Author Archives: Where's Zoe Now?

About Where's Zoe Now?

Late-20s Australian working in Italy, blogging about travel+food+daft adventures.

Lake at Avigliana

I turned 30 and the world didn’t even end*

*yet. (Remember when the most outrageous thing to happen in the world was that some famous food blog posted a bizarre article about fairy bread? Yeah, those were the days.)

A few weeks ago, it was my 30th birthday, and I fully intended to write something wise… well ok, something thoughtful… at least something not stupid about leaving my 20s. And then I was busy, and then I couldn’t be bothered, and now it’s Thanksgiving in America so I’m going to steal their holiday idea and write a list-post of things I’m grateful for about my birthday.

  • I was too busy to write, because my family came to visit. They are total weirdos (where do you think I get it from?) and I love them.
  • My sister is as lazy as I am, which makes her easy to entertain. Case in point: before she arrived, we talked about maybe going to Sicily for a few days while she was here. “Ehh, it’s kinda far,” we said. “Let’s go somewhere we can get to by train. How about Rome?” And then we said, “Yeah, but Rome we’d really have to make a long weekend of, how about somewhere in Liguria? We could even just go on Saturday morning and come back Sunday night.” And then, “The coast is nice and all, but the mountains are closer and we don’t have those in Australia.” At which point, we looked at the weather forecast, decided that up in the mountains would be too cold, and said, “How about a day trip to Sacra di San Michele? At least we’ll get a good view to the mountains there.” And then we overslept that morning, and went to Avigliana for the afternoon, and took a stroll along the lake (pictured above).
  • I also had a fantastic birthday brunch — I think the last time I organized a birthday party was my 18th, because frankly everything about planning a party makes me want to hide under a blanket and never come out, but in this case I had the best time. We had pancakes and shakshuka and fruit salad and an amazing coconut cake made by my friend A who was very gracous about me getting dessicated coconut all over her carpet when I blew out the candles.
  • I decided to do pancakes at least partly because I knew that at some point I’d appreciate the excuse to take a break in the kitchen, facing a wall and not talking to anyone while flipping pancakes. (Introverrrrrrt.) I am so grateful that I am so much better than I used to be at working out how to do things in a way that works for me.
  • Also, while I hate planning parties, I am grateful for the warm fuzzy feeling of seeing people talking and laughing together and knowing that I’d contributed to making that possible.
  • Finally — since this has already taken a turn for the corny and there’s no retreating now — I am so so grateful for everyone who celebrated my birthday with me. (Awwwww.) You guys made my 20s way less terrible than they would otherwise have been (seriously: whose stupid idea was it to have a whole decade where you’re still insecure like a teenager but have to deal with responsibilities like you’re an adult??) and I’m pretty sure my 30s will owe a lot to you, too.
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I liveblogged my reaction to that article about fairy bread.

Epicurious posted an article about fairy bread. It was… quite something. Here I liveblog my response.

Fairy Bread.jpg
This is an accurate photo of fairy bread. This is not the photo Epicurious used.
By GemslingOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Ooh! An article about fairy bread! I can already feel the nostalgia for every kid’s birthday party in primary school except mine, because Mum wasn’t into processed foods. While I’m airing grievances did I mention we were only allowed one teaspoon of Milo in our milo, that’s not milo that’s just vaguely brown-coloured milk.

The cover photo is cute, but what’s with the long hundreds & thousands? Is this one of those weird regional variations, like how apparently in parts of New South Wales they call “slides” “slippery dips”? (True confessions: a friend once called a slide a slippery dip and I have never been able to get over it. 70 years from now we’ll be in nursing homes and every few months I’ll be hologram-calling him or whatever, to say you really call a slide a slippery dip?)

And is that confetti on the lower-right one?

“[T]he name gives it an air of complex, unknowable magic”. Sure. Whatever. If you’ve read this blog a while, you know how I feel about purple prose food writing. Also, apparently fairy bread is “sparkly and fun and colorful and weird”? That’s several orders of magnitude more whimsical than I’d have thought fairy bread warranted.

