In Paris to the Pyrenees, David Downie takes us right along with him on the Way of St. James, without our ever leaving our armchairs. As stated in the subtitle, “A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Ways of St James,” we’re not talking about a conventional pilgrim, so we don’t expect his transformations to be like those of traditional Christians. But then, the Way of St. James, like so many pilgrim routes in the world, becomes a spiritual journey spreading well beyond the confines of Christianity.
Downie makes it a personal journey, full of the classical culture and history he knows so well, and we have the pleasure of experiencing it along with him. His journey through classicism and French history becomes ours, as we learn about the Druids, the Galls, the Romans, former French President François Mitterand, and much more; as he carries around a stone he was convinced had magical power because it looked like a scallop shell, until it becomes too heavy to carry; as we wolf down hearty French meals and sup coarse local wine after a long day of walking, before we fall like a stone into bed.
And though we might not receive penance, we end the journey all the richer in knowledge, having read a good tale, too. The book is a latter-day Canterbury Tales, with a varied lot of pilgrims, locals, and farmers all along the way. Alison Harris’ photos are in perfect harmony with Downie’s narrative. You’ll want to wear a scallop shell around your neck after reading this book.
The Many Names for Tamales
by Lenny Karpman
Now that Christmas and the New Year have passed, my neighbors here in Costa Rica are putting away lights, ornaments, Styrofoam snowmen, straw reindeer and faux pine trees. For the family Sunday mid-day meal many are dining on tamales.
Tamales are stuffed cakes of corn dough, masa harina, wrapped and steamed. In Costa Rica, they are an art form as well as a common food. Tamale making is a seasonal family affair. Multiple generations of family cooks assemble pork or chicken, vegetables – mostly carrots and peas, and herb fillings artistically in rectangular packets of freshly made cornmeal, wrap them in folded plantain leaves and tie them decoratively with reeds or twine. They are traditionally given to neighbors at Christmas. It is an economical and egalitarian way for friends to exchange similar thoughtful gifts without the adversarial “can you top this” attitude that pervades gift giving in some other cultures.
In Colombia and Venezuela, they are called hallacas and may contain raisins or olive pieces. In Mexico, they are wrapped in dry corn- husks. Cuban tamales are fluffier and spicy. When the same ingredients are layered and baked without a wrapper, the result is tamale pie. Tex-Mex tamale pie usually is laced with red and green chili peppers.
Tico (Costa Rican) tamales freeze well. They are most often tied together in groups of four. Tamales are steamed or simmered before eating, but they can go from freezer to table via the microwave in about two minutes and rekindle holiday warm fuzzy feelings and a delicious sense of community. Buen provecho and a happy and healthy 2014.
A weekend in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome lets you live and feast like a real Roman, if only for a short time. It is rich in history and culture, and plenty of fun and good food to boot. A little hotel we’ve found near Piazza Santa Maria will let you melt into this hidden corner of Rome.
A Little History about Trastevere
This side of the Tiber was Etruscan, until the Romans claimed it around the 6th century B.C. It was incorporated into the city of Rome’s 14 quarters by the Emperor Augustus with the “Trans Tiberim.” Thus the name, which means “across the Tevere,” the Roman name for the Tiber.
It was a plebian quarter, where the servants and laborers and the free citizens of Rome’s as well as sailors, fishermen, Phoenicians and Jews lived. It would be the principal Jewish quarter of Rome until the end of the Middle Ages, when the Ghetto, across the river from Trastevere, became the residential area to which Jews were henceforth restricted.
Renaissance Romans began building more noble villas around the edges of the ancient quarter, but the Trastevere of today retains its medieval, labyrinthine layout, full of narrow, winding alleys. It remains a working class neighborhood, with children playing soccer in the street, old people sitting on their stoops, and families gathering around a table in the street to visit. Trastevere lies between the western banks of the river Tiber and the Janiculum hill, one of Rome’s storied seven hills, that looms above it. It’s but a short 15-minute walk across the Tiber to the ruins of ancient Rome, the “salon” of Rome with its extravagant fountains, and only a little bit further by foot to St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. One of the liveliest gathering places is the square in front of the church of Santa-Maria-in-Trastevere, construction of which began early in the 3rd century with the church completed in the mid-4th century, and ultimately completed in Romanesque style in the 12th century, then converted in several other centuries, giving it an unusual combination of Ancient Roman details and varied architectural features from later periods. The octagonal fountain in the piazza is an ancient Roman fountain restored and enlargened in the 17th century by Carlo Fontana.
