Farmers' Markets in Umbria: Back to the Future!

Bruschettina-1One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced when I moved to Umbria from Seattle was something completely unexpected  - there were no farmers' markets!  Now, whilst living in Seattle, I was a central part of the booming farmers' market industry there - I had a very popular stand called Bruschettina, lines down the block, I even had an employee - the farmers' markets were my life.... So imagine my shock (and dismay and horror) when I moved to a place where, honestly, in America we think we are modelling our markets after, that is barren, so to speak. 

Understand that other than bananas and citrus, I had not bought a piece of produce in a supermarket in years.  I was dying on the inside...  The 'markets' here were what I oh-so- lovingly deemed Socks and Underwear Markets.  Basically a bunch of stalls selling knock off clothing and plastic crap.  Deep within the rows of socks and underwear, there might be a fruit/veg stand, but you know if they are selling bananas (and they always are) that most likely nothing is local and forget about organic.

When I moved from Foligno to Cannara I had the absolute fortune of discovering Ada.  Ada is mentioned frequently on my blog as she was my 'savior.'  She and her family have a small farm here and she sells her produce 2 days a week in our town.  So that solved my produce predicament, but I was still driving all over the hinterlands to buy meat, cheese, grains etc...

Now, I always joke that Italy follows in the footsteps of the United States (right or wrong), only 20 years later.  When the American style big box stores and supermarkets came in, small farmers in the area went out, as did the markets.  Slowly but surely, Italy is again following the fashion (better late than never) and catching on to the Farmers' Market trend.  What really kills me is when I see Farmers' Market written in English - I just want to scream - don't you know this is your lost tradition?!?!  Anyway....

In the past few years, a national group called Campagna Amica has been introducing markets showcasing local products all over Italy... and I am so happy!  The first time I went to one I felt all the memories of the Seattle markets rush back because many of the producers in these Campagna Amica markets are already my friends/ trusted producers - now finally all together!

If you are visiting Umbria, please take the time to visit and support one of these local markets, granted they are not the immense banquets of Provence, but it's a start in getting back to our future.

Weekly (not socks & underwear) Markets in Umbria

  • Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) - Monday
  • Todi - Monday
  • Spoleto - Tuesday 
  • Città di Castello - Tuesday
  • Perugia (Pian di Massiano) - Thursday
  • Foligno - Friday
  • Gubbio - Saturday
  • Umbertide - Saturday

Most of the markets run from 8:00 - 12:00/13:00.  Perugia also holds an organic market once a month and of course, Ada is in Cannara on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

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An Italian Recipe...

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This week some students of mine asked me to teach them how to make a certain type of cookie that they had been eating in nearby Spello.  Now remember, here in Umbria (as well as pretty much all of Italy) recipes and typical dishes can vary greatly from town to town - even villages just 10 km apart, like Spello and Cannara.

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Wine Soaked Memories

....oh, where to begin?!  We are wrapping up the main season of 2014 (of course, we are always here to continure to welcome our off-season guests as well!) and what better way than to give a little recap of our 4th annual Food & Wine Tour of Umbria with Ciao Thyme of Bellingham, WA.

Every year we try to do the seemingly impossible and out-do the previous trip, and yes, we achieved this goal yet again!  More food!  More wine!  More Umbria!

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The Infiorata of Cannara - Flower Power!

IMG_0517For anyone in Umbria on June 21-22, there is a wonderful festival called L'Infiorata going on.  Some of you may have heard of the more well-known version held in nieghboring Spello, but in my opinion, the Cannara version is a must!

The Infiorata is a 17th century Baroque celebration of the religious feast of Corpus Christi (known as Corpus Domini here in Italy).  It is one of those "moving holy days" so every year it falls on a different Sunday.  What happens is that local townspeople get together to line the streets with beautiful carpets of flowers, intricately laid to create stunning works of art, mostly with religious and cultural themes.

While in Spello the Inforata is created mostly by professionals, in our village of Cannara it is a local affair... which means a party!  For weeks before the event, flowers are harvested from the area.  Then on Saturday, which this year will be June 21st, all of the flowers are "prepared", meaning that they are all de-petalled, de-stemmed, and put through grinders to make sure that they are uniform.  After sunset, all of the townsfolk begin to lay the flowers down onto their respective designs along the streets to create their masterpieces.  The process continues throughout the night (until dawn) with a break around midnight for the Spaghettata, when some of the local women bring out pasta in the piazza for everyone to enjoy - then it's back to work!

The next morning, there is a Mass to celebrate Corpus Domini followed by a procession, during which the priest walks over the the flower carpets.  Don't worry, he usually treads lightly!  The carpets are left on display for the entire day and then are washed away until next year...

