Exciting News!

You know all those times people told me I should write a book about our international adventures? Well, last week I indie published my very first book. Here it is:

Paradise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in TowParadise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in Tow by Sarah Bringhurst


It’s available on Amazon for Kindle here. Check it out!

Cooking in the Tropics

Last year while I was waiting for our Tunisian landlord to get air conditioning installed in our apartment, I did a couple of posts on cooking for hot weather. When we are not having hurricanes and tornados here in Florida, the weather here is also very hot. And unlike Tunisia, where the sweltering wind off the Sahara desert kept things pretty dry even by the coast, Florida is more of a tropical place. In fact, I’m convinced that if we let our lawn go for, say, six months, we’d probably end up with not a knee-high grassy field, but a full-out jungle. Seriously. You can almost see the grass growing.

It reminds me a lot of the Philippines, where it was so hot and humid (sticky is how I would describe it, really) that I would walk outside and be soaking wet in five minutes, from a combination of sweat and water from the air. While we were there, we stayed for several weeks at a little hotel in Manila. Actually, “hotel” is a little grand. It was called “Pension Natividad,” and it was more like a hostel with a few private rooms, a communal pot of something that they cooked up every night, and a little improvised basketball court where the locals and Peace Corps types would shoot hoops in the evenings.

Pension Natividad had a little refrigerator in the lobby with cold drinks in it. And one of the drinks (by far the best) was the homemade lassi yoghurt.  My favorite flavor was the mango lassi, and to this day, whenever it is sticky hot outside, I am transported back in front of that refrigerator, trying to make up my mind if I need another mango lassi today. One evening a week or so ago it occurred to me that maybe I could make my own lassi. I put equal parts of milk, yoghurt, and mango pulp in the blender, along with a squirt of raw Florida wildflower honey. Heaven.

If it’s too hot to even push blender buttons, tied for best cool drink in the Philippines is coconut water fresh out of the coconut. To. Die. For. Here I am after a long, hot, marital-problem-inducing hike, enjoying one immensely. Axa, not so much.

Green coconut water has become quite the thing these days. It’s full of electrolytes, and is touted as a sort of natural form of Gatorade. You can now get it at Wal-Mart packaged a little more conveniently (i.e. bypassing the need for a machete) in a carton. I keep one in my refrigerator for when I need a healthy, natural, but certifiably mood-altering pick-me-up.

It’s also the season for six-for-a-dollar plantains (you know, those huge green bananas that you can’t eat raw). I saw them on sale at the Latino market where I shop, so I bought them and figured I’d look up how to cook them later. Fortunately, my brother Samuel went on a mission to Puerto Rico, and is a great cook. He sent me recipes for authentic Puerto Rican Mofongo and Garlic Shrimp. With his blessing, I substituted bacon for the pork rinds and chicken for the shrimp, so I can’t claim to have honestly tried the recipes as written. But they were good! My only problem was that I didn’t have the baseball-bat-sized mortar and pestle he informed me the recipe was actually talking about. I managed to mash my plantains anyway, but it was a lot of work. Still, it was worth it. Yum!

Yesterday I had a crazy craving for canned oysters. So I ate some. A lot, actually. As in, two cans full of oysters, right out of the tin with a fork. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not pregnant. But I was having my period, and the craving made a lot more sense to me when I looked at the Nutrition Facts on the side of the can and realized that it was by far the most concentrated source of iron available in my house at the time.

I try to make a point to eat lots of iron-rich foods when I’m having my period, because one time at college I went to donate blood while having my period, and they told me I was too anemic. Another time I managed to give blood, but promptly fainted in the middle of my philosophy class, disrupting a lecture on Aristotle and the golden mean. Waking up on the floor in the hallway of the Smith Family Living Center with several anxious fellow-students peering down at me has got to rank as my most embarrassing college moment ever. Or at least second most embarrassing.

What I usually do to celebrate the monthly occurrence is to make liver for dinner. I typically chicken out and buy chicken livers to make pâté. If you’ve never tried it, you should. It is superb. Just don’t be put off by the greyish color. This month, though, I decided to go for it and make liver and onions. I’ve tried this before, with less than palatable results, so I was a little choosy about a recipe. I finally settled on one that touted itself as “Absolute Best Liver and Onions.” I followed the instructions religiously, and it turned out delicious. My kids even complimented it for the entire first half of dinner, until they finally clued in to the fact that it was liver.

