Friday, January 30, 2009

Visso, Castelluccio, Pettacci, reading labels

30 Gennaio, 2009
Auguri a Luigi Lepore e Buon Compleanno.
We took off for the mountains so I could get my fix and visited the usual places: Castelluccio, Visso and our friends at Pettaci and Norcia.
The mountains are beautiful this year and I really had a yen to go skiing as their is an adequate base of snow this year. Bacco treats the snow just like sand and takes a bit of a snowbath every chance he gets.
We picked up some Ciauscolo (a wonderful fresh salami renowned from the Marche) of various types at Visso along with a cool Pecorino cheese aged in fossa (holes in the ground or caves) which gives it more of a granular texture and a spicier taste. 3 sandwiches of their prosciutto for lunch, a guanciale (aged and season pig cheek-great for pasta carbonara) for the house and we were on our way to Norcia via the back roads for a picnic lunch. There, we stopped in to see our friend at Beccofino, one of the finest restaurants within an hour of Nascondiglio di Bacco, shared a coffee and came on back to the Marche.
I am still trying to get my car insurance situation cleared up. I found a company that will insure the z4, thus enabling me to drive it to the licensing bureau, but needed information from State Farm describing my risk status. My Lenexa and COR friends Mel and Alice Hawk sent me along a letter saying I was, of course, the best driver they had ever insured and I took the liberty of including a scale of my own for the italian firm. Their system starts when you get your first driver's license and you are given a rating of 18. Every year that passes without a claim you descend the stairway, until you arrive at 0. Of course, I am in the negative numbers, by now, but I am not sure my homemade rating scale will past muster in Milan. Obviously, it costs a fortune here to insure a car with horsepower and model and risk rating weighing heavily on the final cost. Thus far, I have seen quotes ranging from 860 euros to over 2000 euros and todays dollar is at about 1.32 to the euro.
We are still living in a mud zone, but finally, there is sun again today. I arose before dawn to go the bank and the immigration office in Ascoli to finish the insurance stuff and initiate the process of my new visa procuration. We finally got through to the italian consulate in Chicago, which made a mistake with my visa last year. Hopefully with another go, I can secure the self-employed visa this time around. I let the better italian speaker here at Nascondiglio go through all our questions to become perfectly clear as to their requirements and the lady on the phone was actually pleasant. Crossing our fingers, I am scheduled to try again in late March.
Finally, for those of you who are not label readers, take a look at this article from men's health and take those readers to the store with you from now on!>1=31036
The pictures are of Bacco in the snow at Forca di Presta, the italian flag in trees contrasting with the snow and a photo of the mountain peaks of the Sibillini mts near Castelluccio and the offerings of Pettaci.

Monday, January 26, 2009

La Fortezza di Civitella del Tronto (The fort of Civitella del Tronto)

26 gennaio, 2009
Well, around here, when we get a couple of hours of sunshine, it is time for a celebration or a roadtrip. Bacco and I decided on the latter today and visited an interesting site 30 minutes from Nascondiglio di Bacco in neighboring Abruzzo.
I was cleaning some shelves with our tourist information when I came across the brochure for this fort which I have seen from the road to Teramo a few times, but never visited. Descending from here into the valley of the Tronto river, thus the name, we then ascended into St. Egidio alla Vibrata and then followed a beautiful stretch of narrow highway to the town of Civitella del Tronto.
I parked at the city entrance and Bacco and I walked into the main square with its little Monday morning market, then headed up, WAY up to the fort. As Bacco hasn't been properly trained on scale mobile or escalators, we had to climb the stairways instead. Luckily, Bacco was welcomed inside at no charge, but his owner was asked to pay 4 euros. The fort was well designed and full of cisterns to provide water during sieges and was located at the border between the Papal states and the kingdom of Naples. It is about a half kilometer long and was built in the mid to late 1500's. After the kingdom of Naples, it was controlled by the Bourbons, but was destroyed during the battles for italian unity in 1861. Its walls were destroyed to prevent reuse of the fort, but has been in the midst of reconstruction as an historical site since 1985.
Inside are churches where mass graves of killed soldiers are located, soldier's quarters, secret passages, cisterns, long tree lined streets and all in all a great place to play hide and go seek!
It has great views of our neck of the woods, Ascoli Piceno province as well as Mt. Piselli and the hills of Abruzzo.
It makes for a nice visit and a bit further on, one could make a day of it with a visit to Teramo and lunch in Campli at Locanda del Pompa, where those most faithful of blog readers will recall I enjoyed a nice lunch with my friends from Taiwan.
I am spending the rainy, muddy days improving my mind, watching "The Teaching Company's" lecture series on Dark Energy and Dark Matter ( and for any of you who have problems getting to sleep, I highly recommend this dvd set) and also History of Ancient Rome. There are definitely some things you aren't exposed to in a small town high school and a 6 year medical school, so I am trying to make up for my lack. I must say, I am learning a lot of new stuff about subatomic particles. When I last studied this stuff, there were just neutrons, protons and electrons. Now there are up quarks, down quarks, neutrinos, all sorts of anti-matter, MACHOS, WIMPS & possibly Higg's bosons as well. Wow, science has just passed me by!
If you have free time, mud time or vacation time, I highly recommend one of the series of college level lectures they provide: everything from fine arts and music to science, philosophy, religion, history, business and economy. There are always big sales at various times of the year of every topic, which is the time to buy your favorite. Check them out at
Here is the slide show of my daytrip to The fort of Civitella del Tronto
The pictures are of Offida and Ripatransone wayyyy in the distance from the Abruzzan hilltop of Civitella, a new favorite Bacco photo and an abandoned farmhouse below the fort.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Boca al Lupo #44, swindlers in Rome and the US consulate

