The fabulous folks at read furiously sent me this today!
It is hard to believe that just a year ago my first book of stories from Pontelandolfo was accepted by a publisher, printed, distributed and in many of your hands. I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for taking this roller coaster ride with me. Not only have many of you bought the book, but you have come to readings, sent me photos holding the book and dashed off notes thanking me for causing you lips to creep up into a smile and laughter to bubble up from your diaphragm. Mille Grazie!
Wowza! Bravi for sharing! ( I really need to make a video that features all of your pictures!) Each and everyone of you have found your way into my heart. Thank you for all your support. Wait for it – here it comes – the pitch as only our Midge can do it.
It is not too late to get on the humor train and join these happy folks by getting your own copy of “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.” They make a great gift and can be ordered Wherever books are sold.
Someone asked me the other day “What’s next for this book?” Well – my favorite next dream would be if Fiat’s marketing department would call and say – “Hey, this funny book is all about Fiats in Italy! Why don’t we give one to every new Fiat owner and have you tour Fiat dealers telling your funny tales.” Anybody know anyone at Fiat??? Of course the next biggest fantasy would be the book turning into a limit series on Apple TV!
Again, much love to all of you. Thank you for a fantastic year. Keep on traveling, share your stories and most importantly giggle daily.
Sigh… Midge and Jack succumbed to the evil Covid. Beh. Cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze. Now, no need to feel sorry for us. I truly enjoyed laying on the couch for seven days and binge watching Tehran on Apple TV. Sleeping until noon wasn’t so bad either. We are both finally rejoining the living, but won’t be leaving the house until we take a second Tampone Nasofaringeo Covid test.
How did we get it you ask? Well, we went on vacation. I know, I know, being retired and living in Italy is like one long vacation. Think of this as a vacation from vacationing. Or as my pal Marjorie put it, “You staycation all year and this is your going away vacation.” We had booked a Viking River Cruise that would glide us along the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland. Amsterdam – damp, cold rainy Amsterdam. I know the exact second and place in Amsterdam that I gobbled up a bunch of Covid flying germs. The – they really need new administrators – Ann Frank House was the place. We had reserved time slots to visit the Ann Frank House. It was raining. There was a freakin’ long queue outside the Museum/House. We were soaking wet. My mask was soaking wet. My brain was soaking wet and wanted to ring dry whoever the programming administrator at the museum was that over booked time slots. Excuse me, the place is small and you sold enough timed tickets to fill the coliseum. We squeezed into the place – masked – and really enjoyed the museum portion of the exhibition. As we climbed the steep cramped stairs to the upper levels, I started to panic. They can’t be putting all these people into smaller and smaller spaces. Oh yes, they could. I pulled my mask down only once – to breathe after climbing a flight of stairs. Only for two minutes. That was all it took for the evil flying vermin to pounce on my lungs. Have I mentioned that masks were not required. I saw about 4 out of the crush of people wearing masks. (I do not know if what you just read is true. I cannot confirm or deny this is the place I caught Covid. The above paragraph was based on my Italian woo woo insights.)
We spent two more rainy masked days in Amsterdam before hitting the river. The Viking “longboat” only had about 160 passengers. We never sat with other people. Didn’t go to the main crowded dining room and were definitely cautious. Views along the river were great. Food and booze were great. Laughing with Sue and Phil, the couple we went with was great.
ALERT, ALERT, RING, DING, SIREN OOOOO. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “Based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses in studies investigating infections with ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2, the incubation period of COVID-19 is, on average, five to six days, with most studies reporting a range of two to 14 days.” I woke up on day 4 of the cruise and went right back to bed. (Notice how average I am – six bleeding days it took for the nasties to turn me into yuck.). I didn’t even think about Covid. Having had two severe cases of Lyme disease, I thought I was having a Lyme reoccurrence. My muscles didn’t want to work and I was incredibly weak. Blah, blah, blah, you don’t need to hear the whole gruesome story. Anyway, I only thought about Covid when I started coughing. That was in the airport flying back to Naples. I double masked and hoped for the best.
