Tag Archives: life

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.

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

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

Brain MRI

That time I got hit by a car: injury, uncertainty and stories

Here’s a dramatic opening line for you: A year ago this weekend, I was hit by a car while crossing the street.

This is the story per the police report and my hospital notes: I was hit by a green Fiat at 3:15 pm; I arrived in hospital fully conscious; I had fractured my skull in two places and suffered some bruising and minor bleeding on my brain; no surgery was required; CT scans and ultrasounds confirmed I had no other injuries; I spent 9 days in hospital for observation; a subsequent MRI 6 weeks later indicated satisfactory progress towards recovery and no need for further intervention.

That story sits comfortably in a folder of forms and papers with official letterheads, but it feels rather incomplete.

Continue reading

Bridge over the River Po, Turin, Italy

A bridge day.

I wish I were writing about a day where I completed some kind of bridge-related challenge, like to visit every bridge (the water-crossing type) in Torino or learn to play bridge (the card game type). But I’m afraid this is more mundane.

Tomorrow is a public holiday here in Italy. As many Italian people have told me — with pride or shame depending on their temperament — the Italian tradition with Tuesday and Thursday public holidays is to take the Monday/Friday off too, to make a four-day weekend. Many people I speak to are surprised that this seems completely normal to me and that many people in Australia do the same thing. They seem to think it’s a uniquely Italian tradition, that shows how clever/lazy (again depending on the speaker’s temperament) the Italian people are.

But the Italians do have one advantage over the Australians, which is that they have a word for this: ponte, literally, “bridge”.

This year, I decided to take a bridge day myself. Well, I called it a “work from home day”, to try and keep the hard-working-Anglo-Saxon myth alive, and I did indeed do an entire half-hour of work. But my main goal for the day was actually to pay my garbage collection bill.

Last year, I discovered that everyone in Torino has this bill due on the same day, and my bank account is somehow set up so I can’t pay it online. Last year, I spent a good three hours at the post office on the day it was due, waiting for my turn to pay it along with all the pensioners who didn’t use online bill paying either. This year, I was going to be smart and pay a few days in advance, and my bridge day seemed like a good opportunity.

I got off to a good start, going to the local post office in the morning, with several hours to spare before it closed. It wasn’t too busy, which was a pleasant surprise, and I figured I’d even get some grocery shopping done before coming home for lunch.

Until  I discovered that my local post office, which looks exactly like a post office outside and in, down to the surly staff, and which offers various bill-paying services, is not a post office for the purpose of being able to pay one’s garbage collection bill.

“You’ll have to go to the office on via Bologna,” the lady at the counter told me.

After some lunch I decided to try again. Getting this bill paid was my one goal for the day, and even if I’d bought groceries and mopped the kitchen floor (for the first time in… ah, never mind) I’d still feel a bit like I’d wasted a day if I ended up having to miss more work to get this bill paid. So I headed to the central post office, which is one of the few that are open until the evening.

In the end, it was mostly painless. One hour in line (not bad!) and I kept myself amused by tallying the people who, among the fifty or so in the hall, weren’t wearing black, blue or grey coats:

  • The lady with the gorgeously structured cherry-red felt coat. I imagined if she were my friend I’d be calling her regularly for fashion advice.
  • The man with greying curly hair, in an olive green puffy jacket and complementary green-grey trainers.
  • The twenty-ish woman with her head shaved on one side who wore a zebra-print hoodie.
  • The small girl in a bright purple jacket and pink beanie, who toddled around and around the room, followed by her mother or father who were taking turns on toddler-chasing duty, until she wore herself out and fell asleep on her mum’s lap.


Sheep in Parco Coletta, Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life

  • I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, along the Dora up to Parco Colletta. The sheep are out grazing there at the moment. Apparently there’s an arrangement where local farmers can graze their sheep in the park, which seems to me like an arrangement that is both extremely practical and extremely delightful. The sheep were completely unperturbed by nearby picnickers making the most of another unseasonably warm day.
  • The unseasonably warm weather means it’s still well and truly gelato season, which meant that I got to introduce my visiting friend H. to the joys of La Romana. She was impressed. She also got an introduction to panettone, which is starting to appear in the shops as Christmas approaches. This was less impressive. (“A hot cross bun in giant form,” which is fair enough.)
  • I don’t get so many full-scale cultural surprises these days — even when Italian people do something I think is a bit odd, I can usually fit it into my mental picture of what Italian culture is like. But this week I had a proper woah no that’s crazy moment, this time involving German culture.You see, apparently in Germany it’s common to use two separate single duvets on a double bed, so each person gets one to themselves.

    I guess if you’re German this is perfectly reasonable practice. It certainly seemed that way to my German friend S., who had casually mentioned a friend of hers being surprised by a shared duvet in Italy.

