Flour Wars, Mask Shortages – Improvising During a Pandemic

It was about 9:30 PM on a blustery early March night – a time when the Hillsborough Shop Rite was usually quiet – that the impact of the Corona Virus hit me.  This literally dark and stormy night the megastores’s parking lot was full. Crazed shoppers raced through the building. Shopping carts were piled high. People were wrenching paper towel rolls away from each other.  What the hell?  

Over the last few months, I bet all of us have seen long vacant toilet paper shelves and a sad empty paper towel aisle.  We have also seen resilience and creativity.  I found our cloth napkins – we use them for a few days before washing.  Why buy paper napkins? A cloth rag works well – who needs paper towels?  But flour and yeast – now that is another story.

You all know that my amazing cousin, Annarita, was trapped in our Condo.   What did we lust for?  Food Pontelandolfo Style.  I sobbed over the lack of good crusty bread – like those one kilo loaves made at Diglio Forno.  Annarita FaceTimed with her mom, Carmella, and groaned when she saw mamma’s fresh pasta.  Jack was aching for pizza from Sesto Senso.   Not, a problem, I thought.  If we can’t go to the village, let’s bring the village to us.

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Our Little Village in the Sannio Hills.  It was virus free!!!

With flour and yeast, Annarita would  replicate those gorgeous gluten powered treats.  So I thought.  Imagine my tears, when my end of March shop yielded not one wee bit of flour.  Yeast – who bought all the yeast? Not one packet of yeast was left on a shelf.  Did I look in more than one store – who are you asking?  Of course.  When did the entire population of Central Jersey start baking? This was not an isolated scene.  It may have been a global farina, mouka, mel, harina, flour shortage. My family in Pontelandolfo, who really do know how to bake, roast and toast, also said there was a run on yeast.  Obviously for the last few months, around the world, some folks were hoarding toilet paper – others – flour and yeast.  It took until April, but I did score flour.  Did I say score?  Sounds like I was jonesing for flour.  Obviously, I travelled far and wide in my quest for flour.

Now that we had flour, it was time for Annarita to do her magic.  She wanted to start with pasta and asked me where my pasta machine was.  Hmm, I thought where is that machine?  Oh yeah, when we moved to Italy I gave my New Jersey machine to my nephew, Christopher.  Rolling pin, she asked.  Hmmm, where did that go?  No problem, we are exceptional women and know how to improvise.  A quick search of our condo yielded –

You might think it is a closet rod but we saw a matterello, The long wooden dowel all the women in Pontelandolfo use to roll out dough.  Annarita asked if I had a pasta board.  Pasta board – you know that huge hunk of wood you knead and then roll dough on.  Years ago, when we sold our house in Flagtown, we sold everything and headed for Italy.  Who knew that we would buy a condo in New Jersey and be quarantined without furniture, dishes and things like a rolling pin. We were determined.  I bleached the counter, tossed down some flour and she was set.  We improvised.

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Need a place to dry pasta?  Improvise – go back to the closet and toss the clothes on the bed.

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Yeast?  Just ask my sister, Susan!  She sent me a link to a YouTube video  done by a cute Italian chef – “cuoredicioccolato” is the name of his channel.  The video explained how to make sourdough starter from stuff you have in the house!  Of course you do need flour.  Who knew honey, yogurt or raisons percolating in flour long enough started things growing!  Of course, this requires commitment – you have to keep feeding the sour beast flour daily!  My niece, Alex,  was committed –

Our family improvised it’s way around the crusty bread crisis. Others used their creativity problem solving.

My number one buddy, Janet, works at Somerset County Vocational Technical High School and was part of the team that made thousands of  plastic full face masks for medical workers.  Everyone knew there was a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment.  Faculty and students in the Mechatronics program fired up 3-D printers and voila 3-D printed plastic headbands popped out. Janet said the team scrounged the school to uncover every box of unused plastic transparencies.  They gave away thousands of completed masks to local hospitals.   Janet showed me one she made–

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I am no where near that creative.  But, I did solve our lack of masks problem. Masks had to be worn even on the short dash from our condo door to the mail room. Jack pointed out that he had tons of really old t-shirt material boxer shorts and asked if they would work.   I didn’t think we could walk around with under-gochies on our heads but hmmm.  One leg equals two layers of cotton.  Snip, snip – I cut off a leg. Found a stapler and stapled in pleats.  I do have a child’s sewing machine and was able to  toss a quick stitch or two down the outer edge to keep the pleats in.  Took out the staples and added panty streamers for ties.

