Mi Voglio Bene – I Love Myself

Sitting in the piazza on November 1st, my heart was full and tears slowly slid down my face. Across from my table, parked in Piazza Roma was a portable – fully operational – medical unit. They were here not because there was an earthquake or flood or any other tragedy. They were here to prevent the tragedy of families loosing wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to cancer. Cancers that can be cured or held in remission with adequate warning. This was a portable screening center for female centered cancers. Pap tests, mammograms and colon screening tests were available. The set up was in the piazza all day, from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The posters and social media posts all touted “ Campagna di Prevenzione Oncologica Gratuita.” This was a free health project of the Region of Campania. The medical unit was stopping in small towns all over the region. It was so simple for people to access this service. Women only had to call Pontelandolfo’s city hall to make an appointment for Pap tests or mammograms. The colon test kit was available by simply walking up and asking for it.

The sun was shining on the outdoor waiting area. From my seat, sipping my cappuccino I could hear “numero 25 mammografia.”The medical team welcomed people as they ventured near the area. I noticed that men have also gone in to pick up the colon cancer test.

 

The set up was slick. The front had video projections “Mi Voglio Bene” talking about each of the available tests. This campaign urging women to love themselves and get screening is fabulous. Imagine, something like this pulling into small towns all over America! Actually, I would love to imagine it but sadly I don’t know if it would ever happen. I mean, politicians don’t seem to give a tinker about women’s health issues and too many voters don’t understand the validity of universal healthcare.

Ima

I first found out about the testing center on FaceBook – which is the major news vehicle here. Later, the posters in stores, on walls and in the newspapers reminded me to find out what I was eligible for. At first, the snarky Midge giggled at the thought of joining a line of woman, without underpants, waiting for their internal exams and pap smears. Crude of me, I know. Then I started to think about my mom dying of breast cancer because the diagnosis was too late and I stopped giggling. I started appreciating what was happening not only in Pontelandolfo but all over Campania.

The – has to be invented by a mean man- mammogram machine has its own room.

 

When I first got to the piazza at 9:00 AM, there weren’t any people waiting for services. I was one of the first women up the steps. Everyone was warm and friendly. I stoped at the reception desk and jokingly said I knew I was too old for everything but a colon test. Why did they limit mammography to women between the ages of 50 to 69, I asked. Younger women get ultrasounds. Both tests are given if something is found on one. I always wondered why we don’t use ultrasounds more in the USA. Believing on earring on the side of caution, I have been know to tell a tale to get an ultrasound. My breasts are dense and since my mom died of breast cancer, I often come up with some strange complaint to get one.

Then, I asked about the other age restrictions. Just like the USA’s medicare and other insurances, the national health care system restricts tests based on some data or another. For a Pap test the age range is 25 to 64. Every year a I beg for a pap-test. Medicare doesn’t cover them for old ladies either. Don’t old women get utero cancer??? A mammography is available for women between the ages of 50 and 69. I was obviously too old for that too. Though, when I talked about my mother dying of breast cancer, I discovered that they of course make exceptions. The Colon Cancer Screening kit was for folks between 50 and 74. It was the only test I hadn’t aged out of. The receptionist, who was charming and answered all my questions, asked for my health card and phone number. She then, just like at the deli, she gave me a number. I’ve noticed that in Italy, numbers are given out in medical waiting rooms. As part of their privacy laws, the nurses can’t bellow “Guerrera.”

Is it my imagination or is the signage upside down?

My test — – Since I was the only one there, I didn’t really need the number. I was immediately ushered into a private room and asked for my particulars – name, address, phone number, my health insurance card had pulled up my residency and date of birth information. A second nurse came into the room and explained the test. Simple – take sample from – no I will not describe how to take a stool sample. The important thing was after the sample is in the glass holder, I had to take it to the analysis center in Morcone. I wondered why people couldn’t just run home, do what they had to do and bring the sample back to the portable center. Morcone is only five minutes away so it will be no big deal. If I don’t hear anything in ten days, the test was negative. I wish they would tell you either way. I think I’ll ask. 

Sadly, for the three hours I sat at Bar Elimar I didn’t see hordes of women going to the center. November 1st, Festa di Tutti i Santi – All Saints Day, and a national holiday so it should have been easy for people to come. They are constantly coming but there is not a surge or a long line. Gulp, I just remembered women made appointments! Perhaps they are staggered appropriately.

