Sunday, January 16, 2011

Christmas in Italy: Part 2

Here is the continuation of our Christmas in Italy.

We went into Lucca to do some last minute Christmas shopping. The weather was chilly and rainy but it was still great to be back in this charming town. It was fun to see all the Christmas shoppers and decorations.

We came upon a flower stand in the Piazza with mistletoe for sale. Renata had already bought some for Casa Bianca and it was hanging from a beam in the living room waiting for kisses. International customs!

And guess who we saw standing on the corner just waiting for a Christmas wish from us.

Afterwards we went home where Charlie helped Renata prepare dinner. He is busy grating cheese while Renata is working her magic. To say she is an excellent cook is an understatement. Everything we ate during our visit was from simple, fresh ingredients and so deliciously and lovingly prepared.

That evening we had fresh greens, sauteed with sausages. Delicious...and beautiful!

We enjoyed many good meals and good conversations. Here we are with friends from down the lane, Sylvia and Nano. One of their daughters is a doctor in Boston. It's a small world.

Christmas Day
Piero and Renata's daughter, Anna, and her boyfriend, Alexandro, arrived with Piero's mother, Maria who is ninety and lives by herself in the heart of Lucca. We were later joined by their friend Franco, who is a retired pharmacist.

Piero made a savory panettone - a small tower of sandwiches with a variety of fillings including truffles, salmon, prosciutto, and tuna. It was delicious and beautiful.We also had a very traditional Christmas sweet which Renata, Anna and Maria make together every year. They make little balls of dough, deep fry them, and then toss them in honey and sugar sprinkles. They didn't last very long!

Renata set a beautiful table. For Christmas dinner we had a boneless capon stuffed with a traditional stuffing and lots of  other good things to eat. This was all followed by a flaming Christmas pudding  with brandied butter. Renata got the recipe for the pudding from a neighbor who is from the UK so it was the real thing - suet and all! Of course, this meal, as with every meal, was served with  a lovely wine and a sparkling dessert wine.

And we had panettone!  The ones from Lucca were made with candied fruit but Franco brought one form his hometown that was made with almonds. We got to eat them for dessert as well as breakfast. Yummy morning or night!

Piero received a vibrating neck rest which he clearly enjoyed.

In fact, it looked so comfy that Maria had to give it a try!

As is typical everywhere, some gifts had to be assembled. Piero received a mechanism for adding gas to water - saves on the Pelegrino bill. (They refer to carbonated water as "water with gas"). The assembly is shown below undertaken by Piero (chemist), Alexandro ( PhD in some sort of sophisticated medical engineering), and Franco (retired pharmacist). Needless to say, the assembly went well and we had homemade water with gas!

Unfortunately, Christmas night Charlie came down with a virus and ran a nasty fever until we left on Wednesday. He spent the rest of our visit on the downstairs couch reading, resting and absorbing Casa Bianca - one of his favorite things.

The day after Christmas we had a more traditional Italian Christmas dinner. Renata's aunt, Franca, joined us that day and helped to prepare the meal. They made a luscious broth of beef, tongue, cheeks, and chicken. In this broth  the traditional Christmas tortellini was cooked. The  meats from the broth were served along with a sausage and accompanied by mustardo which is a type of spiced fruits with a tangy, spicy taste, and mashed potatoes.

Since Charlie was down with the flu, one evening Piero kindly prepared him a special "medicinal" dessert of wine poached pears. They were delicious and did, indeed, make Charlie feel much better. All medicine should taste so good!

Hopefully this will give you some sense of our wonderful visit. It made being away from home much, much easier to bear and we are so thankful to our good friends for including us in their holidays.

Charlie is planning to return to Casa Bianca in the Fall to help with harvesting - either olives or grapes.  I'm planning on returning with him to watch them work!

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