Forum Holitorium

On Staples of All Kinds

This year I have done the incredible: I have bought just one book. If this were my normal rate of acquiring books, my living space would be less dusty and cluttered and dangerous. (Yes, safety would increase because there would be no danger of accidentally knocking over a stack of books and having them fall on your feet.) Said book is Vegane Köstlichkeiten – libanesisch (Lebanese Vegan Delights) by Abla Maalouf-Tarner. Since it was welcomed into the fold at the end of April, I have been discovering its charms, one by one. Since TC and I had a guest for dinner last night, it was a good opportunity to try out some new recipes. Our guest voted for the dessert pictured above as the tastiest of all: namura, a semolina cake flavored with orange juice and sesame.

The staples of Lebanese cooking are olive oil, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur, and rice. Garlic, onions, tahini, lemon juice, and pomegranate syrup flavor dishes showcasing spinach, Swiss chard, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, dandelion greens, and eggplant. I enjoy eating all of these foods, and so far there are no duds among the recipes. About the only change I have made is to radically reduce the amount of olive oil in some cases. You really don’t need 100 ml olive oil to sauté one or two onions, do you?

Speaking of olive oil, the sour cherry birthday pie above from earlier this month had an olive oil crust. The wonder of cooking and baking is you can’t predict when something you’ve made many times will turn out beautifully – or just so-so. The crust above – my standard crust – was just incredible. In contrast, the lentil dish laced with pomegranate syrup TC and I inhaled last weekend that I tried to recreate last night was a bit lackluster. The more I cook, the more I agree with the Ayurvedic notion that the state of mind of the cook has an influence on the meal. I was very relaxed earlier in the day when I prepared the dessert; there still was lots of time before our guest arrived. The lentils, however, were prepared in tandem with potato-tomato turnovers – which tasted good but whose dough was…how should I put it…not very aesthetic in its presentation as I used my hands instead of a rolling pin to prepare the rounds and didn’t let the filling cool off adequately before putting it all together. Multitasking is extremely distracting.

It would be good to be in the right state of mind when I finally get around to hand felting this bag, which is destined to hold library books and notebooks and other staples. In dread of blue fuzz getting stuck in the washing machine, I have decided to do it long hand, so to speak, but am still hunting for the right method. One interesting one I found online requires a plastic bucket and a plunger, but since I have spent many an hour decluttering and getting rid of excess objects this year, I find it decadent to buy a second plunger just to use for felting. Have you ever felted anything by hand and if so, do you have any tips for this novice?

The faithful reader will note that the bag matches a jacket I finished knitting this spring. Since my last post, I have not only come to terms with the approaching autumn but look forward to the return of woolen wardrobe staples. On the needles now are a pullover with cables for TC and a thin cardigan for myself. Enjoy the waning summer and good luck with your preparations for fall!

Gift Fig

The doorbell rang Monday morning, announcing the first fig delivery in 2015 with a warning that many more will follow. One of my best culinary experiences ever was eating figs fresh from a tree on the island of Rab. As you might expect, these figs from my father-in-law’s garden in Graz can’t live up to those Croatian figs whose taste has assumed legendary proportions; they are often large but watery. But you should never look a gift fig in the mouth (nifty palindrome, eh?). My strategy in the past to render them more flavorful has been to poach them in red wine or port, but this year I decided to try oven roasting them. Yum. Slice 500 g/1 pound of fresh figs in half, place them face down in a casserole dish, drizzle 2 Tbs port and sprinkle 1 Tbs of sugar on top, and bake them in the oven for 30 minutes at 200°C/400°F.


The basket of figs showed up in the company of a basket of tomatoes and a tall, slender sprig of rosemary exuding a wondrous resiny fragrance. I am letting them ripen further and see shakshouka in my future. Yes, it has been a week of food offerings. On Saturday friends showed up to dinner bearing the first hokkaido squash of the season. I must admit I hesitated before receiving it with grateful hands. Like plums, I associate ripe Hokkaido with fall, and both have appeared recently at the farmer’s market with a message I wasn’t quite ready to accept: the wheel of the seasons is turning and I can’t hold it back.


