madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


23 Comments

how I got to be on TV

If you see where I live, atop a magical mountain in a rural area of Italy, you will find it quite surprising that anyone finds me at all.  And it’s probabaly even more surprising that myself and my family can make a living with our B&B and cooking classes. Mysteries of the internet, most likely.

Indeed, after having scrutinized my website statistics for years, I still have no idea how people ever gets to know about us.

Take last August, for example. I was in the car in front of a hardware shop waiting for my husband. He spends 50% of his time in the hardware shop. It was hot and I wanted to go home.

Then my cellphone rang. At the other side of the line someone with a velvety voice said “I am a TV film director”. And “we want to come next week to film one of your cooking classes for a BBC program”. Suddenly I did not feel that hot, but my head was spinning. No, I don’t often get phone calls from TV people.

A few days later I was walking in Santa Maria degli Angeli with a couple of newly wed Scottish people, Ruth and Stuart. Under the bright August sun, I was trying to tell them that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Umbria, and that I can have lots of great food here.

Right, easy peasy, this is my stuff, isn’t it?

In front of me a young crew of BBC TV people – headed by handsome John Bonny – was trying to convince me to stop hitting the microphone and to walk slowly without looking in the camera which was almost attached to my nose. Easily said than done: nr. 1 I am Italian and I talk with my hands, nr. 2 all the village people was looking at me walking with a TV crew. Try to concentrate on the camera when your butcher is watching.

escape to the continent Umbria01

Hot and clumsy and weird, my TV day went on. Do you know they put a furry microphone virtually in your bra? It did take me a while to get acquainted with the microphones.

We had to go into my friend’s Barbara shop to buy prosciutto and pecorino. That took about one hour because we never said the right thing about the pecorino and we had to repeat. Beautiful John had not given us a script.

escape to the continent1

Then we proceeded to my house to cook. We made stringozzi with a Norcina sauce. The original recipe only uses one egg, but we went through a whole box because we were not capable to break it in the right way. I was terrified we would run out of eggs. Until this very day I am not sure what’s the best way to break an egg for the camera.

escape to the continent Umbria07

Ruth and Stuart had moved house the day before, then they had jumped on a plane at 4:00 a.m. to come to Italy. We had been filming in the sun for several hours. No wonder we were starting to falter. Notwithstanding our clumsiness, John, his delightful assistant Bella and the rest of the crew stayed kind and smiling until the end. Only then I realized how difficult it must be to work with people who has no idea how to behave in front of a camera.escape to the continent Umbria11

Finally, we did manage. The pasta was cooked, stirred in the sauce, blanketed with truffle shavings. escape to the continent Umbria14

The best part – and it’s a pity it’s not on screen – was to see everybody’s eyes becoming soft because of the heavenly smell. It was way past dinner time. You could almost hear them salivating. Everybody relaxed. We shared a few forkfuls of pasta, they packed the cameras and left, leaving us with 5 failed pasta doughs and a few more stringozzi to cook.

escape to the continent Umbria17

Ruth and Stuart with my helper Maria who took care of the failed pasta doughs

And guess what? I asked John how he found out about me, and he said “on the internet”.

Of course. I shouldn’t have asked.

If one sits at the top of a mountain, someone, sometimes, will pass by.

 

PS. the program is named Escape to the Continent (Umbria), if you can’t access the link here, you might be able to  see it on BBC i-player or just google “Escape to the continent Umbria”. You can see me from approx min. 24

 

 

 

 

 


16 Comments

the reckless Easter sprint

Happy Easter!

My right eye has been twitching quite often recently.

It’s a sign of stress. I have been running out of time.

In most countries of the world, if they tell you have 9 months for renovating a roof, you think you have time. I am talking of a relatively small roof which insist on a 5 rooms apartment. It takes 2 weeks to actually do the work.

In Italy however, time works in a different dimension. Nine months are a very short time, they equals hours here no, minutes. It produces additional grey hair, sleepless nights and twitching eyes.

At the beginning of May last year we have bought the other half of our house, after almost 10 years of waiting and worries. Then we thought ” how wonderful, we’ll make ourselves green”. We’ll have a biomass heater, a ventilated roof and we’ll produce electricity and hot water with solar panels. Cool eh?

But a man who has no permits cannot do the works.

And so it is that we have ventured into one of Italy’s darkest tunnels. B.U.R.E.A.U.C.R.A.C.Y.

And so it is that after a long, quiet winter during which we have no B&B guests, all the crazy permits have only arrived two weeks ago. That is two weeks before opening up for the tourist season.

the roof on March 21, tiles removed, just a layer of cement

the roof on March 28, insulation installed, panels half way

And so it is that the last roof tiles have gone up on the roof this afternoon at 5:00

And so it is that the first guests have arrived this afternoon at 5:30.

And they have smiled. And they have found the place beautiful.

And the solar panels are there and I am so relieved I think I want to cry.

Happy Easter everyone, have a nice, quiet, peaceful time.

PEACE

PS. I have no pictures of the new good-looking tiles, I will take them tomorrow, after taking care of my guests :)


17 Comments

gifts

olive oil is good for the heart, in many ways.

This year I have already had my Christmas gift. Within a couple of days of posting the picture of olive harvest, our very small production of olive oil was practically sold out.

Please believe me, I did not make a penny out of it. The costs of production on a small scale are so high that I am lucky if I cover the preparation of the field and the new nets.

However, this is not the point.

The point is the appreciation of friends and former guests of our B&B for what we do here.

We own a small piece of paradise where these trees have been growing for centuries and we keep it alive. We use no chemicals, we respect the soil, we allow the plants to fend for themselves save for a light spring-pruning.

our olive grove

We watch the drupes, every year with worried expectation, until they are just the perfect color to harvest. The color indicates the peak of flavor and smoothness. We work long hours at the end of a busy tourist season to harvest as quick as possible so they don’t become too ripe and loose that beautiful quality

Invariable, at the end of this gigantic effort we happy and proud of the emerald elixir, “the nectar of the olive gods” as a friend of mine calls it. Now, after having acquired a new olive grove, we can share some of it. Its’ been big news for us.

But even more surprising has been the love of people, the understanding of what we do and why, wanting to support and share our little bit of Umbria. So much enthusiasm has blown me away.

This Christmas, even more than usual, I need to give thanks for what I have received.

buon Natale, buone Feste!!!

Thank you also to my friend Gloria from At Home in Tuscany for inviting me to participate with this post to the Italy blogging roundtable special Christmas event. This is organized, besides Gloria, by  the other fabulous rountablers Alexandra from ArtTrav,  Rebecca from Brigolante, Melanie from Italofile, and Jessica from Why Go Italy . Until 14 December, bloggers are invited to expand upon the topic of “gifts,” somehow connected to Italy, on their blogs. You’re still in time to join!


11 Comments

if only she knew….

we are still at the crumble stage

Weeks ago I received an email from a woman stating the following:

“we considered staying at your B&B for our holidays but we have read on your blog that you are planning to renovate the new part of the house and we are afraid the works will disturb us during our stay”.

Indeed last May, after a decade of painstaking negotiations and worries, we have fulfilled our dream and bought the second half of our farmhouse. The story is here.

Cara signora (dear lady), I hope you are reading this. Because I want to ask you why you take from me the time which I need to read your message. Then  you take the time I need to reply that of course we would not dream to do any works which could disturb our guests during season. We have a B&B we quite some reputation, so why should we do something so damaging.

And then you don’t even bother to reply because you have already decided that you will not be staying here.

Cara signora I know why you have written this message. You live on a planet where – when you want a house –  you ask your neighbor kindly if he wants to sell it. If he does, after a week all the papers are signed and the house is yours.

The next week you have your plans and you go to one or another public office and ask them kindly if they give you permissions to move a couple of walls, install, new windows, photovoltaic solar panels and a modern, low consumption biomass heater. “A wonderful project!” – they will say – and give you full support.

Say all the above has taken you a month. Then you get immediately all the construction companies and technical consultancy necessary to actually implement the project, order the materials and put up the scaffolding. immediately afterwards the builders speed in and start  hammering making all that horrible noise.

trying to find an opening

Cara signora, can you please tell me on which planet you live? Because I want to move to this place where is possible to buy a house in May and start to the actual renovation work in September. And may be even complete it by Christmas.