Back in Pontelandolfo, we immediately went to the pharmacy and got tested. We both tested positive for covid. What? How could Jack be positive? He doesn’t even have a sneeze happening. Pharmacist, Marco Perone, entered us into the system and printed out our, YOU BETTER QUARANTINE FOR A MINIMUM OF 5 DAYS OR GET A TIME OUT, certificates. Hiding our faces from the world we rushed home. Yes, once in the system the local police can really check on you. Besides that, we didn’t want anyone we knew – which is the whole village – getting sick.
We had been away from home for about 12 days. The refrigerator was empty. We looked at each other. Jack sighed. I had a coughing fit, recovered and went into “feed us please” action. The snarky readers out there will read what follows, guffaw and think, you can easily order food in New Jersey too. Supermarkets deliver. Restaurants deliver. Getting delivery is no big deal. Hey snarky – Do they also think for you????
My first text was to Luigi, co- owner of Mini Market La Torre. Think well stocked deli. My list was eggs, milk, bread, water, lunchmeat and wine and whine – I couldn’t think. Lunchmeat – they know us. They know I buy 200 grams each of mortadella, tacchino, e prosciutto motto. I didn’t have to think. Luigi tossed other stuff we would need in the bag. I snuck out side and put a Tupperware container with a bunch of money in it on our outdoor table. He left his store, ran over and put the bag of goodies on the table. Then he routed around the Tupperware and took what it cost.
Vegetables. We need vegetables. Fresh, green and full of antioxidants too. Text number two went to Nicole, owner of Fresh Fruit. Nicole gets up most mornings at 4:00 AM and heads to the fruit and vegetable farmer’s market near Naples. My text to her was briefer – green vegetables, fruit, onions and ???. She too appeared with a bag stuffed with green, yellow and I don’t remember fresh stuff. Nicole exchanged a receipt for cash in the Tupperware box.
Watching her, I started giggling. For years, I would go to farms, put money in a box and take eggs or produce. This is kind of a reverse honor system. Leave money in the box for someone to take and they leave you stuff.
How could we go a week without meat from Marcelleria Mancini? To butcher extraordinary, Stefano, my text was steak, chopped meat, chicken and some kind of interesting cheese. We ugly Americans eat more meat than we should. His other customers get one chicken breast thin sliced into cutlets for ten people. He knew better and two giant chicken legs and breasts arrived. With all the garlic and onions from Nicole, chicken soup was happening. He cut us two thick and scrumptious steaks. Enough for two meals. The cheese was a creamy and yummy caciocavallo – you know horse’s balls – from a local caseificio – cheese maker. Stefano didn’t rummage in the Tupperware box. He had stapled a bill to the bag and said pay me when you are better.
Pay me when you are better??? Would ShopRite at Home say “pay me when you are better?”
Speaking of texts. I texted our primary care physician, Doctor Palumbo. He replied instantly with what meds we needed to buy and what we should be doing. The first person to pick up meds for us was Nicola, our good friend and neighbor. A few days later I texted Dr. Palumbo again – I was worried about Jack’s oxygen saturation. More meds and a new text to my precious cousin Carmella. Vroom she was off and running to the Pharmacy. Yeah, yeah, CVS delivers but does the pharmacist call you and say, ” How are you two? Call if you need us.”
Since I didn’t want folks here to think we were ignoring them, I posted on FaceBook that we were Covid positive and in quarantine. Folks had not only wished us well via replies on my FaceBook post but hit other electric highways as well. I was too tired to answer my phone but I did look at the messages. Many of them came from my Pontelandolfo neighbors. “Call if you need anything.” “Can I do anything.” Those thoughts were said a variety of ways with funny or serious emojis. Those messages kept our spirits up. Thanks Carmella via Michelle for getting us that much yearned for loaf of bread! Thank you to Jersey Girl Kathy for daily checking on us too.
For the past ten years I have touted the joys and love we find in our small Southern Italian village. Pontelandolfo may not have Grubhub, Doordash or Uber Eats but damn, it has love. Lots of love. Grazie mille a tutti.
Midge PS. So excited! I will soon be in NJ and PA doing readings from my book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos! Come laugh with me!
