My Imagination is Packed (in my suitcase)

Normally, my mind travels far; my imagination knows few limits.

Lately, my mind is travelling – a lot – but in the same direction.

My mind goes to my suitcase, my ‘to-do’ list, and my upcoming travels across I-don’t-know-how-many-seas to the other side of the world.

I’m not imagining an exotic location (though Koalas may seem a little exotic to those not raised in that far away land). I’m not even getting excited about the sights and delights I might find there (though I’m longing for some hugs from my family and my Mum’s roast lamb dinner).

I’m not feeling at all creative or vision-filled – as I’m normally found to be.

I am just ready.

I am so ready that my bags are packed. They have been lying there on the spare bed, being gradually filled, for quite some time now. I am most definitely a ‘pre-packer’.

My head is in the land I’m heading to. My heart still has to remain here for a while, while I say goodbyes to the many folk who’ve won my heart.

This is no holiday trip I’m taking. This will be a year of life and work back in my country of birth. It’s no small thing. It’s filling my head and heart right now and I’m mostly managing to keep that overwhelming fullness of emotion from overflowing – by being just a little bit more than obsessed with the details of packing and preparing to go.

The realm of details is not normally my abiding place. I look forward to leaving those pesky details behind – ticked, crossed and crumpled up ‘to-do’ lists in the recycling bin. I take comfort that they can’t follow me where I’m going – they’ll be redundant once I’m on the plane sipping something pleasant and snacking on complimentary peanuts.

My imagination isn’t actually packed in my suitcase. I can’t find it right now in order to pack it! But I’ll be getting on the plane in one week’s time, trusting that it’ll meet me there – on the other side of the world.

God’s given me enough foresight, enough imagination, to trust that he’ll have it waiting and ready for me – a fresh sense of his ‘big picture’, saving work in this world – and a little taste of my part in that.

For now, I’m counting pairs of socks and wondering if my face cream will last for seven more days.

My Gift to You – Marcella Hazan

I’ve been waiting for the right moment to give this gift.

To you, my readers, if you happen to be reading this.

The gift is a blog. Not my blog. Another blog. Not just any blog. A blog that contains posts on each and every recipe in Marcella Hazan’s ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’.

But that’s not all!

The gift of this blog, written a few years ago, contains comments from Marcella Hazan herself. A real treat, as she passed away a year ago.

The blog contains posts from a group of nine people that divided up all the recipes in Marcella’s book and cooked and posted each day for just over a year. Marcella often comments on their progress, giving both encouragement and critique. Some of the bloggers even got to meet her near the end of their project.

For those of you who despair at my forgetfulness in taking photos of the dishes I cook from her book – you will also find photos of each recipe they cooked.

You won’t find recipes there. They (and I) believe that you should get our own copy of her book!

I try not to view each post until after I cook the recipe, so that the surprise factor is still there as I cook. Though, occasionally, when I’m feeling a bit uncertain about the recipe, it is good to read their comments and tips.

I’ve cooked 20% of the recipes in the book so far (there are 466 of them, not including the variations). It’s the best cookbook I’ve cooked from.

So here’s a gift well worth opening:

Pomodori e Vino

Happy Christmas!

Photo Success – With Marcella #87 (of 466)

Earlier this week, I cooked six recipes and took zero photos.

To make up for this and to bring happiness to you, my readers, I bring you four photos of one recipe.

I am presently staying in the north of the island that has very much become my home. Last night, I visited an old friend (old in friendship years – not in life years) and cooked him dinner while I was there. He took photos and decorated his Christmas tree. We were a good team.

Prepare now to be ‘bombed’ with photos!

The recipe: ‘Mushroom Sauce with Ham and Tomato

My cookbook travelled with me.

My cookbook travelled with me.

The beautiful gas stove: I was experiencing a little ‘stove envy’ – mine at home has those horrible solid plates that take five minutes to heat up and sometimes longer to cool down. This beautiful stove gave me total control –  and I like that!

His stove. My knife.

His stove. My knife.

The Chef’s Hand: waiting for photographer to take photos and sit down to eat.

