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Meet Suzy Menard

Food for Thought

Was it too much food? Absolutely. Do I regret eating any of it? Not one bite.

We are here with our Food & Wine Tour group to Discover, Savor and Share – to explore the foods and wines of Umbria.  It’s not possible to shape the experience without enjoying a few extra bites.  We have six full days to discover hundreds of years of traditions.  To enjoy a meal around the table – not standing at the bar eating a sandwich.  For Americans, relaxing over a meal can be a challenge.  To linger over two meals a day can be excruciating.

In the states we multi-task our way through a meal.  Sitting at our desk with a phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other.  Grabbing a bite to eat and a cup of coffee or a bottle of water every time we get into the car.  Italians enjoy a small coffee at the bar and if they want more they make an additional stop.  The idea of eating in the car is foreign.  Their cars are not littered with fast food wrappers.  Their children don’t eat foods that are non-spillable so that they can eat on the go.  When I’m in Italy it all makes sense.  When I’m back in the states I’m the one biting into an egg sandwich as I speed down I-95 at 70+ miles per hour – only to have the perfectly cooked yolk explode all over me and over the windshield.  So much for multitasking and freeing up my time.  Should have spent 15 minutes sitting down and relishing my breakfast instead of half an hour detailing the car.

We spend our week in Italy enjoying many meals together with new friends.  Our most over the top, I-can-never-eat-another-bite-again day is at Ristorante Perbacco with our friend Ernesto.  He has designed a 14 course tasting menu (sometimes more but never less) for us to cook together and to enjoy together.  Starting with a main course and working backwards to dessert the fun never ends.  We spend our day making dough that can be transformed into fried bread, baked bread or even pasta.  Making pasta dough and turning it into five different shapes, each needing a separate sauce to showcase it.  And most of all we relax and we laugh together.  We are creating so many different foods that we don’t need to worry about precision and as a result everything turns out perfectly.  So we pour a prosecco, take off our aprons and toast to another successful adventure together before we sit down and eat.

If I had to take out a few bites – where would I begin?  I would begin at home – never in Italy.

Finding the Right Balance in Italy Read more

Was it too much food? Absolutely. Do I regret eating any of it? Not one bite. We are here with our Food & ...

Free Jennifer!

Free Jennifer 009On a beautiful fall morning with crisp cool air and a deep blue sky we start our morning off with a walking tour of one of our favorite Umbrian cities, Perugia.  And we love Perugia not just because it is the name of our favorite drinking game, but because of the sweep of its history, from Etruscan to the Roman to medieval
powerhouse to a center of the renaissance.  And today it is so much more than a museum, it is a living breathing city, one that happens to be breathing cool, crisp au
tumn air with hints of chocolate.  For Perugia is the home of Perugina, a historic chocolate company where we will be making chocolates later in the day.  And Perugia is host of the annual Eurochocolate festival, which we enjoy after our tour has ended.

Free Jennifer 010Sandwiched in between Perugia and Perugina is our visit to our friend Federico’s winery, Terre Margaritelli in nearby Torgiano.  And as wonderful as is the tour of the winery, where we learn of this year’s troubles with a super hot, dry summer that caused the harvest to be advanced by several weeks, as well as Terre Margaritelli’s commitment to organic, sustainable farming, the highlight of the day is lunch in the winery prepared by Federico’s wife Jennifer.  

For anyone who doesn’t know the background – Jennifer, Federico and their two children flew to the states last December before Christmas for a work vacation.  Plans included catching up with family and friends in the states, promoting Federico’s wines and olive oil and for Jennifer to showcase her talent in Via Umbria’s kitchen, followed by a well deserved 10 days in the Caribbean.

For all of our Umbrian friends – cooking at Via Umbria is easy, its natural.  Where many American chefs see a small, impossible kitchen to cook in – our Italian Chefs see an open space where they can create anything.  Unfortunately while we are away enjoying that Caribbean vacation our Chef has decided that ours is not the right kitchen and gives her notice.

So – after 10 beautiful days in the sun, as the Bibi family is packing their bags to return to Italy I invite Jennifer out for drinks and ask the impossible.  “Any chance you can come back to DC and cook for us for a couple of weeks while we find a Chef?”  My powers of pursuasion must be good, or maybe Jennifer is just a good friend, but in any case she agrees to help out and we scramble to rearrange plans, call, beg and plead to find a space in school for the children, and two days later we are back in Washington with Jennifer at the helm of Via Umbria’s kitchen.

Free Jennifer 006

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into a month, a month turns into months.  Every week we change the return on the ticket. Facebook posts starts appearing (probably written by Federico) – Free Jennifer!  Free Jennifer!  T-shirts are made for the entire staff.  And finally we find Chef Liam, someone we can trust to manage the kitchen at Via Umbria and Jennifer is finally paroled, returning after three months to Italy to her family.

