Chocolate-Pine Nut Cookies

Red Chicken

We are doing lots of earnest work here at the farm.  Allan is repainting the entire interior of the house, and even though I had convinced myself I would paint an accent wall in aqua or a mineral green, in the end, I love Winslow White walls against natural wood floors so much that I couldn’t adulterate them with a color.  It looks so clean and spacious.  Additionally, we are organizing outbuildings and decluttering all of our storage spaces, which also creates elegance in our small living space.

We are staying on top of our cooking, foraging crab and em, shark (Gabe made tacos if you are curious), and making good use of our farmer’s market purchases, eating fruit desserts, when we have any.  But today was blessedly rainy, which we desperately need here in Western Washington, and this afternoon sounded perfect for tea and cookies.  Chocolate cookies.

This recipe, hot off the press from Food and Wine magazine was a fabulous surprise.  They are like pavlova when I get it the way I like it.  The top and bottom have a meringue-like crispness, but the middle is gooey chocolate, with toasty, oily pine nut bites.  They are not terribly sweet and are actually light.  I’ll just say they flew out of the house, and now we will resume our righteous living.

Cookies Cropped

Chocolate-Pine Nut Cookies

Food and Wine, August 2014


  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 lb. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp.  baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp.  fine salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • Flaky sea salt for finishing (optional)


1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a large skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing occasionally, until they are golden, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer the pine nuts to paper towels to drain and cool completely.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 5 minutes;  let cool completely.

3.  In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar at medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate, then fold in the dry ingredients.  Stir in the pine nuts.

4.  Bake the cookies in 2 batches:  Scoop 1-tablespoon mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle with flakes of sea salt.   Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are dry around the edges and cracked on top; shift the sheets halfway through baking.  Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.  Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely before serving

Makes 3 dozen cookies


Roasted Tomatoes with Chicken and Gnocchi

Tomatoes, Counter
It is a wee bit early for tomatoes, still. I found this handful at the farmer’s market this week and due to their beauty, had to find a special treatment for them.

I want to post more recipes that my young adult sons, among others,  might actually attempt to cook.  One son is already a highly intuitive cook, ranging toward foraged foods, which explains why there is a small shark marinating in buttermilk in my fridge at this very minute.  I am not kidding; I wish I was.  He could use a little more variety, however, and perhaps a few more dishes his girlfriend might enjoy.  His brother has been more comfortable utilizing a full meal plan at university, but being only about a year away from moving into the world with his first job, I know he needs to practice making meals from scratch.

Years ago, when we functioned like normal Americans and had a Costco membership, I developed a dish using some staples I kept on hand at the time:  boneless/skinless chicken thighs, 3-cheese tortellini, and an enormous jar of sun-dried tomatoes that took up a lot of space in my refrigerator and seemed to never diminish, no matter how much I tried to incorporate them into my cooking.  It was almost like the Hanukkah miracle.

This would be a good dish for the boys to have in their repertoire.  I don’t, however,  want to get back into the sun-dried tomato stockpile and besides, they are a little passe.  We got sun-dried tomatoed out, didn’t we?  Oven roasting your own tomatoes, though,  makes them deliciously complex and when you make up a batch ahead of time, this dish comes together, well, like a Costco dinner, except that you’ve actually cooked it and not merely assembled it.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

  • 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. tomatoes (heritage varieties, highly recommended), sliced in half, vertically
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 6-7 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 good sprig of rosemary
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Add olive oil to a 12″ round or square baking dish, ceramic or glass preferred.  Place tomatoes cut side down, without overlapping.  Scatter over them the garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Roast in a 325 degree oven for as much as 2 hours.  Remove when they have the texture you are looking for.  I like them to have some caramelization, while still being juicy.  Remove to a clean glass jar, capturing all of the roasting oil,  and use immediately or  refrigerate and use within 5 days.