 For fun, when I got home I googled the ranking of the United States on health care issues. Every list I found from the World Health Organization to independent foundations ranked the USA – well not well. Never in the top 20. Just another reason to rethink the system of providing health care for not only women but all Americans.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge

 

My play, “E-mail: 9/12” is available at Next Stage Press

The 9/11 based play is perfect for a Book Club and a History Class.

In March “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” will be available from Read Furiously.

Thank you in advance for buying my play
and in March my book of short Italian stories.

 

My First Big Italian Wedding!

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.

Swirling water, super lunch and sex talk!
Nothing like a floating bar to keep the party happy.

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?

The house, family and of course Giusy all looked amazing.
Giusy looked like a movie star – or a princess. Beautiful.

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.

Groom, Antonio, zoomed up in a red Ferrari!

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.

The church with its gold alter is always a sight to behold. Festooned with flowers and tulle it was the perfect setting for a lovely wedding.
Antonio and Giusy are ready to lead a life of love. Jack and I wore matching navy. So did my cousin Carmela and her husband Mario – Giusy’s parents. We all look yummy.

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.

Ci vediamo,

Midge

Check out what launches October 1st!

The Art of Rito Ruggiero

Living in Pontelandolfo and blogging about our life, I am often sent questions. The most often asked is, “Just what do you do all day in a small Italian village.” When I’m feeling snarky, I tell folks, I walk to the well and pull up water and then hand wash our clothes in the stream. What I really do is leap into village life with both feet and get involved on lots of levels. Since my brain was pre-wired to love the visual and performing arts, I get involved with the arts here in Pontelandolfo too. Note the poster above. (Thank you Valerio Mancini for the graphic.) In two weeks, we are producing an art exhibit at my house! Talk about an up close and personal setting. It is open to the public. Who knows how many people will show up? I hope a lot. Now I am not thinking like the a member of the Medici family. These famous patrons of the arts often shared the work of their favorites with polite society. I don’t want to share Rito Ruggiero’s art. I want people to buy it and bring the fabulous pieces home. This is an art show and sale. Hmm, I am getting ahead of myself. We need the Who, What, Why and When. Let’s start with Who.

In 2018 as part of a weeklong festival of the arts, Rossella Mancini and I produced a huge art exhibit that featured the work of Pontelandolfo artists. It was during that crazed week that I was first introduced to the art of Rito Ruggiero. I was so impressed that I immediately put a “sold” sticker on one painting and took it home. It proudly hangs in our dining room. The work represents Pontelandolfo’s past.

Ooops – my reflection in the glass. Yes, we have stone walls..

Rito tells me, that since he was a boy, he as been passionate about the arts –  especially  painting. A visit to his home confirms that. A table is set up in his studio filled with supplies designed to entice his grandchildren to share his love for painting. Hanging upstairs in his dining room are a number of incredible works in charcoal pencil. The images of children’s faces, faces of actresses, women’s  nudes and mountain landscapes defy anyone to think they were drawn years ago by teenage Ruggiero. He later worked in watercolor, tempera and oil.

He has participated in several national and international painting competitions. His work has garnered numerous awards including gold and silver medals.

Even though he was a banker for most of his adult life, he kept on painting. No matter where he was, the art supplies came along. His work encompasses scenes from all over Italy, as well as, still life and nudes. He has a huge inventory of framed finished work. Now retired, he is revisiting his work and that bring us to the What.

Before the evil pandemic set in, I promised Rito we would organize a solo show of his work. The show is September 12, 2021 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Yes, there will be wine!. The air here is fresh and clear, the exhibit will be on our covered terrance so everyone can social distance.

Now you have the what and the when. The where is on the poster. If you happen to be in my area, come and introduce yourself. Enjoy the art and the conversation.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Midgeguerrera.com

My First – La Promessa di Matrimonio

We were so excited to be invited to cousin Giusy’s La Promessa di Matrimonio.  I didn’t have a clue what that meant – besides an event that warranted a glamorous after party.  All we could figure out was the couple had to go to city hall and do something and then, a couple of months later, they could get married in the church.  Was it just getting a marriage license?  Was it an actual civil wedding first?  This inquiring mind wanted to know!

Antonio and Giusy July 29, 2021 La Promessa di Matrimonio.