It had been a gloriously warm and sunny summer until the middle of last week, when a cold front moved in behind thunderstorms. It is July, yet I am wearing wool socks and sweaters again. I look out the window and see rain and grey gloom. Is it September or October? I check my calendar: no. There comes a point every summer when I suddenly realize that we’ve reached the summit and it’s all downhill from here on in: fall and winter will come without fail. That point was reached last Friday. Perhaps that’s why I took to the needles with the first of several hats I have planned, using up stash yarn to make gifts to keep the people I love warm. Above you see my first stab at brioche knitting, a watch cap as introduced by Elizabeth Zimmermann in one of her newsletters collected in The Opinionated Knitter. It took a while to get the hang of the two row repeat, but then it knit up in no time at all – though I needed more than the two hours Zimmermann required to complete the hat.

Carrying on the green theme, our garden zucchini continues to smile. Just when I think I’ve used up the ones in the fridge, the next ones are ready to be picked. TC and I will be garden sitting for the month of August and are responsible for overseeing the peach harvest. Dear readers, what is your favorite way to eat peaches? Any suggestions on how to broaden my peach horizons? Hope you are enjoying whatever is ripe where you are.

One Wedding and an Anniversary

Friday we had a room with a view of Längsee, a lake in the Austrian province of Carinthia nearly small enough to fit in this picture. Dear friends of ours got married in the town of Metnitz, home of one of Europe’s most interesting Totentanz (Dance of Death) frescos, a European genre of art which arose in the 14th century in the wake of numerous famines and the Black Death. I have always been fascinated by this type of fresco, and one of my favorite places in Istria is the Holy Trinity Church in Hrastovlje which has one from the 15th century. The Dance of Death depicts people of all professions and walks of life, from baby to king, from farmer to doctor, standing next to Death as represented by a skeleton or equally creepy figure. The artwork serves as a reminder, a memento mori, that no matter who you are, how high or low your status in the community, we are all equal in the face of death and share the same fate in the end. Alas, there was not enough time to check out the museum devoted to the Metnitz frescoes, a visit probably more suited to somber reflection on a cold winter day. We were there to celebrate one of the high points in life. The joyful party moved on to Stift St. Georgen, a former Benedictine monastery perched above the Längsee.

The monastery was founded by a countess in the 11th century and has been in operation for over one millenium. The hotel rooms, however, offer thoroughly modern comfort. The restaurant and its deck overlook an orchard of around 50 fruit trees. The Stift was a beautiful, tranquil place to spend a few days. There was naturally a monastery garden with all sorts of herbs and medicinal plants, yet it was surprisingly unkempt, as if the gardener had up and quit two months ago and no replacement had yet been found. I resisted the urge to start weeding.

In the evening, TC and I took a lovely walk through the lavender labyrinth. Yes, the paths were edged by lavender bushes, all in bloom and buzzing with bumblebees. A labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze. There are no dead ends in a true labyrinth. You enter and keep walking along until you reach the center, after which you turn around and walk out again. At the center of this one was a stone emitting the heat it had absorbed from direct sunlight all day. We perched on it like happy lizards.

The last wonderful walk we had taken together had quite a different view: the bay of Trieste. Just a few weeks earlier, we dashed away to Trieste to celebrate our anniversary. We took the most direct route and arrived at Opicina high on the cliffs above. Near the famous obelisk statue, erected in 1830 when the road between the Karst and Vienna was finally completed, start several shady trails through the pine trees, from some of which you can admire the Adriatic below. Then it’s time to let gravity do its thing and pull you down the winding road to the city and the sea.

Ah, Trieste, a city existing of layer upon layer of memory of visits past that I can no longer keep separate. I always mean to be a proper tourist, to use that German art history guide I bought on a visit long ago, but once I set foot in the city, it casts its spell so that all I am able to do is stroll along the mole, drink coffee, page through the local Il Piccolo newspaper, reread Jan Morris’s Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, and stroll some more, admiring the stray cats near San Giusto instead of the collections of art the city supposedly harbors.

This time I discovered something new that is quite old: Arco di Riccardo, or Richard’s arch, one of the last vestiges of the Roman walls. Yes, the Romans were here too. The name Trieste is derived from the Roman name Tergeste, which in turn most likely contains the Slavic word trg, or market. Trieste has a unique position at the crossroads of the Slavic, Germanic, and Romance language and cultural spheres.