I’m getting worried… “a slice of bread generously spread with butter”. Butter..? I mean, I suppose if you live in some kind of dystopian future that doesn’t have margarine, that sickly yellow margarine that doesn’t taste anything like butter or like vegetable oil or like anything edible really. That is what you use for fairy bread. But if you don’t have that, I suppose you could use butter. If you really had to.

Oh hey, it’s that food-writing paragraph about the history of the dish. Fairy bread was inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. Not by a mother of school aged kids saying will you stop whinging about how hungry you are, you know where the fridge is, fer cryin out loud.

And we eat it “as breakfast”. I dunno, maybe other kids did eat it for breakfast and it was just my healthy eating mother who made me have cornflakes instead. We also eat it “after dinner” — yeah nah, in my family it was tinned peaches and evaporated milk if we were lucky.

But more to the point… Toast. What. “Fairy toast”. No.

No really, toast??!!

Isn’t the purpose of fairy bread — to get all food-writerly — to show off the varied textures of the ingredients: the chewy soft white crap-bread, the crunchy layer of hundreds and thousands that are slowly dissolving into the slick greasiness of the margarine below them. How does toast possibly fit into that picture?

Effin’ toast. I am done.

Ok, I’m not quite done. They not only want me to use butter, they want me to make my own butter. Get out of here.

And “sparkly sanding sugar”. What even is that? I ask the friend who posted this on facebook. Probably a known carcinogen she replies.

“And don’t think you have to be a child to enjoy fairy bread: everyone deserves a little sparkle in their snack, even grown-ups.”

No.


Update: My mum comments on facebook…

I must have made fairy bread at least once when you were a kid because I’ve still got a jar of hundreds and thousands in the cupboard But I agree about the toast. Mum xxx

I haven’t told a baking disaster story for a while — here’s one involving apricot upside down cake.

ArmenianStamps-407.jpg
By Post of Armenia – http://www.armenianstamps.com/2007.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5504935

If we all collectively agree it’s still — I dunno, mid-August, say? — we can make it not be the end of September already, right?
You in? Good.

September has rushed by, but at least I have been slightly less busy this week. I’m still busy at work but I’ve only left the house 2 weeknights. (As opposed to 4 last week and all 5 the week before.) I have rediscovered lost skills, like how to cook my own dinner! And how to get to bed before midnight! It is very exciting.

On Sunday night I found myself rumaging through my fridge in a bit of an I’ve been pretending to be an extrovert for the past fortnight and now I’ve got some time to myself I don’t know what to do loose end. Having barely been at home, I had of course wound up with a fridge full of things that needed using up asap — some questionable-looking peaches, some eggs of unknown provenance, a container of cream that was use by 25 September.  This peach cake recipe came to the rescue. (NB: adding lemon juice to cream to make kinda-sorta sour cream totally works if you’re using it for baking.)

Also, earlier in the summer I had been bested by a cake with fresh fruit in it, and it was time for revenge. Continue reading

Taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses

I went to Salone del Gusto and the only photo I got was this taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses. (I am such a bad blogger.)

My extremely glamorous expat life right now is more like my extremely busy life, so it might be a while before I write a coherent narrative blogpost again. Also, I am a terrible blogger anyway — Thursday evening I spent a couple of hours wandering through Salone del Gusto, an internationally-famous food show (aka obviously a good blog topic, slap bang in the middle of my “Turin life/food/things I do as an expat but wouldn’t have done back in Australia” niche) but I was too focused on free samples of cheese and booze to take any notes or photos for a blog post.

(I wrote about Salone 2 years ago, but this year they’ve moved it from the ugly horrible exhibition centre in Lingotto to outdoors in the centre of Turin, which is definitely a nicer setting. If you’re in Turin this weekend, you should go!)