21 Gennaio
I have just returned from another American in Rome (click on the slide show at the end of this post) sightseeing trip with a visit to the US embassy to try and get another piece of the 1000 piece puzzle which is the licensing of my car. I saw some new sights and others which merit way more than 1 visit. I have put a slide show here which shows many of these wonderfully historic areas. Many of my favorite finds come from getting purposefully lost or following mapquest to the wrong spot. One of these involves the church called St Nicola in carcere (santa claus' prison). I was trying to find the prison which legend holds was the prison where St. Paul and St. Peter were held before their execution. (Above, see how the cross is inverted to signify Peter's upside down crucifixion.) I plugged S. Pietro in Carcere into mapquest and it gave me the address for the former church, which I hadn't even heard of. I took a guided tour of this little church which used the remains of 3 ancient greco-roman temples as its foundation. It has a wonderful statue of Jesus laying "dead" as if in his tomb which is the first such rendering I have ever seen. Nearby are the mouth of truth (la boca della verita') made "more" famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and the temples to victorious Hercules and the god Portuna. Just across the street is a marvelous 4 arced structure which was an ancient entrance to a market with a peaceful church just beyond. Continuing upward from the arch and onto the street S. Teodoro, you arrive at the orthodox church of the same name which is really worth a quick visit. Furthur on you pass the Belgian embassy before rejoining the major sites of the Roman forum and mamertine prison (finally).
I also visited St. Peters which you should see every time you go to Rome, if for nothing else to see my favorite sculpture in the world "La Pieta". It is a miracle wrought of marble! I discovered a new spot where you can stand on either side of St. Peter's Square and all the columns of the entrance are perfectly in alignment, so that you only see one column in every row. 2 steps to the right or left and you see all 4 in each row. Architecturally interesting. See above.
The presepe or creche was still up as was the pope's christmas tree. Finally, Castel S. Angelo is really worth a 2 1/2 hour visit with the audiotour. This was the refuge for the popes in times of siege or war and has a private, protected walkway to the vatican. It started life as Hadrian's tomb. In front of the castle is the Ponte Sant' Angelo, the 1st bridge which connected the vatican side (it wasn't built yet) to the rest of Rome. It is now decorated with statues of angels holding the instruments of the passion of Christ. The current statues, made by students of Bernini, beat the severed heads the popes used to hang on the bridge to discourage crime!
The US embassy experience was wonderful. Everyone was helpful, nice and polite; magari era' cosi a Chicago!!! They gave me a piece of paper, signed and sealed by the nice foreign service worker from america, saying I was really here in Italy with my car and I was planning to stay. This is his second post in the foreign service, having spent 35 years in the armed services previously. I said, "Ah, so this is your hardship post!" He told me his first assignment was Baghdad. OK, he deserves a bit of time in Rome. Next, he is off to the Marshall Islands to be their economist. He likes to scuba, not too bad a spot with Bikini atoll a bit away, which I hear is now pristine and one of the best scuba spots in the world.
A bit about the roman restaurants. I visited Mama Angelina's which was recommended highly by an italian guide. It was just OK. I am not sure I trust any of the published food guides here. Never order the tourist menu is my advice when you come here and concentrate on the primos in Rome or 1st courses which are famous. I also took a side trip to Trastevere and found a cute enoteca which is worth a visit for lunch and a glass of vino (pictured).
I got taken by a swindler in Rome and feel like I must unburden my stupid soul and help out those who might be as gullible as me. This is the 2nd such occurrence I know of where someone asks for money for gasoline, saying (in the other case he was a surgeon who had left his credit cards at home) and in my case a fashion mogul from Milan who asked for directions, which I provided and then "offered me" a 1600 euro leather gift which he was able to sample out to me because I was so nice and accessible (gullible). He gave me this "antelope skin" jacket and then asked me for money for gas. I gave him 25 euros, since he was sooo generous, only later checking the true quality of the jacket and finding it made of some sort of artificial toxic substance. I gave it to a homeless person to sell or use. (It wasn't really toxic). Anyway, there are all sorts of swindlers and not just the pickpockets in Rome, so don't give anybody driving a volkswagen passat any gas money. What an idiot I was.
In my continuing series of advisories, I must tell all my american friends, especially the guys, to search out a song by the Limeliters called "Vasectomy". I laughed every verse.
Good luck to our new president! They played his inaugural address in the bus from Rome to Ascoli, but it was too soft to hear. I heard it last night online. What a mess he has inherited. Hopefully, we can encourage our congress that pork is finished and crises take precedence. In Boca al Lupo means "in the mouth of the wolf", a strange way for the italians to wish good luck, but quite appropriate in this situation. The response is Crepi il lupo, which means, "may the wolf die".
One more story to tell. I explained the chinese fire drill to Raffa and friends and they thought that was the best idea in the world. They successfully performed the maneuver in downtown Ascoli in view of the carabinieri who promptly pulled them over thinking they must have lost a few screws or had drunk a few too many screwdrivers. They were irritated at first, but laughed after the explanation and the negative breathalyzer test. A new american fad arrives in the Marche, soon to spread throughout Italy!
I got back and with the 3 days of dry weather, I was able to hoe a couple of rows in the vineyard before it started raining again.
Finally, they are refilling the pool today after their last mishap. At least the water will be fresh. Remember, they didn't provide
the pool cover until a couple of weeks ago and the water quality had suffered a bit.
Rome slide show
Sorry about the music, it got uploaded from my itunes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Les Miserables, Amarcord and muddy beans and Mitch's college camo clothes

