Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January… time to plan travels (Part I)

Every January a large scheduling sheet was passed to each of us in our department so we could place an X on the weeks we requested for our annual holidays. I worked in the corporation for almost 26 years so the habit to look in January for anticipated travels is still with me. When I started working there in 1982 it was hard to make traveling plans so long in advance. There was no Internet with quick information. I had to go to our library to do my research and much of the information was dated. Then I would write – slow mail since there was no email and long distance telephone was expensive – to the hotels or bed and breakfast to make reservations. I remember how I wrote to a bed and breakfast in Chester, England in the early 1980s with anticipation but three weeks later they replied that they were full for that date. I had to start my research all over again.

Vintage postcard of Chester circa 1906 (this was before I went there!)

I still like to make travel plans in January but also other months, long enough in advance of the trip to allow for full research and reading on the area, the history, the authors, et al. My love of travel started when I was 6 years old, after World War II, when my mother and I took a ship to Istanbul, Turkey to sell my grandmother’s house and bring her back with us to Paris (my father’s mother.)

Painting by Robert Otto Nowak, Austrian 1874-1945

It took more than 10 days for the ship to go from Marseille to Istanbul because it had to stop many times. My mother told me “look at those black things in the water” I saw them and asked “what are they?” my mother replied “they are unexploded naval mines so the ship has to move slowly” “why?” “Because the ship would blow up” (and some already had prior to us.) I did not fully understand the implication but since my mother was staying in the cabin being sick while the ship was moving I had a great time being free to run on the ship with other little children. I especially remember an English girl and an Italian boy and started talking to them somehow. I liked this trip so much I decided I would travel always and also learn English and Italian.

Painting by Maurice Prendergast, American 1895-1924

I have traveled to many countries and islands – some more than once like when going back to France, England and Italy and some just once. Here is the list in alphabetical order (I am not counting stops at airports like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia): Algeria (3 times or 3 X) Barbados, Belgium (many X) Canada (9 X) Denmark, Egypt (4 X) England (many X) Ethiopia (2 X) France (many X) Gabon, Germany (2 X) Greece (2X) Grenada, Iceland, Indonesia (including Bali), Italy (many X) Jamaica and

Japan, Laos, Luxembourg (2 X) Malaysia, Malta, Mexico (2 X) Monaco (4 X) Morocco, Netherlands (3 X) Netherland Antilles, Portugal, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Senegal, Singapore, Spain (2 X) Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Sweden, Switzerland (2 X), Thailand (2 X) Tunisia (4 X) Turkey (2 X) United Arab Emirates – Dubai and Sharjah, United States (46 states) Vatican City, Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan and Yugoslavia = 48 total and I hope to make it an even 50 this year. I also learned to speak English and Italian (with a spattering of Russian and Arabic.)

I have not been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
-Susan Sontag, American author 1933-2004

Traveling to all these cities, states, islands and countries has kept my mind open and alive. Learning the various customs, religions, history, visiting monuments, historical sites, museums, speaking to the local inhabitants and eating their food have challenged my perceptions and expended my experiences. When I was little and declared I would travel all over the world adults said that it was too expensive. They said growing up and realities would cure me of this dream. I kept the dream alive all these years and vagabonding is in my heart. I am still keeping dreaming and hoping - I think that each one of us is the master of our destiny and in control of our fate so why not keep on dreaming - and planning trips. I keep hoping that I can travel and be a vagabond as long as I am able.

Hope, painting by Edward Burne-Jones, English 1833-1898

Hold onto dreams
For if dreams die
Life is like a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Langston Hughes, American Poet, 1902-1967

We can always find a door that will open for us

Picture of a door I photographed in Florence, Italy (with my old film camera) click to enlarge

One of my blogging friends commented that I was not a “vagabond.” I guess since the term most commonly refers to a “vagrant” or “hobo.” In French, however “vagabond” or “vagabonde” in its feminine form has various meanings: 1) someone whose imagination travels and 2) who travels or wanders without set ideas and 3) who is eccentric and whose mind goes from subject to subject - an eclectic mind.