What do you like drinking and cooking when it’s summertime?

photo credit: mango lassi

An Evening in the Philippines

Last night we had the good fortune to be invited to dinner by Estela, a friend of ours who is Filipina. There was a Filipino restaurant we used to eat at occasionally in Utah, but it’s been a long time since we had real Filipino food. Estela is an amazing cook, and she prepared several classic Filipino dishes for us. We started out with two kinds of lumpia, or egg rolls. The first ones were “fresh” (i.e. unfried) lumpia, which are like a very thin, light crepe wrapped around julienne carrots, palm hearts, and curly lettuce.

Fresh lumpia usually have peanuts in them, but Estela’s were peanut-free, so my enjoyment of them was multiplied by all the peanut-laced lumpia that I had drooled over in the Philippines and been unable to eat. They were even better than I’d ever imagined, especially with the accompanying garlic/chicken broth sauce.

Possibly even yummier were the fried lumpia with tangy sweet/sour sauce.

I had to try several of both kinds in an effort to make up my mind as to which lumpia I preferred. In the end, I was unsuccessful at choosing between them, but I enjoyed the trial immensely.

Estela had also, of course, cooked quantities of that delightful, fluffy rice–every grain separate and perfect–that is extraordinarily difficult to reproduce for the uninitiated (i.e. me). No meal in the Philippines (even breakfast) is complete without rice. In fact, they have this funny word, ulam, that means “what you eat with rice.” Supposedly, the corresponding English term is “viand,” a word I’d vaguely associated with meat (in a Norman, Robin Hoodish sort of way), but certainly never uttered myself before my introduction to Filipino cuisine. If you look up viand, you’ll find it defined unhelpfully as “an article of food,” sometimes with the appellation “of a choice or delicate kind.” We just haven’t got the ulam concept in English.

In this case, the ulam was adobo, chicken braised in a savory sauce, which is a sort of national dish in the Philippines. Just like with the rest of the meal, Estela’s version was delicious.

To round it all out, Estela created a dramatic pancit, silky translucent rice noodles with vegetables and meat. So yummy.

Dessert was “sticky rice,” which is made out of exactly what it sounds like, but turns out to look something like cake. The rice is mashed into a pulp and mixed with sugar and coconut milk, and then baked (I think). Estela’s had a bonus of actual strips of buko (green coconut), like the kind they put in your buko juice (green coconut water) when you buy it off the street in the Philippines. I couldn’t find a picture, so you’ll have to imagine it.

Even more distressing, I didn’t get a picture of Tony singing Karaoke afterward. Karaoke is a sort of national pastime in the Philippines. It is ubiquitous and indulged in by young and old alike. Tony crooning schmaltzy love songs in Tagalog (to the rapturous delight of Estela and her Filipina friend), was one of the sweetest things I’ve seen in a long time.

We’re all a little homesick for the Philippines today!

photo credits: fresh lumpia, fried lumpia, adobo, pancit

Waiting for the Rainbow

So, do houses not need lightning rods anymore?

I have been wondering this for a few weeks, ever since thunderstorm season (I don’t use the word “hurricane,” because I think it’s bad luck) began in earnest. I distinctly remember that in Ray Bradbury’s creepy masterpiece, Something Wicked This Way Comes, it was of utmost importance to get a lightning rod installed on one’s house before the big storm arrived. And then when the lightning hit the rod, I think that was when the army of spiders started to invade the house. Or was that just some bad dream I had after reading it? Was Ray Bradbury living in Florida when he wrote the book?

I usually adore thunderstorms, but I just had to run for earplugs, since I’m typing this out in Tony’s garage office, and this is the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s coming right on the heels of the lightning too (did you know that Florida is the lightning strike capital of the world, by the way?). My kids are doing fine, but I just might have to start singing to myself about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

Or maybe I’ll just reminisce about some fun stormy times during our previous life in the tropics.

I had a lovely thunderstorm experience in the Philippines, the weekend that we stayed at a resort and went scuba diving. The whole wall of our hut-on-stilts opened up, and we stayed up late getting massages and watching a spectacular storm dancing over the bay.

It was also a novelty seeing the streets in Manila fill up and flood during the rainy season. This happened on my mission in Chile too. The street kids thought it was great fun, but it made navigating the already treacherous sidewalks the equivalent of a mud bath, especially once you added in the crazy-driving  jeepneys that would speed down the narrow roads regardless of the foot-and-a-half-deep filthy water. Yech.

