Thursday, August 16, 2012

Offbeat Art, With Some Lost in Translation

More photos from la bella Napoli, with more fact, I observed so much life in Napoli it would take months of posts to do it justice. You had better go and experience it yourself. :-)

One of the repeating themes of Naples (entirely open to interpretation, I might add) was the graffiti, and this character was one of more than a dozen similar figures I saw in red, white, blue, and black. They were all clownish stylized figures, and this one made me think it might be related to a football club, but I can't find anything on it, at least not by searching in English.
Here is another one, which might be related by the colors and shapes. Anyone have theories? I like the whimsical design. This picture was at Porta Medina in Naples, as you might be able to see on the hundreds-of-years-old sign there...

I tried to pay attention to these signs, but there were so many! Naples is crammed with so many layers of history and competing cultures that while it is very easy to find something peculiar and charming, it is difficult to determine the origin of that thing. Well, usually. Not so for the historical courtyards, which are marked by marble signs on the street, as proper as any town of antiquity. This was my favorite: simply an inner courtyard, now for parking, that used to gently welcome its inhabitants home with the sound of water and the pleasing elegance of stately painted columns. (I think that's supposed to be a stag, but its ears to the side do give it the look of a donkey, don't they?) Ah, the life of a courtier, eh?
More like:
"Ah, the life of the imagination, that can fling its arms to a distant past and feel the air and in so doing, understand how much things can change, and have changed, and will change again."
That's one of my favorite lines of thought while out traveling the world: what happened here? What did life used to be like? How do people here cope now?

This is what happens when you travel alone for long stretches of time, evidently. 

Finally, there was the art that was lost in translation, which I here offer up for your perplexitude...
What does one eat there?

Halb fub or half foot fruit? It makes a big difference!

I love quirky finds, both animal and mineral, from trips to new places. What have your adventures brought to your notice recently- real or imaginary?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dog Days of Summer, Italian translation

**Last Call!**

I will be hosting one final cooking class on Southern Italy in August, so email me now to reserve a space!

This class will focus on Southern Italian foods and cultural foodways, which I learned a lot about while in Naples, Sorrento, and Sicily this spring. Instead of cooking for today though, I am throwing in some whimsy from the trip...

First of all, it was not that hot in the Bay of Naples, where these photos were taken, but the dogs of the neighborhoods I visited obviously thought otherwise. There were plenty of them sprawled out on the streets, too pooped to acknowledge the passersby.

This is my favorite -- such a dramatic scene! I picture an acting out of the Romeo and Juliet balcony lines (this is in the vicinity of Verona, after all), but I'm pretty sure it's just another lazy dog.

This one, poor dear, I saw in a back alley of Pozzuoli, I think behind a hairdresser's, as a matter of fact. I tried to snap the photo before the dog could turn its mournful eyes on me and entreat me to leave it some dignity.

Finally, crossing a busy street in Naples, I had to move fast to catch this crowd! I can't think that he's a dogwalker with that preppy sweater placement, but do you think they could really be all his dogs? Perhaps we've found the equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady...

I do love finding the quirky 'side dishes' of travel: those unexpected humorous moments can be what you remember years down the line, laughing until you cry with those you love (remember that fish in the buffet at the Grand Canyon, Dad?).

So remember, it's fine to have goals -- sights to see, places to dine -- but don't forget to stop and take in what the city or country is putting right in front of you for your enjoyment!

Happy summer travels, readers, and don't forget to sign up or spread the word about the last class in August!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Planting Seeds on that Rocky Road to Adventure

I'm still thinking about the road to adventure... it's a road, not a destination... it's a rocky road... not like the ice cream... come on, join me in the Association game! (love it)

Quite a rocky road indeed... Photo source

And on this rocky road, there are disappointments-- no getting around it-- hence the support system (mine embodied by the teacup symbol) and also the need for a system or structure to mitigate the ups and downs.

Another quote that recently piqued my interest as it made the rounds of my twitter-verse actually made me mad when I first read it (totally because of my mindset/ attitude at the time), and it also gets at the need for such a structure:

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." -Robert Louis Stevenson

What made me angry was that I was feeling particularly used up at that moment, without any more seeds to plant (seeds being creative energy/ motivation in this metaphor), and wishing awfully for some trees to start dropping some fruit my way. 