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Or in this case a cinghiale – wild boar – with tusks. With the horse, the proverb meant – don’t start looking at his teeth to see how old it is. With the wild boar – I didn’t give a tinker’s damn how old it was as long as I can cook it. (Notice I slipped in another anachronistic saying. I’m in a literary frame of mind.) Wild boar is one of my favorite carnivoristic treats. (I just made the word up.) What is she rambling on and on about? Anybody heard from Jack? He needs to make her a martini.
I had a great day! A pal who is an ace hunter brought me a precious gift. Il collo parte del corpo del un cinghiale! The huge neck of a wild boar, cut up into precious meaty neck bones. Determined to make a sugo that would make my nonna proud, I went to work. Did I know what I was doing? I didn’t have a clue. When one doesn’t have a clue, it makes sense to ask a professional. Our local butcher, who makes great porta via, take away and cook at home pre-spiced and prepped meats, was just the person to ask. I asked him how to cook this monster neck. He looked at me quizicaly. “Do you really think you will like it?” I know I will like it. Every time I eat cinghiale at someone’s home or in a restaurant, I adore it, love it, want more of it.
Cripes, some of you are now sobbing for the poor wild boar whose life ended so abruptly. Here is the reality. Cinghiale are now becoming so prevalent that they are traveling through the streets of Rome waiting to take a bite out of a vegan tourist. The poor member of the pig family are mean buggers and seem to love to chase you off your own property. They no longer have many natural predators – I haven’t a clue why – and are over running Italy. My Texas cousins just told me they have the same problem there! If it were up to me, entrepreneurial young hunters would work out a deal with the country to hunt them, create great sausages, dried meats and meals with them and sell them to folks like me. Or if being benevolent, give the meat to the poor.
OK, we no longer feel badly. This particular cinghiale was observed harassing a family’s dogs, cats and young children. Now his neck is mine to cook. I was told, and being an A type personality, also read at The NY Times Food website, that I must marinate the boar in red wine and mirepoix. (That is a very fancy word that I always forget and ask my chef friend Kathy for. )
I chopped up in my food processor a very large onion, two fat carrots, two stalks of celery and celery greens – mirepoix. Into the largest stainless steel bowl I had that would fit in the now empty refrigerator went two bottles of really cheap local red wine and the mirepoix. (Actually, Annarita and Jack drank some of the wine and said it wasn’t bad. It cost €1, so a buck a bottle and not bad is a good deal. No one told me to fine chop the vegetables but it made sense to me.) I stirred it, added fresh ground salt and pepper to the mix and pored it gently over the cinghiale waiting to bath in another equally large stainless steel bowl. Why did she use a stainless steel bowl, you ask? My grandmother used stainless steel bowls for everything. There must be a reason. If you know, please leave a comment. The very drunk refrigerated boar languished in the marinade for about 14 hours.
The next day, I rough chopped onions and garlic. This was tossed in EVO – local olive oil of course – and sautéed. Wait, I forgot a step. The butcher said brown the bones first in a separate frying pan. Brown them until there was no liquid coming out of them. This really happened. Maybe wild boar drink a lot of water or like sponges soak up the wine. It took a while to brown them and a lot of liquid was released. When it stopped running, I added them to the big sauce pot and sort of browned them again with the onions and garlic.
Looking at all that red wine, rich with blended mirepoix, I had an epiphany – that was quickly collaborated by The NY Times cooking app. I tossed some of the wine blend into the pot and continued to turn the meat filled neck bones until that liquid had dissipated. then I just started making my grandmother’s sauce.
Yes, sauce – rich tomato sauce. In Flagtown, New Jersey it was sugo – sauce. (In case “gravy” insisters look it up on Word Reference, sugo also means gravy made with drippings from meat – NOT SPAGHETTI SAUCE.)
After cutting my hand manually smashing a can of peeled whole tomatoes into a mush, I tossed them in the pot. Not my hands, the squished tomatoes. Don’t worry, I switched hands and bled on the side until the tomatoes were in the pot. I used two giant cans of whole tomatoes, two big bottles of plain tomato sauce, and three normal sized cans of crushed tomatoes. As my grandmother did, I rinsed out each can with about a half of can of water and tossed that water in the pot too. Boing, it hit me – I had been saving the rinds from the great local cheese. Why not throw that in too? So I did. Also floating in the pot was diced basil, oregano, salt, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and a big handful of fresh parsley. In honor of my Aunt Cat, I didn’t chop it up. She always left it untied and whole.