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Yes, that is a vodka bottle.  Yes, it was full when I started.

I know that each and everyone of you has been creative and resilient. Under comments share your improvisation!  I want to know what creative solutions you all came up with to survive the pandemic. PULEEZE – inquiring minds want to know!

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Midge Guerrera

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

 

 

Travelling Back to Pontelandolfo

On February 17, 2020 we raced to Newark Airport to pick up my Italian cousin, Annarita.  We had great plans!  Trips to New York, walks in Philadelphia, strolling through the Grounds for Sculpture and being foodies – eating in every interesting non-Italian restaurant we could find.  Annarita is thirty-something and a great sport.  The first week we visited New York’s Italian Consulate, wandered city streets and, starting with “French 45” cocktails, enjoyed great French Food.  During the trip, rumblings of the Coronavirus were shaking in our head.  I carried enough hand wipes and hand sanitizer to keep a troupe of scouts germ free.  We smeared our hands with sanitizer in the train stations, cabs and well, just about anytime we touched something – out came the wipes and the sanitizer.

Carrying bleach wipes, sanitizer and vitamin C, Annarita flew off to Texas to spend time with our cousins.  She had a great adventure.  When she got back – boom – Coronavirus really dropped into New Jersey.  Jack and I had just bought a condo and moved in moments before the “stay at home” orders started.  Her March tickets back to Italy fell into the trash. The hip young woman was now stuck in a 55 plus condo.  WOW!  What fun!  We cooked, we laughed, we got everything delivered and didn’t venture out. After six weeks of this frivolity, she was ready to go back to Italy. The other reality was, foreign nationals without Visas are only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days.  With this administration’s posturing on foreign folks  we were frantic to get her back by day 89.

We had two problems to deal with – 1. Would Italy let her back in the country? 2. If we couldn’t get her home by day 89, what would happen to her when she tried to leave the USA at a later date?  Taking deep breaths we booked a Lufthansa flight to Naples.

Would Italy let her in –

AUTODICHIARAZIONE GIUSTIFICATIVA DELLO SPOSTAMENTO  IN CASO DI ENTRATA IN ITALIA DALL’ESTERO spit out of my printer. This Self-declaration Form of Displacement must be completed by any Italian National coming back to Italy from abroad.  Since the east coast of the USA is a red zone, we started to worry and wondered what she would have to write and certify. Unless, you have an urgent reason to return, Italy would prefer you stay away in self quarantine.  She had to attest that she didn’t have the virus and hadn’t been near anyone who did.  The question that got me was , what is the urgency to come back?  The bloody 90 day cut off for her American stay was the urgency. She also had to guarantee she had a place to serve a fourteen day isolation quarantine.  That means – alone, no family, remain in a space where no one else has access.  We wouldn’t know if they would let her in until she got there!

Could she stay in the USA longer than 90 days –

Before she came to visit she completed an application for the Visa Waiver program, ESTA – she needed a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)   This is what Europeans usually apply for – you can fill it out at a Travel Agency.  Easy – right?  Except, according to Travel.state.gov – 

If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period. You must depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp when you entered the United States.

I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in the Department of State. Does anyone still work there?  Being an old politico, I sent a nice campaign donation to my local congressperson.  I then sent an e-mail and asked for help with the DOS.  The office aide did call me and leave her Washington number.  I called back and obviously the aide blew me off because I never heard another word.  We were afraid that in today’s American climate she would be in major trouble if she overstayed the 90 day tourism window European visitors are allowed. Until she landed in Rome, we still worried.

