiny Vespas and motos keep careening.

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So many places for delicious dining;

©blogginginitaly.com (Tuscher)

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accompanied, of course, by Tuscan wine(ing).

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And no matter what age, Gelato always brings smiling.

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So if you are seeking a place which is lovely and inspiring,

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Cortona in Springtime is simply beguiling.

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Ciao,
Judy

Weather Wonders

27 Feb

Chicago or Cortona? 

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These days, pretty hard to tell just by the weather.

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If you’ve seen international news lately, you’ve most likely heard of the BEAST, a Siberian weather front impacting much of Europe. Icy roads mean closed schools and often some businesses, especially in steep hill towns like Cortona. 

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This is happening at the same time Chicago is experiencing a few 50° sunny days.

My Chicago street:

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My Cortona street, 

Pre-salting…

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Post-salting…

(But, of course, nothing stops the garbage ladies, nothing!)

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Now the freeze does carry some good news…the lingering cold and ice should hopefully kill the spread of the dreadful mosca (flea) which invaded the olives two years ago and decimated the harvest for many.

With this is mind, let it freeze, let it freeze, let it freeze… just not for too long!

And soon enough, Cortona will be welcoming all the lovely signs of spring once again.

©blogginginitaly.com (late March, 2017)

With thanks to my Cortona friends for the snow photos…

Ciao,
Judy 

 

 

 

Snow Day Trip to the Zoo

12 Feb

Over the last 9 days, depending on one’s location, Chicagoans have received over 18 inches of snow. So what exactly does that look like on our deck?

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And at Lincoln Park Zoo?

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Surprisingly, not too many people decided to venture out.

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But we did find some hearty souls enjoying the afternoon.

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And scores and scores of icicles.

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As we reached home, the sun began to erase the clouds,

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and paint the sky a beautiful blue,

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reminding us once again, in the words of  “Hal” Borland,

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.

Lucky for us on both counts!

Ciao,
Judy

Riccardo Trattoria

8 Feb

Last night, Len, Benita and I shared an early Valentine’s Dinner at our favorite Riccardo Trattoria and took advantage of Chicago’s Restaurant Week special pricing. For just $33/person, we each selected three dishes from the ANTIPASTI, PASTA E RISOTTI, CARNE E PESCE, and DOLCI menus, and then shared them family style.

We have been patrons of Riccardos since it opened in early 2006, even before it had been granted its liquor license. We saw the sign on the door and were delighted that an authentic Italian restaurant was opening just blocks from home. And it has not disappointed – ever – probably because owner/chef Riccardo Michi began his career and ignited his passion at a young age in Milan in the family business and continues his passion today.

So what did we feast on?

For starters:

 

Followed by:

 

And finally dessert:

 

Delicious, fun, and lucky for us, a little trip to Italy just a few blocks from home. 

Buon Appetito and an early wish for a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Leopoldina

14 Jan

The first time I remember seeing a Leopoldina was in 2014. It was a warm summer morning and we were headed to Rome from Cortona for our flight home. The driver took a different route than we had been accustomed to – one that avoided the interstate as long as possible and instead wove past a beautiful field of sunflowers and a fascinating abandoned structure. I was intrigued by the structure, and at the time, knew neither its name nor its history. I soon learned that this farm-house is called a Leopoldina.

The following year, Len and I set out to find that same field of sunflowers (girasole) and that Leopoldina. With no place to be but there, we parked the car and took in the sights. Thousands of sunflowers, with faces open to the sun, spread out before us.

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And at the end of a curve in the road, still standing proudly albeit tired and worn, stood the enchanting Leopoldina.

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To me, the abandoned structure looked much more like a lovely watercolor subject needing to be loved and preserved than an abandoned structure needing to be forgotten and demolished.

In the weeks that followed, I discovered that Leopoldine (plural) could be found in many areas around  Cortona as well as in northern Umbria.

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As I photographed many of them, I wondered… Who had lived in these houses? How long ago? And why did they all look the same?

While learning the name of the structure was easy, finding the history not so much so. Although I spent hours searching the internet, I mostly came up empty-handed. So I turned to my friend Ray, a history buff, for assistance. Happy to have a history project, he provided most of the following explanation.

Some of the most iconic sites in Tuscany and northern Umbria are the rows of abandoned farmhouses, with their distinctive dovecotes, spread throughout the countryside.

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Called Leopoldine, they look ancient but they are of relatively recent origin, at least by Italian standards, dating from the late 1700’s until the middle 1800’s.

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Much of what we know as modern Tuscany, including the Valdichiana, Maremma, and lower Valdarno, was swamp for most of its history. The hill towns that we love were built there not only for defense but also for health reasons to avoid malaria (mal aria: bad air, marsh fever) from the mosquitoes.

 

Plans to drain the swamps (clearly no connection intended) had been proposed since Etruscan times. Probably the most famous map depicting the swamps was the map of the Valdichiana done by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502, (supposedly at the request of Cesare Borgia), which shows the water extending right up to the hills in the area of Montecchio Vesponi.