Someone else mentioned in response (love the twitter-verse for that) that you don't want to dip into your seed corn (seed corn here meaning your inner reserves, what you count on for next year's 'food supply' of work) when planting, to which I gave a hearty "Hear, hear!" If you did, there would be nothing left, which means it's unsustainable.

Photo Source

So what qualify as seeds for planting? How do you set up such a system, so that you can weather the ups and downs of life? Try these activities, one of which usually gives me a jump-start back into happy productivity:

Planning / Strategizing: this means establishing and mapping out goals, then backtracking (a la Barbara Sher) the necessary steps to come up with...

Baby steps! These are the little seeds of progress toward the goal you've established: writing an article each week, calling the blog-hosting company for details, asking for a reference, etc. After a lot of these, you've earned...

Breaks from the plodding pace of baby steps that replenish your creative core: attending a writing conference, having a dinner out with friends, and meditating are all fine examples of activities that will, for different types of people, refuel their energy (search for Myers-Briggs introvert vs. extrovert descriptions if you're curious about this). After a bout of this, you'll be ready to return to...

All that background noise. This includes those unpleasant tasks that never seem to make it to the top of your to-do list: decluttering, going to the bank to start that retirement account, asking for help, maybe it's cleaning your bathroom. It's different for everyone, but it's a sure thing that there is some thing hanging over your head like a personal raincloud. Do it. You'll feel better.

And if none of those work, maybe you just need to turn your brain off.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

And another Tea for the Road

I came across a wonderful quote today:

"The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea."
Henri Mariage, Mariage Freres Tea
I've written before about the power of tea, but then it was about creating space and allowing mindfulness. This quote sets us on a different path toward tea: that of adventure.

What's so swashbuckling about a cup of tea, you say?

If tea makes you think of an afternoon feasting of cucumber sandwiches amid older ladies in the British Empire, I quite see your point.


I came across this quote in an old issue of Saveur (July 2003), because I've been on another magazine decluttering kick recently. It may have something to do with the fact that my rent was just raised and I'm thinking of moving again... at any rate, I've been able to keep a feeling of accomplishment going recently, through completing various activities: emails, meetings, meals, purchases, purges. From these past couple weeks:

Discovery #1: Accomplishment is not synonymous with adventure, but because these activities, these efforts at simplifying, are in general aimed at achieving a greater goal, something of the majesty of that goal is injected into each baby step of a task.

Discovery #2: Accomplishment can never take the place of adventure, if you've got that kind of spirit, because if the activities do not get you closer to an ultimate goal, they quickly become empty, joyless actions.

I see my cups of tea shared with friends as my own personal Board Meetings, the purpose of which is to keep me focused on the greater adventure, that is, ultimately, a Life Well-Lived.

Tea, or my support system, symbolizes the Road to Adventure, the road that I am on now to create my own lifestyle. It's this support system that will keep me- and you!- on the right road. Discovery #1 may not hold up all the time, but for right now, I'm enjoying feeling like I'm making progress!

So bartender, if you please, it's one for my baby , another tea for that road!

What keeps you focused on your greater goal, your 'bigger picture?'

Are you racking up accomplishments but wondering where the adventure went?

How can Taste Life Twice help get more adventure into your life?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Passing along Southern Italian Foodways to You


I would love to host you at my final cooking class of the summer in August, so email me now to reserve a space!

This class will focus on Southern Italian foods and cultural foodways, which, as you'll see below, I learned a lot about while in Naples, Sorrento, and Sicily this spring. It was gorgeous. In fact, this was the sight that greeted me from the window of the hydrofoil as we docked- quite amazing.

Pozzuoli and Napoli held their own charms- views of the sea and charming locals high among them- but the next stage of my trip launched me into the independent mode of travel. From the seaside you see above, I scaled the cliff (ok, climbed the stairs) with my suitcase, and getting some advice from the tourist office, I scouted out a few small hotels before deciding on one.
The night of my arrival I wandered around the small town of Sorrento, glimpsing citrus trees in every yard, people in every cafe, and a bustling center of town, which included this gated corner alcove, apparently an ancient men's club (so unfair).