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The Infiorata has an extra special meaning for me because the very first Infiorata that I participated in was back in 2008, when I was still living in Foligno and no intentions of moving to this sleepy onion town... but when I looked back at the photos, I realized that I did the infiorata in front the house that we eventually bought!  It was kismet to say the least!

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That's me unknowingly "infiorat-ing" in front of my future home back in '08.

I will be live tweeting, instagramming and facebooking the Infiorata of Cannara June 21-22, with the hashtag #CannaraFlowerPower - follow along virtually if you can't be here!

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Love Thy Neighbor....

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Photo courtesey of Click Art di Paolo D'Antonio, Cannara, Italy

Aaaaahhh.... Italian neighbors.... gotta love 'em...

I live in the centro storico, or historic center of a little village, which means that I live in a house that is something like a row home... except that it was built by the Romans.  The median age of the people living in the center of my town is about 65, which means that pretty much everyone is retired and therefore, always around.  Living in the center also means that one gives in to the reality that your neighbors will know pretty much everything about you.  For instance, if I sneeze in the summertime (when the windows are open), I can guarantee that when I leave my house, one of my neighbors will be outside waiting... ready to commiserate with me that they as well have a cold and/or allergy as well as 600 other ailments.

I really can't complain though, everyone is pretty nice in my town and they all mean well.  The only times I get actually mad at my neighbors are when they wake up my kids.  Like for instance, when you have one of those rare moments that the toddler and the infant both go to sleep at the same time and your next store neighbor starts cleaning his tractor with an air compressor.  If you would like to see the fires of hell burning in the eyes of a raging banshee, then swing by my house when my neighbor decides to clean his tractor during quiet time.  My ability to curse in Italian is adequate but not advanced.  Were I able to curse in Italian, the way I can in Philadelphian, my neighbor would probably throw his air compressor into the river to avoid the risk of ever being tempted to turn that thing on again.

But the neighbors aren't just for eavesdropping and making unnecessary noise... they are also good for alerting me to events and situations... like last year, when one of my neighbors was frantically ringing my doorbell because she was sure she saw flames shooting out of my chimney (we all have fireplaces, which are always lit in the winter).  This led to me being forced to call the fire department and escort a group of 6 big Italian firemen up to the roof of my house (by the way I was 8 months pregnant), only to discover that there was nothing wrong with our chimney  - maybe there was some grease that sparked, but nothing dangerous.  Not embarassing AT ALL....

Which brings me to this morning.  I was in the shower and heard the doorbell ring - not a big deal - as it is usually a gypsy or Jehovah's witness asking for money, I usually don't even respond anyway.  A few minutes later, the doorbell rings again, but this time the ringer is really slamming on the bell.  I realize it must be a neighbor and quickly think about what the problem could be.  The most likely situation is that I need to move my car - yesterday I parked in one of those spots that says No Parking, but everybody knows that you can park there.... today is probably the day that you can't.  This situation seems unlikely though as I am no longer the gringo who (for instance) doesn't realize that even though the sign in the piazza says No Parking on (let's say) March 21, it really means No Parking on March 20 because that's when the religious festival is and everyone knows except for me.... No, after 5 years in this town, I have got this stuff down.... So now the phone starts ringing - it is one of my neighbors.  He tells me that Maria is looking for me (at least we now know who has been ringing my doorbell).  But which Maria?  There are 5 houses on my block and no less than 4 Marias.  If you ever forget the name of an Italian woman, just call her Maria, and if that is not her name chances are good that she will say "that's okay, some people do call me Maria because my mother/sister/cousin is named Maria."  Anyway, we figure out which Maria it is and I tell my neighbor that I will find her later.

Later that day.... I ring Maria's doorbell.  She rushes down because...(drumroll...) she has found me a job at a nearby agriturismo!  God bless her, after 5 years this woman still thinks that I don't work.  I explained to her (again) that I have my own business and that even though I don't work a lot in the winter (because I work in tourism), starting in April things will start to pick up again... (and come July, she will surely say to me "oh I never see you anymore, you are always working....").  Maria did not accept this explantation and told me I should quit my (successful) business for this steady (part time) job.  I tried to let her down gently and told her that I would call the agriturismo anyway because you never know...  What I do know is that she is probably going all over town as I write this, telling everyone how I refused work that she found for me. 

So no matter how integrated I might feel, sometimes I think my neighbors will never get me... but at least they are looking out for me (wether I want them to or not!).  :-)


The Seven Year Itch (?)