Here are some more pictures I took with my old film camera

from top left: Kamouraska, Quebec, Canada – tailor shop in Dubai, UAE – the tomb of author Karen Blixen (1885-1962) who wrote Out of Africa, Rungstedlund, Denmark – House of Renoir Cagnes-sur-Mer, France (click to enlarge)

Now that I am getting older and time is slipping away, travelling, far and near, is still a top priority. You never know when you won’t be able to take the next trip, or when life will stop. There is still a lot to learn. Travels will stay with you for a lifetime as a wealth of experiences but also as interior journeys expanding your knowledge and awareness. Traveling in your own country is fine but it is not like being in a foreign land – you feel vulnerable and it changes you in a way and humbles you. You can empathize with people from very different social, economic and cultural perspective. To read about traveling or watch travel shows is most entertaining but it's not at all as being over there. You cannot turn the page or turn off the television. First hand exposures increase our objectivity and explain differences. It challenges our perception and sharpens our understanding of other cultures. It makes us see things from a different angle than the accepted “home” angle and realize that “our way” is not always the only way or the best way. It destroys ethnocentricity. Travel intensifies living and gets around preconceived ideas about foreign places.

Wanderlust has been in my blood all my life but I do understand that travelling does not affect everyone like this. Some will say – how can you afford it? It is a matter of priorities. Some people at work would envy my travels but then they would tell me about their new boat or flat screen, high definition television they just bought. With that budget I could arrange a great trip in another country. We go on a budget, travel frugally and sometimes do not decide where to go until we see a great deal, and then decide to go there. Since this is getting long I will give examples of some of my trips, on a budget, in the second part of this post.

So, this January, as in many Januaries, I have already made plans to travel to another state and in another country during the months ahead. I will take photographs there and bring them back for future posts.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do... Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fresh Figs – home grown

When we moved to our current house, years ago, a friend who lived close by had a large fig tree. He gave us a small cutting from his tree and we planted it near the house. It has grown quite well, without any kind of fertilizer or chemical spray. It has been giving us a large amount of figs.

Lately, at the end of June, we get a small crop of very large figs, as large as pears as you can see below – while the rest of the figs on the tree are tiny and green and ripen in mid August.

There are many varieties of figs – ours is called Brown Turkey. Down the road a neighbor has the dark red variety and another neighbor has the small, very sweet, variety called Celeste. Below is a vintage postcard showing a basket of fruit with the dark red figs. This could be the Poona variety or the Italian variety called Black Ischia.

The genus of the fig is Ficus (latin) with about 850 species that include not only figs but also woody trees, shrubs, vines, etc. It is believed to be indigenous to eastern Asia and is thousands of years old. Remnants of figs have been found in excavation of sites dating from 5,000 B.C. Figs come from the Ficus Maraceae species. Another specie is the Opuntia Ficus Indica which is a sort of cactus with a fruit called prickly pear, and yet another specie is Ficus Religiosa . This is an Indian tree (also called Bodhi Tree) of great size and longevity. It is considered sacred by Buddhists and planted close to many temples as it is the tree under which Gautama is said to have received the heavenly light and became Buddha.

Le Bouddha, painted by Odilon Redon, French, Symbolist, 1840-1916 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Growing up in France I ate many figs in summer, fresh and sometimes with goat cheese.

Figs and Cheese, painted by Grace Mehan de Vito, American, contemporary

Since our fig tree produced so much fruit I started to make fig jams. I usually make jam with figs only but also some fig jams I add other fruits - those I prefer to mix are mangos, peaches, or cherimoyas. The cherimoya is a tropical fruit native to the Andean highland valleys of Ecuador and Peru – it is very sweet with a sherbet like texture and mixes well with figs.

Making fig jam is not difficult and it does not take too long. Last summer I took pictures while making the jam so I could show the process on my blog. I wanted to especially show it to one of my blogging friends, Paty from Florianopolis in Brazil. She has a fig tree in her yard but has not made jam from it. Her two blogs are very pretty and interesting – please visit them (one is in Portuguese but she has a translation button on the side) - they are entitled: I Love Florianopolis and Morada de Venus. Here is the process I go through to make the jam. First gather the figs from the tree. It is nice if you have access to a tall person because the tree is quite high – in this case my husband is the gatherer.

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them

As you can see above my Brown Turkey figs are in the small yellow bowl and the figs in the basket are from the Celeste variety. This past September was the 4th time this year I made my jam. I supplemented my figs with the Celeste from Lake Laura Farm down the road (see my post on Lake Laura here.) I gather all the tools I’ll need. The jars, a long wooden spoon, a sharp knife, a package of pectin, a measuring cup, a small plate with a teaspoon, a block of paraffin, a ladle, a jar funnel, clean towel, a pair of tongs and assorted pots.