The enormous pot simmered on the stove for approximately 6 hours. I cooked it until the meat was falling off the bones. The odor wafting through the house made me sing, dance and think about a play based on spaghetti sauce. When I couldn’t stand waiting another nano-second. I turned off the flame and using a spider – not the insect – that basket thing on a long handle – pulled up all the bones. To visually enjoy these delicious morsels, I gently laid the succulent meat encrusted bones on a white platter.
Waited four minutes and then burnt my fingers pulling the meat off the bones. YUMMMMY! The meat now shredded, I set aside to top the pasta.
Time for a reward! The spider crawled back into the sauce pot and retrieved the parsley! Like my Aunt Cat, I ate each green piece reverently and with joy! Parsley’s vitamin K is important because it helps blood to clot so my cut finger would stop dripping and contributes to bone health. Ironic hey? I’ll be eating those boar bones next.
I can honestly say, this was the best sauce that I have ever made. There are no pictures of the tagliatelle pasta doused in sauce and topped with strips of meat. There are definitely no pictures of my guests smiling as they slowly chewed, tasted and sighed. I always remember the picture after we have scoffed down everything on the table. If you can’t get wild boar, think pork neck bones! Enjoy.
We have only been back for a few days and the larder was more than bare. Thursdays the shops are only open half a day so I was up at dawn – well, 8:00 – to start foraging. Not being totally insane my first stop was Bar Elimar for a cappuccino and brioche.
Dov’è Jack? Where’s Jack? Repeated the chorus at the bar.
Let us get the “where’s Jack” part of the story over. Cripes, without Jack at my side I am chopped liver. After my coffee, I went to the hardware store. “Where’s Jack?”. Next I stopped at Conad, our little local supermarket. “You’re solo today? Where’s Jack?” The fruits and vegetable store, the place to buy agricultural stuff, the butcher. “Dov’è Jack!” I have that phrase memorized. Thank you merry questioners for today’s basic lesson in how important Jack is to the village. Well, I always knew that, but it was kind of cool to have it reinforced. He is the smiling part of this couple. Actually, the queries about Jack reinforce today’s theme. Shopping is social.
The check out people at the super supermarkets where I shop in New Jersey smile and are courteous but never ask me “where’s Jack?” No one leans over the counter or comes around the counter just to gossip about the weather, life or what is happening in the world.
Today’s foraging had me socially interacting, entertained and paying prices that were so low that I had a hard time not saying they were a mistake. At the Ferramenta, hardware store, the owner and I had a nice chat while he spent time adjusting, cleaning and putting a battery in the remote control for our giant electric gate. We talked about a friends cruise, laughed at the electrical tape that held my remote together, and spent time as neighbors. Repaired remote plus battery – €1.50.
Next stop, Fresh Fruits, for incredible Italian oranges, lettuce, cucumbers, red onions, peppers and I don’t know what else I spent €5.50. Nicola, The young woman who owns the store is always working alone, spends time chatting with each customer and puts a smile on my face.
Jack calls Conad, “the supermarket that time forgot.” Actually, if you didn’t know it was hidden down an alley you wouldn’t know it was there. No sign, not a flag, nothing, niente to let you know it exists. Trucks are constantly unloading supplies for this tiny full service grocery store. It may not have a sign but the three women who work there, make the experience so pleasant that people visit once a day. Imagine, the manager today asked me if I wanted “un buon caffè.” She was going to make me a coffee. I spent about €50 but bought three bottles of Prosecco, a bottle of Jack Daniels, butter, eggs, tuna, canned tomatoes – three bags full of stuff. After dragging the stuff to the car, I was off to the baker, agricultural store and butcher. Each place made me feel like family.
My last stop was a tiny little wooden building in neighboring Morcone. Pecorino Del Sannio only makes and sells cheeses made with sheep’s milk. I had only been there twice four months ago and yet the owner asked,”How did my cheese carry to New Jersey?” We tasted her latest creation, lemon flavored sheep’s milk aged cheese soaked in Aglianico ( a red local wine.) Delish. I bought a hunk. I wanted my cousin Carmella to try the cheese so I bought her a pound. Then I bought a lot more. Before I got the bill she asked if I wanted to taste her sweets. Who could say no? She then proceeded to gift me a huge pecora ricotta and pistachio dessert. This enjoyable outing cost me €31.
