August Flashbacks

How did September get here?  What happened to August?  The pandemic – duh – no wonder I have no stories to tell of the annual August festa. Remember the year I tried to write about each of the seven events and slept through the last two? August in Pontelandolfo is usually jam-packed with concerts, art exhibits, processions, remembrance celebrations, Feragosto picnics and house parties. Pontelandolfesi from all over the world return home to eat, drink and reminisce with family seen only once every few years. This year, thanks to the pandemic, the monthlong whirlwind didn’t happen.

No stage was set up in Piazza Roma. 

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Performing artists weren’t  contracted or were cancelled.

Ri Ualanegli, our internationally acclaimed folk dance company, didn’t host a 2020 dance festival.

What did happen in August?  Gardens were tended.  Crops harvested.  Produce canned. Bars opened. Cards were shuffled. People strolled the piazza. Families ate, drank and enjoyed each other.  Trekking, forest foraging and picnics took place in the mountain.  Beaches were visited.  Kids started thinking about school starting on September 14th. Some folks did the usual August thing and went on vacations. Returning vacationers caused a surge in Covid-19 cases.  

Not again…

Pontelandolfo is a microcosm of good health.  During the pandemic, there has only been one case of Covid.  Perhaps it is the mountain air and great wine.  I will start thinking about next August and what a joy the annual festa will be.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.  Booking 2021.

 

Pop Those Fava Skins – Pop Pop

Spring may have sprung and gone, but my Fava memories deserve sharing. I’ve told you the tales of the roving basket of fava beans. I didn’t enjoy as many fava dishes this year as I have in the past, but did discover something worth shucking a bean pod about. Normally, after shucking a basked of bean pods, I cook the beans in their shells. Frankly, the thought of adding another step to the cooking process seemed like a pain in the pattooty. Then one fava craving day, I googled FAVA BEANS. I was surfing for any interesting recipes. Each one I found said shell the beans. NOOO! I am not going to boil a pot of water, toss in the beans, pull the beans out and burn my hands just to shell them. Shucking them from the pods is work enough.

Apparently, some other cooks didn’t want to deal with the heat of the boil either. They froze the beans instead. I couldn’t believe it when I read that and googled fava some more. Quite a few sources said freeze the beans and the shells practically pop off the bean. Hmmm. Of course, I read all the instructions and then realized I didn’t have a small sheet pan that would fit in my freezer and guarantee a single layer of beans. Also, I wasn’t going to hang around and time the beans for 30 minutes.

I shucked the beans and tossed them into a nine inch square baking dish – it is what I had that would fit in the little freezer. Were the beans in rigid little rows not touching? Nope, I tossed them in the dish. Yup, they were on top of each other. Then I put the dish in the freezer and forgot about it. Later that night, I remembered and went to visit them. They had turned whitish and looked cold. I stirred them so the ones on the top could cuddle up on the bottom. Then I went to bed.

The next night, I wanted to use the beans. I remembered reading they should be allowed to thaw for at least 15 minutes. Of course, that meant I was not going to get dinner done in time so I didn’t wait. WRONG. This was a classic “Midge doesn’t listen” mistake.

As they thaw they get more and more wrinkly –
like your forehead when you squint in the sun.

When I first tried to pop the beans out, all I did was freeze my fingers and ultimately peel the shell layer off. As the beans began to thaw it became a flim flam thank you ma’am.

Squish and pop!

Notice how the beans in this picture look whiter and wrinkled. They were thawing. It actually works! But you really have to wait at least 15 minutes.

It does take time to shell the beans and frankly, I don’t know if my palate is refined enough to really taste the difference. They do feel smoother when I eat them, but taste better? Jack said they tasted different but he wasn’t sure either if it was better. What do you think?

How did I cook them? Hmm – what did I do? We just chopped up bacon and let it sizzle. Then snuck in a little olive oil and a grossly chopped onion. When the onion started to look translucent, I tossed in the beans and enough lamb bone broth to cover them. The usual seasonings were added to the pot – salt, pepper, bay leaf and (please don’t tell my nonna) garlic powder. I also added some thick chunked potatoes. Slowly they cooked.

They were tasty. Coupled with some crusty rye bread, they were dipping great. Would I peel the shells in the future? Hmmm.

Ci Vediamo,

Midge

http://www.cookinginthekitchensofpontelandolfo.com

http://www.midgeguerrera.com

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

Raritan NJ and Sister City Colle Sannita (BN)

Growing up in Flagtown, New Jersey, we often visited Raritan,the town next door. When the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was a child, we hopped in the car and visited Raritan for pizza and gelato. Raritan was the closest we could come to hearing and seeing Italians. Home to lots of Italian American families, it also was a real town and for country girls a treat. The town took great pride in it’s son, World War II hero, Marine Gunnery Sargent John Basilone. Every September there was and still is a parade and festivities to celebrate Basilone’s heroics in the Pacific Theatre and his Congressional Medal of Honor.

