Che Festa! An Umbrian Wedding Feast

italian wedding day in Umbria

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Simone and Lorena are married. You saw their engagement announcement right here. And, if you have ever been to Panicale you would remember Simone. He’s our buddy at the bar, Aldo and Daniela’s only child and heir apparent of Café Bar Gallo. That is the institution that is the lifeblood of the town. They serve good coffee and good cheer and spread caffeinated sunshine all over all of us who wash up on these shores, local or foreign.

Lorena is from Sicily and they were really married a week ago there in 80 degree temps. People in the wedding party were swimming in the Mediterranean! But now everyone is back and taking the celebration local. So they had a dinner for a few friends.
wedding food in Umbria, Italy porchetta etc

Imagine having five hundred friends over for dinner. It happened at La Lupaia outside Panicale for this “wedding of the century”. Food and wine flowed in great waves. Nine piece band with a singer and a brass section. The party started at seven pm and by 7:20 when we got there, there were already tons of cars and people. And food. What starts at seven in Italy? And on time? Now we know. Big old wedding feasts. Aldo met us at the gate and told us to get eating and get drinking. Several entire hogs were raised for and met their demise in service of this event. Aldo introduced us to a big, cheerful mustachioed guy named Mario who raised those pigs specifically for this. And so, without further ado, we literally stepped into hog heaven. Multiple porchettas, sausages at the grill sending smoke column up into the sky. Cooking staff in matching shirts, red aprons and traditional straw hats were carving up a storm and trying to stack up as many panninis as they could in advance of the rush.
table talk at an italian wedding in Umbria
Oh man, look what we have here: fagioli. Beans with bacon! Wow. At the bar this morning (yes, back at work already) Bella Siciliana Lorena was saying “Beans? Everyone was so excited they were on the wedding menu and I thought why ARE people going on about them. Beans, at a wedding? OK, fine. THEN I tasted them. I GET IT NOW.” Killer beans. Sausages were really something too. Made locally for the occasion. Mai ho mangiato altre piu buono. And the pasta, and plates of meat of every stripe. Huge tables full of everything being served by staff of La Lupaia, but they ran steaming plates of it around until you couldn’t see straight. Yes, Lupaia means wolf’s house named for the nature preserve the restaurant is set in. And wolf was almost the only thing not on the menu for this feast. Four foot long loaves of bread or three foot wide round ones, were hollowed out and filled with panzanella that rang Midge’s Panzanella Meter.

OMG. Just shoot me! You would have to probably shoot me to keep me from going back for more or saying yes to the servers forcing their wares steaming hot upon us. The prosecco servers were doing a fine job distributing their wares as well. Plus red wine, plus white wine, plus water plus stop stop stop, ok, one more. More food than truly imaginable and it was stellar.
wedding cake at an italian wedding in umbria, italy
And the cake. So good it caused a fine feeding frenzy. The same bakery that makes Bar Gallo’s daily pastries made this snow white mountain of a cake. Now, Italians have always seemed to me, to be passively disinterested in dessert as a food category in general. I’ve always thought they could take it or leave it. Not last night. No leaving anything during this special night. It was like a lifetime of cake deprivation had set in, prisoners rushing the gates at liberation. A cake stampede you had to throw yourself into at great risk of life and limb. Huge wedding cake stripped to nothing in moments. Other cakes without number being cut and carved as fast as the servers could fling them. Oh, the plates of cake were flying. Everyone came away smiling. All good. The happy couple beaming, their friends and family excited for them, the party a massive success and an inspirational way to start a married life.


Hmmm. What is that ringing noise? What time IS it? Where’s my sunglasses? Going out for coffee this morning I’m like what the heck. Lost in the confusion of the evening. Sunny out when we arrived more like midnight when we got home. Slept till ten when door bell rang. Sorry. Maybe later.

Went back to the location of the party (scene of the crime and all that) and one person who seemed to be the boss of the place knew exactly where my glasses were. Favorite glasses. Office present. Found them and found a new baby lake with walking paths by the party place.

