Another observation in this stream of holiday consciousness. It is about time. That most precious of commodities. Italians have more of it in this season. Generous with their time at all seasons of the year, our Italian friends often comment on how extra happy they are to see us Off Season so to speak. Many people in Italy have lives that are dependent in some ways on us for our tourist traffic and they have to “make hay while the sun shines” and harvest those euros while they may. But they are almost all somewhat more off-duty during these Holiday moments. They tell us how much they relish the chance to really sit and talk a moment, get that extra cup of coffee and just enjoy the moment with us “con calmo.” And of course that is a joy for us too knowing we aren’t distracting them from their livelihood.
HOLIDAYS AND UMBRIA JAZZ. EVERY YEAR BETWEEN CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEARS. ORVIETO
Remember Y2K? That once in a millennium holiday we found ourselves very deliberately in Umbria. Our thinking ran along the lines of “if there is a meltdown, and we are going to be stranded somewhere for ever, lets spend that forever in Italy!”
And that was detailed in this story about Winter in Umbria.
Regular Umbria Jazz, by the way, is epic and it happens every summer in Perugia. We have been there many times and love it, but I honestly think the winter version in Orvieto may be the best. They call it Umbria Jazz Inverno. And jazz or not, it rocks. I’m not what I would describe as a music nut at all. But this is special. It is such a big event, so multifaceted and Orvieto is such a smaller town, its just all encompassing. The music is all around you and pours out of castle windows and covers you in the streets below. We never wanted to leave.
This is where I was a couple days ago. And a world away. May Day Celebration of Spring and an Italian Slow food event at the 1,100 acre non-profit AgriCultural estate of Spannocchia. It is just outside Siena in Tuscany. And only an hour from our house in Panicale, so we find ourselves there often. There are several mini videos below of the festivities so you can enjoy the sights and the sounds of Springtime in Italy.
“OH, WAITER, TABLE FOR SIXTY, PLEASE. AND COULD WE SIT OUTSIDE?”
Cavolfiori does these marvelous dinners all around Italy. Check their site to see where their next event is. Come hungry.
THE MENU FOR THE DAY WENT SOMETHING LIKE THIS
Farro, asparagi, fave e uova.
With Bianco Toscano 2008 vintage grown right there at Spannocchia. As were all the other ingredients for this course. Farro is an ancient type of grain grown here that has been rescued from obscurity in recent times. They told us there is something about this grain’s tassels that tickles their tusks or in some way bugs the wild boars and those cinghiale won’t eat farro any more than kids will eat broccoli. Big benefit / built in defense system for farro.
Isn’t it interesting how they sliced the asparagus long ways and made it look so different? At a glance it seems to be something else. It looked fantastic and with a hint or two of lemon it just took you away on this sunny day.
Crema di borragine, ricotta di pecora, with more white wine
Borage is basically a weed, harvested by a New Zealand lady staying at Spannocchia. We sat with her at the table and went on a plant identification walk she led after. Oh, the blue flower is the borage flower. And the green is the warm borage colored, potato-based soup you pour around the sheep ricotta. Sure. We eat like this at home, too. Pretty much. In our dreams
Coscia di Suino Cinto nel forno a legna insalata di campo.
Full leg of Spannocchia pig (The famous cinta senese. They are black with white belt like a Belted Galloway cow) slow cooked in a Spannocchia wood oven with Spannocchia wood, too. With a red 2007 Spannocchia wine
Brownie, yogurt e mele
and there were tiny flowers involved, tiny pale yellow flowers. If I knew what kind of flowers they were, I’ve forgotten now. Note number of wine courses. Forgive, forget.
2006 Vin Santo dessert wine from Spannocchia.
Very light, very drinkable. We did. See above.
The whole meal presentation was a thing of great beauty. Afterwards we went on a forage-for-borage walk-about with the lady from NZ who sat with us. She harvests whatever greens she needs from whatever woods she’s in. She was an inspiration. And a font of logic. Made it all sound so reasonable. Biggest tip on eating weeds? Shouldn’t have to actually say this but . . . tiny bites. And, remember “no mushrooms please.” Just don’t. We ate tons of what she had harvested at the meal. That crème of borage soup was wonderful and bright, bright green poured around fresh white ricotta and garnished with the ever helpful borage’s blue flowers. Startling colors of white blue and green on my plate. I was so surprised it was warm and served in glass pitcher. I’ve got to get out more. Really, I do.
