Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I haven't had time or good internet connections to post this past week, but here are a few photos to give you an idea of where I've been. Stories to follow when I'm settled in Zagarolo.

wild beach near my hotel in Otranto
Otranto, where one of the locals became my nemesis
The quaint Trulli houses of Alberobello
A view of the Sassi in Matera, Basilicata, from my balcony

Monday, March 19, 2012

La Festa di San Giuseppe in Lecce

the beach at San Cataldo, Lecce, Puglia, Italy
I'm in the lovely city of Lecce for a few days, and took a bus to the seaside at San Cataldo today. It was sunny, but cool and very windy. Still, it was great to see the Adriatic coast again and watch the waves roll into shore. I've been too busy to spend much time online, but will share my travels once I'm settled in Zagarolo in a few weeks. Suffice it to say I had an uneventful flight to Rome, spent a few days in Zagarolo, and even had time to visit Frascati, a lovely town that you'll hear more about soon.Then I took off for two weeks of travel in Puglia.

Today is la Festa di San Giuseppe, and also Father's Day in Italy. For breakfast, I treated myself to the festa's special pastry, la zeppola, which is basically a cream puff. In the outlying villages, there will be bonfires tonight to celebrate the festival, but not here in Lecce. However, last night there was a busy passeggiata (evening stroll), complete with musicians and street performers in the centro storico, where I'm staying at a lovely B&B. It's 6 pm and the bells of the nearby Duomo are pealing....time to go!

Le zeppole piccoline

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pushing the envelope

Arrivederci a tutti! Vado in Italia!
So long, everyone, I'm going to Italy!

My world in Zagarolo
Getting ready for a three-month stay in Italy is always a bit stressful, especially when work projects take up a lot of time in the weeks before I leave. This year I've had some last minute hassles with a new computer and my Italian cellphone to add to the mix. Planning my stay in Italy once or twice a year is an exciting, but anxious pursuit: sometimes I think it would be easier to just go, once and for all, and not come back. But since I'm not yet able to do that, I tread these uneasy waters in order to at least spend part of the year where I most love to be.

In the last week before I leave, especially, I begin to question my sanity. What is this compelling force that pushes me to challenge myself, year after year, when others seem more content to hear about adventures than to have any of their own? The urge to become more has been such a strong force in my life, from an early age even, that trying to understand it was the focus of my graduate education, as well as the career I chose as a psychologist/personal coach. Indeed, the name of my coaching practice is Become More, as is the title of this blog.

As I learned techniques that allowed me to challenge myself more effectively, I was able to develop classes to teach others how to do the same. As I learned about effective risk-taking, developing a tolerance for ambiguity and building mental toughness, I shared these concepts with clients and students. For several decades, I helped others to crystallize and then go after their most cherished dreams. After a time, however, the need to achieve my own dreams became more compelling than helping others to do so.

living the dream, Firenze, 2010
Thus, here I am, pushing myself into the unknown once again, eager to enlarge my world, yet uncertain of the outcome. However, there are some certainties along the way, which pull me forward. For instance, I will spend two weeks visiting an unknown region of Italy, giving me the chance to see unusual villages, spend time by the sea, and enjoy the renowned cuisine of Puglia. I know that I will have a lovely place to live in Zagarolo for two months and I will be able to explore Rome and its environs as much as I like. I have many Italian friends eager to spend time with me, some who are even willing to travel across the country to visit me in Zagarolo. In May, several friends from Kansas will come to visit, and I'll have the chance to share my Italian life with them. For these factors alone, it is worth the stress and anxiety that inevitably comes with my travels.

And on the horizon, another opportunity has presented itself: a chance to live in a villa! The family of one of my Italian friends has invited me to live in their family villa, located in a small village south of Padova. In fact, they would pay me to do so. The villa is quite large, and has some historical significance, as Napoleon once spent the night there. It sounds almost too good to be true! And yet there are some challenges to consider: the most pressing ones are that the villa has not been modernized and there is no internet connection. Due to the thickness of the villa walls, an internet key would probably not be sufficient for the work that I do. However, since the opportunity has come up, I need to check it out, which means I need to plan a trip to Padova sometime this spring to meet with the family and see the villa. After all, an aged aunt lived in the villa until recently, and she was almost 106! If she could cope with the place, surely I can!

If there's one thing I've learned about making dreams come true, it's this: it is essential to act when an opportunity presents itself that is aligned with your goals. Perhaps it will not work out, or perhaps it will...one can never know unless we put ourselves out there, push through the anxiety of not knowing what comes next, and see what happens. Since my goal is to spend more time in Italy, and living in this villa could offer me a more permanent residence, it's compelling me to consider the possibilities.

It's time to go, to push the envelope, embracing the chance to become more, eager to enjoy more of my new life in a new land.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Making Risotto:a work of art

© 2010 - 2012 Easy Gourmet Dinners, KLZ.
I'll admit it: cooking is not my fortè. In fact, I've avoided the culinary arts most of my life because of the genetic tendency to gain weight that plagues my family of origin. I often have trouble enjoying  a good meal, knowing that it can easily lead to tight clothes and regret. But once in a while, I manage to get excited about cooking, and one dish that I am learning to master is risotto.

Tonight I made an asparagus risotto. This is not just any asparagus risotto, but one that also includes saffron, lemon zest, lavender shallots, and finely minced carrots. And of course, the usual risotto-making ingredients: Arborio rice, chicken broth, white wine and parmagiano cheese. Squisito! Since writing about food and cooking is also not my fortè, I'm not about to include the recipe, but I will say that it's one of many fabulous risotto recipes in Marie Simmons' book, The Amazing World of Rice.

There's just something about the process of making risotto that is immensely enjoyable: for me, it's akin to creating a fine work of art. And once you master the basic risotto recipe, there are millions of variations.With tonight's effort, first I heated the saffron and mixed it with white wine, leaving it to stand while I prepared other ingredients. I usually heat the broth early in the process, bringing it to a simmer, as having warm broth at the ready is essential to the rice-cooking process. Cutting up vegetables adds to the fun: slicing carrots and shallots, then dicing them into tiny fragments that add both flavor and color to the rice mixture. Asparagus is cut on the diagonal, then set aside, while the risotto and broth are joined, bit by bit, to the tenderized carrots and shallots. Ladle by ladle, broth is added, allowing time for the rice to absorb the liquid slowly, transforming the hard white kernels into a creamy texture as the rice bulks up and softens.

I poured a glass of pinot grigio to drink while cooking, then turned on the stereo: Vivaldi's Four Seasons seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the evening. I stood by the stove and stirred the rice, adding broth every five minutes or so, enjoying watching as the orangey flecks of carrot swirled amidst the white spheres of rice. I stirred with a wooden spoon, creating a pattern in the mixture as it twisted and turned in the pan. I'm not quite sure why I enjoy the process of making risotto as much as I do, but tonight it was even better than usual. Perhaps it's because I'm getting better at it, and each time I try a new recipe, the result is more satisfying. Or perhaps it's because I'll soon be in Italy again, and I enjoy getting into my "Italian mind." When the risotto was nearly done, I added the asparagus, lemon zest and lemon juice. Combining the fresh greens and citrus with the rice added another element of delight, and Vivaldi trilled in the background as the risotto was nearing its peak. The final touch: a dab of butter, a handful of parmigiano, stirred in quickly and vigorously, giving an extra measure of creaminess to the mixture. And voila! It's done! And it's perfect! Squisito! The asparagus is still crunchy, the risotto has just a bit of resistance, and the rest is a creamy, delicious and satisfying treat.

I spoon a small portion into a dish and savor the colors and flavors: crunchy green, creamy white, savory yellow, orange, lavender. Every bite is rich, satisfying, delightful. My son arrives home from work just in time, as risotto tastes best when it's fresh, and he digs into the fragrant pan. Yes, it's better than the last time I tried it. Can it get any better? Perhaps the next time I make it, I'll be in Italy, and sharing it with friends. Surely that will add another dimension of flavor. Chissà? Spero di si!