Tomatoes, Roasting

Tomatoes, Jarred

Oven Fried Chicken

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil

Add olive oil to a 9×13 baking dish.  Add flour, salt and pepper to a pie plate.  Dredge the chicken pieces to coat with the flour mixture, on all sides.  Place in the oiled pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Turn chicken pieces and cook for another 25 minutes or until the coating is crispy and the juices run clear.  Allow to rest and cool slightly at room temperature.  Cut into 1″ pieces, using two knives,  and toss back in the pan oil and juices.

Gnocchi and Assembly

Cook gnocchi according to package instructions.  Keep it al dente.  Drain gnocchi and toss with chicken in the pan oil and juices.  Add the roasted tomatoes and all of their oil.  Toss all components.  Place in a serving bowl and top with grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 4-6

Final Dish





Steamed Fruit Dumplings

Since my mom passed away, it has felt right to be quiet, stay out of social chatter, take some time to listen and reflect, but I want to start to build a bridge, now, between that place and the current of daily  life.  For some context, after my mom died on May 24th, all of my four other siblings and I made it to Billings, Montana within a few days.  Our goal at that time was to help make the necessary decisions and to be around our dad during the first week of his loss.  We didn’t want to do any kind of service, then.  We have, for many years, met in Billings for a family reunion around the 4th of July and we agreed to come back then, taking a month to consider how we, and our children, would like to participate in a memorial of her.

There were nearly 50 of us when the clan descended.  Guest rooms were made up, meal planning and preparation was shared out, a beautiful garden at my brother’s ranch was groomed, and tributes in all forms were pulled together.  Layers and layers of prepared writing, music, photos, even seeds to scatter in her memory were brought.  All I can say is that it was perfect.  It was everything our mom loved and everything she would have wanted for and from us.  We alternately sobbed and then held our bellies in laughter, sitting together in the evening ranch air, in wonder.  In the end, we were so darn proud of ourselves.  We haven’t always dealt with everything well, but this, we got exactly right.

When I got home to Lummi Island, I told friends that I felt like I was waking up from a sweet dream.  Maybe that is an odd way to describe a passing, but I don’t think my mom would mind it.  A friend said I feel this way because I’ve lived in Asia and I’ve already confronted and become comfortable with the uncertainty of afterlife.   That could be part of it, too.  I have thought back to the many, many hours Allan and I sat at the cremation piers on the Bagmati River in Kathmandu.  Strangely, it was one of our favorite places to go.  The family of the deceased would wrap the body and place it on a prepared wood stack. Then, the oldest son would light a candle in the father’s mouth, the youngest son would light one in the mother’s, and the fire would slowly take over.  It was warm and peaceful and when all was ashes, after many hours, they were swept into the river and it was finished.  Allan and I would always ask each other, “If that is all there is, are we OK with that?” and the answer was a confident, “Yes.”

My sister and sister-in-law made requests of some of us to take the lead in preparing our communal dinners the 3 nights we were together.  They honored me by giving me the memorial dinner.  I had come to Billings several days before and since my family stayed with Dad, I had some days, I will always treasure, of preparing for this meal in the solitude of her kitchen.  Her particular way of arranging things and the collection of items in her kitchen was just as her kitchens always were.  What I could prepare for a large dinner was dictated by the limitations of her cookware.  Having lived on a farm in Colorado at 7,000 ft. altitude while we were growing up, her kitchen had two small pressure cookers and several other Dutch oven type pots with lids for cooking  beans and stews.  I rounded them all up, six in all, and for the dessert, that we would have after the dinner and our “service”, I decided to make steamed fruit dumplings that were a comfort treat for us as kids.  Mom would make them from canned fruit, blueberries or most often blackberries, with a Bisquick dumpling topping, but I was able to source fresh berries and made the dough from scratch.  Two of my nieces mentioned their memories of those dumplings in a compiled memory book, so I know I hit on the right choice.

