Walking Istanbul, Turkey

What do you do in Istanbul when you’ve seen most of the major sights? Or, to specify, when you’ve had enough of the museums and palaces no matter how very enchanting they might be? Well, you can do the same we do in any of the huge cities: take a long walk. Generally, walking seems to have been dying out as an everyday activity anyway but I couldn’t imagine a more splendid way to come to grips with a metropolis, albeit a micro-small portion of it.

So, we’d returned to amazing buzz of Istanbul, the giant doorway between good old Europe and exotic Asia, and it proved to be just as lively and colourful as we’d remembered. Continue reading “Walking Istanbul, Turkey”

Asparagus the Middle-Eastern Way

According to popular notion asparagus has some kind of cleansing effect on the human body, as is the case with many a springtime produce: dandelion, radicchio, artichokes – to name only the most obvious suspects. In terms of taste, the cultivated (garden) asparagus is not on the bitter side as opposed to wild asparagus, which is also thinner, but has a distinguished, typical flavour. And a particular smell too, which is manifested afterwards in the loo.

 

Market produce in April

Somehow, I have always perceived asparagus as an exclusively Mediterranean vegetable possibly stretching a bit beyond but not too much. It struck me by surprise then to have stumbled upon a recipe Continue reading “Asparagus the Middle-Eastern Way”

Under the Weather

Randomly and aimlessly clicking my way through the web becomes boring after a while. It’s no picnic giving in to illness and staying in bed all day. What with the headache, the running nose (as fast as Bolt, my son said), the cough. Even my skin hurts.

Then I find out about the rose that escaped the garden. She went for the sand dunes. Brava! And eventually she ended up in a museum. What a life! Continue reading “Under the Weather”

The First Run of the Year or The Curious Case of Storytelling

Here we are, in the coldest time of the year, and I ran for the first time this year yesterday. The morning was quite chilly with -13 Centigrade and the temperature didn’t rise significantly by the afternoon. Still, I chose running instead of skiing as day’s main activity. For a seasoned runner I consider myself to be the cold isn’t believed a hindrance. And one warms up running much more than skiing.

It’s one thing to be running and listening to music, but it’s entirely something else to be running and listening to spoken word in podcasts. I find that way, to simplify, the whole body is employed: the limbs and the mind. Sometimes I find myself so absorbed in the listening that I either run too fast or too slow. A human mind is a fantastic space. Especially the aspect of telling and listening to stories, which in a broader sense of all beings only humans are capable of, and I mean not only pure (fictional) stories but the act of being able to transform the heard word, the text listened to, to images in one’s mind is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a complex activity of our brain: making up stories, storytelling, listening to stories and visualising them simultaneously. It is magic. I find it truly overwhelming.

So, where did this ability take me to yesterday on the coolest of afternoons? Sicily. There I was among the heaps of immense heads of green cauliflower in the Palermo’s market. I attended the lavish banquets together with the noblemen of the 19th century Sicily. I watched Garibaldi’s ships land at Marsala. I entered the not-so-secret-anymore chocolate making shops of Modica. Quite a journey. Just before arriving back home I noticed nasty cool wind picked up sometime during my run and if it hadn’t been for somewhat numb fingers I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I wondered if and how these polar winter conditions are manifested in Sicily. From the warmth of our home it seems quite romantic. Deceitfully so, I know.

 

Related:

In fact, there’s a whole science on the subject: Brian Boyd on why do we tell storiescritics on the subject and On the Origins of Stories via auslit.net

Sicily’s secret chocolate obsession via BBC

Ever wondered what else to use cauliflower for?

The top-selling book in Italian history

Freezing Europe

Let’s Go Crazy

Yeah, let’s!

We watched Love Actually last night for the first time this festive season and it breaks my heart Alan Rickman left for good. One of my favourite actors if I ever had one, his super responsive face made all the impact. And his voice, deep and warm, man, what a voice. And his English, well, to a person feeling shivers down her spine by spoken British English, it was just perfect. He needn’t speak anyway.

Can someone please tell Him to conduct the 2017 with a bit of a lighter touch? We could all do with it thankyouverymuch although we’re pretty much all aware of the obvious and not so obvious.

I promise I’ll keep paying attention, reasoning and questioning, reading books and columns throughout the New Year. I can’t do otherwise anyway. I hope to get absorbed in exciting stories, travels and food. Speaking of food, just recently my man and I hosted two dinners at home. We approached the planning and preparations with lots of care, good will and joy and were working hand in hand throughout. We seem to have had everything going for us: great guests and truly smartly selected courses. Everyone was delighted. Bravo for us!

On both occasions I was asked for the recipes and voilà, my darlings, here they are, all included in the links below.

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Christmas Dinner Menu

The Leftoverist’s Thai Carrot Soup, a fantastic warm-up dish (minus broccoli and rice, plus tomatoes)

Sabrina Ghayour’s Citrus Spiced Salmon from her lovely book Persiana (minus rose petals and lime powder; used a 1,5 kg side of salmon, one piece not filets)

Nigel Slater’s Green Olive Pastries as a side dish – it’s the last recipe and shares a photo with the third one (I used a mix of Ligurian olives not the green ones)

Puy Lentil Salad as a side dish no. 2 from this helpful book (minus goat cheese and peppers plus feta and double on soaked dried tomatoes)

Photo of a recipe in a book Healthy Eating to Reduce the Risk of Dementia by Margaret Rayman et al.

