March 30, 2010

Passover started last night. In addition to bringing a salad for our community Seder, I also offered to bring a dessert. Being a procrastinator, I waited until the very last minute to figure out what to make. Desserts during Passover are tricky...they must be flour-free or made with matzah meal (and when baking, matzah meal just isn't the same as flour). I meant to ask my mother-in-law for ideas, but I got distracted during our recent phone conversation about gardening, traveling, and reading. Have I ever mentioned before how lucky I am in the mother-in-law department? Well, I am. In addition to sharing similar interests she is also a great source for recipes, but once I realized I had forgotten to ask her for Passover dessert recipes, it was too late (one of those frustrating aspects of living on the other side of the world). So I turned to the Barefoot Contessa. She, like my mother-in-law, is always reliable. Seriously, I have always had success with Ina's recipes. And her macaroon recipe will now have a permanent spot in my recipe box. Five simple ingredients, easy to make, pretty on a plate, and very tasty....that's a winning combination. And the true test: I don't even like coconut, but I loved these. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Spring! Happy Sweet Eating!

Coconut Macaroons (from Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

Sunday: The Volcano

March 29, 2010

On Sunday, we decided to show my mom a very different part of the island. We all bundled up and headed north to Mt. Etna.It never fails to amaze me up there. It feels like we have been transported to an alien world. Yesterday, the Silvestri crater was a very windy and chilly place. Noah scrambled up and over rocks like a champ until he nearly got blown off the top of one and then I made him hold my hand. After that it was time for hot chocolate. Sadly, it wasn't nearly as good as our first cup of Italian hot chocolate, but it was still a nice way to warm up. How was your weekend?

Saturday: The Coast

My mom arrived in Sicily at the end of last week. On Saturday we headed south of Siracusa to the coast. We meandered along country roads exploding with the colors of spring...flowering trees, wildflowers, and lemons. Eventually those roads led us to Fontane Bianche where we scrambled out of the car to explore the tide pools and filled our pockets with shells, sea glass,and bits of washed up tiles. Then back in the car as we headed further south to share the wonders of Vendicari with my mom. It was a great day to be on the beach...sunny and breezy. We had some fiber ball fights, basked in the sun, and watched a flock of flamingos flying overhead. And then to top off an already perfect day there was a gelato truck waiting as we exited the reserve. It is so good to be able to share all of this with my mom.

More Body Art

March 24, 2010

So while body art is still fresh on my mind, here are few other things to check out. Martha (thank you!) sent me this article about artist, Alexa Meade, and her unique style of body painting which she calls "Living Paintings". Have you ever seen anything quite like that?

And then there are the tribal artists featured in Natural Fashion which we kept re-newing from the library last year. Really stunning stuff. No formal training, no modern make-up or props, no mirrors, just natural inspiration, creativity, and the human desire to transform the ordinary to something extraordinary. More info here. And while searching for a link to the book, I came across this interview with the photographer, Hans Silvester. Nice to hear his thoughts on nature, photography, and the Omo people.

Body Art

March 23, 2010

Last week's art group: body art. We started by reading I Ain't Gonna Paint No More (yes, I know it is grammatically incorrect and usually that drives me crazy in kids books, but it's hard to resist the vivid images and catchy text). Then we moved onto drawing self-portraits. Each child was given one very large piece of paper, crayola slick stix(really love these for drawing) and asked to draw themselves. It was fascinating to see the different stages of development in their drawings. I have always been intrigued by how children draw people and this article from the AAA Lab of Stanford is very helpful in looking at the stages that usually occur within children's drawings of people, especially that early stage of tadpole drawings (large head with arms and legs extending from the head, like this). I had always been curious about why/how this happens, but the AAA Lab of Stanford explanation makes sense:

This work examines a more perceptual explanation: when children look down at their bodies, they see their arms coming from their head. (Stretch your arms to the side and then look down.) Therefore, early on, children draw pictures combining their head and body as one component. Because children assimilate their environment to what they see and know about themselves, they will draw all humans and animals in this tadpole manner.