Imagine my surprise to discover that a scant 20 minutes up and down the hill from Pontelandolfo was Colle Sannita, the Basilone family’s Italian home town. Anthony Bengivenga, contacted me to let me know that Colle Sannita was officially being declared the Sister City of Raritan. Anthony would be there to represent Mayor Chuck McMullin of Raritan and as a national officer, District Governor, UNICO National. (UNICO is the largest Italian American organization in the USA and was started in Waterbury, Connecticut – home of more Pontelandolfesi than Pontelandolfo.) Anthony oversees ten UNICO chapters and has also helped form the sister city agreement between Terno D’Isola in Bergamo and South Plainfield. Basilone’s mother Teodora Bengivenga was the cousin of Anthony’s grandfather. The connections sent shivers up my spine. There was no way I would miss that celebration.

John Basilone’s father was born in Colle Sannita. The municipal meeting room was packed with Basilones from around the world, including Kim Van Note, Diane Hawkins and interpreter Regina Basilone. Six dashing young marines from the US Embassey of Rome, who had played earlier both the Italian and American national anthems, were also there.

The sense of pride was so strong that my heart expanded and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Not only was it an emotional signing ceremony, but I realized it was also a tourism and growth commitment between the two towns. Listening to the resolution, I heard terms like arrange for trips, exporting and importing products and mutual promotion. Smart move for both towns.

Anthony, an incredible representative of Raritan, UNICO and the family, gave a heartfelt speech. He also presented the Mayor of Colle Sannita with resolutions of endorsement from the New Jersey State Legislature and Somerset County, NJ. UNICO National President Frank DeFrank sent a letter of congratulations. WOW, it felt great being an Italo-Americano surrounded by such Italo – Americano passion and pride.

Raritan’s son comes home to Colle Sannita

Colle Sannita comes to Raritan, NJ

Thank you Anthony for making me realize that you can take the girl out of Flagtown but Flagtown is always nearby.

Ci Vediamo!

Snow Shut-ins

Can we talk? Sometimes life in my charming little Italian village makes me want to scream! Or if not scream, shake the powers that be until sense falls into place. It snowed. This is an anomaly here – especially in December. Last December it felt like fall. Those weather belts do keep changing. No one expects snow in December – maybe that is why I should have a kinder gentler feeling about… errrrrgggg.. that scream is bubbling up again.

We knew it would snow because I received numerous alerts from the town that said it might snow for three days – “make sure you have fuel for heat, food and something to keep you from going stir crazy.” Being from the North East of America where we scoff at snow, plows are out instantly and we drive in anything, I thought the alerts were a little over the top. NOT!

We had a house full of holiday guests and plans to go out and do holiday centered stuff – then it snowed. Day one – snow – about an inch – no one plowed or salted the local streets. OK, not a big deal. I know money is tight and we can drive over this. Downtown, no one had shoveled the sidewalks either. Hmmm, aren’t building owners responsible for that? Not a big deal – again only an inch. Local holiday events were cancelled and even worse news – restaurants were closed – hey, it was only an inch but still coming down.

A Gorgeous Inch of Snow Frosted the Mountains.

Day two – more snow – a lot more snow and we had to get my niece to the train station in Boiano. We heard the state highway was closed going west. Luckily, we had to go east. The local roads were not plowed or salted. Ice reigned supreme. We slowly left town and got to the highway. Now this is interesting. The highway in Campania was fairly clean and salted. The minute we crossed the regional line to Molise the highway had only been given one earlier pass with a plow, however the exit ramps were clean. Don’t the regions coordinate this stuff? We got to Boiano and back and cruised our village piazza. Nope, the sidewalks still had snow and ice and the piazza hadn’t been cleared. Shops were closed – I’m glad we had the necessities of life in the house – eggs, bread and wine.

Day three – lots more snow. I mean tons of snow. How would we get the last of our guests to their train in Benevento? Yesterday, the road was closed. First step, dig out the car. Done. Second step, dig out the top of the driveway near the unplowed road. Done. Third step – do we have to freakin’ dig out the street???? The train was due late in the afternoon, we figured we had some options. Sleds pulled by snow sheep sounded like the best idea. It stopped snowing – that was a good sign. Before the top of my head blew off, a back hoe started ambling up our road tossing snow off the middle of the street. Note, I said back hoe not a plow. He made a narrow path up the center of the road. We – OK not WE – Jack dug us to the center. We got in the car and wondered what we would find. Again, the state highway was pristine. The views were fabulous and since Benevento is at a much lower altitude it was an easy snowless drive.

