Monday 29 October 2018

Days of Autumn

After several rainy(ish) weekends, the one of the 20th managed to play nicely for two events - and no one had any new illness, just the dying remnants of coughs from old infections. On Saturday, we joined our daughter´s school community hike up Monte San Leonardo, beginning from the Italian hill town of Samatorza. But, to immediately backtrack, many of the hill towns just over the border are pretty much Slovene communities that stayed put when the borders were established after all the conflicts of the first part of the twentieth century.

Our daughter gloomily predicted that she would be the only teen compelled to go on the walk. And to be fair, she was right. We had both the oldest and youngest child there. But she got to engage with teachers outside of school, and be dragged out of bed before eight on a Saturday, so what does she have to complain about?

The drive to Samatorza through several villages convinced me once again that I will never be a fully-fledged motorist here. "What are you talking about?" said my husband. "Compared to English country lanes these are highways."

The three year-old was happy to be in his backpack once again, though he apparently expected a cave tour, remembering the excitement of Skočjan. It was not so exciting for us. He acquired that annoying childish habit of growing over the summer, so he was considerably heavier than when we last hiked. What to say about the hike? There were children, there were many small dogs, there was conversation, there were country lanes in fully-fledged autumn, like England, except the light was more golden.

Our son´s wish was unexpectedly granted when we stopped off for the adventurous to explore the entrance of a cave, and for the puffing and panting among us to be grateful I had overpacked when it came to water bottles.

The climax of the walk was the ascent up Monte San Leonardo. This was the point at which we could not even backpack (can that be a verb?) the toddler between us, so he got to climb the last part of the way.  We stopped just in time at the top of the hill, to rest in the shell of a (probably) fifteenth century church, where our boy was outraged that I had not packed a full picnic.

From there it was a thankfully downhill trek, stopping for kids to climb what is known as the pointless lookout, and for an adventurous dachshund to roll in fox poo. Lunch was at an Agritourism farm, Gruden Zbogar. They are popular around here, as restaurants and/or accommodation. You know you are passing a cultural milestone when you are thankful the menu is in Slovene as well as Italian. I followed a recommendation to order something that included a local dish, chifeletti, a sort of combination between gnocchi and a potato croquette.

Home to naps between continuing to work on the mountain of washing from all the shipped clothes which were rather less than fresh after five months in storage.

Sunday, we went along to the Days of Agriculture festival down in Koper. It was more a giant food fare than expo, but it did have tractors kids were allowed to climb on, and a mini farm animal exhibit, so the toddler was just about happy (apart from screaming when I walked past a cube of cheese that he apparently had to have or die).

The photo turned out like this accidentally, but I think it says it all about boys and their toys

The main tent was a marketplace for Istrian agriculture. Cheese, meat, honey, wine, lavender, and pumpkin oil abounded. I also bought some scrummy fruit cake that was almost like Christmas cake (and I was enthusiastic about getting a whole cake nearer Christmas until we figured out that the woman lived a three-hours drive away). There had been a honey competition for local beekeepers the day before, which is why I think everyone included three particular types of honey on their stalls: acacia, bay, and woodland. It was fun to compare the types. I swear I could catch an aftertaste of pine forest in at least one of them.

People here still tend to eat seasonally, and feast on cherries, apples, squash, chestnuts, whatever has just been harvested. After years of American supermarkets offering everything all year round, I am trying to get into this new habit. Right now it is the end of apple season, and squash, chestnuts and Croatian mandarins are in. I am still sporting a cut and blistered thumb from my attempt to remember how to peel hot chestnuts.

A second tent was more informational, with a death-defying display of edible funghi (below), and a very scientific-looking olive oil stand.

By the end, the bottom of the stroller was full, and my purse was literally empty. Luckily, sitting on tractors one last time does not cost any money. On writing this, I reflected that the tractor company should have stocked up on toy tractors. They would have made a killing, and we would have had the beginnings of a tractor collection.