Like the city, the cuisine is also a melting pot. At Siora Rosa, the gnocchi with apricots turned out to be more like Marillenknödel jazzed up with a decadent cinnamon sauce than your typical gnocchi. Yet the vegetable platter was more Italian in nature and preparation: Swiss chard, peppers, zucchini, olives, and radicchio doused liberally with olive oil. The boiled broccoli was perhaps a nod to the north and east.

No visit to a city is complete without a visit to the local farmers’ market, which in Trieste is located in the Borgo Teresiano quarter just inland of the Canale Grande. There we picked up white polenta, honey with propolis, and a 1.5 kilo melon. Why oh why don’t Austrians grow melons? There is nothing better on a hot summer day than biting into a slice of ripe, juicy melon. As soon as we got home, we devoured the whole thing.

I hope you are keeping cool with delicious fruit and relaxing like this jellyfish!

Zucchini Season is Open

To my surprise, the friend whose garden is hosting our two zucchini plants informed us that one zucchini was ready to be picked. Though I had already marveled at the variety of local vegetables and fruit already available at the farmer’s market last Saturday, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind that our plants might also have reached that point. We have planted very little this year, trying to use up our stockpile of seeds and limiting ourselves to what we eat the most. None of the carrots and only one of the radishes we planted from seed grew. Two bean plants survived a slug attack and are now finally working their way towards the sky. We bought two young zucchini plants at the annual plant market at the end of April, and there were three others going to town when we picked the first Cocozelle von Tripolis (Cucurbita peop var. garomontiina), an Italian heirloom variety. The striped fruit keeps with the color scheme of the week: greens of varying shades in a scarf I just completed. The lace pattern is called old shale, a Shetland pattern reminiscent of shells (shale = Shetland dialect pronunciation of the word shell).

There has been much going on lately with unexpected and troubling news arriving from many directions. In the end, all you can do is enjoy what you have and try to reduce suffering and share happiness. Beautiful sunny weather was undercut by a few dismal grey rainy days. Good for zucchini, but poor for our spirits. In the midst of one of the downpours, I spotted a bee on its back on the patio. Frantically waving its legs, it couldn’t get out of a pool of water. TC is an incorrigible insect rescuer. He brought it to a dry place next to the door and got it back on its feet. Unfortunately, when we checked back on it a few hours later, the bee had stopped moving. Even though it didn’t save the bee, I feel the gesture was important. We did what we could.

The cycle of life goes on. Our agapanthus is channeling its energy into a lone bud that will blossom in the near future, reminding us of Portugal and our honeymoon, which will soon be three years ago. I hope that buds are appearing all around you, ones that produce blossoms that are a balm to your eyes and bear delicious fruit that bring delight to your palate.

Refugium

I am dreaming of the day that I have a house of my own, one where I can step outside into my yard and not be seen by my neighbors if I so choose, where I don’t have to repeatedly clean up plant material falling from the neighbor’s patio above onto my own, where the cell phone conversations of others do not rouse me from the delicious indulgence of an afternoon nap, and where the stink of perfume does not invade my bedroom when I want to open my window to start my day listening to the birds singing. Edible bushes of savory, raspberries, and blackberries will array the perimeter of this delicious space of my own, and a wind chime will hum in harmony with the wind. Someday.

The multiple strawberry plants in pots and the large planter are now yielding fruit. The Mara des Bois, a smaller French variety, is my favorite kind of strawberry, a concise burst of flavor. During my absence of nearly a month, the herbs and berries continued to grow. The only vegetable I am trying in pots this year is Swiss chard, and the three tiny plants I left in mid-May are now ready for larger pots of their own.

The second brood of tit birds (Parus major) nesting in the pine tree next door are growing too. We can hear their excited chatter each time mom or dad returns to the birdhouse with a juicy green caterpillar hanging from its beak. The first brood left the nest mid-May. Flying for the first time is tough, calling for good coordination as well as good navigation skills. One tit was baffled when it flew onto our patio, falling between the strawberries and the rue. After hopping around and chirping for help which never came, it managed to find its way to the bushes into which its siblings had already flown.

Besides listening to birds and watching the plants grow, I am reading the book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. Williams recounts the experience of watching her mother die of cancer and the waters of Great Salt Lake rise and flood a wildlife refuge dear to her over the same period of time. One question she asks herself in the book struck me to the quick: why do we distract and excuse ourselves from our own creativity? Why indeed? Why such a long season of silence with this blog? It is not from a lack of ideas or inspiration.