Valdichiana by Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Major efforts to drain the area began in the mid 1600’s and continued through the next century. A significant impetus came with the ascension of  Pietro Leopoldo as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1765. A  younger son of the Austrian Empress Maria-Theresa, he started a series of public improvements designed to strengthen agriculture and improve the position of the peasantry.

 

The drainage projects produced huge amounts of rich reclaimed farmland (bonifica) which was distributed to peasant families under a share-cropping system (mezzadria) similar to that in the American South. On an inspection tour of these properties in 1769, he commented on the poor quality and condition of the peasant houses. He commissioned a study by an institute in Florence to design an ideal structure for the peasant families. The farmhouses, named after him, are the Leopoldine we see today.

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The design was for a structure of three levels. The ground floor had space for the animals as well as storage and the oven. The upper floor included a kitchen, living space and the bedrooms and the upper floor was the distinctive dovecote. Every part of the building was planned including the size and positioning of the windows. The external staircase and loggia were designed on the south side to protect the farmer from the tramontana (cold north wind) when he went to check on the animals.

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The bedrooms were designed to accommodate two beds each for the large families. Even the positioning of the different stalls for horses, pigs, sheep and mules was designed around the peculiarities of each animal. 

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While originally designed only for the grand-ducal properties, the obvious value of the structure led private landowners to copy the design. The project continued under Leopoldo’s successors and the last Leopoldine were probably built in the middle of the 19th century just before Italian unification.

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After the World War II, with the movement of Italians to the cities and the increased mechanization of agriculture, the Leopoldine gradually became abandoned and fell into the ruins that we see today. 

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Currently, there is a movement underway within the Regione Toscana and some of the communes to save the Leopoldine. Let’s hope.

And thanks to Ray, we now know both the name and the history of the intriguing Leopoldina.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Happy New Year 2018! Buon Anno!

31 Dec

Each year at this time, I think about what one thing I’d like to share. My inspiration can come from a multitude of sources, and this year, it came from an email from friends.

They had just returned home from a fun yet hectic Christmas with their children and young grandchildren and penned the following:

… “we’re feeling so privileged that after a pretty busy life of our own we’re finally properly old, with few responsibilities other than to each other!…Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Let me put “properly old” in context – these are people in their 70’s whose daily short walk is 4+ miles and their hikes can be hours on end.

And while our long walks can’t measure up to that of our dear friends, we too have embraced this “properly old” period in our own terms. In 2011, blogginginitaly.com was born with this ABOUT:

Judy and Len

too young to be old and too old to be young,

but just the right age

to be traveling, exploring and sharing our adventures with you.

Little did we know then the places we’d go, the things we’d see, and the people – oh, the great people we’d meet, and continue to meet, as we continue our adventure. “Properly old” can indeed be a great time of life.

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My sincere hope for all, as we head into 2018,

is for Health and Happiness,

and that no matter your age,

you embrace life –

Damn those torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Ciao,
Judy

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!

25 Dec

Enjoying a delicious Christmas Eve family dinner
filled with love, laughs and surprises!
(and no dishes!!!)

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Missing those who couldn’t join us…

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Sending warmest wishes from our home to yours…

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And wishing our beautiful daughter Benita
a very Happy Golden Birthday – 

25 on the 25th!

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Merry Christmas, Buon Natale!

Ciao,
Judy

 

Pesto for All Seasons

13 Dec

In Italy, you won’t find broccoli or cauliflower in summer markets, and conversely, you generally won’t find large bunches of basil in winter markets. One of the reasons we love the food in Italy is that it is always seasonal.

In the U.S., we too have wonderful seasonal food, however, we often can get “out of season” food nearly all year long. Like those bunches of basil. Hence, I can make fresh pesto on December 13 when the outside temperature is 34°.

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Yesterday, I bought three packs of fresh basil from Trader Joe’s. For me, the worst part of making pesto is the prep – carefully washing and drying the leaves and removing the stems.

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Although ingredients and directions vary widely, mine are as follows and amounts are suggestions:

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To the food processor, add and process until chunky:

  • 5-7 peeled cloves of garlic*
  • 8 ounces of pine and/or walnuts

Then,

  • Pack the bowl with 3-4 cups of fresh basil leaves and process quickly until mixed
  • Slowly stream in 1/2 cup olive oil, mix
  • Add 8 ounces of pecorino cheese, mix
  • Add additional olive oil for consistency
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

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*I learned something interesting about garlic today. When I peeled the first clove, I noticed it had sprouted.

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I had never seen this before, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, sprouted garlic isn’t harmful, it’s just more bitter, so I opted for another garlic head.

When the pesto is ready, and Len and I have completed our taste tests,

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I separate the pesto into small containers with tight lids that can be kept in the fridge or freezer. Covering the top of the pesto with olive oil helps maintain the freshness and color. To defrost, I simply leave in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

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There you have it, pesto tonight, next week, or in a few months, ready whenever our taste buds are yearning, no matter the season. And we don’t limit pesto to pasta – we use it with appetizers or as a marinade on beef, poultry and even fish.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

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