The photo of the camera is mine. As are the clunky videos. The luscious food photos were by our buddy Paul Avis. He is a pro. I’m a pro too. But just at eating all the food they put in front of us. Slow Food group was doing this food fest two days in a row there. All sold out. We just barely got squeezed in. glad we did. What a day. Roses in bloom up to the top of the third story of the villa. Wisteria all about, lemons on the trees in pots, grass was green green. Fine, fine, memorable moment
About the camera that sat on the table next to me. Its owner was Francesco, a Roman from Naples he said. His wife from Sardinia. Tan, with slicked back, pewter gray hair, black wrap around sun glasses, articulate, wry sense of humor, very sociable, laid back. I can see him contentedly filling his pipe from its leather tobacco pouch. I want to be him when I grow up. Just dying to be cool I think Mick Jagger might say. For contrast, I had my rats’ nest of iPhone, italian cell phone, Flip cam and old pocket camera. All of which are disposable at some level. He had this show piece. The word pristine does not do this 1957 Leica justice in any way. He bought it new. The case gets polished. The camera is more pristine than the case. And he had little accessory leather covered parts. Separate but right at hand. Right there. How does this happen?
Anyway, this is a case where the camera does tell a story.
The mid afternoon in seventy degree breeze and the sun and the food made for a day that was off the tracks good. I was like Where ARE we? I knew but it was a kind of out of body experience.
And to go backwards, just in time. Let’s talk about the May day celebration at Spannocchia that happened just before the Slow Food lunch. Everyone in folk costumes, bandanas, woven hats with flowers in them, and even one with tomatoes. hopefully fake. There were flowers in baskets, flowers growing up the walls around us. No question it was spring and we were all glad to see it and celebrate it. Farm manager Riccio’s merry band started entertaining at ten in the morning. From Spannocchia they headed out and entertained in towns all over the region. Coming home at ten that night well fed and can you say well drunk? Not really but just happy, lubricated and probably ready for a long night’s well deserved sleep. The videos here are a snatch of folk singing and then a quick view of the chaos around the snack table right after the singing but pre lunching. The fun never quits at Spannocchia on May Day.
CASOLE VAL D’ELSA–Ape means bee in italian and you probably know it is pronounced ahh-pay. Other wise the headline here is really hanging by a thread. Wouldn’t be the first time, you say? If you saw the earlier blogs about Adopting a little Italian Ape (three wheeled mini-pickup based on a Vespa) you know we went all the way to the far side of Ontario, Canada to get our motorized memory of all things Italian. Just the sound of it takes me there and I’m tickled and surprised to see it every time I go to the barn. But Bad Monkey that it is, as soon as we got it home to Maine it immediately decided to test our love for it by pitching some kind of mechanical fit. So, it had to go to the time-out corner of Peter Brown’s Cumberland Avenue Garage and get totally taken apart, and then put back together. If you’d like to see and hear that distinctive buzz, check out Our Ape Road Test Video on You Tube. Its film debut/road testing/second home coming. First trip was 22 miles with snow in the air. We made it!
The photo here was just taken a few days ago in Casole Val d’Elsa by our friends at Avis Studio in Portsmouth, NH. Paul and Jane just got back from several weeks at Spannocchia the thousand acre, sustainable agri-cultural estate. It is in the heart of Tuscany, just outside Siena and we write about it often here. Can’t wait to hear all their stories.
When we were in Italy in the summer I wrote up a note book full of stories but didn’t match them up with photos and post them. At the time I said, euphemistically, that I was “researching heavily” and I kept right on partying and not posting. And to further dig myself into a hole I said “but as soon as I got back I’d churn those stories right into print and make them visible to the naked eye.” And then we went to Montana, and then to Ontario to get a 1983 Italian Ape. And Nashville for the CMA’s and Iowa for Turkey Day, later, that same year . . . flat out of lame excuses I’m back.
And you know, in the depths of winter is anything more fun than a fond look back at those palmy summer days we take so for granted at the time? So, let’s step back and put ourselves into that warm place called Sunny Italy. And really appreciate it this time!