Blueberry Dumplings


Steamed Fruit Dumplings

Makes 8 servings


Fruit Base

  • 4 cups fresh berries, washed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 tsp.  spice of choice (optional)


  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup milk


Place berries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium-sized pot with a heavy bottom and a lid.  Bring to a boil.  Dissolve cornstarch in 1 Tbsp. water and drizzle it into the fruit mixture.  Reduce heat, stir and cook a few minutes longer to thicken.   Add a little spice at this point if you like.  I love ginger and anise with blueberries.  Cinnamon, mace, or allspice are also great choices.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Cut in butter, using finger tips to work through the dry ingredients.  Add the milk and stir to form a dough.  Drop by tablespoons onto the bubbling fruit mixture.  Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and let dumplings steam for approximately 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow dumplings to rest and filling to cool slightly before eating.  Drizzle with unsweetened heavy cream to serve.


The Time Before

Wedding PicI like this family picture.  This is my niece Camilla’s wedding 3 summers ago.    The picture was taken by a 12-year old boy I handed my camera to and it turned out being one of the best family photos we got that day, never mind that some of us don’t have feet.  This was the summer after my brother Mark died, Camilla is his oldest daughter, and his death was just weeks after my mom had had an emergency surgery that left her managing a stoma, thereafter.

But at the time of this photo, my mom and dad had been able to drive from Montana to Colorado pulling their beloved travel trailer.  They had managed to keep up with the pre-wedding activities and even though my mom had to sit down for the picture,  they were part of everything and helped create this memorable time.

But that was before she started having heart pains, and dizzy spells, and episodes where she couldn’t get her breath.  These precipitated more than one ambulance ride and several diagnostic hospital stays.  One doctor told her she had an inoperable heart valve malfunction.  Another, a few months later, told her her heart was just fine and she needed medication to control her anxiety.  I’m not sure it matters which one was right; it was probably both.  But that was before she started using a constant oxygen supply and before she became so immobile that she gained weight and her body swelled from uncirculating fluids.  And it was during this time that my dad didn’t want to leave her, at all.  He made sure that everything was comfortable for her, that she had food she could chew and a garden to watch grow from her street-facing picture window.  He helped her with her medical care, with any of her care.  Their life became very much the two of them, again.  They didn’t go out together anymore.  He would go do some work, but when he came back, they would eat a little something, and watch the news, and discuss things.  They would remember their stories and he would call her “his sweetie”.  They also talked about how death might be, how they hoped it would be.

That was before last night, when after one of their quiet evenings,  she wasn’t feeling so well and went to her bed.  Dad went to the kitchen to make her a little something to eat and when he came back, she was gone.

Now this is the time before all of it really sinks in.  My adrenaline is racing and I’m able to make substitute plans and book airline tickets, but it’s still before morning on the West Coast.  I will let my dad have a little time to himself, first, before I call him and we talk about what happened and what is next.  Then I will call my sons and tell them that their grandmother died last night.

Barbecue Season Prep

Hamburger Bun, Unbaked

Was it Richard Nixon who came out and said that honestly, he would rather have a great hamburger than almost anything he could think of?  As our expatriated minds turn toward summer, our salivary glands are already anticipating American hamburgers.  It is our national food and in our imaginations, it is perfection.

Allan and I can make a decent burger here in Tunis.  There is a surprisingly efficient built-in barbecue in our backyard, and it creates a nice ambiance for outdoor parties.  We spent yesterday tidying up the garden:  getting rid of stuff that was parked there at some time over the winter, pruning, dividing, and moving plants to better locations, washing up the outdoor dining furniture.  We are hosting a special party at our house in two weeks.  It will be a combination celebration  party after graduation and a goodbye party for some folks who are moving on.  Firing up the charcoal barbecue will kick-off the summer season in good style.

We make our hamburger buns here.  You can’t really buy anything that is a satisfactory substitute, but now that I’ve got it down, I think everyone should be making their own buns.  They aren’t difficult,  and man, do they elevate the burger.  This is a recipe found at Smitten Kitchen, though you can see the attribution of where it originated.  What you do is get a double batch started, using your Kitchen Aide, on a day when you are going to be in the kitchen, anyway.  Every couple of hours, you do some little thing with them and then let them continue to proof.  Finally, you bake them off,  making your kitchen smell toasty and buttery.  When cooled, you pop them into bags and freeze them.  Then, when you’ve entirely forgotten you made them, you will be so delighted to find them again one night when you are craving an awesome burger.