Clean Highway and Luscious View

Later that afternoon when we got back to Pontelandolfo, we noted that the piazza still hadn’t been cleared and the sidewalks were awful. I asked about that and found out that building owners don’t have to clean in front of their buildings. So, obviously they don’t. Store owners only shoveled the boots width necessary to get into their shops. Don’t ya think it is time for a new piece of local legislation? The cobblestone piazza isn’t plowed, I investigated and discovered, one can’t plow on cobblestone – how about a snow blower or a shovel??? I don’t know the science but couldn’t they at least spread salt??? I do understand not plowing local mountain roads until it absolutely stops snowing – fiscal constraints and all that. BLEH, I really don’t but questa è la nostra vita.

There are somethings towns in Southern Italy do well. There are other things – not so well. The snow – well now I know – when you get the alert make sure you have heating fuel, food and lots of booze in the house. Jack just read this and pointed out – we did get wherever we needed to go. Get over it. Take a breath, look at the snow capped mountains and sigh at the beauty. Questa è Italia!

Ci vediamo!

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“But What Do You Do”

If during my stay in Italy, I had a nickel for everyone who has asked me, but seriously what do you do everyday? I’d be able to fly first class. When I’m feeling snarky I quip back, live, put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking. When the nice Midge is available, she might actually describe a day. This morning nice Midge egged on the writing.

Typical day – dash out a comment when you realize your days are equally exciting.

7:30 errrr, groan I got up because my phone reminded me I had a date with our personal trainer.

7:45 Checked e-mail. (Just like you do.) Saw one from my USA Italian teacher, Marina, she was concerned that I may have felt the earthquake that rocked nearby towns. Yesterday, when the earthquake was quaking, it was an Italian holiday. We were having lunch with a group of pals when our host’s phone rang. Her cousin called to see if she was OK. We didn’t know there had been a nearby earthquake. Now, we had been drinking a wee bit of wine but we didn’t feel a thing. We were lucky it was not closer to home. I let Marina know we were fine. The rest of the e-mails could wait.

8:15 I stare into the refrigerator waiting for breakfast to fly into my mouth. Put the kettle on for tea and made an egg and turkey sausage mess in a pot. It was yummy.

8:45 I tossed a load of laundry in the lavatrice. Yawn.

8:50 Jack and I walked out the door to an incredible sunny day. We both paused, stared at the mountains for a nanosecond and got in the car.

8:55 Arrive at the towns aging and almost roofless palestra. Got out of the car and stared at the valley. The views here never get old. For the very first time we both heard the river flowing below.

9:00 Texted our trainer we were there. (Questa è l’Italia.)

9:05 Walked through the dusty moldy basketball style aging gym to the training room.

10:05 Exited training room clutching my aching butt.

10:06 Got a text from the head of the library about what I needed for my middle school theatre class. I’m using theatre to reinforce English language skills and get a chance to keep my theatre chops active. Class starts Friday – do I plan now or …..

10:07 Responded that I just needed the door opened 1/2 hour before the class. (Remember questa è l’Italia.)

10:10 Got home, hung the laundry, poured a glass of water and thought, this is a fairly typical day. Did I mention that hanging the laundry means staring at a mountain range?

Put a second load of laundry in.

11:08 Opened Mango Italian Language Course on my iPad. Thanks to the Somerset County Library System this super good course is free. Whaaaat – I got something wrong. ERRRGGG. “Lontano – far and distante – far away”. Does it really matter which word I use???

Noon Jack left to do what only “mad dogs and Englishmen do in the noon day sun” – walk ! That means I make sure I have an extra battery for my phone and toss the worry beads in my purse. I drove down to the village. First stop – the covered market to get vegetables from the trucks. Rats! It’s Thursday. They don’t come on Thursday. Next stop – our local Conad – the tiny version. I dashed in, stood next to the display of vegetables and waited for the smiling cashier to come over, choose the veggies for me, weigh them and put them in a sack. €3 later I walked out with onions, zucchine, red pepper and a melon. (Prices like these are one of the reasons we live here.) The lady before me went to pay and was €5 short. If that had been me in the USA, I would have fainted dead away and prayed for someone I knew to revive me and give me the cash. Here the cashier laughed and said it bring it later!

12:30 Enter the writers room- OK – I don’t really have a writer’s room. I go to Bar Elimar on Piazza Roma, grab a pot of tea, and set up my IPad mini on an outdoor table. That is what I usually do. Today, my balls were bigger than normal. To sit in the shade, I put my drink on a table filled with men, dragged a chair over and said posso? They said sure and I sat and listened. The dialect still strains my ability to understand. But I tried. They all left 10 minutes later to go home for lunch. This is the perfect time of day for me to sit, stare at the piazza and try to toss a word or two around.