Wandered home (a mere five minutes) and the town around our gate was choked solid with every kind of motorcycle or ATV ever made. Wonderful show. Does the party ever stop here?!
motorcycles, planes and flags oh my, an umbrian, italy weekend

And we haven’t even talked about the Santa Margherita festivities yesterday in Cortona with hundreds in costumes and pomp and splendor. Nor the airshow in Castiglione del Lago. What a 24 hours. We’ll serve up other photos and stories later. Simone gets his story first. He was up till who knows when last night and was slinging coffee by early light and when we came in said “when will we see the pictures on the blog?” Since he is the purveyor of the life-giving nectar around here I’m thinking he has the lowest number and is being served right now. Complimenti a tutti!

A presto,

See you in Italy!


Happy Independence Day

independence day in italy, umbria

PANICALE, Italy, Umbria–They celebrate their Fourth of July on April 25th. It is much more recent history here as this is their Liberation from the big war. Hard to imagine this languid, pastoral countryside covered in rack and ruin and everyone scared and hungry. Try not to think about it but there are monuments in every town, so the liberation from those dark times is something to celebrate.

When we pulled our Rent-a-Fiat into a parking spot under the countessa’s palazzo yesterday, this poster was under our car’s nose. I’d been describing to our friends at our design and marketing company how Italian sometimes use the exaggerated photo dot as a graphic element so this got my attention first. But the words worked very well too. We used the same big dots devise in the art for Paul’s delivery Ape. Photos just arrived!
Due Fratelli Ape Art
This festa today is a good example of the feared multi-tasking that we sometimes get ourselves into, it’s a festival three ways that we know of. First, Independence Day and supposedly everyone is off work. But there was Linda and family in front of their store as usual. Yolanda too. “What the heck?” was how I believe I phrased it to them. Oh well, there were 30 camper trailers washed up on Panicale’s hilltop, full of happy campers. Until they found out they were about to starve because it was a holiday. So, Linda implied they HAD to open for that opportunity. I do confuse easily, may have this right or may not. All I know is everything is supposed to be closed and it is all open.

Second, Happy Easter again. Sort of. Remember this time last year when we talked about Pasquetta, the day after Easter, when the magic of Cheese Rolling happens? It is called Ruzzolone. Big Wheel. Wheel of cheese tossed merrily down a course at the edge of the town. I guess Easter this year was a three day storm of biblical proportion. People’s eyes go wide with respect as they describe mighty rain, wind, snow, lightning. Basic end of the world sort of unrelenting storm to celebrate the coming of spring. That was over a month ago. They put it way off in hopes, eventually, of finding a peaceful spring day. And I think they have found it.

Still quiet in town. The happy couple Simone and Lorena are back from their wedding in Sicily where people were swimming in the balmy mid 80’s temps. Everyone came back sunburnt and full of seafood. The renewal of their vows is tomorrow and that is all anyone can talk about. There will be dinner in a club out in the country. For the entire town. Dinner on the house. As Simone’s father, the legend that is Aldo, as he says, “from six till . . .” and then he just makes that horizontal slow drift off of his hand. Can’t wait.

But lets talk about today. The Ruzzolone is an afternoon event and that leaves the whole evening free and we might go catch the beginning of the third leg of this festaday. The two day Santa Margherita festival begins tonight in nearby Cortona. Midge’s middle name is Margherita, the nearby piazza where we park is Piazza Regina Margherita. Our house is more or less officially Casa Margherita. Midge’s favorite flower is her name sake the Margherita (daisy). We have bought a ton of flowers from the also nearby Daisy Brothers nursery. Filli Margheritti. So, we’re fired up to do a bit of celebration in Cortona as well. Gosh we haven’t seen our friends Nando and Pia in Cortona for, what, two or three days (have written that trip up but not put it up. Forgive sequence aberration) so it would be fun to get up there and get in the middle of that festival too. We’ll see how that goes.
lavender buying trip to angela's greenhouse
I’ve got a bunch of gardening to do in between events as well. Planting beds of lavender which we love. Yesterday, we skipped Margheritti Bros and went to lovely Angela for our lavender. Do you believe the view from her green house? That is Lago di Chiusi past the petunias.