Light Brioche Burger Buns
Adapted from Comme Ça restaurant in Los Angeles, via the New York Times

Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)

1. In a measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. *Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.  (*I did all of this with my Kitchen Aide.  It is much easier than getting involved, by hand, with the sticky dough.)

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours. (If your kitchen is warm, it will be closer to 1 hour.)

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently shape each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet.  Dough will still be quite tacky.  Work with a dough scraper and only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Your dough balls will be a little bit free-form.   Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one to two hours.  Watch for deflation, which is a sign of over-proofing.  Bake immediately if noticed.

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.



Hamburger Bun, Baked

Strawberry Lemon Curd Cake


Cake Packets

A couple of weeks ago, our community held our annual International Day and Spring Fair.  This is an extravaganza where all of our various expat groups, alongside our host country, pull out the stops on their national pride.  There is a parade of national dress and flags, and then the highlight is two gymnasiums of food tables selling servings of favorite dishes from all of our representative countries.  You can very likely end up with a plate full of injera and kim chi, with a waffle on the side.  It’s weird, but fun.

The British table this year, rather than stooping to bangers and mash, sold tiny jars of lemon curd.  You can see my now empty lemon curd jar in the photo background below,  wearing its gingham cap. Having the occasion of a school bake sale, I made a couple of loaves of this moist, flavor-intense cake.  You could use any type of fruit.  The recipe calls for blueberries, but we have strawberries, and  I can imagine it with peaches or even figs.  We’re down to the dregs of our lemon season now, but next winter, when everyone is giving away their lemons again, I will use more  juice in batches of tangy lemon curd.

Both of the following recipes are from BBC Food Recipes, the British-speak just enhancing the mood.  I didn’t ice my cakes because they were so moist and nice without it.


Lemon Curd

  • 4 lemons, zest and juice
  • 200g or 7oz caster sugar
  • 100g or 31/2 oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3 free-range eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture every now and again until all of the butter has melted.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk and stir them into the lemon mixture. Whisk until all of the ingredients are well combined, then leave to cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring every now and again, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally as it cools. Once cooled, spoon the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.


Lemon Curd Cake

  • 175g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 500ml tub Greek yogurt (you need 100ml/3½ fl oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 300g jar good lemon curd (you need 2 tbsp in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 3 eggs
  • zest and juice 1 lemon, plus extra zest to serve, if you like
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 200g punnet of blueberries (you need 85g/3oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 140g icing sugar
  • edible flowers, such as purple or yellow primroses, to serve (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 160C or 320F. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with a long strip of baking parchment. Put 100g yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon curd, the softened butter, eggs, lemon zest, flour and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl. Quickly mix with an electric whisk until the batter just comes together. Scrape half into the prepared tin. Weigh 85g blueberries from the punnet and sprinkle half into the tin, scrape the rest of the batter on top, then scatter the other half of the 85g berries on top. Bake for 1 hr 10 mins-1 hr 15 mins until golden, and a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.
  2. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift onto a serving plate to ice. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lemon juice to make a thick, smooth icing. Spread over the top of the cake, then decorate with lemon zest and edible flowers, if you like. Serve in slices with extra lemon curd, Greek yogurt and blueberries.

Lemon Curd Cake, 2


My Big, Silent Staycation

If you read about our life here on the Mediterranean rim, you have doubtless noticed that we travel a lot.  Inexpensive and convenient travel from Tunis is one of the big perks of living here.  You really wouldn’t believe the talk around our faculty lunch table when so much as a 3-day weekend is approaching.  Teachers are planning to take off in all directions:  Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Istanbul, the south of Tunisia, or even down to actual Africa for a safari.  It is like choosing from an assortment of chocolates.  Yet there have been many early mornings, as we buttoned the house down to leave for an excursion, that I have glanced out past our balcony that faces the sea and thought what a great place this would be for a true vacation.  We had our last long weekend for this school year over May Day.  Allan entered a golf tournament at a nearby beach resort, and that would have been fun, too, but I chose instead to take 4 delicious days of silence for myself in my own home.

