It’s All About Perspective

What a time of it we’ve been having here in Abruzzo lately. Snow came and within an afternoon many towns and villages were cut off, our collection of houses overlooking the valley was stranded for 5 whole days as the lane was impassable; even taking the dog for a walk in the deep snow was a challenge.

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Along with the inconvenience of snow we had power cuts, with as many as 100,000 homes without electricity for days. Water pipes froze, people lost their broadband connections and then came the rain. A deluge of epic proportions that threatened to be second only to the rains Noah had experienced turned the fields into swamps, the lane ran like a river and mud slid onto the now flooded roads.

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During these frustrating times did we moan and complain? You bet we did, when people were able to get onto social media there were angry posts about the electricity suppliers, gripes about how we were sick of snow now and woe is me postings about having to cook dinner on top of the log burner: That one was mine – ironically after posting my moan to Facebook and served up said dinner by torchlight, the electricity came back on just as I was about to eat.

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After the snow had cleared I had clients over to view properties, (which is no fun in the rain). As the viewings with one lady started there were reports of earthquakes near Amatrice where there’d been a devastating one back on 25 August last year. My client told me a woman at her hotel had asked her why she was here in Abruzzo, she told her she was here to hopefully find a house as she plans to move to the area. Her enquirer then asked why she wasn’t worried about the earthquakes*. She told me her response was – “It’s all about perspective. I live and work in central London where there’s more risk of me being a fatality of crime or a victim in a terrorist attack than perishing in an earthquake.” – Brilliant response I thought.

* News companies in the UK have been reporting earthquakes in Abruzzo, sadly their reporting is flawed as the earthquakes occurred in the Lazio region.

So, yes it’s fair to say we’ve endured a lot this year thus far; it has been one of the worst winters in many years. My friend Mario said he remembers a winter where there was bad snow, torrential rain and earth tremors, but seeing as he’s in his mid eighties and his recollection takes him back to being a small boy, they’re frankly few and far between.

So yes let’s put it into perspective, we all moaned and griped about the snow for six or seven days and in the grand scheme of things seven days out of 364 isn’t bad going, that leaves us hopefully with 357 snow-free days. Rain may be unpleasant but there’s many more unpleasant things out there to feel aggrieved about. IMG_1172

There were issues with some electricity pylons being badly damaged by the weight of the snow, and some land slippage, but on the whole Italy is quite good when snow hits; roads are cleared quickly and close-knit communities care for each other.

But sadly this winter has brought tragedy in the form of the Hotel Rigopiano avalanche in the mountain town of Farindola, so putting it into perspective, a day without electricity or a few hours without broadband aren’t as Shakespeare said, the be all and the end all

But will we moan if it happens again – you bet we will, we’re only human after all.

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Snow and Stew

As most of Europe is currently under attack from Arctic blasts and ‘thundersnow’ we didn’t escape it here in Abruzzo. The snow is finally thawing following a seven-day period of deep deposits. It all looked very pretty, but it was so deep in places that villages were cut off, not to mention water pipes frozen and electricity lines going down.

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So trapped at home until the lane can be cleared I turned to passing the time getting used to induction cooking. We don’t have mains gas in our lane and have used a gas bottle cooker for the past few years, it was sufficient for our needs until in autumn a field mouse took up residence in the back and chewed through the pipe to the oven. Now I have a nice fan-assisted electric oven I thought it may be a good idea to go all electric to remove the need to buy and store gas bottles. I was helping a friend prepare lunch using her induction hob and was so impressed I went out and got myself one. I then spoke with another friend who had a double hob for sale, and so now I am learning to use them and thus far I’ve been impressed with the speed of cooking and the control of the heat.

So I decided this week to use the hob for something more challenging than an omelette or boiling pasta and set to making a stew, as everyone knows snow and comfort food go together really well. So here’s my recipe for a veal stew. (serves 4)

The ingredients are:

400g veal. 2 small onions. 300 ml passata. 160 g mushrooms. 200g carrots. 2 tablespoons of tomato puree. 500 ml home made veg base.

