The Wiley Traveler vs Really Slow Food:Food she found crawling out from under a leaf in our Umbrian Garden

UMBRIA, Italy— Escargot have always intrigued me. My first memories of them are warm. Everything is warm. I remember it being summer in Maine and sitting on the porch, the rough wood under my outstretched legs and the warm sun cutting shadows across the tops of those baby legs. I remember bare feet and my Aunt Ginny sitting in a chair above me, laughing. Then my mother would back out of the screen door calling something into the house and carrying a dish in each hand. And I was excited. Somehow, even at six, I new that escargot was crazy. For starters we ate them off the special round white dishes that were for boiled artichokes only! Then just to add to the mayhem we prodded them out of their shells using the minature ceramic ears of sweet corn shaped prongs that were only for, uh – ears of sweet corn! Now add to this that my big brother has told me that these little chewy buttery bites were SNAILS?! Do Mom and Dad know? They’re really giving us snails? Is that ok? I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they didn’t notice what they had done while I savored the warm melty garlicky snack.


Flash forward to Italy almost 20 years later and here I am after a few spring rainstorms with a garden teeming with lumache (snails, in Italian). They must be rappelling down our back wall. After a rain they are everywhere. Chrunch. Opps. Another one bites the dust. I have heard from people in town that you can prepare them, and again I am intrigued by these cute little buggers- I can prepare snails myself can’t I? Well, lets just see about that.

I had thought about DIY snails for days when it became necessary to sweep the garden steps of the drifts of Wisteria petals; but in every step corner are groups of lumache and without thinking I grab a bowl and don’t stop until the bowl is full and I have about 45 snails. It’s only then that I realize I have no earthly idea what to do with them. I leave the bowl and race up to the computer to figure something out.


There are actually lots of websites with recipes for lumache. And they all agree that before being cooked they must ’be prepared.’ This involves a fasting, so the snails can get any bad guck out. Normally this takes around two weeks, but as my snails have been in a garden without pesticides it will only take six day. ONLY six days! Ok, didn’t I tell you these suckers are crazy?

“The first three days the snails are kept in a white non-acid box with drainage and fed only dill and thyme for flavor.” Well, after trying wooden fruit boxes and baskets that the snails keep climbing out of; I find a site that says that breathable plastic is acceptable and easy to clean. So I settle on a plastic cutting board covering a plastic strainer and set on top of a flower stand. Ok, now that the escape routes have been covered what about that dill and thyme- ok yes – for escargot that’s great, but these are lumache and my garden is filled with sage and rosemary- so I guess that’ll do.


For three days I take the snails, wash the strainer and each snail individually and give them more herbs to eat (I feel slightly like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, but I placate myself with the knowledge that otherwise the cats get them or they’ll be thrown out with the garden clippings). From the 4th-6th day I continue the daily washing, but stop including herbs.

Then comes Sunday- the day of reckoning. I am following the traditional garlic and butter snail recipe, but can someone tell me why something so ultimately simple has so many steps?

First, the snails are boiled for 3 minutes. Then you remove the meat from the shell (interestingly most of the meat still holds the spiral of the shell). The meat is then left for an hour in cold water saturated with salt, while boiling further disinfects the shells.

During this time I prepare the “Court Bouillon”. (Editor’s note: there must, must be a reason for this title. Do not know what it is. The Wiley Traveler is traveling right now. Will ask her to explain the royal terminology later) I will be simmering the snails in a mixture of: white wine, water, carrots, onions, garlic, shallots, sage, rosemary hot peppers and the kitchen sink, for an hour. The mixture is beautiful to look at and lovely to smell and I wish I knew something else to do with it, besides boiling snails.

