Once Upon A Success!

There are many things I do well. I’m trying to think of one. Never mind.

I’ve been transparent about my shortcomings. My friends (you are my friends, right?) seem to enjoy hearing about my kitchen snafus. It softens the sting of failure to frame culinary disasters in the humorous light of story. Then, like so many other things in life we tell ourselves, the tale I’ve woven to make others laugh becomes my belief.

There. We’ve gotten the deep philosophical lesson out of the way.

No segue here – just stream-of-consciousness because my thoughts tonight are all-over-the-place and I don’t care if you see the scrambled brain I have to deal with to pull together a coherent piece of writing. By the end it will all make sense.

I hope.

I’ve noticed a change since isolation first began. Back then, I was diligent to a fault, going nowhere, washing every berry and leaf that entered my house and hanging my grocery bags in the sun for a few days to disinfect. At that time, Bali had one death and no active cases of the virus.

To be fair, I’d just come from Italy where infections were rampant and I was more than a little freaked.

That was four months ago.

Yesterday my gorgeous young neighbor came over for our weekly chat. Normally I’d have changed clothes, combed my hair, slapped on a dash of lipstick and at least attempted to be presentable. She was right on time, as always. My hands were in the dishpan. (We can’t hug anyway.) As I wiped them dry I shrugged and said, “Hey. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I didn’t even try to get cute for you.”

Her explosion of laughter was no doubt heard in the next village. “I can’t believe you said that.” She shook her head to emphasize her disbelief. “Normally I’d find a tank top that was a little form-fitting but…” she grabbed a hunk of loose fabric. “These are my pajamas!”

The longer this altered reality continues the more relaxed I become, which makes no sense because now the numbers of cases here are climbing fast. This is when I should be ultra vigilant. But I seem to have expended all my survival energy in those first scary weeks.

Other obsessions have come and gone. Cooking, for instance.

At the beginning, cooking was something to do at home that helped pass too many empty hours that flipped over like a book of blank pages. Making food gave me purpose – and something to eat.

I couldn’t believe how much enjoyment I milked out of experimenting with new recipes in my limited kitchen.

And then…nothing.

The desire to cook left as magically as it had come. Jigsaw puzzles became the new time-eater to soften the brunt of nothing to do and all day to do it.

After jigsaw, my writing mojo miraculously resurfaced and I finished the novel I’ve been working on for three years…really finished it…the final rewrite…DONE.

Today, wonder of wonders, my desire to cook returned.

But this time I went with something tried and true, something I know how to do well: stove-top granola. And because it’s more delicious than anything you’ll ever find on the grocery shelf, and because I want you to believe I don’t fail every time, here’s my process in step-by-step photos so you can try it yourself.

WORLDS’ BEST GRANOLA

  • Prepare about 1 cup each of dried apricots (cut into pieces) and raisins then set aside
  • Put 1/3 cup cold-pressed virgin coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan
  • Add 3/4 cup each raw sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
  • On top of the seeds add 2 cups dried coconut flakes
  • Pour 4 cups rolled oats on top of the coconut flakes
  • Thoroughly mix so the oily seeds are distributed throughout
  • Turn gas flame on high (electric range owners you’re on your own)
  • With a broad spatula continuously rotate the contents at the bottom of the pan to the top so it doesn’t burn
  • When the coconut flakes start turning brown (about 4 minutes) remove the pan from the heat but continue stirring for another minute while the pan cools
  • Mix in the apricots and raisins

Now comes the secret that makes this granola the worlds’ best…

  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (I use pink Himalayan salt but it’s not required) to 1 teaspoon powdered stevia leaf and mix well

Warning! Do NOT use the white, processed, sugar substitute with the disgusting aftertaste! Use pure stevia leaf. It’s green.

  • Sprinkle one-half of the salt/stevia over the mixture in the pan. Stir well then sprinkle the rest and mix again.

The salty-sweetness without a trace of sugar makes this not only the world’s best granola, but very possibly the world’s healthiest.

WALLAH!

This Corporate Escapee loves her granola. And how about that? I didn’t try to get cute for you, either.

After the dream…what?

