valley of the temples

Situated just outside of modern and bustling Agrigento is an opportunity to step back in time. With an expanse of 1300 hectares, this is the largest archaeological site in the world and one of the best preserved collections of Greek temples. The perfect place to spend a sunny November afternoon.

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catania

Rising from the base of Mt. Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, Catania is a town built on ashes. Since its founding in the 8th century BC, a number of massive earthquakes have rocked the city, leaving literal layers of the ages visible in the buildings, monuments, and layout of the town.

Best things about Catania (in my humble opinion): the large and gritty fish market full of salty odors, bright colors, and raucous fishmongers; the lava rock facades on the big and bulky buildings which lend a dark and romantic glow even on sunny days; the wide and super walk-able streets that burst with locals and flicker with light after dark.

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november 9

396 years ago today, the Mayflower spotted land.

This morning, I feel afraid. My initial instinct is to turn inward. To focus on like-minded friends and family; to spend more time in books, in nature; to huddle up and wait for the next four years to pass. But that, of course, is no solution. If there’s anything to learn from this day, it’s that we don’t know our neighbors or ourselves as well as we might think we do.

110 years ago today, Teddy Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to visit another country.

What must now be done is this: we have to find our common humanity. We have to focus on our communities and build strength and love and caring in those places. We have to identify and cultivate the values we share with those around us and continue to fight against racism, misogyny, and hate. We have to challenge one another to be accountable for our words and actions. Most necessary of all, we have to protect and hold dear those most endangered by our government and our world: people of color, people of limited ability, LGBTQ friends, women and children.This is nothing new, but the stakes feel higher today.

92 years ago today, Miriam Ferguson became the first elected female governor.

Though we very often don’t live up to it, the United States I believe in is a place of great prosperity and ingenuity and welcome. A place where there is enough room, both physically and emotionally, for people who are as different from one another as the landscape of Arizona is different from that of Maine. But the United States is also a place of enormous fear and hurt and shame where many innocent bodies are buried, where the realities of an impoverished populous in both rural and urban areas are glossed over, where there are more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (a number equivalent to nearly the whole population of Houston, Texas), where our lives — the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe — are infiltrated by the interests of corporations, where almost 70% of people have less than $1000 in savings, where we cannot collectively and confidently say the words “Black Lives Matter”. All of these realities must be confronted in figuring out what kind of country we want to live in. And we have to do it together.

40 years ago today, the UN General Assembly condemned apartheid in South Africa.

This November 9, we elected Donald J. Trump to become the 45th President of the United States. But these facts about our country would have been true regardless of who was elected to be our president; they are issues of human rights and morality. We all deserve to live in a safer, cleaner, more just and welcoming nation, and we’re the only ones who have the power to build that space. And so, on to November 10.

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little things

Autumn is in the air here in Sicily. Mornings are brisk and foggy and evenings require multiple layers. Strangely though, from the crocuses popping up all over, it seems the garden hasn’t gotten the message.

Best things right now are: juice-dripping candy-sweet plump and delicate persimmons littering the trees in the orchard; air that smells of overturned soil and fermenting grapes; smiles and waves from local folks who now feel much less like strangers and more like neighbors.

I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like to be or taking as many pictures as I should. I sometimes worry as moments pass throughout the day that I’m already forgetting them. Why aren’t I keeping a better written record? But there’s always this contention between experiencing things fully as they are happening and taking yourself out of the moment to record them. With only a handful of days left in October, I wish for a photographic memory.

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cefalù

A friend and I ran away to a little beach town in the north of Sicily this past weekend, for what we assumed would be one of the final guarantee-ably warm sets of days of the year. Instead, it rained almost the entire time. But despite that (or possibly due to it, as the case may be!), it was a beautiful and refreshing trip and I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity to make the journey.

Cefalù is a small town on the Tyrrhenian Sea with 14,000 inhabitants. Over the centuries, it has been conquered by many different civilizations and the footprint of those various groups can be seen in the architecture, city design, and artifacts scattered around the area. In addition to ogling at all of the ancient sites and walking from what felt like dawn to dusk, I also ate a load of arancini and almond granita, got a bunch of sleep, and read this book (recommend!). All in all, a lovely little vacation.

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delicious chicken; remaking the casseroles of my youth

As far as moms go, I was lucky to snatch a great one. I’ve learned a huge amount from her about generosity and caring for others, speaking out about the things that are important to me, and unconditional love. However, with the exceptions of using a paring knife to cut the tops off of strawberries sans cutting board and lighting a match — two tasks that required a level of effort and terror for me to internalize that was probably wildly abnormal — cooking is, on the whole, not one of the things I was taught by my mother.