Free Jennifer 007

Free Jennifer 008

 

Today’s lunch is our chance to see Jennifer back in her element.  In the world she has created for herself in Umbria.  We sit back and relax.  Enjoying a meal – created in a tiny kitchen no bigger than the one at Via Umbria – that captures our favorite Umbrian flavors and experiences.

Free Jennifer 002Cured meats and cheeses
Baked stuffed zucchini flowers
Rocciata stuffed with cauliflower and greens
Homemade hot peppers
Porchetta (of course)

All of this is washed down with a parade of Federico’s wines, making our afternoon in Torgiano not only relaxing but delicious.

We may miss Jennifer back in Washington, but on a magic day here in Italy, we’re glad we freed her to come back to her new native land.

Free Jennifer 001

She's back in Italy and so are we! Read more

On a beautiful fall morning with crisp cool air and a deep blue sky we start our morning off with a walking ...

It’s a Dog’s Life

“A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are therefore usually found in close association with tree roots. Spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi”

Today we met Pippo – a truffle dog who has served his master well the last 13 years.  He was a champion white truffle hunter but is getting a bit white himself around the snout and beginning to slow down.  Not quite ready to retire, his owner has farmed him out as a black truffle hunter, a challenging job but not quite as physically exhausting as hunting the rarer white truffle.  Pippo makes a great black truffle hunter.  For Pippo hunting for truffles is an adventure, a job you can see that he enjoys.  Its pretty simple, go for a walk with your master.  Keep your nose to the ground constantly sniffing, searching for the scent of a truffle that is released when the truffle is ripe.  Dig up the ground – gently but diligently.  Dig deep until you find the truffle and then wait patiently for your reward – not the truffle but a treat from your master.  For Pippo the truffle the hunt is a game.

In hunting for truffles the hunter is important but the dog is key. Without the dog you simply cannot find truffles.  Truffles grow underground and while they sometimes leave clues as to their whereabouts above ground, they can’t reliably be spotted.  Although they’re called tubers, they aren’t like a potato where you can see the plant above them.  Truffles truly have to be sniffed out.  Which is where Pippo comes in.

Returning to the home of our hosts for the day, the Bianconis, we meet their other dog – Eddie.  Eddie is a high energy dog who as a puppy was always getting into trouble.  A loveable naughty dog with needle-like teeth and a disposition to nip.  How many times in a day can you say “Eddie, No.”  Watching Eddie while enjoying our truffle feast, Gavin, sitting next to me points out that Eddie is having all of the fun while Pippo got to do all the work.

While work is fun for Pippo it still is work.  He has been working his entire life and is now one step away from retiring.  He gets well taken care of and he gets to eat, or at least smell truffles everyday.  He is one happy dog.

Truffles 002Eddie has never worked a day in his life.  He could have been trained as a truffle dog – but he wasn’t focused and pretty much not interested.  His reward?  He gets well taken care of and gets to eats truffles every day. He is one happy dog.

We had a very succesful day today – we found about €600 worth of black truffles.  Or should we say Pippo found about €600 worth of truffles and we sat back and enjoyed them.

Its a Dog’s Life.

Truffles are the Doggonest Things Read more

“A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Truffles ...

Anticipation

“Anticipation Is keepin’ me waitin’”

I love a surprise as much as anyone (especially if its diamonds) but sometimes the best part of something is the anticipation.   For our Fall Harvest tour in Umbria I love the planning, the packing, the reading and rereading of the itinerary.  Imagining the sights, sounds and smells we will be enjoying.  Anticipating the highs and the lows.  Preparing for all types of weather – does packing an umbrella really give you a better chance of clear skies?  Better not take the risk – throw it in.

Talk about anticipation – we have been talking with this week’s group for 4 years trying to get a date on the calendar for their Fall Food & Wine Tour.  Bill and I have been working around the clock with Marco and Chiara putting together a week that captures all of our fall favorites.  We work with each other to create a schedule that gives a full day with a little bit of flexibility to find new adventures along the way. Our challenge isn’t what to do – it’s how to do everything.  So many people to meet, foods to eat and wines to discover.

This week is a reunion for us.  Catching up with Italian friends who are now part of our family.  Sharing stories of weeks past and planning for more adventures ahead.  Every stop this week includes friends who have shared experiences with us right here but also outside of their hometown, outside of Italy.  So stay tuned for new stories with old friends.

And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.

Please Don't Keep Me Waiting Read more

“Anticipation Is keepin' me waitin'” I love a surprise as much as anyone (especially if its diamonds) but sometimes the best part of ...

Honoring Suzy Menard

I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could do anything and to always feel comfortable speaking up. We enjoyed dinner together every night with lively discussions around the table. As children we were meant to be seen and heard.

My parents were leaders in all they did and they passed on a strong sense of family and community to all of us. My mother came from a large family – I have 41 first cousins on her side. Whether it meant babysitting for my younger cousins for free or having family live with us in hard times – we took care of each other. We always had room for everyone My mother would throw huge elaborate parties for business and for us kids. We loved hearing a knock on the door signalling that someone was driving by and wanted to drop in. We never ran out of food at the table or space for someone who needed to crash. Sometimes as an adult it is tough staying friends with my relatives on Facebook – but the memories of playing football and cards together balances out their crazy political positions.