It took angst, my skill of phone sex or phone tears magic and the ever powerful lawyer Rossella but in the middle of May Annarita was finally able to go home.  Home being my favorite southern Italian Village, Pontelandolfo.  Was it easy? No.  Were we gnashing teeth, arguing with airlines, frantic to get in touch with anyone in power? Yes

Let us start with the flight.  Just by chance – I had called Lufthansa to check on her flight status – we discovered that her flight to Naples via Frankfort was cancelled.  WHAT?  I asked the representative why we didn’t get an e-mail or a text message or even a notification on the Lufthansa app?  Who knows why?  We went to the Naples Airport website and discovered that no flights were coming in or out.  It seems that the small regional airports were closed.  The reality was she had to fly from Frankfort to Rome.  Great, you’re thinking, Rome is cool.  Sadly, after literally hours on the phone with three different people in the Lufthansa call center, we discovered that because Italy is so concerned with social distancing and the safety of its residents they insist planes flying in had to be no more than half full.  The only flight would   arrive in Rome at 5:45PM.

Too late to get a train close to home – besides it was impossible to get train tickets.   Maybe someone can drive the three hours and pick her up.  WRONG!  Italy knows how far reaching this virus is and contains it by not letting people go from one region or another unless they work in a vital industry.  That means that no one from Campania can drive to Lazio and pick her up.  We were frantic.  Her family in Pontelandolfo was besides themselves.  Her sister kept calling hotels in Rome. A pal who owns a travel agency called all his pals trying to get Annarita a place to stay.  All of the hotels are being used for isolation quarantine.  There are no beds in Rome.  The tension mounted and pounds of cookies, biscotti and tortes were being devoured.  We could get her to Rome but then….

Thank the Lord for Rossella, ace advocate and older sister, she found out that there were some limousine services that could cross regional borders.  One was found in nearby Benevento.  I am imaging the back passenger seat being a containment bubble.  The driver texted Annarita  and said not to worry he would be there and be carrying “real Italian” coffee for her.

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Annarita Flying Back

Everything was in place – or was it.  We got Annarita to Newark Airport three hours early.  Social distancing apparently wasn’t on anyone’s brain.  That said, the airline employees did exercise caution.  Annarita said that no one would touch her luggage.  She printed her own boarding pass, luggage tags etc.  The wait for the flight  was harrowing.  No one respected the six feet rule.  Airline employees screamed, “RESPECT DISTANCING.” But with hundreds of people anxious to get out of New Jersey, it was chaotic.   Chairs were X’d out but people just stood crowded together.  It was frightening.  People all wore masks and many others wore white coveralls covering their clothes.  They covered up but crowded up – makes no sense. To board the plane – it was a United flight – the had six foot makers near the door.  Five people at a time were called to that position and allowed to board.  The boarded from the rear of the plane first.  That was smart.  No one was standing in the aisle breathing on seated folks.  Annarita  said the plane was half-full and there were empty seats between people.  Then she landed in Frankfort.

Frankfort was “impossible”.  I thought the Germans would have had this organized.  They didn’t and worse – Lufthansa had lied to us.  The plane to Rome was not half full.  It was freakin’ overbooked.  People were packed near the gate and arguing to be let on.  She got on.  Kept her mask on and sanitized her hands a million times.

The Rome airport was organized and social distancing was mandated.  There was a long spaced line for everything.  They took the temperatures of very young people and others.  Luckily, Annarita had filled out the Self Declaration Form in advance.  Folks queued up for about twenty minutes to get a table and fill out the form.  Again, one person at a table please.   Every single traveller met with someone from border control to review the form.  Questions were asked and answered.  Annarita breezed through.

The Limo driver met her, helped with the luggage and walked with her to the car.  Hand sanitizer and wipes were in abundance.  She sighed, settled back and made it home to Pontelandolfo.

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Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

When an Italian returns they must also give a form to the local police, the mayor’s office and A.S.L. – Aziende Sanitarie Locali – universal health care agency.

Our house in Pontelandolfo was obviously empty so she hunkered down there.  Her family had stocked the refrigerator and pantry, the wi-fi was on and the television works.  What more could she want?  After the fourteen days, someone will come and test her or give her a physical.  That hasn’t happened yet.  Doesn’t matter.  She is home.  She is healthy.  She has opened the windows in my house.