    But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only non-German to be really taken aback by the idea. Actually, I know I’m not the only one, because poor S. got bombarded with responses ranging from “No come on, you’re pulling my leg” through to, “Can you even be actually married if you don’t share a duvet with your spouse?!” (Along with some Australian side discussion of, “Wait, do you actually call it a duvet?” “No, it’s a doona, obviously.” “Ok good.”)

    And then some googling revealed a comment from a German guy who pointed out that separate blankets allow you to fart in bed more discretely, and the conversation went downhill from there…

Counting my blessings on my birthday

It was my birthday yesterday and I have become a total sap in my old age (hah!) so here are some things I’m grateful for recently*, in no particular order:

  • I had dinner on Saturday night with friends from church and a small grey cat with long paws and the prettiest face. I mayyyyyy have abandoned talking with fellow humans in order to spend more time with this cat.
    I did eventually manage to move away from the cat and turn to dinner. We had delicious homemade pizza and four different types of dessert, all involving chocolate. (Because I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d read a statement like that and think, yes, but what were those four desserts, you can’t just leave that hanging, they were: profiteroles, a chocolate-walnut slice, pastries, and a nutella pizza.)
    I saw in my birthday somewhere in the outskirts of Torino, a car-ful of us heading home. “Hey, it’s your actual birthday! Now you’re old, Zoe!”
  • We’re still getting lots of sunny days here. I know, I basically talk about the weather every week on this blog, but these sunny days are so helpful in holding off the winter slump that will come once the skies turn dark and grey and I’m trying to not take them for granted. Even if I do whinge a lot about being stuck in an office during most of them.
  • The year since my last birthday has certainly had its moments (and subsequently its weeks of fatigue… ugh) but here I am, in good health, apart from that pesky olfactory nerve! and even that’s getting better. I feel a bit sappy writing a list of things I’m grateful for, and a lot sappy saying, “I’m grateful to make it to another birthday” but it’s actually kinda true.
  • Yes, facebook is terrible and all that, but over the weekend it’s been a great way to hear from friends who are scattered all around the world. My sister told me I need to have my next birthday in Australia, but I think I should go one better and do a world tour and catch up with everyone in person.
  • And my friends who are nearby are also pretty great! I realized the other day that my blog makes me sound like a solitary person, but that’s mostly because I don’t have the writing skills to describe people in a way that gives them personality while allowing them some privacy so I just don’t write about them much. But I am grateful for this badly-written, vague mass of people who are actually very funny and charming and thoughtful and lovely individuals.

* Well, general sappiness, and also I was thinking the other day about the idea that even with things I’ve worked hard for, there’s still so much external good fortune going my way — there’s a line in the Bible that puts it quite well: What do you have that you did not receive?

Cows in central Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Surprise cows! edition

Torino remains delightfully odd at times. On Saturday I was walking towards Piazza Castello when I heard a loud clanging at the top of the hill. What on earth…? It was a parade. With cows.

In other news from my extremely glamorous life:

  1. It’s been warm enough recently that gelato still seems like a reasonable idea even without my autumn resolutions. I had some yesterday. I’m pretty sure the serving sizes get bigger as the number of customers drops. At least, I felt like I was eating this cone of gelato for a loooong time (yay!) and was totally sugared-out afterwards (boo!)
  2. A non-grumpy hot beverage review: I can taste lemon & ginger tea!!! Am resisting the urge to stockpile.
  3. Daylight savings ended here yesterday, and I’m trying to make the most of the few days where that means “yay sunshine in the morning again” before the winter darkness sets in properly. Mind you, when I say “make the most of it”, I mean, “lie in bed and think isn’t it nice that it’s light outside, but I still don’t wanna get up.”
  4. On the other hand, the sun setting earlier means I get to watch the sun go down over the Alps every afternoon from my desk. Today my view was of a pale pink-orange sky marbled with clouds, softened by the haze, with a sharp silhouette of the mountains in dark grey beneath.
  5. I was struck by an apple-pie making mood last week, which made me roll my eyes slightly at how ~*seasonally appropriate*~ I was being, but it did lead me to discovering this recipe, which if were better at handling pastry would probably be perfect. As it was, it was only slightly structurally unsound and it only almost collapsed under its own weight and only a little bit of the pie ended up all over the table when it came time to serve it up, so I’ll call it a win overall.
Canal near Chivasso, Italy

Autumn resolutions list

Last week was blessed with plenty of perfect late summer/early autumn weather, with warm-but-not-hot days and brisk nights, and long afternoons with melancholy light. I had to travel to Milan for work twice, and both days I couldn’t stop staring at the view from the train window across the fields of eastern Piemonte and to the alps, which are still bare of snow this early in the year. These are the sorts of days I think of when you say autumn, which feels a bit silly because autumn here is mostly overcast days and drizzle. But even if my ideas of autumn are more often ideals than reality, I do love the season, especially in these early days before the winter darkness gets too close.

