Thursday, November 27, 2008

Voyage to the Northern Marche-Urbino, San Leo, San Marino

27 Novembre
Yesterday, after a year and a half in the Marche, I finally got up to visit the "most famous" city of the Marche-Urbino. It is renowned for a really nice palace with the 1st indoor courtyard in all of Italy, from which most others are modelled.
It is a bit of a drive from us at 2.5 hours which includes a combination of 18 euros worth of autostrada and a beginning and end on the curvy roads for which we are famous. I have to admit Urbino, a bustling little university town. is well worth visiting. The main attractions are the castle of Duke Frederico, which now doubles as a museum of mostly religious art (nside, one also finds incredibly beautiful inlaid wood panels in many of the doors and the Duke's study), the Duomo with a "Last Supper" by Bartocci and finally for the local vistas. Urbino is where the famous artist, Raffaelo was born, he of the angelic cherub calendars ubiquitous in the malls this time of year, but you would be hard pressed to find his work in his hometown. 3 in total, I think, with 2 in the museum. For ideal fotos, a little hike up to the Fort of Albornoz gives a great view of the whole city with the palace towers (even better 200 meters down the road).
On to San Leo, which served as model for purgatory for Dante when he wrote his masterpiece. It is more famous for being the final prison for a famous charlatan, heretic named Conte di Cagliostro. He is described as an alchemist, swindler, womanizer, necromancer and quack.. how times change, now we call those guys politicians. We ate a really nice lunch there at La Rocca San Leo trying out their famous prosciutto of Carpegna, a nice lamb dish with thyme and a sangiovese reduction sauce and a cheese course with many of the local pecorino cheeses aged in various different ways such as wrapped in the skins from montepulciano grapes, wrapped in chestnut tree leaves and wrapped in herbs. Finally a little dessert and the shock of a bill! 96 euros. I was going on about how much I liked the place until then. Still worth a splurge if you head that way. I should mention that Raffaele lost a bet and had to pay. He didn't think I could make it to the restaurant before they closed and I arrived in my Formula 1 Doblo' with 9 minutes to spare. The museum and castle in Urbino cost 4 euros to enter and are well worth the small expense, but 8 euros for the fortress of San Leo is excessive unless you are dying to see Cagliostro's cell, lines of old muskets, a tiny torture chamber and not much else. You can drive up to the fort and get the great pix you want and views of the surrounding countryside without paying.
Finally, it was on to San Marino, the oldest republic in Europe and a separate country, sort of like the vatican where you can buy things without the VAT of Italy. This was a visit for Raffaele, as he has been itching to buy a new expresso maker and he saved 30 euros on his new Nespresso machine.
Since we were above Ancona, one last visit was necessary on the way home at our nearest IKEA store in Ancona. The journey finished after 12.5 hours back at Nascondiglio di Bacco.
The northern Marche received a bit of snow the night before our visit and the hills were even more beautiful with their white blanket. Bacco had a great time playing in the stuff. OK, I can scratch off the # 1 place on my list of places to visit here in Italy and now the southern part rises to the top-as soon as the BMW is legal!
The pictures are of: Raffaele with the owner of La Rocca, San Leo fort 2x, a fireplace inside the palace in Urbino and a view of the whole city from the fort.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! My "Amazing Grace" post

26 Novembre
I hope despite all the economic and political turmoil we are experiencing now, you all take time to remember all the things we have to be thankful for, not just today, but every day!
Please check out this you tube post, with one of the best versions of Amazing Grace I have heard, by R. Carlos Nakai, a native american flutist.
Here are the words if you want to sing along.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be,
as long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we've no less days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun.

Words by: John Newton; for more info on him, check out:
(stanza 6 anonymous, 19th century USA melody; harmony by Edwin O. Excell.

The pictures are just there to impart a bit of:
Peace and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Offida art exhibit and sagra di olive tenere at Ascoli

23 Nov.
Happy birthday to my classmate Nina!
This weekend Barone Roberto hosted an open house with an artist from San Benedetto displaying his works with a modern, sometimes almost american style (one mixed media was of a 1960 Ford Fairlane convertible). The artist has the same last name as my friend Sabrina which is Gianno, he was born 3 days before me and owns a z4 as I do. The world is a funny small place. If I am not mistaken, his family comes from a zone in Sicily where Jasper's family is from as well.
After the open house we moved next door to Ophis, a restaurant well liked by our guestsa and had a nice meal there, finishing around late:30.
Today was the second day of the festival in Ascoli celebrating the famous Tenere olives which are famous from this zone and which are used to make the famouse olive ascolane. The olives are pitted and then stuffed with 3 or 4 kinds of meat, 2 cheeses, then battered and fried. A must try for anyone coming to the Marche! I pity the poor vegetarians who can't try them.
Then, it was on to Offida for the release of the guide covering the best wineries of the Marche, complete with a wine tasting of around 50 wines and a banquet of appetizers like prosciutto, lonzo, cheeses, etc. and all for free. The producers of the guide are actually staying with us tonight at Nascondiglio di Bacco. Hopefully we will be in a future edition.
Finally, I saw my friend Frederico at the tasting and he a partner at the winery Aurora, one of the 1st biological vineyards in Italy. We asked them to test our 2007 Passito for residual sugar content and they guessed by tasting 7-8% and I guessed 20%, which they said was impossible. That was yesterday and today Frederico told me it tested out at 20%! Heehee!
They were worried it might re-ferment, but after 14 months, I doubt it. At the tasting tonight, we tried a passito from a winery located near Urbino, which like ours is made from Trebbiano grapes and theirs measures in at 19%! I am bringing some home to try for those who are able to meet up with me.
The photos are of the Baron's wine shop in Offida showing he and the artist who is seated in the 2nd pic., and Raffaele's new look at olive tenere. ( I hope hats are back!). Raffaele is speaking with our buddy Moreno, who has an orchard with, among other things, the slow food Presidi fruit "mela rosa". As always, you can learn more about the good work done by Slow Food at

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's your favorite color?

20 Nov.
It has been a while since I took sunset pictures, so here you are. It was a beautiful day in the southern Marche today, and after opening a bank account in Porto d'Ascoli, Bacco and I had a walk on the beach and he had his swims.
We returned via Offida where the lady at the local drycleaners is trying to get the olive stains out of my jeans. I wasn't smart enough to wear an old, beat-up pair every day when I was harvesting, so now I will either be buying a new pair in the US or setting new fashion standards here-the "Contadino" look of 2008.
Whatever you consider your favorite color, I saw it in the western sky tonight, from deep blues to bright oranges and pastels, These pictures were all taken either out my apartment door or from one of the terraces of room 7 or 8. They are arranged in the reverse order in which they were taken. These were my favorites, but there were many others as good. Again, I take no credit; tutto grazie al Signore! Enjoy!
PS, where are all you world travelers? I only have one correct answer on my "where are you" post from the other day. They are not THAT difficult.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A functioning 500 y o oven at Nascondiglio di Bacco

19 Novembre
Yesterday was the 1st real test of the 500 year old wood burning oven which is the oldest part of Nascondiglio di Bacco and for sure hasn't been tried for at least many years. We purchased insurance a few months back against fire, theft, tornadoes etc, so we were ready for the consequences. Underneath the oven is a storage area where my genius poolmen had thrown most of the pine wood with nails still sticking out, which they used to make curved forms for the cement. These, along with 2 lounge chairs and old wood from last year were "neatly placed" or thrown outside, whichever you prefer, and we then burned all the pine with nails and I replaced the rest in beautiful piles ready for the winter. The oven worked like a charm; the smoke exited into the sky and not room #9 and the place is still standing!
I also took my new italian identity card to the agent I am using to license the BMW and will hear from him today, I hope, as to the next step in that process.
It is a beautiful day here in the Marche as you can see by the 3rd photo looking north from the outdoor bread and pizza oven with its new ashes inside. The other photos are from Raffaele and show our visiting students off for a bit of olive picking with guard dog Bacco protecting the perimeter.
Buona giornata!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cure for global economy blues

17 Novembre
Just a quick note to ask everyone to pass along our escapist blogs ( this one and ). We promise never to write about sad things (at least quasi never) and show nice relaxing photos of our little corner of the Marche. With the stock market rising and falling like the marchigiani hills, wouldn't you rather see our peaks and valleys than those depressing graphs in the WSJ? Also, now that the dollar has regained about 20% of its value, you can start planning your escape from reality and visit us here.
We are expecting a cold front next weekend and maybe some snow flurries. It will arrive just in time for the olive tenere festival in Ascoli Piceno.
The weekend here was relaxing and the weather made it difficult to enjoy the outdoors, so I cooked for our new English neighbors. I also experimented with Kamut flour and made a new bread with cinnamon and nutmeg and made the spinosi pasta recipe served by Marco at his house for the students last week. Try and find a box near you of Spinosi pasta and you will be pleased with the ease of preparation and the quality.
I am shopping online for xmas presents and movies to bring back here; only those with deep meaning like Blazing Saddles, Dazed and Confused, etc ( i did order citizen kane, before sunrise and before sunset as well as american graffiti). I am also going to have some nice college lectures to watch about geology, roman history and black holes which I found at the Teaching Company (highly recommended!)
If you need ideas for your presents, check out and punch in Nascondiglio di Bacco to find our logo items. That is where I am shopping for my friends and relatives. You can also make your own designs there with everything from calendars to mugs, aprons, shirts, etc.
The pictures are from all over Europe, Let's see who can guess correctly where they are taken.
Finally, kudos to Matteo Barolo who was victorious for best young sommelier from Piemonte and now works in a 2 star restaurant near Lagomaggiore (he is in the 2nd picture, but where?)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bacco, the photogenic cane