For now, some notes on the rest of my life…

While every season is food season in Italy, autumn is even more food season. A couple of Sundays ago was our traditional pilgrimage to Asti for the Festival delle Sagre, a huge festival of Piedmontese food. Imagine an open space dotted with stalls, each representing a village in the area and selling one or two of that village’s specialties, plus wine at 50 cents/glass. And then throw in a Ferris wheel (why not), folk dancing demonstrations, and thousands of happy Italians with paper plates in their hands and wine in tumblers in holders around their necks.

WINE HOLDER

WINE HOLDER. Genius.

This is the third year in a row I’ve been. Traditions have started to form, like starting the trip with friciula (fresh fried bread-y-pastry-y with lardo) from Mombercelli. “You reckon the friciula stand is in the same place this year?” “Come on, what do you think? We’re in Piemonte.”

(The friciula stand is near the centre of the festival grounds, as it always has been and always will be.)

Meanwhile, Facebook’s On This Day strikes again: a couple of days after the festival it reminded me of photos from the first time I went, 2 years ago. Of the group that went then, only 2 of us were there this year, because everyone else has since left the country. (Come back guys!!)


Two weeks ago, I had the bright idea to get back into running for stress-relief. No tracking distances or times, no pushing myself, just getting out there in the autumn evenings for fresh air and feeling less like a brain in a jar.

In those two weeks, I have already started noting distances run, decided it would be cool to work up to running 10 km comfortably in time for my birthday in November, and googled a bunch of 10k training plans… ZOE, NO.


But maybe I am getting better at relaxing? Earlier this month I went to the beach with some friends and actually enjoyed it rather than getting there, going for a swim, then drying off and going “uh, can we go do smething now?”

Beach near Finale Liguria

Possibly the secret was that these friends have two small children and I can attest the beach is much more fun if it’s socially acceptable for you to build over-engineered sand castles and collect a lifetime supply of mildy-interesting rocks. (Oh wow, that is a brown rock, isn’t it? Shall I put it with the other brown ones?)

(Practical note for future reference: we went to the private beach of Hotel del Golfo in Finale Liguria — the big advantage being that you can throw money at your problems and pay for parking, rather than drive up and down the Ligurian coast for hours looking for a spot. There’s a patch of public sand on the same beach as the private section, so you don’t actually have to pay for a chair if you prefer to bring your own. Parking/beach use is open to non-guests according to availability.)

Postcard from Gran Bosco di Salbertrand: a human landscape in the Alps

(Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I’d only been back in Turin a few days before I realized I needed to get out and walk… again. So last Saturday, a few of us took the train up to Parco Naturale del Gran Bosco di Salbertrand in Susa Valley.

This was the first time I’d organized a hike myself, and I’d been careful about choosing a nice route for the group: it featured a rifugio near the top, and several options so we could take the less steep path on the way down to save our knees and ankles. Unfortunately my map didn’t have full topographic information and it turns out that just because a path is twice as long, it doesn’t have to be half as steep a descent. It can be gently uphill for a substantial distance and then drop precipitously into the valley on a track covered in pine cones that act as rollers under your feet. (Sorry guys!!!)

When we weren’t slipping and sliding and cursing our way down the side of Susa Valley, we had a walk through a pine forest in the morning light, past old stone walls and ruins of buildings that we debated about (were they houses, or cow sheds, or..?). We picked lavender and mint that was growing beside the path. We saw cows — and a marmot, who was sadly uninterested in B’s offer of lifelong friendship. It was a very human landscape, with all its signs of human history — apparently, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Superga Basilica in Turin. It was also a very modern human landscape, with the constant hum of the highway below us.

We got back to Turin that evening tired and hungry and coated with a fine layer of dust.

PS: More postcards from


Practical information for future reference: You can get to Gran Bosco di Salbertrand without a car — take the train from Turin to Salbertrand (altitude 1000m) on the Bardonecchia line, it runs hourly, takes about an hour and costs 5.75 euro each way. From there, there are all sorts of walks you can take. I used this map, be warned that although it gives altitudes of landmarks it doesn’t have contour lines. We took the GTA route up to Rifugio Daniel Arlaud (altitude 1770m) and then on to Le Selle (altitude 2000m), which is a cluster of agricultural buildings, but also a great viewpoint for the valley. We followed the (closed to cars) road down and then took route 2, which was very steep and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

It was quite dry in late August, and if I did this walk again I’d do it earlier in the summer with the hope of seeing green meadows rather than brown. (It was also quite warm, but much of the route is shaded.)