My father was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Iowa and went on to hold many political positions and ran for Governor in the ‘70’s. We knew from a young age that our behavior would reflect on our parents. It was not an option for us to misbehave or get into trouble. So minor infractions like being 5 minutes late on curfew or neglecting to unload the dishwasher were the biggest trouble we got into (boy were my folks lucky). As Iowans we were used to seeing all of the presidential candidates around town – as Worthington’s we were used to seeing all the Democratic candidates around our kitchen table. Dad was pretty influential and it was important to get his early support. So while other kids would be playing video games (like Pong) I was knocking on doors collecting peanuts for Carter.

My passion for politics lead me to DC. I loved Iowa, but after visiting Georgetown as a teen-ager – I knew that DC had my heart. No longer collecting peanuts for Carter – I was part of a new, inspired Fundraising team with the audacious goal of raising $12 million for Walter Mondale. The money was raised (really does seem like peanuts today) but unfortunately was not enough and we suffered the biggest political landslide in history. It wasn’t enough to discourage me – and the upside was that I made a best friend who became my husband. The family back in Iowa had heard me talk throughout the election about my buddy Menard – they hadn’t met him but clearly liked him. Toward the end of the campaign when I started talking about my new boyfriend Bill – there was some slight hesitation and disappointment. Cleared up easily when I started referring to my new beau as Bill Menard. At least something good came out of that election

We continued to work in politics and made many friends over our wins and losses. Today it is strange to see friends we knew in their 20’s & 30’s become Top Level Advisors and Party Leaders.

After much thought we decided to start a family in Washington – we were both hooked on the city. Austin was born the summer after our big Dukakis loss (again – at least something good came out of that election!) We decided to take a break from politics – Bill started at Georgetown Law and I decided to stay home with Austin. I have always felt fortunate that I had the choice of working outside of the home or staying home. I was one happy housewife. Lindsey was born just shy of Austin’s second birthday. We had two great kids, Bill was working at a big firm downtown, we were making new friends in our neighborhood. Life was Good. Why not make it better – we had always talked about having a big family with the number of kids ever changing – but we definitely wanted to have more. We were surprised, frightened and excited when we discovered that we were expecting twins. Identical boys – Teddy and Davis.

Bringing the twins home to a house with a three year old and not quite five year old was probably the most daunting task of my life. But as always we settled into a routine that worked. With so many children running around there was no chance of just one of us raising the children – it was all hands on deck. If someone offered to help out I never said no. Bill has always been a great dad and involved in the kids lives. Its truly been a partnership raising our kids.

We have had several adventures in Italy over the years. After Bill’s first year at law school he signed up for summer school in Florence. We had a little apartment on the other side of the Arno. Bill would take the bus to Fiesole to study American Constitutional Law in the mornings and Austin and I would explore Florence. Visiting the parks and public pool, shopping and eating a lot of Gelato. Bill would finish class and we would leave Austin home with my cousing who was traveling with us and Bill and I would go out discovering Florence. Over the three months there we met several Italian friends who we are still in touch with today. Bill proudly graduated Law school with Lindsey on his shoulder a proud father and JD.

When the twins were turning 5 we took all four children to Italy. We were in the Cinque Terre and took cooking classes with a local Chef who was fabulous. It was the early stages of the internet and he was a big early believer. He promoted his courses with great success online and wanted to set up a small company where he could provide extra virgin olive oil, traditional balsamic vinegar and coffee to his clients in the states. Always looking for a challenge – we immediately agreed to work with him and went through the process of figuring out how to import food products from Italy.

When this hobby turned into more of a full time responsibility we had the option to shut down or go all in with a bricks and mortar store. Never one to walk away from a challenge we set our sights high and joined forces with good friends to open up Bella Italia in Bethesda. Now we were really learning how to import products from Italy.

Our trips to Italy became more focused and we travelled throughout Italy finding new products and meeting new families who were passionate about their craft. Eating, drinking, and shopping became my full time job. The more we travelled the more people we met and the more we became rooted in Umbria. Several of the artists we were doing business with had become part of our family. All trips to Italy had a stop in Umbria. When we decided to buy a home in Italy – there was no doubt that we would buy in Umbria. And as a result our Italian family has expanded. Zia Augusta joined us for Teddy’s graduation, our oldest son Simone calls me Mommy, and of course we practically kidnapped Jennifer and her two children last spring when we were short in the kitchen. When we visit in Italy we have friends and neighbors (our family) who will drop by with a piece of cheese they saw at the market and wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to try or stop by for a drink and stay for dinner.

Our summer dinner parties in Italy are a blast – often introducing our Italian neighbors to each other. Their talents, their commitment to their art, their promise to continuing tradition is inspiring and makes us return to DC wanting to shout from the rooftops – come and see what these amazing people have done.

