Monthly Archives: February 2012
Who says you cant eat salad in the Winter?
This is the stuff that Cravings are made from…
Serves 1 (multiply as necessary)
200gm of green beans, fresh as possible, the knobbly bit cut off
Squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of olive oil
salt and freshly cracked pepper
a few chunks of acreamy white cheese of your choice, or a mixture (chevre, fetta, buffalo mozzarella, cream cheese, labna)
A few capers
Bread, if desired
Boil a little water.
Stir lemon juice with olive oil and salt and pepper in the bowl you are going to eat from.
Pop green beans in hot water for 1 1/2 minutes with a lid on. No longer.
Drain. Toss in the lemon mixture. Sprinkle with chunks of cheese and capers.
Devour. Mop up extra juices with bread. Smile.
I have had a craving for green beans for a couple of weeks now so I was super happy when I saw them at the market Today. I purchased some soft goats cheese and 1 luscious ball of buffalo mozzarella and whipped up this little baby for the quickest lunch ever.
I have been making versions of this salad for years now.
If you have an egg in your fridge you can poach that right on up and balance it atop your steaming beans. Poke it with your fork and watch the rich yellow yolk ooze over the crisp green morsels.
To make this into more of a meal top it off with a piece of panfried fish or a golden fillet of chicken. Or if you are a vegetarian I would boil some baby potatoes and soft boil 1-2 eggs and toss that through. Mix in some roasted cherry tomatoes. Heaven.
To take this to a whole new level of decadence mix a little truffle oil with the lemon juice and olive oil and fill your senses with the heady wonder.
If you want to make this in advance you can do a cold version. Just blanch the beans for the same amount of time and then plunge them into some seriously iced water for 1 minute to stop them overcooking. This keeps them crisp and green. When you are ready to eat toss them as before and bobs your uncle.
It lay across houses and hills. It alighted on pine needles and berries. It washed over mountains and formed on fence posts like waves about to crash – and stopped there, mid-crest.
It flowed like a river of cream down the roads and paths and tracks and cracks.
Laying in folds across neatly stacked fire wood and forming small tufts along windowsills…
It is so grande that it begins to drag on the ground a little. Here the river of cream was pushed back to make way for the cars that are dug out of the hills of sparkling white. Driving cautiously, topped with precarious mounds they dirty the pristine garment beneath their wheels.
Little jewels of light shine from within the postcard houses, the steepled churches, the antique brick cottages.
Necklaces of pointed ice dangles from sloped shingle roofs, beautiful as they are deadly.
The wind ruffles the garment as it passes by. It brushes past the imperial pine trees and small clumps of white shake themselves loose to hit the ground with a dull whump! or a soft pfff.
And the girl from Australia gazes apon Europes winter cape with wide eyes. It coats her hat and tries its hardest to smother the tenacious winter berries.
(Or perhaps they’re flowers?)
She nibbles tentatively on it, humming ‘Glad to have a friend like you’ under her breath. It dampens her gloves.
After she watches it from inside the warm house with her hands wrapped around a mug of chai tea as it she tries to put into words her first experience with snow…
Note: My camera seems to be working again folks, so all these photos are taken once again with my wonderful little beast…
So its time I told you all about Couchsurfing.
Gather round, sit down, would you like a cup of tea?
Are you comfortable? Good, then let us begin.
I first heard about Couchsurfing a few years ago. Now to explain the image that popped into my head on hearing this combination of words I first have to tell you about something in the Guiness book of Records.
There is, in said book of incredible feats, some gentlemen in England who took a couch and made it into a car. A car which you can drive on the road, complete with a pizza tray steering wheel. It has vehicle registration.
They are in the Guiness world records for highest speed achieved by furniture; but between you and me I think the old boys at the Records department just wanted to put this fantastic piece of invention in their book.
Now you can imagine that when I heard someone say ‘Couchsurfing’ I immediately pictured a vivacious and plucky young fellow sailing bravely atop the ocean on some sort of couch-surfboard. That is just the way my mind works.
Unfortunately so far no one has invented a couch-surfboad.
Fortunately someone did invent Couchsurfing.
It is, in essence, a way to travel and meet people. You stay on someones couch or spare bed or hammock…. And you spend a few days with this person, or people or family.
But more than that. It is a way to immerse yourself more in the culture of the country you are travelling in than when you stay at a hotel. A way to meet the locals, to meet like-minded people and to be reminded that not everything in this world is a business transaction.
It is free. And it is wonderful.
To begin is simple: you join. You make a profile of yourself. Of your likes and dislikes, interests and experiences. You put a photo of yourself. Then before you head to a city or a town that you will be staying in you look at people in the area. People with similar tastes to you. Or different, but something you find interesting. You can send a message to this person telling them why would like to meet them and the fun begins. Of course they have no obligation to accept. But its fantastic to be a host too. A way to travel without leaving your house. To meet interesting people and share your life with them for a moment.
But how safe is it, you ask.