My favorite thunderstorm, though, might have been in Hong Kong. We had been fruitlessly searching the city for the LDS temple, and were overtaken by a positively melodramatic tropical storm just as we finally spotted it. I had heard the phrase “sheets of rain,” and even used it myself before, but this was the first time I had ever realized that it could be literal. During a brief break from the clouds, we snapped this photo, and then rushed our baby (and our camera) to the safety of a dry doorway. Fun times!

Well, it worked. the rain has stopped, and the thunder seems to be moving away too. Thanks for waiting out the storm with me!

Welcome Home, Part 2: The Dining Room

Well, I finally got around to taking pictures of another room in our house. And I do have another decorating problem to share with you. But first, a few photos.

Here’s our dining room:

Isn’t our bar-height table fun? I feel like a little kid sitting at it with my feet dangling. We got it when Axa was a toddler, partly because we loved the fact that she couldn’t reach onto the table and pull the dishes off. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the picture behind it, which is one of my favorite pictures ever. In fact, I tried to convince Tony that we should recreate it for our engagement picture. I still don’t know why he wouldn’t agree. Don’t you think it’s just about the most romantic photo you’ve ever seen? It pretty much encapsulates my philosophy of life.

The dining room is not a formal dining room, but it’s a little more formal than a breakfast nook. That’s a good fit for us, because I like eating outside the kitchen but right next to it. It’s the other half of the same room as the living room, actually. Here’s a not very good picture of how they fit together:

You can see the bookcases and couch on the left, and the table on the right. And actually, right there in the middle in the small frame is our real (and slightly less unconventional) engagement picture. At least he humored me and made it black and white. Here it is in a larger version:

And now we come to the decorating problem of the dining room. Actually, it’s the decorating problem of quite a good portion of this house, but it also happens to be one of my favorite things about it: the soaring cathedral ceilings.

High ceilings are virtually taken for granted in Italy, and I love the feeling of proportion and grace they give to a room. And it’s not just how they look. There’s about twice as much air to breathe in a typical Italian room, and acoustics, including conversations, sound different; less stifled, richer and more musical (this also has to do with the fact that Italians don’t really go for wall-to-wall carpeting). I guess maybe it’s the indoor equivalent of a piazza.

So here’s my decorating question: the ceilings are great, but what should I do with all that extra wall?

Here’s the other side of the dining room:

This is the only thing hanging on one of those tall walls in our house that even goes up halfway. It’s our bulul, who sits with his arms crossed over his knees and guards our house. And here’s a closeup of the actual little wooden bululs from the Philippines:

The one in the middle is in the usual pose, which is the same as the little old men in Northern Luzon who sit in the doorways of houses. The others are doing various other traditional tasks. My favorite is the second from the left.

Not only (unlike the other four) is she obviously female, but she’s also wearing a baby on her back. I love it!

Get Me to the Church on Time

When Tony and I lived on BYU campus as newlyweds, we pretty much walked straight out our front door into the Mormon chapel, which was also on campus. Forgot an extra diaper? No problem (please tell me I’m not the only mother who’s ever done this). There was no hassle if one of us needed to be at Church early. And home/visiting teaching was a piece of cake. Tony still loves to tell about his Elder’s Quorum President, who stood up in opening exercises one morning to recount a conversation in which his father (also Elder’s Quorum President in his own ward) begged to know his secret for achieving 100% home teaching. Our Elder’s Quorum President (in all seriousness) launched into an exposition of his plan, which included things like accountability, positive motivation, and setting a good example. I had to laugh. Um, how about the fact that everyone lives next door to each other, and if they go inactive they’ll get kicked out of school, and hence out of the ward?

I don’t think I appreciated living close to the church building enough at the time. Even after we graduated and left campus for the big world, we just hopped into our minivan to drive the few minutes to Church on Sundays. During our adventures abroad, though, we’ve taken all sorts of interesting forms of transportation to Church.

One Sunday in the Philippines we were lost walking to Church, and decided to hire a bicycle-powered conveyance. We squished all three of us onto a seat that had been built onto the side of the bicycle frame. The poor driver. I can’t imagine chugging along carrying three extra people on your bicycle. I don’t think we got there any faster than we would have walking, but at least it was our bicycle rider and not we who ended up tired and sweaty at the church door. On another memorable Sunday there, Tony and I spent the entire hour ride to Church arguing. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but it’s possible that our feelings were aggravated by the fact that we were riding in a motorcycle sidecar, and the attached motorcycle was so loud we couldn’t even hear one another.

