for the love of Marks and Spencer

In Harpenden, there were five old ladies lined up on the bench waiting for the bus, and a small patch of grass ringed with flowers. It would have been easier to trod straight across to Marks and Spencer but there were five pairs of eyes on me, armed with sensible handbags and the odd umbrella. I never feel like cooking after a funeral. Marks and Spencer is a prepared food meca. They soften the blow with shelves of fresh berries in transparent boxes with a top row of double creams. From there you move to yogurts and juice, then breads and baps. And then row after refrigerated row of prepared food from every corner of the world. You can get a box for two of a complete Chicken tikka dinner with naan and onion baji or a tiny bowl of spaghetti already sauces with bolognese. No dinner takes more than three minutes in the microwave. There is a wall of wine and an aisle of chocolate. It’s a store for the very old and tired, the very young and tired, and me.

No pie?

Husband, mother in law, Ferdinand and I packed into a VW polo to make the trip from Umbria to London. Flat tire in the tunnel in Basel. Ferdinand and I walked to Novartis headquarters, just at the other end of a parking lot. It shone like a beacon through the dark and even though I was sure it would be closed at 10 at night, twenty foot glass doors swung open as we approached and the man behind the desk, as if in a dream said, “come in. You can sit here. we have restrooms just down the stairs.” The whole place gleamed with the most amazing golden marble like I have never seen. I must have looked unsure re the reality of the situation. “Don’t be afraid,” he said.
Ferdinand is usually a public restroom shunner. We walked to the bottom of the palace steps and I opened the door of the men’s room to check for him. “Ferd,” I said,”it’s a whole new world in there. welcome to the world of Switzerland.”
An hour later we were in St. Louis just across the border in France, searching for dinner and a cheap hotel. No restaurants except Mcdonald’s open for the weary. super popular at closing time. struggled to order cheeseburger and a diet coke. Mcdonald’s is supposed to be my language-I know how to speak it, but my expertise got me nowhere. they changed everything but big Mac, which the rest of my crowd ordered with small beers. small beers!!!!! In a Mcdonald’s. and no apple pies. she kept showing me apple juice, apple puree, sliced apples..what kind of Mcdonalds doesn’t fry their apples in a pie that slides out of a box? I told Ferd he would have to eat mentos from the gas station for dessert.

Ribs on the grill

You can go along doing things the same way, same eggs, same walls, same hair, until you do or you don’t decide, that’s it.
I cut my hair with the kitchen scissors with one go. I held it all behind my head with one hand, and cut it with the other. There were only a few stray pieces to cope with.
The butcher suggested ribs. For the past 8 years I have seared themmas a single rack, then braised them in white wine with garlic and rosemary. I asked him how he makes them. He cut the rack in half and then in individual pieces. “Make a wood fire” he said, “then smash a little fresh garlic with sea salt to make a paste, give it a little pour of balsamic, a pour of white wine, and a grind of pepper. Give the ribs a good rub with it and when the wood has burned down to white embers, season the ribs with a bit more salt, and grill each rib on all sides. ”
My feet are wet and the water looks good.
(If not measuring feels too risky, for a (cut) rack that would feed ten, use about a quarter cup of white wine, 2 tablespoons of balsamic, two cloves of garlic and a grind of pepper.)

Pork Chops

The fire for grilling pork chopsI have no interest in stuffing or trussing or even saucing pork chops. Build a fire, let it burn down for about an hour, oil the grill, season the chops with sea salt on both sides, and cook the chops until they’re done. No need to leave them until they’re shoe leather. A bit pink by the bone is perfect. Give them a pour of the best olive oil you have in the house and a squeeze of lemon.
I’m serving them with roasted eggplant and fresh tomato salad.

Salad for supper

My people have arrived.  Nine women and one man.  At the house where they stay, surrounded by fields of sunflowers, there are no sheep or cows wandering through the garden; and only the occasional slightly nervous wild boar.  Without the pulsing animal and insect populations that keep an orario continuato up at my place  in the hills of Corgna, they sleep.  The only thing to wake them in the valley, is the sun.   The thought of it could make me cry with hope and happiness.  I am not leaving this house tonight.  I am going to sleep right along with them.
We had supper salads for their arrival.  Summer sweet melon and prosciutto, mozzarella di bufala, tomato and basil, and cannellini with raw garlic, flat leaf parsley, tiny arugula leaves, croutons, lemon zest, thin slices of red onion and shavings of Parmesan.  I made a frittata with all the fresh herbs that I could find in the garden, and for dessert, cantucci dipped  in Vin Santo.

If you live in a house on the side of a hill with forty sheep, twenty cows and unknown numbers of cinghiali and chickens, there will be flies. They come in heaves and droves. Every time an animal moves itself from one field to another more flies are born. It’s a stressor. Sometimes it’s best to eat out. We went to Girasole on the road to Umbertide. I had Chianina steak with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Strongozzi, which is like thick blankets of heavy pasta sliced into strips, and not recommended. And for dessert we drove to the Fizz Bar. Ice cream, grappa and pick up fuss ball.

Carolyn and Gerry are visiting from NYC.  We had pizza for lunch and dinner yesterday.  Had no intentions of a pizza marathon, but there it was, and there we were.  In between, biciclettas (campari, white wine and thick slice of fresh orange and a side of fizzy water) at Bar Sandri in the middle of the main drag of Perugia.  This morning they have gone to Umbertide market and so our dinner tonight will be whatever they are moved by, thrown on the grill, back up here at Corgna.  We’ll sit by the cypress and watch the wild boar run from plum tree to plum tree in the field below.

Baby it’s caldo, caldo

They say it’s more than 96 degrees in Umbria at the moment.
Hoping to have a popsicle for dessert and ice cream for dinner.  Definitely nothing hot or pizza flavored.  Popsicle could be of the watermelon, nectarine and strawberry variety with for the gelato maybe a cucumber, avocado and lime.  
You would think I would swim as a pre dinner activity, but too hot to peel on the bathing suit.

A thin crusted pizza and a big ol’ Amarena gelato in the square of Montone for the last night of the Umbrian film festival. the piazza is the size of a backyard and magical. nothing like sitting under the stars to watch a good flick with church bells ringing in the hour.
Tonight, fat sausages thrown over the fire up in Corgna. With bag in a box white wine as cold as we can get it.
This morning those pesky sheep squeezed themselves into the chicken coop. Totally freaked out the chickens to have 20 sheep show up for breakfast. Not very polite guests those sheep–they make a lot of noise when they chew and as soon as the grub is gone, they all bolt for the door.

The sheep escaped in Corgna today, busting through some unknown hole in the fence. I heard them from the upstairs window, munching their way through the fig tree leaves and softly stampeding their up the dirt road. They are not great navigators. They got all jammed up between two trees and had to rethink their whole plan. Amazing the way they never stop eating.
thinly sliced some small, ridged zucchini and sautéed them with olive oil, slivers of garlic, and basil leaves. tossed with pasta and fior di latte. Cherries for dessert.