I live in Italy.

It’s been 5 busy months and we haven’t even managed to put together all the crazy paperwork necessary for the solar panels  on the roof. The rest of the renovation has to be presented at a later time because it needs even more crazy paperwork.

A couple of days ago, a public officer has announced that after all the documents prepared, we might not be able to install the photovoltaic panels on the roof where they would hardly be visible.

The local government prefers for us to install the panels on our beautiful fields, where they will take up much more space, be visible from very far and disrupt our magnificent view. He said that we have to hide the panels behind a 6 ft tall fence surrounded by tall trees.

Shaded solar panels. Ingenious.

Besides, as we are at the top of a hill on sloping grounds the fence would not hide the panels from view. In contrast, it would only increase the horrendous visual effect of the whole construction.

see the flock of sheep? There's where they want the industrial looking installation

Cara signora, if you would only know how difficult it is to realize a project here, you would not even consider coming over  for holidays.

Please give me the address of your world and I might start packing before it’s too late.


95 Comments

it’s finally my turn: I own a castle and I will even have an office

our new (old) house, the castle of my dreams

Today it’s a turning point in my life. I have been waiting for this since 26 December 1996. On that day Ruurd, my husband, and I walked to the top of our beautiful hill in the snow.

Here we fell in love with the incredible views of Assisi and the surrounding countryside. Despite the dilapidated aspect of the house, we bought it against the judgment of family and friends who thought we were not a little mad.

It took us 5 years of hard work and worries to move here and start Alla Madonna del Piatto B&B and cooking school.

see my house against the splendid greenery? it's the light colored half of the building on the left. Now we own the brown part on the right as well.


Ours was the bigger half of a very large farmhouse.The rest was owned by someone who did not do much with it except keeping it quite messy.

Of course, from day one, we started to dream the impossible dream, buying the other half and have our island of peace all to ourselves.

For 10 years we have lived here and worked hard to make Alla Madonna del Piatto a dream for us and for our guests.

Meanwhile a lot has happened, good and bad.  Today we have finally managed, we have signed the contract, the other half of the house is ours.

a road side view of the new house. Note the lovely garden decoration.

The house is in reasonable conditions, better than the first half we bought back in 1997, it will however need quite a bit of renovation.

This will hopefully result in one or two holiday apartments, a new and larger cooking school and finally, finally, finally an office for myself! Wow, I haven’t had an office for 10 years. It’s maybe time.

new house garden, well, after "some" pruning.

Today I feel like a princess. I own my castle. Tonight I’ll have a good sleep.


16 Comments

an enchanted house: Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello in Perugia

a truly noble profile

I’ve always had a fascination for old houses. When I was a child the Umbrian countryside was full of abandoned houses, castles, hamlets. Now they have all been renovated into anything from humble agriturismo to fancy spa retreats.

My parents loved to picnic near old houses. If they were safe to walk into, we would even use the fireplace to grill sausages and bread for bruschetta. What  an adventure that was for us kids! The old stones told us tales of mysterious princes and queens, of secrets hidden beyond rickety stairs.

the whimsical Venetian chandelier

I have been “collecting” visits to old houses for a long time. It’s a wonderful way to bring yourself into the habits and culture of a place. Temples might have sublime art, but houses have stories of real people.

As a student I must have walked hundreds of times by Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello never suspecting the wealth of art and culture hidden behind the imposing entrance. This stately mansion  is not in the countryside, but in Perugia’s city centre. It’s built atop the Etruscan walls and affording breathtaking views over the old town and the Umbrian emerald hills.

a magnificent view from Palazzo Sorbello's terrace

Life has changed from the times I explored abandoned castles.

This is a place which is still alive. I have been recently invited to visit  as the Palazzo has recently opened as a “house  museum“. And what a fascinating history I have learned!  The library holds an antiquarian collection of over 20 thousand volumes. The family has been in Northern Umbria for  a thousand years and in Perugia for over  300 years, can you imagine?  They have an Etruscan well in the basement, it’s 2500 years old.

And there is more: stories of poets and princes, of embroidery and porcelain, but I will not tell you everything.

Please go see it for yourself, it’s a truly special place. One more gem in the crown of our beautiful Umbria.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,285 other followers