After completing their self-portraits, we pulled out a large roll of brown craft paper, traced each child, handed out brushes and paint, and encouraged them to paint their bodies (on paper...hoping we can do some really body painting once it gets a little warmer...any suggestions on best type of paint for actually body painting?). Once again, it was interesting to see how each child approached the task. I think the kids enjoyed having such a large "canvas" and the freedom and space to do whatever they wanted to with their bodies (the body on paper and their own bodies as they worked on the floor).

Spring Fever

March 22, 2010

Spring is here. The fields and roadsides continue to amaze with their color drenched goodness. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. The girls picked a ton of wildflowers last week which are now brightening up our kitchen.

And I am sick in bed today with a nasty bug that I hope disappears as quickly as it appeared. It's never fun to be sick, but it really sucks to be sick when Spring is beckoning right outside your window. Sipping ginger ale, taking cat naps, yearning to be outside, reading and enjoying Olive Kitteridge, making lists in my head of all the things I need to do before my mom arrives at the end of the week and another list of all the things I want to do with her once she arrives, and really, really hoping no one else in the house gets sick.

Pinky and Pac-Man

March 21, 2010

Shortly after our return from Germany, we attended a very fun 1980's-themed birthday. The invitation requested that everyone arrive in appropriate '80s attire. I had been hoping to make a trip to the thrift shop before the weekend of the party, but I didn't make it there which meant we were scrambling at the last minute to come up with something. After a quick brainstorming session about our favorite 80's memories and trends (remember the pegged jeans? Member's Only jackets? big hair?). Our brainstorming began to expand as we reminisced about 80's tv shows (The Facts of Life, Dallas, Miami Vice) which led us to video games (Pac Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong) and that's when the creative juices started flowing. Two black outfits, some colored felt, some safety pins, a roll of yellow duck tape ( I love duck tape, but I REALLY love colored duck tape) and just a few hours later we received the best costume award at the party. I know it may sound weird to sound so proud, but I was pretty impressed with how well they turned out. And I have to admit I may even like them more than our cereal killer costumes that we made a few years ago.

Munich: Expensive Letterbox, Big Museum

March 19, 2010

We spent our last day in Germany exploring Munich. Since we had a late start from Garmisch we didn't get to see nearly as many things as we had hoped to...actually we only made it to two spots, but both were memorable in their own ways. Our first destination was a tiny alley where we parked illegally, dashed out into the cold, and followed clues to discover our first urban letterbox and also our first European letterbox! We have missed letterboxing since moving to Sicily so it was pretty exciting to find the box and to see some of the cool European stamps in the book. However, our excitement was dampened quite a bit when we accidentally scraped a rock while exiting that little alley. A few days later we were informed by our rental car company that the scratch (max 4 inches long and labeled on our exit sheet as "do not repair") will cost us $1200!Conveniently, the letterbox location was just a block or two away from our next destination: the world's largest science museum, The Deutsches Museum. It lived up to it's reputation with us and we literally had to drag the kids away at closing time. It is miles and miles of cool exhibits and interactive displays. Highlights from the small chunk of what we saw: the big display of ships (may not sound interesting, but really it was with boats from all over the world and different time periods), the kid's kingdom (pure hands-on fun for little guys with elaborate water area, huge legos, interesting musical instruments, not as big as some children's museums in the States, but still worthwhile), the amazing miniature train display (it runs at specific times during the day and we caught the tail end of it), and the robots. Similar to the Smithsonian experience, you could probably visit this museum every day for a week and still not see it all. Most things are in English and if not, just about everyone we encountered spoke English and was very helpful.I think we will always remember Munich as the place with the world's most expensive letterbox and the world's largest science museum. Highly recommend a visit, just be careful when backing your rental car out of a small alley or perhaps just stick with local transportation! Also, FYI there is a children's playroom and an outdoor playground at the Munich airport that sound great, but we didn't have time to check them out. Want to see more cool travel posts from around the world? visit Delicious Baby.

Chalk and Dots

March 18, 2010

From art group a few weeks ago: sidewalk chalk, construction paper, and office supply "stickers" (labeling dots and page reinforcers). A good lesson in looking for inexpensive, inspiration in unexpected places like the office supply aisle. Also a very good lesson in never underestimating how focused and creative a group of pre-schoolers can be when given some very simple supplies.

