As promised in my previous post, here is part two of my top 8 places I particularly enjoyed during our trip to Sri Lanka last month. From the cultural riches of Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla we drove to the heart of the Hill Country and after a few days continued to the coast. The weather was fine every day everywhere we went which was a miracle in itself. After the overwhelming beauty of Kandalama I couldn’t have dreamt of places even more alluring.
There’s tea and there’s tea alright. And that’s about all I knew about Sri Lanka before. Ashamed as I may have been of my ignorance, I am now, after our return from a recent holiday on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, at peace with myself.
Sri Lanka is all that: beautiful and diverse landscape, lush flora, extraordinary wildlife, pleasant people, rich historical heritage, delicious food, but also bad roads, excessive bureaucracy and mad traffic. As a result, the mix of it all makes for a very much alive, colourful, energetic spectacle for the passing tourist. Sri Lanka took us by surprise in its own right.
Traditions are meant to be kept. Some of them at least.
I know it’s December when I see #amaryllis at our flower market. Knight’s Star being its popular name evokes a fairy-tale-ish sentiment not dissimilar to the one involving great grey-haired men, carrying heavy bags over their shoulders, roaming around this month. (Hello St Nicholas) #saturdaymarket #freshflowers #knight #homesweethome #colour #stnicholas #december #bouquet #flowers #colours #beautiful
Throughout history certain rites, beliefs and customs were repeated over and over again by human kind, modified by new notions that developed and accumulated along the way as time passed, and most certainly by newcomers, then finally and definitely upgraded by new generations that unavoidably followed. This time of year, when it nears its ends, it is apparently the time when I appear to be ponder-ish and kind of blue. Continue reading “Traditions to be kept”
I’d like to say that Corvara in Badia (1568 m) is a lovely little village but I’d be lying. Not that I’m saying it’s ugly but the magnificent part of it is its surroundings. Huge Alpine-style houses, almost all of them dedicated, to some extent at least, to the tourists and their needs, and numerous hotels line the main road and narrow service lanes. Everything is very tidy, no unruly parking anywhere, no mess, no chaos. It’s almost as if it wasn’t Italy.
Corvara is one of six little places that form Alta Badia in the majestic Dolomites. The mountains in fact are the biggest draw here, winter or summer. What used to be a giant coral reef up until some 250 million years ago when the prehistoric sea subsided is now the exceptional mountain range that we know today for its unusually shaped formations and colour, so very different from the encircling Alpine classics. It’s the mountains and the views of them and from them that take your breath away. It’s Unesco heritage for a reason. Continue reading “Corvara in Badia, Italy”
This one is for those who have the courage to admit to have an occasional bad day (as opposed to those who are always great, spectacular, never better, and continually in a good mood). Shit happens.
As far as I can tell, I was in a perfectly good mood when I left for work in the morning the other day. Somehow everything started turning downhill in a matter of minutes. Continue reading “All Is Well That Ends Well”
This has got to be the most photogenic salad I’ve prepared myself. It’s just as good as it’s pretty too. The roasted cabbage “steaks” on the other hand turned out delicious despite resembling something very much anaemic and lifeless.
I’m always in awe when I discover a straightforward recipe using a staple ingredient Continue reading “The Blooming Season”
Why? Because it’s crap. In fact, it shouldn’t even remotely be alluded to the über-kitschy Eurovision Song Contest, it’s that lame.
The story is …. wait, what story? Acting is thin. The film as a whole is what a six-year-old might want to watch if at least it wasn’t for the music. You’re quite right I didn’t like the movie. Now that we’ve gotten this out of the way, let us return to the real world. Thank goodness it does actually exist.
For a healthy(ier) dose of reality (although that too is discutable) Continue reading “La La Land Zero Points”
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”
Whenever I return home from Sarajevo my head is so filled with encounters and happenings it pushes me into a strange state of void (if there is such a thing). I cannot describe it any other way. Somehow, for a day at least, I feel kind of lost in utter nothingness. Perhaps it’s just exhaustion. There’s only so much partying one can handle after all. And trust me, they certainly know about partying.