Sometimes I feel almost normal. I wake up without hyperventilating. The sunrise is splendid. Roosters crow and doves coo. The aroma of my neighbor’s coffee prompts me to brew my own. The beans are organic Kintamani Arabica and they’re almost gone. Mental note: order coffee.

By this time I have a plan for the day. I’ll take a walk.

Trust me, it’s a plan. For three months I barely left my house. Now there are a few – very few – cafes opening and I’ve begun to venture out. First there was Monsieur Spoon for coffee and almond cake. I was a bit traumatized – can you tell?

Then a daring evening out at Mingle.

So far so good. This week I tried Tropical View, a picturesque restaurant overlooking a rice paddy next to Monkey Forest. The nachos were great.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a consistent theme…

No people.

Today my walk took me along Monkey Forest Road. Normally at 2:00 in the afternoon this time of year the sidewalks are crammed with tourists and exhaust from cars and motorbikes inching their way along Ubud’s narrow streets clogs the air. COVID has changed all that.

There wasn’t a single moving vehicle on this stretch, and I was the only pedestrian.

It takes a fair amount of numbing to manage the silence without feeling like a dream has died. So many dreams. I tell myself to enjoy the peace while it lasts only to remember the article I read that said recovery may take two years.

That’s a lot of peace.

It isn’t just here. Ubud is a snapshot of the rest of the world. As I walked I tried to imagine how I could force a positive spin on this situation, at least for Bali. There are thousands of unemployed who are in desperate need of the basics for survival. Some have gardens so food for them isn’t a worry. The ingenuity of others has spawned new services. But for the vast majority…

As I passed the soccer field I had my answer. If there’s no work, there’s an over-abundance of one commodity: time.

Plenty of time to fly kites.

What were you doing in May 2012?

I’m fortunate. I’ve been writing blog posts since February, 2012. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing in May of that year.

Who cares?

Perhaps we all should.

According to astrologers world-wild, the configurations in the heavens for the next few weeks are exactly as they were in May of 2012. Whatever you seeded eight years ago in your life is either flowering or dying, says Lorna Bevan of Hare in the Moon Astrology. It’s an opportunity to see what no longer serves us and change the game.

I moved to Bali in spring of 2012 and was confronted with the strangeness of time. The Balinese have a name for it: jam karet. All the familiar markers were gone. There weren’t five-day workweeks with weekends off. The sun rose around 6:30 a.m. and set at approximately 6:30 p.m. giving equal parts darkness and light. I had nothing to do and all day to do it – jam karet – rubber time – a new concept for me.

I remember waking up with my heart pounding one morning thinking, “Do I have time to do yoga?” It took my nervous system months to settle down. But it did.

Eight years later, with no appointments, no meetings, no deadlines, confined to my home with strict parameters around socializing, time has once again taken on a strange shape. It loops around turning back on itself and I’m reminded of the symbol for infinity.

I ask myself, What’s the lesson here? Am I not moving slowly enough? Have I fallen into a time management sinkhole abusing my allotment for this incarnation? What’s important? What really needs my attention?

My days fly by much more quickly than before which is strange. But when I look ahead time stretches, an endless blur of uncertainty. Can perceptions of time be foreshortened and elongated simultaneously?

As I write I know that every situation is different. There is unimaginable suffering. People have lost jobs, fortunes, loved ones. Some didn’t have jobs to begin with. Some are sick. Some are wondering how long they can keep their companies afloat. Some are barely clinging to life. I’m aware these exist, yet I can only speak with authenticity to my own reality.

I’m retired. I’m old. I’m healthy.

I have the incredible privilege of doing only what I want to do, no more, no less, and doing it at exactly the moment it feels best. If I had children, a partner, a spouse, a job, or if I needed to find a job or my next meal, I wouldn’t experience time the same way. And time wouldn’t be my lesson.

As weeks go by and I observe the ebb and flow of moods, the flashes of inspiration, the voids where my mind doesn’t want to engage with anything, I pretend not to notice what’s happening.

But today I had to admit, after a moment of shock and denial, that I like this better – the sensation of timelessness.