The needles keep flying, nonetheless, and I continue to gain ground on meeting the knitting goals for 2015 I made in a post earlier this year. Of the six sweaters I set out to knit, two are finished and one simply needs to be stitched together. Of the twelve pairs of socks, four are finished and a fifth is nearly half done. The Lake Michigan jacket below kept me warm along its shores over the past few weeks. Now it’s time to turn to projects of cotton and linen more suited to the burgeoning summer here in Graz.

Take refuge in your creativity and enjoy the company of considerate neighbors!

Barcino Express

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It took a road trip to rouse me from my blogless torpor. West-southwest, out of the clutches of the Alps. More precisely: to the sea of the ancient Romans, mare nostrum, the Mediterranean. Though my preference is for leisurely soaking up the ambience of a place, strolling, visiting the markets, reading the newspaper in the local language (regardless of my level of understanding), from time to time it’s invigorating to shift into higher gear. Since TC and I only had 9 days and a lot of kilometers to cover, there was little time to linger and stop and photograph the drainpipes. What a whirlwind of a trip!

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Much of the way to Barcelona is along the beaten path from our perspective: Padua, Piemonte, Menton, and the Côte d’Azur. We entered into new waters as the autoroute split at Narbonne and we headed south instead of west. The hills once peopled with Cathars reminded me of Croatia. I discovered the pleasant, modestly touristy town of Collioure nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees just before the border with Spain. Our stop coincided with a market day, and we were treated to our first locally grown strawberries of the year. A soap, spice, and herb vendor was slightly richer after we left his stand. Then it was off across the border, first along the winding coastal road with incredible views of the sea, then back to the highway to buy us more time in the city.

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If you had asked me a month ago what I associated with Barcelona, I would probably have answered Gaudí, swarms of 20-year-olds studying abroad, the 1992 Olympic Games, and a brightly colored ceramic magnet with a picture of a guitar that I have in my kitchen (a gift many years ago from a friend who had visited the city). That picture has naturally changed. With less than three days in Barcelona, we decided to limit our scope to the beach and then the older part of the city, just waving to the Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona’s beach to the east of downtown is impressive and stretches on and on. As we moved inland from the Barceloneta neighborhood, I was happy to look up and notice we were strolling by the llotja, a building I had recently read about in the history of the Mediterranean I have been working through at a leisurely place. Back in the 15th century when the Catalans ruled the western waters of the Mediterranean, this was the seat of the commercial tribunal and an important business center. Nearby is the El Born district, full of shops, cafés, and restaurants. Plaça de la Llana (Wool Square) is located not far away from a yarn store. It took great will power to keep myself from buying some beautiful blue Spanish handspun yarn. The Barri Gòtic district just to the west overlaps nicely with the original Roman settlement of Barcino. I drank a coffee leaning back against one of the original Roman walls in the back room of a charming cafe.

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As for culinary highlights, I got to try pan amb tomàquet, a toasted bread rubbed with tomatoes, sweet peppers, and garlic, and an empanada catalana from the empanada stand at La Boqueria market that had a delicious filling of potatoes, spinach, raisins, and pine nuts. I looked longingly at the calçots (green onions that are grilled and served with romanesco sauce) for sale, but since I had no access to a kitchen and didn’t see them on any of the menus of the restaurants we went to, tasting them will have to wait until the next time I visit Catalonia. We stocked up on ganxet and genoll de cristo beans, two regional varieties.

The time passed by too quickly, and soon we found ourselves back on the road, stretching our legs in Aix-en-Provence and then watching the sun set in Juan-les-Pins on the French riviera. After a brief visit to the Musée Picasso in Antibes, we strolled through yet another market, the Marché Provençale, and sampled the olive tapenade (without anchovies, the vendor responded brusquely to my query, stating that only in Marseilles would anyone add anchovies to olive tapenade) and a delicious tomato pesto labelled bagnettou d’Antibes. Like the line at the Musée Picasso in Barcelona, the line for socca at the market was too long for us. We lucked out, though, and on our way back to the car, we found another place with socca to go – and no line.

I hope you too find a nice place in the sun to admire the view and savor something tasty. May this spring bring you many enjoyable experiences and much inspiration.

Year of the Sock

What is January without New Year’s resolutions? I love the promise of a new start, the chance to shift my focus to different projects after the holidays. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the still short yet steadily lengthening days and relative cold of winter encourage building a warm nest on a free part of the couch and supplying yourself with a good book, wool, and needles. My thoughts turn back to last January and February, when I took on Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) and embarked upon a series of scarves for myself and for friends. The novel was disappointing, yet another story of a man who projected his own fantastic, illusory ideas onto a woman, refusing to see her as she really was, and who romanticized tuberculosis, which despite better treatment options remains the second leading cause of death by infectious disease worldwide. The scarves, however, turned out quite well.

This year I’m rereading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and my focus will be on perfecting my sock technique in what I have officially declared to be The Year of the Sock. I have resolved to knit 15 pairs of socks in 2015. I’ve completed three pairs already and have enough yarn stashed to make at least five more before I need to go scouting for new wool. TC is thoroughly enjoying his Autumn Leaves socks shown above. I am worried how the yarn will hold up because I knit my very first pair of socks with the same yarn. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold up well. The only reason I agreed to use this wool again is because he picked out the yarn, drawn to the colors. The pattern is Woodsman’s Socks by Elizabeth Zimmermann, the radical DIY grandmother of knitting, a mentor to freethinking knitters, a woman who possessed a fine sense of humor. It is fantastic when you find a pattern that you don’t need to modify at all, and these fit TC perfectly. They knit up so quickly that I don’t think I’ll get upset when they wear out and need to be replaced.

The socks above don’t count – they were finished last year and merely serve as a placeholder for a picture of the other two finished pairs of socks. The latter are made of extremely warm Icelandic wool (to the tune of Swanee: Lopi, how I love thee) left over from sweater projects. One pair is for TC, who must have been good, and the other is for me. The pattern, Leistar, required tinkering with; I ended up knitting the child’s size for me and the women’s size for TC.  Pictures of them will be forthcoming when the replacement lens for our camera arrives. It fought valiantly but lost when confronted with Wisconsin wind and snow. The last picture it took gives you a better idea of how I perceive the world when I don’t have my glasses on.

So three pairs of socks down and 12 to go in the next 11 plus months. I am hard at work on pair #4, black ribbed wool/nylon knee-highs. They represent one small step toward replacing the cotton blend knee-highs and sundry wool socks with holes that I got rid of as I tidied up my wardrobe under the influence of this post. No, I don’t plan to make 12 more pairs for me. That would be overkill, plus my newly organized sock drawer won’t be able to handle more than four more pairs. I’m confident there are people out there who would love to have a nice pair of handknit socks and when the time is right, they will make themselves known.

My second knitting resolution for 2015 is to knit six sweaters including at least one turtleneck, one cardigan, one pullover, and one involving steeking. I have enough yarn lurking in the depths of my newly organized wardrobe to make six sweaters, which was my sweater average in 2014, the year of the frog (to frog = to ravel a project). I reused yarn from three of my own sweaters to make one new one for TC (above) and two different ones for me (one shown below).

My last two knitting resolutions are to learn brioche stitch and to knit something using lace weight yarn. What are your resolutions for 2015? Hope your feet stay warm and you find a good book to tide you over until spring.

Keeper of the Waters

In her beautiful, inspiring book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that in the Potawatomi tradition, men are responsible for caring for fire while women are keepers of the waters. Though I am not contributing anything to the health of Lake Michigan at present, I spent the past month reestablishing my connection to many of the bodies of water to which I feel an affinity. While sitting with the view above of “my” harbor, I turned the pages of her book and of Loreen Nieuwenhuis’s A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach. Both authors see as imperative the establishment of a healthier relationship between humans and the environment. Whereas Kimmerer is a botanist by trade who aims to bridge the gap between science and the traditional Potawatomi worldview in order to heal the earth, Niewenhuis decided to walk the whole way around Lake Michigan to take time out to discover more about who she was and explore her relationship to this majestic body of water.

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While it was not her main purpose in writing the book, Niewenhuis exposes the many ways in which Lake Michigan and all the living beings in and around it have been exploited in the name of profit and progress. I was shocked to discover that coho are not native to the Great Lakes but were introduced when native salmon could no longer spawn in the rivers that flow into the lake as a result of deforestation. Equally appalling is the amount of ammonia and toxic sludge continuing to be emitted by the BP refinery on the south shore of the lake and the amount of toxic spills and dumping that have occurred in the past one hundred years. 

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While punctuated with moments of doubt and concern for whether it’s possible to heal the numerous wounds already inflicted, Kimmerer’s book mostly serves as an antidote to any growing despair that may arise when an inventory of damage is taken. Two main themes are cultivating gratitude and learning how to take only what you need. I liked how she often poses questions that have no easy black or white answer:

How do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?

Can Americans…learn to live here as if we were staying? With both feet on the shore?

What do you love too much to lose? Who and what will you carry to safety?

Finding intelligent answers to these questions will take time. I took many notes while reading the book and am still thinking about how to integrate the lessons of the book into my own life. The ripples made by the stone of this book landing in the waters of my mind will keep spreading throughout the upcoming year. I am regrettably too far away to play much of a role in restoring Lake Michigan to health, but perhaps there will come a time in the future where I will be able to make a more active contribution to its welfare.

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It wasn’t all about reading, this trip home. Since I stayed longer, there was time for a road trip to visit family farther away. TC, two lucky blog readers, and I lit out for the territory west of the Missouri River. Shortly after this picture was taken, I saw my first wild turkeys hanging out in a field on the side of the road. I am ashamed to say I didn’t know turkeys still lived in the wild. Great news, actually. It was also a pleasure to visit the Argyle Fiber Mill and pick up yarn made in Wisconsin. The animals who gave their fleece all live within fifty miles of the mill.

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After stocking up on fibers, we didn’t stop until we had crossed the Mississippi.  Unfortunately, it was shrouded in fog, so TC’s first glimpse of Old Man River wasn’t as spectacular as it might have been. Dubuque, Iowa, our destination that night, has a delightful main street complete with a yarn store, bookstore, coffee shop, and restaurant – all locally owned and located within one block of each other.

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A week later, I spent a tranquil night on the shores of my dear old friend Lake Mendota, warming up and knitting in front of the roaring fire at a cozy arts and crafts bed and breakfast, the taste of rice noodles and bok choy dumplings still in my mouth. Funny how a walk on a grey December morning and the sight of old radiators and bathroom fixtures can make me nostalgic about my time as a student.

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The weather was unseasonably warm until the last week, when winter decided to bare her teeth once again. The wool sweaters and socks I had made for others came in handy as the wind blew harder and snow started to accumulate. Even Honest Abe needed to cover up.

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I wish you a happy, peaceful 2015 full of gratitude and plenty!

Coming to Rest

NPR recently had a TED Radio Hour on the subject of quiet, and as I listened to most of it yesterday, I was struck by parallels between the experiences of the speakers and my trip to Grado last weekend. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed books by two of the speakers, John Francis and Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and Susan Cain’s book on introverts has been on my list of books to read for awhile. The main thread running through their talks is how important it is to take time out to be still and listen. Out of this stillness comes creative ideas, new discoveries about the world, a heightened awareness of the environment, a greater understanding of oneself and others, gratitude, bliss…the list goes on and on.

I took some time out on the weekend, making a pilgrimage to the sea that mirrors my trip to Opatija in May. My destination this time was the other major resort town of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy: Grado. Like Venice, Grado lies on an island in the lagoon heavy upper reaches of the Adriatic Sea. A place of refuge from the start, it was first settled by residents of the Roman city of Aquileia seeking safety from waves of barbarian invaders. The old town of Grado, the Castrum, was fortified by the Romans. Now it’s tourists that come, fleeing the inclement weather and their landlocked existence further north to bask in the sun on the Isola del Sole. They are fortified by fish, polenta, and a glass of friulano in the many restaurants located within the perimeter of the Castrum. TC and I were very impressed by Alla Pace, a restaurant that serves up a mean pizza as well as fish dishes. Most vegetables are produced locally and the seafood is all from the lagoon.

Though it can’t compete with the length of the lungomare in Opatija, Grado’s boardwalk is still a delightful place for a stroll or passegiata. It was originally built by the Austrians to hold back the sea.

This time of year, there are few tourists. Many hotels and restaurants close. It can be very windy, but we were fortunate. The sun was out the whole time.

Grado is an excellent destination if your main goals are to relax and stroll. It never got boring to go back and forth on the boardwalk and along the sandy beach at the western tip of the island. I felt my head empty of unnecessary thoughts and my body become energized with each breath of salty sea air. Yet no trip to Italy is complete without a good espresso. The best cafes are those patronized by local people, where there is an old man sitting by the door watching everyone go by and greeting everyone who matters – that is to say who isn’t a tourist. These cafes normally do not lie in the main tourist zone, and Bar al Porto was no exception. We discovered it as we walked along the harbor the first morning, watching the fishermen repairing their nets. Perfectly situated, the cafe was flooded with sunlight all morning. The second morning, we recognized people who had eaten at the same restaurants or whose paths had crossed ours on the lungomare. Grado has less than 9,000 inhabitants, which means everyone knows everyone. Even thought I didn’t know anybody, I enjoyed watching the members of this community who clearly relished meeting and greeting each other. Hey beautiful called one elderly woman to two of her compatriots as she walked up to them and they all started laughing and chatting. The gentleman at the door was joined by a portly man who had a Miniature Pinscher zipped up in his jacket, body against his ample belly and head sticking curiously out. I closed my eyes, feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my skin and the taste of espresso on my tongue. The murmur of voices lulled me into a state of bliss. I sat there a long time, savoring my arrival at a point of stillness.

The beautiful intermezzo came to a close, and it was time to traverse the Alps, which had hovered on the horizon the whole time. On the way back, we spent a few hours exploring the peaceful Valle Cavanata Nature Reserve just east of Grado, spying on coots, swans, and grey geese. As the sun started to descend, it was time to head north. The fog descended upon us shortly after we crossed the border back into Austria, and I haven’t seen the sun since. Thankfully my next journey will start very soon, and it will bring me to a place far away that looks remarkably similar to the picture below.

Happy travels and much peace on your journey to stillness!

Shades of November

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When I’m lucky, the sun comes out, casting shadows on the wall, shining directly into the living room and reaching its luminous fingers out to welcome me back to life after a good night’s sleep.  The darkness has overtaken the light, making me savor the sun more and more and bury myself deeper under the covers in its absence. I don’t need to leave the couch to feel the march of the seasons’ cycle. But I do, of course, because what is better than a brisk walk on a crisp fall day, being careful not to slip on the wet carpet of leaves clinging to the sidewalk? Besides, I now have a creamy oatmeal colored sweater to keep me warm. I knit it up with an alpaca-merino blend yarn salvaged from the discount pile of a local yarn store. A friend carved the wooden buttons from a broomstick.

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There are two autumn palettes. Early fall is fiery and warming, the orange of pumpkin and squash and the red and yellow of leaves. Late fall is less vibrant and more subdued. Life dries up, fades, balls itself up, retreats inside where it is warm, saves energy. Breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup. Dinner: white bean spread with garlic to boost the immune system, hearty boiled buckwheat groats, and braised Savoy cabbage with chestnuts.

Longtime readers will remember my dabbling into cooking with cruciferous vegetables. With my shift away from dairy to plant sources of calcium this year, I have embraced the crucifers wholeheartedly and am eager to try any recipe that comes my way. In the dark ages when I still wrinkled my nose at most brassicas, I nonetheless found Savoy cabbage to be one of the most attractive looking vegetables. Now both eye and tongue enjoy feasting on it.

Last night I struck gold with this simple recipe. I read a blog post that cited an 84-year-old poet who spoke of three lessons she had learned in life. Two are “Be astonished” and “Share your astonishment.” Well, I’m astonished at how well the ingredients blend together, and now I’d like to share it with you.

Braised Savoy Cabbage with Chestnuts

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2 Tbs olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 head of Savoy cabbage, sliced as you like it

200 g/7 ounces boiled chestnuts, halved or quartered or crumbled

1 Tbs white wine vinegar

2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp salt

Sauté the onion in the olive oil on medium-low heat until translucent. Be patient.

Add the cabbage and sauté briefly. Add the chestnuts, vinegar, oregano, and salt. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Check every now and then, giving it a stir and adding water if it starts to stick to the pan.  Be patient.

When the cabbage has softened to your liking or your impatience gets the better of you, eat. Enjoy!

The other life lesson cited by the poet is “Pay attention.” I think these deer do a good job of that. They know whenever I am looking at them. What lessons in life do you have to share?

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