I walked and walked until I was so hungry I had a hard time making a dinner decision... ending up with this spread, so I didn't end up too badly...
Whole fried anchovies (unless they were sardines? I can't find a good way to tell them apart when battered and fried), octopus, shrimp, and more- all celebrated the generous gifts of the Mediterranean Sea. Perfect for my sampler nature.

After a couple days like this, I went to see one of the most famous historical sites right nearby: Pompeii. Having gotten a good look at Vesuvius on the hydrofoil journey crossing the bay from Naples to Sorrento, I was excited to see this city that was buried in an instant, so long ago.

What bowled me over about the site was not the professionalism of the preservation or the views of the countryside (although the site was well managed, the surrounding suburb was rather scrappy), but the unbelievable detail brought to us whole and untouched from that distant culture. Here is a frescoed wall from a bath house. Such colors, thousands of years of ash and dust later!

I recently had "atavism" explained to me in an online course, and it was connected to the idea of a discontinued past, that past which is not linked to our present because we perceive it to be too different. Pompeii was nothing of the sort- the people living here had road ruts under repair, were building extensions on their houses, and had decorations lovelier than many expensive ones I've seen  in our own time.

Mosaics laid so precisely.

Signs lettered so carefully
--and in recognizable script!

It made the tragedy of the deaths in the settlement all the more real. Here, the archaeologists had left their mark, finding the bodies burnt to ash, essentially vacuuming them out, and making plaster casts of how their bodies were found. It was both eerie and compelling to see the models, composed of some of the ash of the bodies themselves, on display in their final, frantic positions.

But since the one plaster model I saw was placed near the entrance I used, I had a couple hours after that of wandering around the narrow streets and peeking through other courtyards to sweep out the sad thoughts. Marvel at the art and society of this little town was the foremost emotion, and by the time I finished, I was ready for switching gears.

What did I jump to? My cooking lesson with Chef Lucia!

She had a menu planned and printed out for me, and we mixed it up a bit as we went along. Chef Lucia took me through an immense amount of details as we made our way through rolled beef, stuffed eggplant, and rolled eggplant (I requested the eggplant- love it!). One of the highlights of the class was the ballet dance of languages we all did, as her son translated for me, I tried to understand Lucia's Italian, and she mostly understood my English. It made 2+ hours of standing on my feet in the little kitchen fly by, and that is saying something!




Heating garlic in oil!

There are proper ways to do everything, and traditional ways, too, as in whether you peel your cucumber completely or in stripes- one way gives you the Napolitano version, the other, the Sorrentino.

One of the add-on items on the menu was fresh pasta from potatoes, usually known as gnocchi (that is a link to an excellent tutorial with step-by-step pictures- go see for yourself!).

We used a pasta machine, the kind that clamps on the counter and cranks by hand, which led to some more ballet-like hilarity among the three of us. We also used a tool like the one shown  in the linked tutorial above, which looks like a miniature washboard. It is obviously a skill learned through repetition, to drag two fingers with a dollop of gnocchi dough over the wooden board in such a way to create the classic shape. I tried, but my pasta didn't win any beauty contests!

It was a lot of fun, and even though setting up the class was stressful at the last minute, and finding the place was another adventure, it was all totally worth it.

Now I have this precious experience to share with you!

Have you taken cooking classes on vacation? How did it give you a different view of the location and the region's people? Did it help you connect the region's past with its, and your, present?

It's magic!

Let us hear about it in the comments...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Food & Flora in Pozzuoli

Lucky duck that I am, I visited Italy earlier this year, southern Italy to be exact. None of that fashionable, decaying-but-romantic, artsy-wartsy way of life for me. No, siree.
Going down a hill in Pozzuoli showed me this structure- what purpose did it once serve?
 (Although I reserve the right for those to appear in future trip posts, of course)

This time, the idea was to relax, to not rush around sightseeing, to have a home base and merely get to know the pace of life of a different place, this one being Naples and the surrounding area.
It didn't exactly fall out as planned. I took some advice to avoid the trains on the eastern coast because they're old and less reliable, and ended up taking more than a day to travel to Sicily, which I in no way regret. If you have the chance, go and absorb Sicily. It is beautiful.