The feeling that it doesn’t matter whether I accomplish anything of great importance or not. That life itself is enough. That the experience of this pandemic is enough. To soak in the essence of uncertainty, to watch fears appear then leave, to have spurts of great energy then spend a day with my nose in a book, to miss my children and grandchildren but be grateful they’re doing well…

to commune with clouds…

is enough.

The ego-driven push to accomplish, to produce, to be recognized, is irrelevant to the person I need to become.

If what I hear is true, this is just the beginning of a monumental shift in life as we knew it. Right now we’re in the crucible that will transform us into the kind of people we must be to thrive in whatever comes next. It’s different for each of us.

Taken in that context, these weeks that melt into months are extremely important. It behooves us to pay attention to our discomforts, to look at what isn’t working and maybe hasn’t worked for a long time. To ask the tough questions and search for honest answers.

When life once again resumes beyond my front door, if I’ve learned my lessons sufficiently well, I don’t expect to recognize myself.

The Future of Airline Travel

I’ve done pretty well so far, staying in the present, managing thoughts, focusing on what I can control. Then I read an article in Forbes about the future of airline travel. It was too real. My mood plummeted and I did nothing to stop it.

AirAsia new uniforms

Ketut’s message came just as I was about to slit my wrists.

Saya sudah mulai menanam.

I grabbed my flip-flops, and ran. For the next hour I didn’t think about immunity passports, disinfection tunnels, sanitation fogging, on-the-spot blood tests, thermal scanning, or four-hour check-ins.

I just watched Ketut plant the garden.

My relatives farmed. Uncle Olaf was a commercial potato grower. Uncle Daniel had acres of greenhouses. Uncle Nils earned his PhD in horticulture. Uncle John raised beef cattle. Dad grew apples, raspberries, fields of alfalfa, and kept bees. We always had sweetclover honey. So, you see, I’ve witnessed a few gardens in my time. They were things of orderly beauty: straight rows, weeded, mulched, tended with care.

Perhaps in my mind I’d envisioned something similar for my backyard Bali project.

When I burst through the door, there was Ketut, hacking a trench in the sun-baked earth.

“You already started, Ketut.”

He stood and pointed out cabbage and tomato seedlings. Their tender green leaves peeked bravely through the clumpy dirt. “Thirty tomatoes, ten cabbages…no…eleven…they gave extra.”

“What’s this one?”

“Petsai. You know petsai?”

“Yes, Napa cabbage. I love it.”

He resumed chopping the earth and I studied the mounds of plants awaiting his attention. Among them was a pile of short sticks sharpened at one end. I picked one up. “Ketut, what are these for?”

“That’s cassava. Tree grows two meters. Very tall. Roots are good for eating – strong flavor.”

“You’re telling me you plant these sticks and a cassava tree grows?”

“Ya.”

Once upon I time I would have argued that you can’t just pop a stick in the soil and grow a tree. That was Minnesota Sherry. I know better now.

A few minutes later he called my attention to a droopy bush he’d just planted. “This one’s bayam,” he said.

“Spinach. I love spinach but it looks a little sick.”

“Jetlag,” he laughed. “Stress.”

Hilarious. Where does he come up with his off-the-cuff humor? On second thought, I guess that one’s obvious. Ketut’s been at the airport to meet me after every, grueling, thirty-plus-hour return trip from the States. He knows the jetlagged look well. But I don’t want to be reminded about air travel, past or future. Definitely not future.

We chatted about this and that as he worked. I marveled at his matter-of-fact confidence, his economy of motion, always moving but never in a hurry. I’d have studied, measured, plotted, planned. It would have taken days. Ketut, the garden guru, laughed and joked while weaving his magic.

Besides cabbages, tomatoes, cassava, and spinach, we have onions, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal. The garden already boasted a lemon tree, key lime and chili bushes, and a cluster of banana trees. If the carrot, cucumber, and watermelon seeds Ketut planted in an old egg carton germinate, there’ll be even more abundance.

It took an hour, including hosing down the whole shebang to give it a nice soak, and it was done. I thanked Ketut, bid him good evening, and went back to my quarters.