We do not spray the figs against insects as we do not get any – just the birds like to eat the ripe fruits. For one recipe of fig jam you need:

5 cups of fruit, cut in little pieces (about 3 or 4 pounds of fruit)
½ cup of fresh lemon juice
1 box of pectin
1 tsp of butter
7 cups of sugar

This will yield about 8 or 9 ½ pint jars (1/2 pint = 8 oz which is 2 cups.) I use paraffin to seal the jam as I do not have a canner. I use extreme caution to have everything super clean and wash my hands often. Place the jars in a large pan with water to cover them and warm the water until it boils. Keep it boiling for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down but keep the jars very warm.

Measure the sugar in a large bowl, so it will be ready when the time comes. I place a small piece of wax paper on the counter top to keep the counter clean. Break a large piece of paraffin and place it in a can and then in a small saucepan with some water in the bottom, about 2 inches high. Keep the saucepan warm enough to keep the paraffin liquid and make sure there is always water in the bottom of the pan. (Remember that paraffin is flammable so don’t overheat it or let the pan dry!)

Press the lemon to obtain ½ cup of juice.

Gently wash the figs and cut the stems and the bottom of the figs, then chop the fruit in little pieces. Do not peel them unless a spot is discolored and peel that spot only.

Place the cut up figs (or mixture of fig and other fruits) in a large and heavy pot. Add butter (to avoid too much foaming) the lemon juice and the powdered pectin.

Place heat under the pot and turn the fig mixture with a wooden spoon until the mixture is very hot.

Turn heat to high and keep stirring the fig mix until it reaches a full boil. When it has reached a full boil which cannot be stopped by stirring, add the sugar.

Keep stirring constantly until the mixture comes back to a rolling boil then stir for 1 minute while it boils (have a watch or clock ready so you can time this.) After a minute turn off the heat on the stove and move the pot away. Let the mixture cool for about 4 minutes and stir with spoon once in a while. Skim a little bit of the foam off the top of the mixture with a small spoon and place on a plate. Keep stirring the fig mixture off and on.

While the mixture is cooling off a bit remove jars from the hot water with tongs so as not to burn your fingers and place upside down on a clean towel on the kitchen counter. Return the pot to the stove or counter if you have the space. Take a jar close to the pot and place the jar funnel on it. With a ladle fill the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top and keep filling jars this way until you have used all the fig mixture.

Wipe any spilled jam off the outsides of jars. Seal by pouring the melted paraffin wax on the jam. Make wax layer about 1/8 inch thick and do not move jars until paraffin has hardened. Wax should be touching all edges of jar and be even. If there are air bubbles in wax - prick them with toothpick to make better seal. I usually let the jars sit about 1 or 2 hours until I see the thin white film of paraffin and then I pour another 1/8 inch on the jar again making sure that the edges are well covered and sealed. Then I leave the jars to cool off overnight before I place tops on them. If a jar was half filled I keep that one to eat right away.

Some say that sealing with paraffin is not recommended because the wax may separate from the side of the jars allowing air to touch the jam and mold is possible. I have been making jam this way for about 20 years and never had a problem or been sick from my jam. Should a little bit of mold come on the top of the jar after a while I just wipe it off as it is just on the surface and does not hurt the content. But you can always use a canner. We like to eat our homemade jam on toasts or English muffin for breakfast with a bowl of café au lait (for my husband) or black coffee made with expresso beans for me. Store jam in refrigerator after opening.

Remember to label the jam with the year and store away. Place pretty labels on them when giving them as gifts. I do not keep the jams more than 2 or 3 years – usually they are gone by that time or given away. If not, I toss them out and replace them with fresh ones. This year I made 4 or 5 batches of fig jam, some spiced apricot jam, blueberry jam, strawberry and rhubarb jam until I cannot place anymore jars in my cupboards. We love fruit either fresh or in homemade jams.

This is not complicated and it tastes very good. Enjoy.


Pêssegos, peras, laranjas,
morangos, cerejas, figos,
maçãs, melão, melancia,
ó música de meus sentidos,
pura delícia da língua;
deixai-me agora falar
do fruto que me fascina,
pelo sabor, pela cor,
pelo aroma das sílabas:
tangerina, tangerina.
-Eugénio de Andrade, Portuguese 1923-2005

English translation:


Peaches, pears, oranges,
strawberries, cherries, figs,
apples, melon, honey dew,
oh, music of my senses,
pure pleasure of the tongue;
let me speak now
of fruit that fascinate,
with the flavour, with the hues,
with the fragrance of their syllables:
oh tangerine, oh tangerine.
Eugénio de Andrade, Portuguese 1923-2005

Still Life with Figs, painting by Luis Melendez, Spanish 1715-1780

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Snow…finally (a wee bit)

My cousin in France told me that it had snowed there last week. I could imagine Paris in the snow, as in the painting below –

Notre Dame de Paris in Snow, Simon Tavik, Czech -1877-1942

My childhood friend who now lives near Toledo, Spain, sent me a picture of her patio under the snow. Snow in Spain! What happened to sunny Spain?