The Dirty Side

March 17, 2010

So here's a view of Sicily that is not shown in many of the guidebooks....the mounds of garbage on otherwise picturesque country roads or the litter lining way too many quaint streets in villages and neighborhoods. It was hard to miss the garbage issue when we first arrived in Sicily, yet it didn't take very long for me to be distracted. I was able to push it out of view and focus on the amazing ruins, the striking landscape, and the lively Sicilians. But our recent trip to Germany brought that stinky issue back into very sharp focus. The lack of litter in Germany was one of the first things we noticed on our drive from Munich to Garmisch (in addition to the smooth and wide roads which are not nearly as plentiful in Sicily). I guess travel does that to you...forces you to compare and contrast.

And then last night as I was reading Rick Steve's Europe Through the Back Door my focus shifted again with this passage:

And the place (Sicily) must lead Europe in litter. But there's a workaday charm here. If you like Italy for its people, tempo, and joy of living--rather than for its Botticellis, Guccis, and touristic icons---you'll dig Sicily (p.442)

And yes, it's true, even with it's dirty side, we dig Sicily. It's a bit raw, sometimes rough (especially the potholes), and, yes, dirty around some edges, but it's also authentic, vibrant, wild, and wonderful. It's not a spot for those looking for pristine,neatly packaged, European postcard moments. It's a place for uncovering and savoring the many layers of history and culture that have been slathered onto one small island. So now you have been forewarned. If you are considering a trip to Sicily, there will be garbage, but there is so much more here, too.

Fairy Tales, Big Bird, and Modern Parenting

March 16, 2010

One of the things I loved most during our recent trip were all of the painted houses. They were each so colorful and unique with their detailed murals of religious images, period pieces, and decorative touches (fancy trim around windows, etc). My favorites were the fairy tale houses in Oberammergau. Cinderella, Puss in Boot, The Bremen Town Musicians, Little Red Riding Hood, and then there was the one that brought all of my most vivid childhood nightmares crashing into in my current life as a parent: Hansel and Gretel's house. It's been over thirty years since I have heard the tale and yet I still cringe when I think about it. Somehow that story wedged it's way very deeply into my psyche. So much so that I have never told the story to my kids. And suddenly in the middle of a small Bavarian town I was faced with explaining it to them. It was all there in the lovely, intricate paintings covering a very large house/school. And it didn't faze them one bit. They didn't have nightmares that night. They didn't have any questions about the story. They didn't wimper when looking at the boy in the cage or the children standing in front of the oven. I had spent all this time wanting to protect them from that scary tale and turns out, surprise, surprise it was all my issue.

I remember studying Bruno Bettelheim's theories about fairy tales and childhood development as an English major in an undergrad Children's Lit class and later on in one of my graduate level social work classes. I am not so sure I agree with his analysis and dark thoughts on the topic, but I think there is value in reading the fairy tales (sans Disney's interpretation) much like there is value in reading the Greek myths that are also full of their own darkness and gore. And yet, I grapple with how and when to do it. And with a quick google search of the subject it turns out once again I am not alone in this. Look at how many modern parents are no longer reading the fairy tales with their kids. And while reading that I followed the link to this
. It turns out we aren't just choosing to forgo Grimm, but also being warned that the Sesame Street of our childhoods is no longer safe or suitable for our children. What?!!!

Since Camille is into the whole princess/mermaid thing right now I have been working hard to find fairy tale books that are not the Disney versions, that aren't too slapstick or sickly sweet, that aren't poorly written and/or hideously illustrated versions. There is quite a bit of junk to sort through in the fairy tale/princess section or am I just too picky? We are just starting this process, but here are a few of the ones that work for us right now:

Rapunzel by Paul Zelinsky
Cinderella by Barbara McClintock
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jim Aylesworth

Fairy Tale Favorites by Jim Weiss (audio cd)
Best Loved Stories in Song and Dance by Jim Weiss (audio cd)

And if you really want to dive into the world of fairy tales I would recommend visiting Sur La Lune ...hoping to do some more reading on that site later today especially the discussion on children and fairy tales.