In the late 1970’s people became outraged to discover the veal they were eating was produced by keeping calves in the dark inside boxes to restrict movement. This led to a rapid decline in the UK for veal consumption, even now very few butcher’s shops openly sell it. However here in Italy I purchase what we now call rose veal, its male calves that have been raised until they are 8 months old rather than being culled at birth. It’s not a pale as milk fed veal but tastes very good. If veal still isn’t your thing substitute it for pork in this recipe.

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Cut the meat into bite size pieces and brown it off in small quantities and add to the stew pot.

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Chop the onions and sweat them off in a frying pan for a minute or so, then add the tomato puree and cook it off.This sweetens the onions and helps to pick up the pieces of veal that have caramelised in the pan earlier.

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Chop the carrots: I chop alternate sections diagonally as you get an interesting shape that also has a larger surface area so cooks quicker and evenly.

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Add to the pot a liberal amount of garlic powder, black pepper and a good pinch of chilli flakes. Following this add the passata; shop bought is okay or make your own, it’s so easy. My recipe is here. Following this add 500ml of stock or home made veg base.

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As I hate waste, what I do is add what left over veg I have to a pan of water and boil it all together. This one was made from a couple of cabbage leaves, a carrot, half an onion and a few celery sticks. Boil it all together then blend it and bag it and store in the freezer until you’re making a stew or soup. Much better for you than shop bought stock, full of chemicals and salt.

Bring the pot to the boil and then turn the heat down and let it simmer until the carrots are softening; this took just 15 minutes on the induction hob. Then add a splash of white wine followed by the mushrooms and continue to simmer until everything is cooked through and the carrots still have a little bite. serve with mashed potato and sit beside the log burner watching the snow fall as you eat this comforting stew.

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One other thing – this is also amazing if reheated the following day. Buona cena a tutti.

Spending Time with an Elephant

I’ve been spending time with an elephant today; actually a rather intelligent elephant that’s pretty clued up about the periodic table. If you think that I’m making a rather outlandish claim, then you are forgiven, despite being in the wrong. What I’m saying is quite true.

Okay, I’ll explain myself…

Last night around 21.00, we heard an odd rumbling noise, we thought nothing of it until this morning when a friend from the nearby town informed me we’d had a tremor: Possibly a throwback from the 4.1 mini-quake 135 km south in Campobasso yesterday. Along with the rumble we had the onset of snowfall. So this morning began with our Italian hill covered in a blanket of white; the forecast of snow had arrived.

After turning on the iPod for the first shuffle of the day, Over the Sea, by Jesse Rae; the blatantly patriotic song about Scotland, that in 1985 only reached number 65 in the charts despite lots of TV coverage on pop music shows plays as I make breakfast.  I decide that a walk up the hill to look over the valley would be a good idea. We wrap up and trudge upwards, the snow is deep making it hard going but we reach the top just as it starts snowing once again. So our descent was amid flurries of white and a biting wind.

Back home with the log burner giving off a generous amount of heat I decide it’s time to become acquainted with Dot the elephant. Dot is the logo for a company based in Cheltenham (UK) called, Stitch Dotcom. The company which took out some advertising space in our previous property brochure is run by two beautiful young ladies; Annie and Alison. They specialise in mail order cross stitch kits; but not your run of the mill kittens and country cottages. Their designs are more contemporary with one of their products being the keys on a standard UK typewriter, which can be framed to spell out your name – or any word you fancy to be honest.

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A few weeks ago the company advertised for people to test stitch some of their patterns to evaluate time taken and the level of experience required to complete the finished product. So with no experience of cross stitch I volunteered.

 

This weekend the post lady delivered me a box which contained everything I need to make my own coaster. I’ve been sent two elements to create, just 2 colours, which I think is ample for a novice. So today I read the instructions several times, checked out what is required of me as a cross stitch tester and chose between molybdenum and niobium for my initial foray into the world of tiny x’s.