I am fortunate to have met my partner in life at a young age. Hard to believe it will be 32 years in December. Raising four kids together was a challenge – running a business 24/7 is an even bigger challenge! Only possible remembering at the end of the day we love each other and we love what we do.

Anyone who knows me knows that I use a lot of inappropriate words. The only word to me that is truly inappropriate is NO. When we began the buildout of Via Umbria our vision was confusing to others. Contractors and Architects are used to cookie cutter projects – is it a Restaurant? Is it a Market? Is it a Cafe? Can you sell wine? By design we are a bit of everything – an Italian Village under one roof. It truly is the reflection of all of our many amazing experiences in Italy and a tribute to the incredible artisans, chefs, winemakers, and people we have met there. It took a lot of patience and a lot of guidance to create the feel that we wanted. And then came the permitting – DC is definitely used to cookie cutter projects and there is no permit for “Italian Village under one roof”. But we knew what we wanted to create and weren’t willing to give up until we found the permits that we needed.

Now the task of building a team to work with us who shared our vision. Finding a team who believe in what we are doing is no easy task. But over time and with a lot of on the spot learning we have created our Italian home in Georgetown. Going from Bethesda with a staff of 4-5 to Georgetown with a staff of 40 was a challenge.

Walking into the store today puts a smile on my face – I am greeted with a Buongiorno and I see people taking care of people. I love the people I work with.

Via Umbria is a family business. Our kids are all involved in some way. The boys clock in when they are in town visiting and they spent two weeks this summer travelling around Italy with Bill meeting old friends and discovering new producers. Our daughter Lindsey works with us full time. Who better to look out for the store than family? Lindsey grew up visiting Italy, she knows the families and she definitely knows the products. She is my daughter and my best friend. She is the perfect sounding board. She is my fashion consultant and my voice of reason. She is a talented young woman and I feel blessed to have her running the business alongside us.

Suzy’s Words of Wisdom:

Think outside the box
Treat people with respect
Everyone is family
Set Expectations High
Speak your mind
Always take the risk
Love with your whole heart
Never say No

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I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could ...

Tabarrini Day

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am a bit startled.  And then I think for a minute – thank you is an easy expression – I use it a dozen times a day.  Giampaolo doesn’t want to be thanked – he is simply enjoying spending time together – to him this is nothing extraordinary and no reason to be thanked. “Don’t mention it – this is what we do.”

dinnerWith_Ombretta

And what they do is spectacular.  Over the last couple of years Giampaolo has expanded his cantina into a show stopping beauty.  With high ceilings and miles of space to store his wine, a tour of the cantina is endless.  And his wines are fantastic.  

We arrive for lunch on a beautiful spring day straight out of central casting.  The sun is shining high in the sky, a gentle breeze is blowing across the terrace and there is a beautiful, clear view. dinnerWith_Ombretta2 I arrive a few minutes behind the group and everyone is animatedly talking on the terrace – drinking one of Giampaolo’s collection of sparkling wines.

Today’s lunch is not about showcasing Tabarrini wines – he knows we are all big fans already.  Today we are dipping into his private cellar and drinking wines that he has been given or collected over the years.  We start with a beautiful Sicilian wine – only 10,000 bottles are produced each year.  This one has been aging in the cellar and is extraordinary…  Daniele and Teddy pop into the cellar and return with a big Primitivo from Puglia.  A friend of Giampaolo’s makes this wine and it holds up perfectly with the beautiful guinea fowl we are eating.

Tabarrini_3Our visit to the winery today is also a reunion. Giampaolo’s mother Franca had made her first trip to the US in December and spent two days with us at Via Umbria cooking amazing dinners to serve with the Tabarrini wine.  Franca comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to kindly let us know that whenever we are ready – her bags are packed.

So we enjoy a beautiful lunch and as we are leaving we pause on the steps to sit for just a minute to enjoy the day and of course more wine is poured and Giampaolo decides that his work in the field is done for the day.  Tabarrini_4We don’t need a facebook memory for this day – the fresh air, the laughter and wine all bring back memories of people and place – of a day enjoyed two years ago that perfectly mirrors today.  Two hours later we say our good byes and leave.

But it’s not really good-bye because we are meeting up on Saturday in Verona to taste wine and enjoy another meal together.   Don’t mention it – this is what we do.

With great wine, great meal and great people Read more

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am ...

Hang It High!

Looking over the week’s itinerary I realize there is a glaring gap – no time to spend in Deruta.  How can this be?  It takes a little creative juggling and we add in a morning at Geribi Studio without taking away from anything else. 

Bill has recently taken up yoga.  He really enjoys the peace and calm and the opportunity to escape and unwind. IMG_6072 He asks me to join him and I remind him that peace and calm aren’t really my thing.  Escaping and unwinding is difficult for me.  I’ve done yoga in the past but found myself constantly checking my watch, using the meditative time to freak out about things undone and worst of all falling asleep on the mat.  When it comes to escaping and unwinding – yoga for Bill and Gerardo’s studio for me.