Hopefully, after she is back with her family, we too will soon be isolation quarantining in our Southern Italian home.

Ci vediamo.

 

 

Io Resto A Casa Pontelandolfo & NJ

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Days have passed and it seems that in our New Jersey home one day folds into another.  Yes, we remain indoors.  Yes, we only leave to go to the pharmacy and vegetable store. Yes, household supples, meat and dairy get delivered.  Yes, I am anal about wiping down all deliveries and hand washing. Yes, after returning home from an outside trek, I insist that Jack or I immediately strip, shower and wash the outdoor clothes. Yes, besides contacting family and friends here and in Pontelandolfo, I have been a binge watching, novel reading full time layabout.

My “what have you done for me lately” brain got a spurt of energy and sent me to my computer.  It is time to tell you the story of Pontelandolfo (BN) and the Coronavirus.  My cousin Annarita came to visit us at the end of February expecting to stay for a month and a half.  Then the Coronavirus hit Italy and she decided to stay with us.  Then the Coronavirus hit the USA and the three of us realized we had to hunker-down in New Jersey for the duration.  With her here, we get daily updates on the life of our Pontelandolfo family and friends.

What I realized is that the Italians in Southern Italy do everything with resolve and passion.  When Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy, said the quarantine would be extended until April 30 people execepted it.  Unlike the ridiculous stories I read in the New Jersey papers no one had a wedding,  birthday party, or state house protest with hordes of people.  They stayed home.  Because they stayed home, only one person in our small Southern Italian village has tested positive for the Coronavirus. The person who tested positive is a nurse in an out of town rehabilitation center. She is isolated in her home and will stay there until she tests negative. The virus has not spread in our village. However, there is a flour and yeast shortage.

Schools were closed and teachers are providing home based lessons.  The high schools seem to be giving final exams on line.  All the elementary school kids were encouraged to create a rainbow to hang in their windows.  The activity was an opportunity for parents to explain how working together by staying home is for the good of everyone.

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I can only talk about what is happening in Pontelandolfo. From my family I have gotten first hand information – it helps to have politicos in the family who have an information main line.

Information distribution is key during a crisis.  Starting early in March, the country went to the mattresses to stop the onslaught.  #iorestoacasa. Pontelandolfo uses signage, e-mails, facebook and its Pontelandolfo 2.0 app to get the word out.

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The municipality of Pontelandolfo gave each family one washable mask to use.  Why only one?  Because only one person per family may leave the house to go the grocery store, butcher, or Farmacia.  That person must print out and fill out a “self-certifying traveling for proven needs” form.  (Folks titter that every time Premiere Conte speaks there is a new form to fill out.) The police stop all cars coming into town and ask to see the form.  They stop you on the way out too.  There better not just be a jug of wine and no groceries!  Yes, you can get a ticket.  The police presence is excepted as necessary and a reminder to stay home.

The sense of community is amazing.  The three levels of government, social service agencies and individuals are all working together for the greater good. The men and women who volunteer to be part of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, have been instrumental in providing information and assistance.  Idea Bellezza, a local company, donated food and hygiene products to distribute.  For Easter, the municipality brought Easter Baskets to every child. Tina Perone of Farmacia Perone made hand sanitizer for every customer.   The Region of Campania also bought masks for the pharmacies to give away.

Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Region of Campania announced the following assistance.  The region allocated fourteen million euro for a fund called Bando con la Famiglie. Social Service agencies got funding early for problems in the community. Funding was put in place to get food from the producers to the distribution sites. Students who can’t afford to buy their school books and supplies would be helped.  Money is also available for families with children under the age of 15 and need financial assistance. Since all children are at home, €500 per month is available to help families that work in essential services pay for babysitting. That said, when the fund is depleted the funding stops unless there is something else in the pipeline.