The Delicious Days’ Chocolate Heaven served with whipped cream, the safest, the most delicious and certainly the most popular chocolate cake in our household.

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Post Christmas Dinner-for-friends Menu

Nigel Slater’s Brussels and Butternut Custards It’s the fourth recipe, you’ll have to scroll almost to the bottom (I used hokkaido instead of butternut – no peeling needed).

Rachel Roddy’s Spaghetti with Lemon, Parsley, Garlic and Chilli It might seem too vegetarian a selection especially for the main course but it was supposed to be a bit more relaxed after the Christmas binging for everybody.

Quince and Marzipan Tarte Fine An exquisit dessert. I poached and preserved the quince slices some two months beforehand to save them for this dessert.

Some additional points regarding the menus: every course was planned as to require minimum involvement away from the guests. Most of the food could be prepared in advance, some of it at least up to a certain point. It was completely no-fuss doable and non-exhausting. Several amuse-bouches can be served (and are not listed) and a variety of petit-fours or other sweat treats to accompany the main thing. In my opinion it’s very well worth it to serve one-bites, think cookies, kumquats, dates for instance, as they add even more vibrancy to the festive table.

Nevertheless, the rest of the holiday is for resting and enjoying it.

Happy New Year everybody!

 

The Reading List

We are nearing the summer solstice, which means we’re getting close to the end of the first half of the year. I don’t know about you but for me the first six months of 2016 flew by in a flash. It might be the right time to write down a selection of the books I particularly liked that I read within the past few months.

One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks
One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks: Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

1.) The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee

I believe it’s more than obvious that I’m enchanted with that book. Because of it I urged the purchase of a pot grown lemon tree, a small one, a special variety, the kind that can be kept indoors through the colder months. When we brought it home it started to blossom and the whole flat was filled with a wonderfully seductive zagara. It went on for weeks. Now, it’s happily found its place on the balcony and I can see it’s started to form flower buds anew so I think it’s really happy with us. I hope it remains so. As for the book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

2.) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Looking back on this book I can’t classify it by any subject it covers. Mostly, I found it to be a deterministic writing about race, about being black in the USA, about life in Nigeria, about (legal and) illegal migration to the UK, about being smart and young. I recommend it to everybody who is scared by current influx of migrants to Europe. But most of all, it is a valuable insight into the way of life of the modern young and educated. Very pleasurable read. To gain a wider appreciation of Nigeria (the land itself is unknown to me as is its history) I can propose the acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun by the same author. Beware, it might open new horizons for you.

3.) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

A tender and contemplative narrative about the meaning of believing and the strength of prejudice. I read the original (English) and I must admit I struggled because the language is quite complex and the ideas about religion are not my strongest subjects (although I know a thing or two about Catholic guilt). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book very much as it oozes deep wisdom and hope. During the progress I felt more and more liberated by the warming sense that the problems I think are problems are in fact only minor obstacles. I hope I’m not sounding condescending but if I were to recommend a book to someone who is considering finding a bigger meaning of life, this one would be it. The storytelling is exceptional.

The book I’m saving for summer holidays? I’m almost decided it to be Venice by Jan Morris. I’ll report.

The Land Where Lemons Grow

I read some very good books in the past few months but the first prize, so far, goes to The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. The way by which I was pulled into its contents is to put it mildly empowering.

Lemons in a bowl

Using the TV analogy, it’s the grandest documentary on such a prosaic subject as citrus growing. Well, as prosaic as a book on growing anything might be, actually, to a person not deeply connected with soil and its produce but only (or at least) caring about the simple facts of life: one has to drink, one has to eat, one has to sleep.

It’s much more than this; it is a monument to citrus and to Italy and what it represents. It is about the long and hard travels of the fruit, its holistic meaning through the eras of wealth and despair on every leg of the journey and how valuable it’s been to people.

There are thousands of different varieties of citrus but they all evolved out of three respectable ancestors. A few of the varieties have had a very special place within culturally and economically diverse parts of Italy and they still do. Citrus is an essential part of Italy, now I’m certain of it. Some of the most magical places in Italy are home to a child of a citrus family: Amalfi coast, Liguria, Sicily, Calabria, Garda, Tuscany. To every true lover of Italy this book is a must-read.

A book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow

In practically every bar in Italy you can have a spremuta d’arancia, a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no doubt Italians have a very special relationship with them. Citrus rulz.

The writing is very gentle and well-balanced. The reader immerses in jaw-droppingly interesting stories about the Arabs, the Normans, the Jews, the Mafia, the Austrians and the Medici among others, and about the actual people of now, living their hard working lives surrounded by fabulous smell of zagara and delicious food. The book is also very informative: there are many historical and scientific facts along with the tender details about the food (rare ice-cream find in Turin or pasta with Amalfi lemons) and the landscape – it is certainly not your typical food book.

I will never again take poor old lemons or blood oranges & co. for granted. Before, I never really truly thought about them, consider them, you know. They’re simply always there at your disposal, omnipresent. But now I find myself even looking at them at the greengrocers’ with an attitude. I wonder about their provenance, the smell of their pre-fruit blossom, the vivid colours of their bumpy skins.

I’m a faithful reader of books: I never go on a trip without one and there is always more than one on my bedside cabinet. I cannot imagine going to sleep without reading at least half a page (I’m being joked about my waning reading stamina before turning in), I suppose reading is a sleeping pill to me, in a good sense, it makes my dreams more colourful. This book was a very pleasant companion and it takes a special place on the shelf.