My cousin and her fiancée, Antonio, have reserved Pontelandolofo’s Chiesa San Salvatore for a September wedding.  Before that can happen – or even if they were going to have a civil ceremony – they had to head down to town hall and in the presence of an official, like the registrar, go through the process of La Promessa di Matrimonio.

On April 4, 1942, Article 79 of the Italian Civil code was finalized. La Promessa, was established.  From what I read, it looks like it stopped forced marriages.  Hmm did that mean the sale of brides and grooms for ten sheep and a goat?  It protects marital freedom and insures that the couple both consent to marry each other.  It also nullifies previous obligations – like the secret ex-husband you forgot to mention.

La Promessa is not a super binding legal contract.  You can always jump ship and change your mind – as long as you are willing to restore any economic loss your former fiancée suffered.

It kind of reminded me of the day Jack and I went to the Asbury Park City with a video cameraman and a witness to get our marriage license.  The couple here had to present the usual bureaucratic documents plus a couple extra – proof of identity, birth certificates, tax stamp that you paid the fee, request form for the marriage bans by the parish priest, request form for the publication of the bans and probably something else that I forgot. Oh yeah, Antonio belongs to the church in Casalduni. He had to get a letter from his priest there and supply his birth, baptismal and communion certificates.

The marriage bans, public announcement of the upcoming nuptials, take place in the church and the town.  This gives advance notice to folks who may know of some dastardly impediment to the wedding and race out to stop it.

Someone told me, or I read that this civil action takes the couple from being engaged to absolutely betrothed.   Sort of a throwback to the ancient request for the hand in marriage by the groom.  It is also kind of the official meeting of the two families.  Or simply a great excuse to have an intimate party – think engagement party!

The date was bright, sunny and hot! Jack and I parked as close as we could to Palazzo Rinaldi. It is an historic building that has been totally renovated. It even had magic doors that opened when you got close. I looked around the foyer and figured the Council chambers should be here somewhere. Seeing a directory, we realized that it was on the second floor. The second floor of an ancient building and its huge marble staircase. The staircase had a landing or two so I could attempt to breathe. Clutching my lungs we made it to the second floor and couldn’t find the room. I peaked in an office and asked. It was up yet another flight. I gasped and the wonderful woman showed us the modern elevator! Duh – the second floor in an Italian building is really the third level. I should know by now the ground floor isn’t in the count. The elevator whisked us up to the next floor. We arrived at 4 minutes to 5. The event was to start at 5:00 PM. The room was empty! Jack looked at me and asked if we were there on the right date. I checked my calendar and my WhatsApp messages. Then I assured him that it was the right time and the right date. He looked at me and we both said “questa è Italia.”

The handsome groom to be, Antonio, arrived with his family. They were decked out in cocktail dresses, jewels, suits and ties. I looked down at my casual summer dress. Gulp. Another thing I should remember is that any event is an opportunity to dress up and look fetching. Oh well, next time.

Where was Giusy? The registrar appeared with the necessary items for the signing. Where was Giusy’s family – which is my family? Suddenly, I heard heavy breathing and panting. They all staggered in having climbed three ridiculous flights of stairs. Like us, no one knew there was an elevator. It was worth the wait – Giusy looked like a movie star. Her backless white jumpsuit festooned with lace at the shoulders was a whimsical reminder that she was the bride to be. Everyone took a seat. I happily noticed a bottle of Prosecco made it’s way to the front of the room.

The registrar opened the proceedings by reading both Anonio’s and Giusy’s recorded history. Dates of birth, parents names, place of birth and residency. I knew that stuff so I didn’t pay close attention. Then she got to to the important Article 79 of the Civil Code and read part of that. The cute couple signed something and bang – it was all over. The bang was the popping of the Prosecco cork. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.

La Promessa è per Sempre – The promise is forever!

Time for the second half of the event – the party! After asking other guests, I discovered this was a Southern Italian tradition. Though others said, not everyone did it. The site, La Rossella, is a restaurant about fifteen minutes out of town. If I tell you everything we ate you will drool on your electronic device. I’ll give you the quick version. We started out side in a lovely garden. Thank the goddesses I brought my anti mosquito juice and shared it with the other barelegged women. I hate mosquitos but they adore me. The Prosecco glasses were held high to once again toast the couple and then we each grabbed a paper cone filled with crispy tempura fried pieces of fish. Yummy. The fish kept us occupied while each family group lined up for the de rigueur photos. Photos done? Check! Time to move inside and leave the marauding mosquitos for the next group.