Conte’s Italy, is providing additional help. INPS, think social security agency, is providing assistance. Anyone receiving a INPS check of less than €1,000 gets up to €500 from the government to insure they receive a monthly pension check of at least €1,000. Since all students are learning from home, there is money available to buy poor students computers and get their homes hooked up to the internet. Funding is available to distribute food to families in economic difficulty. Self – employed persons and those with small companies are also being assisted.

My first thought was could someone double dip – get funding for the same sort of thing from all levels of government. My cousin looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I guess the answer is no.

Families are spending time together. Music is being made.  Songs are sung.  No one disobeys the rule to stay home and don’t go beyond two hundred feet of your home. Nationally, Coronavirus numbers are falling.  In Pontelandolfo the number remains one.

I think there are lessons to be learned here.  The government jumped in and tested tons of people.  Rules were put in place and the people listened. Everyone understood that one helps oneself and the world by staying home.

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Ci vediamo prossima volta.

Midge

When is Buffalo not Buffalo?

When “buffalo” means Buffalo Mozzarella! Who knew that the creamiest of mozzarella cheeses came from a water buffalo? I didn’t. Did I just admit a lack of knowledge on something edible and Italian?

About 20 years ago, Jack, my Aunt Cat and I drove through the valleys of Compania searching for buffalo. Silly me imaging the bison that ruled the plains were nestled in the Sannio Hills. Oooops – classic mistake. Can you imagine milking a two-story tall mammoth bison? Thanks to Martenette Farms, a group of ten farm to table foodies will see the buffalo for themselves.

Fattoria al Tavolo With Martenette Farms*

Ace organic farmers Andrea and Tony of Martenette Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey wanted to share their love of farming and good eating with others. They created a super culinary and farm adventure that takes place in my home town, Pontelandolfo, from October 17 – 24, 2020. Guess what it includes? A visit to a buffalo farm!

Participants will explore, eat and live in a small southern Italian village. Becoming part of village life, they will gain a cultural understanding of what lies behind great Southern Italian dishes. This farm to table experience is for those of you who want to see a part of Italy that is off the crowded tourist trail, see where the local food comes from and taste dishes that go back generations.

For example, the group will eat in private homes and at agriturismos – farms that serve food. Visit working farms, hear lectures on herbs, look for edibles in the Sannio Hills, learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula, and of course visit olive groves and taste great wine after trekking through vineyards.

Check out their website for details – Martenette Farms

I can’t wait to meet this group of culinary adventurers! Ci vediamo!

*Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. Since you will eating in people’s homes, not restaurants, accommodations cannot be made for allergies or preferences. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets, but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly mountain environment. The calendar of events may change but will be similar.

How Much? Don’t Worry!

I have always been really afraid of being somewhere and not having enough money to pay the bill. Maybe it is because when we were little, we really didn’t have enough money. In my earlier lean adult years, I would count my cash down to the penny and search the car seats for more. The thought of getting to the cash register cashless was one of those nightmares I never wanted to have, but often did. To this day, I check my purse and make sure my wallet is there. Then I check my wallet to make sure the money that was there last night is still there this morning. Minutes before entering a store, I again open my wallet to triple check for money. Maybe it is paranoia. Maybe I’m horrified of once again tossing stuff on the supermarket belt, watching the prices cha ching into the cash register, realizing I don’t have enough money and yanking things off the belt. This ever happen to you? Did you sink down below the counter? Frantically start pulling things off the belt? Or do what I have done, drop my head down in shame and slither away?

In Pontelandolfo, where everybody knows your name, not only is that not something for me to worry about, but I have had a hard time getting people to let me pay them. Trust and sense of community are important aspects of life in our little village.

True examples –

Jack went to our supermarket, Gran Risparmio, and filled the cart with things we needed. He never checks to see if his wallet is there or if someone picked his pocket. Oops, maybe he should have. He went to pay and was €20 short. Did he sink below the counter? Nope, the man at the register packed up the groceries, handed them to Jack and said pay me later. I was so embarrassed and ran back to pay. They were shocked to see us so soon.