14 Gennaio
Here at Nascondiglio, other than a few exciting events such as the abrupt and accidental emptying of the swimming pool by our genius pool man, we still have a vineyard full of mud making vine pruning impossible. Raffaele reminds me that water is good for growing plants, but BASTA! In one picture, you see our newly hatched beans growing up amidst the montepulciano grapes and hopefully ready to perform their task of choking out the bad weeds.
I have used the free time to watch Amarcord by Fellini, a really good italian film, even without subtitles (I was tickled when not even Raffaele could decipher some of the Emiliano dialect). Also, I just finished Hugo's masterpiece, the 1450 page + Les Miserables. Now, barring a break in the weather, I will be forced back to my Teaching Company series about Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which though invisible and undetected as yet, make up 95% of our universe. I have to keep learning.
We celebrated Raffaele's birthday 2 days early last night at Da Vittorio, a really fine seafood restaurant in San Benedetto along the state highway. Consistently ranking as one of the top restaurants in Ascoli Piceno province, we weren't disappointed. Everything was from the neighboring sea, perfectly cooked and washed down with a very interesting Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc from 1993. I highly recommend Da Vittorio for my gourmand friends. The wine list is full of older white gems from France.
Today, in honor of the dreary, cold drizzly weather, I have fixed a cassoulet, which has been cooking around 20 hours in the oven at low temps. Here is the link for the recipe, but I must say, you could probably cook it for 6 hours with similar results and I would add a nice sausage of some kind as I did (cotechino-a traditional new year's dish) This is from the site "CD kitchen"
Alsace cassoulet
The photos are from a rare, partly sunny day a couple of days ago with our newly emptied pool, an artichoke gone to seed and an old grapevine in a neighboring vineyard,which is a prime example of why much of wine today is plonk. I salivate for these old vines, which if they were pruned down to 5 little branches from each of the 2 main truncal branches with 2 buds each would surely produce a wonderfully complex wine. Instead I counted over 50 branches on some plants. That means they left 12-13 branches with 2 buds each from each of the main truncal branches. They will harvest many more diluted grapes which will be sold by weight to the local cooperative cantina (winery) . (To give the "pool guy" an iota of credit, he will be paying for the refilling of the pool, which will happen tomorrow, and then he has promised to label the valves better to prevent a recurrence, I hope.
Finally, for those of you with Big 12 ties (and others), hunters, outdoor types, etc. Check out Mitch's link to the right for Collegiate logo camo clothes of all types.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trial run for a new link system