You may have read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  I didn’t even need a Myers Briggs test to diagnose me.  I have long known that I need to have intervals of deep silence in my life to accomplish the thinking I need to do and to make plans for what I want to accomplish.  I have replied to people before that I can’t participate is some activity because I need to stay home and think, and they laugh, but it’s true.  Sometimes, I just do.  I had many items on my solitude wish list, but threw myself into redesigning the website for my custom Tibetan carpets business Knot Monkey.  30 hours later, it’s all updated and fully geared-up for new projects if you know someone who is interested in creating a beautiful, handmade carpet.

Becoming deeply immersed in a creative project, however,  doesn’t leave much time for cooking.  I cooked a small pot of beans on the first day and lived on beans, greens from the garden, and eggs for breakfast until my husband came home.  With the project finished, it was then time to make a proper meal.  This is a delicious and healthy recipe that is adaptable to all sorts of ingredients.  Has your garden gotten out of hand while you’ve been painting your living room?  Crop all of that chard and kale and use it in this savory cake.  Have you spent too long managing photos you’ve taken recently and didn’t go food shopping?  Toss together some staples like Italian ham or smoked salmon along with your withering farmers’ market prizes from last week and you’ll have a fine meal.  Don’t skip the eggplant sauce.  It takes no time to make, and it bathes the ricotta cake in savory  warmth.  Bonus:  this is as nice for brunch as it is for a simple supper.

Ricotta Cake, 2

This recipe is from my cooking mentors at NZ Cuisine.

Spinach and Zucchini Ricotta Cake with Tomato and Eggplant

serves 4

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 150 grams mixed hearty greens, chopped in 1″ pieces
  • 1 zucchini, coarsely grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 600 grams ricotta
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • 1 cup course lay chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1 cm cubes
  • 1 kg tomatoes, halved and coarsely grated or 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

FOR THE CAKE. Preheat the oven to 200 C or 375 F.  Lightly grease an 8″ spring-form pan.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.  Add the greens and 1/2 of the garlic.  Sauté for 1-2 minutes, just until the greens have wilted.  Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a sieve.  Drain and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.  Set aside to cool.  Reserve the liquid.  Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta and eggs together in a large bowl until smooth.  Add 1/2 cup Parmesan, the breadcrumbs, herbs, and sautéed vegetables.  Stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Transfer the mixture to the spring-form pan and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and set.

FOR THE SAUCE  Heat the remaining oil in the same pan over med-high heat.  Stir-fry the eggplant for about 3 minutes, stirring, until golden.  Season with salt and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the remaining garlic, tomatoes, a pinch of sugar and adjust seasonings.  Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Land of the Lotus-Eaters

Fishing Village

“I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.” Odyssey

Our own Djerba island, in southern Tunisia, is thought to be this seductively enticing island fabled in the Odyssey.  Also called the Isle of Forgetfulness, I could easily see how one could become part of this peaceful vibe and lose track of time.  A simple 1 hour flight and inexpensive taxi ride from Tunis brought us to the heritage hotel Dar Dhiafa.  The owners of this boutique hotel have gathered together several neighboring historic houses, then connected them, creating small, peaceful nooks throughout the meandering property.  Wandering through, you round corners and duck through thresholds that open to benched alcoves, small, shaded pools, or a sitting room with a beehive fireplace.  Taking to the village streets, the distinctive dome-roofed houses seem to have been formed from clay, by hand.  Where ceiling height is wanted, a dome is placed overhead.  If a fireplace is needed, it is patted into a corner or wall.  Spot skylights, no more than 12 inches in diameter,  are intentionally placed to put a beam of direct lighting on a work area or to show off artwork.  All of this surrounding architecture, with so much evidence of human hands, is comforting, like a nest.

Dhar Dhiafa EntryEntry, Coffee



BenchPool at DuskPatinaArchitecture

We were not offered any lotuses to eat, but plenty of fish and lamb.  The fish auction at Houmt Souk is a spectacle.  Village men have created egos around their auctioneering of the daily fish catch to restauranteers and house-husbands.  The crowd is worked over each string of dourade or octopus until the market price is finally established.