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So after choosing niobium, I set to with thread and needle and the stopwatch recorded the time it took to stitch the pattern. After a couple of false starts, I was soon into my stride and after 21:10 minutes I had used all of the first thread I had selected and completed 11.5 rows of the top half of the right-hand side of the letter N.

 

Laura Pausini started to sing Benvenuto and with a self-satisfied smile I packed away my test kit until another day when I look forward to my second date with Dot.

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There’ll be further progress reports in the future to keep me focussed on the task in hand.

For more info about Stitch Dotcom click the link in the text above to reach their website.

November?

It’s November. The clocks have gone back and the nights are darker sooner. We’ve seen pumpkin heads on gateposts with candles flickering inside to accentuate the ghoulish grimaces. All the components to make up autumn, but wait, has no one had a word with the sun?

So far summer has continued to hang around here in middle Italy. The temperatures at night have dropped, but it’s still clement enough to have a window open while you sleep; meanwhile, the daytime is another matter, temperatures are still climbing into the mid-twenties. I can’t believe it is November and I still have to open the car’s windows first thing in the morning to prevent it from becoming an oven on wheels should I need to go anywhere in it.

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I have mentioned this good weather to friends back in the UK: I know, what a mean thing to do. So today I decided to show them and took a couple of pictures of the view from our garden on this lovely sunny day.

Normally by now the temperature has started to dip but according to the weather forecasts we’re in for a warm autumn, a short winter with no snow predicted until the new year. How awful is that… Eye rolling smile

Unusual Names and the Snow

Last week, the snow that was promised arrived. As the streets began to cover with a blanket of white, Louise Minchin was sat on the sofa at BBC centre in Salford, asking the viewers to be careful and only take the car if it is absolutely necessary. Wise words, Ms Minchin. However I had to go out, staying in was not an option as I had an important appointment. Luckily, I thought, as my appointment is for 09.30, I can do what I have to do and be back home before the streets are under the predicted 5 cm’s of snow.100_5417

Anyway, I won’t bore you with my reason for going out, but I will tell you that while I was out I heard two instances of people having unusual names. The first was in the bank. A young, painfully skinny male was at the counter and the woman behind looked at her screen, then at him and back at her screen, before saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce your name. Is it really spelt ZZZ?”

“Yes said the boy, it’s pronounced, Zeds.”

I’m thinking that he’s changed it by deed poll. The next was I was waiting for my appointment, when the lady on reception paged a colleague, asking for Adventure Stokes to come to reception. Adventure turned out to be a girl. Shame that she has a name that sounds like a brochure for what to do on Bank holidays.

So my appointment fulfilled I popped on my headphones, switched on the iPod and was happily strolling along with Wanderlust by David Sylvian playing. On my way to the car-park I spotted this number plate and thought it’d sit nicely with today’s unusual names, so out came the camera and the snap below was taken.

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I now had to drive back from town. My journey in had been relatively quick as the roads were quiet, however after a couple of hours continuous snow, the three mile journey back was a crawl at ten MPH as we all snaked our way through snow laden streets. Every traffic light stopped us, and the car at the front of the queue had the task of spinning its wheels before leading us all again slowly through the churned up snow. I was almost home, when at a mini roundabout a car to my left suddenly pulled out, meaning I had the dubious task of braking quickly, I slid forward, then to the right, I then steered into the slide and regained control as the offending driver pootled away. No harm done, I rounded the corner, parked up and went inside to enjoy the snow – through the window, as it should be enjoyed.

Note to self: Next time there’s snow predicted, phone and rearrange any appointments.

Later whilst walking in the snow, Michael Bublé featuring the Puppini Sisters, shuffled forward with Jingle Bells, from his Christmas album. It seemed appropriate in such a snowy setting that I let it play.