This is a trial run for a link file I found so you don't have to copy and paste everything. This is the link for Raffaele's N. di bacco blog this page It now has a translator for those who wish to read it in english.
Tonight, I made a new recipe for potatoes from my mom's 1961 "Joy of Cooking" . Not too bad.
Boil up enough potatoes to make 3 cups of mashed potatoes. After draining, mash or puree with 1/3 cup of hot milk and 4 tbsp of butter, salt and pepper and a tbsp of chopped parsley. Let cool and mash in a couple of egg yolks. Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff and fold in with the potatoes concoction. Spoon onto a baking sheet either greased or with oven paper or whatever you call it in little balls. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes, turning once. An oldie but goodie.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Roger Ebert, dinner for 14 and rainy season

Hello everyone. What is there to do in the Marche in January? Not much this year as outdoor work has been stymied by a continual drizzle for what seems like weeks. I did finish trimming all the olive trees, but am anxious to get started on the myriad grapevines which await protected from me now by a quagmire of muddy ground.
I have watched Blazing Saddles, gotten hooked by a couple of downloadable computer games, read everything from Les Miserables to Revelations and now look forward to a night out with R&R Hall of Famer Patti Smith, who is coming to Ascoli tomorrow.
Last night, to break the monotony, we invited 12 people for dinner here at Nascondiglio di Bacco. I made a chicken, almond, basil pate' to go on my Pugliese bread and carrot cake cupcakes which ended up being the "vegetable side dish" since 4 other people brought desserts. Raffaele added roasted potatoes and a turkey/leek casserole and then we offered the usual prosciutto from our friend in Visso at Pettarci and 42 month aged Parmigiano reggiano cheese dressed up with balsamic vinegar. We washed that down with some of our 2007 montepulciano and our passito for dessert.
We have 2 new additions here at the agriturismo: a new dishwasher, heaven sent, which doesn't eat, mangle and spit out wine glasses and actually cleans the dishes and a cover for the pool-9 months after the start of that infamous project.
No more dawn pix of ice on the cement pond, unfortunately.
I would like to provide a link for one of my favorite blogs by a pulitzer prize winning movie critic. If this post doesn't make you want to get away from it all and hide from your daily stress, I don't know what will. His views are not always coincident with mine politically or religiously, but man, can he write well and this post is a gem!
If you like this post, you should put a bookmark for his blog on your computer and follow along, as he posts once or twice a week. There, you will find a link to his movie reviews which are written in the same, erudite style as his blog musings.
Have a wonderful week and despite my disappointment in the Big 12 football bowl game results, I had to be tickled by Kurt Warner's Cardinals winning their playoff game. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
The photos are to cheer me up as this Marche winter is trying to mimic Kansas City's. The final foto is for Silvia-when are you coming to visit, lost classmate? :)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy Day of La Befana