My Hand. Marcella's Pasta. His water jug.

My hand. Marcella’s pasta sauce. His water jug.

The Close Up: those are lovely porcini mushrooms you see in there.

Feeds 4-6 people. Enough for leftovers for photographer's lunch.

Feeds 4-6 people. Enough for leftovers for photographer’s lunch.


Last night: #87 ‘Mushroom Sauce with Ham and Tomato’ served, as Marcella suggests, with penne pasta. With an old friend at his table.

Apologies to my functional but less-than-enthusiastically-loved stove at home.

In Need of Soup and Diplomacy – With Marcella #79 & #80 (of 466)

In the past 24 hours, I have experienced more help from friends than I would normally experience in 24 hours.

And I’ve needed that help – in big and small ways.

A friend contacted me quickly after I’d posted a blog post yesterday, to suggest I edit my post. She was right. It had not been written with the blessing of time, perspective and a good nap – and so was neither clear nor helpful. It certainly didn’t read how I’d intended it to read. I love my friend who speaks truth to me when I need it.

The irony was that it was a post about ‘diplomacy’ – or the lack of it! The reason for my haste in posting was that I was excited to have a photo of one of my Marcella-led creations – ‘Diplomatico’. Here’s the photo I was excited about remembering to take:



Later, a friend reminded me that I was loved – even with the tears and awkwardness that had preceded the reminder.

That evening, some friends rearranged another dinner engagement they had, to invite me over for dinner. They were graciously persistent in their invitation – even though I was feeling I’d be better staying in bed until my ‘diplomacy’ returned. These same friends prepared a beautiful dinner of mussels to share together. They cooked for me, asked questions, listened to me, prayed for me, and gave me a big hug.

Later that night, I needed to ask another friend for forgiveness for some other ‘undiplomatic’ behaviour. She lovingly and willingly gave it – making my heart lighter.

Today, at lunchtime, an older, wiser, very rational friend sat with me to go through some planning dates for my work – to make sure that my not-so-detailed brain was taking into account all the different contingencies that might arise from my plans. We did that checking of planning over a hearty, gorgeously thick and tasty bowl of soup.

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Like most of Marcella’s recipes, the soup was simple to make. Like all of her recipes (excepting the boiled chestnuts), the soup was delicious!

The combination of simplicity, delight and comfort in the two recipes above was just a flavour of the same combination of simplicity, grace and comfort that my friends showed to me during these past 24 hours.

I thank God for good, honest food and good, honest friends.

At lunch yesterday and today: #79 ‘Diplomatico’ and #80 ‘Potato Soup with Smothered Onions’ with loving diplomatic friends at various tables.






Rolling on the Floor (with Skeletons) Laughing

On a day off, several years ago….

It’s ‘time-off’ time again – the time I know I need, but find difficult to take. Some weeks the time stands out in my diary as a welcoming light of refuge. Other weeks I feel its impending approach and the demands it makes on me to come up with some idea of what to do – with the added pressure that the idea be ‘fun’.

A year or so ago, I was ‘accosted’ in the street by a man wanting me to sign up to some charitable cause or other. But his approach was different to the usual ‘Can I have 30 seconds of your time?’ One always suspects such requests are less demanding in wording than the time that will actually be required of you.

He surprised me by asking, ‘Whatta you do for fun?!!’

He’d managed to arrest me – to stop my purposeful stride through the streets of this familiar city. I couldn’t come up with an answer quick enough. I stood there, staring blankly out onto the main street, mentally scanning my life for evidence of fun. Even he seemed surprised!

It’s not that I don’t like my life. I’m grateful for what God has given me and where he’s placed me. But I do sometimes wish that he’d made me a little differently: one of those ‘fun’ kind of people; a ‘hoot’ to be with; one who makes people ‘ROFL’ (that’s ‘Roll on Floor Laughing’, apparently). I find myself occasionally longing to be someone who’s spontaneous, adventurous and just a little bit crazy!