What a difference. All gloom was gone. Garden time soothes and nobody can stay morose for long around Ketut’s happy energy. The future will be what the future will be and no doubt it will have juicy red tomatoes in it. In this uncertain world, I’m almost certain of that.

My Exceptionially Brilliant Idea for Old Plastic Bags

Perhaps I’m not meant to have a quiet life, even in lockdown.

I thought I was getting close:

  • Rats and rat guys – dismissed
  • Snakes – gone
  • Mosquitoes – fogged
  • Monkeys – fact of life. Nothing short of fireworks deters them, but the sounds of heavy artillery at six a.m. is off-putting. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the neighbors commenced blasting. I was sure we were being bombed and almost fled with the screaming monkeys. Two days later they were back. Nothing scares them for long.

Then…

Bats.

My eaves overhang the terrace creating a cozy night’s lodging for the local bat community.

At first it was only one just a few times a month. Then he brought two friends. The three of them came every night and feasted on fruits until midnight or later, dropping the pits with a resounding CLONK on my hollow metal railings. Every morning new gifts of poop, pee, and cast-offs from their evening meal dripped from the railings and mounded on the floor.

Cleaning up after them was annoying, but the racket they made was worse. I couldn’t sleep.

After a particularly loud night I’d had enough. What would stop these party-goers from overnighting at my place? A string of blinking twinkle lights? Nowhere to plug them in. A row of wind chimes? More noise.

A picture of Tibetan prayer flags flashed in my mind. Maybe, just maybe…

My imagination went to work. I had scraps of fabric from a recent change in home decor. I could cut and stitch. But in this climate they’d get moldy and faded in no time.

What else?

Just then Ketut arrived with my morning produce fresh from the market. Bali forbids plastic bags in grocery stores but traditional market vendors bag and double bag in plastic. I refuse to discard them so I have a growing collection.

A light went on. I could turn my plastic bags into plastic flags. They’d rustle ever so slightly in any breeze, they’d weather well, and it would be quick work with a pair of scissors and stapler. I even had a spool of enough pink plastic ribbon to span the nine meter (thirty ft.) stretch of overhang.

I set to work.

In a little over an hour I’d finished. Just as I looped my handiwork over the daybed to keep it from tangling, Ketut walked in.

Whaaaaat? He likes to elongate that word when he thinks I’ve done something particularly…shall we say…unusual?

I couldn’t hide my excitement. Proyek baru, Ketut! I told him it was to keep bats away and would he get the ladder and hang the flags for me please.

He gave me an odd look. Did you see this on Google? he asked.

No, Ketut. It was my own idea.

He appeared unconvinced and went to get the ladder.

As he attached my brilliant creation under the eaves he queried again, You saw on Google, ya?

I was indignant. What? You think you’re the only one around here with good ideas?

He chuckled and seemed satisfied.

I waited until I made certain it worked to tell the story and I’m thrilled to say I’ve had two solid bat poop, bat pee, CLONK-free nights. It’s heaven.

If only I could devise such a simple solution for monkeys…

Mood Management 101

I used to know what I wanted. I had a dream. My assumptions about the future allowed me that freedom.

Now my world is probably similar to yours, a basic box with X number of rooms where we are told to remain, with only a few exceptions for intermittent escape. And like an animal that’s been in captivity for a long time, even if the gate opened I probably wouldn’t venture through it – not right away.

The uncertainty of the future sucks all potential out of dreams. Dreams need to anchor in something solid to feel achievable. Unless your dream exists within the rooms in your box, or the pixels in your computer, it has probably already evaporated.

Nothing in our prior experience prepared us for this un-reality. I’ve found the best way to successfully navigate uncharted waters is to manage that over which I still have control.

****

People spending so much time at home begin to notice things that have probably irritated them for years but they were too busy to address. My sister and her husband decided to redo the water system in their kitchen and move the sink.

A nearby neighbor fixed a leaky drain pipe. Then he dug a new septic tank. (This is Bali. You can do that here!)

Stuck in my studio apartment I suddenly needed more elbow-room. It took a day of grunting, groaning, and pushing furniture from side-to-side and back again, but I managed to creatively reconfigure the contents to my satisfaction.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #1 – Become industrious in your own space. It’s one place where you still have control. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, repairing, or rearranging furniture, it shifts attention off the computer, the phone, the news, and away from doom and gloom.

