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Firmly Planted, Looking Forward

Life-size saints on a Via Ostuni rooftop looking heavenward for divine inspiration.

Life-size saints on a Via Ostuni rooftop looking heavenward for divine inspiration.

A year ago today we lived in Portland. Oregon, It was raining. Brian was recovering from a severed Achilles tendon and I was working more than 50 hours a week in a soul-sapping job. I had been recruited for the position; it held a great deal of promise that proved to be utterly unfulfilled. We loved Portland, but the weather was starting to wear on us. We felt stuck, seeing little potential for change on the horizon. Then, six months later, we changed everything.

Our new home in Martina Franca.

Our new home in Martina Franca.

We left our jobs, sold our house, stored our things and left for Italy. Years ago we bought and renovated part of an old palazzo in the centro storico of Martina Franca, a lovely little baroque gem in the heart of the Valle d’Itria of Puglia deep in the heel of the Italian boot. We had visited for a month here and there over the years, always in the summer, but never for any longer than a vacation and certainly not with the intention of staying. We decided to give ourselves a year to reinvent our future, so here we are.

A hardy olive tree grows through the mortarless stone wall that borders our property on Via Ostuni.

A hardy olive tree grows through the mortarless stone wall that borders our property on Via Ostuni.

Our children were thoroughly supportive, but not without trepidation. We’re a close family, so the separation isn’t easy. Skype helps, but it’s not a substitute for a hug and a kiss. We miss our extended family and friends, too. But we can both say unequivocally that we would make the same choice again in a second. We even wish we had figured out how to do it sooner. And this is the message I share with all of you: make the choice to change your life and everything else falls into place.

We've invested in rubber boots for work on the property—a wise move.

We’ve invested in rubber boots for work on the property—a wise move.

We are launching our organic extra virgin olive oil import business, Pascarosa, within the next month. We’ve planted 30 more olive trees on our country property and have pruned our almonds, walnuts, figs and plums so they will bear new fruit this summer. We are diving deep into the social pool of Puglia, renewing old friendships and discovering new ones. Our days have a new rhythm that is scaled for human interaction, yet our access to technology allows us to choose the degree of intervention we find necessary. We miss our children and parents terribly and we know they miss us, but they are thriving without our close presence.

Looking out our balcony window across the piazzetta to Annina's house. Brides love this corner, so many wedding photos are taken here.

Looking out our balcony window across the piazzetta to Annina’s house. Brides love this corner, so many wedding photos are taken here.

As I write, our doorbell rings. It’s a neighbor, Annina, who has brought a plate of holiday season pettole for us. They’re hot and yeasty, covered with vanilla sugar, just begging to be liberated from their foil-covered tray. Annina said she was making them and thought to herself that “the signora” (that would be me) might like to try them since they are nostrane (literally ours, but more deeply felt than that). This gesture represents all that we have come to love about this nuovastoria. It seems that our new friends and neighbors have time to care for one another, to reach out without worrying about being intrusive and to share themselves with the likes of us.

So while we acknowledge the past, we are living fully in the present and looking to a future that is rich with possibility. Everything we’ve experienced until now has brought us here and for that we are truly grateful. If we can presume to offer any advice on an auspicious occasion like the eve of another year, we urge you to believe that you really can make life-changing decisions and say yes to a new way of living. Here’s to you and yours and the fulfillment of dreams.

To hasten the arrival of good fortune in the form of great prosperity, do as the Italians do and be sure to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve. Here’s a quick, easy way to enjoy them while you hatch your plans for 2013.

Insalatina di Lenticchie—Little Lentil Salad


1 cup green lentils (or use the lovely brown lentils grown in Castellucio in Umbria; now they’re available in the U.S. in good grocery stores)
2 cups water
1 sweet red pepper, diced
½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

For the Vinaigrette:

2 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 to 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, to taste
1/3 cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lentils with the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan tightly, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked through but still firm enough to hold their shape. Don’t allow then to get mushy.

When the lentils are done, remove from heat, drain, and place in a bowl along with the scallions, red pepper, parsley, and walnuts.

In a separate bowl, combine the shallots with the vinegar, mustard and salt to taste. Let this mixture stand for 10-15 minutes before gradually beating in the olive oil.

Toss dressing with the lentils and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve the lentils on top of spicy arugula, endive or a mixture of lamb’s lettuce and radicchio.

Makes enough for four as a small salad.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Robin Rabiroff #

    Beautiful, well done and you are an inspiration to live life and not just tolerate it.

    Many happy returns.

    December 31, 2012
    • Thank you for such kind words! You must come visit us in Puglia one day . . . terrific bike riding among many other pursuits. Happy new year to you!

      December 31, 2012
  2. I know exactly how you feel. Buying our house in Italy almost 10 years ago is the best thing we have ever done. It has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

    January 2, 2013
  3. So happy to hear of your comfort in your new/old home, change of pace and time for those most important moments of conversation, shared food, etc. Happy New Year from a very sunny and cold Portland!

    January 2, 2013
  4. Reblogged this on The Italian South and commented:
    Here’s a wonderful story of new beginnings for the new year. A great example of the courage to really live your life. What new life do you dream of?

    January 2, 2013
  5. Donna Maurillo #

    Wow. OK… my questions are answered about what you’re doing. I’d love to be there, but it’s just me, and I don’t think I could do it alone. If I had a life partner, it would be so much fun to make the leap together. But doing it alone would be so… daunting. And I’d want to share it, anyway, being a social person. Hmmm…. now I’m feeling unsettled. LOL.Look at what you’ve done!

    January 4, 2013
    • Forgive my tardy reply, Donna.The post holiday cold has come and gone and I’m among the land of the living once again. You must come visit! I’d love to reintroduce you to your Pugliese roots and Monopoli is practically in our backyard! As for upping stakes and doing it alone, you can absolutely do it. We have a friend from Portland who has sold his home, retired from his successful business and has moved to Umbria by himself. He has woven himself into his new community with alacrity and is totally at home in his town. I’d love to talk with you further, but in the meantime, stay well and think of your next trip to Italy.

      January 7, 2013

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