This is where I can relax.  My hand is not steady, my eye is not creative – but I am not here for perfection I’m here to work with my hands.  To spend a couple of hours unwinding, escaping, living in the moment and watching a blank plate turn into my own creation.

IMG_6087Guests often panic when they sit down to paint.  The Ribigini family is so talented it is hard to imagine recreating anything close to what they do.  But of course this is a talent that comes from hours and hours, years and years of practice.

I’ve made the mistake before of looking at designs and thinking that they would be easy – but all the detail, the small thin lines – not as easy as they look.  Today I sit down confidently.  I have finally figured out the perfect balance of powdered color to water.  And that is a pretty major key to painting in Deruta.

I look at the graphite dotting the page and look at the hundreds of plates surrounding me and decide where I want to make my adjustments.  Of course I want to paint the peacock feather – but now I get to decide where I make straight lines and where I add scallops – where I add the pomegranate seeds or the round circles.  Sticking with the familiar but wanting to try something a little bit new.

When we first met Gerardo and Asunta 20 years ago we immediately fell in love with their designs.  IMG_6097The blues and yellows in their geometric designs and the beautiful green peacock feathers.  Over the years the designs have expanded – adding a beautiful lemon design with a dark blue background evolving into an array of fruits with backgrounds of  black and red and eventually lavender, burgundy and light blue.  When their daughter Claudia starting working in the studio she introduced a more modern twist – bold oranges and blues and soft pastels of pink and green and lavendar.  When I first saw the new colors – I was of a mind that these were not for me.  But my children fell in love with them immediately.  So a new color palate for a new generation.  Over the years the colors have grown on me.  And today I choose a pink for the first time.  Who says an old dog can’t learn a new trick?

IMG_6031And we spend the morning painting, laughing, scraping away mistakes easily with a small knife.  And we talk about what we are doing and how and where we are going to show case our pieces.  Most importantly we discuss what we will do if they aren’t perfect (a likely event).  And we leave Gerardo’s studio with our new life motto, “Hang it high or cover it with cheese.”

A Colorful Day at Geribi Studio Read more

Looking over the week’s itinerary I realize there is a glaring gap – no time to spend in Deruta.  How can this ...

Ernesto is the Besto

 

I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at restaurants (aside from sharing plates that come in all shapes and sizes) is ordering my food to have it come out of the kitchen as it is ready. Ernesto Simona No rhyme or reason, no order of preparation, just a random delivery of food. So depending on what is happening in the kitchen – if the pasta line is backed up and the fish station is slow you may get your main course before your pasta.  Roasted olives intended to be a starter show up right before dessert.  Who knows what will be served with my cocktail. With this convoluted method it’s not possible to pair a wine with each course.  As we know, one of the biggest challenges in any kitchen is timing; timing is everything, it takes a talented chef to prepare a variety of plates for each table that are ready to be served together. There is a constant distraction from what is being served when the food comes on a whim and the plates are meant to be shared. It is natural to focus more on the passing and making sure things are divided equally, but that interrupts the experience the dish is meant to give.  Randomly putting plates of food on a table is not a sign of creativity –  this should not continue as a trend and we should not be rewarding disorganization and laziness.

Cooking with Ernesto is a unique experience, like no other. chitarreAnd while for some a day spent cooking with him can be overwhelming and daunting – for me, it is an exciting and endearing adventure. Not one recipe at a time start to finish, rather many pots on the fire: pasta being rolled out, sauces simmering on the stove, meat roasting in the oven and cookies and cakes baking. Now this is the way I love to cook!

In this experience, Ernesto teaches us that multitasking is how to accomplish the full menu. To start you have to create a plan, nothing happens in his kitchen without a lot of thought going into it.  To execute your plan, you have to pace yourself and not over complicate what you are doing.  Think ahead and save time – dice the celery, carrots and onion (sofrito) at once and use it over and over again for different recipes.  Make the bread dough at the beginning so it has time to rise before being baked or fried.  Make one pasta dough but create different pasta shapes for different dishes.

Ernesto also teaches us that making pasta by hand is fun and easy. My advice is start out small – make pasta for one or two making chitarre– 100g of flour to 1 egg per person.  Mix it together and then stretch it out. You can’t overwork pasta dough – it’s not precious like a pastry dough – this is where you can really dig in and work the dough. Once it’s sliced, toss it with semolina and then make into two little nests.

For me the best part of spending a day cooking with Ernesto is the obvious joy of everyone cooking together.  With Ernesto, it’s all hands on deck, there’s so much to be done everyone always has something to do. And don’t worry there’s no mistake that can’t be recovered.  In this kitchen, there’s no screaming or yelling, pizza_nightno reason to be frantic; we have the whole day together to relax and try new techniques.  

