Category Archives: Culture

ebenalp and swiss paragliding

We’ve just returned from Europe and one of the more memorable experiences was a trip to Ebenalp in the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Swiss Alps.

I suggest a gondola up the steep, rugged rocks and follow a short hiking trail  (make sure you greet others with a friendly “Grüezi!”) to reach the Aescher cliff restaurant – they say 4770 feet above sea level-  for a local meal and beer. (This recent Bon Appetit article agrees.)

Fancy paragliding? Then join the number of other paragliders dotting the mountainsides. Or rather, do as we did, and  enjoy the show of colorful sails flying through the green landscape to the rhythmic sound of distant cowbells. Heavenly.

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local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Ascher

local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Aescher

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Cow bells softly clink and clank.

Cow bells softly clink and clank.

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plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

the great beauty

The SF Chronicle’s  picky movie reviewers are notorious for being tough as nails when awarding their highest rating –  the image of the little man jumping out of his chair and clapping. But today’s review of just-released Italian film, “La Grande Bellezza” – or “The Great Beauty” for the American market –  did just that. The little man is smiling, he’s clapping, he’s jumping and ecstatic. His hat even falls to the floor. I’m ecstatic too and I haven’t even seen the movie yet.

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Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardelle, turning 65, jaded from early success as a writer and experiencing an “awakening.”

“The Great Beauty” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was a big favorite when first previewed at the 2013 Festival de Cannes.

Lovers of Italy can spend more than two hours falling in love (again) with Rome (with all its decadence, beautiful and ugly) while immersing in the language since the movie is in Italian with English subtitles. The reviewer notes that you can’t watch “The Great Beauty” without thinking of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” with Rome as the movie’s focus.

Like “La Dolce Vita”, this movie is going to throw more at you than just a tour of the city’s sights and high society. An excerpt from the SF Chronicle review reads (you can read the review in its entirety here):

“Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardelle who wrote a masterpiece of a novel in his youth but has been unable to repeat the success. He’s become a journalist and bon vivant, living in an incredible apartment overlooking the Colosseum. He’s popular in his circle but jaded, and, having just turned 65, is starting to look at the big picture. When news arrives of an old girlfriend’s death, he continues to make the rounds of high-end gatherings and nightspots in the Eternal City, but in a “what’s it all mean” frame of mind. He informs us that once he wanted to be the king of Rome’s extravagant night world. But he no longer wholly buys into his cynicism, if he ever did. Delivering acerbic witticisms at over-the-top parties isn’t much of a purpose in life. The plot is…. a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. “

Something to put on the holiday movie list? You got me at Fellini.

grazie dal cuore, marcella hazan

Marcella Hazan, food writer and considered one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine, died September 29 at the age of 89.

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Ms. Hazan married and moved from Italy to New York with her American husband in 1955. Ironically, she never cooked before she got married. But later, after beginning a cooking school and giving cooking lessons from her home, her husband encouraged her to publish her first cookbook, “The Classic Italian Cookbook”,  in  1973. She believed simple, good ingredients lead to delicious dishes and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the American public.

Thanks to Ms. Hazan’s wisdom and detailed, quite simple and beautiful recipes, I often fry with butter and vegetable oil  (a must when you make her Asparagus Risotto) instead of extra virgin olive oil when required for better, richer and milder taste.  Her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (published 1992) cookbook sits on my counter and is the source of my favorite dishes including braised pork chops (Modena style) and risotto, my guide to using herbs, and provides extra meaning after the news of her death.

This NY Times article, “Remembering Marcella”, provides more information on Ms. Hazan’s life and cooking.

In honor of Ms. Hazan, below is a reprint of her simple and delicious tomato recipe.

Ingredients

 2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano or Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes)                   

5 tablespoons butter               

 1 onion, peeled and cut in half                   

salt   

Preparation

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
 
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
 
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.
 

el dia de los muertos

El dia de los muertos, or day of the dead, is approaching on November 1st and 2nd. This is one of my favorite photos that I included with an earlier post about the celebration of my daughter in front of a beautiful altar at a local art gallery. I love this mostly Mexican celebration that celebrates life and the spirits of those who have gone before us.

Scholars trace the origins of this modern-day Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.   You can read more about dia de los muertos  here.

This coming week, there will be el dia de los muertos celebrations, art exhibits and other educational events taking place throughout cities across the world open for anyone to take part as an observer or a participant.

Click here to link to a celebration I wrote about in our local community.

I plan to bring photos of loved ones to add to our community’s altar set up in a plaza downtown and enjoy the refreshments (pan de muertos and hot chocolate!), watch a Columbian dance troupe and participate in a procession. If you plan to celebrate, or if you prepare a family altar, I’d love to hear about or see it!

landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

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The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

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The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

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A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

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Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

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Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

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While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

best bagels

My favorite bagels in the world, Montreal-style bagels, were on my priority “to-do”  – or rather, “to-eat” –  list during our recent trip to Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

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Ottawa’s original Montreal-style bagels

According to Wikipedia, Montreal bagels, like the New York bagel, were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Differences in texture and taste reflect the style of the particular area in Poland in which the immigrant bakers learned their trade.

When my mother-in-law visits us in California from Eastern Canada, she never fails to bring a large quantity of these bagels with her, since we only find the more common, New York-style here. We have a tradition of slicing, bagging and freezing them together upon her arrival, so we are ensured months of bagel heaven. This time we were on her turf, and my plan was to bring home as many as I could stuff in our carry-on luggage, including a dozen requested by our friends. (For those interested, I managed five dozen –  ten bags of half-dozen bagels – squeezed between socks and toothpaste.)

Busy workers fulfilling orders at the popular Ottawa Bagel Shop

What makes Montreal-style bagels so delicious? In contrast to larger, doughy New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels are denser, slightly sweet, and have a crunchy crust. They look a little different, with a darker or uneven color from the wood-burning stove and a larger hole.  Montreal-style bagels are boiled in honey-sweetened water and they are hand-made, while many New-York styled bagels are machine-made.

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Thanks to my mother-in-law, my kids were treated to an up-close tour at the Ottawa Bagel Shop, where they were able to experience the shop’s famous baker cut and roll the egg and honey filled dough, and then boil and bake the bagels. Next the seeds and other toppings are placed on the bagels, before they cool and are packaged. The bagels are made fresh every day.

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The baker cutting and hand rolling Montreal-style bagels at the Ottawa Bagel Shop

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Boiling the bagels

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Next the bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven

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A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end of the tour!

A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end the tour! Sesame of course.