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I was lying in bed this morning thinking about which café I’d take my out-of-town cousin and her cousin to when we met today, when it dawned on me to actually invite them home to lunch. I knew instantly that I would serve my go-to Italian spinach pie that I have been making for years. Almost everyone I have made this pie for has asked me for the recipe, and today was no different.

My spinach pie was a regular for our bookclub, it has provided comfort for a friend and her family, it works as an hors d’oeuvres with drinks, it’s the perfect lunch recipe with a salad (my favourite with this pie is a cherry tomato, roast pepper and mozzarella salad), can be eaten hot or cold, and so is great for a picnic or for making ahead.

Erbazzone – isn’t it fun to say? – hails from Emilia-Romagna in Italy (a part of Italy I’ve not yet visited) and, as with any traditional recipe, the ingredients vary; some recipes use eggs (I just use one), some add bacon or pancetta, and the vegetables in it need to be green and leafy, but don’t have to be spinach. I always cheat and use pre-made flaky puff pastry sheets and a 500g bag of frozen spinach, and if I’m feeling lazy (90% of the time) I’ll throw in a 100g packet of grated parmesan, but I do always make fresh breadcrumbs with four or five slices of bread. The recipe is very forgiving, and so it doesn’t matter if I have more spinach, or accidentally make more breadcrumbs that I need, and if I end up with more filling than expected, I treat it as a bonus, and add an extra pastry sheet for another, smaller pie.

So, because I wanted to do something different on my blog today, I thought I’d share it with you by providing a link to Julie Biuso’s food blog, as I use her recipe (though there are many others on the internet) from her Long Italian Lunch cookbook, and feel that I owe her many thanks for this fantastic recipe.

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Monday Miscellaneous

September and October in New Zealand (and I believe Australia) is birthday season. One day last week I had four Fb friends with birthdays, we passed what would have been my mother’s 84th birthday, and today it is my baby sister’s birthday, and I have to admit that it is scary the big numbers she has tallied up – because that means I have even bigger numbers.

Today also is day 13 of illness for my husband, and day 11 for me, and although we’re both feeling a little better, a venture out to the supermarket has left me feeling exhausted.

Last week was disappointing worldwide, and personally I felt it, as an overseas friend (one I haven’t met for 30+ years, but we are still Facebook friends) made what seemed to me to be a kneejerk response to the reaction to her chosen President’s actions, and so criticised Puerto Rico, its people and the San Juan mayor in a way that I simply felt was beneath her, and that made me sad. But my long-standing policy on Fb is not to get involved in political debates, so although I said nothing at the time, I still feel it’s needed here.

You know how people say that if you haven’t used something or worn an article of clothing in the last year then you should throw them out? I have to say that I disagree entirely, both for clothing (eg last summer I didn’t need my most summery summer clothes at all) and for possessions. This winter we’ve been enjoying soup for lunch quite regularly, and I was happy to rediscover some pottery soup bowls I’ve had for perhaps 20 years or more though I’ve not used them for several years, and they have been perfect for our lunches. Unfortunately, my husband broke one, but he was doing the dishes so I’m not really complaining!

My major project at the moment is sorting through hundreds of photographs from our trip. Both my husband and I had cameras – his a compact but with an enviable 40x zoom lens, and mine a mirrorless with interchangeable lenses – and we snapped away merrily at anything that took our interest.

There’s a point of view, often expressed scathingly, that those of us who like to take photographs (I’m focused on travel photography, rather than events or family gatherings) become observers, rather than staying in the moment, really experiencing what is around us. I heard this opinion again recently on the radio here, and then saw another article about it, and I have to confess that I’m getting a bit sick of the holier-than-thou attitudes of those who profess it. They seem to assume that photographers just want bragging photos they can put up on Instagram or Facebook and that by looking through a lens, we’re not actually looking with our eyes. As with anything, there are always extremes, and I like to walk the middle road.