At the end of this exhausting day we get to enjoy the foods of our labors. And no matter the order the components were created, because of our plan the dishes are finished in order – and served with a plan: Antipasti, Primo, Secondo with Dolce at the end.  Ernesto brings us no randomness, just organized chaos with a goal: enjoying an unbelievable meal together.

And here is why! Read more

  I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at ...

Pizza Pizza

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the right ingredients, to cooking the meal everyone joins in, and everyone has inspiration for what we should be preparing. Oddly enough, most of our big ideas and inspirations seem to revolve around fire. Whether we’re roasting a whole lamb over the pit in the backyard, a suckling pig in the magic pig box, or flames shooting out of the grill creating the perfect charr for our steaks, we just can’t seem to get enough of cooking over an open flame.

IMG_1219And pizza is no exception. When we renovated our house twenty years ago, we thought long and hard about what to do about the fireplace in the room that we were converting into our dream kitchen. After many rejected thoughts and ideas, a light hearted suggestion from our architect turned into his nightmare as we all quickly agreed that converting the fireplace into a wood burning pizza oven was the perfect solution.

And thus, a whole new flavor of family activities was born. Without any practice at being a pizzaolo, Bill quickly learned the trade and lead the family to pizza perfection. The perfect blend of feast and fun, pizza night at the Menard house soon became a regular event for friends and family alike. The world is your pizza- with an array of choices in front of you- trays of cured meats, fresh vegetables, caramelized onions,  sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and of course olive oil, fresh pesto and tomato sauce as a base – everyone rolls up their sleeves and tosses a pie or two.

Our American tradition of Pizza night has become a fan favorite at la Fattoria del Gelso where fire also reigns supreme. In Umbria – Marco is the pizzaolo.  He has perfected the dough recipe and is a master of the perfect bake- creating light IMG_1212and airy pizzas that cook up nice and crisp on the bottom. The tomato sauce is rich without being overwhelming.  And of course here we have an amazing selection of toppings –prosciutto, guanciale, salami picante, capocollo,  porchetta – and that’s just the meats!

A quick word to the wise- the perfect pizza requires a balance of tastes and textures.  Too much sauce makes it impossible to cook and too many toppings often leads to an accidental calzone.

This past Sunday after a beautiful morning hunting successfully for truffles and wild asparagus – it was a great treat to sit back and enjoy a bite of dozens of Marco’s creations.  Pizza with sea salt and rosemary, with roasteIMG_1221d vegetables, with crispy guanciale, with Cannara onions and sausage,  and of course pizzas with wild asparagus and with fresh truffles. The grand finale?  Nutella pizza.

But why should we have all the fun? Take a pizza our family traditions and start your own! Come enjoy a slice with us at Via Umbria, bring your friends and family for a make your own pizza party, or visit us in Umbria and let Marco take care of you. No matter which way you slice it, you can’t go wrong when you’re eating good food with good friends.

From Truffles to Nutella Read more

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the ...

Christmas is for Family

In Italy there is a saying, “Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends.” For the Menards it is not always easy to distinguish between the two. Everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.

Arriving to Perugia airport after a very uncomfortable (but friendly) RyanAir flight we were instantly on home ground. The sights, the sounds the smells – all very familiar and very comfortable. The beautiful, lush, green farmland, the birds singing overhead, the scent of spring mingling with freshly mowed grass.

It’s a short drive to the house and we are exhausted after a 4:30am wake up call. Peace and quiet and a comfortable bed are calling to us.

We pull up to the house and immediately Chiara pops out to welcome us home.IMG_1937

IMG_1177We unpack quickly and drive to Bevagna for our traditional welcome to Umbria lunch with Simone and Desiderio at le Delizie del Borgo. Spring has arrived – in the form of a bowl of tagliatelle with fresh artichokes.

After a long – much needed nap – we walk into town to have a glass of wine with Federico Bibi and his children Olivia and Gabrielle. We promise them that their mother is just days away from returning home after running our kitchen at Via Umbria in DC.

And finally we walk the Bibi family home and stop in Per Bacco for a quick dinner with Ernesto and Simona – a quick dinner is soon forgotten as the evening turns into sharing story after story and grappa after grappa.

And day one is complete.

Everyone here shares our love and passion for Umbria. They have grown up here and choose to raise their families here. There is a magic in the air and they want everyone to know it. They have all joined us in Washington to share their love of Umbria. Coming to cook dinners for our guests, to teach us about wines, to explore the history of jacquard linens in Umbria and of cashmere. This is a community who works with their hands – at the end of the day it’s not about a stack of papers or an empty mailbox – it’s about plants growing in the garden, freshly baked bread, wine opened and served at just the right moment, scarves (did I say scarves?), tablecloths, sweaters and hats from the highest quality linen and cashmere. It’s the blending of the old and the new. We all have the same dream and work together to make sure that Umbria is preserved and shared. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of our friends (now family) in Umbria.

When our children were young their school talked a lot about teachable moments. “An unplanned event during the day that adults can use as a learning opportunity for kids….parents and providers should capitalize on the moment, and provide the opportunity to extend or expand the child’s learning.”

