Saturday, November 10, 2007

Photographers for Hire

Loads of Truffles!!

Corrie and I have both been featured in this month's San Pellegrino website, and it seems that the two of us were chosen based on nothing else but our photos which fit the monthly spotlights (Le Marche and Truffles), not based on finding us through our popular and lovable blog! In fact, it's very likely that the people who emailed us in regards to our photos didn't realize at all that they had chosen two great gals and great friends from Indiana who met and became friends during their study abroad in beautiful Macerata, adore Italy, and love both Le Marche AND truffles!

"Tartufo Researcher"

My photo of Fermo a city near Macerata in Le Marche region, was chosen for San Pellegrino's article, Le Marche is Different. And two (count 'em, TWO) of Corrie's photos were featured in the article Truffles, Tuscany's Treasure (you have to click on Acqua Panna to get there).

Stopping over in Fermo

Check out our flickr accounts here (Jackie) and here (Corrie) for more photos!

Corrie was the one who mentioned that both of our photos made it on the water-people's site, as we met up today for an afternoon in Ancona, Le Marche's seaport regional capital. Corrie has been sick these past couple of days after her graduation (a result of Cyndi and my visit the day before? I hope not!) and has therefore missed valuable time enjoying Italy (she leaves for Ireland tomorrow--she's only had a week or so back in Parma!), so we did a whistlestop tour of Ancona, checking out the piazza, the cobblestone streets, some beautiful churches and courtyards, and, as a final hurrah, the view of the port at sunset from the cathedral church of San Ciriaco. Oh, and we ate really well too at the Trattoria Clarice, a little place along the main drag that makes excellent soups and pastas. Even though it was a quick visit, we all had a great time hanging out in beautiful Ancona, catching up on everything under the sun, and spending just another day in Italy.

Corrie, have fun in Dublin, and come back to Italia soon! I still can't believe you're leaving. It was great to see you this week, even if it wasn't much time! We miss you already, bella!


Friday, November 09, 2007

Say Cheese! : Ah-choo!

After discovering for the first time the delicious, crumbly Piedmont cheese Castelmagno at the recently reopened (and rennovated) Il Contadino grocery store, I decided that it might be a good idea for Allora Aspetta to start a cheese-of-the-week post, talking about different cheeses that might not be listed among your standard cheeses.

The reason for this is the following: First off, Il Contadino is not the only cheese store in Macerata. I've been a regular at another place, La Casa del Parmigiano, for years, and they have some of the best prices and tastiest cheeses around these parts. For a while, the thought has been floating around in my head to, one at a time, buy every single cheese in the place and try it. Normally when I go, however, I just seem to get my standards, and only once in a while do I really branch out. There are so many good standards, that I'm not always ready to buy something new.

However, now that Il Contadino has all of the sudden acquired so many new cheeses, I thought that it was about time to put my above-mentioned idea into practice, and really try some new cheeses. So here goes nothing: Corrie and I want to introduce the "cheese of the week." And it won't just be Italian cheeses--we want to introduce American cheeses as well, so Corrie will do her part from the states, buying and eating cheese (tough job!), and then reporting back.

Testun, a cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy

The first cheeses we purchased from the rennovated "Il Contadino" were a very tasty Castelmagno (as mentioned) and an aged Gorgonzola (which is hard to find in Macerata, as they only seem to have Gorgonzola dolce, a softer cheese, at most places). When we went back to get our second new cheese, we couldn't figure out where to start, so we asked the woman who worked there for any advice. We mentioned our love of the Castelmagno, and the woman suggested trying another Piedmont cheese, Testun. The word testun comes from the Italian word "testardo," which means stubborn or difficult, which apparently has to do with how difficult it is to make this rare cheese. Testun is oftentimes also made into a Testun al Barolo or Nebbiolo, aged in the must of the grape. We opted for the regular Testun, no grape must added, and we marveled at its beautiful appearance, like an aged version of Swiss, with little holes throughout. I couldn't wait to try it.

I've noticed though, that with cheeses I tend to be quite sensitive, and some cheeses actually make me sneeze. Is that just me, or does it happen to anyone else? When we got home, I soon discovered that, with how strong Testun is, it made me sneeze immediately. I couldn't handle it at all! I thought, "what kind of way to start a cheese-of-the-week with one that makes me sneeze?" Still though, sneezing aside, the actual taste was quite good, and if I could get past my apparent allergies to the cheese, I think I'd like it quite a bit! It was extremely strong (as mentioned), but it had an herbal taste to it, and I think that a Testun al Barolo or Nebbiolo would be especially good.

So, unfortunately Testun was as stubborn as suggested, as every time I tried to forgive and forget and try the cheese again, sneezing ensued. Fans of strong cheeses will enjoy this one, but sensitive sneezers ought to stay away!

Read more about Testun:
- in Slow Food's article, "Considering the Source"
- from Cheeseline, where they describe Testun al Barolo (and you can buy it there, too!)
- in this article by Andy Shay, where he mentions Castelmagno too!

- Jackie

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Weekend Away: Greccio

I'm finally getting caught up on some of this travelling I've been doing, and I'm keeping my promise of one blog post a day! This trip was a couple of weekends back, when we headed down to Lazio.

