Winter in Umbria ~ Week 3

Our third week began with yet more rainy weather and fog, but by Tuesday the sun broke through the clouds and we had clear blue skies once again. By the afternoon, after realizing I had not left the house since Saturday, I decided we should go out for a drive and enjoy the beautiful day. We drove through the hills towards Montefalco along the Strada del Sagrantino (road of Montefalco di Sagrantino wines). You could see for miles and the scenery was breathtaking, reminding me yet again just why we chose this area to settle in.

The views were absolutely breath taking along the wine road with the snow capped mountains in the distance, yet the rolling hills below still looking green and lush. If you haven’t tasted a wine from Montefalco yet, I would highly advise you to search one out to try. There are two main varieties that do get exported although in small quantities. Rosso do Montefalco is the lighter variety, delicious, and will go with almost any dish. Sagrantino di Montefalco is a heavier bodied wine that is best served at dinner with grilled meats, or with a pasta dish topped with a tomato or mushroom based sauce.

Feeling much better with the improvement in weather, I talked my husband into heading to a local pizzeria that evening as after finally getting out of the house, I just didn’t want to stay in that evening. As is our usual habit, we arrived at the pizzeria at 8pm and were the first ones there. It was an entire hour later before other folks started to arrive, as folks dine much later here in Umbria as they do in most of central and southern Italy. Coming home that evening the skies were bright with stars and you could see the lights for many miles in all directions; in fact, we could see all the way to Perugia for the first time at night.

We finally found out this week that the cracks that run around the upstairs rooms of both houses (master bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet) will require more work to repair than we initially thought. We had these cracks checked by an engineer before we purchased the houses, and were told that they are aesthetic rather than structural, but they do need to be repaired.

We were told that the cracks developed due to the shifting of the main structural beams (6 of them) that run across the ceiling of the living rooms in each of the houses. In order to stabilize these beams, they will either have to create two openings down the length of each beam and put in a metal stabilizers, or the other option is to add wooden brackets at the end of each beam to cover metal sheets put in to hold them in place. It isn’t until this step is done that they can actually go in and repair the cracks and paint the rooms. So……it is going to take a little longer than we had hoped to get both houses in order.

Despite the fact that if you look around both farmhouses it would be difficult to see a lot of progress, we are slowly but surely getting everything in place and it is beginning to feel like home. This week the electrician did come and change the security codes, we have hired a gardener, we have appointments to have all the locks changed, and the plumber is coming to check out and do seasonal maintenance on our water system.

The room our plumbing is housed in looks like something you would find in a water purification plant. Our water is softened with the use of salt, and goes through three different purification systems before it arrives at the house. It is a pretty intimidating room which is why we are hiring someone experienced to deal with it!

I think I may have finally made friends with my oven which is a “very good thing”! We were told when we walked through the house the first time that the oven (a Neff brand) was a top of the line appliance. After moving in I looked for the manual and did indeed find one in Italian, another in Russian, one in German, but no English one.

Turning the oven on you have three options for baking; hot, hotter, and hottest! After a few trial and error attempts that I won’t discuss, I knew there must be some way to actually set a temperature on the oven but couldn’t seem to find it. My husband finally sat down with me and the Italian manual and we found the magic button to set a numerical temperature.

After a few more attempts I have learned that after the oven has preheated which takes a surprisingly long time, it does indeed cook/bake/roast as it was intended to and I am looking forward to baking lots of Umbria specialties in my new oven in the future.

Surprisingly, we have had a little difficulty finding a really good loaf of bread that we like. This may be due to the fact that we are buying all of our bread in the grocery store bakery rather than making a special trip to our local “panificio” (bread store). Most of the loaves of bread sold in our local grocery are made daily in wood burning ovens which sounds wonderful, but these loaves are very crusty and harden up like weapons of mass destruction the day after they are purchased.

I told my husband we should keep a loaf of bread by the front door in case a burglar breaks in because being hit with one of these loaves would be like being hit with a hammer. We did find a local bakery that even makes whole wheat bread three times a week, so I think we will have to become more Italian, and take the extra effort to buy our bread from the panificio rather than the grocery store like we have been doing.

I bought a new toaster last week and was craving a slice of toasted, sliced, whole wheat bread spread with some wonderful Italian artisan honey. Although I looked in every grocery store we visited, (and we went in a LOT) all I found in the sliced bread department was those hard, small, square little loaves of “pan carre or pane in cassetta”, white bread that are sold to make Italian “toast” with. “Toasts” are basically grilled cheese sandwiches often including ham that Italian children love.

They are great for that purpose, but too dry and bland to toast in a toaster and slather with honey. This past weekend though, when I checked one more store, I was amazed to see a variety of whole wheat and whole grain sliced bread all lined up on the shelf. As I was loading up my grocery cart with few different varieties of my newly discovered treasures, my husband reminded me that there were only two of us living in our house and that he was sure when we returned to this store they would have my bread again.

I regretfully chose just one loaf of bread and returned the rest to the store shelves. I won’t even discuss how excited I became to find real Ziploc bags this week in a small discount store out in the country! Enough said…….

We made another trip to Corciano this week, hoping to finish off buying the rest of the furniture we need for the rental house but came home empty handed with just a few pieces of kitchen equipment instead. It was disappointing trip as we had hoped to finish off our furniture shopping, so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Locanda del Bracconiere . If you have read any of my travel blogs this has to be our favorite spot for lunch in the Deruta area with the highlight being their amazing antipasti table.

