Archive for August, 2008

Pasta, Pasta Everywhere

August 24, 2008 6 comments

I hate pasta. I can’t put it any other way – sorry.

Everyone here literally lives on it. Most Umbrian families think nothing of eating it twice a day and it’s the set menu for all the restaurants. If you are like me, you are used to going into a restaurant and having a choice of what you fancy eating – ploughman’s, steak and kidney pie, fish and chips, mixed grill, lemon sole etc. Here it’s the same menu in every restaurant – antipasta (an assortment of cold and slimy salami, hard, full fat cheese and inedible bread).

After the antipasta comes the pasta – I suppose that’s logical when you think about it. You can usually choose from the full range of pasta but, and this is what I don’t get, they all taste the same anyway. I suppose the only exception is the ravioli which has the option of coming with spinach stuffed inside it. Popeye, I ain’t.

Just to make the pasta ‘interesting’, you get to choose whether you want mushrooms, full-fat cheese, tomato sauce or truffles mixed with it. Wow, what a selection. By the way, the pasta is always overcooked, oversalted (which, I suppose, goes some way to making up for their bread which has no salt in it) and coated with olive oil.

If you managed to struggle through that high-cholesterol dish (which you can augment by pouring over Parmesan), it’s the turn of the meat. Meat in Umbria is generally good – as it should be when you consider that the countryside around here is very verdant and the animals are well-fed on natural products. Unfortunately by the time it has been handled by the butcher and your chef any bones will have been reduced to splinters. On top of that, the chef will insist on coating it with a layer of salt and then cremating it on an open fire. It has crossed my mind that this might be some kind of religious ceremony.

The other thing about the meat course is that meat generally is quite reasonably priced yet this half-burnt offering in front of you will probably cost more than the rest of the meal.

Of course you can always have a salad. I nearly said ‘with it’ but the Italians find it weird to eat anything with their meat although if you persevere they will shake their heads and bring you a bowl of salad to eat with the meat. NB salad is lettuce OR rocket OR tomatoes. It is not a mixture of legumes and fruits that we are used to. Of course, you can always douse it in some more olive oil!

Having finished the meat course, you move on to the sweet which is always Tiramisu which means ‘pick me up’. The only logic in the name is because Tiramisu is a concentrated source of caffeine. When you consider that Italy is the home of ice-cream, why do we always have to have this dark, bitter spongy cake? Some restaurants offer ‘English Custard’ (which is actually the ‘Creme’ part of Creme Caramel) or lemon sorbet but often as not, the only option will be ‘Tiramisu’.

After that you get this strange apology for coffee that the Italians drink. For starters they are afraid of anything hot so all ‘hot’ drinks are actually tepid. Secondly coffee to them is somewhat less than a mouthful of highly-concentrate caffeine with loads of sugar mixed in. No mug of coffee to sit back with in an Italian restaurant.

Finally you might have a glass of the stomach-wrenching drink they call ‘Grappa’ which has much the same delicate effect on one’s guts as methylated spirits. Perhaps the idea is that you have a couple of glasses of that and then you become oblivious to how bad the meal was – not that your average Italian would ever complain or send a dish back (I remember how shocked a chef was when I returned a burnt but raw pork chop).

You then pay your 20 to 25 Euros per head and contemplate what other restaurants you can try – not that you will get any different. It’s always the same menu, the same opening hours, the same closing day etc etc.

When I went to Russia just after the collapse of communism, the food was disgusting but I knew that there were no better ingredients available – the chef was doing his best with what was available. In Umbria, there is as good a selection of quality produce available as you could wish to find anywhere – it’s just that the Italians either export it or ruin it.

Read more about my worst meal.

Categories: Dining out Tags: , ,

Swimming Pool Ladder

August 22, 2008 Leave a comment

The blacksmith arrived with the steel ladder for our outside swimming pool today. It was a trial fit so that he could see if any adjustments were needed before galvanising next week.

When I tried it, it felt very strong but with only one handrail (on the right), it was a bit difficult to negotiate. With that in mind, I’ve asked for the left one to be fitted as well and then we can get it erected. I dread to think what it’s costing but if we are to use this above-ground pool then it needs to be fully-accessible.

Categories: Swimming Pool Tags: ,


August 22, 2008 Leave a comment

Just enjoyed a very nice barbecue on our terrace. Some Jack Daniels sauce over some pork chops cooked over a wood-fired barbecue. Could have done with some fresh bread or jacket potatoes but it went down well nevertheless.

During the summer we have one or two of these a week – depending on how energetic I feel. Hopefully next year the herb garden will have taken off and I can use these a bit more in my cooking.

Categories: Eating at home Tags:

Our dogs and fruit

August 22, 2008 7 comments

Damaris has just come in from the garden. Our dogs have been eating all the tomatoes and strawberries again. They just walk past a bush and browse on its contents. It started when we were back in England. The oldest dog, Newton, would follow me around observing what I ate. I realised this when he started eating loganberries off of the bush we had.

The other key to him observing was with the grapes. Perhaps foolishly I gave him a grape. Having a soft mouth, as retrievers do, it wasn’t in his nature to bite the grape so he just sat there with it in his mouth looking a bit lost. Then he saw me bite mine and that was it. Grape eaten – can I have some more, please, master?

It’s not like their short of fluid – we’ve just had water-melon for lunch and they had a fair share of that off of us, too. Water-melon is probably the favourite although apples go down well, too. Pascal, the retriever we had to have put down in January (cancer of the spine) was once clocked as having eaten 10 apples in an afternoon. My own suspicion was that he ate the over-ripe fallers which had just started to ferment and which, I would guess, tasted (and were) a bit like a mild scrumpy. He certainly slept after one of these apple binges.

Categories: Our pets Tags: ,

August 22, 2008 16 comments
The house with pool and orchard in the foreground

The house

Italy has been our home for more than 13 years now, and the house in the photo for most of that time. This blog documents the joys and problems of our existence day by day.


Some of our difficulties derive from where we live, but I still love living here. Clive is more circumspect. By reading about our daily life, perhaps you will be able to tell whose view is the more accurate. Does the pleasure outweigh the pain? Or will my writing betray a less rose-tinted reality?


You can also see the books we’ve written and published by clicking on the image below:


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