Happy Hour, Italian-Style

It’s the Bohemian retreat you’ve always wanted to visit. Our delightful friends, Stathis and Elettra, have invited us to spend our Sicilian week at their house, and the house is as interesting and hospitable as the hosts. On the desk where I’m writing this, a small Yoda stares across my computer at an eight-inch-high Eiffel tower. Nearby, a lava lamp presides benignly over a miniature zen garden that hasn’t been raked in weeks, and is now home to a large cowrie shell and a lavender silk rose. Elettra is an artist, and her colorful paintings decorate every room, paired with movie posters, photos of her all over Europe, and hand-lettered quotes.… Read more

Tunisian Food Revisited

photo credit

Well, perhaps I was a bit hasty in my first blush assessment of Tunisian food. I think I can partially blame it on moving here directly from Italy. Sudden withdrawal from the consistently elegant simplicity of Italian food is bound to cause some degree of culinary culture shock, no matter which cuisine replaces it. However, during the past month, my perception of Tunisian food has undergone something of a rehabilitation.

First, there’s the fish. The Roman mosaics are full of fish, whether they’re appearing in Neptune’s train or being caught in nets by down-to-earth fisherman in little boats.… Read more

In the Arms of the Angel

As of today, we are officially out of olive oil. Whatever our failings, we are at least Italian enough to be unable to cook for even one day without some good extra virgin olive oil. We’ve been trying to buy it for a couple of days now. There’s no chance of getting it in our neighborhood. The abundance of little corner shops where we can get our normal staples (butter, yoghurt, fruits/veggies, fresh bread, etc.) only have various kinds of gross vegetable oil. I haven’t used vegetable oil in years. So it was off to the grocery store in downtown Hammamet, just across the street from the medina.… Read more

Adapting to Tunisian Food

Tunisian cuisine can be more or less described in one word: harissa. The basic ingredients of harissa are dried hot chili peppers rehydrated in oil, to which various seasonings, including garlic, cumin, salt, etc., can optionally be added. Wiktionary remarks helpfully that harissa is “used both as a condiment and an ingredient,” which pretty much says it all. Tunisians are fond of a soup that seems to consist entirely of watered-down harissa. If you don’t stop them, they will spread it liberally on any of their myriad types of sandwiches. Axa even claims to have seen someone putting it on pizza.… Read more

A Few Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s Thanksgiving in the United States today. Last year we had Thanksgiving with Grammy and Pampa and Uncle Curt on our back porch in sunny Fallbrook. I was sick and depressed. Tony was between jobs again. Grammy mostly cooked the whole dinner herself. I don’t remember if I even did anything besides feel tired. This year things aren’t quite back to normal, but they are better. A lot better. At least I can picture them getting back to normal, which was hard to do last year. So this Thanksgiving I feel thankful for some really big things, and a lot of little things.… Read more

Chinese Buns

You know you’ve been in Italy too long when your daughter’s copious drawings suddenly all consist of huge psychedelically decorated depictions of candy. Is she attempting to visually portray the sensation of a sugar high? Her latest covert source of caramelli is our next-door neighbor, who in all fairness does gift her seed pods of various sorts as well. They seem to have a special understanding. Who else would have intuited that the offering Axa would appreciate most (aside from those caramelli, of course), would be random yard clippings?

Yesterday we also inadvertently netted birthday cake, syrupy baked pears, and chestnut cake.… Read more

Pizza and Conversation

Sorry you didn’t hear from me yesterday. But I have a good excuse. We came home from Church at mid-day, opened our front door, and were nearly bowled over by the heavy scent of gasoline emanating from our apartment. I took a deep gulp of fresh outside air and dashed heroically into the house to see if I had left the gas stove on. I hadn’t, and we don’t really have any other ways to leak gas into our house. So we went upstairs to talk to our landlord. He was not at home, but when his wife phoned him, he confessed that he had indeed spilled gasoline that morning as he was filling up his car in the garage.… Read more

The Mother of Invention (aka Sarah)

Faithful readers, thanks for indulging my bad day/week/year. And I really appreciate the responses, both public and private. I was especially touched by the personal stories of your own challenges that you so generously shared with me. The difficult roads we travel are a little less lonely when we walk them together. And of course, Goethe said it best:

The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and though distant, is close to us in spirit – this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.

Read more

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Fridays we spend in the Philippines, reliving our incredible summer there backpacking through the wilds with a baby. The story of our journey to citizenship and Italy will resume tomorrow. Of course, if you are a regular reader of this blog you are, by definition, of above average intelligence and able to follow multiple simultaneous streams of history with ease.

If you’ve missed any of our Philippines adventures, you can find them here:
Philippines, Part 1: Have Baby, Will Travel
Philippines, Part 2: Do You Know How to XOOM?
Philippines, Part 3: Confessions of a Carseatless Baby (Vigan)

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins!
Read more

How to Eat in a Foreign Country Without Going Crazy

I love kneading bread. There is nothing like the magic of pounding that sticky, lumpy mass of flour and water into a silky, smooth, obedient ball of dough. If only all of life’s sticky problems could be so quickly transformed into valuable assets. Luckily (for me), moving often, especially internationally, does expand (if sometimes painfully) one’s toolbox for solving problems. And nowhere is this more apparent than in our food choices. Different foods are just easier to find in some places than others. And if you don’t want to spend a fortune shopping at an international grocery store for foods imported from much too far away, it behooves you to learn to eat like the locals.Read more