So what about you? Have any favorite fairy tales (or modern versions) to share? Would you let your kids watch the first episodes of Sesame Street? Did Hansel and Gretel scare you or did Snuffleupagus give you nightmares?

Olympic Love, Part 2

March 13, 2010

The Olympic love continued in Germany. When we arrived at the Munich airport, Noah was ecstatic to see a bobsled and sign advertising the German bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. And then we got to Garmisch where we were surrounded by some very striking reminders of the 1936 Winter Olympics. Our first Olympic experience was ice skating at the Olympic rink. Like most things in life, it looks much easier on tv! It turned out to be a fun and humbling family outing. Noah impressed all of us by jumping right in there and quickly learning his way around the rink. Thank goodness the rink had these little gnome guys that were perfect for first time skaters. I think they were probably intended for kids, but I grabbed one whenever it was free!After that we headed to lunch at the Olympia Hause which was used during the Olympics. We didn't know it at the time of our lunch, but Hitler stood on the terrace of the Olympia Hause during the Olympics since it is in the center of everything. And that brings me to the part of our trip that had me feeling a jumble of things while in Germany. One moment I felt awed to be in such an inspiring and beautiful location, flip flopped with anger and anxiety that in the not so distant past our little family would not have been welcomed (and worse) in the very same spot, quickly followed by pride that my Jewish children were gleefully sledding and skiing on the same mountains that Nazis tried to make their own. I am not alone in these conflicted feelings. It will be interesting to see what happens with Germany's bid for the 2018 Olympics.

After our filling German lunch we went sledding at the base of the ski jump (have you ever seen a ski jump in person? I couldn't get over how huge and scary it looked! I can't imagine doing that or watching my child do that). And the next day the winter sports experiences continued. Adam hit the slopes for some great skiing while Noah and Camille attended the German ski school. Noah loved skiing and continued to take lessons for the next two day
s, Camille was not so fond of it and chose to spend her time rolling and playing in the snow. I opted to drink hot cocoa and watch from the lodge.And here's one of the most exciting things that happened: we had the chance to meet members of the US Ski Team. They were in town for the World Cup Finals (we could see the downhill course from our balcony). All of them were so friendly and approachable. One of the most memorable moments was when Lindsey Vonn let the kids hold her Olympic gold medal. Noah is already begging for another ski trip and trying to convince us to move someplace where he could ski all winter. I enjoyed our snowy adventures,but I have to admit that I am glad we were just visiting and not living there full's cold and it's a lot of work to get everyone bundled up and undressed after each outing!

Bavarian Wonderland

March 12, 2010

We have just returned from one of the most surreal trips we have ever taken. I knew when we booked our trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany that we were going to be doing the winter thing. I bought and borrowed snow clothes, boots, and jackets. I packed hand warmers and extra socks. But somehow, I was not prepared for the strange experience of being transported inside one of those miniature winter wonderland scenes. You know the ones in snow globes or train scenes and yes even those created on movie screens? Well, we just spent six very full days sledding, ice skating, skiing, and exploring that winter wonderland known as Bavaria.

On our first morning we woke to a beautiful snow fall that continued for the next two days coating the village and the slopes with an amazing layer of brilliant whiteness. Having grown up in south Louisiana, I have a very distinct memory of the first time I saw snow and the first time I saw the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. I was awe-struck. I had a similar reaction when I spent a summer working in Colorado. But seeing the Alps covered with that fresh felt as if I had never really seen mountains or snow before. Seriously breathtaking. And then to add the quaint Bavarian villages with their painted houses, wood carvings, and rosy cheeked children. It was almost too much! More posts and pics coming soon.

Market Report: March

March 3, 2010

Fresh from yesterday's trip to the Catania market: fennel, wild asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, ricotta salata cheese, freshly-made pasta, a loaf of bread from our favorite panificio, and almond chocolate pastries.

We have friends visiting from the States (friends from our time in Japan) and yesterday I took Beth on a food adventure: the market and the local grocery store. I always head for the markets when we travel and Sicily's market experiences are especially vibrant. It's not just the beautiful, seasonal's also the lively atmosphere, the people, and the adventure of it all. We started in the pasta shop where we decided to try making Pasta Alla Norma. The pasta lady gave us her recipe suggestions.