Another day, I was behind an older woman in Conad, another miniature supermarket, she was mildly confused about what she was buying, what she was cooking for pranza and where her wallet was. Mariagrazia, the super nice cashier, looked at her smiled and said, “I know you will be back and you will have your wallet then.” It took all my actor training to remain uninvolved in the story. I wanted to A. Pay for her. B. Leap over the counter and kiss Mariagrazia. It was such a gentle moment and obviously one that has been repeated. My gut reaction was that someone else would be in later to pay for her.

One night, I bought a large group to Sesto Senso, my favorite local eatery. We had a fabulous seafood meal, enjoyed bottles of wine and sipped digestivos. I walked up to the cash register with a credit card in hand. Claudio swiped it in the machine. Then he swiped it again. I started to sweat. Shit, had I forgotten to pay the bill? Claudio, looked at me and said the machine doesn’t work. It has been happening all day. Pay us next time you come.

During the festa to end all festas – my 7 events for 7 decades birthday week – I booked a number of people to work with me, ordered all kinds of food and booze, hired musicians, a theater company, caterers and more. Getting prices was difficult. Creating a budget became such a nightmare that I soon tossed it into the nightmare trash barrel. Questa é Italia! Go with the flow.

We have an exceptional bakery, Diglio Forno, I ordered a carload of stuff for my British Tea Party. When I asked if they wanted a deposit they looked at me like I was crazy.

We have a talented guy, Vittorio, who provides theatrical lighting and sound for many of the major events in the region. I asked him to handle the technical aspects of my birthday weeks two public events. Getting a price was hard but getting him to take the money during the show was even harder. He too looked at me like I was from another planet. I found out that it often takes him months to be paid by the towns that hire him. I was an anomaly. Could I get one person to instantly accept the cash I had for them in an envelope? Don’t worry. Pay me later. Pay me after the show. Pay me next time I see you. Don’t worry!

During our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events we book hotel rooms for our guests and are never asked for a deposit. Actually, we end up paying after our group has left. The vineyards we visit for a food and wine parings, the agriturismo that hosts our welcoming luncheon and other collaborators never give us a bill but trust us to pay them. Trust. I think that is what living in a small village generates. Trust.

When I am not in town and need to send flowers for a funeral or birthday, I call Nella at her flower shop. She doesn’t ask for a credit card. She doesn’t tell me what it will cost. She simply creates an arrangement and delivers the flowers. When I am back, I pay her.

It isn’t that folks don’t want to be paid or don’t feel they deserve their stipend. I believe it has to do with a real sense of community. More than community, it is a sense of family. Those of us who live here are part of the familial fabric of the village. Family who treats each other like family. I’m guessing strangers in our midst might not be extended the same courtesy.

People who provide services, own shops or restaurants know their community. They know were their clients live. Know is the operative word. Knowing your neighbor and knowing who you can trust. Sadly, shop keepers tell me, that also means knowing who you can’t trust.

I think one of the reasons I feel so connected to Pontelandolfo – besides the fact that I can feel my nonna here – is that the life style and sense of community reminds me of the Flagtown, New Jersey. Growing up in Flagtown,when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I spent my youth knowing everyone in that village and not worrying about falling off my bike because someone would pick me up. There was the same sense of familial community that I am blessed with in Pontelandolfo.

Just another reason to Visit Pontelandolfo!

Ci vediamo

Midge

NY Times Recommends Molise!

Southern Italy makes the NY Times“52 places to go in 2020” list!

Molise, the region that is a scant few minutes down the road from Pontelandolfo was listed as number 37.  I was leaping around the breakfast table when I read this.  Why?  Because the New York Times said something about our little piece of Italian heaven that I’ve been saying for years about the Sannio Hills.

Molise, Italy. If you’re in search of untrammeled traditional Italy, you’ve found it.

Jack and I have visited beaches on the Adriatic, driven up to the ski slopes – I stayed in the car with a book, gone out to dinner and enjoyed performing arts events in Campobasso, climbed hills to look at ancient towers – Jack climbed, I went up in the car- all in the region of Molise.  All short drives from Pontelandolfo.