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Photo courtesy of Click Art di Paolo D'Antonio, Cannara (PG)

Last week I celebrated 7 years of living in Italy.  So what do I have to show for it?  Well, here are some of the good things/accomplishments:

  • Learned to speak Italian pretty fluently - I'm saving the complex verb tenses and vocabulary for when my kids start to learn them in school.
  • Got married twice (to the same person) - one courthouse wedding, and one church wedding - just to make sure I hit all the bases.
  • Adopted 2 cats (one of which is sadly in the clouds now).
  • Moved only once - a record for me as before moving to Italy I had moved 7 times between the years 1995-2005.
  • Opened a restaurant (which I later sold - see below for probable reason).
  • Popped out 2 kids (a girl and a boy).
  • Started a successful tourism business.
  • Got my Italian drivers' license, which involves memorizing a 342 page technical manual (in Italian) and understanding that you will fail if you don't open the car door with two hands (a gust of wind could blow the door open and humans are not strong enough to control a car door with one arm).
  • Have traveled to 16 of the 20 regions in Italy.

But... life here in Italy isn't all about flitting around in the countryside and drinking wine... well, we do drink our fair share of wine, but lately it's to drown our sorrows.... Italy is crashing.  Crashing hard.  It is in probably one of its worst financial crises since the Fall of the Roman Empire.  I've owned businesses in both the United States and Italy and I can tell you that it is much much much much harder to be an entrenpeneur here.  The politics of this country manuveur against its citizens and residents in every way possible (especially those who are working to bring tourism (€€) to the region).  The young people who are educated and have the potential to actually change something are all defecting to countries who embrace hardwork and ingenuity.  And the people who are left feel as they are being dug deeper and deeper into a hole, and the current political system has no interest, or intention, of rescuing them.

But... for better or worse, I am choosing to stay and raise my family here.  I have found a wonderful community of people who have become my family and my inspiration for this time and place of my life. 

And literally, as I finish writing this post, on the eve of the Epiphany, or Befana, as it is know locally here in Italy, a woman dressed up as the Befana (an ugly old woman who passes in the night to bring either candy or coal to the children...) just knocked on our door and left 2 giant stockings full of candy for my kids.  These are the little things that happen in my town, that in reality, are big things for me right now.  The true sense of community and small town life (which is really what draws us all to Italy) is a flame that is still flickering... it just needs a few puffs of air to turn it back into a bright, roaring fire.


Il Camino

PhotoLining the back of my fireplace, or camino, are two iron plaques:  one is of a griffin, the symbol of Cannara and also Perugia (which makes sense, as we live in the town of Cannara in the Province of Perugia...); the other, however, is the image of a large ship (like an Argosy...or a Clipper... or maybe a Galleon.... ship identification is not my area of expertise...), which I would like to believe is maybe the symbol of some other province, and placed there as an homage to the seafaring life that person had lived before transferring to land-locked Umbria.  From my 6 minutes of research that my infant and toddler allowed my to complete, I found that both Rimini and Savona have ships as their symbols.  The one from Savona looks a little a bit more like my ship, but I will have to investigate this further (which means getting the gossip from some of my older neighbors) at a later time.

So, in honor of the nautical side of my fireplace, I decided to make Zuppa di Pesce con Pasta alla Chitarra (Fish Soup with pasta made on the Chitarra), a dish from Abruzzo.  Cooking this slowly in the fireplace gave the soup an even richer flavor.  Here is the recipe:

  • In a terracotta pot (if you have one, otherwise enameled cast iron or a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot will work as well), heat extra-virgin olive oil with chopped onion, carrots, celery, a few whole garlic cloves, a few hot peppers, and 2 bay leaves.  Cook until the onions are translucent.
  • Add shellfish and cook in the oil until the shells start to darken
  • Add small whole fish and squid cut into rings
  • Deglaze with a glass of red wine (that's right red)
  • Add crushed or pureed tomatoes to cover by about an inch and season well with salt
  • Simmer for about 15-20 minutes
  • With a strainer, remove the fish from the sauce, set aside in a warm place
  • Add hot salted water to the sauce - this will depending on how much your sauce has reduced, but you will probably need at least a liter, bring to a rolling simmer
  • Add your Chitarra (recipe to follow) and cook for about 10 minutes, the sauce should reduce almost completely
  • Serve the pasta alongside the fish and enjoy with a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!

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Pasta alla Chitarra

  • on a wooden cutting board, make a well with 300g semolina flour, 100g AP flour, and 4 whole eggs
  • mix together and knead until smooth, about 15 minutes
  • let rest for 45-60 minutes
  • divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll out into rectangular sheets 3-5mm high
  • place a sheet of dough over the chitarra, and pressing firmly, roll over the dough with a pin until the pasta is cut by the strings of the chitarra
  • toss with semolina flour and cover with a towel until ready to use

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You don't know beans about beans! ... or do you?

Saturday.  8:52am.  Ada's vegetable truck, Cannara:  I get into a heated argument with a 4ft tall 90 year old man about the best time to eat shell beans....

