A Special Insider’s View of the Food and Wines of Umbria

 

Umbria cuisine, ItalyWise

Recently I had the very good fortune to sit down with Elizabeth Wholey, who is a local expert in the foods and wines of Umbria. She is also a dear friend. Elizabeth has lived in Umbria for many years, and she carefully and painstakingly has done her detective work in understanding the history and craft of Umbrian food and wine. She has built important, long-lasting relationships with local food and wine producers – many who are gems hidden to the eyes of many people who visit Umbria. Elizabeth recently wrote Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland

A Guide to Farms, Markets, and Fairs in the Upper Tiber Valley in Sustenance, Elizabeth Wholey explores the Upper Tiber Valley and the ways in which its peasants fed and sustained themselves throughout history. Their ancient food traditions are still alive today, often with a modern twist, and are accessible to visitors as well as to the local populace. – available at Amazon.com

Elizabeth graciously agreed to do this interview for Italywise.com. I hope this will whet you appetite to learn even more!

You’re very passionate about the food and wines of Umbria, particularly of the Upper Tiber Valley. What, in your opinion, makes them so special?

Most people were poor in this part of the world until fairly recently. They subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, forage or barter, the growing season was short, and much of the terrain was mountainous. However, they made the most of what was available, and cooks took pride in what they created. These dishes are beloved, and are still found on local restaurant menus, often with a modern twist. People here are careful about what they eat and who they buy from. If a food product is not of high quality, a seller won’t survive. In other places local, seasonal, and sustainable are concepts that you fight for; here they are taken for granted, though vigilance has become necessary. People don’t want pesticides and herbicides in their soil.  

Read More

Head to the beautiful heel of Italy – Puglia

A conversation from window to street

A conversation from window to street in Polignano a Mare

I’ve recently returned from a spectacular week’s tour of Puglia. A week is the minimum I’d recommend to feel as though you really have begun to get to know the magnificent heel of Italy. We did cover significant territory, but we returned home knowing much was still to be discovered.

Prior to our journey, my sister Shelley already had been visiting for two weeks. At Rome’s Fiumicino airport we retrieved my brother-in-law Ed, who had just flown in from the States. First, we made a quick stop at an Auto Grill to have a bite to eat, to have a caffè doppio macchiato caldo (“fuel” for the long drive ahead), and to load up on cold acqua frizzante (temps were high 90’s). Then we headed down from Rome towards Naples and then across Italy to Bari (I wish we could have stopped to see the old town of Bari, since I understand it is well worth the visit). Our first destination in Puglia was Conversano, south of Bari and just inland by 10 minutes from Polignano a Mare.

We chose Conversano because of its proximity to Polignano a Mare. August is the month when Italians head to the coast in droves to camp out with their friends and families, and to bake-in a good tan. Had we stayed in Polignano a Mare we constantly would have been fighting crowds and increasing our stress levels merely trying to find a parking space. To our delight, Conversano turned out to be a gem of a town, with incredibly friendly and welcoming people, and a quiet energy – even though we had arrived for the weekend of the Sagra della Mandorla – the Festival of the Almond. Follow this Conversano TripAdvisor.com link to learn more about this delightful little town. We stayed in the elegant and impeccable Corte Altavilla – literally in the heart of town. Initially, we struggled to reach the hotel, since the GPS in the car was taking us in impossible directions, and through incredibly narrow streets. Only later did we learn that we could breach the entrance to the square in front of the castle that was marked “no entry”, and the hotel would take my license number to give to the police so that I would not incur a ticket during our brief unloading of luggage (private parking with a shuttle was provided).

Conversano and Polignano a Mare

Long, cooling showers, and a lovely, relaxing dinner in Conversano, outside in an alleyway, were our just rewards for surviving the 5 1/2 hour journey from Rome. The following day we drove to Polignano a Mare (more on Polgnano a Mare at TripAdvisor.com), parked on the outskirts of town and walked into the city center. Shelley had her swimsuit under a swim dress with intentions of dipping into the Adriac and cooling off from the stifling heat. I had other plans and was armed with my Canon 5D Mark III and a short lens and a long lens. For me, wandering the streets of Polignao a Mare was like hitting an artist’s and photographer’s jackpot. Perfect vignettes and stories were constantly unfolding, and I found it impossible to be quick enough on the draw to capture all that I wanted. At times I wished I could be invisible so as to not alter the energy of a scene. We all know how people instantly change when they know a camera is pointed in their vicinity.

