Ah spring. When the first tiny Fiats pop up.

Midge and her Fiat 500C come out on a spring day

It is a sure sign of Spring in Maine when motorcycles and convertibles peek out from under their winter covers. Last week, inspired by day after blissful day of seventies and sunshine weather, some of us even took the snow tires off our daily drivers. And coaxed their little red Fiat and little green Ape out of the barn where they’d been happily hibernating.

And, of course, it snowed and snowed last night.

But all those early, and fleeting signs of spring, certainly do have us counting the days until we arrive in Umbria. Look out Panicale, here we come, ready or not.

By the way. We ARE ready!

We miss our roses when we are apart. And, in truth they do only come out for a week or two. But what they lack in longevity they make up for abundance and punctuality. They spread out over the pergola in a sea of yellow, regular as clockwork on May Day. And this year, on May first, we’ll be there when they come out.


Here are our Lady Banks Roses on Display on a typical but magical May day a year or so ago in Umbria.

And here is May Day luncheon outside Siena (with our buddy Al Fresco and a few of his fair weather friends) at the Spannocchia estate in nearby Tuscany.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Just a bit of nostalgia if you don’t mind

We own our house in Italy with our friend Kiki. Our favorite thing is when all three of us can go there at the same time. Second choice is either of us being there. And making the left behinds jealous. Which we got to do to Kiki in March. And now it is her turn. She just wrote saying she was in the garden, bathed in late afternoon sun, listening the swallows swooping and the tower bells ringing while having nibbles of pecorino cheese under a pergola of yellow Lady Banks roses.

It is the best time of year. I’ll be there in daydreams and in the meantime will be happy with memories and photos.

Here is a video of what Kiki is suffering thru there in the garden. From this exact moment last year.

And its not just all about our garden. The whole countryside is the Garden of Eden as we speak as evidenced by this video shot on May Day at Spannocchia last year. With thanks to our buddy Steve Callen of Panicale and Australia for his magical music and editing. Speaking of Spannocchia, they are the 1,000 acre agricultural tenuta outside Siena, but they are also sponsors of the Italian Life Expo coming up in Portland, Maine next month. See, if we can’t get ourselves to Italy in June, we’ll bring the whole county to US. If you are going to be near Portland’s harbor the 9th – the 11th, come get your daily requirement of Italy there.

ok, see you in Italy (or see you in Portland, June 9-11)

Stew Vreeland

Bringing Italy home with us

If you are like us, you get a taste of Italy and you don’t like letting go. We just got back from Italy but some part of us feels that we’re still there basking “Under The Tuscan Sun.”

But! Did we tell you we’re working on a way to stretch out that “being there” feeling? That’s why we’re helping start the first ever Italian Life Expo in Portland, Maine. June 9-11th at the Ocean Gateway right on the harbor, across from lead sponsor Auto Europe’s world headquarters.

madampresidenteDozens of exhibitors including generations-old, but undiscovered family vineyards from Lake Garda to artisans in copper from Montepulciano, prosciutto and cheese makers from Parma to tour operators from Siena, so many shiny objects to hold your attention.

Here’s Midge outside Spannocchia who, with Institute for Italian Studies, are lead presenters of the Expo. One day last week, after this picture was taken, Midge, Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines, and other board members went into Siena for a festive dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo by Chef Pino di Cicco. Everyone came back raving about him and counting the minutes till they could see him again at the Expo.

Good times coming. If you are in New England this June, the Italian Life Expo may be your ticket to Italy. It’s never been closer.

Tickets go on sale this weekend. Check it out.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

Slow Food? Funny, it doesn’t last long on my plate.

“Oh, waiter, table for sixty, please. And could we sit outside?”

Cavolfiori does these marvelous dinners all around Italy. this one was at Spannocchia outside Siena.

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.



Cavolfiori does these marvelous dinners all around Italy. Check their site to see where their next event is. Come hungry.



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.



Ok, party on,



the art of living the moment. brought to us by friends in Cortona who are masters of the moment. oh, the food, the wine. the lovely walk about. we need more walking. too much fun eating.

When last we met we were in Siena at the Tenuta di Spannocchia. We met our friend chef Stephanie of Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth, Maine there and headed to our home in Umbria. But first, we were going right by Cortona. Let’s swing in there. Note: no I am not in Italy right now. I sketch out stories in Italy and put them up when I’m back. That way I get more adventures per minute while I’m there.

SIENA, CORTONA, PANICALE– Cortona has always been so civilized. But sometimes you almost can’t get there from here. Now they have a new parking garage subtly tucked into the hillside, lower down the hill from the usual top spots. It would be a bit of a straight up hike but you can cheat and take an escalator up there to “Centro.” But on this day we didn’t even need that and just cruised into a good spot like we owned the place. See, Stephanie, this is how we do Cortona. Now, lets go see our friends Nando and Pia at Bar Sport. “Hey, Luca!”, we yell at their son who is almost the first person we see on the street. He’s on a mission so we only talk for a minute, and he says his parents are up at their bar and he’ll catch up with us there. We keep moving that direction against the current of the always-busy main shopping street.