Monday 15 October 2018

Quick Lit October 2018

I had to rewrite my intro to this month´s QuickLit link up because our shipping arrived, which meant many boxes of books to sort through (we got rid of literally hundreds of books and it was still our biggest category of shipping!). The only problem is that we have an unfurnished temporary apartment that we don´t want to buy much furniture for, so I had to choose which books to unpack and which to leave boxed. You can see how I carefully chose only enough to fit on our revolving bookcase...

...or not, of course.

Richard Foster - Prayer: Finding the heart´s true home
A more practical title for this book would be The Complete Handbook of Christian Prayer, but I suppose that glosses over Foster´s main message. At over 400 pages, it really does cover every conceivable tradition of Christian prayer, discussed with a mix of historical background, experiences and advice from people ranging from acknowledged pillars of the faith across two thousand years to those Foster has encountered in everyday life, plus practical advice and sample prayers. I have no doubt that Foster himself will be numbered among classic Christian authors. I started this several months ago - it is a book you can take all at once or chapter by chapter as a type of workbook. This would be fruitful reading for people of any Christian tradition, but I think open-minded spiritual seekers or those of other traditions might find value in it as well.

Ammon Shea - Reading the OED: One man, one year, 21, 730 pages
Few books make me laugh out loud. If I tell you that one of them is Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynn Truss´s diatribe on the correct use of punctuation, you might understand why I loved this book too (and resolve never to be cornered in conversation with me). Each chapter begins with a short essay related to his reading, the OED, or lexicographical matters, then lists Shea´s favourite words, accompanied with his commentary on the definition. There is a little of the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson in Shea, who serves up his opinions with a snark that had me giggling out loud. The only problem is that I had put aside two pages in my bullet journal for 2018 words whose definitions I wanted to (re)learn. Now I have a huge new list of words too delicious not to commit to memory. And, Mr Shea, I would like to inform you that, growing up in the London suburbs, I have, in fact, been vulpeculated*.

A clue

Anne Bogel - I´d Rather be Reading: The delights and dilemmas of the reading life (audio book)
I admit, it was the cover that sold me on the book. I got the audio version for free with my preorder; a good deal for me since I had to have the physical book delivered to my parents´ house in the UK because THERE IS NO AMAZON IN SLOVENIA. (We are surviving. Thank you for asking.) The title pretty much explains this little gift book, with short essays on all things reading, from living next door to a library, arranging bookshelves, to books that made you cry. I hope MMD fans will not be knocking at my door with torches and pitchforks for saying this, but I would have liked it if Anne had read just a little more slowly, as I wanted to savour her musings. I am looking forward to revisiting the essays in print when I next get to the UK.

Lillian Beckwith - The Hills is Lonely
I am glad I looked up information on the author or I would have ended up feeling embarrassed about my review. The blurb on the back of the yellowed 1970s paperback declared it was an account of the author´s rest cure in the Hebrides, set around the 1940s, but it turns out it is a fictionalised memoir. To be fair, that is standard for the pre-social-media times (think Gerald Durrell and James Herriot), where telling all about your neighbours was still considered impolite. In fact, I would describe it as a slightly more literary James Herriot. If you love all things Scottish, wrap yourself in a blanket, put a good dose of whiskey in a hot cup of tea and cosy up to read about the wild, rainy Hebrides and its equally wild inhabitants.

L.M. Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables
I have so many books queued up on my Kindle that I told myself I wasn´t even getting another free book unless it was a must-read - and then Anne of Green Gables showed up for nothing on my BookBub email, I am guessing because Marilla of Green Gables is due out this month. I have never read it, and I wanted to see why it is such a favourite. It was sweet, enjoyable, and beautifully written, and I think if I had read it as a child, it would be up there with the Little Women and What Katy Did books as my nostalgic loves. As an adult, I have to shamefully confess to skimming over some of Anne´s flights of fancy.

Credit to

I hope October is bringing you all good things autumnal. I have to say I am glad for a break from pumpkin spice everything. I mean, it may be around but the only related word I understand is buče, the general word for squash, so I can remain blissfully ignorant.

*Robbed by a fox.