Read More

The Faces and Doors of Venice

Venice may very well be my favorite city in Italy. I am certain countless other undiscovered gems are waiting to vie for top-tier status, but for now Venice remains firmly entrenched in first place. Even though I have visited Venice at least a dozen times, I still marvel at how much of the city remains shrouded in mystery. I am convinced this city never will completely reveal herself to me, which probably makes me love her even more. Secrets lurk in the labyrinth of alleyways throughout the city.

When I visit Venice I do my best to avoid the main tourist thoroughfares, especially areas like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto –even though those areas have much to offer. Instead, I steer directly into the less frequented, residential areas of Venice, Often, the most foreboding alleyways are the ones that draw me in the most. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t watched the classic movie Don’t Look Now for several years, otherwise I wouldn’t be so bold.

What I have discovered in my wanderings through the more shadowy areas of Venice is a wealth of faces and motifs adorning the doors of Venice. On my most recent trip I endeavored to begin capturing these beautifully rendered door knockers, door pulls, and bells. I would love to build a catalog of these and research the symbolism, history and philosophy behind their creation. Even more, I would love to see the dwellings and people behind these doors, to see how they might correlate – or not.

Take this as Chapter One in a story that is just beginning to unfold for me…

 

 

Aperol Spritz – Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

We just returned from Venice where I officially I initiated my love affair with the Aperol Spritz, the signature drink of Venice. Ever since I overdosed on gin and tonics in my early twenties, I have avoided any type of cocktail that has the slightest bitter taste. I had tried an Aperol Spritz several years ago, without being impressed and without wanting to repeat the experience. Perhaps it was just bad timing and the wrong conditions. Fast forward to a suffocatingly hot and humid June day in Venice, when my mouth was screaming for something to revive me and to quench my thirst. This time, the Aperol Spritz was magical, and now I am a devotee. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but between the two of us, Simone and I consumed probably fifteen of these beauties during our three-and-a-half day stay in Venice.

If you’re not having an Aperol Spritz, along with cicchetti (small bites or a Venetian type of “tapas”), then you’re not getting into the swing of Venetian life. Making a meal of these small bites while enjoying a Spritz is quick and easy.

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

An Aperol Spritz is made of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part fizzy water. Add a slice of orange or lemon, and your ready to go. Normally you can find a Spritz for 3-4 euro, but expect to pay much more if you choose to sit in a popular tourist spot.

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

I returned from Venice with my witty new Spritz tee-shirt, which I found in the Elitre Concept Store. The store has two locations – one in the Dorsoduro, and the other close to the Rialto Bridge. Federica, who owns and runs the store, has curated the store selection with uniquely fashionable and fun items. You’ll find many items there to temp your whimsy.

 

 

A Study in Blue – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of "A Study in Blue"

A Study in Blue – Private Collection

A Study in Blue is one of my favorite watercolors. I completed this years ago after a wonderfully inspiring trip to the island of Burano, near Venice. If you haven’t been there, do yourself a favor and plan an excursion. I have no idea when and how the people on this island began painting their homes such “happy” colors, but I never tire of going there. In fact, I have a trip planned there in early June. I hope to board an early vaporetto so as to arrive, witness, and capture (with my faithful camera), the village coming to life. I am especially fascinated with what happens in the windows, as is evidenced by this painting.

This particular painting was honored with the prestigious Gold Award (Best in Show) in the Georgia Watercolor Society’s 20th Annual National Exhibition.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making - Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

As many of you already know, I have been working on a series of smaller watercolors capturing scenes of everyday life in Italy. “Lace Making” is one of my most recent, and captures one of the many women from the island of Burano working outside their homes, and along the canals of the village. You reach Burano via a vaporetto ride from Venice. Unfortunately it is often overlooked and overshadowed by the island of Murano, which attracts hordes of visitors in search Murano glass. Burano is one of the “happiest” places I’ve visited. When the vaporetto pulls into port, you are greeted with a spectacular palette of homes painted in the brightest and most unexpected colors. If you come to Venice, be sure to schedule time to visit this wonderful island. While many people characterize it as a colorful fishing village, it also is a haven of lace-making artisans hard at work – like the woman featured in this watercolor “study”.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara delivers heavenly, fresh ricotta…and more.

Ricotta di Pecora - fresh sheep's milk ricotta

Ricotta di Pecora – fresh sheep’s milk ricotta

I’m going to gush. Fair warning.

