Four days in Arezzo

Working from home for six months has been interesting. It feels very safe, and I really appreciate that. It can be quite intense though, with back to back work calls and presentations and my ongoing failure to take proper breaks. Travelling to the UK or Norway was not an option, so a long weekend offline sounded magical. Where to go? I quite fancied Procida (a small island off Naples) but not the multiple public transport steps needed to get there. “Arezzo!” said my husband. Arezzo is in Tuscany, south-east of Florence. We took the train from Rome, then had a half hour walk to a nice quiet agriturismo on the outskirts of town. Our apartment had its own kitchen, so it was easy to maintain physical distancing. It was great.

I was really nervous about the train, but we took the InterCity Rome-Arezzo (a little over 2.5 hours) and went first class to avoid people. We used the “Insieme” offer to get 30% off for groups of 2-5 people. Every other seat was blocked, like the one below, and it was practically empty both ways. Masks are mandatory on the train, which was clean, comfortable and very quiet, and they checked our temperature at Termini in Rome in departure and on return.

We were staying on the outskirts of Arezzo with an easy walk in to see Piazza Grande (so empty!) and the frescoes at Basilica di San Francesco. We had booked tickets in advance online, as access numbers are limited. I did like the COVID-19 sign there.

We had pici with ragu bianco for lunch one day, sitting outside in the shade with a glass of wine, and it was incredibly nice being a tourist in Italy again. There were very few tourists around, but quite busy in the centre as people were out with kids getting clothes and things for school. Most schools in Italy opened 14 September.

Even the rubbish bins in Arezzo were tidy, at least compared to those in Rome. We went to the local PAM supermarket (wearing masks, of course) and bought pecorino-stuffed ravioli, wine, cheese, and food so we could cook do most of our own cooking. Then we just read books by the pool, looking at vineyards and cypresses. It was all very secluded and relaxing.

Balancing caution with mental resilience is something we are all learning, it is not easy. This trip definitely inspired more travel planning, and helped decrease my anxiety about travelling in Italy. I hope you’re able to do some small safe trips in your countries as well.

August plum jam

I am so pleased that cooler weather is here. Today the rain is bucketing down again in Rome, but I have no complaints after the long, dry summer here. I am reading cookbooks and thinking what about what to cook. It was hard moving back in February, going into two months of lockdown in March, adapting to working from home and being worried about our mortgage and the pandemic. Now suddenly it feels like a shift in gears has kicked in, and life is more manageable. Which is nice. We had a couple small trips away this months (Arezzo, and Sperlonga) which really helped. More to follow on those.

Rome was very, very quiet this August. Empty streets, quiet nights, and more shops closed for longer. No wonder, after the months of lockdown and uncertainty. The border closures have been stressful for us, as for many. It’s been hard not going home this summer, but the fear of bringing contagion back to our parents remains. I miss the Norwegian summer and cool green forests, picking blueberries with family, and the odd spot of jam-making. Making this plum jam on a warm day in August was a sweaty but comforting small step to feel connected..

August Plum jam

2 kg yellow plums (with a few fresh apricots thrown in)
100 ml water
600 gr sugar
70 gr dry fruit pectin (a vintage sachet from 2012…)

This is pretty flexible as recipes go, it depends on the plums you have. I added some apricots that were lurking in the fridge, which gave the jam an even nicer golden hue.

Wash the plums, chop in two and remove the pits. This is easy if the plums are ripe. Otherwise, if the plums are a little hard, you can cook them and fish out the pits later. Use a wide saucepan if you have one. You will not need to add much water if the plums are soft. Cook the plums gently in a little water for 8-10 minutes, stirring now and then until the plums are cooked through and collapsed to be jam-like.

While the jam cooks, sterilize your jam jars. I do that in a saucepan with boiling water, jars and lids.

Add sugar and pectin to jam, and bring to the boil again until the sugar and pectin have dissolved. Then take jam off the heat and carefully fill the jars with jam, keeping the lip if the jar clean, and seal swiftly (this will all be quite hot). Set jars upside down to cool. Store jars cool and dark.