We then headed to the bread shop which is always packed even though there aren't any signs designating it as a bread shop. We found out about it last month when eating
at a local seafood restaurant. The bread was so good we had to find the source. The waitress drew a map for us and called ahead to let them know we were coming. When we arrived they greeted us like family and we now have our favorite source for doughy goodness.

From the bread shop, we headed to the row of fruit and veggies vendors. Since we were flying by the seats of our pants and shopping without a recipe, we told the veggie man about our desire to make Pasta Alla Norma. He asked how many people and if we would be making it today or tomorrow. He then proceeded to hand select the tomatoes and eggplants that we would need. After completing our vegetable order, he sent someone with us to the cheese shop down the street and made sure they knew we needed ricotta salata. On the way out of the market, I couldn't resist buying the strawberries that have recently started appearing and fennel that is my new culinary love. Here's an interesting thing: it pays to visit the market with a pregnant woman. Everyone kept giving us food to taste.
And then to the grocery store where I helped Beth pick out some tasty souvenirs. Grocery stores are always my favorite place to shop when we travel and since moving to Sicily it is the source for most of my gift shopping for friends and family in the States. She loaded up on artisan made pasta, packets of Italian hot chocolate,and some of our favorite Italian seasoning mixes. Wish us luck as we attempt to make our first Pasta Alla Norma tonight. Any tips?

Maternal Joy

March 2, 2010

A few weeks ago the kids were grumbling in the back seat about how grown-ups have it so easy. I can't remember what triggered the comments (fussing about carseats? wanting to eat candy three times a day?),but it led to an amusing conversation about adulthood. I asked the kids what they thought would be the best parts of being adults. Without hesitation, Camille stated "having babies and being able to read" and Noah quickly chimed in "I'd be able to read all the big books". I couldn't help smiling. A true moment of mama pride and joy. If I don't do anything else right as a parent, at least my kids dream about growing up and reading (and giving me grandbabies).

I am holding on tight to that little exchange and trying to remember it when lately there seems to be a lot of whining and testing going on around here.

Exploring: Ortigia

Last Thursday we headed south to Siracusa and spent a delightful afternoon exploring Ortigia. A historic little island of stone buildings which seem to shimmer against the intense blue colors of Mediterranean. A tasty seafood lunch. A walk by the water. Meandering little streets which were remarkably pristine and relatively free of the graffitti that seems to cover most of Sicily. And then we came to the heart of island: the Piazza Duomo where a man wandered around playing an accordion, lemons cascaded over the stone walls, and the Cathedral beckoned us inside with her frilly white Baroque exterior. It felt like we were stepping onto the pages of an ad for Italian tourism. But when we entered the church we quickly left that scene and did some time traveling back to the time when Otrigia was a Greek settlement. It was hard to ignore the enormous Doric columns that bear the weight of the building. The building that was originally built as a Greek Temple honoring Athena and is now the main Catherdal honoring the town's patron saint, Lucia. It is a good example of the historical and architectural mix that is Sicily and her multi-layered history.

After that piece of time travel, we headed towards the water where we discovered the Fonte Aretusa and we learned the story of Arethusa. According to Greek myth, Arethusa, a nymph, was attempting to escape the amorous pursuits of a river god. Artemis intervened and changed Arethusa into a fresh water spring. But the pursuit did not end there. The River God, Alpheus, found her and their waters are said to be permanently intermingled in this lovely little area by the sea wall. It is now a popular site for tourists, local teenagers, and a happy family of ducks that live in the huge clump of papyrus growing on the edge of the spring.

Winding down and around the spring area we found the The Aquarium. It is very small, especially by American standards for aquariums, but it is a good place to get a better peek at some of the creatures living in the surrounding waters. The Aquarium and the little park areas on both sides of the Aquarium are also ideal spots for escaping the heat because of the large shady banyan trees. After checking out the sea life, we headed back up the sea wall for gelato which is always the perfect ending to a day of Siclian exploration. Actually I take that back; gelato is the perfect ending to any day, anywhere.

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