La Spiaggia: At the beach, Italian style

beachromewaves

The Italian vacation to which I alluded in January is come and gone. And it was wonderful. I ate so much great gelato, pizza and pasta that I will have to do a separate posting on the food. Since N and I spent 9 days in Rome for our honeymoon in 2012, we’d already done a lot of the must-do things in that city, and we were free to plan each day — or not — as it came. This time, after a few days, we were ready to get out of the city. We opted to head to the beach.

From Rome, you can take the Metro straight to the beach at Ostia Lido. It’s only about half an hour from the city, and you can transfer to the train to the beach on the same 1.50 Euro ticket that got you started on your journey. It’s a bargain and a great getaway from Rome that doesn’t even have to take your whole day (which is good because we got a late start after a lazy morning and a trip to our neighborhood outdoor market for our picnic lunch).

Since the journey was ridiculously affordable and we were warned that the public beaches might be crowded, we planned to pay to enter one of the private beaches, and we went armed with the name of a recommended beach. All the beaches have their own bars (a bar is a coffee shop that also serves beer and wine, some cold food like pastries and panini, and maybe even hot food) and usually bathrooms and chair rentals, but private beaches offer more space and well, privacy. They have fancier bars or maybe even nice restaurants serving fresh seafood, and if you want to shell out, you can rent a private cabin for changing. It seemed like it would be a fun cultural experience.

beachroma

But we got sidetracked by a cultural experience of a different kind. On the train, we were befriended by an old Italian man. Actually, he engaged us in friendly conversation with several people on the train, and they all discussed the beach we had chosen and what bus would get us there once we got off the train.

Then our friend offered to take us to his favorite beach. With our limited Italian we gathered that it was the public beach where he, retired and with a free senior citizen pass for the Metro, goes every single day. We made sure there were bathrooms, umbrella rentals, and of course, a bar, and then decided we’d follow him. Why pass up the opportunity to experience something alongside a local? Also, his beach was a short walk from the Metro, two stops closer to the city, so we’d be on the sand faster and with a guide to get there we didn’t have to worry about taking the wrong bus and ending up somewhere way down the coast.

When we got off the train, the old man showed us the fountain where he always fills his water bottle (Rome has these ubiquitous and wonderful drinking fountains that continuously dispense safe, delicious drinking water), and then treated us to coffees at a bar on the way down the street! He delivered us to the beach, negotiated with the attendant for us to pay 5 Euros instead of 6 (too much, he said) for an umbrella, then shook our hands and went to his favorite spot to bake in the sun.

Sure, the beach was crowded.

beachcrowded

It was full of young Italians — not under umbrellas — and young central and eastern Europeans as white as us, who were more likely to be protecting themselves from the sun. We lounged under our umbrella for hours, taking breaks to splash in the (still chilly) Mediterranean waters and walk along the beach. We ate our picnic of bread, cheese, and ripe cherries, and didn’t even need a trip to the bar for further provisions. Our friend came to say goodbye to us, and we left not long after him, wandering our way back to the Metro for a tired, contended ride back into Rome.

 

 

 

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New Year, New Journeys

Happy New Year, all!

It’s 2014, and that means a whole new year of music and travels for this soprano. The coming months include gigs in Chicago with Wayward Sisters, Raleigh and Durham with Voices of a New Renaissance, Baltimore and Washington with Seraphic Fire, at Duke with the Choral Society of Durham, and across the San Francisco bay area with American Bach Soloists. And that’s just the first 2 months of 2014. Oh, and I forgot to mention the faculty Liederabend at East Carolina University. Don’t tell my mother; she thinks I overschedule myself and unfortunately, as usual, she’s right.

But there’s a gelato-flavored light at the end of the tunnel. In May after I finish my last gig of the 2013-2014 season I get to fly to Rome on a journey purely for fun — to join N on his choir tour, visit dear friends, and eat again at all our favorite restaurants. Serious quantities of frequent flyer miles are a not insignificant consolation prize for all those hours in cramped airplane seats. Just two years ago it was miles that made our Roman honeymoon possible.

I’ll fly right from that last gig (in Miami with Seraphic Fire) to Italy. I’m super excited about this because every time I arrive into Miami’s beautiful terminal,

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I’m happy to be there but partly wish I were connecting on to somewhere else. You see, MIA is the gateway to Latin America and the Carribean. From Raleigh there are 3 direct flights to Miami every day on American, and they’re usually full. But most of those travelers don’t have South Florida as their final destination. They’re either getting on cruise ships to sunny, beachy places, or they’re connecting to another flight to somewhere even more exotic. Here’s are the places I hear as we’re landing and they’re announcing the connecting gates for everyone on the plane:

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I know, it’s obnoxious to whine about going to Miami when most of the country is daydreaming about mojitos on South Beach, but it’s hard to walk by departure boards like this:

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and not indulge in a few dreams of my own. So in May I’ll be wheeling my little suitcase up to a departure gate, passport in hand, making a dream a reality.

Fruits (and pastas, and soups) of Labor

During my time on the ground I’ve been busy…making food! When I arrive home from a gig one of my greatest joys is getting back to cooking and baking. Food is my only real hobby, in the sense of something I do regularly outside of work (music, although it’s my greatest passion, doesn’t qualify since it IS my work). When I started this blog I thought that a lot of postings would be about food, and I imagine that day will come soon, but so far delicious edibles haven’t featured much except in the case of my tragic smoothie disaster.

I love cooking, eating, and dining out. And taking photos of food so I can remember it or post online or email to family to share. The (very amateur) food photography offshoot of my hobby began during my 2009 tour to Indonesia with the Swara Sonora Trio, when I couldn’t help but document every amazing meal we shared.

But back to the present. Over the past two weeks I’ve made:

my best-ever fried rice (turns out you need a lot more oil than I usually cook with);

fried rice

my favorite made-up soup, curry lentils and greens;

curry lentil soup

a pasta with meltingly roasted eggplant and sautéed squash;

eggplant-squash pasta

spice cupcakes (The Joy of Cooking’s quick spice cake recipe is a standby for me);

spice cupcakes

Cacio e Pepe, a favorite from last year’s honeymoon in Rome;

cacio e pepe

the tastiest 100% whole wheat bread recipe I’ve tried (thank you King Arthur);

bread

half-sour pickles (Parenthetical Aside 1: N and I love these so much and we get the best pickling cucumbers here in NC. Parenthetical Aside 2: This recipe is great but I recommend halving the salt unless you want to start taking blood pressure medication);

half sour pickles

And bagels! (Really Bruegger’s are better but these were fun to make and I might try again with proper bread flour instead of all-purpose).

bagels

That’s not to mention the chocolate chip cookies, peach caprese, oatmeal cookies, from-scratch microwave popcorn (did you know you can just put kernels in a glass bowl, top with a plate, and press Start?) ravioli–not from scratch–with olive oil and sage, and probably some other things I’m forgetting.

I thought cooking was okay for my back since it involves neither sitting nor standing still, but I think being on my feet that much, twisting around to stir and chop and transfer things, isn’t ideal. I decided to cool it for a while and eat my leftovers. The decision was also precipitated by a fridge that looks like this:

full fridge
Good thing my mom swept into town to help me eat them. But more on that later. Right now I need a snack.