I’m very fortunate. I travel a lot and take lots of pictures. I’m very bad at sharing them however and in this new age of digital cameras and password protected computers, what is happening is that thousands of photos continue to occupy the hard disk of my laptop, generally without visitation rights. Back in the day when we used traditional film and photographs were printed, at least they were sorted out in an album, tended to with more care and visited by whomever’s fingers happened upon the photo book.
I’ve therefore decided to retrace my Italian vacation city by city in an effort to share more of the photos I have taken and to find a way to document that experience so that I can return to its memory as often as I like.
We landed in Geneva and drove to Lake Como. Arriving into the city is at first unimpressive as it is a surprisingly bigger town than one would expect and looks rather typical of other Italian cities. As soon as the lake comes into view however, that impression is quickly transformed into one of awe. The lake is serene and beautiful, nestled amidst lush green mountains dotted with beautiful houses. My eyes curiously made their way up and down the mountains as I played the mental game of “which one is George Clooney’s house?” There is not much to do in this beautiful town yet it was swarming with visitors, mostly elderly Americans and a few honeymooners. Our hotel was an impressive structure reminiscent of Italian history and the view from our room was a breathtaking view of the lake.
We were there for only 2 days so we didnt get a chance to see very much as Mother Nature rained down on us for a full day however you can take a ferry and discover the lakes romantic views as well as the neighboring towns around the lake. Visit the many mansions dotting the area, walk through the old town square and see the impressive cathederal. You can also visit the village of Brunate located at an altitude of 712 m on a hill overlooking Lake Como and reached by car or a funicolare. The funicolare experience is wonderful as the ride up offers incredible views and the village is delightful.
Arriving in Lake Como by car – view from my window, spotted with rain drops
From left: 1. a local hand-made keepsake from the village of Brunate; 2. the funicolare to take you up to and down from Brunate; 3. local fishing boat resting on the edge of the lake
Avoid September and the colder months that follow however. We were there for 2 days. It was cold and rained a whole day so there wasnt much to do as the experience of Lake Como is in being outside. If you’re planning a trip and need tips and advice on what to see and do, visit http://www.discovercomo.com.
In my post before last (eons ago yes!) I committed to completing a photo assignment I had taken upon myself to complete no matter how long it took me. In the interest of attempting to finish something I’ve started (rare!), here is the first of my photos that fall into this “magical” theme I am pursuing.
This was taken at Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy. I watched this little girl frantically jump around bouncing in all directions, hungrily catching the bubbles coming out of a toy contraption that a street vendor attempted to sell – as though her every happiness depended upon it – and I could not take my eyes off her. In that moment, nothing else existed for her but that bubble chase. I envied the innocent pleasure that children derive from the simplest of things. I suppose my intention in pursuing this theme was to capture moments that, every time I looked at that photo evoked those same emotions I felt when I first took it. In this instance, that emotion was pure joy.
Forgive me dear reader for this prolonged absence. I have been a nomad for the past month or so. Since I last wrote, I have been to Geneva, Lake Como, Milan, Florence, Siena, Pisa, Rome and this past weekend, Istanbul.
September 14th is a day that will go down in (my) history as the day on which I presented to the company CEO. The meeting was long, intense – and a huge success and will hopefully make its mark in the ‘dana annals’ as a career maker and a life changer. It has certainly changed my outlook on work. If I can prepare for a CEO visit in 3 weeks, I can do anything right?! This meeting has changed my benchmark for stress, making everything else feel so effortless in contrast. This meeting also made me realize how far my boundaries stretch. Not for my ability to present to a CEO but for my ability to survive an incredible amount of stress, lack of sleep, lack of food, pressure, change, frustration and political nonsense. As for the career maker part, only time will tell.. So following the three weeks of utter torture leading up to this big meeting, I escaped on a much needed vacation on September 16th, as soon as it was over.
In that period, I crossed the fields of Tuscany, took in the magnificent architecture and history of la bella Italia and the Ottoman empire, ate a lot of incredible Italian food and traditional Turkish cuisine and indulged in too much gelato, baklava and kunafe. I laughed a lot, fought a lot, walked a lot, loved a lot and really lived.
You see dear reader, the happiest moments in my life somehow always fold back to one thing: freedom. My wanderlust soul craves adventure and liberty from the corporate chains that tie me down. With travel comes peace of mind. Even when I am walking endlessley for hours, complaining because of my aching feet or from dragging around my over-packed luggage; somehow on vacation, the pace of life suddenly slows down to accommodate me. The biggest decision of my day becomes what I will have for lunch and all traces of stress, frustration and anxiety that may have found various ways of etching themselves into my face are suddenly erased. If I must be honest, food also makes me immensely happy and the discovery of food through travel is even more special. There is much to tell you about all these wonderful places I visited but I prefer to let my photos do the talking. I hope you enjoy this photo food journal.
Italian cuisine (from left clockwise) 1. Pizza Marinara with basilico in Roma 2. Pizza il funghi in Pisa 3. Insalata mista in Milano 4. Spaghetti il pommodoro in Roma
Istanbul (from left clockwise) 1. grilled prawns on an eggplant puree bed with frisee and a sherry vinagrette at the Istanbul Modern 2. a doner kebab vendor 3. beautiful lanterns in the Grand Bazaar 4. Turkish Delight 5. Chocolate flavored baklava 6. Coconut covered turkish delight 7. Kunafe
During my time away time, Steve Jobs crossed over to the other side. In homage to his positivity, perseverance and passion and in honor of the incredible change he has brought to our everyday lives, remember to “stay hungry, stay foolish” and travel. The world is a vast and beautiful place. Earlier this year I took a trip to Paris and fell in love. Dare to explore this beautiful worlds’ depths. You dont know what could be waiting for you..
I never did end up submitting my photograpy homework which is quite apalling however I did finally settle on a theme. My theme is “magic”.
This is a word I cherish for the whimsical feelings it evokes and for all the giddyness it garners in the depths of my soul. When i think of magic i see sparks fly. I think of fireworks and love and rainbows and laughter. I think of old fashioned candy shops and comfort food. I think of babies and the magic of how they come into this life. I think of beauty and kindness and patience and virtue. I think of fairy lights and stars and clouds. There is so much magic in our lives, every day, every moment if only we were to stop to notice it. I hope this assignment will open my own eyes and humble my heart to appreciate the magic that surrounds me everyday.
Although I have missed the official submission deadline for this assignment, I am taking it upon myself to pursue this assignment seriously until I have at least 20 photos that I can label with this special moniker – and eventually browse through for days when i need a little magic in my own life…
(photos coming soon)
In pursuit of my love for photography and following the purchase of my beautiful Nikon D90 camera, I enrolled in a photograhy class with Z. This consisted of two 4hr classes over a weekend. Given it is Ramadan and there is not much to do by day, it served as the perfect distration from our rumbling tummies and the boredom that occupies a weekend where you cannot delight in the pure pleasure of food.
It was thrilling to be able to discover so many hidden gems in the camera – and to finally shift away from that safe “AUTO” setting. We experimented with aperture settings, ISO’s and shutter speeds and learned a few basic tricks of the trade regarding white balance, focal length and exposure. The theory behind photography is a complex beast which I believe can only be conquered through practice and so I have photographed the life out of my teddy bear Luc, a bunch of lemons and my baking – all in the interest of experience.
Here are some of my shots. I have lots to learn…
Playing with the Aperture Priority setting: the photo on the left was taken at ISO 200 at an F-stop of F22. The shot on the right was also at an ISO of 200 but an F-stop of F5.6. Notice how the object is in greater focus and the background is more blurred
Playing with the White Balance setting: from left to right, these photos were all taken at an F-stop of F5.3. The white balane settings in order were: Auto, Flash, Sunny
For those beginners out there like myself, an excellent book to pick up is “The Digital Photography Book” by Scott Kelby. The book is written as though you were shooting on location with Scott. There are no technical references or teachings, just simple, straight-forward step-by-step techniques for getting the shot you want. If you’re looking to shoot something in focus with a blurred background effect for instance, he’ll tell you exactly how to fiddle with your camera to get this. His belief is that you need to click as many great photos as you can to appreciate the science and theory behind how to arrive there. It is a great guide to capture the photos you want. This was not only given to us in last weekend’s class but also gifted to me for my birthday. Double proof for how good it is! Let me know what you think of my amateur experimental shots!
I also need to select a theme for my assignment and submit 3 -5 photos related to it. If you have any ideas, I would be delighted to hear them. Thanks!
It’s been inexcusably too long since I’ve posted something. This is mainly because I have been overwhelmed with a work-related negative piece of news that I did not take well and still have difficulty accepting. In the process, I have learned that some people are excellent at playing the game of politics and somehow evading responsibilty to the almost-malicious extent of hurting others in the process. What has been more overwhelming is the realization that my whimsical belief in the adage ‘what comes around goes around’ has been nullified. Why have we been brought up to believe that good things happen to good people? And that the bad guy always loses in the end? In my life it seems quite the opposite. Those who master all the bad skills seems to constantly emerge on top. I will stop dwelling on the negative however I did want to justify my absence so here I am dear reader working through a weekend for all the above reasons. The corporate world is unforgiving.
Thankfully, Thursday presented itself as a ray of sunshine in otherwise very stormy skies. It was my birthday! And how serendipitous to make such an important learning at this point in my life. Maybe I have always known it but refused to accept it. Today I solemnly swear that my career is taking a back seat to my life post this magnanimous meeting. There is alot to look forward to…
Yesterday was incredibly special. I wish I could replay it. The thought of being the center of attention is always daunting but the reality of it incredibly contagious. The calls, the emails, the messages, the surprises, the thoughtful gestures, the gifts and the company were just perfect. Despite the negativity of the past week, I couldnt help but feel extremely grateful for everything in my life. I’m a very fortunate girl. I just need to make a few tough choices to improve the quality of my life. Right now, my bedroom is a sanctuary of joy filled with lots of balloons and the remains of gift wraps and bags.