Antonello and I didn't have a destination in mind for the weekend, we just knew we wanted to get out of town. I was right in the middle of a 2 week Intensive English course, and I was exhausted. Luckily, intensive English takes a backseat for weekends, so I had two free days to skedaddle. We took a map, packed some things into the car, and, with two guidebooks to Italy, a few ideas scribbled down, and some snacks for the car ride, we took off toward who-knows-where.

We decided pretty quickly that we wanted to head east. The idea of heading down to Puglia had passed through our thoughts, but it wasn't reasonable. We were getting a late start--it was already after lunch. North, to cities like Vicenza or Padova in the Veneto region, didn't make sense either--they were too far away as well. I mentioned Abruzzo, more specifically the small, traditional hill town of Scanno, a place that I had been wanting to visit for years, and Antonello mentioned the Lazio provincial capital, Rieti. Maybe we could do both?

We hadn't picked the best weekend for weather, with rain clouds threating all around, and driving through the beautiful Valnerina region of Umbria toward Terni, we could barely enjoy the scenery. Also, I felt car sick much of the way, and we had to stop often just to get air. It wasn't turning out to be the best road trip--cloudy skies and a queasy stomache. Halfway through the Valnerina we stopped at my favorite little sandwich shop (we had been this way before) to get a Pecorino truffle cheese sandwich. I couldn't wait. I dream about these sandwiches--they are so good! We got inside with just enough time to snap a few pictures as the customers before us headed out, and we were quickly told that the place was about to close.

"What time do you close?" my husband asked.

"Oh, around one. We close down for a couple of hours, then reopen," the guy said briskly. Glancing down at our watches, we noticed that two hours had already past since 1 o'clock. It was 3 in the afternoon. We must've looked a bit confused, as the guy waved his hand and said, "Fine, if you want a sandwich, I'll make one. But we really are closing."

Antonello, not one to deal with this kind of behaviour, politely said not to worry about it, and we left, grumbling all the way to the car about how my favorite little sandwich shop had been taken over by rude employees. And even though we might be taking the same road back the next day, who knew when the cheese shop was actually open? If it closes at 1 and reopens at 3, then closes at 3 and reopens at 5--I was starting to think that no truffle pecorino sandwiches were in our future for quite some time.

After more driving, getting lost in Terni, and finally making our way toward Rieti by means of a small road that headed through countryside and small villages, we passed a sign that said "Greccio." I did a double take when I saw the sign below it, which said, "Sister City: Bethlehem."

"Bethlehem?!" I announced, amazed. Antonello looked over and saw the sign too, and all of the sudden it was like something had clicked.

"That's what I was telling you about last week!" he said, slowing the car down, and turning onto the road toward Greccio. "That's the place?"


"Remember that conversation we had about Saint Francis?" Oddly enough, I did--he had told me about Saint Francis building the first nativity scene in a town in central Italy, though he didn't remember where. Antonello had visited the town years before with some of his family, but he couldn't for the life of him remember the name. And here we were, right in front of it. Greccio. Home of the first Presepio (nativity scene). It was too late to even make a decision, since Antonello had already started raging up the road toward Greccio.

All in all, Greccio was nice. We got to see the monastery where St. Francis lived for some time (and the uncomfortable-looking rock that he slept on--and I thought our mattress was firm!), the sanctuary and church, and a little museum filled with various nativity scenes from all around Italy and the world. We decided to head toward Greccio's city centre as well--a small crumbling hill town a few kilometres away (the sanctuary is separated from the hill town by winding roads and forest), as it was getting late, and we needed a place to stay. The hill town turned out to be just as charming from close-up as it had been from our view driving toward it: a medieval hamlet with an interesting lighthouse-like tower and plenty of narrow little alleyways, cobblestones, and quaint homes to make it an excellent place to relax away an evening.

And there was a hotel and a restaurant too. What more can you ask for? At dinner that night, the windows opening up on stars all above us and the valley below, we noticed that the weather had improved, and our spot, here on the crown of the valley of Rieti, was actually just right. Dinner was delicious--a whole spread of antipasti for each of us, pasta with truffles and mushrooms (to make up for missing my truffle sandwich, maybe?), and delicious litte lemon sorbetti and various fruit gelati to top things off--and the restaurant was rustic and inviting. Somehow, after starting out without a plan--just a map and a couple of guidebooks--we had discovered the right road. There were plenty of other places to go, and surely weekends in the future would mean daytrips to towns near and far away, but for now, this felt good. We listened to the Beatles singing away on the cd player as we picked through each other's antipasti plates and sipped wine. The fire was warm behind us, and the plans for what we'd do the next day were still just a little too far away to think about.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

One Year!

Today is a big day for Antonello and my baby niece, Miriam, as she celebrates her first birthday! Even from across an ocean, we have been so fortunate to watch her grow, with my brother's excellent eye and ability to capture the sweet moments of this one year. His flickr account has been our window into Miriam's world when we can't be with her, from her first days on the planet to her first haircut, and the many moments in between, Paul has helped us watch her grow.

And we've also been lucky to see her quite a bit ourselves during our visits home. Our trip home last year in November gave us the chance to see her as just a few-weeks-old baby, and the most recent trip in August was such a change, as she was already on her feet, learning to walk, full of personality and warmth, little baby faces that are all her own, and smiles and laughter. She is the sweetest baby ever (said, of course, without bias by the baby's aunt and uncle), and we think about her everyday. Baby Miriam--today we're thinking about you a lot, and we hope you celebrate well! We can't wait to see photos of your very first birthday. Have a blast! We miss you and love you a lot.

lots of love,
Aunt Jackie & Uncle Antonello

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Here comes the sun

Not much to say this morning, as I'm getting prepared to leave to go up to Parma. It's still dark out (I dare not tell you what hour, or you'll think I'm crazy to be leaving so early), and I'm already ready to go back to sleep, but my train awaits. That's right--I'm taking a train this time. The car is going to stay at home with Antonello, where it will get to get some rest instead of being handled by me, early morning, not at all in the mood to be driving, much less driving a stick shift on curvy topsy-turvy italian roads.

This is just a short trip, really, and it should be quite nice, as Corrie is graduating today (congratulations Corrie!!), and we get to spend the entire day celebrating that. Tomorrow morning I'll be coming back home to Macerata (although not quite this early!), and I'll have lessons again, and Wednesday will be Wednesday, not an adventure, just a normal day. Sometimes, though, these hiccups in the week remind me that, even if life is normal as can be with work and classes and hectic schedules grounding me--I live in a country that is still quite foreign to me, a beautiful, fascinating, lovely country, that can be a million miles away from the nearest work day. Surely it was that way back in America too--I just never had the sense to notice.

So, here's to a daytrip--an early morning before dawn daytrip--into the Italian countryside and all the way up to Parma. I might not be watching out for sunrise though, as I very well may be sleeping on the train.

Have a great Tuesday, all of you! More tomorrow!


Monday, November 05, 2007

The quiet rooms and the streets around you

Here's your dose of Macerata Monday--windows in one of the small squares of Macerata's city center:

These windows are among my favorites in Macerata. I'm somewhat of a window-snapping photographer, as for some reason I love looking up at windows and finding their various shapes and styles.

The square that these windows look out upon is also quite charming, and sometimes, in the summer, there are jazz concerts or other events in the little square, where tables and chairs spill out from the bars and gelaterie that surround it. It makes me wonder if, during those events, these windows are wide open, with people leaning onto the shutters, listening to the music and the sounds of the crowds in the street, even as the summer lights begin to fade.

Hope your Monday was great! I'm off to Parma tomorrow...

A lot to Say

I hope everyone's weekends were good. Here in Italy, we had a typical All Saint's Day long weekend, which would normally include a "ponte" (bridge between a holiday and a weekend, incorporating the thursday or friday in between--kind of the American equivilent to long Thanksgiving weekends), but this year it wasn't even needed since Friday was also kind of a holiday--All Soul's Day. We spent the weekend well--visiting the cemetery on All Saint's Day with everyone else, a tradition here in Italy, and then using the rest of the weekend to relax and travel a bit. Our typical All Saint's Day weekend would mean going to the annual Caving Convention (this year it was in Tuscany), but at the last minute we decided against it. It was kind of a letdown--we had seriously wanted to go, and it really IS a tradition for us--so we decided to make up for it by making the weekend as good as possible.

That meant a day trip to Perugia, which we got to finally see without feeling crowded in by tourists and chocolate eaters (we are used to going to Perugia during festival times--in fact, I'd only ever been during the Eurochocolate Festival and the Umbria Jazz Fest), and we discovered parts of the city that we had never known existed. It was gorgeous, and the drive there was all about autumn--finally, finding colorful trees and Italy, mountains dressed in oranges and reds, was a perfect way to start November.

Sunday continued those colorful excursions, as we headed into the mountains of Le Marche with our friend Sergio, walking through the red and orange woods up to a lookout point where all of Le Marche stretched before us. We spent a lot of time just looking, amazed at how close by everything seemed--almost touchable.

And now, as the weekend has ended, I'm getting ready for another full week. Corrie is in Italy (welcome back, bella!!) for her graduation ceremony near Parma, and Cyndi and I are heading up there for the celebration (we're not ones to miss a party). Also, today is our friend Lori's birthday--Happy Birthday Lori! When are you coming to Italy next? I can't wait to see you, but in the meantime--celebrate well! And post something on that blog of yours!

Speaking of posts, I'm kind of late to join the crowds of people participating in this year's NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Posting Month), as it's already November 5th, but I'd still like to take the challenge, and post every day for the rest of the month. I hope that I can think of things to post about (sorry if the blog gets kind of dull over these next days--I'll really try to be exciting and interesting!), but I've got some ideas. Of course there is always Macerata Monday (oh wait, is TODAY Monday? I'd better get on that), and I think Corrie and I would also like to do a cheese-of-the-week, after my experience at the newly-improved Il Contadino grocery store a few weeks ago (and a whole delightful block of Castelmagno cheese!).

So keep reading--there's gonna be a lot of talking going on here over the next month!