****

A Facebook friend began a Get-Healthy-and-Lose-Weight routine January 1st. She posted the other day that as of April 30th she’d lost 37.5 pounds (17 kg) and social distancing has made it easier.

Another acquaintance funneled his anger and feelings of helplessness into poetic verse. He said he never tried poetry before but it keeps him focused on the rhyme instead of the reason. His poems hold to strict anapestic meter with an AABBA rhyme scheme and they’re brilliant.

Then there’s the friend who left an abusive relationship after many years. In close quarters it finally became intolerable.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #2 – Practice extreme self-care. It’s another thing you can control. We have to become aware of how this pressure-cooker situation is affecting us personally. It impacts everyone differently. Individuals handle it according to their stress-management ability and it’s a challenge even for those who are stable, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy.

****

My Airbnb host in Italy went into total lockdown with his family fifty-three days ago. His school-age children were sent home to learn online. All income for both him and his wife ceased. They are just now being allowed a brief walk outside. He messaged me: Can go nowhere, do nothing, not even sex. (Spoken like a true Italian!)

There are similar stories world-wide. How do people cope with a life turned up-side-down then put on hold? We aren’t used to moving so slowly, not in our bodies and not through time. It rubs the wrong way. We experience shifting emotions: anger, denial, rejection, alarm, resistance, anxiety, panic, and potentially, terror.

Our nervous systems must undergo re-calibration. This can occur consciously or unconsciously and it makes a difference. What happens in the mind manifests in the body for better or worse. Happiness boosts immunity and resists disease. Stress in all its various forms attacks the immune system and invites illness.

If we allow ourselves to get sucked into the downward spin of endless news reports…

If we let anxiety crawl under our skin until we’re so antsy we want to scream (and maybe we do)…

If we feel helpless without our familiar routines and fail to create new ones…

If we sit on the couch watching hours of TV, numbing-out with alcohol or drugs…

…we wont’ survive intact. Something will give, either mentally or physically.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #3 – Push the reset button. Your mind is the third thing over which you have control. Right now the definition of happiness doesn’t fit the situation: Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. Yeah…no. Let’s change the word happiness to positivity.

It’s tough, but it IS a choice. We don’t have to dwell on the horror of death and disease even though that’s all anyone thinks or talks about. We can focus on the things we can control: home improvement or self-care projects, hobbies, culinary experiments, online classes or exercise routines. (I saw one on jump-roping. The guy was a machine.) Upon waking in the morning we can resist the urge to check the news and instead look at the sky and breathe a word of gratitude for another day of life.

It takes intention and willpower, but it is possible to observe our minds and manage our moods. If thoughts begin to slip into dark places, we can acknowledge that this is a crazy-making time and adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward self-destructive energies.

And there’s one fall-back activity that never fails…

Take a nap.

The life-or-death importance of how to properly eat an egg

The cover of The Lilliputians Newspaper April 25, 2016

My world is Lilliputian. The reality sinks in a little more each day. It’s an adventure to go from my door down the steps to the garden with my parcel of compost, heave it into the bin, pick up the few leaves that have fallen during the night, and back upstairs again. If I were a citizen of Lilliput and only six inches tall, that would be a herculean undertaking. I’d have a hero’s welcome when I returned. If I returned.

Last night, however, there was real excitement.

In the morning the monkeys came as usual. When I caught one trying to crack open a coconut on the ceramic tiles at the entrance to my door, I grabbed a stick and made loud, threatening sounds. He ran but I could hear him pounding again somewhere on the roof.

Out of sight, out of mind. Eventually the pounding stopped.

During the day I made my famous spicy sweet potato dip and bribed my neighbor. If she would do a Tarot reading for me, I’d ply her with rice crackers and dip. It doesn’t take much to lure either one of us from our separate isolation quarters.

It was a fabulous reading. I got the answers I needed. Then we did hers, paying no attention as a storm rolled in and rain pummeled the roof. Deep in spicy dip and Tarot, nothing could distract us.