By the way, those are landscaping bushes for a public park in Pozzuoli, yes, but they're also, wait for it, ROSEMARY! Why didn't we think of this?
Wherever I was in Italy, I was keeping a weather eye out for places that looked like local hotspots for good food. I was not disappointed.
Wisteria vine scenting a sidewalk in Pozzuoli
Since I found so much beauty scattered around southern Italy, I also include here some of the beautiful plants and flowers I encountered.

First off, first meal, all-star favorite: zeppoline. A relative of the doughnut, this version is savory and can include herbs. It tastes salty, has a satisfying crunch from the lightly fried batter, and appears to positively melt in the mouth. I tried to replicate this at home when I returned based on 2 recipes in Italian cookbooks, but it didn't achieve the lightness, saltiness, and snacky delight from those I had in Pozzuoli, my first night in Italy.

This is where I stayed: the Solfatara! Say it softly and it sounds like an incantation... and judging from the sulfurous steam emanating from the various pockets around this dormant volcano, there are some witches nearby brewing concoctions as well!
No, no, not really. I stayed just à côté, with some wonderfully generous friends who live high on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. So hard, I know.Not only do they contend with that view, but they also have to put up with the hillsides full of wildflowers, bursting forth with their colors. It was gorgeous, and this was still in mid-April when it was still overcast and foggy.

The second night in Pozzuoli led us to a local bistro-type place facing the bay with an outdoor heated patio, which was lovely for the temperature, but the heat lamp turned all the pictures electric shades of red and yellow. Notwithstanding the bad job of sizing up the light, the food there was excellent. We had the mixed appetizer plate, which contained zeppoline (I'd already fallen in love), mussels, egg and shrimp, octopus salad (another newbie but immediate favorite, unfortunately no good photos of the various 'polpo' we found along the way!), and a couple other things. Would you just look at how they present it? To be so proud of your work that it is a work of art- now there's an accomplishment.

My walk on that same day took me through the public city gardens, called Villa Avellino. It is a very interesting site, with multiple levels, multiple churches, some waterfowl, public fruit trees, public water spigots, and this Dr. Suess-looking tree. Do you know what this one is? So arresting it was, standing out in bright orange and warm dark brown against the leaden gray sky...
Everywhere I ate, there were all kinds of fish- fried fish, fish in salad, fish marinated in vinegar. And they were all good! I normally don't consider myself a fish person, but in the spirit of learning the place, I bit into crispy fish heads and chewy tentacles. I'm glad I did! I hope that one day I will be able to procure the right type of octopus to make such a salad myself. It would have to go down better than the zeppoline.
The simplest, and the best.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ramping up the Delight

For all you locavores out there, this post is a bit embarrassing...

For me, that is.
Yes, those are ramps up there. Ramps, as in the trend-du-moment harbinger of spring ending and summer beginning. Since we had an awfully long, drawn-out spring (who's complaining? not me), and a peek-a-boo summer, things may have been a little mixed up. And they were. But it's still a bit late to talk about ramps.
But that's ok, I'm not giving a recipe. I'm actually highlighting a delightful observation I made at the time of cutting up the expensive, farmer's-market, little darlings:

I matched my food!

As I looked down and the penny dropped, I felt happily content to be so in tune with the season that I had on a purple top and green shorts- ha!
The ramps went into a lazy-man-scramble with some early tomatoes, and were paired with those all-stars of the sustainability world: anchovies. More specifically, marinated white anchovies, a specialty which the Spanish call boquerones, and the Greeks call gavros. I first met their ilk at Estadio, and later bought these at Vace, an Italian deli-and-pizza stronghold in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.

It was a simple, filling, and nutritious meal. Eggs and anchovies = good proteins and fats; tomatoes, ramps, and herbs = 2 fruit and vegetable servings for the day. And that's pretty much how I do my food accounting. It's not overly complex.