 

IMG_3142I've been reading posts lately on the concept of integration (namely from fellow bloggers Rebecca & Elizabeth).  Integration is a hot-topic for us expats, and those of us who are (self-proclaimed) integrated definitely have a superiority complex over those who have not yet achieved said status.  What defines being integrated in Italy?  According to me, you must be fairly fluent in Italian, have physical Italian friends (friends you call and go out with, not just on Facebook), and know and accept that you will spend approximately 45% of your time in Italy in the post office.

All that is fine, but after Saturday morning's incident, I began to wonder if it is possible to cross the line and over-integrate.  Lately I have been catching myself doing things that I wouldn't have done even 2 years ago (I've now been here for 7 years):

  1. Haggling.  I am not now, nor ever have been a haggler.  But I've haggled twice in the past month, and not with some gypsy selling crap on the side of the road.  I haggled in Leroy Merlin (a big box store, like a fancy Home Depot) - you don't haggle in these kind of stores - the price is the price.  I did it though - using the "I'll give you €xx for this item - otherwise I walk out the door" technique.  I can't believe I did it; I can't believe it worked.  I also just haggled with a giant, scary Napoletano selling porcini mushrooms on the side of the road.  That was actually kind of fun, because we were both playing the game.  I got him down to €60 from €95 for a case of porcini.  Now I know, always buy mushrooms at the end of the day. 
  2. I yell out of my window (from across the room) to join in my neighbors' conversations (which I have been obviously listening in on).  And they, of course, respond - willingly yelling back.  This is something that really only occurs when you live in the center of a town, and definitely a sign of over-integration.
  3. I sit down on any chair, anywhere.  If you have ever walked around an Italian village in the warmer months, you will notice that there are groups of chairs around in front of people's homes.  This is for the residents and their friends - because Italians don't really do a full passeggiata, walking around town after dinner - they walk to the first chairs they can find - be they at a neighbor's house or a bar, as long as they can sit down again fairly quickly.  I now sit down on people's chairs whether they are there or not, whether I know them or not, any time of day.  A sign either of over-integration or that I am turning into an 80 yr old Italian woman.
  4. Responding when spoken to in 2nd person plural.  This is advanced, people.  This goes beyond fluency.  Italians have a formal tense (3rd person, singular) which is used when speaking to people you don't know, doctors, officials, etc.  BUT!  There is an older version of the formal tense which went out of fashion with black & white movies (where I learned it, by the way) and it is the 2nd person, plural.  Confused?  It is confusing.  I didn't realize that my elderly neighbor had been speaking to me in this tense until one day she caught me by myself - I was looking over my shoulder to see if someone was behind me because I couldn't understand who else she was talking to!  aaahhh, old school formal - I get it!
  5. And of course, as mentioned in the beginning, arguing with old people about things like cooking beans.  Just for the record, I had some 70 year old peeps on my side!  Definite Over-integration.

Citra-therapy

 IMG_7242My bumper crop of lemons this year has me begging the question:  am I in Sorrento or Cannara (thanks global warming!)??  Well, I'm definitely not in Sorrento.... but that doesn't mean I can't do lots of fun things with the abundance of citrus fruits right now.  Obviously, the fruit I use comes from southern Italy, in particular from Sicily.  Since we are expecting a new addition to our family (any minute now!), I won't be making my annual pilgrimage to Verona to get my favorite candied fruits to make my Easter Pastiera (yes, I'm already thinking about Easter lunch); so I decided to take a stab at making my own candied citrus peels - time consuming, but simple.  I also made a citrus marmellata and was left with some flavored simple syrups as a by product from my peels to use in the future. Citrus

But first, the peels....

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An Evening of Infiorata!

Progetto infio 2Well, you know you are getting somewhere with the whole "integrating" thing when you start organizing events in your community... 

That said, I am proud to present my first event :  An Evening of Infiorata! 

For those in the Umbrian area next weekend, Saturday, June 9, the village of Cannara will be transporting visitors from Spello to participate in the town's Infiorata - actually lay the flowers down alongside local artists...

The price is €10 per person (€6 without transportation) and includes:

Hands-on laying of the flowers alongside local artists, helping them complete their works of art through the byways of Cannara.

Free entrance to the Museum of Cannara, which holds an intact mosaic floor and other artifacts from an ancient Roman settlement of the area.

A glass of Vernaccia from Cantina Di Filippo (Cannara's local sweet wine) with biscotti.

Midnight spaghetti feast in the piazza with local townspeople!

Reservations Required! in one of the following locations:

Comune of Cannara - Cultural Office, Pro Loco Cannara, or through me at LifeItalianStyle@gmail.com

See you there - FLOWER POWER!!!