Wednesday, 31 October 2012

in italiano, please

Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi (m., sostantivo; invariabile) All Saints' Day; this holiday honours all saints, known or unknown, on November 1st. Halloween, the night before All Saints' Day is not a common celebration in Italy. Each year stores offer more and more Halloween decorations, but children do not go trick-or-treating. On All Saints' Day Italians remember their loved ones who passed away and visit the cemetery. Graves are decorated with candles and flowers.

in italiano, please

giacca (f., sostantivo; pl. giacche) - jacket; the use of the word is similar to the use of the English word, the only difference: Italian "giacche" are often more fashionable than "jackets".

Friday, 26 October 2012

in italiano, please

casa (f, sostantivo, pl. case) - house and home; when an Italian talks about "la casa" he may refer to his house or his apartment, the place where he currently lives. "Casa mia", however,  usually refers to the parents' house even if an Italian has his own house with his wife and kids. Often times "casa" is more than just the house or the apartment, but "essere a casa" means being at home.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

one lulu girl amongst many

The the first lululemon item I have ever owned. I still use it once in a while.   (maryjanawege via instagram)
Really? No way! I had to read the newsfeed twice on the lululemon facebook page before it registered and even now 30 minutes later I still cannot believe what I discovered: my favourite brand of all times will launch a European website in a few weeks time; all prices in euros and free shipping guaranteed! Where is the huge smilie button with an open mouth laughter when I need it?

Lululemon Athletica has been my favourite brand for many years. I saw the little omega logo for the first time when I was a student at Dalhousie University on Canada's east coast. Only the girls from the big T.O. or from out west wore these amazing jogging pants that seemed sporty, yet super-trendy and so comfy at the same time. The pants would hang really low on the waistline of the Torontonian girls. In the back, just above their bums, there it always emerged: the mysterious omega sign. I felt too uncool to want to ask what brand that was and despite my journalistic skills no google search could solve the mystery of this cool logo that all the stylish girls obviously knew about - but me. Until one day while I went shopping in a little boutique called Wildflower in downtown Halifax, just off Spring Garden Road, when I saw the logo on a little red and white clutch. There was the word "lululemon athletica" written on one side and on the other "friends are more important than money".  I paid 48,00 Canadian dollars for the wallet, way more than I could afford at the time.

Years and many, many, many shipments later, my closet is full of lululemon gear. Not sure if that little Wildflower boutique still exists, but after I had moved back to Germany a large lulu store opened right on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. I am convinced that there are no better clothes for yogis. Not a day goes by I don't wish I could wear lululemon to work. That way, I would never have to dress in anything else since I already have on my lulu hoodies when I go grocery shopping, when we go drink prosecco at a local bar and when we have friends over.

With lululemon launching the European website, the novelty will be gone soon. This is kind of what happened with Abercrombie & Fitch. I bought my first A&F jeans and shirts in 1997 when I lived in Florida and when I moved back to Germany one year later nobody even knew what that brand was let alone that I spent half of my paycheck on a tank top. When Germans started noticing the brand years later, they had to order jeans and hoodies in the States to get them. Not only did they have to pay a fortune for a t-shirt bearing two letters and an ampersand but also did they have to pay international shipping fees as well as local taxes. However, the more European Ebay shops specialized on Abercrombie gear the more its wearers lost their cool.

Is that what will happen to me wearing my lulu hoodies in a year from now? No more strange looks from girls trying to figure out what the omega sign above the ankle stands for but instead I will spy more and more girls with lulu tea cozies and yoga mats?

I could be sad about the fact that I'll be loosing my niche status as a lulu girl here in Europe but the truth is, I am happy that I will have easier access to the fabulous clothes I love. The launch of the lulu online shop might even give yoga a boost in Italy, since it is not a common activity here, yet.

To say the truth, I cannot wait for the launch and I for sure will be amongst the first loyal clients to order off the new site. And since I have known for many years, thank to my lulu clutch, that "friends are more important than money", I might even spend a fortune!

If friends are more important than money: shop on, girl!   (maryjanawege via instagram)

pomegranate power smoothie

"An early... what?" asks my brain. No, I am certainly not an early bird. My body starts functioning at around 10.30 a.m. - not a minute sooner. I have tried and tried and tried. It's true that sunrises are pretty, but sunsets are just as lovely.

The problem being a night owl is not having an appetite in the morning. In fact, I hate breakfast (if I am supposed to have it before 10.30 a.m.). I find it hard to swallow anything since my body is telling me "Hey, why are you eating, you should be sleeping! Go back to bed!"
However, I am forcing myself to get up at a decent hour even on the days I don't have to go to work and I have discovered that smoothies are just my way to start the day. As with all my cooking, I hardly follow recipes, but mix together whatever  I find in my fruit bowl or the fridge.