Moments when you match what you're chopping... now THAT's ENTERTAINMENT!

I'd love to hear how you all entertain yourselves with your own passions. These types of stories sustain us as we follow our dreams. So do be a peach and tell us a story, eh?

I am currently trawling for students for my next cooking class, possibly next week. The armchair travel theme is Southern Italy (oh, aren't you dying to see where I went? Soon!), and the menu will be different from the last one- modified to include Pizza, as only southern Italians can make it. (And those who have learned from southern Italians, of course!) Send me a message if you or someone you know may be interested!

**Sincere thanks to all who have like the new Taste Life Twice Facebook page! I'm delighted to have another way to connect with people, and look forward to enjoying the recipes, stories, and opportunities to be shared.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bluff City and Home of the Blues


What side of this city did I see? Several, actually. I had two trips there for work, one in March and one in May. I met the nicest, funniest hotel staff at the welcome and valet desks both times. I observed the pieces of the city's history that residents refuse to let go, such as the trolley, the horse carriages, and bygone symbols of its fame and glamour, like the named music notes in the sidewalk.

I also experienced Beale Street, sort of. Not in the rip-roaring, guitar-wielding, flam-doozling way someone else might have (it was with work, after all), but bar-hopping and cooling my heels in the shade listening to the street hawkers and the wildly cacophonous competing music venues in the small space was certainly a unique experience. Plus, good company.

And oh yeah, I found plenty of good eats. I did my exploring online beforehand, as well as through friend networks. They all pointed to one place: Rendezvous.

The place was happily down-home, with random knickknacks, lots of tourists, and a we-don't-take-no-guff attitude at the front desk. Only open for dinner (not lunch) during the week- that was odd. Their specialty was most certainly the "Dry-Rub Ribs," but my coworker's brisket was mighty tasty too.
The ribs were pretty addictive, and quite unique- it's kind of like tasting a really salty food- all the crystals tingle in your mouth- but then you realize they contribute to a seasoned, earthy  flavor, not just salt. Who needs sauce, anyway?
It turns out the seasoning mix contains oregano (a main Greek spice) because the immigrant family that started the joint was from Greece! I love when food connects back to the travel theme...of course it always helps your food when it's got history and whole-heartedness.

Another place I had to stop at was The Little Tea Shop- I mean, come on. Tea. Home cooking. This was a place I found by reputation online. Their most touted items were the vegetarian turnip/ collard greens and the corn sticks: "crispy on the outside yet flaky and buttery on the inside."

The Little Tea Shop, in its position as a local institution/ legend, deigns to be open for lunch only. And its waitresses tend to be a little short (with their words, not their height), which I chalked up to cultural differences. Oh, and neither their cash register nor their credit card machine was working, so the woman at the front had her hands full trying to make change for people out of spare change she had in a PAPER BAG. It was wildly endearing, and made for a great story.
So, besides the barbeque (sort of) and Beale Street, what other sides are there to Memphis? Well, there are the fun new 'cuisine-y' type places popping up (Local Gastropub comes to mind as a place where we had great food, but slow service), and you've got your music history pathways to follow.
But my antennae went up as the cab driver from the airport said he knew how to direct us to "any number of diversions, from used bookstores to-"
"Hold up, did you say used bookstores?"

I found one or two downtown, and went on a bit of an adventure to Midtown, a short drive away from the downtown, and home to Memphis' hipsters and dive monkeys, to find another one, pictured below. Heaven! (Loved the quirky aisle caps consisting of chairs with vintage typewriters)
And how could I forget the fried chicken! Gus's Fried Chicken was very low-key, and although "Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken" is its full title, I didn't find it spicy. And I'm a wimp, soooo... Gus's didn't have the kind of sustainable sourcing policy of the places I usually find on these trips, but the chicken was so tender and juicy, I went back twice!

Ohmigod, and just like in Omaha, TRY THE FRIED PICKLES. Gus's were entire spears, and had a spicy crunchy coating- dee-lish.

Besides these neighborhood attractions, a group of the people in town for the meeting had a fun round of friends' poker (no betting in the state) in the hotel lobby. It was EPIC.

Thanks for the memories, Memphis!