Every time I’m there I’m soaked in goings-on, events, good time, meeting people, food, drink yet at the same time everything around somehow loses its edge and significance. Continue reading “Sarajevo Revisited”
Discovery of the day: I miss the colours. This is why at the beginning of February it seems to me the winter lasts forever. It’s no easy task imagining a near end to it when there are only the greys, browns and dark greens around. It’s easy peasy getting through January, although long, after the festive hysteria but once February takes to stage it’s no consolation it’s the shortest month of the year.
Well, let’s not get too pessimistic. It’s not that bad after all. I only have to flip through my photos to feel better. Continue reading “Colour Me Happy”
When I find myself hungry while at work I’m consequently, more often than not, disappointed by the limited food options on hand. It happens that I simply can’t figure out what I feel like eating anyway. Desperately enough, I’m drawn to reminisce about the outstanding dishes that would’ve been just the thing at that very moment save for the fact they’re unavailable completely.
Say a simple plate of trippa alla fiorentina. It’s considered a redneck dish where I come from and I’ve loved it ever since I was a little girl. Continue reading “Lunch”
Not a cloud in sight for two consecutive days. Jeez, the skiing was just perfect! The pistes were only occasionally punctuated by a skier or a small group of them that all of a sudden emerged out of nowhere and once they flew past us the white course was left to us alone again. That’s what January feels like these days. Herrlich!
Skiing in January in the Alps can mean a lot of things. It can mean masses of snow, every other day a new consignment of powder. It can mean blue skies and strong wind. Or, grey clouds, heavy with precipitation, that don’t seem to move anywhere. In the olden days, January skiing meant guaranteed snow conditions but not the friendliest weather conditions with the lowest temperatures. That inconveniences could on the other hand be mitigated by lower, so-called off-season prices to lure the most eager skiers out in the open. Nowadays, January generally still means no crowds but at the same time no (natural) snow. Thankfully, the technology of snowmaking is in place everywhere now so we can smoothly indulge in the winter delight of skiing.
When I’m in the mountains I seem to notice the weather more. It’s got to do with exposure I guess. This January is rather on the cold side, which I don’t mind at all, and the weather has been picture perfect throughout. Sunny and cold – the best winter arrangement. As if by order. As far as I’m concerned we could do with more snow though. Down below in the hometown the last snowing brought in more snow than in the mountains. Shame, really.
Another thing typically perceived is the days are getting longer. Today, for example, when we were preparing our late lunch after returning back from skiing the sun was still up and it was past 4 pm (a few weeks ago it had already been dark at that time). Once the sun sets behind the mountains the night gets all black, much darker than in the cities, and dotted with millions of golden stars.
For lunch I planned to use up the celery that was lying around for a week together with a packet of cherry tomatoes. The first recipe I found online was interesting enough to stop searching. At first, I was a bit suspicious about the whole thing. I was afraid I wouldn’t like the taste of it too much since it’s quite particular. I love it raw, it’s essential as a spice for a soup or used finely chopped in a soffrito but as a main character? Well, I was afraid. But it turned out quite silky and delicious. I served it with bulghur but you could use couscous or pasta.
Not a cloud in sight for two consecutive days. Our cheeks are red and our lungs are filled with fresh Zirben scented air. We’re ready to head back to everyday.
It’s a little town, so little that it can easily be missed. Nevertheless, Tarvisio is a town not a village. It’s nestled within a very narrow Alpine valley and it’s where, figuratively, at the end of the road Italy ends. Before the EU and its Schengen Agreement it was rather notoriously known in the neighbouring Austria and Slovenia (or Yugoslavia) as a shopping Mecca where one could stock on cheap textiles and leather goods of dubious provenance at its numerous market stalls. The memory attributes to it much more romance than it actually ever offered even to those who were the buying customers and not mere passersby. The market is still there although moderately gentrified.
Roughly, it could be said, the town is divided on lower and upper part, which means it runs the length of two parallel roads. The lower part is the old, medieval centre with the narrow winding main road on which traffic runs the regular two-way as if there was enough room. In truth, there’s hardly enough room for two pedestrians to meet let alone the motor vehicles. Sadly, nowadays it is mostly lined with closed businesses and empty (and dirty) shop windows, but the more the road ascends the more lively the town seems to be becoming. Luckily, for my grandmother at least, Preschern, an old school hardware store, is still in business at its ancient premises: it’s where my brother and my son though decades apart got their first bicycles from.