I take photographs, but either before I take shots or after or both, I drink in the experiences. We spend a lot of money on our travels, and I am determined to embrace them – the sights, sounds, food, and feelings – to the limit. As I am a writer, I like to fully experience something so that I can describe it later. For every photograph of a fjord in Norway or a grand building in St Petersburg or every volcanic cone or lava field in Iceland there were dozens taken in my mind or written about in my head, and believe me, they take much more concentration and awareness of where I am and what is happening around me.

When I take photographs, I try to capture what had me gasping in awe, or laughing in amusement, or reeling in horror, in those photos. Whilst I’m an opportunistic photographer – I take what is in front of me (or within easy walk!), rather than carefully planning and composing shots – I also try to think about what I’m taking, and why I am taking it. I’m not good at taking photographs of people, as I feel rude and voyeuristic, though I adore looking at others’ shots of interesting people or people in interesting places. I wish I was braver!

I find thinking about composition or zooming in gives me an added appreciation of the view or events in front of me. Zooming, in particular, allows me to capture small nuances that might otherwise be missed. For example, I’ve learned a new appreciation and love of birds since I’ve had a camera that could capture them in detail. And sometimes there might be an unexpected bonus when we look at our zoomed-in image.

For example, here’s a long shot of a farmhouse dwarfed under a rock face, and then the close-up when we were able to find an off-road park.

But I was truly delighted when we got home to discover that this shot included a lot of old turf buildings outside the main farmhouse.

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The unexpected turf buildings

Blown up they’re grainy, but even when I look at the long shot, I now know they’re there, and it tells me so much more about Iceland and farming life and living there in the past.

I don’t take photographs just for Instagram. In fact, until we left on this trip I didn’t even have an Instagram account, and I probably posted more photos (maybe one or two every couple of days) on Facebook for family and friends who were interested. Equally, because I adore travel, I also adore seeing other people’s photographs too.

I don’t take selfies for a lot of reasons. But when they’re too frequent – they always seem to be more about the person (“look at me, look at me, look at me,” as Kath would say) than the place or events occurring where they are. Though my father always said that he liked to see a photograph with a person in it, so we always take a few shots with one of us in it or both, and likewise, when family or a friend is travelling, I love seeing their faces pop up in exotic places. Most recently I’ve loved seeing friends’ faces in Istanbul and Macchu Picchu and Scotland.

Unlike a lot of people, I actually do things with my photographs when I get home, and love looking back at favourite trips in our photobooks (and albums in the pre-digital days), or with the photos hung on my wall or the ones that flick up in my screensaver (which is one of the best ways to regularly see your favourite photos). I have a good memory for people and places – but seeing the photos keep the memories alive. And besides, it means we’re getting better value for money for those flights and accommodation every time I look at a photo and smile.

It’s not a case of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Many of the most memorable occasions on our trip could not be captured in a photograph. Driving across the vast sand and ash plains of southern Iceland, desperate to beat the predicted high winds that could sandblast our rental car (and empty our bank accounts), was a bit scary but quite exhilarating. Likewise, it was wonderful driving through the huge lava fields of southern Iceland, enjoying the textures and play of light of the lichen and moss growing on the lava, imagining what it must have been like as the lava flowed. The three or more hours we spent sailing through an archipelago of islands when leaving Sweden gave us a wonderful snippet of rural and weekend Swedish life. Standing out on the deck of our ship as it spun on a pinpoint in the river in St Petersburg, pushed and pulled at the same time by tugs, was a special treat few would ever get to experience. Photographs couldn’t really capture these experiences (although I tried), and yet these were such special parts of our trip.

My name is Mali, and I unashamedly like taking photographs. Doing so helps me stay in the moment.

 

What Charlie Taught Me

(The 17th in a continuing series)

  • It’s good to be enthusiastic about things we love, whether we win or not.
  • Good manners and gratitude take us a long way.
  • When we love our pets, we get the love back.
  • Stand up to bullies, because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Cocktails (or mocktails) can make us happy, and should be savoured.
  • It’s worth taking pride in our appearance, especially on special occasions.
  • Writing to your penpals is important.
  • I’m more like my sister than I realise.

