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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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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riserva naturale orientata di torre salsa

On Sunday, I went to the kind of beach that I was quite sure no longer existed. The path to the shore was a relatively common Sicilian landscape (the kind that continues to make me squeal with delight) — rocky terrain filled with shrubs of various forms and fields planted in blocks of wheat and olive trees. Purple thyme was blooming all over the hillsides and the sea breeze broke through the warm air.

The gentle path abruptly transformed into a mountainous descent and after an hour of walking, I found myself on a completely deserted beach. There was not a soul in site save for a small colony of seagulls. The beach was surrounded by sedimentary rocks packed with gypsum deposits which sparkled against the reflection of the sea. Who knew that a place like this even existed?

In other news, I’ve spent the week hanging out with Maira KalmanRick Meyerowitz, and a group of incredibly talented women, organizing a workshop on food illustration and laughing our way through many meals, many walks, and many interesting conversations. Of the surprising things that have happened this week, this might take the cake: Maira is quite fond of ironing — I’m talking about ironing clothes and I’m talking about hobby-level fondness — and asked if I had anything that could use pressing. I promptly produced an extremely wrinkled suitcase-weary collared shirt which the author of 18 children’s books, frequent contributor to New Yorker magazine, owner of Tuscanini’s pants, etc., etc., etc. proceeded to iron for me. Proof of her excellent work is available here.

I also saw Saturn this week, experienced my first Sirocco, learned the secret to a perfect gin and tonic (add one of these leaves!), and successfully completed my inaugural long-ish distance drive at the helm of a stick shift vehicle. My head is spinning for all of the best reasons. It’s been a crazy but really really good one.

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where i’m laying my hat

My sophomore year at university, I wrote a list of everything I could think of that I might want to do after I finished school. I still have the list, aptly title AFTER COLLEGE, and it includes everything from “USAID project in Afghanistan” to “30000 Island” (I don’t even know what this entry means — just looked it up and I’m still confused.) Anyway, halfway down the list is “live in Italy.”

Do you ever have a moment where things are a bit fuzzy and complicated and you have certain ideas but have no clue how to make them anything and then you blink and somehow the thing has come together? No? Neither do I. Except that somehow, I just have. That moment has happened to me in a really really big way and I’m still pinching myself really really hard.

In an unbelievable turn of good luck/hard work/finger crossing/etc. this magical spot is the place that I get to temporarily call home. And so, this June, instead of watching corn spring up green around me until it towers overhead, instead of gorging on strawberries, instead of bouncing around farmers markets and packing up evening picnics and going on long walks with my best friend, I am moving very slowly and cautiously in an attempt to drill into my brain every single scene. I am staring at fields of wheat and seeing them change from basil green to golden amber before my eyes. I’m watching globe artichokes rupture from tightly closed fists into the most ridiculous purple explosions. I’m taking lots of walks (often while listening to this) and constantly trying not to burst into tears over the beauty and magic and impossibility of the crazy world I’m living in right now. This June is one for the books.

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when life gives you lemons (and lavender and vodka)

I am in California this week for work, so another Californian (who is also one of my dearest dearest friends) has a recipe to share. This lady just made a big life change, moving thousands of miles from chilly Boston to the shores of the West Coast. I am so proud of her and the journey she is on. We got to spend the day together on Sunday and enjoyed a long walk, really tasty food, and lots of laughs. Here we are at the Palace of Fine Arts . (Has anyone else been here? Unbelievable that this thing is just hanging out in the middle of a bustling city.)

Without further ado, meet Isabel!

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When Alyssa first asked me to do a guest post, I was honored, yet understandably intimidated. Week after week I am impressed by the delicious and creative concoctions she comes up with, and always rapt by the personable and witty repartee that goes along with them. So, I’ve cleverly avoided the possibility of comparison and decided to stray from the beaten path of food! Food brings the party, but drinks make the party if you ask me.

I came upon this recipe in an ironically very Tuesday fashion. I recently made the move from the East to West coast, and have landed in beautiful San Francisco. Not only is it not 0 degrees right now (Hi East Coast friends! Come visit!), but the mild weather means fresh fruits and veggies are in abundance year round. When my new roommate casually informed me of the lemon tree growing in our back garden, I was beyond smitten. (Yes, I have a back garden in San Francisco. Yes, there is a lemon tree that is currently producing fresh lemons.) Upon further investigation, I learned that not only is there a lemon tree, but also a beautiful herb garden growing very happily alongside it. One of the largest plants in that garden is a lavender bush. Lavender has forever been one of my favorites, so it was time to get creative.

