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Truffles and Chestnuts: Two Festivals in One Day in Umbria

13 Nov

Last weekend, we took our first road trip. Destination: Umbria–specifically the Truffle Festival (Sagra del Tartufo) in Fabro. This medieval town is just under two hours away from Rome (slightly less if you can make it out of Rome without getting lost…). And its woods (below) are full of truffles.

The Festival is in the higher, older part of town and consists of about 50 stalls, many selling truffles, truffle sauces, truffled cheeses, truffled sausages, and almost anything else that can be truffled. Unfortunately, we were a day late to see (and taste) what was billed as the world’s biggest truffle omelette. But we did sample our way up and down the stalls; being equal-opportunity eaters, we devoted attention to non-truffled items, too:


I did a double take when I saw the sign below, thinking mule salame was on offer along with the wild boar and venison versions. But no–it was just salame shaped like mule testicles….

After visiting the festival, we stopped at a nearby restaurant for lunch (because really, the festival was just a long snack…), where we ordered truffled pasta to share and I had pheasant with a sauce made from truffles, pate, and cognac. That may sound expensive, but it wasn’t; during truffle season in Italy you can get all sort of truffle-related dishes for very reasonable prices. Of course, if you are hoping to buy a whole, hefty, wrinkled, earthy, deeply aromatic truffle–that’s an entirely different proposition. But we weren’t. I was happy with the few tastes I had. A blasphemous statement, I know–but I find that a very little truffle goes a very long way.  Now, porcini mushrooms, on the other hand….

After our very late lunch, we could have gone back to Rome, but we decided to (literally and figuratively) squeeze in one more festival–the Chestnut Festival (Sagra della Castagna) in Narni. The Festival itself was very small, with not much on offer. But Narni was striking at twilight and night, and we did happen upon chestnuts roasting over an open fire:


The Bare Necessities of Life: Stovetop Espresso

13 Sep

Upon moving to Rome two weeks ago, we were immediately faced with several daunting tasks: figuring out the Roman bus system, getting an Italian phone, finding a place to live, starting Italian lessons, etc. So what did we do on our very first weekend here? We addressed the most pressing matter of all: getting a stovetop espresso maker and the coffee to go with it. We hopped on a bus, missed our stop, ended up on a freeway, dashed across various underpasses, found another bus going back and finally made it to the mall (where, yes, we also found a new cell phone and sampled some gelato–it was a multi-purpose shopping trip). But we accomplished our main objective: purchasing a 1-cup Bialetti Moka Express for me (yield: 2 oz; it’s actually 1 shot) and a 3-cup/shot version for my husband (yield: 6.5 oz.), and some Illy coffee.

We returned home, rinsed the Bialettis, let them dry, made a maiden batch of espresso in each (which we then threw out since the first brew is meant only to season the pot, not to drink–you are actually supposed to make 2-3 such brews, but we were too impatient). Finally, we were ready to make espresso we could actually drink, by: 1) filling the bottom of the Bialetti with water* to a point just under the valve, placing the funnel inside, gently filling the receptacle with coffee grounds (without tamping down), screwing the receptacle/top on, and bringing the water in the espresso maker to a boil on the stovetop.

The boiling water gets pulled up through the coffee grounds and into the receptacle, and is accompanied by a wondrous gurgling sound. When that ceases, the espresso is ready; you can open the lid to check if you are not sure. Below, some freshly made espresso in the Moka Express, and the resulting cup of espresso with a dash of cream (that one was my husband’s–I usually make a home-made latte with a single shot of espresso and a lot of milk). Mmm mmm good.

*If you have “hard” (ie mineral-rich) water, you may want to use filtered or bottled water instead, or the minerals will build up inside the espresso maker.

This Road Leads to Rome

26 Aug

In four days, this blog and its author are moving to Rome. The logistics involved in making the move happen–selling the house, months of packing, driving Schnauzer 1 and Schnauzer 2 to their wonderful new home in Nebraska, shipping our belongings, leaving our jobs, and saying our farewells on two coasts–have left little time for blog posts of late.

However, I’ll make amends after we arrive in Rome: lots to see, do, taste, and write about there! I’ll focus on the same eclectic mix of topics: food/cooking; plants/gardening (most likely container gardening), and travel-related snippets—albeit with a more Italian/European flavor. And there will undoubtedly be some commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in the Eternal City.

I hope you’ll make the move with me.  A presto!

Virginia is for (Flower) Lovers

7 May

Having a college student in Virginia means having a good excuse to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. A previous visit was bittersweet; a recent one this past weekend was just sweet. I love spring, and flowers, and being outside on a glorious day. Here are a few of the horticultural (and aquatic) sights that significantly increased my happiness quotient last Saturday.

                                                            Moth Orchid

                          Tulip                                                             African Daisy

                       Moth Orchid                                                        Tulip

The turtle’s shell is the pond’s equivalent of a lunch counter, providing fish with a nice algae snack.