We had an absolutely huge table set up for the scant party of 20 – absolute Covid social distancing. Then the feast began! The appetizer of steamed octopus coupled with thin slices of swordfish and salmon was exceptional. As was the wine that freely flowed. The tone of the party was light, filled with laughter and applause. Literally applause. For example, I shouted out auguri ai genitori and everyone cheered “I genitori” (parents) and clapped wildly. This happened sporadically throughout the evening until everyone was toasted.

The appetizer was followed by not one but two primo piatti! The first pasta dish was homemade linguine and clams but with a creamy sauce. The second was pasta with swordfish. I will try to replicate that one. Then came more and more and suddenly it was after midnight and out came the delicious cake with it’s whipped cream frosting and pistachio cream filling. Sigh….

Jack and I wished the couple a happy engagement and rolled out to our car. What a night! What a perfect first time experience of La Promessa di Matrimonio.

Ci Vediamo

Midge (Check out my website.)

I am currently organizing both cooking, farm to table and writing adventures in Pontelandolfo for 2022! Message me for information!

Bentornati! Welcome Back!

Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

The hills were alive with the sounds of music!  Just not the song you are thinking of.  For the past few days, our village has serenaded us with the sounds of welcome, love and joy featuring that musical word that means so much – bentornati!  Bentornati is the melodious way to say welcome back – but really more than just welcome back.  I am so happy to see you!  We are glad you are back!

We are glad to be back in pontelandolfo!

After our quarantine period was over, Jack and I donned our masks and made our way down to Pontelandolfo’s village center.  It was the first time we had been to the piazza since covid shut us down and trapped us so very far away.  Wow!  So many changes!  The weekly market wasn’t in Piazza Roma – but we could see the vendors trucks behind the school in Piazza Its Been So Long I don’t Remember the Name.  Look, I shouted, a new outdoor bar is open on the promenade.  What a great place for a quick pick me up during the pre-dinner passegiata or after dinner night out.  All of the bars have a much bigger outdoor presence. Newer tables, umbrellas – wow – so urbane!  Those changes were brought about because outdoor seating was the only way the bars could eke out a living during the height of the pandemic.

We continued to drive around and noted that everyone was wearing a mask.  Shoppers were carrying their bags of goodies and wearing masks.  Venders were wearing masks. Bar staff were all masked up.  We parked the car, put on our masks and got hit with the welcoming sounds of Bentornati!   

Bentornati from the owner and customers at Bar Elimar.  Bentornati and conversation with a man we barely know who told us to sit in the shade with him.  Bentornati and fist bumps from people we knew and passed in the streets.  Bentornati and invitations to come over for coffee from folks we haven’t seen in pandemic ages.  Bentornati and tell us everything you have been doing – from the pharmacists.  Bentornati, from the staff at the grocery store.  Bentornati and what vaccines did you get – from the florist. People knocked on our car window to say Bentornati!  Bentornati and come for dinner – an invitation we promptly accepted.

This simple welcome back phrase made us feel immediately right at home.  We felt surrounded by the affection and friendship that one is blessed to feel in a small town.  Bentornati, ci siete mancato.  Welcome back we missed you.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing adventures for 2022! Cook, explore, taste, create and live like a Southern Italian

Cooking – Live From Pontelandolfo

The sky outside was grey, but my kitchen was bright and filled with the laughter and joy of Pontelandolfo’s Carmela Fusco. Disclaimer – Carmela is my talented cooking cousin. Was Carmela literally in my kitchen?  Nope, we were testing the concept of a virtual cooking class.  From sunny Italy, Carmela led students thousands of miles away through the process of making bignè, the airy pastry you need for profiteroles!  

I felt like a cooking idiot when, during the process, I realized that profiteroles – I had only ever seen stacked in a pyramid and covered with dripped chocolate – were literally the favorite dessert of my youth.  Chocolate covered cream puffs!  My mother, bless her soul, used to make them for special occasions.  I never tried, but when I needed a mom hug, I would buy a box of Boston Cream Pie mix and get almost the same creamy taste. It wasn’t the same but I could feel the love.