jan. 6, 2009
Ciao a tutti from Nascondiglio di Bacco on the day of the Befana. This is a day which is celebrated in Italy when stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the little girls and boys get candy and goodies or a lump of coal (or both)-sound familiar?
The legend goes back centuries; supposedly the 3 wise men asked directions at the house of a little old lady who invited them in for a rest. They asked her to join them on their journey to find the Christ child, but she excused herself saying she had too much housework. A short time later, she rued that decision and took out after the 3 wise men and not finding them, gave treats to all the little ones she met along the way, thinking they might be Jesus. Another possibility: this celebration is the continuance of a pagan festival wherein new year's gifts were given in honor of Ianus and Strenia that was incorporated into the Christian celebration of Christmas. Whichever you decide, the day can be as exciting as Christmas for the children, is a national festival marking the end of the Christmas season (time to put away the decorations) and on a more important note is the day of the national lottery which pays out 5 million euros to the winner and nearly 100 consolation prizes. In Ascoli, it marks the beginning of the "after Befana" sales at the stores as well. (They don't call them that-I just made that up)
I have had a couple of exciting days alone here at the bed and breakfast. Yesterday, while cleaning the rooms, I took the dirty linens to the outdoor shack and found an inch of water coating the floor. Seems one learns little lessons about one's abode all the time. If you turn the boiler on when you are full and needing the extra radiator heat and then everyone leaves and you turn the heat off in each room as your daddy told you, the pressure builds up in the boiler with nowhere to go and so exits the safety valve into the shack. Needless to say, the shack is spotless right now after a bit of early spring cleaning. Yesterday, I went on a search for a new dishwasher, having tired of washing dishes for 10 guests by hand, took Bacco for a swim at the beach and used the 1st sunny day in a month to start pruning the olive trees which remain disheveled. I stood on a small branch about 2 meters up which broke and the earth's mass being greater than mine attracted me like a magnet to iron. Luckily, my right hand had hold of another branch, so I swung like a monkey a bit and landed mercifully softly on the soggy ground. Greeted promptly with licks from Bacco I remounted said olive tree to finish the pruning.
Last night, Raffaele and 2 friends devoured a bit of american chili I had made and wanted the recipe, so here goes: 1 lb of hamburger, 1 lb of spicy sausage, cooked together and drained. Saute a medium chopped red onion, hot peppers to your tolerance for piccante (spicyness), 2 cloves of chopped up garlic and 10-15 sliced cherry tomatoes in olive oil and add them to 2 cups of beef broth with a little beer or wine added if you wish. Cheat a bit and add two 15 oz cans each of white beans and dark beans and the meat and simmer for awhile. Add salt and pepper as desired. That made enough for 4 people, but I imagine we were hungry, so you could make this recipe for 6 normal appetites. You can change this to white chili by substituting chicken and a white sausage and chicken broth above.
Today, off to Raffaele's parents and family for a Befana luncheon that can't be beat and a grand hope that at day's end I will be 5,000,000 euros richer!
Happy Befana to all. The pictures are of my Befana gift, painted in watercolor by Sabrina Gianno, of Nascondiglio, the vineyard and Bacco, today's dawn with ice in the cement pond after our 1st 2 days of sub freezing temperatures and Bacco in the flesh.
Thanks to Wikipedia for info on La Befana as well as and for an image of the Befana riding into the town of Barga, copy and paste this link -
Wow, that's a big link! or just google La Befana and check out images.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Rocky, Bullwinkle and Victor Hugo

Enough (Basta!) with this rainy season. It has been gray and drizzly almost every day since my return, so I am trapped inside. I have made enough bread and anise biscotti to last, so now I have started in on season 1 of Rocky and Bullwinkle and started reading Les Miserables. The latter, being 1400+ pages should keep me occupied. I highly recommend it for avid readers; the 1st 200 pages are extremely well written.
Nascondiglio di Bacco was full for New Year's eve, but now we have just 2 couples. Matteo has headed back to Verbana, reserving the last seat available on the eurostar. He cooked risotto for us the last night with our friend's riso-Acquarello, the best I have ever found for making risotto and aged a full year before packaging. The pictures show the maestro, Barolo, at work and the toasting of the carnaroli rice prior to adding the white wine and then the broth. The wine is from our friends at Aurora, a simple Falerio. We matched the risotto con funghi with a Taurasi wine, a bit too powerful for the dish, but I am running out of wines here. Finally a bit of roasted fennel with parmigiano reggiano cheese on top.
I am hoping with any clear weather to get finished pruning the olive trees and started pruning the grape vines. We contadinos have to be patient.
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

FELICE ANNO NUOVO-2009 Blog post #300

1 Gen. 2009
Welcome to the 1st post of 2009. Last year I posted about every 2.3 days, so we will see if I can keep up that pace.
Our friend and master's classmate, Matteo finally made the trek to Nascondiglio di Bacco, arriving day before yesterday. Now, we have hosted all of our classmates, save one. (Silvia, where are you?) We have been treated to some grand Piemonte wines from our champion sommelier.
Last night, with roast chicken, steak fiorentina, lentils and other fixings, I finished out the year with a glass of Kurni, which I have described before as the highest rated wine from the Marche. Prior to that, we tried Morellone from our friends at Le Caniette. It was a good finish to a difficult year around the world.
We are full here at the B&B and expecting a bunch of late stragglers for breakfast, which will include jams, breads and sweet cakes all made in house, fruit, coffee or tea and anise biscotti.
Yesterday, I took Matteo to Ripatransone, Offida and Ascoli Piceno. The photos are of a creche in Ripatransone, where we also navigated the narrowest alley in Italy. Then you see the Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli, which was surprisingly empty. Matteo tried his 1st anisetta from Meletti in the famous eponymous bar which will be 102 years old this new year.
Our vineyard is a soggy mess, so pruning will have to wait for a while. We are going to see sub freezing temperatures for the 1st time this coming week and maybe a bit of snow.
Bacco is doing well and is quite happy after getting the huge T-bone from the 4 inch thick steak last night.
Wishing everyone a Peaceful, prosperous 2009; thanks for those who visited us last year and we hope to see a bunch of new and old friends here in 2009! And thanks for following along with my 300 musings here on the blog.