The article also mentions Altilia – Saepinum, an archeological site that every guest to our home is required to explore.  I also ensure that every culinary or cultural adventurer who registers for our  Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo programs has a visit to this historic site on their calendar.

The New York Times writer, Ondine Cohane, said of the Roman Settlement Saepinum, that it was “a complex of baths and a forum that rival those in Italy’s capital, but without the crowds.”

Take note of what was written, “without the crowds.” Exactly why Jack and I love Pontelandolfo and neighboring places.  It is beautiful, full of culture and off the back packing tourist trail.  One can enjoy Italy – Literally Italy.

Take a peak at Saepinum –

Visit Pontelandolfo and explore Molise.

Ci vediamo

Midge Guerrera

The Wheat Comes From Where????

What? I queried.  You went where to buy wheat?

The well heeled Italian businessman replied, Texas.

Jack and I love to travel on Italian trains. Age brings its perks – deep discounts on business or first class tickets.   I like the “four-top” set up. Four comfortable seats surround a table. There are places to plug in your “God Forbid I forget my iPad,” and interesting folks to chat with.  For example, the two businessmen who sat across from Jack and I. After ten seconds, they realized immediately that we were Americans and proudly proclaimed that they had just come back from Texas.

Charming gabby girl said, Texas – that is a great place to visit.

We were on business.

Jack was immersed in his book when I said, What do you do?

We buy grain.  We import Texas wheat to Italy.

My mind said “what the duck” but my mouth politely spit out, Why?

For the pasta industry.

Hands started flying and words were soaring over the four-top.  Now I was not, as Jack said, being SNARKY when I bellowed – Texas!  They make Italian pasta with wheat from Texas!  I wouldn’t eat anything grown in pesticide ridden Texas.  That is when Jack kicked me under the table.  OUCH!  (Don’t you kick me too – Texas does restrict some use of pesticides – I looked it up.)

The men, being politicians at heart, explained that Italy doesn’t grow enough wheat to make all the international pasta lovers happy.  Italian companies need to import wheat to satisfy the market need.  They have been buying wheat from the USA and Canada for years.

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According to an October 2019 article in Worlds Top Exports,  in 2018, Italy ranked 4th in wheat importing.  They imported $1.82 billion of the heavenly grain.  The USA sold them 28.1% less than the previous year but still raked in $146.2 million.  Canada sold 81.1% less than the year before.  Why you might ask?  The answer is simple – pesticides.  I discovered an article on i-politics that talked about Barilla Pasta Company speaking to Canadian growers and explaining Italians don’t want to eat what they perceive as poison.  Italians lobbied and marched for locally sourced grains.

Italy, like other countries, legislated Country of Origin Labeling  (COOL) for food. That means you have to say where the wheat was grown and were it was processed.  That gives consumers an option.  They can decide where they want their dinner’s ingredients to hail from. I believe in eating local and shopping local.  What happens to wheat when it is shipped in big containers across the seas? Errrrggg – I can’t imagine the creepy critters that have stowed away.

In 1846 Antonio Rummo started making Rummo Pasta in Benevento.  The wheat he used was only from the Italian regions of Puglia and Campania.  I was sad to see that they too had to import wheat to satisfy their global customers.   Rummo is a local company so I do support them – but I also always read the label.

La Molisano Pasta is from Campobasso, also close to Pontelandolfo. Some of their products proudly proclaim on the front of the bag “Solo Grano Italiano.”Pasta 3.jpg

Other packages I have to turn over and put on my glasses to discover where the wheat was from.  Happily, I have only found La Molisana in our local supermarket made with Italian grain.

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The USA does have COOL legislation.  Those “made in China” labels are everywhere.  Are we equally concerned about food?  We have all seen the labels in supermarkets that told us where the produce was fun.  Are those signs still there?  Let me know. In February, 2016 the United States Department of Agriculture repealed the COOL requirements for Beef and Pork.   I stopped reading their website after I saw that…

Those of you are shopping in any country but Italy, please let me know if COOL is in effect on pasta, rice and dry goods.  Are the labels there? I am really curious.

It is amazing what you can learn traveling by train.

Ci Vediamo!