To some, shopping in small shops on a daily basis may seem like a throwback to 1950. It may be, or it may be that a life style that rewards conversation, personal service and inclusion is worth keeping.
Ten years is a long gestation period. I hate to admit it to you my favorite blog readers, but, some of the stories in my baby I started working on ten years ago. Maybe they weren’t on the page but they were circling my brain. Pinging and panging and causing my fingers to hover over the keyboard and then WHAM start typing. It is because of each of you that this book is now on bookstore shelves. Thank you. Why? Can we be truthful?
Ten years ago, we sold my family’s Flagtown farmette. Got rid of all of our furniture, cars, books, pots and pans. Took a deep breath and came to Pontelandolfo. After one week of La Dolce Vita, I thought I would poke out my eyes and rent my garb. I need to work! Sitting idly, sipping Prosecco and chatting in the piazza is great – for an hour. I need to work! Someone asked if the energizer bunny felt threatened by me. I need to work. But what would I do here in the Sannio Hills? I volunteered in the school, organized arts events but – what was I doing for my creative spirit? That is where you came in. I decided to start a blog that would – a. be sort of a journal for me. b. be a way to promote my new village and c. give me deadlines!
Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos grew out of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree. Some of you will recognize a few of the tales. They have been expanded and humorized! Your audience for my ramblings made this book possible. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Read Furiously is a great publisher and I am so thankful that they decided to have me join their library of publications and make even more stories available to you. Grazie mille a tutti!
Those of you who already bought the book – I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Those of you who are going to buy it tomorrow – DITTO. Oh, where can you buy it? Wherever books are sold. On line, in person – you may have to order it. Your local bookstore will love you if you go in and buy it there. I will love you if they would like me to do a reading!
Speaking of readings. The world is a small place. Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live makes it easy for me to visit your book club, library, store from anywhere in the world. Think about it! Have award winning acting skills and will travel – digitally anywhere.
Enjoy my travel memoir meets tour guide book! Have I told you yet today that I love you? Well, I do. Vi amo!
The wind is howling outside the house. It has been battering the windows, the walls and the tiles on the roof since Wednesday night. Today is Friday. It seems to be getting stronger and stronger. Now I understand why giant rocks purposefully sit on so many tile roofs. It is incredible to me that our house doesn’t move. Not one shimmy, shake or shuffle. The force of this wind feels almost like the hurricanes of New Jersey. There, I would feel our wooden house tremble and I would hear the shutters rattle. Here, I hear nothing but the wind. It is screeching around us. Leaves, nuts and fruits are flying off the trees. Hmm, I wonder if the olives and grapes are OK?
I’m not quite sure why I feel compelled to write about the wind. It’s keeping me inside in a way that the snow or the rain never did. But simply walking from our house to the attached house next door was more than my body wanted to handle. It’s interesting how the weather here has an impact on our lives. I guess I could be watching television. Oh no, the wind is jiggling the antenna on the roof. I guess I could be on the internet researching where to pitch another play. Oh no the wind is dancing with the big Internet dish on the balconey.
I keep thinking of the three little pigs and I’m so glad that we lucked into a house made not of brick, but stone. Not just some pretty decorative stone, giant rocks stacked into two-foot-thick walls. The rock bones of the house go back generations and have withstood earthquakes.
Apparently, in the town center the wind wreaked havoc on businesses. Doors were smacking you as you tried to open them. Car doors flapped like eagle wings. Yesterday, we heard that the elementary school kids could barely make it from their parent’s cars into the building. Jack asked did they crawl? I thought perhaps they tied them together with ropes and dragged them in! In reality, children clung to parents and like hearty hill people wouldn’t let the wind keep them home.
Not being a hearty hill person, I chose not to leave the house on Thursday or Friday. Not to go to the piazza, not to go to the butcher, vegetable store, and not go to visit a soul. I was waiting for the wind god to get tired of puffing his cheeks out.