I’m more the kind of person who has people examining their lives – not laughing their cares away. Even when I’m on my own, I examine my own life. Not necessarily in a reflective, positive, life-changing kind of way, but in a way that makes me wish I could sometimes make myself laugh or at least laugh at myself.

I walked away from the charitable man, examining my life and wondering what I could do to have a bit more ‘fun’.

A year later and I still haven’t come up with any convincing answers.

Last night, as I got ready for bed, I was determined to plan my time-off the next day. I was going to plan something interesting. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to make it ‘fun.’ Still I hoped that fun might just accidentally happen along the way.

This morning after getting my washing done (not everything can be fun), I caught the train into the city centre with the intention of going to see St.Michan’s Church – an old church which reportedly has lots of skeletons in its basement. I know! ‘Not much fun there, Ms Fun Seeker!’ Still, a little adventurous and just a little bit crazy! Though I had planned my itinerary for the day, because I can only cope with so much spontaneity and craziness.

Within ten minutes my ‘crazy’ plans had gone awry. It turns out that St.Michan’s opens later in the winter months. I still plan to go there today – but in the meantime I find myself here in ‘Third Space’ – an excellent new cafe opened by creative and entrepreneurial friends. I’ve had a delicious coffee and scone and, while I haven’t yet been ‘ROFLing’, I do love their new (old) floor and am thoroughly enjoying the aesthetics of the place.

At one point, I was asked by the owner if I would mind changing tables so they could move some tables. He said he could ask me because I was a friend. So I moved, as a friend, and felt a little spontaneous and crazy as I did it!

I like to think that there are different kinds of fun in life. One person’s joy at the beauty and aesthetics of an old wooden floor may be another’s idea of ‘not-so-much-fun’. While one’s desire for constant adventure may be just a little scary for another.

This one will take delight in being just brave enough to visit somewhere new, once in a while, and have fun writing while she waits to see the skeletons.

When I search in vain for ‘fun’ in my life – the kind of fun that others may consider to be fun – I find comfort in God’s creativity in making a rich, fun-loving, varying humanity: people that know how to have fun in all sorts of different ways. I’m also thankful for those he has placed in my life who have the ability to occasionally have me ‘rolling on the floor laughing’.

Postscript: I got to see the skeletons. I even had a few laughs – but none on the floor – which is just as well, as there were skeletons down there.


Posted in response to the Daily Post prompt for today.

Meatballs – With Marcella #74 (of 466)

I’ve can only remember making meatballs twice in my life.

Once tonight. Once last year.

Last year, I was rolling them on a very hot day in a very hot apartment with a crowd of people who were getting to know each other – very loudly. I was very uncomfortable.

Tonight, I was rolling them and cooking them at a beautiful gas stove, in the home of beautiful, old friends. We ate them around a family dining table with the fire going in the background. We knew each other very well. I was very comfortable.

I am a big fan of the second of the two meatball experiences!

Tonight, at my friends’ table: #74  ‘Meatballs and Tomatoes’.

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Today, for the first time ever, I cooked a soft-boiled egg.

I’ve boiled eggs before. I’ve just never mastered a soft-boiled one. Not that I’d ever tried before today. Today’s achievement was mostly due to my impatience. I was hungry. I wanted two boiled eggs. I turned the heat off more quickly than I normally would have. It wasn’t deliberate but the eggs turned out perfectly!

Today’s writing prompt has us thinking about the phrase ‘Life is too short for….’

My initial response was that life is too short for challenges! I’m supposed to be writing a post each day of the month of November. I’d signed up for a challenge.

I quickly came to the conclusion that sometimes challenges are just burdens in disguise. Furthermore, when it’s a challenge you needn’t have taken on, it’s a self-inflicted burden.

I was going to give up. Who would care, anyway?

I was going to set myself a new challenge – the challenge of not following challenges to the letter – and being OK with that! Who am I fooling?

Normally I love challenges. I rise to them! As long as they’re not too challenging.

This morning I failed several challenges and that was just one morning.

So I boiled two eggs for lunch and without setting myself the challenge of cooking them correctly, they turned out beautifully.

I’m going to go easy on the challenges for a while.