When the road somewhat snakily turns the steep way up under the disused railway underpass it widens substantially. There’s a decent if not surprising selection of shops for a town of such a small scale: mostly fashion and sports equipment but also unmissable alimenti, enotece, edicola, quite a number of coffee bars and restaurants. The tourism is probably what keeps the things stirring. Lately, the town has been into skiing seriously. Quite a step from trading and border guarding.
Men used to come to work in Tarvisio from other more pleasant (and warmer) parts of Italy. It was where the Italian state had sent them to fortify and protect its border. It’s easy to imagine the resentment of their wives and families who had to oblige and follow. Consequently, people from elsewhere were brave and stubborn enough to have brought with them their own traditions. And so, on the bare banchetto at first, the feisty Signora Emma, coming from a coastal town and unaccustomed to the cold and snow but unwilling to give in, started out her idea of feeding fish to the locals. (I should remind myself to ask my grandmother about it: she might remember it.) The unpretentious Ristorante Adriatico (link below) was born. It’s a homely place with dated decor but a nice view over to the ski slopes and the mountains. Fish is fresh and delicious. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a satisfying meal of spaghetti alle vongole so heartily prepared. Tiramisu was just as good.
They have certainly used their winter wisely, the Tarvisiani. For as long as I can remember the winters in Tarvisio have been real, solid winters with loads of snow and freezing cold. Well, truth be told, the snow doesn’t come in abundance these days but the cold of winter is nevertheless very actual and harsh. Never forget to bring a hat, a shawl and a pair of sturdy shoes.
And we haven’t started discussing the summer yet. Hiking the majestic mountains, breathing deeply on green pastures, wandering through the endless forests, biking along the bike lanes or uphill, or meditating in this lovely mountainous recluse. It seems tempting enough especially, but not only, under the thick blanket of snow. It’s so pretty it’s almost kitschy, don’t you think?
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.
Ever wondered what else to use cauliflower for?
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.
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.
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)
The Delicious Days’ Chocolate Heaven served with whipped cream, the safest, the most delicious and certainly the most popular chocolate cake in our household.
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!
As soon as we stepped out of the parking garage at MuseumsQuartier we bumped (literally) into a group of acquaintances we were kind of planning to meet for a drink after dinner. Talk of coincidences! Away from home, in a huge city that Vienna undoubtedly is, you get to stumble across the people the minute you step out in the open.
I must confess, although I know I’m stirring, meeting my fellow citizens abroad isn’t normally welcomed but this act of chance added a whole new dimension to our trip.
Vienna again proved to be a more or less indulging destination for us. We were eating and eating and eating.
Advent time is proverbially a perfect time to visit any German-speaking place: they certainly know about the Christmas decorations and their traditions serve them right. Here’s an explanation from the Albertina leaflet of how a Christmas tree came to be in Vienna:
“The history of the Christmas tree in Austria began on a day in December, in snow-covered Vienna in 1823. Archduchess Henrietta of Weilburg-Nassau, the wife of Archduke Carl, was busy planning the first Christmas celebration in the audience hall of her family’s stately palace, today’s Albertina. For the sake of her six children, she had decided to continue the Protestant custom practiced in Hessen of putting up a “grass tree” (conifer) […] opulently decorated with sweetmeat, apples, and candles instead of a Catholic crèche. Emperor Francis I. took delight in the “grass tree” and had a festively decorated fir tree put up in the Imperial Palace from 1824 on.
Thus, the Christmas tree had become presentable at court and was ready to take off on its triumphal course through the Austrian Christmas season.”
Where best to warm up to Christmas than in Vienna then? In our household we plan to spend a weekend there each December and it’s a tradition I’m sticking to obligingly and without objections.
Vienna is probably one of the grandest capitals even to the pickiest of visitors. There are magnificent palaces lining (and not only) the famous Ringstrasse, there are beautiful parks and elegant pedestrian streets, countless shops, numerous extravagant events, fantastic concerts and exhibitons. Come December she turns into a real imperial princess.