Something else I learned, was that bignè is also called choux pastry.  There isn’t any yeast or raising agent in the dough.  It has a high moisture content that creates steam and that puffs the pastry.  Isn’t the science of food grand?

Carmela’s daughter Annarita Mancini, as she does for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, was there to translate.  Those of us gathered around our tablets trying to make bignè study Italian with Annarita and vowed not to ask for her help. Gulp, I needed her help. I mean, I have only been trying to learn Italian for twenty years, cut me a break.  This wasn’t just a cooking class. This was a chance to use the Italian we had been studying in a real-world situation.  What could be a better place to practice our language skills than Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Admission – when we obviously didn’t quite get what Carmela was saying, Annarita jumped in.)

I am only going to talk about the first step towards the light, cream filled profiteroles – making the bignè. This is the small pastry of a cream puff.  Carmela told me that the neat thing about her bignè is that you can stuff it with sweet or savory fillings.  She doesn’t add sugar, as I think my mom did, into the pastry.  The ingredients are:

150 grams acqua – water

80 grams burro – butter

150 grams farina – flour

5 – 6 uova – eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius .

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Even though we got the ingredient list sent to us, there was a wee dilemma changing the metric measures into the British Imperial System on the fly.  Correct, I had no idea that cups, ounces and pounds were part of something called the British Imperial System.  Cripes, it even sounds like empire building. One learns something new every day.  Time to work on my math skills or have the conversion app open on my phone.

We put the water in a big pot on the unlit stove and added all the butter.  Then we turned the heat on high and melted the butter.  It takes a long time to melt that much butter.  When it finally melted and had little boiling bubbles we added the flour a little at a time. (Other recipes on line said dump all the flour in at once – Carmela was meticulous about drizzling the flour in.) KEEP STIRRING.  This part requires a strong arm.  Who needs a gym – you have a kitchen!  When the dough started to cling together in a ball and no longer stuck to the pot, we turned off the heat.  We stirred the dough a bit more – with Carmela warning us, “not too much we don’t want it to cool.  Now, crush it so it isn’t a ball.”  What?? We just stirred until our arms ached and made the bloody ball – now I have to crush it? We smooshed our balls.

This next part was kind of magical and required eyes that saw the nuances of color.  We added an egg and blended it into the dough until the color of the dough was the color it was before we added the egg.  When your arm starts to scream, get someone else to take a turn stirring.  Finally, the color will be same as it was.  Then add the second egg and repeat the process.  Yup, it is a long process but the results – delicious.  Once again, when the color was the same as it was before the second egg we tossed in egg number three.  

No, you are crying not again!  Why didn’t we just toss all the eggs in at once?  Carmela pointed out it might seem easier to add all the eggs at once but the secret for a cloud like bignè is to do it this way.  The dough needs time to absorb each egg. I think this should be a team sport – like a relay with someone else there to take a stirring turn. They could also keep the Prosecco glasses full.

We were laughing out loud as we tried to show Carmella our dough by tilting our iPads and phones towards our pots without dropping them in.  Stop laughing!  Add egg number four!  We repeated the process and then added the fifth and final egg.

Whew, this was the hardest part.  Where is that prosecco? 

Using a spatula we cleaned the sides of the pot by drawing all the sticky dough to the center in a ball like pile.  Now, taking two tablespoons,  we attempted to drop the dough in cute balls on the prepared cookie sheet.  Carmela is a master at this, she rolled the dough back and forth and created balls.  She pointed out they didn’t have to be perfect.  Misshapen was fine – except all of hers were perfect and all of mine looked a lot less than perfect.

Carmela said, “Make sure you leave space between the globs.  With all those eggs the pastry will rise. When our nonnas made this pasta they used their hands to mix the dough – even though it was really hot.”  Hmmm, maybe that is where I got my asbestos hands.

Almost done. Put the tray of bignè into the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  They will grow and get a warm toasty color. They really do grow! Well not everyone’s grew we did have a batch that kind of looked like tasty hockey pucks.

When you take these lovelies out of the oven and they have cooled you can slice them and use them for light little tea sandwiches or invite me over because you are filling them with a decadent cream and topping them with chocolate.  Yummy.

Carmela’s Bignè – Perfetto!

We all had a great time giggling, groaning and cooking with Carmela. Can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can really be with her in her kitchen!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

Organizing 2022 Now. Click here for more information.

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