Afternoon

Made and ate salad for lunch.

Prepped dinner. Making Drunken Pork – pour red wine over a pork roast, toss in potatoes, carrots and onions and put on a very low flame. Done.

Worked on material for my first theatre class.

Worked on material for a meeting with one of our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo translators.

Met with translator.

Evening

Asked Jack if it was time to go to the piazza for an aperitivo. It was. We went. White wine for Jack Campari Spritz for me

Ate Drunken Pork – since we were a little loopy it was perfect.

Read a few more chapters in our Club di Libro book, Uomini o no.

Sipped scotch.

Wrote blog.

Buonanotte.

Our lives are just like your lives. We just live in the cool Sannio Hills of Southern Italy. You could live here too!

Ci vediamo!

You too can come to Pontelandolfo! Join us for Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events.

Every Day is a Great Day

This morning the buzzzzzzzz sang out on the lavatrice and my first thought was merde. My tea was piping hot and I haven’t finished my collezione. Why did I toss the clothes in the washer before breakfast! Now,if I didn’t take the clothes out of the washer they’d be a wrinkled mess. I went to the washing machine, plopped the clothes in the basket, hipped the door open and headed out to the line. The clothes line faces a mountain that was as green as green could be. I took a breath of clean mountain air, started hanging the clothes, looked up at the sky and said, thank you for this.

My next morning chore was to take a shirt back to the lavanderia. Jack is very particular and only wears cotton dress shirts. Yesterday, when I picked up his shirts one of them wasn’t cotton and definitely wasn’t his. What a drag. (Insert sad face.) Now… (Insert Sigh Sound.) I have to drive back to the next town. Grumbling about why couldn’t Jack speak enough Italian to take his own shirt back, I buckled up and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later, I took an even bigger breath – the village of Morcone was a swath of color oozing down a mountain side. The drive there was spectacular. A blue sky over the reservoir, mountains bursting with color, farmers cleaning around their olive trees – how could anyone be pissy surrounded by such amazing beauty.

The entrepreneurial young woman who opened the lavanderia was all smiles and happy to find the right shirt. As a matter of fact every shop I went into this morning was a happy place. What makes it even more special is that everyone knows my name. Living in a teeny tiny village next to a slightly bigger village – making that village just plain tiny – means that in a nano-second everyone knows everyone else. It is kind of special.

Every day, I’ve learned to say thank you to God, Goddesses and the Universe. Cause – no matter what – when you live in the Sannio Hills of Southern Italy- every day is a great day.

Ci vediamo!

Not to late to sign up for 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!

La Torre Mini Market

What? Has Midge gone daft? Is she writing a story about a grocery store – a mini market?  You can bet your pjeeeze I am!  La Torre Mini Market is the creation of a young married couple – Luigi Silvestri and Mariavittoria Stringile.

It is energizing to see young people get in touch with their entrepreneurial spirits and take the idea of alimentari to a new level.  Before they opened, they did something I am so impressed with.  They sat down with Pierino Di Angeles who had the Alimentari that I adored and asked her where she used to buy  her out of this world mortadella !  I bet they asked her other well founded questions too.

This little grocery store and deli – with the stress on the deli – not only carries all the stuff you need but ran out of just as you needed it.  But also stocks things that are a wee bit exotic like – truffle oil, goat’s milk, unusual spices and baked goods including real dark  – think those old Brooklyn bakeries – healthy rye bread!


The deli meats never looked dried out and dying in the case.  Salamis, prosciutto crudo or cotto, tacchino, all have been noshed on in our house to great satisfaction.  Even though we enjoy going to the local Caseficio – place that makes cheese – for our cheese quotas,  I’m glad to see that Luigi and Maria Vittoria stock mozzarella di buffalo made a wee bit up the road. l Casolare di Alvignano has won the 2016 “Oscar” for best mozzarella in Italy.

I asked them why they decided to take the plunge and work 24 hours a day building a little mom and pop community store.  Mariavittoria explained that her family moved to Germany and she and Luigi could have gone there to look for work.  Something held them back – their absolute love for Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfese!   They chose to open a mini-market because they realized that after Pierina retired, there was no place in the historic center to buy what she used to sell.  They wanted to fill that void.

They more than fill the void!  I was super impressed during Pontelandolfo’s August week-long Festa  to see them open almost 24 hours a day.  They put a table in their doorway and sold canned beverages and panini to late night revelers.  Daily, construction workers dash in to pick up sandwiches to carry for lunch.  Frantic Midge runs in – because no one else is open on Sunday – to see what she can route up for Sunday pranza.

The couple have a son and are expecting another member of the family this winter.  Soon two little tykes will be running around and asking if I want some delicious mortadella!

Ci vediamo!