Let the good times roll…

PANICALE, Umbria – Friday was Good Friday, Sunday was Easter, Pasqua. But did you know Monday in civilized countries is also a holiday? Yes, yes it is. Pasquetta, or little Easter is an official day off/party day/celebration of Spring kind of thing. Panicale handles it by throwing out the first cheese. Ruzzolone is what they call this unique sport where they race a wheel of cheese around a prescribed Race Course. Someone wrote and asked how long it lasts. No idea. It goes on and I’m all about it for an hour or so and inevitably music starts up in the piazza and fickle, next shiny object person that I am, I wander off. Usually the piazza is totally jammed, bands playing music, tables of wine, paninnis, recently sacrificed giant chocolate eggs, all the food groups represented.
ruzzolone in panicale for pasqua
These pictures from Monday were sent to us by our good friend Sarah Bowers knowing it would help us get busy and get packing for our trip to Umbria later this month. She reports it is bright and warm every day, with just enough light April Showers to get everything green and flowery. Exhibit A: her shot of the wisteria just starting to bloom by the warm sunny wall overlooking our garden. Non vedo l’ora. This is our favorite time of year in Italy.

If you’d like to see more photos, here’s a link to stories and pictures from a past year

We’re penciling in Padova and Trieste on our trip plans. Never been to Trieste. Any recommends there? Our friend Enrico of Milano who owns Paciarino here in Portland rolled his eyes heavenward and said “Oh, Trieste. You will love it. Greatly overlooked and one of the best best cities in Italy.” (speaking of loving it, my Ravioli Goat Cheese al Pomodoro was stellar. Complimenti, Enrico) If anyone has any Must See/Do things they think we should put on our Trieste list, let us know. So far, the only absolute is Piazza Grande and il Castillo di Miramar, Maximillian and Carlotta’s fairytale castle in the harbor.

We’re really ready now!

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

Spring ahead. Thinking Italy, Cortona & Umbria

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. Yay!

Looking at the deep snow parked outside our windows here in Maine. Hoping it keeps melting. It has about three feet left to go. I know, “piano, piano” this too will pass. Our neighbors in Panicale, Umbria don’t see snow on a regular basis so it has a certain novelty to them. And after a snow fall, you can depend on someone to be grumping about it and you can also depend on someone else to say brightly “ricordi, sotto le neve c’e pane.” The corollary and only sometimes used as the rhyming finale is the less romantic, darker “sotto l’aqua c’e fame.” Snow does melt and feeds the crops which feeds everyone and of course it is better than too much water. So. Snow, good thing. In moderation.

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. We’ll be in Panicale, Cortona, Siena for a couple weeks. Yay! Non vedo l’ora!
Every where I look we see things that point us to Italy. At lunch at my sister Gin’s next door today, we saw her Araucana chicken eggs in ceramic egg cartons we brought her from Cortona one time. Love the soft cream color that seems to be The Color of Cortona in the ceramic dept. And aren’t the eggs great? Not dyed. Just how they are. Almost too pretty to poach. Yes, we are ready for Italy and even Easter it appears from these eggs.

OK, See you in Italy! And soon!

Stew Vreeland

Too much fun. And good intentions too

independence day in italy, natural fireworks, cooking stuffed eggplant, pannini, Easter, Cheese rolling, gelati, chocolate, oh my.

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!

umbrian rain on a parade
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 big cheese rolls on and on in panicale umbria
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.
chocolate easter eggs in panicale, umbria
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.”


Happy Independence Day

They celebrate their Fourth of July on April 25th. 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.

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

The Bunny Came Early

This year the Easter Bunny hopped a Continental flight from Rome. And came bearing gifts from Italy. Cheese, oil and bright, foil-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs.

easter eggs of Italy. chocolate holiday fun
PANICALE, Umbria to GRAY, Maine —
This year the rabbit hopped a Continental flight from Rome. And came bearing gifts from Italy. Cheese, oil and bright, foil-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. Our Panicale neighbor Elida was planning to be passing right overhead on her way to visit relatives in sunny Arizona. She let us talk her into swooping down in snowy Maine for the weekend.


Lucky us. This whirlwind visit all by itself was something to be thankful for. Elida’s great, but did you see that big old hunk of Pecorino, stagionato she had under her arm? The good, hard stuff that you shave off the wheel and grab with one hand – while raising a glass of Prosecco with the other. The oil gift was a tin of their own olive oil. Maybe even from olives we’d picked with them. Maybe not. Maybe we picked with them a year ago.


And then there were the chocolate Easter eggs she laid on the kitchen table. “Straight from the airport!” Elida chirped brightly. “What! You didn’t make and wrap them yourself?” They came in a pretty forest green bag that I’ve since misplaced, distracted as I was by the shiny objects of gold and green and blue. What chocolate! “No, I’m not sharing!” Hope this love isn’t heresy since our Italian home is just outside Perugia, epicenter of the land of Perugina and we love all their Bacci. And I’ve never heard of the Venchi brand. The blue wrapped Bigusto Fondente are my favorite and what a good dark look and their taste is even darker than their look. Big wow. Can not believe a person could ever willingly put a Hersey in their mouth after one of these.

big italian easter eggsSPEAKING OF CHOCOLATE

Obviously Easter is a huge, multi-faceted holiday in Italy. And chocolate eggs like the ones The Elida Bunny brought us are omni-present in Italy just as they are in the states. “Just better chocolate” he said in his opinionated-who’s-going-to-stop-him on-his-own-blog sort of way. And then there are the big, hollow eggs. You’ve seen them outside of Italy in the occasional specialty stores. You know, the big and bigger ones dressed up in extravagant foils. We’ve seen them waist high and higher in Italy. Almost big enough for kids to play in. “There you go, eat your way out of that!” In a strange combo of church and state, these theoretically church-based holiday eggs can come with state-sponsored lottery tickets attached. The brightest and best are hand made by artisans hired by professional-strength gift givers who put anything from new car keys to engagement rings inside.

During the run up to Pasqua, it seems every one in Italy with access to a cash register or a credit card scanner has their shelves filled to over-flowing with these eggs. Even the unsold ones have the potential to keep spreading the spirit of the season. Last year at our friend Aldo’s cafe, the unsold ones were broken up and doled out for nibbles for days afterwards. Coool, cappuccino AND chocolate. So, we’re all Happy Easter. And happy well beyond, too, thank you Elida for bringing all these new memories.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland