Monday, July 11, 2011

I heart you

Hello dear readers. Here's a quick post to let you know that I'm still here and I appreciate your visits. I'm currently consumed by planning and preparations for my upcoming wedding. While I'm off on that journey, I'll leave you with a few heart photos from my travels. Enjoy!

Chile ristra at a farmer's market in New Mexico.

San Francisco, where some people leave theirs.

Berry soup on our 2010 Alaska cruise.

Love-ly beach, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

I'll be back next month!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stanley Cup survival tips for Vancouver visitors

If you happen to be in Vancouver for #TBEX11, the travel bloggers conference, or you're embarking on your Disney cruise to Alaska, here are a few tips to survive hockey night in Canada.

Hockey is our game. Get used to it.

The Vancouver Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup but came close in 1994 resulting in the now legendary 1994 riots. Vancouver is up against the Boston Bruins, one of the original six teams, who last won the Cup in 1972. The series has a maximum of seven games but ends with the first team to win four.

And in case you're a real newbie, the game is hockey and its grand prize is the Stanley Cup. That's the same Stanley who's Park is on your top ten list of Vancouver attractions. 

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, televised in Canada by CBC, broke its NHL playoff record with a peak audience of 7.8 million. This series is a really big deal.

If you're going to a bar or restaurant or any place that has a television, get there early (by noon, if it's a deciding game). Or go someplace that doesn't have a TV if you're simply looking for a snack and a drink.

Besides the bars and restaurants there are designated free "fan zones" in the downtown core. The crowd sizes have increased and the plan for game three is to close Georgia Street and the Viaduct at 2:00pm. If you're travelling through town, check the local news or Twitter for updates (use the hashtag #canucks). Or join the excitement and watch the game outside on a really big screen.

You'll have a hard time finding a taxi unless you're looking for one as the puck drops at 5:00pm. Or try the TaxiNow app and let us know how it works (thanks to @chickievan for the tip). Public transit will be crowded but a good option. Follow Translink on Twitter for timely updates on bus schedules and road closures.

Don't try to leave downtown immediately following the game unless you're walking. Wait it out, enjoy the crowds. As with all crowds, use your traveller's sense. Watch for pick-pockets, angry or aggressive people, drunk or otherwise altered fans. If Vancouver loses, be careful. While many have said we've matured since 1994, anything can happen. 

Vancouver experienced huge crowds on the downtown streets during the 2010 Winter Olympics without major incidents. It's a great experience, just use your common sense and trust your instincts about fun and danger. Talk to the locals -- we love sharing our city with visitors.

If you're stocking up on bottles of alcohol, get to a liquor store the day before a game, otherwise you're likely to spend a lot of time in a long line waiting to pay. If the street crowds get too large the police could force liquor stores to close early. In BC you can't buy alcohol at a grocery store. And no, you can't legally drink on the street.

Dear Bruins fans, please don't taunt the wild Canucks or you may get yourself arrested. Police don't like taunters. Most Canadians of a certain age fondly remember the Bobby Orr days so a respectful conversation will be warmly welcomed.

Make sure you watch the start of the game to witness a phenomena that has most visitors scratching their heads. Canadians actual sing our national anthem -- with passion. It hasn't always been this way, we were mumblers for a long time. The crazy anthem singing grew up during the Olympics, as seen on this bus

All games start at 5:00pm PT. Check Wikipedia for the updated schedule and scores.

Have fun! It's a once in a lifetime experience. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Disappearing: Dictionary Stands

A hand-crafted wooden stand holding the weight of a giant dictionary is a thing of the past. A reference book that stood in the corner of a public library or a place of reverence in a private residence. Thousands of pages filled with words that enabled meaning, now replaced by Google and predictive text.
Swivel dictionary stand

The dictionary and stand in this photo resided in the master bedroom of my grandmother-in-law, about five feet from her chaise lounge

Dictionary cover

Dictionary pages

I suppose an American woman of a certain time and place may have sprawled on the chaise lounge, sipping her sherry, devouring her bootleg copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover, turning a page to discover a peculiarly English word requiring her to swoosh, in her silk pyjamas, to the swivel dictionary stand for illumination.

"Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence
Privately printed in Florence, 1928

Have you ever been illuminated by a dictionary?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter pastieri

In a previous post I mentioned how pastieri is one of my favourite Easter dishes to make simply because it's so easy. This dish was passed down to me from my Calabrese Nonna Filomena. Other than our family, I've never seen it made by anyone else. 

Mix all ingredients together before baking.

In Naples they make something called pastiera, which is completely different from our recipe. Go to the Napoli Unplugged blog for a mouth-watering collection of recipes. The Sicilians make a pastieri but it's a stuffed pastry, which looks fantastic, but still not like ours.

From what I've been told, after immigrating to North America, my Nonna's cooking was greatly influenced by her Neapolitan sister-in-law who was a wonderful cook. Could this be where the name came from? I'm guessing this recipe is a combination of influences of Italian immigrants from other regions, along with the availability of ingredients in a small city at the time they immigrated. 

Whatever the reasons, it's a lovely food tradition that finds its way onto the table at family reunions reminding us of how we're connected.
If you've made pastieri or recognize this dish, please leave me a comment. If you try this for the first time, let me know about it. 

Cut in rectangles and serve cold. Eat with your hands.

The recipe

Pastieri makes an interesting addition to an Easter Brunch. It keeps well in the fridge, making it a good prepare-ahead dish.

  • Cook 1 lb (or 500 g) linguini in salted water. Once cooked, rinse in cold water to cool (so it won't cook the eggs when they’re mixed together). Drain well.
  • Beat 1 dozen eggs
  • Add:
- Ricotta, 1 container (16-ounce or 500 gram)
- Grated cheese, 1 cup or more of parmesan, use romano if you like a stronger cheese
- Italian parsley, chopped, 1 bunch or 1/2 cup (to your liking)
- Black pepper, to taste

  • Mix all ingredients together and let rest for about 20 minutes.
  • Pour into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Press down on the pasta mixture with your hands (to get the air out) and smooth the top.
  • Bake at 350°F for 1 hour.
  • Remove from oven and cool.
  • Serve cold, cut into rectangular pieces. Eat with your hands.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Earthquake/Terremoto: Fragments from Calabria

    Earthquake. Terremoto. It’s in my blood. As far back as I can remember earthquakes have been part of my family’s lore from Calabria, Italy. 

    When I first heard of the devastating earthquake in the Abruzzo region of Italy in April 2009, my heart stopped. The first beat it missed was for family and friends who might be in harm’s way. The second beat it missed was for the people who lost everything including their lives. And in place of the third beat my heart missed was a replay of all the stories of terremoto that have passed through many generations before reaching me.
    In the years following the Abruzzo earthquake there have been equally and more devastating quakes: Haiti, Chile, China. Images of lost lives and landscape circled the globe. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the worst of recent quakes, the death of over 300,000 in Haiti.
    With each subsequent quake, the fragments of earthquake stories handed down to me surfaced. Here are some of those fragments.
    Grimaldi in the 1600s
    In the early 1600s a powerful earthquake destroyed Grimaldi, the Cosentine village of my nonni. In southern Italy, tens of thousands of lives were lost. In Grimaldi, the oral tradition says, only five families survived, including my ancestors. According to the story carried by my Nonna, an old man came to the town and sat on rock. He told the remaining families to rebuild Grimaldi in a new location and they would be saved from future devastation. After this proclamation, the man suddenly disappeared. The story claims that this old man was God (Dio) sent to save them with his message. If you’re from Calabria, who else could it be.

    In 1638, the original "Grimaldo" was destroyed by an earthquake, and the town was rebuilt in an area known as “Chiata” (from where the district "'mpedichiati" developed, meaning literally "at Chiata's feet"). In 1639 the rebuilding of the original Grimaldi began ("vecchio Grimaldo").

    The survivors built a new Grimaldi in the shape of a cross. You can still see the basic cross shape, which has bloated with more modern developments. Here’s my photo of Grimaldi in 2008:


    February 1783

    A hundred years after rebuilding Grimaldi to the specifications of Dio, the people of Grimaldi were saved from the 1783 earthquake that killed over 80,000 Calabresi. 

    In 1934, my Nonna Elvira wrote the 1783 earthquake story recited to her by her nonna Caterina (who was really her great-aunt, but that’s another story). What I found interesting from my nonna’s story is that her nonna recited it in Calabrese but because Nonna Elvira hadn’t been taught how to write Calabrese in school, she translated it into Italian. Was that because of Unification (1861) and the introduction of an “official” Italian language? I’d love to hear your wisdom on the demise and resurgence of the written Calabrian language(s).

    Here’s an excerpt from Nonna’s translation about the destruction of the many towns around Cosenza during an icy February, and the salvation of the Grimaldesi. The story is over three pages long and reads like a poem or a prayer:

    Che terrore, e che gran lutto,
    Fra i ghiacci de febraio.
    Oh! Iddio, che cosa amara, e che malanno
    Mura, e travi, a nostro d’anno
    Contrastava cosi forte
    Che vidiamo la morte e noi d’avanti
    E Cosenza con i tanti
    Case e torre del suo valle
    Senti quel triste ballo con gran duolo
    Ne quel pianto, ne fu solo
    Rende, Donnici, e Marano,
    Paterno di Pigano, e Mendicino
    Cerisano del la vicino
    Caroleir, Casello, Franco
    Dal cielo era quasi stanco, aveva distrutto
    E per questi luoghi tutti
    Da vicino, e da lontano
    Non ce paesa sano afatto afatto
    Ma Grimaldi e tutto sana
    Financo da lontano, a da vicino,
    Che divina maraviglia
    Di quei nostri cittadini
    Trovati a quei confini si salvarono
    E il miracolo contrarono...
    The story lists places destroyed by the earthquake, except Grimaldi “e tutto sana” -- it’s whole. For a crude translation, go to Google translate.

    The 1783 earthquake changed the landscape of the south, cracking open its shell and producing hundreds of lakes. The violence of the earthquake itself was not the only killer. Tens of thousands died from malaria in the years following the quake. I like to think that’s partly why we’re short, brown people and not tall blondies. 

    1905: Boyhood recollections from Bocchigliero
    In 1965 my great-uncle Charlie wrote a wonderful memoir. I’m lucky to have a copy, which is one of my cherished possessions. Uncle Charlie was a young boy in Calabria when the earthquakes of the early twentieth century hit. Here’s his 1905 boyhood recollections from Bocchigliero, another of my ancestral villages:

    “I can still remember quite vividly the earth tremors in our home town.... Most of the people in our town were ordered to vacate their homes (including us) and we camped out of town in a large orchard for more than three weeks. ...there were many houses in our town with extensive damage....”

    Strait of Messina, 1908

    On December 28, 1908, a massive earthquake struck Sicily and Calabria. As part of his military service, my Nonno Joe was sent to the earthquake zone to help with the rescue efforts. He earned a medal for rescuing a woman trapped beneath the rubble of her destroyed home. The estimated death toll for this earthquake was as high as 200,000.

    Here is Nonno’s medal along with an excerpt of the accompanying paper work: 

    Medaglia commemorativa. Terremoto Calabro-Siculo. 28 dicembre 1908.

    The Italian video below marks the 100th anniversary of the 1908 earthquake:

    These are a few of the earthquake fragments that make up my whole. More to come.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    10 things I like about Mexico

    A recent trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, was the perfect place to escape from the snow-dusted streets of home. There are lots of things I like about Mexico, particularly when it's winter in Canada. Here are the 10 favourites from my recent trip.

    1. Frida Kahlo sells everything

    Negra Modelo beer with Frida label

    2. The beach is beautiful and not just for beach bunnies
    Lunch stop at Zamas

    3. Skeletons with boobs

    Day of the Dead attraction at a tourista shop

    4. Bicycle parking in the jungle

    At the Mayan ruins of Coba

    5. Iguanas and other animals we don't have at home

    Iguana at Tulum

    6. Really old and historic stuff like Mayan ruins

    Chichen Itza: sculls with Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo) in the background

    7. Real tacos and tequila drinks
    Fresh lime margarita with achiote shrimp tacos at Zamas

    8. Mariachi music and talavera pottery

    Talavera pottery frogs playing mariachi music (use your imagination)
    9. Brightly coloured buildings

    Valladolid, Yucatan
    10. Fresh coconuts. Everywhere.

    Our home in Playcar

    What are your favourite things about Mexico?

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Beauty and death

    I was saddened to hear of the construction worker who died of his injuries from falling off the Canada Place sails in Vancouver. I watched the workers in August, appearing as ants against the massive white sail structure they were repairing. I have the greatest respect for workers who could do that kind of job so high off the ground, exposed to the elements, and often in plain view of a crowd of tourists. The photos below show the scale of their work. RIP.

    (Click photos to enlarge.)