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

Buon Anno da Sesto Senso!

Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!   2018 seems to have galloped along the road of life bringing lots of good news, great friends and new vistas to explore.   Now, 2019 is guaranteed to be incredible – granting all of us health, happiness and good cheer.

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Jack and Midge glad to be part of the New Year’s party.

We greeted 2019 with family, friends, a bazillion courses of seafood, music, dancing and fireworks at Sesto Senso!  This great local restaurant tucked in a corner of Campolattaro (BN) tossed a rocking party.  Unlike the New Year’s Eve parties we have gone to in the states, the crowd featured party goers of literally all ages.  Babes in strollers to great grandparents danced to traditional music and rock and roll.  No one seemed to mind the wee ones giggling in their flouncy finery, twirling throughout the tables.

This is the first time we have ventured out on New Year’s Eve.  Last year we dined with family and friends too, but in our house and then raced to the Pontelandolfo Piazza to see the requisite midnight fireworks.  Not knowing what to expect, I encouraged our house guests Cindy and Les, my LA niece Alessandra and Pontelandolfo niece Annarita to come along for the ride.

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Alex and Annarita kept the wine and the laughter flowing.

 

The first hint that this was going to be a party that required our due diligence and staying power was the menu –

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The second hint included countless wine bottles that arrived full and seemed to empty and get replaced in nano-seconds.  Thank God we got to dance between courses.

The apertivo plates – lots of different fish but of course but I can’t remember what – were brought in to a musical fanfare!  Damn, this is just the apertivo tasting?  How will we get through all the courses?  We put on our big girl appetites and somehow we did.

Everything was presented so beautifully that for a scant moment we just stared, not wanting a fork to damage the look.

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Croccheta di Baccala – Almost too cute to eat.

At midnight we hadn’t quite made it through the menu, but that didn’t stop the bottles of prosecco from popping and the fireworks to start blaring.  We all raced out side to see the display.  Oooing and aaaahhhhhing I realized that the restaurant had organized the pyrotechnics. What a button to put on a great evening. But wait, we have more to eat – the night isn’t over!

Cotechino a pork based sausage and lentils are a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve course.  The lentils represent money that will be coming your way in the upcoming year.  We scarfed down those lentils – I actually made more the next day.  I wonder how many pounds of lentils I need to eat to get the cash for first class plane tickets??

2019 is firmly ensconced in our lives.  For each of us, that means it is time for a new adventure.  In 2019  I’ll be entering my seventh decade – gulp – my second act needs to be upgraded to include a chorus of triple threat actors to help me pull off my ongoing later scenes.  Hit me with my light – I’m ready for it!

Buona Fortuna!

Ci vediamo

Don’t forget you can eat like a Southern Italian too. Become part of our

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program.  Check it out!  Click Here.

He who knows the arts….

Cripes, look at the time, I bellowed.  Sweat was pouring off my brow and my clothes were frankly disgusting.  Rossella Mancini and I were setting up an art exhibit and had been collecting and cataloguing pieces all day.  The show would run for seven days and the opening was gulp – in two days.  We were juggling artigianale items – incredible hand loomed fabrics, straw woven into sculptures, wood carvings – with paintings by contemporary artists.  Our idea was to demonstrate how the traditional crafts of a community had a direct impact on the work of younger artists.

No, I screeched, leave her sitting at a table – wait, I’ll add one of the purses.

A painting, waiting to be placed, had been sitting on a little table and propped up on a column. With a little swatch of red cloth, a handmade purse and an empty chair, the painting of a young women in a bikini by Angelo Palladino became one of the “scenes” in the gallery.  Rossella and I were both racing around madly trying to get it all pulled together.  The program booklet?!  We need to design and write something and get it to the printer tonight.

I looked at my watch again.  We had seconds to run down the street to the book launch produced by a group of young friends.  As we raced down the block, from the opposite direction we could hear the tech crew setting up an outdoor stage.  Tomorrow night an International Folk Dance Festival opened.  

Good, there is a line to get in – No one will know we are late.  Cripes, I hope no one I know is here.

Looking like something the proverbial cat dragged in, I said hi to folks I knew and dropped into a seat.  Wow, I thought, the glitterati is out tonight. Not only was the audience well dressed, they all had come early – that must mean something “hot” is happening tonight. The performance space looked incredible – from the comfortable overstuffed turquise couch and coffee table on the stage, to the display of art photos by the incredible Salvatore Griffini, to the piano and guitarist primed to play – the tone was set for an interesting evening.  Taking a breath and hoping no one sat too close to me, I was hit in the head with the boing boing of an epiphany.  This very second, we could be anywhere the arts flourish – in a swank artsy neighborhood in Brooklyn or Downtown Manhattan or Chicago or Austin – BUT WE WEREN’T.  We were in a tiny little southern Italian village – Pontelandolfo.  A place where the young and the old make art.