Our TomTom (GPS navigation system) is slowly becoming a necessary part of our lives, and we are getting used to our new American accented voice and I may be wrong, but I think she is losing some of her initial shyness as she seems to be speaking more than she did initially. I had some legal papers I needed to get to the US quickly this week, and the cost to fax 13 pages to two different offices was pretty high so I looked online to find a way to ship my papers and found a Mail Boxes Etc. (who knew they had these places in Italy too?)

The office was in a suburb of Perugia, so we punched in the address in our TomTom and headed out. We found the office, filled out the paperwork, and the clerk told us that if we wanted to, we still had time that day to ship the papers overnight. We were surprised but gladly paid what I thought was a very reasonable fee for overnight service and headed home. Later that evening we received the UPS tracking number by email with the date to be delivered clearly printed as 5 days later. I laughed to myself, because only in Italy would “overnight shipping” take 5 days!

We also learned that folks here in the country only eat lamb on weekends. I am not sure why, perhaps it is more expensive and considered more of a weekend extravagance, but after looking high and low one weekday after I had a craving for lamb, we could not find it sold in any grocery or macelleria (butcher) in the area.

Our local butcher in Collepepe finally shook his head at our naivety, and told us that in the country, lamb is only eaten on weekends and we should come back on Friday or Saturday. We did indeed do that, and STILL never found any lamb in the area so maybe they only eat lamb in the spring on weekends? We will get this new country life figured out but it may take some time, and I am sure we will en joy every minute of it along the way!

The weather held out through the weekend, and we had 4 straight days of gorgeous weather that lured us outdoors each day and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the area more fully. The highlight of my week had to have been Saturday though, as I was given the choice to plan the day myself.

We woke to yet another sunny day with clear blue skies and headed over to the weekly outdoor market in Perugia. It was quite crowded but I am sure everyone was enjoying the nice weather just as we were. We bought a bag of mixed bitter greens (and I mean a BIG bag) for just 1.5 euros which completely made my husband’s day! I also bought a large bunch of cardi (cardoons) to make Parmigiana con i Gobi ( a local specialty I tasted at our restaurant in Collazzone), and a few specialties from Campagna bought from a stall that came up from the south to sell their wares at the market.

After our successful market trip, we headed over to a “mobili in stile” (artisan furniture store) near Spello that we had visited before, and found a few pieces of furniture we liked that will be delivered the following week. My final stop of the day was Spello, one of our favorite Umbria hill towns where we planned to stop for lunch. Spello was one of the first places I visited on my initial trip to Umbria many years ago and each time I return I am surprised just how pretty and clean it is.

It is extremely rare to find any rubbish as you walk along the winding cobble stone streets, and in the warmer months there are flowers everywhere you look. Spello is the home of the Infiorata held on the Sunday after Corpus Domini. Artists take over the streets of Spello and “paint” large tapestries with colored flower petals, simply laid onto canvas.

The finished designs are truly works of art, and I am very excited that I will finally be able to experience this event for the first time this year as I have wanted to since I first learned of it years ago. We walked around Spello, enjoying being outdoors on a beautiful day in a wonderful place, and meandered up and down the winding streets, checking out the shops along the way until lunch time rolled around.

We dined at a nice, small restaurant in Spello called La Cantina. The interior is really cute with wine bottles everywhere (hence the name) and old, rustic tables and chairs. The cuisine is “tipici Umbi”, or traditional Umbrian so it is heavily focused on truffle dishes, grains, and meat. I ordered the Gnocchi Alla Norcia which was served with a truffle sauce, and my husband chose the Zuppa con Cipoli e Bacala, or onion soup with salted cod.

You either love bacala, hate it, or simply tolerate it, and I am in the later group while my husband loves it when it is properly prepared. I found the soup a tad “fishy” tasting (and not in a good way!) but my husband really enjoyed it. For my second course I ordered the lamb stewed with artichokes (I FINALLY got my lamb!) and my husband was lured into ordering the Tagliata con Rucola (rare slices of Tuscan beef dressed with olive oil and topped with wild arugula).

Both meat dishes were perfectly prepared, and thoroughly enjoyed. We completed our meal with biscotti and a sweet Sagrantino wine to dip the cookies into. I have never tasted this wine before and found I really preferred it to the usual Tuscan Vin Santo most folks serve to dip biscotti into. It was a wonderful day and I hope we have more days like this one so we can explore Umbria more before we leave.

The week ended on a good note, and although we spent the last day of week at home, we finished off a few more chores on our “to do” list. Later, after our chores were completed my husband went out to watch the local soccer team play, and I caught up on some computer work at home.

We are almost half way through our planned stay here in Umbria, and although the progress is slower than we had initially planned, we really are getting a lot accomplished as each week passes. We are really looking forward to returning in the spring when the weather is more pleasant, but we are also learning to appreciate each nice day we are fortunate to have here this winter.



Deborah Mele
February 2009

One Comment

  1. I have just discovered you through my son who has been following you for a while, and you must be fairly near to me!
    I recognise so many of the places you mention, and was at Castellucio last Friday, and will be again next week…in fact I have some almost identical photos myself!
    I am a very keen and experienced cook, so am particularly interested in your food related comments, especially about lamb at the weekends!
    We have an absolutely wonderful family macellaria in Corone, and at the weekends it can take an hour to buy a couple of chops because everybody else is having most of a lamb cut to suit their needs! Luckly there is a little allimentari next door with cold beer and tables, so my husband can sit there reading the paper and having a beer or a coffee whilst he waits!
    I am here in Saccovescio till November, and shall start to follow your blog with interest! Best wishes, Lulu

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