The Fish Auctioneer

Fish Auction










Dar Dhiafa has a good restaurant with plenty of fish dishes, but if you make your request a day ahead, they will prepare another Djerban specialty for you:  Lamb in a Clay Jar.  I wrote about this dish before, and It was a thrill, not to mention dramatic, to have this home-style dish on Djerba.

I am already dreaming about wandering off to Djerba again.  I can imagine some time when I find I have an unexpected week off (does that really ever happen?).  I would sit with a thick book, perhaps the Odyssey,  by that quiet pool, and then, when I needed exercise, I would plod, anonymously,  around the village hidden beneath a cotton caftan, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and enormous sunglasses.  If I ever go missing, you might start looking for me there.

Octopus Pots


The Sicilian Cleanse Diet

Cubist Taormina

Six nights on Sicily went by so fast.  We had two nights each in three locations:  Syracuse, Taormina, and Palermo.  I think the most resonant take away from this frenetic island is the astounding natural beauty.  The sea had just a few more shades of turquoise and cerulean than I usually see, and Mt. Etna is a show stopper, though I am partial to volcanic mountains.  Sicily is also odd, though; may I say it?  It has such interesting underpinnings of the many cultures that have dominated it over the millennia:  Greeks, Normans, Spaniards, Arabs, and Romans, but there is also a haunting spirit of callousness.  Development has been marred by a profusion of 70s era apartment blocks and lavish private homes have been plunked onto precious partitions of real estate like beautiful dot islands and precipitous cliff sides.  It felt like some people have a lot of privilege and others try not to mind. I could certainly see the sweet Sicily through it, but I had to focus.

The food was also simpler than I had anticipated.  Unlike the plattered feasts one might have elsewhere in Italy, we had small plates of fried fish, straight forward bowls of pasta, and sometimes, very thinly sliced fried or grilled meat.  Some restaurants had an antipasto buffet and there we found delicious grilled and marinated vegetables which I loved.  Overall, though, we didn’t overeat and got lots of exercise.  It was just yesterday, spending 9+  hours on the ferry crossing, that put us into a food comma.  Having to be in the ferry line in Palermo at 7:00 AM and getting off in Tunis around 9:00 PM, we had to pack food to eat all day.  The easy solution was dried meat like salami and prosciutto, cheese, fruit, and bread.  We had excellent  quality of each, but by the fifth round of hitting the food bag, we couldn’t face another bite of salty meat and even that pistachio studded pecorino had turned soft and unappetizing.  Allan and I both woke up with a headache this morning and agreed that some simple low fat, low salt meals, including lots of greens from our garden, was how we wanted to eat this week.  This recipe from Donna Hay was a delicious tonic meal while still being a little bit Sicilian.

Chicken Meatball Soup

Chicken and Pecorino Meatball Minestrone

  • 500g ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/5 liters chicken stock
  • 200g small pasta
  • 500g hardy greens (like Swiss chard, beet greens, or mustard), trimmed and roughly chopped

Place the ground chicken, egg, pecorino, parsley, lemon rind, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Fold through the ricotta and, using wet hands, roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, deep frying pan over high heat.  Add the meatballs and cook in batches, turning frequently, for 5-8 minutes or until browned.  Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.  Wipe the pan clean, add the remaining oil and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until lightly browned.  Add the stock, increase the heat to high and bring to the boil.  *Add the pasta and meatballs, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is just al dente.  Add the greens, cover, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until wilted.  Divide the soup between serving bowls and top with extra pecorino.

*I knew we wouldn’t eat this all in one sitting, and I didn’t want the pasta and other ingredients to get soggy in the broth, so I cooked just enough pasta separately in well-salted water, then heated the broth, greens, and meatballs for two servings, pouring it over the pasta.

The Best Damn Arancini in Taormina

Christina 2

     It wasn’t until we finished eating that we read the New York Times review of this place.  They discovered it when they saw someone on the street with an arancini and asked where it had come from.  Their review simply confirmed what we had already seen for ourselves.
     I hope that Giada de Laurentis will provide me with a good starting place recipe.  If you have an authentic recipe, please send it my way.


Da Christina Sign