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The evening was produced by “Liberia Tutti”, a group of young writers, actors, artists and musicians.  They had joined forces to produce the book launch in support of photographer, Salvatore Griffini, whose work was in the book. The evening hummed as Liberi Tutti embraced all art forms from vocals supported by piano or guitar, a Brechtian monologue superbly preformed by Gianmarco Castaldi, to a wonderful reading by the talented author Martina del Negro.  Frankly, the editor of the self-published book being launched spoke and I had to suppress my yawns.  Professor Renato Rinaldi, the driving force of the Pontelandolfo News was one of the highlights for me.  What he said reached into my heart and moved me to tears. I hope it will move you.

Chi sa musica, chi sa arte, che sa danza, chi sa teatro, chi sa letteratura, chi sa poesia, sa Pontelandolfo. He who knows music, he who knows dance, he who knows theatre, he who knows literature, he who knows poetry, knows Pontelandolfo.

The art show opened, dance companies from throughout Europe performed, bands

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Here I am moments before the opening.  I cleaned up pretty well.

played and the first week of August – Festival Week – tired us aging second actors out but reinforced the words of Renato.  He who knows the arts understands our little corner of the world.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

“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!

Ponte Simone -Perfetto per Pontelandolfo!

I stared at the defrosted fish, poked at the fresh spinach and then sighed, “I don’t feel like cooking – lets go to Ponte Simone.”  Ponte Simone is Pontelandolfo’s latest new happening spot.  The caffè/bar, tavolo caldo, grocery store, lotto parlor, slot machine parlor and more is the creation of a young and talented duo – Nicola D’Addona and Angela  Varricchio.  They took over a shop located at Ponte Sorgenza – just down the street from the center of town.  Closed the old place for a few months and gave it a make-over. They even made the furniture for the new dining room.

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Since I tasted Angela’s cooking, I have found a million reasons not to cook lunch.  My first experience was a fabulous farro seafood salad. Since Jack and I are trying not to eat wheat or rice, finding a place that cooked with farro was wonderful.  We often wander in, look at Angela and ask what we are eating today.  I’ve had roasted meats, grilled vegetables, caprese salads, green salads, soups – no matter what she cooks I’ll eat it because it is always perfect.  The price point is also perfect – I hate to make my USA pals  jealous by telling them that it costs us less to eat at Ponte Simone than it would to buy the stuff and cook it in New Jersey!

Angela also makes the gelato that is sold here.  Please don’t let my doctor know that I sampled some – how can I not eat sugar when there is home made melon gelato!  She experiments with flavors that are unique and scrumptious.

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Nicola is the bar man, grocery man and everything man.  Even though my Italian is sub par, he smiles figures out what I want and it magically appears.  Sadly, for me, every Campari Spritz I order comes with a tray of little noshes.  I beg, I plead, don’t bring me the snacks.  They still arrive and – gulp – I eat them.  I feel like I’m in a little caffè in any Italian city at cocktail time.  Lucky for me I only have to walk down the hill and stumble back.

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The couple works with other local business and I truly applaud them for that.  In the tiny grocery store I can buy meats from our local butcher, Franco Perugini.  Normally, I go to his shop but if I am in a pinch and he is closed…

Normally, Ponte Simone closes at 8:00 PM.  They put in 14 hour days.  Then there are the nights they produce events – when no one sleeps and everyone parties.  Music, a talent show, ethnic nights – the creative pair are turning this little corner of town into the place to be.  Bravi!

Every Sunday night, I take over a table in the dining room for “English Conversation”.  Whoever is interested in practicing their English that night shows up.  We chat, raise a glass and enjoy the home-town atmosphere of Ponte Simone

The wonders of life in a small town is that everyone knows your name. Growing up in Flagtown meant I couldn’t do anything wrong because everyone knew who I was and would either kick my butt or tell my parents.  Walking into Ponte Simone and hearing “Ciao Midge” reminds me of those days, puts a smile on my face and makes me remember how fortunate I am to be able to spend so much time in a little Southern Italian village.

Ci Vediamo!

Americans Living Abroad Need to VOTE!

Those of us who are able to split our time between an adventure in a foreign country and the United States are incredibly fortunate.  Living in another country, we still need to remember our obligations as American citizens.  Every American living abroad needs to vote!  Vote in the primaries.  Vote for the local candidates.  AND especially vote during the presidential elections.  Those of you who know me and have followed me, know that I was born into a family of staunch Democrats and frankly, have never had a reason to become anything else.  That said, I’m not going to use this platform to tell you who to vote for.  I am going to ask you look at the video provided by Democrats Abroad that tells you just how easy it is to get that absentee ballot and VOTE in this presidential election.

AND MAY THE BEST WOMAN WIN!!!

Ci vediamo!