Family Ties   Leave a comment

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Grief, atonement and tradition are all bound together in LaRose by Louise Erdrich. The title refers not only to the young boy shuttled back and forth between two families, but also previous ancestors, all women, with the same name.

LaRose’s father accidently shoots his young son’s best friend, the child of neighbors. As part of Ojibwe custom of retribution, La Rose’s parents give him to the grieving parents. Interspersed with the adjustments this entails are stories of the original LaRose, a strong, intelligent woman able to see more than others with knowledge others don’t possess. Her traits, that include tribal medicine and a keen awareness of others, are passed down through four generations. Even the youngest of the namesakes has special, insightful characteristics.

This is more than an account about two families who lose a son. Although, the descriptions of the two sets of parents and siblings are full of depth and richness. It is also a narrative that examines the personal histories of many of the reservation’s residents, including the parish priest and a ne’er-do-well.

Erdrich blends the traditional Indian ways with modern life; the novel begins in 1999. Humor, rich descriptions of the landscape and dynamic characters make this an engaging work. It is sad, even heartbreakingly so; yet there are also moments of joy and revelation of life’s beauty.

Ultimately, this is a love story – in fact, many love stories: parental love and sacrifice; husband and wife love (and sacrifice); the relationships among siblings; and new relationships.

La Rose
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2016
373 pages

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Tapas and More   2 comments

Tapas

Carrying an umbrella in case of rain is almost a sure sign that it won’t be needed. Upon arriving in Barcelona we worried that the final weekend of our European vacation would be wet and dreary. For the first hour, it was. So, I unpacked the umbrella and the rain in Spain stayed mainly away.

Although, I’m sure we would have enjoyed the sites and food no matter what, the blue skies were an exclamation mark. We marveled at Barcelona’s beauty while also taking the opportunity to sample Catalan cuisine such as tapas, paella and other dishes that expanded our waistlines.

Tapas aren’t only only found in Spain, but that is certainly where they’re an art form. Following a walking tour of the Gothic quarter we wandered into a small tapas bar. Our server spoke wonderful English, which she said she was happy to practice.

We ordered jamon (paper thin slice of cured ham big on salty flavor), tomato bread, a cheese plate and potato balls. There is nothing like Spanish ham (jamon) and as much as I loved it, the potato balls were my favorite. Golf ball-size rounds of mashed potatoes were quickly fried creating a crusty, non-greasy exterior encasing creamy potatoes. Each had dollops of aioli. I could have eaten several platefuls.

chicken tapas

My tapas-sized order of paella at another restaurant was uninspiring. The flavors were fine, but the abundance of shellfish made it difficult to eat. I suppose, in retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing.

My favorite meal was grilled chicken and French fries topped with roasted pepitos. These mild, savory peppers were smoky. The crispy chicken skin, which I ordinarily would have discarded, provided contrast to the juicy meat.

We enjoyed pastries at breakfast and gelato for afternoon/evening snacks.

We did a lot of walking in Barcelona; we had to!

See Food Dining   Leave a comment

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I’ve seen enough Viking Cruise-sponsored Masterpiece Theatre episodes on PBS to have sailed around the world. At least it seems that way, so when the opportunity arose to actually book a Viking ocean cruise, my husband and I grabbed it.

Unlike the river cruises, Viking’s liners on the open seas, in this case the Mediterranean, are larger. With 888 passengers, plus more than 400 crew members, the new Viking Sky is a mini-city with a Norwegian flair.

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Like other cruise ships, dining is a major activity. With six dining areas, plus the option for room service, the Viking Sky doesn’t disappoint. A recent tour of one of the galleys helped put a few things into perspective. First, there are 13 kitchens with more than 100 chefs, chefs de cuisine and sous chefs, who work 10-hour shifts to ensure that everyone on board gets more than they need to eat.

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Everything is made fresh, from the breads and pastries to pasta. Chef de cuisine Wayan explained that formulas are used to determine how much of each food item is needed on a daily basis. This involves a heavy reliance on past experience and nationality of the guests, among other factors. For example, the kitchen goes through 3,200 eggs per day!

Much more was shared on the tour and each meal on our 8-day cruise has been exceptional from crispy calamri to grilled sea bass, from fork-tender Chateaubriand to a hamburger. The combination of well-prepared dishes and exceptional service has made each meal a special dining experience.

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Roman Pizza   Leave a comment

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Mani ai Pizzeria’s doors open at 6:30 p.m. We arrived just as a small line was forming. This is a no-frills pizza joint that serves great pies and entertains, at least we were entertained by the pizzamakers. There was neither tossing nor twirling of unbaked dough, but a calm, systematic approach to churning out 15 made-to-order pizzas at a time.