13 novembre
Be sure to look below for the real post from today. These are animal pix. Bacco posing, a puppy and cat hiding from Bacco under a jeep and then the mom and pups playing with the Big Dog. Finally, sheep in the road, a not uncommon sight here in the Marche.

UNISG students at Nascondiglio di Bacco

13 Novembre, 2008
15 students from 5 countries have joined us with their tutor at N. di Bacco this week and we have turned back the hands of time a bit and enjoyed part of their stage as if we were students again. Half hail from Italy with a handful from Japan, 2 from the USA, one from Turkey and a Brazilian. Alessandra, their tutor, is from Parma and has done an excellent job planning out their visit!
The afternoon they arrived, we all headed down the hill to harvest the last 2 olive trees which we had saved for them. It was a real hoot to see these guys from all parts of the earth up in the tree including one of the young ladies in 3 inch wedge high heals and I am talking about 12 feet up in the air!
We took the 50 kg of olives up to Borgo Miriam where Tiziano explained the working of his frantioio and then he treated us to a tasting of 4 olive oils, all pressed this year, but with two ringers-one from Spain (yuck) and worse was an oil with a defect called riscaldo from someone who had picked olives off the ground, moldy. There are over 350 different species of olives grown in Italy and only 2 in Spain. Most of the cheap olive oil you find in the supermarkets back home are of Spanish descent. It would be a fun trial to buy a good DOP oil from Italy which you can find at Jasper's in Kansas City or any good Italian gourmet shop elsewhere and put it up against the stuff you buy in 2 Liter bottles at Costco.
The students have visited Ascoli to here about sustainable biological farmer's markets and experience the historic bar, Meletti and the beauty of our provincial capitol. They have also visited Matellica, the capitol of the province to our north in the Marche and famous for the wine, verdicchio. It is also quite a charming city.
Yesterday, a visit to Oasi degli Angeli with proprietors Marco and Eleanora was highlighted by a wonderful lunch and the 2006 Kurni, a montepulciano wine unique in the world. We stayed behind and chatted with them about life, the universe and everything about grape growing, business, marketing etc.
Today after our modest little breakfast, Raffaele and I detoured to a biological grain mill in Montefiore del'Aso and stocked up on flour of various types like whole wheat, regular white, Kamut and Faro and then met up with the group as they toured the internationally known pasta factory of Spinosi in Campofilone. Marco, the son of Vincenzo showed us the pasta works, which is amazingly small, but efficient, making exceptional artisanal pastas. He then cooked a nice lunch at the beautiful family home featuring his wonderful egg pasta dressed up with a local prosciutto, lemon peal, olive oil and parmigiano cheese.
It will be sad to see them go back to Colorno tomorrow, but we are thinking of following them up to Senegalia to try out one of the best restaurants in the Marche with them.
Back to our vineyard, our neighbor has been plowing up our ground and spreading the biological fertilizer, but may not get our seeds planted before the rain hits tomorrow. That would be a shame, but we can't control the weather.
Bacco has been a big hit with almost all the students and he has enjoyed the attention! I gave him his own post above. He actually got "outplayed" by a 5 month old labrador and sought refuge in the Doblo'!
The pictures are of our visits to the frantoio, Oasi degli Angeli and Spinosi.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

11 hours of extirpation and pix of the pugliese bread

9 nov.
Happy Veteran's Day to everyone a bit early. Today, I got new blisters pruning back all the old vineyard to the nubs. I also took out all the cables in the 1st 15 rows with about 6 more to go. Next the tractor will come in and tear out the cement poles and a power saw will cut off the vines at soil level. Then the big 1 meter deep plow will make the old vineyard just a memory. I am pooped! and sitting here with a Beck's beer, trying to recuperate.
Tomorrow, more olive picking with Luigi; kind of a I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine sort of thing as he has been tardy putting our fertilizer (biological) in the new vineyard followed by plowing under and seeding with the beans.
The recipe for bread was perfect and here are the pix. If anyone wants to go through the 2 day process to make it, drop me a line and i will give you the link for the recipe.
Finally, a flowering plant with blooms bigger than the plant which opened up yesterday.
Enjoy! Go MU! Sorry wildcats.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fall Flowers, pruning foot long spikes and Pane Pugliese