While it is simmering (mind you this is now onto the 3rd almost 4th hour) I am creating the garlic butter, by kneading finely chopped garlic, shallots and Dijon mustard into sticks of butter. Once that is done I place a small amount of the butter inside each of the empty shells that are now on a cookie sheet. I then place a single lumaca in each shell and with each one I realize too late that I have pushed too much butter in the shell and that I have no real idea which one should go in which and the butter keeps squidging out everywhere. But once I finally get them all in I cap each one with more butter. The tray is then placed into the oven (along side crusty bread I have toasting and vegetables I have roasting) for all of 3 or 4 minutes, long enough to make the butter bubble and the kitchen smell like heaven.

And then after 6 days and 6 hours I sit down and eat my snails. I’m on our terazza in Italy, not our porch in Maine. And I am not laughing as I take the first bite- I am praying that it was in some way worth all the time and effort- and feeling as though my crazy gene has won and understanding why they cost so much at restaurants and here goes the first bite… and… they’re good. And yes, after a week of preparation they are slightly anticlimactic, and I need the ooohs and ahhhs I get a few weeks later from my family to really send the point home; but they are good, really good in fact. I wish they were a little chewier but I’m probably the only one who wants anything chewier. And I think the step of saturating the snails in salt is a bit much for something that takes on flavor so easily, but come on; garden snails? Butter? Garlic? How wrong can you go?!

Whether I’m telling friends in the States or in Panicale they look at me like I’m nuts, the Italians think I’m saying the wrong thing and desperately search for what I could possibly be going on about; but you know, it feels good to use our city garden for sustenance. In the fall it’s figs and in the spring it’s Lumache and although you can tell me I’ve lost my mind no one’s gonna tell me that that’s not the way it should be!


This is a photo of the big decorative plate that hangs over the mantle in our kitchen. We are suckers for the colors of the Contrada Chiocciola in Siena. The neighborhood of the snail. This is the symbol that our friends at Spannocchia rally around for the madcap, bareback horse race through the Campo every summer. When I think of all the names I could imagine wearing on a sweatshirt, I think Panthers, Tigers, Broncos, Cowboys, Patriots. Even the Mighty Ducks. But The Snails? Don’t know if I would ever come up with that. I will admit snails really make a plate.

See you in Italy,


Spannocchia on the cover of the Travel Section of this week’s Boston Globe

SIENA, Tuscany/BOSTON, Mass — In this blog you have seen us go on and on about the big Agri-Cultural estate called Spannocchia. Just outside Siena. Midge is on the board of directors of this non profit organization and has been for years. Our marketing company’s tech master has just done the NEW Spannocchia web site and released it to coincide with the mention in the article. We have done brochures, newsletters for them probono also for many years, so we are as proud as new parents. We have been going to Spannocchia since the 1980’s because one branch of the owners’ family are neighbors of ours here in Maine. And the foundation’s headquarters are just down the street in Portland.

This article on the cover of the Boston Globe and two inside pages tells the Spannocchia story better than any one of us could ever imagine it being told. The writer clearly spent some quality time there and his wife contributed the most excellent photos.

Here is the link to the story.
Spannocchia in Boston Globe Should this not work for any reason just simply go to the Boston Globe web site: and hit Travel and it is the top story there at least for the moment.

If you are planning a trip to the Siena area and want to get a bit of the flavor of the area, this article may be just what you are looking for. Author is so lucid and observant. What a magical way with words. Puts you right in the picture with every turn of the phrase. If you have not been there yet, you will feel like you have after reading this. If you HAVE been there it will be a virtual homecoming for you.

See you in Siena, Italy!


Classic Cars. Delivered fresh to your door.

PANICALE, Umbria&mdash “Vieni! Wiley! Vieni qui!” Erica is calling from the door. I hear a rumble and her tone is decidedly… come sei dice? Tickled? I run up the stairs, turning the oven off as I go. It’s about quarter to eight in the evening and still as bright out as it was during siesta. As I round the stairs something shiny and red comes into view behind Erica’s silhouette – are those aviator goggles?! OK, I’m confused, is Panicale the new center of the Bermuda triangle- sometimes I wonder- but really? In any case I bet this’ll be good. Camera! Upstairs! I race up the stairs, grab my camera and head back out in the street just in time to watch the 20-car rally glide and grumble by.

And then, on Via Filatoio, a road that is definitely not use to the deadly Grid Lock. And most certainly not use to a full-on, 10-minute traffic-jam! But talk about a photo shoot opportunity! Hoods were waxed and sparkling in the light. Shiny, out-for-the-day, well cared for cars lined up- complete with women in hats, scarves and sunglasses; and men in goggles, driving gloves, captain’s hats and one in a gleaming black helmet (helmet gleaming, owner beaming). And all this without admission, without even bothering to put on my shoes. La vita é bella, infatti!

See you in Italy,



PARIS HILL, Maine—In the Wiley Traveler’s story above, did you notice something distinctly non-Italian going on there? Yes, those classics were all MG’s made in England, wrong-hand drive and all! Meanwhile back in Maine, on the same sunny summer day, I was at a classic car show and what did I see? The 1938 Alfa Romeo Spider. Superleggero. Totally unrestored and original. One of the most sought after Italian cars in the world. And it is in a private collection in Maine. Oh, it would have loved being in a Rally in Panicale on a summer evening!

Note on the Grid Lock mentioned above. This is not the first time we have seen classic car rallies on our street there in Italy and hopefully; it will not be the last. The rallies are usually a sedate, but carefully timed and controlled event. Non of that Vroom, vroom, Yay, I beat You stuff. Molto sistemato. Our understanding is that each driver is trying to drive a certain distance at a very precise and controlled speed. So, the traffic jam / photo opportunity is usually caused by the timing table set up in the piazza letting only one car go at a time. The beauty of these rallies is that the course is a surprise to the drivers and the town. When they appear SURPRISE, they appear. If the course was posted in advance, some drivers would practice it to the disadvantage of those who did not get to. There. Sum total of my alleged knowledge on the subject.

See you in Italy,


One way to spend a day

9 AM PANICALE— what is that ringing in my ears? Office on the phone, ok. Wait still ringing. Door bell too now. How often does it do that? But it is good fun, while I am still on the line, Midge comes up from the door waving a bottle of wine with a box of Bacci chocolates tied to it with festive gold bow. From the sweet, pretty lady who makes the house sparkle. Why did she do that?

She leaves and the door bell rings again. Hey. I haven’t even had coffee yet. It is Bruno. Cerco Stee—oou. Do we need wood? Heck yes, thank you. Cold spring this year, but we have a fine, fine, mighty fine woodstove. Thanks to Bruno for that, too.

We do not deserve friends in a foreign land that would think about us. And act on the thought, too. Five minutes later, Bruno is back, the rear of his red Fiat loaded with wood, split and laid out in neat, stackable wooden boxes. Kindling tied up with a piece of grapevine. And a bottle of his own white wine that had a fair chance of being grown on that very vine. Grayson says Look, Dad. No label. Well, sure. That is the good stuff. And the cherry on top? Bruno says The his ciliegi are ripe (actually, the say mature) in his yard, and we should come sometime this weekend. Might just do that. Hope I do. So much fun, so little time.


Later that night, reading quietly by the fire. A sharp BANG. Oh well. I look around. Nothing else transpires, so I continue reading my book, totally engrossed in the life of that quintessential bad boy of the Renaissance: Carravaggio. Ignoring the noise that night cost us our primo piatto the next day. The meat dish ran away. We’d been daily washing and rinsing and feeding herbs to our big garden snails. For several days, almost a week. Lumache on their way to becoming escargot in garlic butter.

Evidently, the big bang was a cat tipping over the heavy lid of the collandar of snails on the porch. By morning, all but half a dozen slugabeds had “run off”. So, it was like a week at the spa for all of them. Sorry to have missed out on doing the whole process, all the way through, with Wiley. We had people invited for lunch and everything. Peccato. The last batch was great that she had ready for us when we arrived. Who knew you could freeze escargot from your garden. Oh, we are living on the culinary edge now.