We’ll see how challenging that proves to be.

Dear Pillow

Dear Pillow,

Or should I say ‘Neck-Support Pillow’ for you are not like other pillows.

You are unique. You have that lovely curvy edge where other pillows are flat. You remember me well and adapt to me in a way no other pillow can.

I tried searching in other places for help. I placed my head (and life) in the hands of those who would seek to tug and twist my neck into place. But when I finally found you, you just let me rest my weary head and the pain floated away.

You’ve given me rest. You’ve removed the pain. You’ve soaked up tears and, let’s face it, occasional dribbling as I’ve slept deeply. You’ve been there as I’ve tossed and turned. You’ve given a platform for dreams and plans and problem-solving. You’ve listened to the sighs of contentment as I’ve laid down my head to rest after a busy, fulfilling day. You’ve heard the silent sighs of angst after a day of challenges and disappointments.

I need you in my life. You know I can’t go a day without you. I’ve tried but the pain I feel is not worth the absence. This means I have to pay for checked-in luggage each time I travel in order to accommodate your bulky frame.

But you’re worth it.

Pillow, I need you. That is all that need be said.

Yours, in need of neck-support.


Dutiful Gamblers Anonymous

I could easily be addicted to gambling. It’s hard to know this for a fact without testing it out, but I figure my childhood experience at Primary School fetes gives a fair indication.

My parents would give me $5 to spend at the fete – a huge sum for a child in those dim and distant days. It should have got me a sausage sandwich, some fairy floss and perhaps some little treasure from the ‘White Elephant’ stall.

No, it got me as far as the ‘Lucky Envelope’ stall where I’d proceed to cautiously spend $2 buying tickets, win a bit or win my money back, feel lucky, then blow the rest of my cash in one fell swoop. It was always on that second go that I would LOSE EVERYTHING.

I say always, because it took me a few years of school fetes to see a pattern emerging.

Recently, on a little mini break with friends, we were scheduled (much to my dismay) to play a French game with numbered tiles. I don’t much like French. The language, that is. The people are lovely, I’m sure. I certainly don’t love numbers. I like my game tiles to have letters on them, with numbers merely serving the purpose of scoring the letters.

Well, to my delight, one of the more attentive of our group, noticed that there was some kind of false bottom on the coffee table of the holiday cottage. We soon discovered that there was a marvellous collection of gambling games under the table top! There was even a roulette wheel!! I had only ever seen these marvels in movies – and here was one right in front of us!

My friends agreed to play one game (I persuaded them to play three). No money changed hands. The mathematician among us won. It was actually pretty boring and nothing at all like the glamorous, tension-filled scenes in the movies. I liked using the little scraper thing that gathers all the lost chips, but that was the extent of the delights for me.

We then moved to the dreaded French game with numbers. They somehow convinced me that if you lost (or won? I can’t remember) you had to sing the French National Anthem. I complained that I didn’t know it – but I could remember my Primary School Anthem. Don’t ask me how. I couldn’t tell you the names of most of my friends at school but I can somehow tell you the words of the anthem.

You must imagine a stirring, but annoyingly addictive tune as you read:

Above the river stands the hillside

And above the hillside stands the trees.

Above the trees there stand the mountains,

Gazing eastward to the seas.

Above our pleasure put our duty.

Hold our heads high loyal and true.

But our honour, this above all,

For our school, Mt.Riverview.

As I sang to my friends that evening, I was struck for the first time by the emphasis on putting duty above pleasure. I don’t believe you’d find that affirmation in any current school song. Perhaps schools don’t have songs anymore? Perhaps the children are encouraged to compose their own song? Pleasure would no doubt be encouraged (and perhaps it should be) and the only duty would be the duty to be true to one’s self and achieve one’s best.

In my school song, our duty seemed to be toward our school – certainly our honour was to be for the school, above anything else. If the song was to be sung with any conviction and integrity, we should all have given our whole lives to the service of our local primary school. At that age I’m not sure we would have known how to do that – apart from turning up each day, not passing notes in class, and standing in straight lines when lines were required – or even when they weren’t.

