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.

Pasta 2.jpg

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.

Pasta 1.jpg

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!

Curbside Service Pontelandolfo Style

There aren’t many things I’m afraid of.  Needles, however, turn my tummy to jello, make my teeth clench and my hands sweat.  Imagine the wave of fear that washed over me when the orthopedic doctor in Alghero, Sardegna said “everyday for thirty days you have to give yourself a needle in the stomach.” I screamed NO.  The nurse said, “or die from a blood clot.”  Oh, I mused – die or get a needle in the stomach everyday for thirty days.  Thirty days ways the length of time I was to wear the cast/boot on my broken ankle and repose.  Gulp, I’ll take the needle but I can’t give it to myself.  The nurse showed my husband Jack how to jab a needle in my gut.  Jack did it – I think happily and with a malicious grin – for three weeks.  Then he left for Venice.  Catzzo, now what do I do?  No way I can shoot myself up with blood thinners – eeeeeuuuuuchh.

midge

Wheelchair and Booze! One way to get through this.

Curbside Service at La Farmacia!  Annarita, my resourceful personal assistant, brought me to Pontelandolfo’s pharmacy.  Since I wasn’t supposed to put pressure on my foot and wasn’t about to hop on cobblestones, I couldn’t get out of the car.  Dottoressa Tina Perone raced to the rescue!  Pharmacists here can give needles and will – even it that means watching me tremble in my car.  Tina opened my car door, I pulled my dress over my head, pulled down my panties and closed my eyes.  Hey, did you give me the shot?  She had and I hadn’t felt a thing.  We went to the pharmacy for the entire week that Jack was gone and I almost happily got my daily needle.  Thank you Perone family!

Curbside service didn’t just happen at the pharmacy.  Small town life is wonderful.  Shop owners helped me, laughed with me and made sure I kept rolling along.

Curbside Service at La Feramenta!  I had a new sink installed and needed to buy a faucet.  No way could I handle the uneven street with my hop-along walker.  The owner of our local hardware store sent out selections for me to choose from.  The transaction happened at the car.  Thank you Nicola!

Curbside Service at Da Tiziana!  Since I was now sleeping in the dining room and folks kept stopping buy to visit and stare at my broken ankle, I needed nightgowns that weren’t tattered and stained.  Off we went to our local clothing shop.  The owner dashed out with nightgowns.  Then, in the street, she and Annarita helped me balance on one foot while I tried them on.  Of course, I did that over my clothes!  My mamma taught me not to stand naked in the street.  We visited her a few times to buy knee socks and other stuff.  All carried to the car. Thank you Tiziana!

Curbside Service at Bar Elimar and Bar 2000!  Wheelchair in tow, the ever powerful Annarita decided I needed to get out of the house.  I sighed. She threw me in the car.  We arrived at Bar Elimar and barista, Annette, moved tables around outside so I could easily toss my sorry butt in a chair from the car.  Ahhhhh- Campari Spritz please.  Another time we went to Bar 2000 and owner, Ghaleb, went out of his way to make me comfortable.  Thank you both!

It pays to be a local!  Thank you to all those kind and generous Pontelandolfese who fed me, laughed with me and made my thirty days of staying off my foot bearable.

Ci Vediamo!

Ankle Broken in Alghero

An amusing tale of pain, angst, laughter and the emergency medical system in a tourist town –

Love the school. Could I win the lottery and stay here?

Pintadera is the fabulous Italian Language school in Alghero, Sardegna. Pintadera and I have a love-hate relationship. I love Alghero. I love Nicola – my first Italian friend and the ace administrator. I love the teachers.  I love organizing groups of American students for the school.  I hate studying. Maybe that is why after studying Italian for a pazillion years, I still sound – well – not very Italian.

Sometimes our subconscious gives us what we want – just not the way we would want it. Just as I was thinking, do I have to go back to class, pop went my ankle and I fell on my ass. Actually, I was dashing around the historic center of Alghero solving some of my groups housing issues when I fell off of a step. DUUCK! I screamed! A waiter came running. A darling gas delivery man came running. Nicola came running. I looked at all of them and simply said, my ankle is broken. One, two three – heft – the beached whale was now balancing on one fin.

Everyone sprang into action. Cars are’t allowed into Alghero’s old town.  Nicola raced to bring hers a bit closer. The darling delivery man tossed me like a canister of gas into his L’api three wheeled mini delivery truck and whisked me along with the other canisters to where Nicola was parked. With lots of help, I hopped into the car and off we went to an orthopedic emergency room.  I had never heard of an emergency room just for broken body parts – though Jack who skied said there were lots of those near the mountains.

Nicola procured a wheel chair, I crawled into it and she wheeled me into the waiting room.  There was a sign on the door to the medical team that said “ring when you arrive.”  Nicola pressed the buzzer.  A nurse came out and Nicola pointed to me, told her I was part of the Italian Healthcare System and that I had probably broken an ankle.  The nurse nodded and closed the door.  Nicola went back to work.  I plopped the wheelchair near the door and turned to the people waiting.   Like I would in the doctor’s waiting room in Pontelandolfo, I asked Chi è l’ultimo?  The person who came in before me raised a broken arm.  I settled in the wheelchair and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The nurse would come out and yell a name.  That person would drag a broken body part to the door.  Ambulances with tourists speaking a variety of languages and writhing on stretchers went straight into magic door.  After two hours of folks seeming to get called randomly, I asked the nurse if there was a list.  She said, si. Anybody guess where this story is going?  What did I not ask the nurse?