At Albertina we saw another splendid, well curated exhibition, this time on pointillism which is a very luminous and brilliant technique per se, so it made perfect sense to consume it at advent. From Seurat and Signac to Van Gogh and Picasso the paintings and drawings were marvellous, of course, but we were nevertheless expecting to see A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte but it was regretfully not on show.
Although the streets of Innere Stadt are packed throughout the day, one can surprisingly escape the noise simply by venturing into a hidden passage with tranquil antiquity shops.
This is probably what Martin Luther had in mind when he reportedly erected a fir tree for his family sometime in the 16th century to replicate the stars he saw shining through the branches during a walk through the woods.
Anyway, we also had a delicious dinner at Shiki, a fabulous Japanese restaurant cum brasserie just off Kaerntnerstrasse. Apart from food (freshly grated (at the table no less) wasabi anyone? superb sushi! wonderful soup! to highlight only the pre-mains) the service was nice and the ladies’ loo is fantastic. I can’t believe I’m mentioning the food and the loo in the same sentence. It’s the first time I experienced the legendary Japanese lavatory, which self cleans (saw it in action with my own eyes – freakingly unbelievable) and warms the seat for you. If you read this, you should go for the food, please, not the loo.
Unexpectedly, especially for Austria with its rigorous working hours regime, we transformed ourselves to night owls. Remember the little group of people we bumped in upon arrival? Well, we started our Bruderschaft rounds of drinks in the Grand Hotel’s bar, then we walked the deserted streets to Cafe Hawelka for Buchteln and were glad to have had a chance to get the last 8. It was a night of fun and laughter! Great company!
On our way back to the hotel we finished off a plate of wurst at Bitzinger’s kiosk just for the sake of it. It was something we always wanted to do.
It’s been a typical winter day, the kind that one tends to forget all about even before it’s over. Half light half grey, not too cold but humid, anticipating the deterioration and turning to rain before the night creeps in. Not complaining at all, it’s pitch-perfect for my favourite pastime: reading.
We did manage to do a couple of rounds on the slopes though and filled our lungs with fresh pine tree smelling air for a pleasant aromatherapy momentum. On our last ascent on the chairlift we already contemplated the bookworms’ evening. We had to take care of more prosaic necessities first. The lunch.
And what a great lunch it was! Simple yet fragrant and full of sun and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. It’s as simple as your ABC can be, as is the case with so many Italian dishes but it’s the execution that requires attentiveness.
Boil a lot of water in your pasta pentola. While the pot is warming up, skin the lemon off its zest with a potato peeler and cut it, the zest, into thin hair-like stripes. (Save the lemon in the refrigerator and use it the next morning before breakfast squeezed in a glass of tepid water.) Marvel at the fabulous fragrance for a second or two. (The recipe requires a grater, which I didn’t have at hand but cutting it up is just fine. Especially if someone more diligent and patient is willing to help.) Then chop up a handful of parsley (in the same thin stripes fashion as the zest) and take chilli/peperoncini container out of your pantry. Get the man of the house pour you a glass of some fine preferably Italian red. (Although whatever you might prefer will do. Just keep in mind that cooking your meal is a matter of enjoyment not torture.) Warm up some olive oil in the pan over low heat and add to it a smashed clove of garlic and a smashed chilli/peperocino (If using dried version. Otherwise chop a fresh one up). Low temperature is key. Stir occasionally. By this time the water must be boiling already, add a couple of spoons of salt to it, stir and add spaghetti. Don’t forget to set a timer according to the required cooking time. Half way through add the lemon zest and parsley to the garlic-chilli pan, stir now and then, all still at low temperature. Just a minute before the spaghetti are done, fork them out to the pan with garlic-chilli-zest-parsley mixture, fold it gently, add some cooking liquid, turn the temperature to high for a minute and stir in a knob of butter in the end. Done. Serve with a bowl of fresh leaf salad that was prepared beforehand (and preferably by the same helpful person that chopped the zest and took care of the wine).
It felt as if sunshine had stepped in our dining room for a moment in now already bleak winter afternoon: simple, fulfilling and delicious.
After that it was couch only. With a book of course.