When asked about my childhood eating habits, I typically default to an ongoing joke that if Schwan’s didn’t exist, my sister and I might have starved. I’m not sure how far the phenomenon of Schwan’s has reached, so I’m going to elaborate: Schwan’s was essentially the 1990s version of what would evolve to become modern day food and meal delivery services. They had a big freezer truck that drove around suburban neighborhoods to drop off frozen ingredients and complete frozen meals. If Blue Apron, Green Bean Delivery, and Grubhub are Homo sapiens sapiens, Schwan’s is Homo erectus.

Schwan’s deliveries occurred biweekly throughout my youth; the dates were noted on our family calendar that hung in the dining room. The Schwan’s employee would always ring the bell at the door off of our garage, never the front door, and someone would announce loudly, “THE SCHWANMAN IS HERE!” We ordered products from him while crowded in the doorway using a magazine catalog and the desired items would move from his freezer truck into our upright freezer. In case you were wondering, Schwan’s is still alive and well today, delivering bags of frozen green beans and Gold ‘N’ Nugits to suburbanites everywhere.

But back to my mother and cooking. On any given day, if my mom had the choice of spending her afternoon in the kitchen or doing just about any other activity, she’d choose the other thing. However, despite her lacking adoration for culinary pursuits, there are a number of dishes she prepared during my childhood that I remain incredibly fond of. And being a Midwesterner, many of them are casseroles.

One of my favorites was a taco casserole with crumbled tortilla chips on top. The most memorable thing about this dish was the setting out of many little glass bowls on our breakfast bar, each containing a particular topping that could be spooned onto one’s square slice of casserole. The bowls were filled with diced tomatoes, chopped lettuce, green olives, shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

Another favorite was “Delicious Chicken”, a recipe my mom found in a cookbook (Now You’re Cookin’!, 1990) compiled by a community group in our hometown. The organization was formed in 1953 to raise monies for the county hospital after a bond issue to support it was voted down; cookbook sales were a portion of their fundraising platform.

deliciouschicken

A few months ago, I was craving this casserole but wanted to ditch the cream of mushroom soup, store-bought mayo, and cornbread dressing thinking I could easily make all of those items myself or at least find substitutes for them. And I learned that I indeed could — not only that, but it was every bit as good as I remember minus the Pepperidge Farm cornbread dressing. That stuff is perfect and cannot be replicated. Mushroom soup ingredients and directions adapted from this recipe.

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mushrooms+veg

casserole ingredients:

  • 2 c. chicken, roughly chopped (tips for cooking a whole chicken here)
  • 2 cans mushroom soup (ingredients and recipe below)
  • 1 c. plain greek yogurt
  • 1 c. chopped mushrooms (i used a mixture of blue oysters and portobellos, but any mushroom will do; you can also sub extra mushrooms, celery, and an extra jar of water chestnuts to make this vegetarian)
  • 2 c. chopped celery
  • 2 cans water chestnuts, sliced
  • 1 c. breadcrumb topping (ingredients and recipe below)
  • 4 tbsp. melted butter

directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Make the condensed cream of mushroom soup. When the soup is finished, stir in the yogurt,  mushrooms, celery, water chestnuts, and chicken. (This could also be done in a separate large bowl to allow for more space.) Spoon mixture into a 9 x 13in. pan and coat with breadcrumb topping. Bake for 45 minutes.

casserole

condensed mushroom soup ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/3 c. vegetable or chicken stock (directions for making chicken stock here)
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. chopped mushrooms (i used buttons here, but again, any mushroom will work)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/8 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme

directions:

In a saucepan, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Pour vegetable or chicken stock into the saucepan and bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and flour. Pour milk and flour mixture slowly into the saucepan. Whisk in the salt, celery seed and dried thyme. Add the mushrooms and bring the mixture back to a simmer. Let bubble for ten minutes and continue stirring throughout. Adjust seasoning to taste, keeping in mind the soup should be a bit salty at this stage.

mushrooms

breadcrumb topping ingredients:

  • 1 c. breadcrumbs (simple steps to make your own here)
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

directions:

Combine the breadcrumbs and spices in a small bowl and mix. Melt the butter and pour over breadcrumbs and spices, stirring to combine. If the mixture appears too dry, add another tbsp. of melted butter. Spread over top of the casserole.