Happy Festivaling

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Winemaking fun under the warm Cortona sun

pressing grapes outside cortona, italy. warm tuscan fun

CORTONA, Tuscany, Italy–I’ve got to admit my only experience with the wine harvest involves swirling the end result around in the glass and making it magically disappear. Olives, we’ve picked. Grapes, no. I’ve had offers, but weasled out of them to my great regret. Next time! We have friends who are selling their Villa outside Cortona and moving back to Australia. We hate to see them go. But, if you have to go, do it like they are doing and go out with a bang! They have just finished a stellar, multi-year renovation on their property that they can be truly proud of plus, as you will be able to tell from the letters below, they just had the fine experience of growing, harvesting and bottling their own wine. They have been in Italy for years and they really have been living the dream while they were here. Complimenti a tutti e due!

I’d seen their winemaking pictures and really wished I had been part of their party. I asked them if they would put words to pictures. And I’m tickled to be able to share their adventures here.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

any more in that barrel of grapes? winemaking in tuscany, italyHi Stew,

It’s hard to describe the pleasure of holding a glass full of just pressed novello from the rich harvest of our sangiovese grapes after a perfect, hot, dry summer nurturing these abundant vines. That we could share the process, initially with one, and later with three groups of friends was an added joy.

In the end, the best words that spring to mind are total satisfaction.

First came a full week of pruning in January. Then watching the vivid foliage burst forth in early primavera and working hard to maintain the truly biological, organic fruit – despite the insistence of neighbours that we should be dousing the vine leaves and swelling grapes with copper sulphate. Days with friends when we thinned foilage to let the sun and vitality of the vines concentrate in the fruit in summer. The heartbreak of pruning almost half the crop in the last month to improve the quality of the bunches we retained, followed by meals, wine and many happy hours. In late September, picking, de-stemming and crushing the grapes, all by hand, ready for fermentation and two weeks of testing sugar and alcohol levels until the “must” was ready to press. The last winding of the arm of an antique wine press in perfect Tuscan sunshine, followed by a fabulous al fresco lunch as our first vintage sits in a cool wine cantina to clarify before we move it
into an oak barrel. We’re not in Italy. We’re in Heaven!

Hi Guys,

This is priceless. Well done and well said. Great adventure.

Oh, one more thing. Did you plant the vineyard or was it an ongoing entity when you got there? I seem to recall that all the equipment was on site in your original pictures. Must have taken some studying up to know how to do this. You sound like you may have done this before.

Thank you for this and all best,



happy campers of tuscany, italy after the wine pressingHi again, Stew,

The vineyard was here when we got here. The equipment was too. But it was pretty rusty (and not antique) so we threw a lot of it out and begged/borrowed/stole/bought what we needed as we needed it. As for studying, apart from sommelier Arnaldo (from Trattoria Pane e Vino in Cortona) there’s a great consulente enologica in Pietraia (about 5 minutes drive from us) which sells ‘everything’ you could possibly need to make wine and has knowledgeable staff whose brains we have picked extensively 🙂 Salute!


Caro Signore, che abita in cielo: Avete fatto bene, bene, bene. Che giorno oggi. Grazie infinite.


Oh. Please don’t let the sun go down on this one. Twilight. Cuckoos cuckooing in the last bit of pale afternoon light. I am nostalgic for this day already. And not complaining, or ungrateful, in any way, about the nights here in autumn, either. Sleeping under covers, in these silent Umbrian nights, with the windows wide open is a kind of heaven itself. Perfect temps have followed us every day. Blue, blue skies. Coffee at Aldo’s with Italian friends competing to buy us coffees. And then, after coffee, an early trip to Cortona.

We started out with a gauzy haze hanging low between the hills all the way there. We saw an artist’s dream house and had an engaging talk with her and ooohed and aaahed over her home and her picture postcards views. Took a twisty viccolo the few steps up to Bar Sport where our friends Nando and Pia made us smiley face cappucchinos. And then met new friends at Bar 500. They have a strictly old Fiat 500 theme and, well, you have to respect that.

And then back home as the sun starts to reach its delicate, almost wintery rays into our garden. It comes later every day and for less time. And that is my garden time. So much fun. Especially because Wiley is recovered from her accident. We are even more thankful for her now. Every day. To spend this time with her healthy and happy is a miracle.