Listening to wind that sounded like huge waves pounding the New Jersey Shore, I shuddered and got comfortable with an Elizabeth George, Detective Linley book. Just as Linley was finally going to propose to Lady Helen, the unlocked interior connecting door between the houses crashed open. In burst next door neighbor, Zia Vittoria carrying a huge tray. She has a hurricane force personality. During yesterday and today’s windstorm I sat, read a book, and stared out the windows at the dancing trees. During yesterday’s windstorm my neighbor made taralli (round breadsticks.) Then she got bored and made a stuffed bread with broccoli. The wind was still blowing so she made another sweet bread. She became a whirling kitchen dervish. Obviously, she couldn’t eat it all so she burst into our half of the building to share the carbs. I was happy to see her and gave her a hug. The wind was making her feel a wee bit lonely, she said, and cooking and cleaning kept her sane.
Why is the wind forcing me to sit in a chair all day? What is it about the sound that makes me want to bury myself in blankets and do nothing? One would think the energy of the wind would pump me up and send to the kitchen or computer or close that needs cleaning. But no. The wind sent me to a book to read and an early drink to drink.
The lights started flickering. The digital clock on the oven when berserk. Darkness. Light. Darkness. Light. The electricity went in and out until it tired of toying with us and stayed out. Jack played with the breaker box. Nada. I went next door and Zia Vittoria was in darkness too. Hmm, was it just our house? What if my iPad runs out of battery – what will I read? Thanks to functioning cellular towers – they must be made of real sturdy mountain material – WhatsApp messages raced from house to house! No one on my street – which wends it way in a circle though the hillside – had power. I dashed out a message to pals Mariann and Jeff further up into the hillside. Nope, senza corrente there too. Emojis flicked back and forth around the hills even if the lights couldn’t. The power did return and I decided to be productive. Hence, today’s little tale.
In honor of my husband’s heritage- An Irish Blessing – May the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face…
Hmm, is Midge telling a big bugia? Her “First” big Italian Wedding – doesn’t her sister’s wedding – replete with major politicians – count? How about nephew Joey’s – taking place in a New Jersey palace? If we are concerned about the truth here – how about her “simple wedding” to Jack. The ceremony featured ballerinas and a harpist? Stop! It is absolutely the truth – Midge and Jack went to their First Big Italian Wedding in Italy! For tradition, glamour and length, being at an Italian family wedding in Italy tops all those others.
I thought it would be fun to glide over those things that are the same and talk about the differences between the weddings I’ve witnessed before and this one. Let’s start with the invitations. In today’s frenetic USA world, save the date notices are often sent out a year before the wedding. Here in Pontelandolfo, no one is notified until one month before the wedding – after Il Promesso – I told you about that a month ago. That “Promise” is the contract to really truly get married. A few days after it, the bride and groom hand carry the invitations to everyone within driving distance. Giusy did e-mail invitations a wee bit in advance to the United States. I bet Antonio did the same thing for relatives who live far away. How incredibly personal! The invitations were printed on a natural fiber that was imbedded with wild flower seeds. After the wedding, invitees were encouraged to plant the invitations. They had witnessed the love between Giusy and Antonio bloom and next spring would watch the flowers blossom.
About two weeks before the big day, I couldn’t understand why my cousin Carmella was frantically calling a caterer, cleaning and perking up her house. I figured an incredible venue had been booked why stock food for the masses at the house? Tradition. The morning of the wedding the bride’s family – which included me – was expected to show up at the bride’s home, eat a bit and celebrate la sposa. Ladies, imagine, the day of your wedding a bunch of family members happily visiting you as you tweaked your make up?
A week before the wedding – we ladies did what women around the world do. We dragged the giggling Giusy away for a day with the ladies. We went to a fabulous spa, Fonte del Bennesere Resort in Castelpetroso.
That final week before the wedding, the push was on to finish all of the guest gifts. Groom, Antonio De Michele raises bees and produces some of the finest honey in the area. Giusy and Antonio – with the help of family – bottled 200 small jars of Antonio’s honey, decorated and boxed it. Seating charts always take time to figure out. The design was a no brainer – honeycombs! Each table had a name and all guests were listed in bee hives. Check. Two jobs done. Then came the work on the love phrases. Yes, love phrases – Giusy and Antonio researched and chose quotes that dealt with good relationships by famous authors. Each guest found the gentle love reminder at their place. “Salutarsi è una pena così dolce che ti direi addio fio a domani.” William Shakespeare. (Saying goodbye is such a sweet pain that I would say goodbye until tomorrow.)