PANICALE, UMBRIA– on Independence Day. BLAMM! CRACK! BOOMMMMM! What fireworks this year. Except. Fireworks on Independence Day is an American thing. They don’t do that here. These firewords are just Mean old Mother Nature saying Enough Festivalling put it away for another year. The shake-the-house-down drumbeat of thunder and the eye splitting lightning put a wild end to a lovely pastoral day. It was blue skies minutes ago and now I’m running down the cobble stones toward home, and getting soaked.
The day started quietly. With coffee at the bar. Breakfast snacking at home later, we mindlessly wrote friends and sorted photos for a couple hours. We all have our little things that make us happy. Things we do that whisper We’re Off Duty. We’re hanging out, far from home and adult responsibilities. I remember a story in a magazine about this very concept. The writer spent the whole story talking about how much he enjoyed cleaning his expresso maker. the ritual of it all was soothing for him and as much fun as making and drinking the coffee.
Even though we weren’t cleaning a coffee maker we were relishing every lazy second of the day. And any day really worth its salt should have some gardening in it, so I did that for a couple hours. Dig, dig. Weed, weed. Look out at the lake, listening, eavesdropping sometimes I’ll admit, to the chatter of the people walking by on the street above the garden. And since I’ve been multi-tasking, the clothes in the washing machine are ready to hang out in the blazing sun and Midge has lunch laid out in the newly cleaned up garden. She is giving The Chefs of Italy a run for their money this trip.
Last night it was a stuffed eggplant to die for. Fresh ricotta like we can only dream while we are trudging down the isles of the ShopNSave here in Maine. And today’s highlight is paninni with the miracle melt in your mouth Spannocchia salumi. Ok, now. Dust those crumbs off you and head to the other end of town to see the start of this year’s Ruzzolone. The various squadra teams were right ready for action on this very delayed game day. This competitive cheese rolling event is usually the day after Easter. Little Easter equals Pasquetta. But that day was cancelled due to insane rain. Today is fine for rolling cheeses around a course, sun is hot, but in the shadows light as a feather breezes cooled the giocciatori. We tramped up and down the course just outside the city walls cheering lusty “complimentis” when the cheese cooperated and curved round the corners. And made sympatheric groan noises when the cheese dived off the road and into the olive groves ten or twelve feet below road level.
The wheel of cheese has a healthy rind all over it and is pretty resilient, whacking walls and posts and even making a healthy scar on one tree – slashing it a glancing blow as it buzz-sawed its way down the street. Waves of friends washing by us like the tide as we all tracked the progress of the careening wobbling cheese back and forth like foxes following a round and possibly very tasty gingerbread man.
It wasn’t too long ago one friend told us that there was another version of this as well. The “addizione” was the classic wheel made of wood. Adriano said with a sigh “the streets to the bottom of the hill would be lined the whole way with spectators not like today” Pre-tv and maybe pre cocktails in the piazza I can imagine. Looked like plenty of crowd to me. And I’d rather get hit by a wheel of cheese than a wheel of solid wood anyday.
At a certain point we decided we’d had exactly the right amount of following the bouncing cheeseball and felt we heard a gelato calling our names. Peach Pineapple was the combo speaking to me. Outside the café a local man I know on sight but not by name is hitting a lick on the accordian. Our Swiss neighbor Klaus is a music composer and professor of same. He was loving it and effusive in his enthusiasm for the stance the music was taking. Toes they were atapping. Sandwiches of porchetta were stacked chest high on folding tables. The meat dealt out on slabs of Easter cheese bread on a paper napkin. Wine was poured into plastic cups and then for a food finale, they broke into the 22 pound, tall-as-you-are chocolate Easter Egg. They were handing out chunks of chocolate as fast as they could with glances up at the heavens because its getting very dark very fast.
Hands full of the chocolate that Bruno pushed on me, I was headed up the cobblestones towards home with a bit of urgency in my step, when Andrea waved me into his restaurant and out onto his balcony overlooking the lake. “We’re really going to get it” he said and he was right. Above the lake we can almost always watch weather from on high, seeing it start at the lake and just walk itself up the mountain. “You can see it coming” we nodded sagely to each other, “but you can’t do anything about it.”