Then last Thursday night, 7 January, our weatherman predicted snow that evening for the metro Atlanta area prompting schools to dismiss children early. Indeed we saw some snow coming down before going to bed. The next morning I had a euphoric moment – I might finally see some snow outdoors. As I was finding warm clothes, hat, scarf, gloves I could imagine tons of snow covering everything in the landscape as in the Russian painting below –

Painting by Vladimir Krylov, Russian, born in 1942

But then once outside I saw the snow was just a light blanket – my daughters’ old toy horse

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

and the wood pile were barely covered.

I decided to go down to our neighbor’s lake and take a few pictures.

Click to enlarge picture

Some wild ducks were trying to find a bit of grass to eat and a little puddle of water for a swim – not an easy task in the frozen lake.

I walked back to our yard. Everything was still. There was no noise, only the creak of my shoes on the frozen grass.

Close to noon I walked back outside toward the road. It was quite cold, about 24 degree F ( -4.5 C) - which is very cold for Georgia. No cars were driving by. I heard an engine though and saw a truck driving backward. It was backing down the road, with workers feverishly throwing gravel on sleek spots. The truck drove past me and kept backing up toward the creek.

I waved to them, but they never even looked up – the poor crew was throwing gravel as fast as they could. It reminded me of a poem I just read on the Internet:

There are no Snowplows in Atlanta

It was cold, it IS cold
Everything froze.
The engines on the trains froze.
The mail at the post-office froze right in the trucks
and melted illegibly.
The tunnel to France froze
and there are no snowplows in Atlanta. -by butterflyz r free

Since they were backing up towards the creek my husband and I decided to drive down there to take a look. We had not gone even a quarter of a mile when we saw an empty Cobb County Police car stopped with its blue light flashing. We stopped.

I walked pass the empty vehicle to see what was the matter. The Cobb County officer was coming back and told me not to go any further as it was not safe on the road with the icy spots. I said I would be careful and kept walking. In the ditch, ahead, was a police car with its driver waiting for the wrecker to dig him out. The ditch is quite deep there.

We heard the policeman had to stand 2 hours by his car waiting for the crew in a gravel truck to clear the icy spots on the road – there are no snowplows in Cobb County either. The police car in the ditch was from the city of Dunwoody, which is in DeKalb county, not Cobb. That’s curious…

Since we could not pass the wrecker to drive to the creek we turned around and went looking for lunch somewhere (the plumber had not shown up to fix our kitchen because of the snow.) We drove to “Louise” a small breakfast and lunch restaurant close to Kennesaw Battlefield Park.

We almost did not stop as there were no cars in the parking lot but it was open. We entered and saw no other patrons – none by the fire or the cash register or having lunch.

We sat and checked the menu on the wall.

My husband decided to have the chicken liver with creamed potatoes, broccoli casserole and corn bread. I chose the salmon patties with spinach casserole, lima beans, and corn bread. As you can see these luncheon plates cost $5.95 each (which is about 4 Euros, or 3 pounds 66.) It’s specializes in standard southern food.

As we finished our meal one more patron showed up – the mailman. I took a picture of a photograph hanging on the wall. It was of this restaurant in the 60's when it was called “The Old Confederate Trading Post” and on a snowy day. If you look on the left hand side of the photo, just inside the frame, you can see the reflection of the sitting mailman.

We then drove around the corner to Kennesaw National Battlefield Park. It was closed. Everything closes in Georgia when snow appears. It was still in the low 20's so I hurried to take a few shots to remember the park under the snow (even though some people up north would not call this “real” snow.)

(Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Today the temperature is almost back to normal, it is 52 F (11 C) right now. The snow is about all gone.


On a more serious side – please support the efforts of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for their work in Haiti. They have already treated more than a 1,500 people since Tuesday’s terrible earthquake. We need to help them provide more assistance to the survivors, many with serious injuries. Please click on the link here – and you can give with a credit card, even a very small amount.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...