I liked school. But I wouldn’t have given my life for it.

I am, however, all for duty. I’m quite compulsively dutiful. This addiction to duty doesn’t make me a better person. In fact it can sometimes make me quite a pain to be around and, when I fail at my duty, rather gloomy company.

Recently I had to be given a new, temporary duty: the duty to drop pretty much every other duty and rest. It had to be put to me like that – a duty – otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the command seriously.

It’s a sad reality when someone has to dutifully rest from obsessive duty. There were other factors that contributed to my tiredness – but one factor was the upholding of duty.

It’s not that replacing duty with pleasure is the answer either. I tried that. It just felt a little empty. And pleasure, no matter how good and wholesome, only lasts for a moment.

It turns out, after dutifully resting and gaining perspective, that the answer is the same as it’s always been. It’s all about what, or who, you honour.

I didn’t honour my Primary School. But I have at times honoured others above the God who made me and them. In the end that honouring of others and their needs was a form of honouring myself above God. I was forgetting to keep pointing them (and myself) to the Lord who can fix the problems they have and take the burdens they carry.

Rest is one of the best ways to honour the Lord. It’s a way of saying ‘I can stop for awhile because God never stops.’ More than that, he doesn’t need to stop. His energy and strength is boundless. He’s in control, not me, so I can take a break. I can be weak because he is strong.

For a few weeks I did become addicted to sleep and compulsive napping – but I needed it. Now I’ve had a rest I can see things a little more clearly – me, others, and the God whose honour I live for.

That’s a duty worth being addicted to. A duty I can rest in. A duty that brings pleasure that lasts forever.

An Elephant’s Tale

The other day, in my ongoing efforts to declutter my home, I came across one of my favourite stories. I also found my journal entry about this same story. The journal entry is copied below.

Travel with me (and the elephant) if you will…

Yesterday I finished reading a delightful and refreshing book: The Elephant’s Journey’ by Jose Saramago. It was translated from Portuguese, which is just as well because I don’t speak Portuguese.

The narrator in the story was careful to explain ‘historical’ details of life, politics and travelling in the 1550s, which is just as well because I’m living in 2012.

The author is a keen observer of human nature under the pressures of unfamiliar experiences and long journeys, which is just as well because, though I have made my own observations under similar pressures, I have no such skill as Jose’s to express it with such clarity and irony.

Aside from recommending this book to anyone who’d listen, I was delighted to read that the elephant, called Solomon, and his travelling companions passed through Verona, Trento, Bolzano, Innsbruck and even stopped off temporarily in Salzburg.

Why was I delighted? Because I am about to undertake this same journey over the next couple of weeks. Saramago’s fable is based on a true story of an elephant and his journey several hundred years ago. I love the fact that I’ll be treading in the footsteps of both an actual and a fictional elephant.

Most of my journey will be by train. I’m told, in another book I’m reading, this is considered ‘slow travel’. So though I’m no literal elephant, I’ll be taking my time as I tote my 20 kilos of luggage behind me (in addition to my own, not to be enumerated, personal kilos) on a journey I’ve not taken before. But the elephant has.

So far I’ve been staying with friends in somewhat familiar places. This next stage of the journey is not familiar and therefore a little scary. I’m trying to be brave. Several Bible verses supplied by friends these past few days make mention of the Lord taking hold of my right hand – which contains all sorts of baggage – and that he won’t forsake me.

His hands are so big and hold much more than me and my solitary travelling.

Though it is of some comfort and amazement that I’m travelling where an elephant has travelled before me, it is of much greater comfort to this timorous traveller to have God as my present travelling companion. Him and his big hands.

Which is just as well, because elephants don’t have hands and the feet they do have inevitably end up as umbrella stands.

For those who are interested, I completed the journey safely and happily. I saw places I’d never seen and learnt things I needed to learn.

‘The Elephant’s Journey’ remains on my bookshelf – a survivor of the decluttering and a symbol of my own survival as I journeyed to unfamiliar lands.


Daily Post – Second-Hand Stories