Happy Friday

Circus Maximus
The Circus Maximus in Rome is still being used for games. Although I have yet to see a chariot.

The forecast for Rome this weekend is rain so we have big plans to sleep in and to make some fresh pasta with the big squash that’s been sitting on our counter. We are going to make agnolotti al plin which is basically a little folded ravioli from Piedmont. Finished, each one looks something like a piece of candy or a little stuffed purse.  What will you be cooking this weekend?

Donate to the Monks of Norcia–and Beer

Norcia agriturismo
The lovely agriturismo La Cascina di Opaco where we stayed on a trip to Norcia last spring.

Last Sunday’s historical earthquake leveled the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, the birth place of St. Benedict and founder of the order which bears his name. Miraculously and thanks to well-executed precautions, no lives were lost, although some 15,000 people were displaced.

But the Benedictine Monks of Norcia that care for the Basilica have been in the news for an entirely different reason in recent years–beer. The Monks of Norcia have been producing Birra Nursia since 2012, after taking up residency in Norcia in 2000 following a roughly 200 year hiatus for the order from the town.

The magic of the sagra

chestnuts
Roasting chestnuts at the chestnut sagra in Vallerano.

Local food is synonymous with Italian cuisine, as is the tradition of celebrating and sharing it with others. Enter the magic of the sagra, an Italian food tradition in which a local food product is celebrated at its very own festival. There are sagras for wine and polenta and mushrooms and potatoes and pastas and nuts. Pretty much anything edible and local goes. Last weekend we stopped by a chestnut sagra in the medieval hilltop town of Vallerano and when my brother comes to visit me later this month we’ll be off to a Tuscan white truffle festival in San Miniato. Looking up local sagras is great for trip planning and for getting off the beaten trail as many take place in small towns throughout the countryside.

There are many sites on which to search for upcoming sagras by region (sagre is the plural in Italian), but googling will also get you some good answers as folks and travel writers generally like to keep tabs on a few of their favorites. What’s your favorite sagra?

Book Recommendation: The Hidden Life of Trees

Seeking wild edibles in a Vermont forest last spring.
In search of wild edibles in a Vermont forest last spring.

I love to read about food and have found myself following the breadcrumbs down a path to books on agriculture and then on to nature writing and finally down the shelf to indigenous thinking and forests. I have many book recommendations from this path, but one in particular takes the cake–The Hidden Life of Trees by the German forester Peter Wohlleben.

Full of as much new thinking as  forgotten science fundamentals, it had me spewing forest facts and trying to explain the wood wide web to everyone I met–trees apparently have social networks too. The language of the book is simple and playful with the author even describing a weevil as a very small elephant without ears. Love.

The deliciousness of Norcia

Norcia

I took that photo last spring while feeling like a little kid in a candy store at the Norcineria Fratelli Ansuini, near Piazza San Benedetto in Norcia. My boyfriend and I had taken a road trip, winding through the Apennine mountain range in our little car and up into the bright and fresh air of this land of chestnuts and oak, of truffles and wild boar. After the recent onslaught of earthquakes that have left our house swaying on the far side of Rome, I think of the long, dark tunnels that crawl through the mountain range certainly with a little terror, but with far more mouthwatering nostalgia.

Ricotta Pancakes

A fluffy stack of ricotta pancakes.
A fluffy stack of ricotta pancakes.

There is a large beer festival in Rome this weekend (EurHop) with a great selection of beers for sampling from around the world. I went last night. Noteworthy beers I tried included a creative smoked sour beer, Brett Peat Daydream, by the Italian brewery Birrificio del Ducato, a powerful and meaty smoked beer, the Affumicator by the Bavarian brewery Gänstaller Bräuand, and a delicate floral beer made in the lambic-style with elderflower which was vaguely reminiscent of tea, the Sourflowers Blend 01 Sambuco by Stradaregina in Lombardy.

But while one visit to the beer festival in a weekend was sufficient for me, my boyfriend headed back again today to continue his beer “studies”. In preparation, he requested pancakes. As I recently came back from Vermont with a suitcase heavy with maple syrup, it seemed an excellent idea and since we’re in Italy, fluffy ricotta pancakes it had to be.

Where to drink craft beer in Rome

stavio

Browsing through the photos I took this summer in Rome, one thing is clear, I’ve been drinking a lot of beer. This is unusual for me. But my boyfriend has become a bit obsessed with beer in recent years and has been dutifully “studying” as he says. I’m not complaining. It’s been delicious and I’ve “learned” a lot. Here is a list of some of my favorite places to help my boyfriend “research” Italian craft beers in Rome.

Donate to Earthquake Relief

Castellucio
Looking out from the Umbrian town of Castelluccio last spring. The mountain top town is home to approximately 150 people and is famous for producing some of the world’s very best lentils. Castelluccio was seriously affected by the recent earthquake.

I awoke in the dark in Rome to feel the bed rocking lightly from top to bottom. It lasted longer than seemed natural. An open door swung gently. I knew it was an earthquake, but it seemed mild and eventually I rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning, while groping about in the dark for my running shoes, I decided to quickly google it on my phone to see if I had dreamt it entirely. I looked up the word for earthquake in Italian as I assumed that I would be reading a local newspaper. Terremoto. No need. As we all sadly know now, the earthquake was very real and it was anything but gentle.

Less than 6 months ago, my boyfriend and I visited the Amatrice and Norcia area and basked in its mountainous beauty. It is a magical place. I took almost 400 pictures that weekend that have mysteriously disappeared from my photo library. I’m devastated, but my dark visual hole is of course nothing compared to the real devastation this powerful earthquake wrought on these ancient, mountain towns.

Donate to relief efforts here.

Smoked Beer in Franconia

The Franconian city of Bamberg in upper Bavaria.
The Franconian city of Bamberg in Bavaria.

Overwhelmed by heat and life and sun and all that is Rome in August, my boyfriend and I hopped a plane last weekend and fled to Germany where a mini Bavarian road trip seemed in tall order. Stepping off the plane into the fresh and heavily forested air that surrounds Munich, I immediately reached for a long sleeve shirt and questioned my decision to wear sandals, but not my decision to jump ship for a refreshing weekend up north.

Our quest?  Beer. And sausages. And pretzels. My boyfriend has become quite the beer connoisseur and I’m learning a lot by tagging along. In Franconia in Bavaria, I fell for the smoked beer he introduced me to, known as rauchbier in German where rauch means smoky. Rauchbier is an old-style beer which gets its smokiness from drying malt over burning beech wood. Beer was often originally made this way, but as technology evolved, the smoking was done away with, as was the distinctive smoky flavor. Fortunately, they kept burning beech to make beer in the Franconian city of Bamberg in Bavaria, perfecting a modern version and creating a local classic still produced by several breweries.