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara is paradise on earth when it comes to gourmet cheese and cured meats. “Caciara” is an Italian word meaning “confusion, bedlam, hubbub, muddle; mess, disorder.” The experience inside this shop is full of energy – energy from customers queueing up to make sure they don’t miss out on the fresh sheep’s milk ricotta prominently displayed in one of the front windows. And, you’d better grab some when you see they have it, because it will definitely make you want to slap someone out of enthusiasm once you taste it. I can’t believe it’s less than five euro a kilo. No wonder it flies out the door.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

But, there’s more, loads more – a vast assortment of artisanal cheeses, and every variety of cured meat you could hope for. At one entrance you practically have to shoulder your way past a huge display of guanciale, which is made from pork cheek or jowl, and is an essential ingredient (a preferred cut over traditional pancetta) in Bucatini all’Amatriciana. In case you don’t know, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of Rome’s hallmark dishes, originating just outside of the city in the town Amatice in the Sabine Hills.

When I go to Antica Caciara, which is often, I load up on ricotta, a special spicy salame, and a salame with fennel. The people who run the shop couldn’t be more gentile. They recognize me now, and they always greet me warmly. What a great business to be delivering a big slice of culinary paradise to eager customers. If you’re in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, be sure to check it out, especially if you want to fill your bag for a gourmet picnic, and then head up the hill to see Bramante’s Tempietto, and one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Rome.

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

Baccala - Another staple in la cucina Romana

Baccala – Another staple in la cucina Romana

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

A surprisingly inspiring bus ride on a rainy morning in Rome.

A rainy early morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

A rainy morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

Thursday morning, March 4, 2014. Beauty can show up in the most unexpected ways when you open your eyes and step aside from your normal perspectives.

I woke up this morning…reluctantly. Outside was cold, steady rain. I’m a sunshine man. I live to see the sun, and I usually pout internally when the sun is in hiding, and when I have to face inconvenient weather elements. Still, I roused myself, took a shower, had a strong coffee, bundled up and headed out to catch my bus to my intensive Italian language class. I couldn’t shrug off the class, because I paid handsomely for the course (worth every euro), and I didn’t want to lose my bearings in the middle of a very important segment on pronoun placements when using imperative verb forms.

My normal commuting strategy for less-than-ideal weather is to pop in my ear buds, navigate my Iphone to YouTube or ITunes, and shut out the world until I arrive at my destination. But, today, I was more keenly aware of this inclination and made a different choice. I purposely packed away my ear buds and made a conscious decision to pay attention to the world around me. I put my Iphone in readiness as a camera.

I looked everywhere, observing how the citizens of Rome were dealing with the weather. I first scanned the landscape inside the bus, and then my gaze move outside. And, I discovered that the rainy window on my left was presenting me with a different perspective on the world. So, as we approached the subsequent bus stops, I started clicking ways. Here you see the results – a pretty significant departure from my usual photographic style. With only slight color enhancements, these images are basically un-retouched. I love how they capture the mood and essence of the morning and the weather, and how they feel more like paintings than photographs.

I’m experimenting and playing. I can hear the voice of my Momma Liz urging me to play, to color outside of the lines of normal convention…and to not be afraid to fail. Thanks Mom, you still reside within me and inspire me.

While this post is primarily about art and creativity, today’s experience is helping me to relax the tenacious grip I have on the steering wheel of life. I’m learning to let go of a mountain of conditioning and preconceived notions of how life is supposed to show up, and to quit trying to control everything. Life has a funny way of taking you to places and experiences that can be pretty damn amazing if you just get out of the way.

 

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy buswindow adds a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy bus window provides a beautiful filter for the world outside.

High Waters in Venice – An Even More Surreal Experience Than Usual

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Trash cans overflowing with the carcasses of maimed and massacred umbrellas.
Vendors making a killing on selling yet more umbrellas because the lifespan of said umbrellas have been abbreviated by powerful gusts of icy, rainy wind. (What a great business model).
Vendors also making a killing on:
A. Makeshift boot-like coverings (usually bright orange or sky blue).
B. Over-the-calf rubber boots as a sure-fire solution after above-mentioned makeshift boots have become torn or eroded because of the high salt content of the water. (Again, what a great business model).
Sirens going off twice a day (much like the bomb raid sirens in London during WWII) warning of rising waters. (Don’t ignore these warnings or your window of opportunity to respond and plan accordingly).
Raised platforms elevating locals and tourists above the murky and smelly high waters.
“Dams” constructed at the doors of most establishments.

These are just a few of the memories etched into my brain after our 2 1/2 day “jaunt” during the period of high waters in Venice.

I’ve been to Venice so many times I actually can find my way around the city without a map. I don’t say this to brag, just to say I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the city. I’ve visited Venice during different times of the year – and I thought I’d “seen it all”, until this most recent 2 1/2 day trip. I’ve dealt with periods of high waters, not letting such conditions impede my explorations of the many nooks and crannies of the city – especially the more off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. But, this trip presented new challenges and new extremes.

Read More
Page 5 of 6« First...23456