Crikey! It’s Cricket…

Crikey! It’s Cricket…

There’s something strange happening in Monte Giberto, a little town close to Petritoli, on the occasional Sunday morning. Men running about shouting ‘howzat’ and ‘LBW!!’

One of the teams...
One of the teams…featuring the youngest and the oldest..

A young (ish) enthusiastic Englishman with a place here in Italy has decided it’s time to get the Italians into…pads, boxes and leather balls.

It's not meant to protect your nose from the sun Luigi!
It’s not meant to protect your nose from the sun Luigi!

I’m not really au fait with cricket terminology, ‘silly mid-off’, ‘flipper’, ‘maiden over,’ etc., and these are just smattering of what is indeed another language and I’ve got enough trouble learning Italian!

I Piceni is the name of the ancient people who lived in the area of Le Marche before being pushed out by the Romans.  It’s also the name of a restaurant and a few other local places no doubt but now the name is being associated with the latest craze…Cricket… it’s not a game the Italians are familiar with but they are putting their energies into team training, turning up on a Sunday morning to learn batting, bowling and fielding skills. It’s a lot of fun and at the end of the session there’s Pimm’s and cake…(homemade of course!)

Home Made Cake...
Home Made Cake…

There are, among the players a few experts, but the team changes every practice, some join some leave. But Dario, Ian and Francesco and a couple of others whose names escape me, are there every time.

Action Bowling from Dario
Action Bowling from Dario

The Man did attend, once and showed great wrist action and a true skill in ‘spin bowling’ but sadly his shoulder was painful; and I heard ALL about that; for at least a month afterwards. Will he give it another try? I think he’ll probably stick to cycling…We’ll have to wait and see…

The Man...
The Man…

At the moment the team is still in its infancy but watch this space to follow their progress and perhaps before long I’ll be blogging about their first match. I did notice that The Vatican had a cricket team but I think perhaps Rome will be a little too far for I Piceni to travel at the moment – sponsorship could be a problem. Perhaps the Vatican could travel over this way? Except the team don’t have a home pitch…yet…apart from Luigi’s tennis courts.

team2

actionshotfrom italian

Enthusiastic Founder of I Piceni (at least I think it is but it's hard to tell under the regalia)
Enthusiastic Founder of I Piceni Cricket (at least I think it is but it’s hard to tell under the regalia)

Eating Out Is Not All It’s Cooked Up To Be…

Pasta....
Pasta….

I expect many of you will disagree with this post but having had a summer of too many restaurant meals I have been giving some thought to this area of our lives.

I love food, there is no doubt about that and we have a huge number of places to choose from to eat here in Italy and on the whole it’s not too expensive. What it is though is mostly variations on a theme. Antipasti, (cold meats, cheese, olives etc.,) Primo (pasta dishes) Secondo (meat or fish) Contorni (sides, salads, veg, potatoes etc.,) and dolci (desserts). The meals are humungous and it takes about three hours to get through them. We, that is The Man and I have come to the conclusion that if we eat out in Italy we want to do it at lunchtime so that by the time we go to bed the food has had time to be partly digested. If we eat out in the evening then invariably we can’t sleep and suffer from indigestion. I know we’re getting on a bit but that’s not necessarily the problem.

Apart from the lack of variety in the Italian restaurants there are very few if any other types of restaurant other than Italian in this area. Fine if you’re on holiday but when you live here? We need a little more choice and I did find something different in October…

I’m not a lover of burgers and American food but we had visitors who I took for a walk along the seashore at Grottamare one lunchtime. Neither of my guests wanted to eat seafood and most of the restaurants by the sea serve predominantly fish. I remembered I’d see something about an American Food place opening in San Benedetto only a few kilometres down the road. A quick phone call (thank you India) and off we went. It was brilliant. What a change it made to eat something different. I feared it would be quasi American with pasta definitely showing somewhere on the menu but no, Caesar Salad, burgers (real), pancakes, maple syrup, (yum) American Cheesecake, it was like being in New York and I was frantically texting my daughter in Brooklyn, I don’t think she could understand why I was so excited.