Time is running out

No matter what age we are, this statement is always true, and – as recently I’ve been strongly reminded of this fact – it is a good reminder that the things we say we hope/should/must do one day, especially those that involve others in our lives … well … we need to do them and do them now (or soon).

This isn’t a bucket list (which I can do alone, or with my husband, and includes broader activities), but is a quick list that typically comprises mainly travel adventures with people I love, that we’ve talked about for a while but have not yet managed – perhaps because we have not yet had that ever-elusive lottery win – to organise:

  • A wine trail in the Barossa valley in Australia (though organising one just over the hill has proved to be hard enough) with family – I talk about it with both my sister and my sister-in-law, and we’ll either do it with the first family who comes up with a designated driver (I’ve been waiting a long time for a niece or nephew to get their licence), or if we have to wait too long, we might have to do it alone, because the wine is too good to ignore forever.
  • Meeting overseas friends overseas – meeting unmet friends in the US or Canada or that long-dreamed about x365ers reunion in Italy, or an AFS reunion of fellow exchange students last seen (except for just a few) in Bangkok in early 1981, more likely to be in the US, but ideally in Thailand, though it would be a good idea if I started with the kiwis who live much closer.
  • Gatherings somewhere exotic (a northern beach in NZ or maybe a safari in Africa or a chateau in France) or just a big fun family Christmas somewhere beautiful (and there is no shortage of beauty in NZ).
  • A girls’ trip to Sydney or New York or Bangkok, or anywhere with some great art galleries and massages/facials
  • Write a damn book – which I’ve almost done, but the idea is actually to make it a book, rather than leave it as files in my computer, and as this is also important to other people, who have helped me along the way, I need to get it done.

What’s on your list?

An Odd Monday

Eight things that contributed to an odd day:

  1. Not having a job
  2. I didn’t go to bed until the wee small hours the night before
  3. Then at 8 am there was the US Open Tennis Open Final to watch
  4. After that, we decided to check on Hurricane Irma, thinking particularly of several Florida friends, three of whom had evacuated from their homes and were in the main path of the storm
  5. Without a gym membership, exercise timing becomes flexible, rather than getting it out of the way first thing in the morning, and that leads sometimes to not going for a walk at all, or delaying it for the sunny afternoon
  6. Then my husband went off to play some golf
  7. All this led to me forgetting that it was Monday, lured into the sense of a relaxed Sunday afternoon, and
  8. I fell asleep on the couch. 

Spring is coming

Often in New Zealand we are so hopeful for spring to arrive that we decide 1 September is the first day of spring, but it hasn’t really officially sprung yet, and truth be told, there is always at least one more winter storm to arrive before spring really sets in in October, but there are signs, and it might be premature of me, but I think right now they’re worth celebrating.

On our morning walk this morning, the tui were all going crazy, flying in and out of the vibrant yellow kowhai trees in flower, often the first sign of spring when everything else is grey and bare.

We had a rough weekend, but I went out on the deck today to try to get a shot of one of the aforesaid tui, as two of them were chattering and clacking in our tree, and although they flew off, it was warm enough to wander around in my socks and snap away some of the lovely camellia flowers in our garden, also a harbinger of spring.

As we’re getting back to normal after having a winter filled with our own travel and with travellers arriving here, I feel the urge to spring clean and start afresh.

The first asparagus spears have peaked through the soil in my friend’s garden, and I can’t wait for more to arrive, and to find them regularly in the supermarket, as I eat seasonally, and I’m getting a little tired of the winter vegetables which have all been so expensive this year.

And as I write this, I look out at the wonderful spring light that is shining through our new fence on the driveway, and through the macrocarpa trees, and feel hopeful.

I know that spring can also bring other things, including fierce winds and dust and pollen and allergies, and the temperatures will stay low for a long time yet. But today there is a hope that it is coming, and that lifts my spirits.