Another year older and certainly one more wiser. May this be the year when I decide to put myself before my job. Until then, I’ll just have me another piece of chocolate cake.
So in just the first week of August we celebrated two birthdays and an anniversary. Following my last post I have consumed a considerable amount of sugar and taken lots of celebratory photos! Among the last two celebrations were my parents 33rd wedding anniversary and my sisters 30th birthday. Both big wows. And with them desserts to match!
Given it is Ramadan, we are consuming very little of what mountain of desserts has quickly accumulated at home and severely craving them during fasting hours. Moreover, this means I have resorted to much store-bought sugar relief over creating my own delicacies but fear not dear reader, this baker has not yet laid down her spatula. Stay tuned for lots more to come… for now, enjoy my mouth-watering photos of the desserts we have so enjoyed devouring!
The last celebration of the month is my own. Soon to be another year older… *gulp*
Happy Anniversary mum & dad!
Happy birthday sis!
August is a month of many celebrations. Birthdays, anniversaries and lots and lots of dessert. Given we are in the holiest of months – Ramadan – the first celebration of yesterday saw the replacement of the traditional birthday cake with the uber traditional Arabic “knaffeh“. Now there are many variations on this rich and syrupy dessert and many will strongly argue for the reasons behind the deliciousness of the version they prefer. You typically lean towards one base. It is an intriguingly patriotic type of dessert.
Yesterday, we celebrated with both versions, known as “kheshneh” (rough) and “na3meh” or (fine) in English. This is because the family is not unified in its love towards one. You can see the patriotism point I was making! The difference between these two is in the dough. Both are assemled similarly: a base of cheese – wonderfully soft and melted when warm – covered with a thick layer of dough, topped with crushed pistacios and drizzled with an incredible amount of that sugary-sweet gooey syrup. The ” knaffe kheshneh” has a hair-like dough tinted a bright orange color with a bit of a crunch. The “knaffeh na3meh” has more of a compact rich dough that is soft, more buttery and more indulgent. You can see where my allegiance goes!
Most Arabic desserts are similar in their construction. I also brought home some of the delicious desserts that are triangular in shape, known as “mtaba2”. This consists of a phyllo dough filled with cream or cheese and once again topped with crushed pistacios and drizzled with that famous syrup known as “atter”. These are an absolute favorite of mine.
Mutaba2 or Triangles (my creatively inventive English name!)
Happy Birthday dad.
Still a few more celebrations to go…stay tuned for more sugary love!
There is something about having fresh flowers in the house that is extremely uplifting. They breathe life into a room and almost upgrade its personality to more jovial heights. Lady Bird Johnson wrote: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope”. I love that sentiment.
When H came over a few days ago she brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers with her. I am still learning my way around my new Nikon D90 but I am proud of this shot for its framing and the dazzling combination of colors. This was taken on auto setting so certainly no genius on my part. I have so much to learn…
This blog seems to be unintentionally morphing into a photo-baking blog. The purpose after all was to discover myself and the things I enjoy and these two pasttimes (baking & phography) are certainly ranking on the top of that list. After all, opening my own bakery has always been a dream. If I do not tire of this amateur side-profession I am currently pursuing (as I typically tend to), perhaps it is time to reawaken the sleeping beauty that is my dormant business plan and to reactivate those ideas.
As a departure from the American baking I have done over the past few weeks and in memory of my recent days in Paris, I decided to try my hand at the famous interpretation of the French “cookie” – the Madelaine.
France’s incredibly popular Madelaine is a scallop-shaped tea cake that is in fact nothing too out of the ordinary – just a light, buttery, spongy yellow cake easily identified by its unique shape. But, as is the case with most French foods, there is no doubt a charming history to accompany this delicacy.
There are several different versions surrounding who made the first madeleines and why. In one version, Madeleine was a young servant girl who had been requested to create a special treat for Stanislas Leczinski, the deposed king of Poland who had sought refuge in France in the 17th century. Special cakes were supposedly made to soothe the spirits of the poor unwanted king and when asked who had baked these wonderful delicacies, she gave him her name and so he decided to name them after the young maiden: Madelaine de Commercy. It is said that Stanislas was so fond of these madelaines he sent a dozen to his daughter Marie who was married to King Louis XV. Madelaines were hence popularized by the nobility in Versailles and have grown to become of mass appeal.
In a different version of the story, another girl, also aptly named Madeleine created the special cakes in the shape of a scallop to feed to pilgrims making their way to Saint Jacques’ burial site. The scallop shell was a sign of protection which has long been associated with Saint Jacques in France.
Whatever the true origins of this treat, both stories carry much whimsy and evoke strong history. Today, Madelaines can be found in most French or Parisian bakeries or patisseries and while they started as a basic lemon-flavored cake, they have evolved to many different flavors and colors: pistachio, chocolate, orange… Most famous for them is Fauchon, the fabulous French brand.
My Madelaines – fresh out of the oven.
They turned out to be just perfect. Spongy, buttery and bursting with flavor from the lemon zest. Unfortunately this batch produced only 10 large-sized Madelaines.
Note to self to double the quantity next time!