I happen to check some food blogs on more or less regular basis because I quite like to cook but need a bit more than the regular fact-stating recipe. I like the eloquence of a handful of authors/bloggers I like to check up on. One of them, and the more recent addition to my lot, is an English/Roman/Sicilian rose Rachel Roddy (https://racheleats.wordpress.com) that I check on The Guardian occasionally as well. The recipe that brightened our day is by her. Thank you.
I don’t know when it happened that people started to plan their summer holiday as soon as the Christmas period was over. As much as I try to fight it and to find excuses why it’s almost immoral to do it, I do get caught off guard in the January calmness and I start to check the websites, magazine clips I saved, notes I made in the past months, and to discuss the dates.
It’s clear to me that the earlier you book the more choices you have to choose from. The longer you wait and procrastinate the more you have to be flexible. In the early days you have the luxury to be picky.
Suddenly, you find yourself immersed in the expectations of long hot days, full of desire to see new places and eat wonderful meals, and feel blessed by the promise of dolce vita, as limited as it is. You notice the expressions like cooling linen bedspreads, airy silk dresses, refreshing seaside breeze, soft golden sunsets, and they echo in your everyday.
At times, dreary February still outside your window, you open the drawer to reach something and there seats this glass candle with an overwhelming fig tree fragrance that transports you to laziness and seduces you to have another glass of limoncello just to let it linger with you for a tiny bit longer.
It’s easy to get carried away and lament over grey skies of now. But you know what? I did all the necessities it took to secure our holiday and let it go.
That day we made ourselves fondue for dinner and it was totally appropriate, you know. The champagne bottle was chilling on the terrace. The candles were lit. The table all set. Baguette, fresh from the oven, still warm. Celebration of winter of sorts.
In the end, eventually, as I looked out of the window I saw it was snowing and the trees were slowly gaining their winter coat. I felt the peace within me that all was right, that the Earth rotated its usual cycle and the universe spelled whatever it usually spells. It was wintertime and it was snowing. Bliss.
What’s there not to be optimistic about? It’s almost the end of winter, people. One can already notice how the days become visibly longer. And this is good news, right? A minute at a time, true, but noticeably longer.
I’m lucky enough to get off work relatively early so I decide to make a good use of this wonderful winter afternoon. I go for a run. Not that I avoid running altogether when it’s dark and cold but the spirit is higher with a prospect of a daylight run. It’s also warmed up a bit in the last few days, it’s clear with an occasional foamy cloud here and there. The sun being low – it’s wintertime after all – it casts a magical colouring scheme over the snow-capped mountains. Really, what’s not to be good-spirited about?
I decide to put some music on. During December it’s been all about Christmas chimes (I can’t help it, I love good old-fashioned Christmas songs) and festive podcasts. This time I choose an almost forgotten playlist that’s been collecting dust in my iTunes library and with every step I get reminded what a great decision I’ve made. Who could resist this? Or this? I hate to repeat myself but what’s there not to be optimistic about?
By now I have already passed the ski jump facility where young athletes are training hard. There’s lots of them, some still little children but all fearless with gleaming eyes and everyone hoping to become the next Peter Prevc. Good for them!
There are more runners out here than usual. What a great feeling! The paths through the woods are dry and dusty, only a slight puddle every now and then. More a result of hidden streams meandering downhill between the trees and bushes than anything else for the rain has been absent for more than a month now and there’s been no decent snowfall whatsoever yet. Hope it snows soon.
I meet families on the way as well. Children in colourful outfits are bursting within the greys and browns of the winter forest and their parents treading along in a slow pace. Some people never seem to hurry, bless them.
I see people walking their dogs. I see people enjoying the last sunbeams of the day. I see people having a smoke, outdoors being the only resort for their vice. Nowadays I only notice the smokers outdoors: on the streets, in the park, in front of the bars, even on bikes and some behind the wheel of the car or in the old movies and TV series – they’re a rare sight actually.
When I pass the rose garden on my way back home it’s almost dark. The sky is still light blue when I look up and the clouds are a bright pink colour but the dusk spreads all around and tows the murkiness along. There’s a cloud floating above me, a classic funnel-like shape as if the storm might be approaching which seems quite strange on this calmest of days. On the other hand, if I take another look it reminds me of a soft ice-cream fallen from the hands of a clumsy child.