2017-02-23-19-57-11We shared a mixed salad, a liter of the house red and a Margarita pizza. That was our first order before we were mesmerized by the assembly-line process with a personal touch.

Pieces of dough are pulled from a large mound and formed into the size of tennis balls. These are rolled flat and stacked. Initially, there were two men making the pies. One rolled, creating a flurry of flour, one checked supplies and fed the wood-burning oven. The maestros then methodically cover some with sauce, most with cheese – a lot of cheese – and then the specific topics that included mounds of mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, raw sausage (it cooked in the oven), more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The marble slab looked like a carpet of pizzas.

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I wondered if the first ones in the oven would be the last out. This wasn’t the case. The guys know their stuff. The pizzas are served unsliced. The crust is thin and easily folds  in half. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. We enjoyed ours so much we ordered a second just so we could keep watching — and eating!

 

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Distributing/Accepting Apologies   Leave a comment

Fredrik Backman author of the acclaimed A Man Called Ove has found a successful formula, which once again emerges in My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. The title is  a successful attention-getter – certainly more so than the earlier book. Like Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me assembles diverse characters who are, initially, only tenuously connected.

The major difference between the two novels, though, lies in the main protagonist. Here it’s seven-year-old-soon-to-be-eight Elsa. Although there are plenty of explanations for her being so precocious, Elsa’s behavior, vocabulary and thought-processes, at times, leans more to incredulity than not. Her grandmother is partly to blame and mostly to be celebrated for the young girl’s sense of curiosity, intellect and strong sense of self. But, and this is no spoiler alert since the book cover reveals as much, the grandmother dies leaving Elsa to navigate a world where being different is difficult.

Elsa is charged with delivering a series of letters written by her grandmother. They’re for tenants in the building where Elsa lives but whom she barely knows. Wanna guess what happens?

Humor and pathos move hand-in-hand throughout the narrative, which also includes fairy tales of secret lands. Again, this is thanks to Elsa’s grandmother.

I found My Grandmother Asked Me to be less engaging that Ove, but nonetheless satisfying by its conclusion. Tying up loose ends isn’t always a bad thing. It certainly fits with Backman’s storytelling technique and his ability to create interesting characters full of foibles and heart.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Four Bookmarks
Washington Square Press, 2015
372 pages

Reservations   Leave a comment

 

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It’s obvious that my husband and I are tourists in Rome. We wear expressions of awe and confusion. One thing we don’t do is always carry a guidebook. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I was surprised to count the number of people who approached Trattoria da Teo with books in hand.

Our B&B host told us about Teo’s. We didn’t know we needed reservations. The restaurant, like most in Rome, opens at 7:30. This was something many with Rick Steves and Frommer’s weren’t aware of either, but a fair number was. Perhaps the guidebooks should be more detailed. We sat in the small piazza watching people go to Teo’s door only to be turned away. We waited more than 30 minutes and once inside were told there was one remaining table available for someone without reservations.

Although this is a popular Trastevere  eatery, we weren’t wowed. The food wasn’t photogenic, but there were a few bright spots, including the lightly breaded calamari with artichokes. Read the rest of this entry »

Pesto is the Best(o)   3 comments

 

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I’d been told many times that pesto made from basil grown in the Cinque Terre is especially good. The warm sun and coastal air make the licorice-flavored herb uniquely pungent. Basil is not a mild flavor, so I was intrigued by the idea of a different, perhaps stronger taste. I ate pesto several times over the course of three days to make sure.

Rest assured, it was very good, but I think the local olive oil may also be a contributing factor. Although, each dish I sampled allowed the rich green basilica to shine. The oil did not overpower, which can be the case with some versions.

We stayed in Riomaggiore where in late February it is still the low season. We found only two restaurants open. In nearby Manarola, there were more options, but not an overwhelming  number.

My pesto dinners were surprisingly different, albeit only slightly. One, at Pizzeria da Mam’angela, featured potatoes. Osteria Maite’s had pine nuts and was a darker green, but both were mixed with perfect al dente tagliolini, a linguini-like fresh pasta.

La Scogliera in Manarola offered several options for pesto, including lasagne, gnocchi and minestrone. I had the latter. The soup was rustic and hearty . The serving was just right for a late lunch.

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At home a large serving of pasta with pesto would suffice as a meal. One night I opted to eat as Italians do and had a primi plati and a secondi plati (grilled swordfish). It was a lot of food. The second evening  I had only pasta. Perfecto!

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