Around eight p.m. she took her leave. The rain had stopped. Five minutes later my phone dinged. It was a WhatsApp message from my neighbor. There’s water pouring out of the light fixtures.

I rushed downstairs.

It was a flood of epic proportions. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom floors were wading pools. Half of her thick foam mattress topper was soaked. Rivulets of water trailed down the walls and streamed from can lights in the ceiling. She’d gotten a shock when she touched the light switch.

It was no mystery what had happened. The monkey, in his attempt to crack open the coconut, had broken fragile terracotta roof tiles. From the amount of water I seriously doubted there was any roof left.

It had only been eight days since I sent faithful household manager Ketut, home and told him to stay there and stay safe for the month of April. In a panic I called and relayed the story.

This morning he arrived, his perpetual sunny smile in place, and by noon the broken roof was fixed.

To revisit the Lilliputian reference, remember Gulliver’s Travels, the political satire written by Jonathan Swift in 1726?

When the small boat Gulliver was traveling in ran upon rocks, he swam to the island of Lilliput where he walked ashore and fell asleep. When he awoke he was surrounded by people less than six inches tall. They had tied him to the ground with hundreds of tiny ropes. He could easily break free, but he didn’t want to frighten them so allowed himself to be restrained until he’d gained their trust.

Gulliver learned that the Lilliputians were at war with a neighboring country. The source of their conflict was a disagreement over the proper way to eat an egg. He agreed to help them.

In Bali and elsewhere, people are being encouraged to shelter in place. But those of us doing so are a bit like Gulliver. We’re allowing ourselves to be restrained.

In time, cooped up in tight quarters, even if it’s done willingly, patience grows short, tempers flare, and something as ridiculous as the proper way to eat an egg can become the most important priority of life. Be on the lookout for such silliness and take a step back to consider before you engage.

If the enemy is external, say monkeys for instance…

I also had to take a step back and remember they were here first. I’m the shipwrecked giant washed up on their shores, the scary stranger who consumes their food and ruins their environment. The issue isn’t the proper way to eat an egg. It’s domination. Who gets to be here and what price do we pay to stay?

Right now we’re paying the price of our massive consumption of wilderness at the expense of the animal life it supports. If winning this war against disease means going back to the way things were, we’ve lost. That reality is unsustainable. That’s what got us where we are.

If losing means learning how to eat an egg their way, we’ve won. But nobody knows what that looks like. And nobody knows who ‘they’ are.

Greetings Fellow Dystopians

I don’t recognize this new world we’ve awakened to.

Yesterday Ketut went home to spend two days with his family. This morning I got word that the island is preparing to lock down. Stock up, was the warning.

I’d already placed a big order with Indimete – it was delivered today.

I messaged Ketut a grocery list and requested enough fruits and veggies to last a month. It seemed safer for him to shop in his village and avoid the masses that flood Ubud market. After he brings my food supply tomorrow, I’ll send him back to his family to shelter in place for the rest of April.

Then my doors will close and I’ll hunker in.

Fortunately for me, a like-minded friend moved in downstairs this week. There’s a great deal of comfort having another virus-free human to interact with. I know myself well enough to realize I can do ‘alone’ if I must. The mental equipment for solitary survival is in place. But it would be harder. Much harder.

I don’t discount the connections I make with people who respond to my writing. They’re heartwarming. During my thirty-three-day ‘silent retreat’ in Italy (silent only because I didn’t speak the language) social media was my saving grace. But there’s nothing like a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood friend who recognizes the deer-in-headlights stare and pours a glass of wine!

A line in a book I’ve been reading, Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, struck me as having significance for the current situation. (A writer friend, Steve Castley, would tell me I need a transition between this paragraph and the one before, and he’s right. I beg forgiveness.) Here’s that inspirational line:

An abyss cannot be crossed in two steps.

It’s like my grocery order. I’m sure Ketut was surprised to get a Whatsapp list of twenty-six items in large quantities when my usual request is four in small amounts. And he was probably even more shocked to hear he gets a month’s paid vacation. But the time for hesitation has passed. I heeded the warning and leaped the abyss.