Monday 8 October 2018

Festival of Desserts and Sweets

At last, the event I have been anticipating for several months - and the autumn rain even held off! Three whole days of dessert and sweet tasting (plus sweet and dessert wines) at four squares around Koper. I´m not even sure what to say about this, because right now you are probably either salivating as you book your flight for next year or about to click away. For the dessert addicts among us, here is the low down.

Photo credit: Sweet Istria site - just to add a decent photo or two :)

I had planned to check out the festival solo on Friday while I was down in the town at work, but our three year-old got last week´s cold back (hazard of moving to another country) and really needed a day off kindergarten. But I had to take him down to the pharmacy in his stroller for cough medicine. So we got some syrup of root extract of something from the pharmacist that Google translate did not know about, but it was really sweet and my son liked it so that was okay. Once we had made it down the hill, I thought I might as well push him further because you feel, and breathe, so much better in the fresh air when you are bunged up. And then we made it down to the sea front for some thalassotherapy (aka sea air) and ice cream for his throat - and what do you know, there was the desserts festival. We only visited two squares, and it kept an under-the-weather boy quite happy, so really, I am not a selfish mother.

The festival venue was divided into thematic sections. Down by the sea, in Carpaccio Square, were mostly chocolatiers. Slovenians are very into all sorts of dried fruits coated in chocolate, not my favourite, but I gave some a try. Lots of organic chocolate on sale, too. I bought a bar of truffle (as in the mushroom) chocolate because truffles are big in this region, but I haven´t opened it yet so I can´t report back.

Yes, they are chocolate

Up in Tito Square, in front of the cathedral, were local, Istrian desserts, including a gluten-free stall. Figs figure heavily here, as do nuts and apricots. Lost of local olive oil and honey for sale, too.

BTW, I ride my bike through here to work

 Back down by the old town walls, in Prešeren Square, were Slovenian sweets. They are not as saturated with fat or sugar as American or British desserts, but are heavier on pastry cream. A lot of them remind me of the sorts of recipes you get in historical cookbooks.

And along the road from that, in Gortan Square, were more Slovenian desserts and general sweet (candy) stalls, including stand for a vegan bakery newly opened by the people who run our son´s kindergarten. Their chocolate hazelnut cake was pretty yummy.

 There were demonstrations, cooking shows, activities for children, and, something I really feel needs a shout-out, extra water stations laid on for people to refill drinking bottles. You had to buy coupons for tasting samples - five for three euros, and all samples were one or two coupons. There were desserts available for purchase with real-time money, but not as much as I had expected. That didn´t stop people loading up on coupons and taking trayfuls of desserts home.

Photo: Sweet Istria

Saturday, three of us went down at the end of the day (our daughter plead homework), and the place was much more crowded. Good for business, not so much for introverts. I bought a huge jar of local (Ankaran) honey in Tito Square, good for all the coughs, colds and general sniffles sweeping in waves through our house, plus a large bag of chocolates in Carpaccio Square, good for nothing except our spirits. Our daughter met us for dinner - and wow, prices have gone down now that the tourist season is waning. Dinner for four with wine was 25 euros. I spent over twice that amount all told at the festival - purely for purposes of investigation, of course.

Sunday morning, we were meant to meet some people down in Koper and have a last walk through the festival afterwards, but the venue got changed. The only problem was that I still had coupons left over. So, heroically, I gave my husband some peace and quiet to work on his lecture notes in the afternoon and took the little one down once more, plastic container in hand. We used all the coupons to get a dessert selection to bring back for the family and WE DID NOT EAT ONE PIECE  down there, just a tasting of organic dulce de leche. How selfless is that? A trip to the park and a lucky find of a discarded balloon placated the toddler.

Now, a whole year to get my blood sugar levels back to normal before the next festival :)

Touristy stuff. Come see us and the festival! There is still some beautiful weather in this part of the world in September, and prices are getting cheaper! There is even a pre-arranged wet weather venue for the festival, so your sweet tooth will not be disappointed. I believe the website is kept up and running all year, and if you click on the Slovenian version, you can get recipes, though I cannot vouch for what Google translate will have you end up cooking :)