Camel Estuary, Cornwall

Treyarnon Bay to Padstow on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is part 6 — go back to part 5 (Newquay to Treyarnon Bay).

Treyarnon Bay to Padstow was my final walking day. I went to bed the night before with trepidation about the weather — for several days, everyone I’d spoken to had commented on how nice the weather had been, and how “Monday’s supposed to be really hot, like 30 degrees!” Great news for beach-goers, less appealing if you’re walking 11 miles (18 km) in full sun. Continue reading

Watergate Beach, Newquay

Newquay to Treyarnon Bay on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 5 — go back to day 4 (St Agnes to Newquay).

Remarkably, I wasn’t sore at all when I got up in the morning, even after my long day the day before. Over a breakfast, I chatted with my B&B landlady, about her job doing night shift in a dementia care facility, and her four dogs that her husband was out walking, and how Perranporth used to have a really great New Age shop that she liked but now all the coastal villages were becoming nothing but surf shops and cafes. I knew what she meant — on my walk, I’d been struggling to even find lunch options each day that didn’t involve sitting in and paying 7 pounds for a sandwich with too many different ingredients. Continue reading

Art on Perran Beach, Cornwall

St Agnes to Newquay on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is part 4 of the walk — go back to part 3 (Portreath to St Agnes).

It was 4.30 pm, the sun was hot on my face, my pack straps were chafing my arms, my knees were sore, and I had never not been walking this &*%! coast path. I had just come round a head and I could see Fistral Beach laid out before me, replete with a surfing competition and thousands of spectators on the sand and nearby grass. I still had to get past it all and to the opposite side of Newquay, the largest town in the area. Well then.

This was my longest day, with 16.5 miles (26.5 km) the official path distance from Trevaunance Cove to Newquay Station. “Where are you walking today?” the landlady at my B&B had asked. “Newquay? Goodness. That’s far.”

Continue reading

Cornwall

Portreath to St Agnes on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 3 of the walk — Go back to day 2 (Lelant to Portreath).

I left Portreath and went back to the clifftops via the road since the foot path from the harbour was closed due to landslip risk. My legs were a little stiff, but the steady climb got me moving again. Most of the way to Porthtowan, the next village, I walked in the space between fenced off land and the cliff edges, and was constrained to a single path through the heather. If I looked to the fence on my right I felt hemmed in, but the ocean was always open on my left.

Once up on the cliffs, the walk to Porthtowan was flat, with just a single dip where a stream emptied out to the ocean. It was still fairly early and I hadn’t seen anyone all morning, so at the bottom of the dip where the prickly heather and gorse finally gave way to grass I ducked into as hidden a corner as I could find — but still rather open — to have a pee. (No bushes to go behind!) Of course, it was just after this that I saw an oncoming walker at the top of the other side of the dip, and I was glad of my timing. Continue reading

Cliffs in Cornwall

Lelant to Portreath on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 2 of the walk — go back to day 1 (St Ives to Lelant).

“I’m spending 5 and a half days walking from here to Padstow,” I told my dorm mate at the hostel in St Ives, on the west coast of Cornwall.
“For charity?”
“Nah, just for fun,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s important to do these sorts of things because you want to, isn’t it?”

If I’m honest, I was also walking 110 km along the Cornish coast to see if I could. I’ve done some solo day walks over the years, but the last overnight trip I did was in high school in 1999. Last summer I didn’t walk at all, put off by the occasional dizzy spell I’d still get in the months after my accident. This summer I’ve been hiking again, but always with friends. Could I set my own pace? Could I stay motivated all day? Could I walk 20 km then get up the next day and do it again? Continue reading