Three plus hours later Nicola comes back with my husband, Jack.  You haven’t been seen yet!  She rang the bell and berated the nurse who then asked for my tessera sanitaria – health insurance card and went back in.  OK – I should know better.  What did I not ask the nurse an hour or so earlier?  Am I on the list?????  Duh!

They whisked me in to see a doctor who looked at my ankle and ordered an X-Ray.  Jack wheeled me to X-Ray.  There was a paper over on the pillow but not the whole table and as I climbed up to be scanned I wondered how many pairs of dirty shoes had preceded me.  Next stop a second doctor and a nurse.  They looked at the scan and said the ankle was broken.  Did I want a plaster cast or a boot?  The boot of course.  They explained that the system paid for plaster but not a boot.  I said I’d pay for it and could they put it on.  Nope they couldn’t put it on because they only do plaster casts.  I asked if I could get copy of the X-Ray.  Jack whisked me back to X-Ray and I was told I had to pay €7 for a CD.  Not a problem.  Off we went to the counter to pay – which was closed until the following morning.  Again, I didn’t ask the right questions.

God Bless Nicola who was my Florence Nightingale and drove us to a medical supply house.  The owner was putting up an “out for coffee” sign when she saw Nicola and asked if she wanted to join her.  Nicola pointed at me and explained we needed a boot.  The store was up a giant curb and then 5 steps.  Italy isn’t the most handicap accessible place to visit.  The owner brought out a wheelchair.  I squeezed into it and Jack pushed me around the block to a second door that was quasi ramped.  Boot on and bought.  Now I needed a wheelchair.  There was no way in hell that I could manage crutches on uneven cobblestoned streets.  The store would take a week to get one in, but the Sisters of Misericordia loaned hospital equipment to people.  Next stop Misericordia!  Problem – American sized butt and Italian sized wheel chairs.  Again, I squeezed into one and Jack and Nicola were able to wheel me back to our rented house in the historic part of town.  The cobble stones are rocks of a variety of shapes – not smooth pavers.  That meant Jack was probably herniating himself pushing me up to our house.  DUUUCK – the very step I fell off of guarded the entrance to the house’s courtyard.  Somehow without me tipping over onto my head they managed to hoist me and the chair up to the terrace.

I now became a prisoner in the house.  Not able to get out of the place without lots of help and certainly not able to wheel myself on the streets.

Guess I won’t  be dashing over to Central Mediterraneo Pintadera for those  Italian Language classes.  Be careful what you wish for or even think!

Ci vediamo!

Milan’s Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Everyone has visited Milan’s Duomo – everyone but me. I will not wait in Disneyland-esq long lines to see the inside of the what is one of the most incredibly grand cathedrals in the world. I will spend time marveling at the sculptures and freezes on the exterior and then race away from the tourist infested Piazza Duomo neighborhood and seek out tourist group ignored gems, like Museo Poldi Pezzoli.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli is tucked away on on Via Manzoni, 12. The museum was the home of a 19th Century Milanese nobleman, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. Tickets are 10 euro unless you are ageless anziani like Jack and I then tickets are 8.50. I couldn’t  remember ever seeing a senior citizen discount at New York museums and thank blog follower Mike for reminding me that there are! Also, he pointed out that many cities have free museums.

They were filming something in the historic center of Milan and we couldn’t walk past Teatro San Carlo. That meant we couldn’t follow the directions on my phone to find the museum. We tried my friend Marta’s phone. Errrggg. Road blocks everywhere in the historic center. We tried the map. Errrgg.

Getting lost has benefits! Chocolate shoes and purses!

Jack said follow me. We did. He found it. By now we were growling with hunger. Entering the museum doors, I asked the charming men working the desk if they had a restaurant. They didn’t but sent us up the street to the fabulous Ristorante Don Lisander.

It was elegant and the perfect way to transition from contemporary Milan to the glamour of the 19th century. We spent €166 for the for of us – New York prices. We started with wonderful appetizers of Pugliese Burrata cheese, Red Tuna tartar and ended with scrumptious Risotto Milanese, Oso Buco and crisp salads. Did I mention the local wine? That was incredible too. Sigh.

Off to the museum! (I wondered if the staff thought we would really come back.) We bought our discounted tickets, turned to enter and gasped. An incredible neo-baroque fountain is nestled at the beginning of a grand staircase. The staircase guides folks to the rooms were Gian Giacomo lived.

The apartment is full of works by Botticelli, Bellini, Mantegna, Pollaiolo and others. The art just drew us all in. I spent quite a bit of time wondering who modeled for Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book. Girlfriend, neighbor, courtesan? Twilight diffused light is kind of romantic. Hmmm. Midge, it isn’t too late to study a wee bit of art history.

The Murano Glass rooms, where you can also find portraits of our host, are chock full of Murano glass dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Unlike, the faux Murano trinkets made in China one finds in Venice today, these were the real deal and glorious.

Want to skip a century or two? Giovani Battista Tiepolo’s Death of Saint Jerome is worth some introspection.

In case you are running late and wonder what time it is. Like the Mad Hatter you can dash into the Clock Room and check out the clocks dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. I wonder if Gian Giacomo was always on time or late for that important date?

Did you ever wonder why people collect what they collect?

Join us in our search for places off the beaten track. Leave the backpack infested rat packs and follow folks like Jack, my pal Marta and I – visit small museums, gardens and other hidden treasures.

Ci vediamo!