Too many leaders are doing the two-step maneuver with deadly results. Don’t take your cues from them. Be proactive with your own health and that of your family. This disease waits for no one.

Food for thought: Perhaps reflect on a time in the past when you’ve tried to cross the abyss in two steps. Then make a commitment to leap from now on.

Food Glorious Food Glorious Fooooood!

I’ve embraced food-love.

Not just the flavors and nutritional value for my body, but the beauty, the colors and textures, the rugged heartiness or delicate elegance of the visuals (and victuals) on my plate.

I still prefer simplicity. One dish well-prepared delights me far more than a variety. I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m too easily stimulated by flavors. Maybe my palette gets confused and goes into overwhelm.

Whatever the reason, I’m much happier going deep into the complexities of a single entrée than sampling many. A table groaning with selections thrills some. Maybe they’re the true foodies. But for me, in quantities of food and friends, less is more.

Speaking of friends, small-talk, the inane chatter between people who don’t know each other well and may not care to, is painful for me. It’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets where you leave grossly stuffed but haven’t really tasted anything. I’ve taken new acquaintances aback when, after a few minutes of chit-chat I say, “So…tell me about your childhood.” The ones who reply, You first, are friends for life.

Food and friends. The two go hand-in-glove, don’t they? I hadn’t intended to write about friends – they just slipped in. But it makes sense. Sharing the daily repast is probably part of our DNA from the beginning. I don’t think Eve ate Adam’s rib. But she did offer him an apple – which didn’t end well. Hmm. Bad analogy. However, I think historically speaking, breaking bread together has been a peaceful endeavor, not an act of war.

But about the photos…

That’s lentil stew ladled atop the brick-hard bread I’ve raved about. I paired it with Sartori Pinot Grigio. A red wine would have been too heavy. Even though the slices of spicy salami I boiled first, created an intensely flavorful stock, and the chunk of bread added heft, the white complemented beautifully without overpowering.

In spite of the stunning meals I’ve had here, I was missing my Bali breakfast of homemade granola and coconut yogurt, topped with tropical fruit. On my next trip to Tutto per Tutti market I scanned the cereals on offer and came home with Kelloggs All Bran, a container of Yomo plain yogurt, bananas and strawberries – not quite dragon fruit and papaya but adequate.

The first day I ate it with yogurt. The following day I ate it without. It was either surprisingly good or I’ve completely forgotten the taste of my other life.

My latest achievement is a stew identical to the first, but this time I added kale and more garlic. Not only that, there are still plenty of bread boulders to submerge in the broth for exciting crunchy mouthfuls. That bread! I wish I could bring a year’s supply back with me – although it wouldn’t be the same in Bali’s climate. A bit heavy perhaps…?

I’m loving this – the prep and eating of food. I wouldn’t want to devote my life to it, but it’s fun for an hour or so during the day.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the lyrics to the last stanza of Food Glorious Food from the musical, Oliver:

What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Magical food,
Wonderful food
marvelous food,
Beautiful food,
Food, Glorious food glorious fooooooood

Cooking in Italy – I Love You Felicia!

It was a three-hour meal. A three-hour, gourmet, how many courses I don’t know, Italian, homemade meal. Thank you Felicia. I love you Felicia.

I was told to come at twelve o’clock. I’d been to the house a week ago for a brief introduction but Nicola sent a picture of the doorway to ensure I would find it again.

I was certain it was somewhere on the same stairway that I travel almost every day. Ten minutes should be plenty of time to get there. I labored to the top passing many doors but not THAT door. I must have missed it…how? Impossible! Back down. Still no door. Back up to the top. Breathing hard. No internet. Cannot call for help. Panic. Maybe it wasn’t this stairway.

It wasn’t.

At 11:58 I found the right stairway. At 11:59 I found the door.

Nicola greeted me and I followed him to the kitchen where Felicia was already hard at work. Moist air, heavy with the scents of Italy, wrapped around me like a mother’s hug. Then Felicia gave me the real thing with the two-cheeks kiss that is customary here and cooking class began.

First it was totano – a variety of squid caught in the rocky depths close to the coast. Nicola explained the totano found near the shore are red, but those caught farther out to sea where the bottom is sandy are white and the flavor isn’t as good. These, he said, were red ones.