In Chiusa Pesio, Italy (before we got a car), getting to Church involved a 30-minute long bus ride, and then a 20-minute walk. I can’t count the times I ran ahead with Dominique to the bus stop at 7:00 in the morning so I could stall the bus driver while Tony came puffing up behind with Axa. We were usually the only ones on the bus, and we liked to sit in the very back seat, because then we could all sit together on the same long row. Once we got on, first we would feed our children the breakfast we had packed, and then pull out their Sunday clothes and dress them too. Pathetic or brilliant? I still haven’t decided.

The bus ride in Florence was shorter, but it was one of those awful city busses with the flexible hinge in the middle. I don’t know about you, but flying through narrow cobblestone streets as the part of the bus you’re on sways dizzily back and forth, about to tip over into the river at any moment, is not my idea of a restful Sabbath activity. It was often cold on those spring mornings in Florence, so I always made cinnamon rolls that rose overnight in the refrigerator and baked on Sunday morning as we got ready for Church. The smell of warm cinnamon rolls still takes me back to that heart-stopping bus ride. Our very first Sunday in Florence, we accidentally rode the bus to the end of the line, not realizing that you had to notify the driver if you wanted him to stop before. We got out and wandered around for an hour looking for the Church building before finally giving up. The next Sunday, it was raining cats and dogs. We managed to get off at the right stop (or near it), but we still weren’t sure how to get to the Church building from the bus stop. (Let’s just say that google maps directions don’t always take into account things like parking lots you’re supposed to cut through, pedestrian walkways not meant for double strollers, the fact that Italian streets have no signs and change names every few blocks, etc.) We ran from doorway to doorway, managing to keep our children, but not ourselves, dry under what we realized were pitifully inadequate umbrellas, and asking directions from quizzical shopkeepers every few minutes. Finally, a passer-by took pity on us, loaded us into his car, and drove us around until we found the Church.

In some ways, Ireland was a welcome relief. There was no bus to Church. Unfortunately, that meant we had to walk 45 minutes to get there. We managed O.K., since we lived there in the summer. It did sometimes still rain on us, but by that time we had wisened up and availed ourselves of the large sturdy umbrellas found in nearly every shop in Ireland. My only disaster was the week I wore a long silk crinkle skirt to Church. By the time we got there after the cloudburst, the bottom of my skirt had dried out, but all the pleats had fallen out too.

And then there is Tunisia. First, we take a taxi to the louage station. It’s pronounced loo-AAHHHJ (with the French “J” without the little “d” before it), and it’s a lovely word to say. It’s a less than lovely conveyance, but not as bad as a jeepney. The Tunisian louage is sort of a cross between a taxi and a bus. Physically, it is a little van that has been fitted with lots of uncomfortable seats. Usually there are grimy curtains on the windows, which my children would love to play with if they could get away with it. Often there is a distinct smell of gasoline coming up from the patched metal floor. There is no regular timetable. They just leave when they’re full. Each louage travels a certain route, but there are no scheduled stops. They are used mostly for inter-city travel. The driver will let you off wherever you want, as long as it’s somewhere on the prescribed route. Most people ride all the way to the louage station in Tunis, which resembles a gigantic, impossibly crowded and chaotic valet parking lot full of dirty white vans and people yelling. They’re not angry, they’re just calling out names of destinations so they can get a tip from the driver when they direct a passenger his way.

Once we get out at the station, we find another taxi, which takes us to our friends’ house in La Marsa, a northern suburb of Tunis. Technically, there is a train that goes to Tunis from Hammamet, which is an alternative way we could explore to get to Church. I usually prefer trains. However, lately there have been some instances of people blocking the rails and then when the train stops asking for money. We haven’t ridden a train here for months, so I’m not sure if it is more like a grand Wild West railway holdup, or just a clever strategy for creating a captive audience for begging. Either way, I think we’ll stick to the louage until the security situation in Tunisia gets a little more straightened out.

And this week our ferry arrives in Palermo, Sicily on Sunday morning, just in time for us to catch some Church meetings. I guess we can say it’s the first time we’ve taken an overnight ferry to get to Church.

Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol)

Welcome back to Friday in the Philippines. Last week we had a long night with the karaoke in Suiteroom 1 of the Superferry. Check here for back posts:

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! (Sagada)

Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Icebox (Banauae & Batad)

Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)
Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks (Anilao)
Philippines, Part 9: “Sexy Chic” at the Playboy Fashion Show (Field Study Research)
Philippines, Part 10: Luxury Travel, Filipino Style (Cebu)

Before leaving Manila, we had finally traded in our overstuffed frame backpacks for a snazzy matching set of rolling (and nesting) suitcases. Having performed so much research on manufacturing companies, we were ready to start our Filipino textiles import business, so we decided it would be both more comfortable and more posh to switch from intrepid backpackers to business travelers. The day we went to buy the suitcases, Tony was asked by a head-hunter at the mall if he was interested in a career as a model, further fueling our delusions of grandeur. He shortly thereafter announced that he was claiming the small rolling carryon bag as his “personal luggage,” to be used on future business trips to the Philippines. That little detail will become somewhat important later.

Our next stop was to be Bohol, a small, adventure-laden island. We bought tickets for Weesam Ferry and settled into our seats in the lower deck to watch the onboard movie. Unfortunately, the first fifteen minutes of the movie were an obscenity and violence-laden police raid on a secret KKK meeting. I covered the baby’s eyes, and Tony went to ask them to change the movie. Which they did! Their next selection, Coming to America, was also rated R, but we figured we needed to choose our battles carefully.

Once landed at Bohol’s capitol city, Tagbilaran, we caught a bus through thick jungle and quaint villages. The bus was supposed to drop us off at a boat dock where a cute little pumpboat would take us on a picturesque river cruise up the “Mighty Loboc River,” ending at a charming and authentic resort called Nuts Huts, run by a benevolent Belgian who really knew how to take care of his guests. Or so gushed our Lonely Planet guidebook. In reality, neither the bus driver nor the people we asked seemed to know where the dock or the pumpboat were.  We ended up being dropped off by the side of the road at the beginning of a rough trail marked “750 meters to Nuts Huts.” 750 meters is not far, unless you are traveling with two rolling suitcases, a small but very heavy backpack/diaper bag, and a baby.

Tony was carrying the backpack and sometimes rolling, sometimes carrying the large suitcase. I was bumping along behind with the baby in the wrap, dragging the small suitcase dragging. Tony kept reprimanding me for not picking up the suitcase at the (perpetual) bumpy, rocky places. “You’re ruining my personal luggage!” he lamented. I responded ungracefully with a caustic comment about the relative priorities he was putting on his personal luggage versus the safety and comfort of his wife and baby. By the time we had bumped and dragged ourselves and our luggage past several staring locals and to the top of the steep winding staircase from which we could descry the reed roofs of the Huts themselves, we were both hot, sweaty, filthy, and very out of sorts. The larger of our two suitcases had been completely muddied and destroyed, and the smaller suitcase was not far behind.

As we wearily trudged down the steps, the Belgian hippy proprietor of Nuts Huts appeared on the porch of a large deck on stilts, which overlooked the muddy river. He gazed at us for a moment, and then commented placidly that he had never seen people try to roll in luggage before. I refrained from comment, and we dragged our bags down the rest of the steps and settled into our picturesque nipa hut on the river.

As we drifted off to sleep, the jungle awoke around us, and we could hear an orchestra of insects and other inhabitants serenading us through the trees. When we woke the following morning we had experienced enough authentic living with mosquitos, spiders, and other larger unsavories (was this the place where my breast pump was attacked by cockroaches during the night? I’m not sure . . . the various unfortunate huts we called home tend to run together in my mind now). We decided to relax and then leave the next day. Unfortunately, that night it rained hard all night and continued into the morning. We couldn’t picture either tumbling along in a small boat on the swollen, muddy river or dragging our suitcases back along the now flooded trail. So, we (more or less) philosophically slogged up a hundred slippery stairs to the outdoor balcony restaurant at Nuts Huts, watched the tropical rains come down around us from hammocks on the porch, and speculated darkly on how the Belgian must have wined and dined the Lonely Planet reviewer.

By midday the next morning, the rain had thankfully slowed down enough to make leaving possible. At least this time it was easy to find the pumpboat from our location right on the river. It took us first up the river to the impressive waterfall, and then down to a spring that created a delicious natural swimming hole. The river was high and chocolatey from the recent rains, but where the spring came up off to the side, the water turned an improbably abrupt and brilliantly translucent turquoise blue. We could not resist the opportunity for a swim, so we changed into our suits in the boat. We left Axa with the boatman while we jumped in and frolicked in the water, with a light drizzle still pattering all around us. It was more than delightful and romantic enough to make up for the squabbles and disappointments of the preceding days.