For us, every moment is a teachable moment; an opportunity to learn about what we are seeing and doing; to meet new people and discover new ideas; a moment to stop and reflect on what is happening.

This week we will live every moment to the fullest.

Here in Cannara we will be introducing our group to our family in Italy. We will be drinking local wines, cooking traditional food, discovering the area and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.

And in Washington at Via Umbria we will be introducing guests to our family in the states. We will be drinking Umbrian wines, cooking Umbrian food, discovering imported products from Umbria and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.

Thank you to everyone who believes in our dream and works so hard to ensure that everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.

And Easter is for friends Read more

In Italy there is a saying, “Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends.” For the Menards it is not always ...

Cicchetti Carnevale Cuisine

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of year, thousands from all over Italy and the world head to Venice for Carnevale. Even our owners, Bill and Suzy were lucky enough to experience Carnevale di Venezia a few years ago. This party, which lasts for an entire month, is an attempt to relive the culture and traditions  of 18th century Venice. From head to toe people all over this magnificent city dress in traditional garb. You’ll see men in tights and wigs, women’s hair intricately piled miles high atop their heads, and masks, lots and lots of masks. Yet, the most important aspect of any Italian celebration is the cuisine.romantic-restaurants-venice

For young travelers, like myself, frivolous spending on food and drink can kill your budget and eventually ruin your trip. Venice is one of those cities where you’ll easily break the bank on food, unless you know what to look for. Similar to the French canapés or Spanish tapas concepts, Cicchetti is the Venetian version of small plates. Generally served with a glass of wine, these small bites vary depending on the restaurant you are dining in. Pricing however, is ideal for lunch and evening eats and rarely ventures outside a range of 1€ to 3€ a plate. The best place to find cicchetti is in a bàcari, small local (and often hidden) bar. Some bàcari lean toward the fried foods while others specialize in fresh fish, meats, and cheeses. Cicchetti is the perfect cuisine for Carnevale: quick and easy food that can only enhance the celebration.

Carnevale is a celebration that takes place around the world, just because you can’t make it to Venice doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. This week and next: get out, put a wig and a mask on and enjoy the party!

For information on our Carnevale Celebrations please visit our website: viaumbria.com/events

Wednesday February 22 – Carnevale Masquerade

Tuesday February 28 – Cocktail Class: Fat Tuesday

Enjoy carnevale classics without breaking the bank Read more

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of ...

108 Hours in Cannara

108 Hours in Cannara 006Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, enjoying Umbria jazz, and, of course, relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out as planned- a lesson we learned last week during a whirlwind visit to to Cannara. I warn you now, the details of this trip are not for the faint of heart, the easily tired, or the weak of liver- read along at your own risk

Thursday, July 14, 2016

After many days of postponing and rescheduling our trip, we finally made it to the airport, bags in hand, happily seated at our gate, ready for a short but amazing trip to our favorite place only to find out that the flight was delayed. Not just delayed, extremely delayed. By the time we finally (rather crankily) boarded the plane six more hours were gone from our already truncated vacation but we were determined to make the most of it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

108 Hours in Cannara 0056:30pm With our original scheduled arrival time in Rome of 7:24 am we had planned to have lunch with Simone in Bevagna. With the flight delay, however, lunchtime was long gone by the time we left Rome but we beelined for Simone’s anyway (after making a quick stop at Lufra to pick up fresh mozzarella di bufala of course).  We arrived at  le Delizie del Borgo just in time for Spritz O’Clock and spent an hour catching up with our fourth (and favorite) ‘son’ Simone over a platter of salamis and cheese.  

7:30pm When we finally made our way to the Farmhouse, Jennifer McIlvaine and Federico Bibi pulled up behind us with their adorable children, and after a few minutes of excited greetings in the driveway we opted for drinks in the living room.  For those of you suffering through the current east coast heatwave you will find it impossible to believe, but despite being the dead of summer, it was way too cold to sit outside!  

108 Hours in Cannara 002Inside we found Marco and Orusia firing up the pizza oven, and friends of ours from Washington who were staying with us at the Farmhouse soon returned from a day of touring. Not far behind them were our son and his girlfriend whom we picked up at the Foligno train station- the last piece of our group.

Marco outdid himself, as always, and our raucous group enjoyed pie after pie with a bit of spicy bomba and Birra Perugia.  A small taste of Nutella pizza to end the meal.

12:00am No idea what time it was when bedtime finally rolled around but it was definitely  a long day.

 

 

108 Hours in Cannara 007

Saturday, July 16

1:00pm After catching up on our zzzzzs our intrepid group headed to Bevagna for a “light” lunch with Simone.  It was another beautiful day and we happily enjoyed our meal outside in the park.

5:00pm I finally had to give in and take a quick nap while Bill took a group to Foligno on a hunt for a Sicilian pastry shop to satiate a craving for cassata, and a visit to the Granarium (our nearby zero kilometer granary, mill and bakery) for a tour and to buy flour, bread and cookies.