This morning I made a smoothie consisting of my favourite fruits: pomegranate and blackberries.
It is difficult to say the exact measurements, but I eyeballed  the quantities for you. Here we go:


1 small, ripe pomegranate
1 handfull of fresh blackberries
1/4 cup of rolled oats
1/4 (60) cup of almond milk
2/3 (150 ml) cup of skimmed milk (or a little less)

Cut the pomegranate in half, then break it open and peel off the seeds. Throw away all of the yellow tissue, it's very bitter. Put the seeds in the blender. Wash the blackberries and add them as well as the rolled oats to the seeds. Pour in the milk and the almond milk (the one I buy is very sweet, so no need for sugar). You can play with the quantities of your milk. Add a little less if you like a thick smootie (I do.) Put the lid on and press: on. I love the purplish colour! Now, that's a breakfast I enjoy. Hope you do, too! Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

in italiano, please: bacio

bacio (m, sostantivo, pl. baci) - kiss; this should have been the first Italian word to post here, because what could be more important than a kiss? "Bacio" is not only used as a closing phrases for a text message or an e-mail but Italians also say "bacio" when talking to a family member on the phone or at the end on a conversation with a close friend. B-A-C-I-O... what word could sound more Italian?

Monday, 22 October 2012

in italiano, please: ombrellone

ombrellone (sostantivo, m.) - parasol (by Italians often translated as "beach umbrella"); most of Italy's beaches are equipped with parasols. It is an Italian tradition to rent your parasol, often times the same position such as first row, third one from the right) at the nearest beach to you.  Italians rent day by day or seasonally. Each rental includes two beach beds or decker chairs. Renting an "ombrellone" can be quite pricy, but it is still the thing to do and very practical in the summer since you do not want to get burned by the sun. Plus there are always bathrooms and a beach bar near by. However, I am happy once the season is over and the parasols are taken to the storage for the winter. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

in italiano, please: eccomi

eccomi (avverbio + pronome personale) - here I am or I am here; can be used as a response when someone is calling you: "MJ?", "Eccomi." Often also used as "eccomi qua" with the emphasis on "qua" = "here". I hear people use "eccomi" when they enter a room instead of saying "buongiorno", as if someone was waiting for them. That's kind of rude, I think.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

in italiano, please: spazzolino

spazzolino da denti (m, pl. spazzolini da denti) - toothbrush; can also simply be called "spazzolino". Just be careful: do not call for a "spazzolone" when you are about to start your dental hygiene as this is a larger type of brush such as a broom or a toilet brush.  

simply caprese

Can you imagine how intimidated I as when I cooked the first meal for my Italian/Greek boyfriend? Me? Being German I belong to a people who is thought to live off Sauerkraut an Würstel. (I get this stereotype all the time, no matter where I am. I do not remember my Mama ever making supper consisting of Sauerkraut and Würstel. Who knows where this is coming from?) So what I did I do? I consulted my favourite Italian cook book, the one written by a famous British chef and hoped for the best.
Jamie Oliver calls for buffalo mozzarella and he is right on. For Italians this is by the way the one and only kind of mozzarella to use in a caprese, no compromise. Ever. The chef explains in "Jamie's Italy" how important it is to use fresh ingredients and suggests mixed ripe tomatoes which I used for the first version. Over the years, however, and I came to find that the tomatoes we like the best are "pomodori cuore di bue" or "beefsteak tomatoes". They have a funny shape. If you find them at your local market get them and when they are fresh, you will love the taste and use them all the time.
I pretty much followed Jamie Oliver's recipe, but when it came to adding the vinegar I realized that I had run out! From that day on, our caprese is served without vinegar, we hardly ever use it on other dishes, because we find it upsets the stomach and overshadows the taste of the good-quality olive oil. And this, I would say, is the key to a great caprese or any salad you ever make: it's the olive oil, Baby. We are fortunate enough to always have a supply of fresh olive oil from V.'s Greek family's own olive orchard in Peloponnese. If you don't have access to your own olive trees I would suggest you spend a bit more and check the colour (the greener the better I find) and smell or even sample taste it. Hmmmm.
One other thing I now change about Jamie's caprese is the onion. Instead of using the white of a green onion, I use a tiny bit of a red onion, about one spoonful, very finely chopped. Very very finely.

serves 2

2 x balls of buffalo mozzarella (150 grams each)
3 ripe tomatoes or two large beefsteak tomatoes
one spoonful of very finely chopped red onion
extra virgin olive oil of the best quality
a large handful of fresh basil
sea salt and pepper

For the dressing chop most of the basil and smash it together with olive oil, salt and pepper. You could use mortar and pestle or just a small bowl and a fork.
Tear the mozzarella apart and cut the tomatoes into various sized chunks. Place in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions. Toss with olive oil. Add the dressing, toss again. Add remaining basil leaves. I let everything rest for about 30 minutes, so that the tomatoes and mozzarella have room temperature and the flavours mix well. Yum.

Anxiously I was looking at V. when he took the first bite. Irritated himself that he was being observed, he stopped chewing. "Do you like it?" I asked and he answered "This is the best caprese I ever ate." Thank you Jamie!!!

Friday, 19 October 2012


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in italiano, please: brioche

brioche (f, pl. brioche) - type of bread or pastry in various shapes that is usually eaten for breakfast. A typical Italian would have breakfast at a bar and order a "cappuccino con brioche". In the region where I live, a brioche is mostly a croissant that is either plain or filled with jam, cream, chocolate, nutella or almond paste. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

in italiano, please: accappatoio

accappatoio (m, pl. accappatoi) bathrobe (difficult to pronounce; this was one of the first words I learned in Italian and thought "when will I ever use this word?" The answer is: many many times. Italians love their "accappatoio").

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

a hippo dancing zumba

The last row is where I choose to be in Zumba class.

V. and I are back from the most wonderful vacation in Greece. We managed to see all of V.'s Greek family and still had lots of time for ourselves to relax by the ocean, play golf, sunbathe and, well, eat! Tzatziki, feta cheese, whole fat yoghurt with honey, moussaka and the famous short-bread "kourabiedes" put an extra layer of fat on my hips and belly, thus, V. and I are on a strict diet consisting of smoothies, caprese, minestra and salads. No snacks allowed.

Of course I came back with a few recipes from some of V.'s aunts, but since my knowledge of Greek can be summed up in four words: oreo=beautiful, kala=good/well, siga-siga=slowly and daxi=okay  I'm not sure I got everything down right and need to make these dishes before publishing them on here and that will have to wait also because my filled-up-to-the-top fat cells need to be emptied first. Eating only healthy food might not do the trick, an exercise plan needs to be established. So why not try what has been advertized on facebook, TV and in magazines for months: the magical ZUMBA.
Up and down: the feet of the Zumba instructor know where to step next.
Everyone says it's more like a party rather than a workout when you dance and build muscles to latin rhythms. According to Wikipedia there are 12 million people in more than 126 countries participating in this Columbian dance fitness program that includes elements of salsa, hip-hop, soca, merengue, mambo and belly dance.There must be some Zumba fans who are just like me and have less sense of coordination than the leaves of a poplar in the wind. If 12 million people like to work out this way surely would I, right?
So I fish my long unused gym bag from underneath the bed, put my Lululemon yoga pants and a baggy, long-sleeve shirt that covers my belly roll and off I go... when I see that it is pouring outside. The perfect excuse to stop my adventure right here and then. Too bad that I promised my friend and co-worker Teresa to be there tonight. She is not just another Zumba fanatic, she is also the instructor herself. Shoot. I grab the umbrella, a hoodie, my bag and run to the car.
Other than one girl who is definitely in her teens and a lady in her 60s I seem to fit right into the group of mid-thirties Zumba women at the local gym. Of course, a towel would have been nice, all the girls got one except me. Should have thought about this. A good reason to leave and never try this out, I am thinking when I hear Teresa welcoming the group with a cheerful "Allora ragazze," and I know there is no escape.
Drum music resounds from the stereo's speakers and 15 women move in sync, just I remain a statue and observe. Left, right, left right - seems fairly easy. I start moving. "And the hips," shouts Teresa. I move the hips in a circle-like motion and lose my step right away. What are the others doing? Okay, once again: left right, left right. Got it. This is not too shabby. "Now the arms," calls my dancer friend and all the ladies move their arms and do fancy movements with their hands and fingers, too. I try to mimic them as good as I can and lose my step again. I am not even thinking of the hips. Okay, slowly MJ. I concentrate hard and then I got it, but what is that? Everyone is moving to the right "And now to the left," cheers Teresa. Her arms sway yet differently than before: up, down, up down, up up. Jeee... "Is this your first time at Zumba?" asks the woman next to me with a smile on her face. "Well, isn't that obvious," I want to grunt back at the fairly big boned woman who manages to move like a ballerina despite her extra kilos. "Aha."I nod instead and realize that I stopped swinging all together. Talking and dancing at the same time, no way! While I am standing firmly in the middle of the dancing crowd and still try to figure out which foot to move where exactly, the music stops and clapping and cheering fill the dancing hall. Although Teresa has her back turned towards me, her eyes hit mine through the wall-length mirror in front of her. "For everyone who is new," she says and I know she is talking specifically to me, "Here is what you do with your arms." Okay now, when someone explains this slowly and my body can adjust little by little, this is not too bad.
Gracefully dancing Zumba ladies.
In the course of the 90 minute class various songs require different steps; arm, hand and hip movements to follow. Every time when I feel like I finally get the leg part right and try to involve my arms Teresa is either onto another step or the song has ended, everyone cheers and yet another drum beat starts.
The last five minutes are the stretching part. I rock that one due to my yoga skills. While the big boned ballerina lady has difficulty touching the ground bending forward, I stick my head through my legs and smile. No one sees me though due to my wisely chosen last row position.
"Grazie ragazze," cheers Teresa and the ladies vanish one after the other. Well, that's done. My first Zumba class is over and I am somehow still alive.
One day later I acknowledge some otherwise inactive muscles in my arms and the hip region, but they do not hurt much. Anyways, pain or no pain, I already promised my friend to join the Zumba gang  once a week from now on even if, time and time again, I will surly feel like a hippo auditioning for "Dancing with the stars" while the others are having a Latin music workout party.

Monday, 8 October 2012

wow donut!

I didn't really want to post anything from my vacation in Greece, but hey! That was a different kind of donut the one served in Nea Makri near Athens, Greece! Wow! I would go back there any time just for this warm donut that's crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside. It comes on a sauce of honey and cinnamon! To die for! More to come once V. and I will be back. Bye now!

Friday, 5 October 2012

late night packing

Just before midnight seems to be my time of the day. We're heading to the Venice Airport early this morning to catch a plane to first Rome and then Athens. The long-awaited vacation will finally start in a few hours.
I don't know how many suitcases I have packed in my life. Too many as far as I am concerned. I am only in my mid 30s and sometimes I feel like I am too old to travel. I might have just had too much of it at an early age: Italy, France, Spain, back and forth between the US, Europe and Canada. Not even regarding trips to Australia, Mexico and Israel, I must say, that I have had my fair share of travelling. One thing I will never be good at though is packing. My boyfriend V. is talking just his carry-on luggage, some boxers, socks, a pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, seven shirts, his glove and golf shoes - basta. There is still some space in his tiny suitcase. I am struggling to stay within 20 kilograms of my check-in luggage. I need a city outfit, beach wear, golf clothes, a dinner dress and the right style when meeting more of V.'s relatives. What shoes go with which outfit? Impossible to bring less than 40 pounds... and why am I always late, late, late when it comes to packing? It's 23.39. Still lots to do. Better get going... need to weigh my bags once again hoping in the last 30 minutes a change in gravity has occurred.

no chance for pumpkin spice latte

Without vanilla, cinnamon and caramel topping, this is an Italian "caffè macchiato caldo".

You just love to start your day ordering a "Tall Half Sweet Peppermint Latte with Caramel Topping" at your local coffee shop and you cannot wait to hang onto that "Grande Iced White Chocolate Mocha" after a busy day at the office? If you are looking for your beloved fancy coffee, Italy is the place to go you think? Well, think twice. The truth is: You can probably buy Starbucks' so-called classic signature blend "Italian Roast Coffee" at any of the 19,972 stores located in 60 various countries around the globe such as Kuweit, Indonesia, Guatemala and Egypt (source: wikipedia), however, you will stand no chance buying any Starbucks coffee Italy. At all. Nowhere. Yes, that's right, there is no Starbucks in Italy. In fact, most Italians are oblivious to the trademark name, the logo and the fact that the coffee chain company has generated a revenue of $11,7 billion in the year 2011. "What's that?" is the usual question I get when an Italian sees me for the first time walking around with one of my Starbucks mugs in hand. "That's green tea in there", is my regular answer before I hear the Italian's guaranteed follow-up question "And what's with the giant cup?". "I got that at Starbucks in L.A. but the first one just like that I bought in 1997 and since then, I have been walking around with my coffee mug everywhere I go, just so that you know", I'ld say and usually look into a face expressing a mixture of curiosity, disbelief and total disgust. After a short pause I'ld hear: "Ahhh. What do Americans know about coffee?" And that's the end of the conversation about coffee mugs and Starbucks. Those kind of conversations come up about at least once very two months around here. 99 per cent of the time occur exactly as mentioned. Once, I remember, a co-worker added: "How gross! How can Americans drink half a liter of coffee a day?" My answer to that? Speechlessness. having lived in Italy for more than two years now, I am under the impression that the Starbucks heads might be intimidated by those kind of conversations with Italians. A rather cosmopolitain woman like me living in Italy has no other choice than to adapt not only to language, fashion, food, customs and traditions but also to the Italian coffee culture. I thought about  two years ago it being a shame that my beloved coffee chain company avoids opening franchises in the country I live in, I am now certain that they have more than good reasons not to start a venture in the land of ice cream, pizza, pasta and, after all, coffee. As far as I am concerned, the Starbucks board of directors can stop investing in researching the market's readiness for a first shop in Italy. It simply would not generate any profits. I am convinced that it is more likely a Starbucks will open in Antarctica before anyone can order a "Pumpkin Spice Latte" in Rome. Too bad for me, I really do miss my "Grande Soy Chai Latte Half Sweet To Go" and no matter what kind of fancy chai tea bags, powders and syrups I use, the home-made stuff just isn't the same. We were at a café earlier today, V. and I. We ordered each a caffè macchiato. It was good - but it would have been so much better topped with sweetened whipped cream, caramel sauce and a hint of cinnamon...  Italians! Really! Come on! Do you all know, what you miss out on?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

a kitchen full of secrets

Cook books from the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and Germany; language-wise this shelf is very chaotic. 

I admit: I am a cook book addict. Colourful hard-cover and paperbacks in English, German and Italian language as well as notebooks full of handwritten recipes, secretly scribbled down during long phone conversations with my Oma in Germany while she was explaining how to create the perfect cabbage roll, are all lined up on a shelf in my kitchen. I love reading the recipes of the most famous chefs of our time such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone, Donna Hay, Rachel Ray and some German TV celebrity chefs such as  Tim Mälzer, Christian Rach and Cornelia Poletto. Number one on my list, however, is Canada's best known chef: Michael Smith who created my fabulous 22nd birthday dinner in a tiny little kitchen on Victoria Road in Halifax Nova Scotia. How come? This is worth another entry. Stay tuned for the full story.
So, I don't just buy the cook books, I also read them. I really do. One thing I never do though is follow the recipes. I am either lacking an ingredient here or don't have time to make the perfect "soffritto" in 25 minutes before starting to make the actual risotto. I am sure Gordon would show an expression of disgust on his face should he ever actually observe what I do to his recipes. I often times imagine him standing right behind me and I suddenly feel guilty. Those are the secrets of a woman working in the kitchen. My self blame vanishes as soon as I see V.'s sparkling eyes when he looks at the plate full of wonderful creations. And when he mumbles "hmmmm", no Gordon Ramsay could ever be disappointed, right?!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

no deadline, no outcome

Hello to the world,

after a full week of layout work, figuring out and playing around with Photoshop after years of abstinence, I am proud to finally write my first post today. Writing a blog is my attempt to get order and discipline into my life. Yes, you did read right: despite all stereotypes I am an example of a German who is lacking discipline - big time, I should add. Having worked as a journalist for a daily newspaper for many years, I am programmed the following way: no deadline no outcome.
I seem to need pressure in order to get things done. I need to hear the clock go tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack and the feeling of panic must possess me. Once it's almost impossible to get things done in time, that's when I wake up, roll up the sleeves, start hitting my fingertips with the speed of light onto the keyboard and perform to my fullest potential. Otherwise, laziness possesses me and I manage to steep four bags of herbal tea, make one pot of coffee and bake two loaves of bread in less than an hour, open the fridge ten times in five minutes, check the window in case a neighbour might show up and get lost in my thoughts of wanna-be-doing. However, procrastination belongs to the past, discipline is the key to success and the motor of my existence as a blogger.
My vision is to showcase bits and pieces of my new life in Italy, share my every day adventures in discipline building with my readers while doing what makes me happy: to write. Further I am hoping to acquire new skills as a photographer little by little trough editing and blogging photos of my every day life. Okay, this vision statement would not have been worth an A+ in my management classes at university, but I will see it as a beginning to change. A friend told me after he had known me for less than two days: "We are different. You are a dreamer, I am a doer." Now, ten years later, I want to prove him wrong and show to myself and my readers that I have been and am indeed a doer, a last-minute-doer, but a doer.
It is now 23:58 and my goal to publish the first post on October 3rd 2012 has been accomplished. Good night, MJ