Thank you for all the happy moments in this garden. And in this life. In these days, when so many have so little, I feel guilty to have so much. I know that a certain amount of life does depend on luck. And that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and even marketing people. But, please, always count me appreciative. Amen.

A July in Umbria

Whew. Made it. Arrived. Just ahead of a dramatic summer squall. Dark trees in waving seas of sunflowers. Bathed in bright sun one moment and dense shade the next as white clouds traded places with black ones every few seconds. Changeable as our rental car radio. It’s a Lancetti. Well that seems properly Italian now doesn’t it? But it is a Daewoo. And the radio just comes on full blast whenever it feels like it. If I could only find the off button but it all seems to be in Braille and you know how it is when you jetlag yourself off the plane and first insert yourself back into polite society. More airline stories later.

We are so easily amused. Or another way of putting it is that small pleasures are often the best. One of our great treats in Italy is to arrive dog tired and stay awake long enough to get to Masolino’s restaurant and have the Belfico family cover us in comfort food and then go climb into blissful sleep coma and get two night’s sleep in a row almost and gently get acclimated to this time zone.

When we arrived at Masolino’s on Sunday night there were a couple tables full and then ours with the tiny gold Reservato on it waiting for us. I asked our friend Andrea if it had been a busy summer for him. Over his shoulder he said ”non ti credi”. Within five or ten minutes I saw what he meant as the place filled solid including the outdoor balcony. Which was grand for everyone until the mother of all summer storms hit with wild wind wild rain lightening all at the same time. Waterfalls pouring over the awnings drove balcony dinners running into the already full restaurant with their plates in their hands and napkins flapping like speed streaks behind them. And no place to go till they set up places for them in the bar. We have eaten there a million times (conservative estimate) but never had Mamma Brunna’s Sunday lasagna special and special it was. A drop of prosecco please and lights out.


I can’t really make sense or talk the first day back so seeing houses and trying to take pictures immediately is almost counter productive so I gardened like a maniac the whole first day and got everything how it wanted it. I can garden and prune in my sleep. And sort of did I suppose.

The next two days Midge and I went around like crazy seeing houses with Katia from Citta della Pieve in the south to Cortona in the north. What a fun whirlwind and you will eventually see the results in This Just In and on the web pages. One townhouse in Cortona really rings my bell. Neither words or pictures will ever do it justice. 490,000 euros and well, just totally down town and just stupendous, classy, chic. Architect designed and finished with such good taste. And views out to Tuesday that include high lake views. Won’t tease you any more with that till I have all my photos organized.

(more MO ray, pear fa vore ray)

Before gardening the first day we needed artificial stimulation in the form of our morning cup or two of cappucchino our favorite caffine delivery system of choice until they invent a convenient IV drip system for home use. Good trip. Between cafe Masolino and cafe Bar Gallo (they are four doors apart) we got two dinner party offers and one was for that very night. Life is good.

Post gardening Midge did the right thing and took a siesta. I did what was right for me and went for gelato. What’s this? Looks a new flavor to me. MOray. OK, Moray. I’ll bite! And lick too. Black berry is written ”more”. I can remember a yogut in a store with the engaging headline ”piu more” which I kept wanting to translate as more more. But in reality is more blackberry.

This is my flavor du jour for the trip. Must totally be the season. I have at least one blackberry gelato a day and love each new one as much as the first one. That is Aldo at the top of the page handing one of many. Last night I completed the MOray Trifecta. Totally by accident. My favorite dessert is Stefi’s famous Panacotta. Cooked cream never tasted so good. She can do it with chocolate, with a carmel or my favorite Frutti di Bosco. Wild berries. And at this season that means more MOray. Say it with me now! MOray. MOray. And after dinner Andrea brought us complimentary after dinner drinks and asked what we tasted in it. Midge got it on the first try MOray. More more more. I really can’t get too much of this good thing. And the Recioto della Valpolicella classico Domini Veneti was a very good thing.