The next day: yawns, bright and early. Sunlight streams in the window (I left it unshuttered for that very reason) and it wakes me up and it pulls me out of bed, vacation or not. Must be first in line at Biano’s for my long, long overdue haircut. Quick, shave, grab Carravaggio and go off at a trot to the piazza. Whew. Non c’e nessuno. Found a sunny spot on the stone bench hard by the door to Biano’s. Not too much sign of pidgeon poop. OK, OK, I’ll sit here. The town is awake and from Google Earth probably appears to be a proper anthill. People pop out of one door and scoot into the next and back out again like a stop action film. One pair of frisky ants was Linda from the grocery store and the lady butcher from the across the street.

The two of them are making a bee line past the fountain, towards Aldo’s cafe when they spot me and wave me to join them for coffee. Oh, no. Grazie mille, grazie mille. Can’t loose my place in line! Biano is an hour—plus process. Get out of line and there goes the day. So. Sorry. They duck into the bar without me and two seconds later, from the other corner of the piazza comes Linda’s husband, Bruno. Stew, vieni, vieni per un caffe. Ok. We’ve been through this. No way. Not deserting the post. Where IS Biano? It is 8:15 already. Giaccomo, sitting outside the cafe, says I’LL watch for you and hold your place in line. Dai (comeonalready), come get a coffee. But, don’t leave me too long, alright?

Zip in, order coffee, apologize to Linda for taking her husband’s offer and not hers. Thank you Bruno! Yike! Why is the coffee so HOT today Daniella. The one day I want to gulp and run. Seared throat and all, I’m back out in the piazza where Giaccomo sees me and points back over my shoulder at the late Biano. There he is, there he is! What’s this? Cunning Adelmo is between me and Biano’s? Crosses his arms and says I’m First. Oh, no. Oh, yes he says Got here at 7:30. Good grief. The rascal is teasing me. Chee. Biano has been wondering when I would give over my mop to his control. I’ve got a folded up photo of the decadent, and nearly deceased Lapo Elkman from a gossip magazine called “Oggi”. Fine role model, Stew I’m thinking. We study the bad boy of Fiat’s photo for a minute, Biano claps his hands, and says No Problem. We can do this. I am an architect, I can build the kind of structure you want. And he did.

Love being at Biano’s. We talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax. And cabbages and kings. And Vespas and Ferraris . Sitting in the other chair is a older guy, looking out the blinds at the piazza, just observing the scene or reading the pink sporting newspaper or chiming in every now and then, when a subject arouses him from his thoughts. He’s not here for a trim, just for the company. I’m in for both.

In the photo, that’s Biano on the left, some lost Americano, and then Bruno on the right, in the café. Why do I have a plastic bag tucked in my pocket? And yet still let people take my picture? Found a plant in the garden. Weed or not? So I tucked it into a bag, trucked it into the piazza and got opinions one way or the other from anyone I found wandering about. Yep. Weed.


Bruno is still unloading and organizing groceries into the storage room of his wife’s store with a hydraulic mini fork lift. Somehow, we get on the subject of my son, Zak, who is the Invisible Man as far as Panicale goes. People know of him and know he can’t come just yet, Fear of Flying etc. But he did get to visit a bit of Panicale when he met a Panicalesi friend’s daughter in New York, thanks to our meddling slash matchmaking. Now she is back here and we spoke in the piazza this morning. Bruno and I agree she is a complete angel, like lovely saint in a painting. Bruno theatrically wriggles his eyebrows like Groucho and says Her Momma’s not bad either. HEY! WHAT ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT DOWN THERE? We look around and then, we look up. So. That’s where Adelmo’s house is. He’s hanging out a window and hanging on our every word eves dropping on us. Oh, girls, we say. He says, oh well, I would never do that. Talk about girls. I have the most perfect, the most beautiful wife in the whooole world. She’s right there, isn’t she, Adelmo? (We had to ask) He nods vigorously, Bruno and I laugh and go on about our alleged business. I can’t really say why but these mini moments are, to me, worth the plane fare by themselves. Call me easily amused, call me crazy, just call me when its time to catch the next plane to Italy . . .