Fresh from the frying pan into the mouth. Hot and…oh, my! The flesh was delicate, so tender and sweet. “How many totano does it take to make all this?” I asked. Nicola translated my question. Felicia opened the fridge and pulled out a monster.

“Grande!” I said, backing up a few steps. They laughed.

Nicola had to run an errand. Suddenly Felicia and I were on our own to navigate the language as best we could. I connected to her internet and brought up Google Translate. I’d come prepared with a list of questions, first in English so I’d know what I was asking, then in Italian so I could practice the language.

It was great. She got every question immediately, even though I stumbled and bumbled and massacred the words. Her answers were long, emphatic, emotional – even Google couldn’t follow. Nonetheless, we managed, and had good laughs in the process.

When the last tentacled leg of squid had been fried, I was moved out of the kitchen to a table on the terrace set for four and told to sit. The plate of crispy totano was set in front of me followed by a bowl of buffalo mozzarella, then salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, bread, and wine.

Mangiare, my hostess said. I started to ask if others were coming but she interrupted. Mangiare! Mangiare! and disappeared into the kitchen. Like it or not, I was to eat regardless of three empty chairs awaiting other guests.

I nibbled on a leg of squid. Love that stuff. Helped myself to one of the smaller balls of mozzarella and a strip of prosciutto savoring the contrast of the salty meat with creamy cheese. Every so often Felicia made an appearance to re-issue her command, Mangiare, mangiare!

When I couldn’t mangiare another bite, I ventured back into the kitchen.

Tomato sauce bubbled on the stove. I asked her what ingredients she’d used. Pomodoro, olio, acciuga, origano, basilico, acqua. She ticked them off on her fingers. I’ve been grocery shopping often enough now to know all of the words except acciuga. She spelled as I typed and up popped anchovies. Is that the mystery ingredient that makes Italian tomato sauce a culinary triumph?

I pointed to another pot. Melanzana, she said but this time didn’t let me Google it. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out an eggplant then motioned me to the windowsill. Mozzarella, parmigiano, and pecorino cheeses waited in majolica bowls.

Basilico, she said, laughed, and flung open the window.

Basil doesn’t get any fresher than that.

It was time for pasta. As she poured it into the kettle I asked what kind it was. Scialatielli, she said. I’d never heard of it. She showed me the label.

I decided to throw in a few more questions while the pasta cooked. “Where did you meet Rafaele,” I asked. She looked confused. I tried again. “Where did you meet your husband?” I understood the word for school in her answer and the sparkle in her eyes told me the rest.

“Did he chase you?” Oh, the laughter.

“All the way from the school to the sea,” she said, motioning the trajectory down the mountainside with a sweep of her arms.

“What did Rafaele do for work?” Again she looked confused. “Rafaele, your husband,” I said.

If I thought she’d laughed before, this time tears squirted from her eyes. I double-checked the the word for husband. It appeared correct. When she was finally able to speak, she said, “Rafaele is my brother. Gaetano is my husband.”

I was shocked to my toenails. I thought the old man sitting with his walker was her father. Come to find out, she’s seventy-nine and he’s eighty but he broke both hips this year and is housebound. She takes care of him.

“I’m sorry, Felicia. That’s hard.” She agreed.

Just then Nicola returned from his trip to Positano and joined us. Out came the pasta, biscotti, and wine. The empty chairs were filled and we had our translator back.

I’d been a wee bit skittish about the anchovies – I’m not a fan. But they did their job. The pasta was magnificent.

When I was certain I couldn’t eat another morsel, out came Felicia with an enormous bowl of fresh fruit, chiacchiere, and a pineapple upside-down cake.

The slab of cake she cut for me could have served four people. But did I eat it? You better believe I did, then drank the little cup of Neapolitano mocha espresso which guaranteed I would stay awake to finish this post even in a food coma!

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What an amazing day. What special people. What spectacular food. “Now you can go home to Bali and make this dinner for all your friends,” Nicola said as I bid them farewell.

You know what, friends? Don’t hold your breath!

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