Everything is possible in Italy we have found to our delight. The culture is so accommodating. I feel guilty admitting how often our friends here fill needs we didn’t even know we had. We are undeservedly covered with kindness. Just yesterday a neighbor passing by our house noted our highest figs seemed mature and that we needed to harvest them. I agreed in concept and (trying to get out of manual labor) said my ladder was too short.. A couple hours later Bruno was calling over the garden wall with a gigantic ladder and was soon up in the tree. But first he whipped out a bright red train engineers oil can and oiled all our shutters’ tie back mechanisms. When we got to our terrace we saw he had delivered, unasked, a waist high pot of basil. I protested we were only going to be here, as he well knows, a couple more days. He just shrugged and smiled. The next night when we got home, this bouquet of artichoke flowers was on our coffee table. Not for you. For your wife, Bruno said with a wink. Is this a great country!?!


We can see a baroque church from our house and today we could see it and hear it. A group of flutes was practicing for a concert later in the afternoon and their notes were wafting magically through the air over our garden and into the streets for anyone who was quiet enough to separate them from the swallows and cicadas. Another day in Panicale. Or. We have died and gone to heaven. Watching the literally unbelievable pink pink Hollywood sunset over the village church and the lake a couple hours later, we started believing that maybe we had slipped off terra firma and into another more peaceable kingdom.

Up in the air over the wide, wet Atlantic. And surrounded by water. In the plane. In the airport. In sport bottles of every size and shape.

Water water everywhere indeed. When did this start? Did I NOT get the memo, again? Every person, on every plane I’ve taken lately has had a bottle of water ready for their use at a moment’s notice. Bottles in their hands, sticking out of pant’s pockets, snugged into special holsters, hung on belts and on all sides of back packs. Ok, how incredibly under-hydrated am I? There are drinking fountains in the airports and places to buy and drink water all around in the airports. And on the plane the waitresses in the sky are handing out drinks rather non-stop. Water, coffee,tea, and excuse me, excuse me. Must step over sleeping giant on aisle seat to go to the bathroom. Now. After 20 hours of being forced fed liquids almost constantly, if anything I’m feeling OVER hydrated. And my hands are full. I would so sit on my bottle and look more out of control than usual.

Lance Armstrong. Middle of France. On a mountain. Several hours into the ultimate aerobic exercise. Now, HE needs a water bottle. I saw whole families with a bottle bolted to every member from baby to teenager to parents with their hands and arms full of strollers and diaper bags. But if we crash into the Sahara, then who will have the last laugh?


We landed in London. Lines for passports, lines for shuttles. And then we had some off line time waiting for our gate to be announced.

A nice looking middle aged man pulled his bag over and sat across from us. Business man? Manager? Computer technician? Who knows.
As soon as he pulled out a plastic bag and began rooting through a minor league cornucopia of candy and chocolate odds and ends. Wait. now what’s he doing? Yes, I think he has just pulled out a wine glass. A glass wine glass. With a stem on it. Short stem, ok. But a stemed wine glass. Now he is polishing it intently with a Kleenex it appears. And out of a grocery store shopping bag comes a half full bottle of wine. The cork is sticking partially out. He pulls the cork, pours himself a glass of red, crosses one knee over the other, swirls the wine around takes a sip like he is on the Via Venato on a summer evening. Except this is Heathrow. At 5:15 a.m. I was a bit sleepy and confused at the time. But I really don’t think I could have made that up. Later, I thought, do you think maybe he started out by having a sport bottle habit and just took it up to the next obvious level?


Wow. This Grisham book is quite different. No court rooms. Just barely any lawyers. And surprise. It is all in Italy. Just like we are. Full of Italian dialog and characters and places.

It gives the sense that Grisham himself is in the midst of learning the language and the rhythms of the streets as he is writing this. And like his character in a witness protection program, changing into and becoming a real Italian. Good summer beach chair ”thriller” or ”giallo” as they say. (three layer and ja al low. That comes close to how you say them. Well, in StewWorld.) OK, it is not Shakespeare, but it kept me turning the pages much later in the night than I may have intended.

Allora, I hope this stream of consciousness wasn’t too random and maybe gives a peek at one tourist’s week in Umbria.

See you in Italy!