See you in Italy,


World cup time. Being there on the night the moon turned red

This just in from the Wiley Traveler “our man” on the ground in Italy for complete World Cup reporting. It is like being there in person on the fun historic night. When the game started at 9:30 or so it was still more or less totally light out. Just like it was when the partying slowed and almost stopped when the sun came up over Umbria this morning! Yes, the photo below shows even the poor shlubs in Maine get the news.

la dolce vita and Wiley was there and got to share. Here’s her report:

Celebrating the World Cup in a small town in Italy, some well honed slightly controlled chaos We have a video link, JUST CLICK ON IT AND LET IT HAVE A MINUTE OR SO TO DOWNLOAD.

Or, worst case, last resort, you can see it by selecting and pasting this link into your web address line should get you the movie:


I can’t believe Italy won, they won— and I just happened to be in Italy to see it— lo shock!
Heading down to the barretto to watch the game, aruging with my friend about who is going to hold the camera, it is big and slightly obtrusive and my argument is — she should hold it cause she’s from Panicale. Her argument is — I should hold it cause I’m not. But once down at the barretto the camera sharing begins as it is just after half time and the crowd is alternating between silence, boos, foosball, drink orders and raucous cheering. You can not hear much and can hardly see the TV so the crowds general vibe is the only way to glean what’s happening- AND THEN THEY WON- 5-3 in penalty shots! Tense, lovely jaw clenching penalty shots- AND ITALY WINS THE WORLD CUP 2006! All hell breaks loose – and my camera dies. My freshly charged, raring to go camera dies just as the first guy jumps in the small pool under the barretto followed by hoots and hollers and now six more people are in the water along with a few chairs. And everyone is laughing and hugging and taking their shirts off and waving the shirts and the flags and chanting. Some of the crowd running around with their heads cut off, others standing silently in a corner kissing a rolled up flag again and again.

Then I head off to charge my battery- I don’t want to miss much more of this- my father will kill me if I don’t have something to show for the win, so I run down the street waving to all the honking cars, the lights flashing. Children, arms, feet, flags and horns hanging out the windows. And then it turns 11 and the church bells begin to chime. It is loud, chaotic, bright and perfect.

I run into the house and try to call my family. They don’t know the score yet so they won’t answer the phone. (yes, that is them, celebrating back in Maine in the photo here on the left – the happy morning after) The entire, dark expanse of hills and streets from Panicale to Cortona is lit with cars flashing their lights. The view reverberating with a general rumble of celebration, punctuated with eruptions down the hill one minute, from the piazza the next, kids screaming – let loose and running through the streets. I can already see police lights flashing down below, but I honestly can’t tell if they’re celebrating or starting the heavy task of keeping this night in order.

Then back to the barretto to find my friends and on to Castiglione Del Lago and a concert on the lake. The concert is packed, with armchairs and coffee tables on the uneven, tree-filled patio. Frozen drinks and foccacia being sold, streams of people milling about on the sidewalk and of course a cars blazing by still honking and screaming every few minutes. The band is sort of reggae big band and it has everyone from babies on their parent’s shoulders to big white dogs on the dance floor. Fairy lights and big ’we are the champions’ smiles everywhere you turn.

At 4, when the concert ends, we drive back to Panicale- the moon is just this side of full, and it is red— not orange or reddish, but low in the sky and a deep, deep red. Two of the guys have been singing Ramones and The Clash and French cheers turned into Italian insults, then they start singing red army songs about the red moon and finish up with a few sleepy cheers. We have a nightcap of pasta with garlic and hot peppers and then at 5, we notice the red moon has gone and the sun is starting to draw the black from the sky. So we climb up the hill a little woozy and still a little in shock. And Italy won! ITALY WON! Buona notte, buon giorno, no lo so, ma — FORZA AZZURI! FORZA ITALIA! FORZA AZZURI! FORZA ITALIA! ITALIA E PRIMA IN MONDO! CIAMPIONI !!!!!!!!