Knowing that party was going to go on into the wee hours, Jack and I decided to do an advance trip to the venue and see if slightly drunk/tired we would be able to find our way home. We followed the GPS round and round hill top roads to Villa Clodia in Pago Veiano (BN). The majestic wedding palace is in the middle of nowhere on roads that this lady in her third act didn’t want to navigate at night. We booked a B&B down the road.
Wedding gifts in Pontelandolfo seem to always be in cash. There are no bridal registries. No one ships silver or crystal to the bride to be. The cash is also a set amount per person. I kept asking about this and heard the same amount and same story from numerous people. Couples use the gifts to pay for the elaborate wedding parties. Some misanthropes, I’m told, make sure the cash is in small bills in the “busta.” If they don’t feel they are getting bang for their bucks at the reception, they pull out some of the euros. I’m not making this up – really – more than one person told me. The opposite is also true. Annarita told me she and Emanuele went to a wedding that was so opulent they opened their gift envelope and stuck in an extra euros.
Wedding day was finally here. Hair dressers, make-up artists, videographers, photographers and Jack and I all paid a visit to Giusy and the Mancini family at home. This tradition of the extended family seeing the bride off from her home is very sweet. The house was festooned with flowers, tulle and camera boxes. Everyone was smiling and laughing as the video and photography team managed the show. Hmm, were we dress extras?
Time for the church! The mass was scheduled for 11:00 AM. A morning event, I discovered, doesn’t necessarily mean one dresses in a tea length dress and pearls – like I did. There were women arriving at the church in bejeweled evening wear. I will admit, I felt correct in my navy blue silk. Equally sure that the gorgeous women in floor length finery felt equally correct. The exterior of the church was decorated by Nicola Ciarlo and really set the stage. Speaking of stage – there was a drone flying over head videotaping our arrivals.
Applause! This hit me as something I hadn’t seen in the USA. Led by the priest, the audience was encouraged to applaud for the bride and groom not just at the end of the service but three or four times during the service. I love it! Applause was a mainstay later at the reception too.
We dashed off after the mass to La Vecchia Fattoria, the B&B we booked. The rooms were clean and utilitarian – if you like youth hostels. The place was country-set beautiful and we found the parking lots packed. Turns out it an agriturismo with a stellar reputation for lunch. We landed in foodie heaven! Leaving our bags, we drove the three minutes to Villa Clodia. First step, proof of vaccine. Second step, fill out the contact form. Third step, join our “hive” of friends at a table for 8 under a giant pergola. The cocktail hour was glamorous. Uniformed waitstaff flowed between tables pouring Prosecco and tempting us with small plates of everything from seafood to rice balls. Knowing that a multi course meal was scheduled, I held off and only tasted a bite or two. Yumm.
The wedding was a moving feast. The next stage was the grand ballroom. The couple did something very clever. Each table entered the foyer to the ballroom as a group. They were then placed by the photographer around the bride and groom for a photo. That insured that every guest was in a shot with the stars of the show. A three piece combo was set up in the corner of the ballroom. We found our hive and began our 6 hour – or was it 7 hour – feast. No one was dancing. We were told due to COVID dancing was not encouraged. Applause was encouraged by the band. Applaud the grandparents. Eat a new course. Applaud the parents. Eat a new course. Applaud the sibling. Eat a new course. Thanks the goddesses for the energy expended applauding. It freed up space in our filling stomachs. Actually, the applause was heartfelt and fun. After the second or third Primi Piatti, the bride and groom did their first dance. When the parents and grandparents were encouraged to join them, Jack and I snuck in. Hell, we are old enough to be their grandparents.
There were fairly long periods of time between courses – I counted 14 courses but could be wrong. People would go outside and sit on the well appointed terrace and amble back just as waiters scurried about with the next course. After the fruit course, which – groan- we realized was probably the last, I went to the ladies room. Sadly, I was there for a while. When I got back, the grand ballroom was empty. Not a guest. Not a waiter. Not a band member. No one except Jack. He didn’t know where everyone went. I sure as heck, not having been in the room, had a clue where all the people were. We walked out of the ball room to the upper terrace and didn’t see a soul. We left. WHAT A COLOSSAL MISTAKE!