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Here was my challenge: What could I make that incorporates both lemons and lavender while letting each ingredient shine? A beautiful Saturday was coming up, and friends were coming over to enjoy the sunshine. The answer became obvious — vodka spiked lavender lemonade. This recipe is super simple, crazy delicious, and an instant crowd pleaser. Be forewarned…the drinkability of this can sneak up on you. Trust me.

simple syrup ingredients:

  • 6-10 sprigs of fresh lavender blossoms
  • 4-8 springs of fresh lavender leaves
  • 1 ¼ c. sugar (I recommend white if you want a clear syrup, but raw tastes great too)
  • 1 c. water

simple syrup directions:

Strip blossoms and leaves from the lavender sprigs and roughly chop. Simmer sugar, water, and lavender over medium heat until all sugar is dissolved. For a thicker syrup, add more sugar and simmer longer, but no need to go over 10 minutes. Take off of heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain out lavender and set aside, or bottle separately and add to all sorts of drinks you want to experiment with.

lemonade ingredients:

  • 4-5 ripe lemons (fresh from the tree if you’re lucky enough)
  • 4 c. ice
  • 5 c. water
  • ½ c. lavender simple syrup
  • your favorite vodka, to taste

Squeeze out all of the juice from the lemons making sure to scoop out any seeds. A little pulp adds a homemade touch; I kept mine. Keep one half of a lemon to slice thinly for garnish. Add water, lemon juice, ice, simple syrup, and vodka in a pitcher and stir. Add the sliced lemon to the pitcher or to individual cups. Pour over more ice and add a sprig of lavender. Add more simple syrup for a sweeter drink. (For those not into vodka or alcohol in general, this simple syrup is also deliscious in sparkling water.)

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scenes from iowa

I was so lucky to spend the last days of January and first days of February in Jasper County, Iowa working on the final caucus push with some of my favorite people. A dear friend of mine (Hi, Dylan!!) has been running a hugely productive GOTV operation in Jasper County for the past few months and it was so fun to be a fly on the wall and see him in action with the awesome team he built. I am so proud of him.

I got to attend a caucus on Monday night. It is an odd and fascinating thing; and event I can so easily imagine occurring in my own tiny Midwestern hometown. Equal parts bizarre and sweet, folks came out to make their opinions known and eat brownies. Certainly the process has its problems, but there is something innately charming about neighbors getting together and sharing their thoughts with one another.

I had never been to Iowa before. Have you? Do you know that it is take-your-breath-away beautiful and the definition of ‘wide open spaces’? My responsibilities in the days I spent there resulted in a lot of driving around on dirt roads in the countryside and wow, am I so glad that was on the docket. Just look at this place!

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farm life

During my stint in Hawai’i, one question I got a lot was, “So, what exactly are you doing?” I think that is a legitimate question for a number of reasons. Those reasons include: 1. I was not doing ‘normal’ Hawaii things. 2. Many people (understandably) are unaware about what happens day-to-day on a farm. Here is my official answer to that question!

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I was working with a lot of food crops — planting, fertilizing, pruning, weeding, harvesting. One thing that I was not doing was watering. You do not often need to water plants on the eastern side of Hawai’i — check out how much rain the area gets in a year! Below are images of the main garden, as well as lilikois (Hawaiian passionfruit), avocados, lemons, and Hawaiian Hot Peppers, all crops that I dealt with on a regular basis.

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I also became a wheelbarrow aficionado. Below are big loads of cassava and sweet potato that would have been no fun to carry by hand. Wheelbarrows are so useful!

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I cooked and preserved the crops I harvested. Below are images of bananas being dehydrated and the banana stand from where I picked them, my typical haul of fruits in any given day, and guava jam I processed and ate over oatmeal.

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I handled lots of flowers and leaves. Below are images of the hydrangeas I picked weekly to put on my windowsill, and a bundle of eucalyptus that I dried and brought home.

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I cared for a number of animals, including this donkey named Gina.

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In addition to these tasks, I hauled manure and wood, removed invasive plants from grazing lots, and worked on small construction projects. My days started at 6am and ended before 10pm. It was a quiet life filled with many hours outdoors, in both the sun and the rain. A life of Aloha.