7 Novembre
Today finally seems like Fall around here although all our plants are fooled. I have more rosebuds ready to roll than I did all summer and of course the mums are on schedule. The workers continue to put in the cables in our vineyard and I keep tidying up the lawn. I have a bonfire ready to go when the pruned branches dry out. It seems like most of our plants have some kind of protective spikes, the roses, the pyrocantha and some unnamed plant with longer spines than those.
I am making bread Puglia style for the 1st time today and hope it will turn out well. Also, I am finishing up another batch of quince sorbet.
We did a bit of math with the accountant and are 100% above last year as far as occupancy and I would like to thank all our guests for supporting us in 2008 and a hope you will visit again soon!
Tonight, we are heading to a wine dinner at Kursaal in Ascoli Piceno with 4 or 5 courses and Piemonte wines including a 3 glass winner Barolo. Kursaal is a nice, traditional Marche dining experience run by a family who segue the tenets of Slow Food, serving fresh and local ingredients. I once ordered a 1990 Beringer Zinfandel from their wine cellar just to give Raffaele a taste of american "primitivo".
Our final tally for olives this year was about 1450 kg or well over a ton! Multiply by 12%-15% and you get the liters of oil we obtained. Anyone want any? We will probably be selling it in 5 liter tins for 45 euros or in 1 liter bottles for 10 or 11.
Hopefully our friend Giorgio will be able to use some for his Christmas baskets; check out the link to his amazing site in the upper left hand corner of the blog page under Gaston and Parini.
I found a new site for ecologically minded travelers called organic holidays which is run by Linda Moss from England. Put it in your google search to find the site. I am hoping she will accept Nascondiglio di Bacco for her book in the future.
That's all for now. I will let you know how the bread comes out.
The photos show some of the big pile of pruned killer spikes and one of its ilk still attached, flowers in the yard, a new, unobstructed view from the infinity pool after I pruned the tall bush below and also the cables in the vineyard.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Umbrian saffron

3 Novembre
Buon compleanno Corrado e pappa in cielo.
I just got back from a weekend jaunt in Umbria and got to visit a real contadino who has just added saffron sales to his long list of products he sells from his piece of land along with olive oil, and biological grano duro (hard wheat). If you look around his property, you can pick some juniper berries and make your own gin as his wife does or find some pine nuts or see a beautiful garden full of various types of pomodori and peperoncini.
I didn't think of Umbria as prime saffron territory before, but in fact, Monteleone has a saffron festival in October every year. Ninni is now harvesting from 100-300 crocus flowers every day with each bulb supplying up to 8-9 flowers a year and of course one pair of pistils from each flower. It takes a whole bunch to make even a gram and one gram sells for 20 euros in an unlabelled bag or 30 euros in a vacuum sealed pack or jar. With one gram you can make about 9 family meals of risotto with saffron.
I brought home some hard wheat and tried to use my Kitchenaid as a flour mill and it was defeated, overheating, and refusing to pulverize the grains into flour. At that point, panicked, as I was thinking of transporting another extremely heavy food processor from america in december and using up valuable weight in my luggage, Raffaele suggested I use my coffee grinder and it worked like a charm. My recommendation is to use the grinder and save the food processor for salsa. The kitcheaid, after a call to the customer satisfaction center, came back to life after an hour of cool down, thank goodness. I made bread with the flour and will give a full report tomorrow on the results.
I helped Ninni pick his olives as the trees in this part of Umbria, west of Perugia, are about 2 weeks behind ours, and as my payment, he gave me some of the wheat and some home grown tomatoes of various types. I will try to grow the seeds next year in our garden.
Today, the workers began the work to finish our vineyard with placement of 6 cables between all the poles to support our vines as they grow. This is their last job and shortly we will be putting down biological fertilizer, which costs a sack of money, and then we plan to plant biological beans between the rows to act as a weed preventer and a natural fertilizer as the bean plants put nitrogen back into the soil.
This afternoon I spent pruning back bushes and trees and I was amazed at the thorns on the pirocantha bushes. I kept thinking I would need to call my friend Jemshed and ask if my eyesight would come back after poking myself with these 3 inch long spikes! Instead, knowing what phone calls cost, I put on my old serengeti safety glasses which I never wore in surgery, but are more necessary now (They also are handy at preventing injuries from olive branches). I cut back the bushes which were blocking the view from the infinity pool, so now there is a clear view of the surrounding hills and our vineyard.
The pictures are of my Umbrian host and his crocus flowers with the red pistils (saffron) and his contadino hands placing the product in the dehydrator screen. Finally a view of Monteleone from Montegabbione.