The White Bakery
The White Bakery

I really enjoyed my lunch and felt it was worth every cent…

Recently, last week in fact, we went to the UK. The choice was huge, Italian, English, French, Thai, Indian, Moroccon, Mexican and that was just in Lyme Regis! (joke). I suffered from indigestion nearly everyday, a full stomach, a few pounds heavier and an empty wallet by the end of the trip.

In Bristol we had; a disappointing curry (3/10), fish and chips, very good (9/10) it was in the top 100 fish&chip shops in the UK. One lunch was taken at the Waterfront, watery soup, salty mussels and not so good fish pie (4/10)

In Bournemouth a fish restaurant we went to was very good (8/10) but quite pricey and afterwards we decided they were trying to be too fussy and less fancy would have been preferable. A bit of indigestion kicked in around 11pm. We did have a fantastic breakfast though in our hotel, a Full English (10/10) from which we are deprived here and although I cook it at home, the bacon is not right, the sausages just not the same and baked beans are about 2.50 euro a tin!

Not only do I love food, I love cooking and have come to the conclusion that eating at home is actually much better than eating out at a restaurant. Years ago, eating out or getting a takeaway (only pizza takeaway here) was a special treat and now it has become the norm for many people. At home I can conjure up most things, I bring over spices from the UK so that we can have Thai curries, I make shepherd’s pie, roast dinners (with all the trimmings and lashings of gravy), soups and fish dishes. I also cook pasta. The Man loves my cooking, it doesn’t cost us much and we don’t get indigestion!

I’m not dissing all restaurants and I’m not saying I never want to go to any again. I love meeting up with friends and going out. But, I have to say that it’s mostly better if you meet up at someone’s house and take a dish or two. Sharing is caring. Also you get to speak to everyone that way. When you are at a big table and go out to dinner you can only really converse with your immediate neighbours. I think a romantic dinner in a restaurant is a great thing to do on a special occasion, except on Valentine’s night when they hike the prices up everywhere.

My favourite restaurants locally.

I Piceni (romantic dinner) Fab desserts.

Dessert I Piceni
Dessert I Piceni

Mamma Rosa’s (family and friends) Nutella pizza anyone?

Parco Galeano (family and friends) good homemade bread gets thumbs up.

Re Squarchio (family and friends, or romantic for two) quality cooking

Ristorante Roma (a must for Sunday lunch…although you won’t get roast dinner!) Definitely a family favourite! (their site seems to be down at the moment so I’ll add a link later)

Best meal out this year was back in April in Taverna Del Lupo in Gubbio where we had the tastiest and most beautifully cooked lamb we’ve eaten since being in Italy. Oh and of course the wine is good and soooo much cheaper here.

Taverna Del Lupo Gubbio
Taverna Del Lupo Gubbio

Off to Thailand in December, I cannot wait to sample the food. Maybe I’ll change my mind about eating out?

Creating, Cooking and a little Confession…

This morning I was determined to get on with writing. I’m part way through two online courses and I need to GET ON with both of them. One is memoir writing which I’m really enjoying but it tends fill me with nostalgia so I have to be in the mood.

The other course is for Creative Writing and the module I’m working on right now involves writing the synopsis for a novel and character studies for four of the main characters in the book, ‘piece of cake’ I hear you say well…I’ve got about as far as the title.

writing

I was also hoping to have been at Swanwick this week in Derbyshire but circumstances did not allow it. I was sulking this morning and day dreaming about being there and wondering what delights I was missing.

I sat and looked at the blank computer screen for about five minutes and knew I wasn’t going to write a single thing so I decided instead to cook. I made a banana cake and then launched into making my own pasta tagliatelle – the way Roberto demonstrated back in July.

Getting Ready
Getting Ready

I gathered all the ingredients together, flour, egg, oil, vino cotto. Took out my pasta board and rolling pin inherited from an American lady a couple of years ago. I don’t know where she got it from but today was its first outing, I hauled from it’s hiding place and put it to use.

 

Flour, egg, oil, vino cotto
Flour, egg, oil, vino cotto

 

I did everything exactly as I remember Roberto showing us. I mixed with my fingers and kneaded with love and emotion. My wrists ached and my mind wandered as boredom struck after only five minutes. I carried on, even though my carpal tunnel pain started up. The mixture was not doing what it was supposed to. It remained more like a cricket ball than a dough ball. Despite that, I thought I would have a go at rolling it out but it was dry and reluctant to stretch or roll out any bigger than a tea plate.

 

 

Rejected Pasta

Reluctantly, I threw it to one side and began again.

Now, here’s where the confession comes in. I made another lot but this time I mixed it in the Kenwood food processor (embarrassing admission) but it worked a treat! I had to roll it out by hand of course, to a paper thin translucent state, and cut it up and that was done without the aid of a machine – except for the rolling pin. This time it was entirely successful!

Perfectly Rolled Out
Perfectly Rolled Out
Looking just Like Roberto's
Looking just Like Roberto’s

 

tagliatelle

I wasn’t sure how long to cook it but I guessed about 5 minutes. I made a sauce of onion, mushroom, pancetta and wine with chilli and a small amount of cream added at the end of cooking. The verdict? Scrumptious.

Finished Dish served with Salad
Finished Dish served with Salad

It was easy to make the pasta when I used the machine and why put myself through the pain when the end result was so much better?

GBTasing

The Man was thoroughly approving and has requested that more should be made tomorrow!

Fabulous Food From Near and Far….

The Bowling Alley ready for action. Photo courtesy Francesa Amurri
The Bowling Alley ready for action. Photo courtesy Francesa Amurri

26th July 2014 was the date for the annual International Supper in Petritoli when all the stranieri (foreigners) living in the town, make a dish from their own country and bring it for others to share. There are over twenty different nationalities her in Petritoli which has a little over 2500 residents. (Correct me if I’m wrong please).
This year chose to make Coronation Chicken, but first I had to Google the recipe as I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I discovered that the dish was invented by Constance Spry and that It was a long and quite complicated recipe starting with braising the chicken in a well seasoned and herb/spice filled stock, allowing to cool, removing the flesh then covering it in a sauce made from curry spices, apricot and cream…no hint of mayonnaise, raisons or almonds! Well, blow that for a laugh. I decided just to buy a cooked chicken and use mayonnaise with curry powder and my homemade apricot chutney. The result was delicious and the dish was gobbled up in no time at all. (I did feel a bit of a cheat though).

Coronation Chicken (my version)
Coronation Chicken (my version)

We had some Swedish guests staying, Stina and Thomas, and I invited them to join us and to make a contribution to the supper. Of course, they made meatballs and brought herrings in a mustard sauce and soused herrings together with redcurrant sauce. They also brought a packet of Swedish biscuits that were a bit like Rivita but very much tastier and not at all like cardboard. I marvelled at how they managed to prepare everything and then they let me in on their secret, ‘We went to Ikea,’ said Stina conspiratorially and laughed. Who could blame her, why go to too much trouble when you’re on your hols?

Usually the event is held in the open air in the BorgoTrento a pleasant level road leading to the park, but this year the weather was a bit suspect to so we transferred to the local bowling alley. That is a large covered building where people play bowls, as opposed an American bowling alley. To be honest I’m not sure exactly what kind of bowls they play there.

John Healy
John Healy – photo courtesy Francesa Murri

The rain did come down, thunder roared and the lightening flashed. What a good job we were all inside. They had hired the services of one John Healy to sing for us. He did a sterling job giving us renditions of some great songs including a couple of Irish ballads. The problem for the poor guy was that every time he got into the swing of his act a bouncy Italian woman who was the compèrie for the evening, interrupted him to make some announcement or other…I think he began to despair and wonder why on earth they had hired him!

The evening ended with the compulsory raffle but this year, thank goodness, only three hampers up for grabs. Last year there were about 50 prizes and the raffle went on for an hour and a half!

The Man had a very hard task, I felt so sorry for him. He was asked to sit on the judging panel and rate the desserts. I don’t know how he managed it, twelve samples of delicious puddings from different countries. He wasn’t too impressed with the jelly, but his vote went to the baklava from Albania. I THINK that might have been the overall winner but these things are always so confusing at an Italian event!

Dessert Judging
Dessert Judging

Country Car Mechanics, the same the world over….love em!

I cannot believe it has been over a month since I last posted! That is quite disgraceful. No excuses. I’ll try not to let it happen again. Hope all my followers have missed me…I don’t want to know if you haven’t.

Car

A few weeks ago my car began making a terrible swooshing noise and a ‘red light’ flashed on and off on the dashboard. I took it to the local garage man who came with me for a test drive. He was a little unsettled by the right hand drive situation and felt the need to grab hold of the door handle and even grabbed the hand brake at one point. He paled when a car came in the opposite direction as he was used to being a passenger on the other side of the car. The short trip may have affected his subsequent diagnosis.

He shook his head and tutted, as they do, and told me sadly that the cambelt had gone and I was looking at possibly as much as €3000 to fix it.

I was allowed to drive it home and think about it, but not to drive it anywhere outside the village, just ‘piano, piano’ quietly and slowly. I discussed it with my man and we were both pretty gutted as the car is only 6 years old, a VW Polo 1.2.

We talked and thought and googled, (it is a verb you know; to google). Our googling came up trumps there is NO cambelt in the VW Polo 1.2 2007 cars. YIPPEE!!!

So back we went to the car man and gleefully told him, ‘This car has no cambelt’. He scratched his head and said it must be some bearings in the gearbox then. He’s a good and helpful mechanic despite the lack of knowledge re the cambelt.

He’s had the car now for two weeks, I’ve been down twice but he hadn’t had time to look at it. Today I paid another visit and this time my little car was up high on the ramp things, it’s innards sitting on the bench. He smiled. We’ve ordered the part, it will come tomorrow the car will be ready on Thursday at the latest.

‘How much will it cost?’ I asked.

‘Not much. It’s not so serious.’ He picked up one of the parts on the bench and tried to explain, ‘this we need new, this is not so bad, if it had been these..’ he pointed at a large mechanical thing with lots of cogs, the gear box I’m presume, ‘it would be serious but this is not so much.’

‘But, how much? ‘ I asked again,

‘Not much, it’s not serious.’ Oh, so unhelpful.

So, ‘not much’ could be anything, let’s face it, everyone has a different conception of expensive and cheap. Some people might think that €500 is not much when it could have been €3000 but €500 is a lot to me at the moment. I’m hoping now it might be less but thinking about the entrails of the engine strewn all over the bench I’m wondering how much labour it will take for him to put them back and close it up., tidily.

The thing is, a similar thing happened to me in Devon in 2011, with the same car. I drove a few hundred miles from Cardiff to Devon and began to have a problem with a juddering sort of action. I took it to the local garage and he when I told him how far I’d driven he was horrified. ‘I wouldn’t drive it another two feet!’ he said. I can’t remember what the problem was now but it involved ordering a part and they needed all sorts of intricate details about the car so they could get the right bits.

When I phoned them the next day the conversation had been much the same as the one I had today. The Devon mechanic also said, ‘it won’t be much’ and when I asked again he said the same thing but in a different way, ‘it’ll be a good job, not that expensive’, but refused to give me a price. It turned out to be less than £150 so I’m hoping that all country garage men think the same and that the bill for the Polo this time will be just short of €200…

Somehow I doubt it, but I’ll let you know.

Summer’s Arrived in Le Marche

Beautiful Rose (Peace)
Beautiful Rose (Peace)

The roses are blooming the grass is growing faster than we can cut it. Summer has definitely arrived in Le Marche. It did have to be dragged out of hiding this year though, April and the beginning of May were very changeable. The kind of weather where you have to prepare for anything and everything before you go out for the day, taking with you, raincoat, umbrella, wellies, cardigan, T-shirt, sandals, suncream and sunhat. Get the idea?

Last week I mentioned the growth in the orto (vegetable garden) and it hasn’t slowed down. Today we’re going to pick most of the peas and broad beans, although the beans don’t look too healthy, some of them have black leaves and inside the pods is a sticky black substance…anyone enlighten me?

Peas...as if you didn't know
Peas…as if you didn’t know

In 2012 the apricots were prolific but, this year, two of the trees appear to be yielding nothing and the other tree just a few. I managed to make over thirty pots of chutney and several jars of jam last summer but this year there will be very few. Pity I gave so many away. Looks like there’s only one of each left in the larder.

One Jar Apricot Chutney One Jar Apricot Jam
One Jar Apricot Chutney
One Jar Apricot Jam

The cherries are looking good though so we’ll be harvesting them this afternoon too before the birds get them. So cherry jam will be on the boil later this evening. Such a fag taking out all those stones though.

cherries2

 

cherries1

 

May is a very beautiful time here, it’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside on the terrace but not so hot during the day to be unbearable. The mosquitoes are still sleeping so we don’t have to cover ourselves in deet. The evenings are drawing out and only goes a little chilly after the sun has completely gone, which, at the moment is around 20.45.

redrose

If you fancy trying out Le Marche there are some lovely places to visit and to stay. You could check out this link Marcheholidayaparts.com. If you decide to try them then mention olivespastavino blog when you book, you will be sure to get a favourable rate!

The Bougainvillea has survived the winter and is blooming!
The Bougainvillea has survived the winter and is blooming!

From Garden to Plate…is it worth it?

Delish...Fresh Tuna Salad...oh with a little bit of fresh Wild Rocket
Delish…Fresh Tuna Salad…oh with a little bit of fresh Wild Rocket

One week back in Italy after three weeks in Brooklyn NYC and I’m just about over the jetlag. However, it wasn’t just my sleep pattern that was affected; it was eating, drinking and bodily functions that all went skew-whiff! Back on track now you’ll be pleased to know.

The result of three weeks absence meant that the orto (vegetable garden) had gone completely bonkers. Whilst away, the weather here in Italy had been sunny, warm and interspersed with lots of rain. Heaven for plants. It was impossible to see the paths separating the beds or to sort the weeds from the growing vegetables and I actually thought in one area that I must have cultivated some strain of triffid. Fortunately not.

My husband played hunt the strawberries and kindly cleared the bed of all but the said strawberries which, now having been shown the light, will hopefully plump up and ripen before June.

I tried, (honestly) to weed some of the beds but ended up just picking peas, fava beans (broad beans) and a lettuce for lunch. I know, I should have done more but it really is hard work and I don’t think I’m dedicated enough. I mean, it’s fantastic to pick something from the garden, carry it into the house, prepare and eat it all within half an hour. But, honestly, the work that you have to put in to get to the harvesting stage is possibly not my bag. I have friends who are devoted to their vegetable gardens, (and I do admire them) up at the crack of dawn, which here means 05.30am or it’s too hot, then toiling for three hours or more, virtually every day. Then you have to set up the irrigation system, the plants need water morning and night here in Italy from June/July through to October. Last year was so hot that even with watering the poor little veggies needed umbrellas to keep the sun off during the day or they dehydrated within minutes.

Fresh Picked, Lettuce, Peas and Beans
Fresh Picked, Lettuce, Peas and Beans

So I ask myself, is it better to just go to the market and buy fresh local produce or should I continue to try, against all the odds, to plod on with ‘grow your own’ method? The peas and beans were planted in November, as were the lettuce and they have all come through beautifully, from now on though, it’s all downhill.

Final thought. Who remembers shelling peas with their mum when they were a kid? I do and today I was reminded of that. It took me twenty minutes to shell a small bowlful of peas. They were delicious, but were they better than the frozen? The vote in this household is yes! But he would say that, he didn’t shell the peas nor did he pick them!

The Little Bowl of Peas from the Bundle of Shells.
The Little Bowl of Peas from the Bundle of Shells.

Did You Say…Cheese Rolling Competition…?

Cheeseman

Whilst out driving with some friends on Thursday we negotiated a hairpin bend only to be faced with, not a car coming towards us in the middle of the road, (see last week’s blog) but what looked like a wheel of cheese!  Being inquisitive, we slowed right down and waited. We then watched a man chuck the cheese as far as he could, uphill, using a rope with a wedge of wood, it as the launcher. We were intrigued to know more and it transpired he was having a sneaky practice before the National Cheese Throwing competition this weekend. Emphasis on the word National…

cheeseprep1

cheeseprep2

 

 

 

 

We live in a small town in a country area of Le Marche in Italy and I am often surprised at the National and International events that take place in my town or in other small villages close by.

My husband and I (sounds rather royal doesn’t it?) decided we would be spectators at this unusual Cheese Rolling event so took ourselves along to Monte Giberto, only a few kilometres down the road from us, in time for the afternoon session.  I asked a lot of questions and took a great many photos. Everyone was jolly and having a thoroughly good time. There seem to be about six or eight teams taking part and the competitors were very enthusiastic, the usual hand waving, raised voices, shouts of encouragement and possible insults.  An Italian gathering often reminds me of a farmyard full of turkeys, ducks, geese and chickens all trying to be heard above each other.

I have to say an hour was just about long enough for us, I think you would need to be a real enthusiast to watch for the whole weekend. Unfortunately (or not) we won’t be able to go back and watch the finals tomorrow as we’re off to Bologna for the day. Also, rain is forecast and soggy cheese may not cover the ground so well. I was pretty staggered to see how far some of the men could launch the cheese, uphill as well!

Today were the qualifying heats. I can’t possibly explain it all in detail and I’m sure you’re not that interested so I’ll just give you the facts as I ascertained them.

Flags are set out along the road about 20metres apart and the cheeses are thrown from the bottom of the course uphill. The distance they had to travel was not specified (read that as nobody actually knows) but they had 8 throws to get a 20 kilo Parmesan Cheese from the bottom to the top.  At the end of each throw, the road was marked with the number of the competitor and how many throws, then the next throw went from that spot.  The competition tomorrow will be slightly different with sizes varying from 1 to 22 kilos. The course is longer for the smaller cheeses. How long? About as long as a piece of string……

numberin road

The competitors were very serious about their cheeses, taking care to clean them of any road debris before each throw, picking out bits of gravel, wiping down. My husband said it reminded him of the pits at Le Mans.  We did ask, as a joke, if they ate any of them after they’d finished the competition to which we were told, ‘only if they break!’ Seems an awful waste of cheese to me.

You may think I am being cynical but I don’t mean to be, not at all. It was fun and I love the Italian enthusiasm for this crazy type of event. I believe they also do cheese throwing in the UK. Perhaps someone can enlighten me on that?

In the photos the cheese is actually running uphill…..although sometimes it looks as though it’s going down.

Apron info

cheese uphill

actionman

rolling2

Italian Drivers? – We Love ‘Em !

The weather here has been, changeable, I think the word is. The temperature has ranged from 20 degrees last weekend to -1 degree this morning. We have had sunshine, showers, snow, hail, clouds and blue skies.

I have been to Ancona airport twice this week, once on Monday to drop off and once on Wednesday to pick up. It’s a three-hour round trip, but I don’t mind because it gives me the opportunity to think up lots of writing ideas during the phase of the journey when I’m alone in the car, or to listen to a CD or radio programme of my choice, although most Italian radio is hard to follow. A ‘listening book’ is always a good option.

Anyway, on my way back on the Monday, I had to negotiate a massive hailstorm, it was so bad that even the Italian drivers slowed down and put on their hazard warning lights. For those of you who are not au fait with Italian drivers, they always drive very fast on all types of roads and road surfaces and in all kinds of weather conditions. They overtake on bends; they drive in the centre or the wrong side of the road, so that it is common to meet a car hurtling towards you on your side of the road just after you go round a corner or even on the straight!  They are always on their mobile phones, they have children sitting on their laps on the front seats, flash their lights when they are ‘coming though’ and not intending to stop. They drive only a metre’s length behind your boot on the motorway, tailgating until you move over, which, by the way, you are expected to do immediately even if you are half way through passing a lorry! They also have a colossal number of hand gestures, which are often self-explanatory! Mind you, I have learnt a few of those myself…..

carparking

Then there is PARKING…well….I’m not sure I have the vocabulary at my command to express my true feelings about Italian parking! I have no idea why they bother with parking bays, because they are completely ignored. Double parking is totally accepted, especially while the guilty person enjoys his cup of coffee and croissant, reads the paper and leisurely passes the time of day with the patron of the bar! Parking on the pavement, parking right in front of the supermarket door, parking across two bays, parking in the middle of the road, parking very close so that you have to squeeze yourself flat to get back into your car which, by the way, you had left parked with ample space for others each side.

Fiat Panda 4x4Having mentioned the high speeds at which the Italians drive I should also point out the other end of the scale which involves drivers who go extremely slowly, less than 20k an hour. These drivers are often elderly and do not have mobile phones but, they are always deep in conversation with their passenger, engaging with them eye to eye and not watching the road. They are usually driving an ancient Fiat Punto 4×4 with thin wheels. We have wondered if these little cars are given out by the Government for retired people over 85 and speculate what the criteria might be to qualify.

Feel free to share your Italian driving and parking experiences with me!