Here are some things I would like to do this year (this list is short partly to keep things achievable and partly because a good chunk of the weekend time I’d usually spend on planning/writing a blog post was spent on working on items 1 and 2 — at least I’m getting started on my resolutions early!):

  1. Continue eating gelato regularly until it gets too cold to reasonably stand around outside with a cup of frozen stuff in my hands. Once it stops being so hot I need gelato, I have a terrible tendency to forget about it, which is daft.
  2. Find a tea and/or tisane I like. More to the point: find a tea I can smell well enough that it doesn’t feel like drinking hot water. Experiments so far suggest fruity tisanes work, but I would love to find a more traditional tea.
  3. Get out of Torino at least on a day trip at some point. Maybe go for a walk somewhere? Go to Liguria and enjoy the beach without the crowds?
  4. Collect and press some leaves.
  5. Work on my stew/casserole skills. I don’t have a good go-to stew recipe, and it will be a challenge to find one without onions, but there must be something out there!

(I’m impressed with myself: only 60% of my ideas about autumn revolve around food, if you take this list as representative. I would have imagined more like 90%.)

Turin by night from Monte dei Cappuccini

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: way too much food edition

Late summer through autumn is when Piemonte goes into full-on food mode and I love it. I spent this afternoon with friends at Festival delle Sagre, a food festival in Asti, a town about an hour from Torino. It had been a cool and rainy morning and text messages flew back and forth about whether it would still be on, whether we should go. We couldn’t not go! It had been so much fun last year and if we didn’t go today, K. wouldn’t get a chance to go. We got word there would still be food stalls, and decided to go whatever the weather.

Around lunch time, as we were bundling into cars with our rain jackets and umbrellas, the sun came out, and stayed out all afternoon. (It’s raining again now.) It ended up being a warm late summer afternoon in Asti, filled with food and wine and conversation and laughter and a spin round on a ferris wheel. Me afterwards: “I’m glad A. and M. brought their kids, they gave us an excuse to go on the ferris wheel. Wait. We probably would have done it anyway, wouldn’t we.”

Things I have learned recently:

  1. Lugging home my work laptop on the weekend is truly useless. No matter how much I fully intend no really for reals to get some work done on Saturday morning, I will inevitably find something else to do. Like clean a kitchen.
  2. I say “a” kitchen because my procrastination is at a level where I will clean pretty much anyone’s kitchen rather than do work.
  3. Cleaning kitchens is more immediately satisfying than doing physics research.
  4. Having gelato in the afternoon is no barrier to going for granita at night. I’m about 80% certain at this point that I will eventually leave Italy with type II diabetes.
  5. Most alcohol makes my stomach churn unless I have unsociably tiny quantities. However, preliminary research suggests this is not true of sake. Further experimentation is required. Funding agencies: I’ll gladly take grants to study this. Call me.
  6. You will never go wrong by bringing a batch of cookies to a get-together. (cf my comments above about type II diabetes.)
  7. Turin is really pretty at night.


Remember how I was asking the other week for onion/garlic-free recipes? One suggestion (thanks CatherineRose!) was quiche, which I love in principle… but in practice I’m too lazy to make pastry for a base. Fortunately, this is a good cheat-y pseudo-quiche recipe, one of those ones where you basically throw flour and egg and some tasty things in a pie dish and pull out something reasonably quiche-like from the oven 40 minutes later.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a pie dish.

Fortunately, I do have several spring-form cake tins that are about the right size for the recipe.

Unfortunately, spring-form cake tins do not hold raw egg at all, as I discovered as I got raw egg all over my table cloth. No worries, I thought. I’ll just put this spring-form cake tin inside a larger spring-form cake tin and that will catch the drips. I put the pair of tins in the oven, and 30 seconds later was yelling something along the lines of “No f&#$ you, quiche!” as I watched the egg drip through the outer cake tin and onto the oven floor.

Fortunately it was at this point I finally realized I could scoop everything into a muffin tin that would hold the mixture perfectly to make a dozen mini-quiches. You know that “I meant to do that!” look that cats give when they know they’ve done something ridiculous? That was exactly my face at that moment.

Got any good recipes with no onions or garlic? Or: What it’s like to have a wacky sense of smell.

African elephant warning raised trunk.jpg

(True confessions: I had to check on wikipedia that elephants actually use their trunks as noses and that’s not just something we pretend when we talk to small children.) African elephant warning raised trunk” by Muhammad Mahdi Karim Facebook

If you’ve been following along for a while, you might remember that back in April I realised I couldn’t smell anything. Not in the sense of, Yup, I’m living in a clean (enough) apartment without any unpleasant odours, but in the sense of smelling nothing. A sort of silence for the nose. The realization came as something of surprise for me, since a working sense of smell is something you tend to take for granted, but apparently losing your sense of smell is a thing that can happen when you injure your head, which I had done a few weeks prior.

(As an aside, there’s an extremely nerdy drinking game to be had by looking through neuroscience journals and taking a shot whenever you encounter a variation on “olfactory disorders are among the most common sequelae of head injuries” in the introduction to a paper. As an aside to an aside: how cool is sequelae as a word?) Continue reading