When the boat had arrived at the elusive dock, we disembarked and entered a jeepney crammed with people along both facing benches to go back to Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran. Just when we thought that the jeepney had reached its extreme limit of capacity, the driver produced several one-legged stools which the unfortunate passengers who entered last were required to balance between their legs as they swayed back and forth between full benches of people, bumping first into one, and then the other. We had not yet seen Bohol’s star attraction, the Chocolate Hills, but we had had enough of the island for the moment.

Stay tuned next week as we finally find our own little piece of paradise (complete with white sand beaches, fantastic seafood curry, and our very first monsoon) in Philippines, Part 11: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . .

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. Or at least make something you like out of the local ingredients.

In San Diego, we ate Mexican food at least once a week, whether it was bean burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, or taco salad. Actually, it was probably more like twice a week, and always liberally adorned with guacamole from avocados we bought in bags of 25 on the side of the road. I would also buy corn tortillas from the neighborhood Mexican market in bags of one hundred, and so fresh they were still warm.

In the Philippines we ate so much rice that even now, five years later, I can rarely bring myself to make it. I also learned how make lots of different egg-in-a-frying pan dishes, since we had no oven, and only a single little hot plate to cook on. My favorite was tortang talong, a sort of eggplant omelet. I also still miss being able to eat a whole pineapple all by myself whenever I wanted, and all those delectable coconuts. I’d do just fine stranded on a desert island.

In Ireland, I made soda bread daily, and we ate it with the delicious yellow butter that the cows so obligingly translate out of all that green grass. The Irish version of Mexican food is Indian food, so we often ate chicken curried in various different ways. Perhaps if we had lived there longer I would have really gotten into black and white pudding (I confess I never could bring myself to try it) and begun to cook with turnips more. Perhaps. Although I did learn to make Irish-style flapjacks, which are still often requested as Family Home Evening treat around here.

Here in Italy I just don’t feel like cooking in butter anymore. But I panic if I run out of olive oil, which ends up drizzled on just about everything. D.O.P Parmesan is another of those things that’s just a necessity in Italy. And I have a whole cupboard in my small kitchen entirely devoted to pasta, which we eat for lunch every day. My daily bread here is an Italian sourdough, which often ends up being cooked as pizza. Cannelli beans are cheap and easy to find too, so I have a list of white bean soup recipes that I make, from traditional Tuscan minestrone to white chili to BBQ baked beans. Those black beans we loved in San Diego are nowhere to be found, but we don’t miss them too much, since we have new things to eat.

Then there’s cheese. Ah, cheese. Tillamook was always on sale in Vancouver (touring the Tillamook Cheese Factory was one of our favorite outings), and at the time, it was the best we knew of cheese. Until we started sampling imported cheeses from Trader Joe’s, that is. We really wanted to like “stinky” cheese, but when I finally psyched myself up and bought some camembert, it stayed in the fridge for weeks, and every time I opened the door I could smell it. We did end up trying a tiny slice, but I’m sorry to say that the rest got thrown out. The funny thing is, after an adventurous seven months of cheese tasting in Italy, I bought that same camembert from Trader Joe’s. We gobbled it in one sitting, and it didn’t even seem stinky at all.

My all-time stinkiest cheese was one we picked up in Nice, France on our way back to Italy this last time. It was soft and white, and had a ripply, ridgy rind like a maze. But that rind was entirely covered in a thick grey mold. I was so sick I couldn’t eat much of anything (I’d been living on white grape juice finger jello for days), but somehow I liked that cheese. I ate a good six or seven ounces of it on the train.

In San Diego we ate fresh Mexican cheese on everything. And I could rhapsodize at length about Italian cheese, from toma with juniper berries to sweet gorgonzola (nothing like the hard crumbles) to the divine sheep’s milk ricotta in Genova.

Whenever we travel, and especially when we move, I like to go to the food market without any preconceived ideas about what types of recipes I’m going to make. Once I find out what our assets are, then I look for recipes that are authentic to the area, but also for recipes that incorporate local ingredients, even if they have nothing to do with the area. That means you might get eggplant parmesan if you visit us in Italy. But you might also get tortang talong, since it’s made with the same ingredients. Eclectic recipes are just some more of the intangible souvenirs we’ve picked up along the way.