But oh, no. Luca didn’t mention the bar was closed today. Their day off we’ve learned is Friday and today is Wed. We peek under the sad, prison-gray, half-pulled-down metal doors and said “C’e nessuno?”
Street seen in Cortona, Italy. Day in Tuscany
Yes, you Italophile film buffs, did catch that cinematic reference. The opening line of Di Sica’s “Garden of the Finzi-Contini” is “C’e nessuuuuno?” As you remember there, all the tennis playing teenagers are swirling about the gates of the villa waiting to get in. But here at the gate to Bar Sport in Cortona what, to our wondering eyes, should appear but our own version of Babbo Natale, Babbo Nando. He’s a happy, non-judgmental Santa. Cortonese through and through so I’ve always suspected he doesn’t really care if we’ve been naughty or nice.

We all hug and I offer him, Mr Barista, a coffee. This could be good. He always buys us coffee because he has the bar full of beans right at his finger tips. He and Pia seem to think that since we brought their folkloric team of flag-spinning, crossbow-shooting Men in Tights to Maine a decade ago that they owe us. The reverse is true in our mind. But, look, he says “buon idea” to our coffee shop thought and HE’S going to coffee with US and points us back down the street we just walked in on. We’re marching arm in arm nodding and joking with all the citizens in our wake. Because Nando owns the central bar in town and seems to be Capo of every event, when you are with Nando in Cortona it is like being with a celebrity. The seas part and we are soon drinking espressos and eating to-die-for chocolate macaroons. Poor Nando. He’s swapped his one day off for this day because of a festival that starts on his regular day off. And here comes the tourists. Us. No warning, we just show up.

Can’t blame them for not wanting to be closed Friday as that will be a great day for their bar. It is not only Italian Independence Day for the whole country, it is also the festival of Santa Margherita, the patron saint of Cortona. We’ll be back and will cover that in another episode.
doing a walk about in Cortona, Tuscany, Italy

We sip that frothy coffee, my favorite indoor (and outdoor) sport, talk of things of great import and stroll back to dark Bar Sport to find the ever-chic Pia. She is often decked out as the queen to Nando’s king in local events. We have dropped in out of the clear blue Tuscan sky ON THEIR DAY OFF and without a blink of an eye, or a minute hesitation spelling “oh, crap” they are all about maximizing this moment and are planning what we can do together. Oh, please Zen Master, give me the ability to ever be this full of life and style and grace. Whatever they had planned and deserved for their day off is off the table. Gone forever. So. Here’s the new plan. We’ll walk, we’ll talk, we’ll see sights, we’ll come back to our now “private bar” for prosecco and looking at photo albums of past festivals. Then, when it is sufficiently mid-afternoon, we’ll do a lunch, then more walk and more talk. How’s that sound to you?

Some part of me hates them dropping everything on our behalf. And, in our defense, we have had this miracle happen before if we unintentionally drop in on their day off. So, we were quite totally fine coming on a Wednesday for a coffee, a hug and back out on the street. Fridays we do on tiptoes because they have given us their Fridays until we figured out that is what was happening. Not premeditated at all.
the hunter restaurant, Cortona, Italy. il cacciatore served us an ocean of seafood

Yes, yes. Lame old joke. Regardless of intent, this was a spontaneous in-the-moment joy to spend the afternoon with Nando and Pia and their two grown sons and bar partners. Very cool and relaxed. Except for the bill-paying part. I wish I could win this battle more often. At the coffee place we went AT MY INVITATION by the way, that owner was all “no, no, you are with Nando, your money’s no good.” Later, at the restaurant, the charming owner again said “ I can’t take your money” Pushing past me Nando said “they only take Cortonesi money here” and that was, unfortunately, that. They did, we note, let us be the boss of the money when they came to our town. Complicated system when you don’t always get some of the cultural rules in play. But even with that, Stephanie and Midge and I had a grand time of it eating an ocean of seafood. The restaurant was named “the hunter/cacciatore” but in my mind it could have easily been “pescatore.” I can remember at least clams and shrimp. And eel! With more wine and more grappa. This is lunch! What were we doing drinking Prosecco before lunch? Give me strength. But you can see why we did have to treat ourselves to a lazy siesta as soon as we all got back to Panicale.


How we could think of eating out again, ever after that fine mid-day eatathon, I do not know, but after that nap/fall-down-and-be-quiet thing, we did a walking tour of Panicale and then had a most excellent but light dinner at Masolino’s. Sans wine. But, then, to make up for that momentary lapse into the dark world of abstemiousness I found my lips forming the words “Nightcap, anyone?” All hands were raised and we wandered post-dolce to Aldo’s next door and had the Wiley Traveler’s Special. It tastes like a nice, late night coffee would but it is caffeine-free Orzo brewed like espresso and topped off with Bailey’s. How easy was that to say? Orzo with Bailey’s. You might think so. But you’d be wrong. At least in Bar Gallo with Daniela in charge on a busy night. Daniela, who suffers fools hardly at all, decided I needed to be taught how not to drive them crazy. After a couple false starts over a week’s time, we got me to parrot these words back to her.

“Orzo corretto con baaay-lees in una tazza grande”. Say that, like that, and you’ll get your foamed and frothed up orzo in a cappuccino-sized cup with good shot of Bailey’s. Went round the horn a bit to get it as i thought corretto meant grappa would be added. Turns out coffee can be “corrected” with any liquor of choice. I dare say if you don’t specify you will get grappa’d.

Regardless, it is as fine a sleep potion as I’ve ever come across. And a marvelous way to end another marvelous day in paradise. One euro in your local bar. Sogni d’Oro/Orzo to all and to all a good night.

N.B. if you want to jump in to the Cortona lifestyle as a native, we did just put a brand new listing up on our “This Just In” section.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland