Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cheap eats!

We all know that it's pretty hard to get a bad meal in Italy.  At highway rest areas, at little sidewalk stands, at food trucks....they all serve up some pretty decent food at pretty decent prices.  Lately we've had a few opportunities to check out some more of the local (and nearby) dining opportunities and I must say, we haven't been disappointed.
First begin with dessert.  That's always been my may have a heart attack before you get to the best part of the meal so let's start with that!  In Cervinara there are several gelaterias but in my humble opinion you can't beat Micione, the ice cream stand that is right by the Villa Communale.  It's made fresh every day, and in summer twice a day!  You know the ingredients because you can see the detritus waiting to be picked up in the trash.   Is gelato di fragola (strawberry) on the menu? Then it's probably late spring and you will see empty strawberry flats in the trash pile.  Mid summer finds lots of melon, lemon and cherry flavors.  Of course there's always the season-less flavors of hazelnut, coffee, chocolate and Nutella.  Can't go wrong there!  And seriously, I have eaten gelato all over the peninsula and I think we in Cervinara have some of the best there is.  And I'm not the only one who feels this way.  We have taken friends and family here for delicious cones and cups and invariably they come away fat and happy with their choices!  Plus a "small" cone which is huge by American standards is only 2 euros.  How can you go wrong?

I'm not a huge fan of other desserts in Italy.  They tend to be very dense and heavy on pastry cream or soaked in rum.  Not that I turn them's just that I don't think they're worth the calories for the most part.  But up in Castello we have the Bar and Pasticceria Castello, a tiny hole in the wall spot with some excellent sweets.  My favorites are the mignons, mini versions of bigger pastries.  It's nice to have the small ones because you can have several different tastes for the price of one!  They also make gelato, but I'm really partial to Micione so I don't indulge there.  I do like their little mini pre-made cones that are coated in chocolate.  They are just enough for a sweet finish to a meal without going overboard.  Their fancy cakes are works of art as well; whether for a party or a wedding, they are as beautiful as they are tasty.

Now on to the main courses!  We recently celebrated our 43 anniversary and were trying to decide where to go for a nice lunch.  We decided on a restaurant called Antana in neighboring Montesarchio.  This place had been recommended by friends and we had an advertising card that claimed they were open for lunch with ample parking.  After finding our way onto a street that was no wider than our car we discovered that neither of these was true!  I went in to a darkened room and was told that they weren't open for lunch, that the advertisement I had was out of date.  If we had been a party of six or so they would have opened for us and put together a meal, but for just two it wasn't worth their effort, so we moved on.
There was a new restaurant that had opened last year on the main highway that leads to Cervinara.  It's called KM237 and we decided to give that a go.  This was an inspired choice.  We were able to have some tasty Neapolitan tempura style veggies, and two plates of very good pasta for a most reasonable 23 euros.  My orecchiette with eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes was excellent, as with dh's fusilli with sausage.  We also discovered that they have weekly special events such as BBQ in the garden, karaoke nights and special happy hour events.  The décor is lovely and the air conditioning worked perfectly!  That's no small feat here in Italy, where the AC is usually the equivalent of two guys blowing on an ice cube!  We know we'll be back for more good meals in the future.

Today we decided to head up towards Benevento to a mall where we have shopped in the past.  We needed to get out of the house and just have a walk around but somewhere not in the sun.  We also wanted to do another lunch out.  So, we did a bit of shopping and then headed over to the Buonvento Mall Food Court.  This is not your usual mall food court, by any means.  There is a pizza place with wood burning oven that will get you a custom made pizza in 5-10 minutes for 5 euros.  But we decided to go with something more nutritious, so we made our way through the regular dinner line. 
We picked up our trays along with silverware and bread...very good bread and as much as we wanted.  Then we picked our meals.  Mike had the baccala with clams and mussels along with roasted potatoes and zucchini.  I had a farro salad (farro with diced carrots, zucchini and white beans), steamed escarole and pepperoni impanate (roasted peppers with bread crumbs).  OMG, it was so good.  And the bill?  Grand total of 19 euros, including a big bottle of water.  We've eaten here before and never been disappointed, and I'm sure we'll be back.  It's not worth it to cook when you can have healthy options like that at the food court.

Image result for buonvento centro commerciale
There are so many places to get a good meal in a town like Cervinara, whether you are in the mood for an Aperol Spritz and some finger foods for happy hour or want an elegant dinner in a sophisticated ambiance.  We haven't been to all of them...far from it.  But it's nice to know that there's always going to be a spot for a nice meal at reasonable prices when it's too hot to cook.  Buon appetito!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sounds of Silence

It was getting on towards midnight when I closed my eyes just for a moment as the game went into penalty kicks, knowing that when we made the winning goal the boys in the bar would wake up the entire neighborhood with their air horns, shouts of joy, and their careening through the streets with flags flying proudly from their antennas.  Sadly, I woke up to silence two hours later only to learn that Germany had beaten Italy in the UEFA cup quarter final game.  Overtime, PKs, a loss.  Alas, Italy has a dismal record when it comes to important games decided by PKs.  The TV was still on with commentators dissecting the game, saying how our boys had played nobly, how they went further than anyone thought they would, how they had made us proud.
And boys they are.  With the exception of Buffon, who at almost 40 could be the father of many of these young men, this was a very young team.  In the aftermath of the game, during an interview one of the players broke down in tears, because of the loss of course, but also because he was convinced that these boys would not be remembered because they didn't win, that they would be a forgotten footnote in the history of this sport.  I think most of us would disagree, that these boys will hold a place in the hearts of Italy for many years to come.

The hearts of Italy are hurting for more than just the loss of this game.  This was the day when she lost nine of her citizens, nine hard-working, loving men and women who were brutally killed because they were unable to cite quotations from the Koran.  Parents of young children, a husband and wife, a young woman pregnant with her first child.....all victims of irrational hatred.  People from all over Italy, most involved in the textile industry, in Bangladesh either on business trips or living there permanently, people who had gathered in a restaurant for a celebratory dinner, anxiously awaiting their return home.  The sadness here, the anger, the sense of loss are palpable.
 The national soccer team will be returning from France in defeat.  Nine Italian citizens will be returning from Bangladesh in coffins.  We are sad at the outcome of the game.  We are devastated at the senseless loss of life. There are still flags flying, but they are at half mast. And so, there is silence here today.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Boys in the Bar

We knew last year that there would be big changes in our neighborhood with the departure of our local barista Adriana.  She was giving up the bar in October and when we left we weren't sure what we would find upon our return.  Well, we needn't have worried.  Our local watering hole is back up and running and by all appearances is doing great! 

A group of young men have gotten together and have made this spot the place to be for youngsters and old folks alike.  They painted, cleaned and spruced things up, making for a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.  Even the bathroom, which I never dared enter, has been redone and is clean and pleasant.  There are new high top stools and tables, a flat screen TV that broadcasts sports from morning to night, a selection of newspapers and, of course, bottles and bottles of Peroni beer! 

For me, the best part is the free Wi-Fi.  How nice it is to come in and sit down at a comfortable table, buy a Coke Zero for 1E and then spend an hour or so catching up on all the news and putting some thoughts together for family and friends back home.  Later in the evening, the old guys gather for a game of cards, the local kids come in for bags of chips or ice creams, and the millennials visit with each other all while checking their iPhones. 

It's a different atmosphere from what it used to be.  There's definitely a younger vibe to this spot now, and that's all to the good.  Whenever I despair that Ioffredo  is aging and we're losing too many people, I realize that there's a whole new generation of young folks who are keeping the neighborhood vital and lively.  And for those who are coming to easy.  There's a friendly spot where you can get a drink and check on the Red Sox, all in one place. 

Road Trip!

Living in Europe is challenging in many ways; bureaucracy, strange regulations, stranger store closings....but it definitely has its rewards.  First of these is how close we are to other countries, other cultures, other languages.  Unlike in the States where we have to plan a full day of travel complete with passports and long trips to airports, visiting other countries here is a matter of a 90 minute flight or a bit of a road trip.  This year we opted for the latter.

Our good friends and habitual travel buddies arrived at 6 am on June 8 and we were there to pick them up and head out onto the road.  Poor folks....they endured 8+ hours in an airplane, only to move into a car for another five hours of driving.  We pulled into Chiavari, a seaside town outside of Genoa and settled in for our first night.  This was just a stop on the way to our final destination of the south of France. 

Next morning we were back on the road bright and early, enduring dozens of tunnels, switchbacks and traffic jams.  We eventually made our way into France, via Monaco.  A brief visit to the Monte Carlo casino was our first stop, one that we could have done without, imho.  Lots of glitz, not much substance. 

We eventually arrived at our B&B in Antibes, Bastide de la Brague.  What a lovely spot!  Isabelle and Franck were wonderful hosts and our three days there passed all too quickly. 

Day trips to Nice, Gourdon, St. Paul de Vence, Biot, Antibes Vieille Ville, and others filled our time and our cameras with wonderful sights. 

We left the Bastide and headed off to Avignon, with an interim stop in Aix en Provence.  This was a Sunday and the town was very quiet, with a great little market set up along the Cours Mirabeau.  This street is a simpler, southern version of the Champs-Elysees, and we certainly enjoyed strolling in the shade of the plane trees and admiring the craftsmanship of the local artisans. 

Arriving in Avignon that evening, we were met with a few shocks.  Our apartment, which was our home for the next week, was not one flight up as we had been told, but two, plus one more internal flight to get to the upper sleeping areas! Two flights of curving stone steps that were a challenge for us all, but especially my husband and me, and the internal steps with no handrail!  Thank goodness for our good friends who did the bulk of the heavy lifting to get us settled in.  We travel light, but carrying anything up those steps proved challenging all week long.

That said, this apartment was in a superb location, right on the Place des Corps Saints.  I didn't realize it when we booked it, but Rick Steves talks about this place in his France book, saying it's really the best place for aperitifs, dining and enjoying local life.  Indeed, we were able to get everything we needed at the little markets in the area and we enjoyed several nice meals sitting outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. 

Avignon itself is a lovely city and we certainly had nice walks through the old streets and markets, but we also took advantage of its location in the heart of the Luberon to visit everything from Roman ruins, medieval abbeys, ochre hills, lavender fields, great wineries and even driving to the top of Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in the area and one that left us breathless as we drove higher and higher on narrow roads with no guardrails.  We were all a bit on edge at the end of that day!  We saw a lot, but there was so much more we could have seen and I hope that before too long we'll be back in Provence to take in more of what it has to offer.

Our next stop was in the Haut-Savoie where we were meeting up with an old, dear friend of mine.  Josie lives in a tiny town, about 15 minutes outside of Geneva.  Her house is a former barn and she graciously offered us her two bedrooms while she moved in with her daughter who lives about 50 yards away.  Our first night there, Josie prepared a raclette for us and for all her family, a group of about 12 including three of her grandchildren.  Raclette is a traditional dish from this area, consisting of slices of cheese that are heated up on little triangular pans, then scraped off onto boiled potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons with pickled onions.  Very hearty and usually reserved for chilly winter evenings but it was certainly welcome on that unseasonably cool night.  Afterwards we went to a music festival at the local café and enjoyed two hours of American blues, sung in France, by an Italian singer and his band.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that provided us with some fantastic memories!

We also toured the medieval town of Yvoires which is right on the shores of Lac Leman and where we had a lunch of lake perch at a waterside restaurant, we visited Geneva and walked through its old town, and we drove up the Saleve mountain to view Geneva from on high.  Supper there consisted of "potence", a local dish of chunks of meat stuck onto an iron mace and then doused with whiskey and set on fire tableside.  Quite the spectacle!

Alas, it was time to go and we eventually found ourselves back in Italy after going through the Mont Blanc tunnel, truly an amazing engineering feat.  The views we enjoyed as we drove to and then from Mont Blanc were breathtaking.  Neither photos nor words are capable of describing the majesty and beauty of this area. 

Two more days on the road, with overnights in Parma and Orvieto completed this trip.  We discovered new foods and drinks (Aperol Spritz anyone?), reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and we made many deposits of glorious sights, both manmade and natural, to our respective memory banks. 

It's not easy traveling.  The strange beds, the crazy surprises, the packing and unpacking, the traffic and driving challenges all serve to make it a sometimes stressful event.  But would I change it, or quit?  Never!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Blue on Blue

We're back from our travels in France and Switzerland, and are again working through the chores and cleaning that two weeks away demand.  But today is Sunday, and the church bells were calling us all to mass.  A special mass indeed, because today was the San Nicola parish first communion service.
This was the second first communion we've been to this year and it was nice to see how the services compared to each other.  But one thing was a constant: the fashion parade that accompanies this very important family day.

The tradition now is that all the children dress the same, in white robes and simple flowers.  That's so much nicer than how it used to be, where girls vied to outdo each other in the elaborateness of their dresses and floral arrangements.  But now it's the parents who make sure to be dressed to the nines, in all their Sunday finery.

The women are always elegant; shoes that challenge gravity, fine fabrics and the latest fashions.  How they manage to stay on their feet in spike heels that are at least 3 inches high as they teeter across the cobble stones is beyond me, but again, this is the woman who fell and fractured her knee cap while wearing sneakers crossing a well paved street!  Maybe I'd be better off in a pair of those platforms!  Dresses of brocade, tulle, and polished cotton were all in evidence today, and for the most part they looked great.  No one can say that Italians don't have a fine sense of fashion!

Strangely enough, it was the men I noticed the most.  There is a strange style that has been showing up the past couple of years, that of the high water/size too small pants and jackets.  Why?  Why do grown men wear slacks two inches above their ankles?  Why do their suit coats look like they should be handed down to their younger brothers?  Usually Italian men look pretty spiffy, so I'm not sure why this look is so popular now.

But the look that was most prominent was the blue.  Not navy, not cobalt, but a sort of deep, royal blue that looks good on just about everyone.  We had noticed a preponderance of blue in the store windows during our travels, including some very neat blue suede shoes.  Indeed, quite a few of the men in church today, both parents and spectators alike, were sporting these blue suede shoes.  Those who didn't have on those moccasins were wearing blue leather slip-ons or even blue sneakers.  The effect is quite nice, the blue footwear coupled with blue suits and lighter blue shirts.  I'm sure that this blue on blue will make its appearance in the US soon, if it hasn't already.  I'm certainly not always up on the latest trends.  In the meantime, I look forward to analyzing how American gentlemen will adopt/adapt this Italian style to our more casual appearance. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cold and wet, but always beautiful!

Well, we've been back in Cervinara for five days now, and today is the first time I've had a minute to put together some thoughts. 

As usual, we have been busy getting the routine maintenance on the old house under control.  Unfortunately, there has been more than the routine to handle.  We arrived to find that the sitting room on the second floor had been the victim of a pretty severe roof leak.  A tornado (yes, an actual tornado!) hit the area in November and the strong winds knocked a dozen or so of our roof tiles out of position, making the roof vulnerable to leaks from the abundant winter rains.  The ceiling and walls of this room have turned black due to the mold and mildew and the furniture, linens, and wall hangings all have had to be either disposed of or washed down with bleach and very hot water.  Two days of hard labor and I think we have it all under control. 
Our good friend Vincenzo came as soon as we called and was up on the roof a couple of hours later, replacing broken tiles and even fixing our TV antenna.  This is one of the nice things about living up here in the hills; when there is a need, there is almost always someone willing and able to come to our rescue and help us out.  There is a sense that we're all in this together. 
As usual, things have changed as well.  Sadly, we lost two good friends over the winter.  Brothers, Pasquale and Mario C., almost two decades apart in age passed away within two months of each other.  They were quiet gentlemen, respected members of the community and just very kind fellows who will be sorely missed. 
Our little local bar has changed hands too.  I knew that the previous proprietor was leaving in October and I really worried that our neighborhood would lose its only meeting point.  I needn't have worried!  After a couple of months of renovation, a group of young men have taken over the bar, modernized it and made it into a fun place to hang out.  There is never a lack of young men here now, playing cards, foosball, watching the TV or just gathering for a drink and conversation.  And there is free WIFI! I am still the only female who frequents the bar, invading what is traditionally a bastion of Italian machismo, and I think the young fellows get a kick out of this grandma showing up with her SurfacePro to write her blog posts and check email.  I'm definitely not their usual type of client!  The guys have promised me an interview for a future blog post, and I'll make sure there are photos to accompany it. 
The weather has been off this year.  Mornings start out beautiful with sunny, blue skies.  By noon, the clouds have come in and by 3 pm we are usually being rained upon.  Fortunately it isn't violent rains, but the gray and wet afternoons are getting tiresome.  Plus, it's a good 20 degrees cooler than usual.  When we left Connecticut it was 92 and muggy.  We got here expecting temps in the 80s.  No such luck!  We have spent every evening huddled under blankets with the little plug in heater six inches away.  We sleep with the windows closed and I'm in my flannel nightgown and long sleeved undershirts.  We are both ready for some real June weather!
Now that we have done with most of the housework we are looking forward to regular excursions in the area and catching up with our local friends and family.  Another Cervinara summer awaits!  Ciao!