Pretty darn safe, actually. After you stay with someone you leave feedback on your stay. And they leave feedback on how you were as a guest. So when you are looking for a host you simply read about other peoples experiences with them. And if you are, like me, a woman travelling alone, you stay with people who have had lots of guests. And you read about them and you trust your instincts.
In the words of one guy I told about it, and I quote -‘Ah! Its like Ebay!’
Well, sort of, but not really…
Of course occasionally people may be less than great but then they have bad feedback on their profile and you simply dont stay with them… But so far, let me tell you, every experience I have had has been amazing.
I have cooked and danced with these people. I have been to islands and natural hot spring. To concerts and bars. I had a picnic on a bridge in Florence and explored the valley of temples. I have shared stories and met people from all over the world. And my experiences (so far) are just in Italy.
Travellers from Spain, Turkey, Isreal, Syria, Romania, Hungary, America, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Iceland, Ukraine, Nepal, Norway, Germany, Africa and Belgium. I have met people from all over Italy. Young people and old people. Doctors and volenteers and bus drivers. University students and english teachers. Marine bioligists and concert musicians. A single mother who is a physological journalist.
In the last four months, since I started travelling so much of my journey has been with couchsurfers. And couchhosters.
But wait – there’s more.
Let me grab a hunk of local cheese from the fridge… Would you like a slice? I have some fresh sourdough breading knocking about.. Delicious, wot?
Ok. So say you feel a little uncomfortable staying in someones house. Or say you have a gorgeous hotel already set up in London (or Bangkok or Timbuktu) but you would like to meet some people. A traveller or a local. You can. People can put a little coffee-cup symbol on their profile to let you know that they would like to meet for a coffee. Or a tea. Or perhaps to show you around their favorite part of London (or Tokyo or New Orleans)…
Say you would like to meet some people in your own city or small town but you are fresh out of couches or have a difficult housemate or you live in a shoebox size house… No problem! Just pop that little coffee symbol on your profile and a note about meeting people and you can meet travellers from around the world and show them YOUR favorite bookshop or rock climbing place. You can tell them of your trip to Norway last year and they can tell you how they just couchsurfed their way across Brazil. You can meet new friends like this and the world seems a friendlier place.
There is some cynical part of us in this day and age that forgets that people can do acts of kindness, not for monetary gain or work exchange, but simply because its a wonderful thing to do.
And people of every race, of every religion, of every country are sharing their homes with the world. And you can too. It may just change your life…
Today is my last day in the south.
I came here with the plan to stay four or so days in Palermo and then go Wwoofing. But, as everyone knows, when you are on a trip with no plans and you try and make plans, well, things are bound to get twisted.
But how wonderfully twisty these last two months have been. I stayed a month in Palermo, spending Christmas and New Years with the amazing people I met here. Then I did indeed go Wwoofing. I spent three weeks atop a hill in the Sicilian countryside, working on a farm, meeting beekeepers and dairy farmers, seeing old tombes and castles, spending time with my wonderful hosts over long outrageously delicious hand made lunches and learning to make ricotta.
It was often cold when the wind blew off Mt Etna, but when the sun came out you could sit on a rock and see all the way to ocean, across valleys of trees. Old rock walls snake their way hither and thither across the countryside, sometime going nowhere or joining nothing. Painstakingly put together hundreds of years ago in an effort to de-rock the ground, they are quite simply a work of art.
My first wwoofing experience was a wonderful thing.
After many a tearful goodbye I leave the Sicilian countryside to head back to Palermo for a week to catch up with my friends here. I have caught a bit of a cold and feel a quite silly as I spent most of the week reading and watching movies on my laptop that I have already seen.
On the weekend there is a festival called Mandorle In Fiore, which is a festa to celebrate the almond blossoms and I am wildly excited to go to this festival. There will be processions and stalls apon stalls with many different things made out of almonds and music and…
Well before you get too excited let me tell you that it was my first disapointment of this trip.
I rode a bus two hours to Agrigento. It was a cold and windy day. When I arrived I discovered the people I was meant to be meeting couldn’t make it. The procession was fantastic, almost and hour of group apon group of people in medieval dress dancing and singing and throwing ceremic vases in the air, or flags at each other like colorful javelins.
But after I went to where the stalls were and they were all very commercial and mostly had nothing to do with almonds, flowering or no. I walked around in the drizzle staring at imports from countries, the same that you can find at almost any market. There were some almond nougats and pralines, but that was about it.
So I spent the day reading Huckleberry Fin on my new E-reader and drinking too many coffees in my attempt to stay out of the rain.
Which was grande, because Huckleberry Fin is a wonderful book (read it, I tell you) but all in all a sad disapointment overall for this flowering almond festival…
Perhaps on other days it was better, and the weather put a damper on things… I dont know.
But tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen, I fly back to Bologna to catch up with people there and to see snow for the first time! By the time you read this, I may just well be making a snowman or else hiding by the fire and trying to keep warm.
One of the two. After Bologna I head to Verona to see the city of Romeo and Juliet before getting crazy at Carnevale in Venice.
I believe its going to be packed full of people like sardines in a tin… But they will all be wearing masks and gowns, and that will make it all worth while.
See you in the land of the snow…