 

7:30pm – It’s a birthday celebration and we have invited several (see below) of our Italian friends to join us.  We were hoping to eat outside, but again it is too cold and the Italians want nothing to do with the chilly, fresh air.  We have Spritz by the pool and then head indoors where Marco has rearranged the dining room to accommodate our small party of 25.  In addition to the group staying with us we are happy to have Gerardo and Assunta Ribigini, Jennifer and Federico (tonight they are senza children), Albertino and Jessica Pardi, Zia Augusta, Alberto, Linda and GianLuca Pardi and Linda’s mother, Federico and Claudia Ribigini and Daniele Sassi.

108 Hours in Cannara 003

108 Hours in Cannara 0018:15pm Everyone has brought wine so we have a selection from Terre Margaritelli, Pardi and Tabarrini to pair with a favorite summer meal – fried sage leaves, onions, zucchini and zucchini blossoms followed by pasta with arugula and walnuts, mixed grill and vegetables from the garden.

10:00pm We have sparklers in the Birthday cake but the real fireworks are outside.  Marco has picked up a fabulous pyrotechnic display and Bill has it matched perfectly to Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner.

Sunday, July 17

6:00am – early departure to Cantina Dionigi for a Hot Air Balloon Ride.  You can read about it here.

108 Hours in Cannara 008

1:00 pm – Lunch in Bevagna with Simone, Marco, Francesco Rustici and his wife Elisa, plus the group at the house.

An opportunity to introduce our guests to our favorite Italian Tradition – Sunday Lunch.  Our children have bravely endured lunches lasting anywhere from 3-7 hours and despite their protests as children they have come to love and expect them.  This is a meal where the food is slowly paced, no electronics are on hand and everyone is engaged in conversation.  

6:00 pm – Not a Menard record – but still an excellent leisurely lunch.

Back to the house with Ombretta’s children Silvia and Tomaso for a quick swim before the sun sets.

108 Hours in Cannara 010

7:00pm – Albertino and Jessica stop by to visit and we make plans for dinner on Tuesday night.

8:00pm – All plans of attending a local wine festival get scratched in favor of setting up the big screen outside and picking up pizza.  Another chilly night so we bundle up and hunker down to watch a movie.

Monday, July 18

108 Hours in Cannara 0099:00am – Up by 9:00 to play cards with Tomaso and Silvia (who have opted to spend the night) and say goodbye to our guests.  

11:00am – The sun is shining and we take a break to sit by the pool and swim with Tomaso and Silvia.

1:00pm – Off to Cantina Tabarrini to see the new renovation – it’s breathtaking.  Giampaolo’s plans and ideas are exhausting but the result is going to be amazing.  We are treated to an excellent meal prepared by Franca and Federica – food fresh from their garden and an introduction to a new label and the latest release of Montefalco Rosso.

6:00pm – Back to the house for a couple of quick business calls and emails – it’s a work day after all.

108 Hours in Cannara 0117:30pm – Dinner at Cantina DiFilippo

Roberto is just back from his winery in Romania but he has the horses all set up for a sunset carriage ride through the vineyard. Elena and Bianca Maria are fantastic hosts and we enjoy a flight of Asiago cheeses and plenty of wines.

Enjoying a beautiful night with friends with Assisi lit up and sparkling in the distance.

Tuesday, July 19

8:00am – Up early to pack and return emails.

1:00pm – Off to lunch at the home of Marco’s parents, Anna and Lodovico Palermi where we are joined by Chiara, Carlo Alberto and Viola and Chiara’s mother Mariella.

3:30pm – Back to the house to Visit with Augusta.

6:00pm – Time to pack up.

108 Hours in Cannara 0127:00pm – Off to Cantina Pardi for a farewell dinner of Jessica’s Korean specialities.  It’s not easy to find all the staples for a Korean feast in the heart of Italy but Jessica makes it all seem simple and delicious.

10:30pm – Quick stop in Bevagna to say goodbye to Simone.  The circle is complete.  We have seen everyone and enjoyed our brief visit.  It’s time to go home and share our experiences, stories and hopefully a few new tastes at Via Umbria.

108 Hours in Cannara 013

Wednesday, July 20

6:00am – Early morning and departure for Rome FCO and back to DC.  Bill gets the honor of captaining the early morning drive.  I sleep.

Not the most relaxing summer vacation – but it’s easy to trade in relaxation for good friends, good wine, and good fun. Italy is such a magical place, but the most special thing about it for me has always been the people and it’s trips like these that remind me how lucky I am to have found such a great community in Umbria. For those of you who were not able to come with us on this trip, we encourage you to keep apprised of the goings on in the store.  Rumor has it a few of these friendly faces may be popping up in Georgetown in the next few months. And for those of you looking to book your own vacations in Italy, give us a call! We are happy to share our experience, and our farmhouse with you.

Traveling with Bill and Suzy Menard Read more

Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, ...