The party had apparently moved to the lower level of the property. Tables were set poolside. Waiters ported huge trays filled with glorious pastries from table to table. Prosecco was poured. After dinner drinks and coffee were available. Music filled the late night air. The couple cut the enormous wedding cake – actually it was a faux cake and they just pretended. During Covid, buffets and touching the cake are off limits. Individual tiramisus made there way to each guest. Then the scent of grilling meats filled the air. An after the party, party of more food was about to begin. WE MISSED IT ALL. The next day in the piazza, I was chastised by a friend for not saying goodbye to anyone and just leaving. That is when I discovered what we had missed. I felt incredibly stupid for not understanding or asking in advance what the usual protocol was. Sorry for leaving my First Big Italian Wedding before it was over.
Who knew?! I sure didn’t know I could slice, dice, and shred zucchini and toss it in the freezer. No hot stove and a pot of boiling water for blanching. No standing over a pot of steaming stuff with sweat pouring down my neck. All I needed was some local advice – grazie Carmella and Zia Vittoria.
The fields were laden with zucchini. In the morning the orange/yellow zucchini flowers would open to entertain the local bees. The color was almost as appealing as the yummy fried stuffed with mozzarella zucchini blossoms we have eaten all summer. Problem. How many fried zucchini blossoms could one person eat before succumbing to death by gluttany? Solution. Freeze the flowers to use with pasta, stuff a ravioli or add color and flavor to rice. Freezing the flowers took soooo much work. I don’t know if I should share the process, it may be taxing.
Wash blossoms – I picked them with clean hands from a chemical free garden. I just tossed them in cold water for a bit.
Drain and let blossoms dry thoroughly. I actually patted the babies dry with paper towels.
Toss in freezer bags.
Put in freezer
Have a glass of prosecco to celebrate.
Carmella told me to make a simple pasta sauce by sautéing onion in olive oil then adding shredded zucchini and chopped zucchini blossoms. Some salt, pepper and grated pecorino cheese rounded out the dish. This was a great way to use up two zucchini and about 8 blossoms but what about the rest?
You can shred and freeze the zucchini! That is exactly what I did with about a third of my zucchini haul. Listening to the blues, I was bouncing and shredding. It went quickly. Soon the bags of shredded zucchini were in the freezer. Imagine a winter yen for zucchini bread and popping a bag out of the freezer. Brrr it is a cold December and you want to make zucchini fritters or “crab” cakes. Oh no, need to bring a quick dish to a party – zucchini frittata cut into bite sized squares. With a smile you will remember that the prep is already done.
I have also diced zucchini to use in soups and sliced zucchini to use in – well something or other. Those too went into bags and then into the freezer.
It is embarrassing to admit this. Please don’t tell anyone. We went out and bought a second refrigerator with a huge freezing compartment just so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about not using all the produce we got from Zia Vittoria. I love the freezer!
One day I went over to Zia Vittoria’s and found her in her work/canning kitchen frying up huge batches of something. I could smell the onions – who doesn’t love the smell of sautéed onions. Since the garden was also full of tomatoes, she was doing a quick sauté of onion, tomatoes and zucchini. She keeps saying “dura” hard. Then I got it. This was a flash plop in the olive oil and the vegetables were still crispy. She uses this mixture with pasta but I figure it is a quick side dish too.
I promptly went home and gathered up all the ingredients – did I mention a bunch of basil too. As speedily as you could say “chop-chop,” I cooked up a fast batch. When I would rather write than cook or rather have cocktail hour than cook – all I need to do is grab a bag. I freeze in tiny sandwich size bags that I thrust inside a big freezer bag – it really is just grab and go.
We are blessed to live in a place that is rich in fresh produce and friendly neighbors who love to share with us. I hope you are having a safe, healthy and farm to table summer! (Local farmers rock!)
PS. Great news to share – I just got a publishing contract with Read Furiously for my new collection of Pontelandolfo centered short stories. “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” will be out in 2020. Don’t fret – you all will be the first to know!