What to See and Do in Trastevere
The Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere is undoubtedly the oldest church in Rome, and deserves several visits if you want to appreciate its full architectural and historical depth. Most of the mosaics date from the 12th century. They are illuminated at night, and the golden light of the façade fills the piazza with a warm glow.
The 22 granite columns lining the nave are said to have come from the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla; the capitals are adorned with the heads of female pagan deities.
Numerous Roman funeral inscriptions can also be found in the church.
Eating and Nightlife
There is no shortage of reasonably priced osterie, trattorie and restaurants that serve authentic Roman food in a no-frills setting. The neighborhood is timeless, with its mix of historical architectural periods and lively local residents; it remains quintessentially Roman. If you want to pretend you’re Roman for a weekend, this is the place to do it.
Old cellars and stables have been converted into bars, discos and cafés, providing a lively nightlife scene, with customers spreading out into the streets when the weather is fine.
Signs like this demonstrate the colorful character of the locals, and offer contrast to our notion of contemporary, ultra-chic Italy.
Sidewalk cafés and restaurants preserve the romantic character of Old Italy, spilling out onto the streets. My favorite source of restaurants in Rome is David Downie’s Food Wine Rome. David is half Roman, and sees food through the eyes of a Roman. His recommendations are all about the authentic and the unpretentious, and you’ll seldom find tourists in the places he recommends.
While the Hotel Santa Maria is located in the very heart of the vibrant Santa Maria neighborhood just steps from the piazza, within the walls of this converted 16th-century convent, it’s so quiet and peaceful that you may think you’re staying in a remote Tuscan country house. The renovation is simple, but tasteful, with classic Roman terracotta floors and well-fitted bathrooms. Bedroom furnishings are tasteful, solid-wood reproductions. Almost all rooms are on the ground floor and give onto the courtyard. The few that do have a room above them (near the rooftop terrace) are not so quiet due to the tile floors. Otherwise, the clientele is quiet and respectful.
One enters the hotel courtyard through a large, locked iron gate, so security is good. The L-shaped convent-cum-hotel with an inner courtyard enclosing a small orange grove boasts wrought-iron tables and chairs for leisurely sitting in the sun or eating breakfast when weather permits. The breakfast room is in a converted cellar, with breakfast consisting of an international and Italian buffet with something to suit everyone, offering freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee from a professional espresso machine.
The small rooftop terrace is furnished with chic wooden lounge chairs and armchairs. It’s a great place to have a drink before dinner, read in the early evening, or sunbathe during the day. The view of the surrounding rooftops and balconies of Trastevere is a photographer’s dream. All rooms have satellite television and air conditioning, as well as Wi-Fi, which can sometimes be unstable. Bikes are available for rental at the reception.
How to Get There
If you’re flying, take the train from the Fiumicino Leonoardo da Vinci airport station to the Trastevere station, about a 30-minute train ride, then take a cab, which should take about 10 minutes. This should cost around 15 Euros all-inclusive, versus approximately 50 Euros with tip for a cab direct from the airport. A cab ride from the Termini train station to the hotel should cost around 15 Euros. The hotel is lost in a winding street and difficult to access by car. Even taxi drivers get confused with all the one-way and dead-end streets. Study your map and know the names of the surrounding streets and squares, because the driver may be forced to let you off in another street around the corner from the hotel.
Reservations: http://www.htlsantamaria.com Address Vicolo del Piede 2 – 00153 Rome – Italy Tel. (39) 06 5894626 – Fax: (39) 06 5894815 Click here for map: Map to Hotel Santa Maria
Jonell Galloway grew up on Wendell Berry and food straight from a backyard Kentucky garden. She is a freelance writer. She attended Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris and the Académie du Vin, worked for the GaultMillau restaurant guide and CityGuides in France and Paris and for Gannett Company in the U.S., and collaborated on Le tour du monde en 80 pains / Around the World with 80 Breads with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac in France; André Raboud, Sculptures 2002-2009 in Switzerland; Ma Cuisine Méditerranéenne with Christophe Certain in France, At the Table: Food and Family around the World with Ken Albala, and a biography of French chef Pierre Gagnaire. She ran a cooking school in France, and owned a farm-to-table restaurant, The Three Sisters’ Café, with her two sisters in the U.S. She organizes the Taste Unlocked bespoke food and wine tasting awareness workshops with James Flewellen, is an active member of Slow Food, and runs the food writing website The Rambling Epicure. Her work has been published in numerous international publications and she has been interviewed on international public radio in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. She has just signed on at In Search of Taste, a British print publication, and is now working on two books, What to Eat in France and What to Eat in Venice.
Based in Switzerland and France
Skype telephone number: 1-270-859-1112
Skype name: jonell.galloway.white
Professional History and Experience
I started my culinary career in Paris in the early 80s. At the Sorbonne, where I studied French, I asked for special authorization to write my thesis on the history of French cuisine, which was, exceptionally, granted. I later studied at both the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne, and studied wine in various locations all over France, including Steven Spurrier’s Académie du Vin, often associated with the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and at CAVE S.A. in Switzerland. While in France, I developed and taught a method, Spontaneous Cuisine, a market-based derivation of classic French cuisine; was a contributing editor for the English version of GaultMillau for France, wrote freelance for Paris Voice, and worked as a food translator and interpreter. My articles are available on TheRamblingEpicure.com, 10Best.com/USAToday, GenevaLunch.com, Travora.com, TheRamblingEpicure.tumblr.com, in the Paris Voice archives, as well as those of CityGuide Paris and Gayot Publications for France.
I recently collaborated with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac on Le tour du monde en 80 pains / Around the World with 80 Breads, a bilingual French-English book published by Orphie in Paris. I also collaborated on a review of the life work of contemporary Swiss sculptor André Raboud for Edipresse in Lausanne. I am currently producing an American-adapted version of Christophe Certain’s book Ma Cuisine Méditerranéenne, which I will call Small Plates of the Mediterranean in English.
After moving to Switzerland in 2003, I didn’t work for 7 years. I have recently dedicated myself to a “literary” food website. The Rambling Epicure joins the voices and visions of professional writers and photographers from around the world who promote a mindful, responsible approach to real food shopping, cooking, and eating, as well as wine tasting and pairing, food politics, safety, history, art, literature and philosophy. I invite you to browse the site to see the depth and professionalism of the coverage. http://theramblingepicure.com/
A few years ago, I opened a farm-to-table with my sisters in my hometown of Hardinsburg, Kentucky, where we used local agricultural products and organic ingredients.
I am fluent in English (native tongue), French and Spanish, with rudimentary Italian and Portuguese. Having a scientific background, I thrive on investigative journalism and writing that requires in-depth research and documentation.
I currently divide my time between Switzerland and France, where I have a 1,000-year-old house in Chartres.
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MarketDay: Documentary Photos of a July Farmers Market in Switzerland
by Gareth Jones
“When we think that 100 kgs of grapes converts into just 2 litres of Balsamico after 25 years ageing, we appreciate what’s quite so special.”
Imagine a magical elixir which has a history charted back to 1785 – and probably earlier — that takes skills passed down through the generations of families, and is years in the making. Made traditionally, this elixir has the power to transport one to Heaven on a spoon, and just one word on the bottle tells us the real from the manufactured.
That word is ‘Tradizionale’ and to a cynic it could read like a word from the marketeer’s limited lexicon. This one word, however, divides the Heavenly stunning from the just special and Earthly – and sometimes not special at all for its added caramel and sugar. Time to become acquainted with the genuine Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP.