Archive | December, 2013

thankful & content


Elliott took these photos from our balcony.  Oh Sicily.  Doesn’t this view just give your soul peace?


The houses in the valley right below ours are sometimes pretty to look at — that is, they contribute to that feeling of peace — and sometimes their dogs just bark too much and we would rather live anywhere else.  Or the wood chopper hammers away right below us and we wish we’d known about these things before we moved in.


But most of the time we draw a deep breath and thank God for a view like this.  What kind of view will we be looking at next winter?  We have no idea.  I do hope there’s snow in it, though!


A couple of Sunday afternoons ago, we took a family hike down into the valley below our house.  We followed the stream (or sewer drainage, for either term would be correct) through the lowest part of the valley until we reached a farmer’s orange groves.


That little yellow house on the very far right corner of the cliff is our house!  It looks so tiny and unimportant from down in the valley.  But think of all the memories we’ve made in it!  Christmases, birthdays, holidays, visitors, bringing Gil home from the hospital, bringing Siena home to live with us, fights and time-outs and tears and kisses.  I love that little yellow house.


And I love this beautiful baby.  There’s just nothing so cute to me as his beautiful blond curls, which grow thicker and longer and crazier by the day!  Even when I tuck them under a hat to keep his ears warm, a few curls escape, and he looks more cherubic than ever.


The sun was setting behind the ridge, silhouetting a few of the apartment buildings in our town.


We made it to the orange grove!  I am pretty strict about us not picking oranges from the trees because that seems like blatant stealing… even though I know the farmer would probably pick us a basketful for free if he saw us there.  (Such is the generosity of every farmer we’ve ever met here!)  As we’ve never met this farmer, we find fallen oranges in the lush green grass under the trees and then eat and eat and eat until we’ve had our fill.

Before I moved to Sicily, I could take or leave oranges.  They were great, but not my fave.  Now, though, because of the memories laced with the sweetness, fresh oranges are one of my most favorite things in the world.


On the way home, a group of horsemen rode down the hills, across the ridge, and right past us.  We watched them, mesmerized. Elliott and I have both ridden a lot in our lives — Elliott mostly when he worked on a ranch in California, me mostly in India and Pakistan as a teenager — and we were gripped with the memories: the tug of leather reins in our hands, the rock of our hips in the saddle, the communicative touch of our heels into our horse’s side, even the automatic shift in our center of gravity to respond to excited rearing.  I felt it all again in a moment, in a heady rush that left me breathless.

I was struck by another more sobering emotion, too. Now a horse’s back looks far more dangerous than it ever did before.  Now — when I look at the little faces of my children looking up at me — my head feels so much more fragile, the saddle so much farther from the ground.  I realized with a touch of sadness that I’ll never ride again like I used to, with the joyful abandon of a girl madly in love with horses, heedless of her own safety.  In high school my instructor would say, “Do you want to jump?” and I’d say, “How high?”

But today, well… at least for today, I am content to keep two feet on the ground and two arms around the ones I love.  Maybe later Elliott and I will teach Lena and Gil how to ride, or we’ll have a pony of our own*, or we’ll watch Lena jump the jumps that I once jumped.

But that Sunday afternoon, I was content.  Content to watch.  Content to eat a fallen orange.  Content to walk home to our little yellow house on the cliff, tuck my babies into bed, kiss the one I love.  So very thankful and so very content.

*And I’ve already chosen a name: Mary Poppins!

Are there things you once did that you’ll never do again?

5 :: in family, hiking, home sweet home, thoughts

our harrowing adventure to an Italian winery


I’ve been wanting to go see Gambino Winery for a long time.  Like… years.  But Elliott and I both wanted to invite friends to go with us, and we just never planned ahead enough to do that.  (Typical.)  Finally we got our act together and invited two couples that are becoming good friends.  (See this post!)


Unfortunately, the morning that we chose to go also happened to be a day that Etna decided to erupt.  She’s been erupting a lot lately, but it’s usually just a pretty spew of lava.  That day, unfortunately, it was a gigantic ash cloud, the largest we’d ever seen.  We admired it from our kitchen window and then jumped in the car to drive up the slopes of Mt Etna to the winery.

You might be thinking ahead of us and wondering if there could be a problem here?  The fact that we were driving right into the ash cloud didn’t occur to us until we were about to get off the highway and both turned to each other in surprise.

“Is the road under construction?  What’s all this gravel?”

“Wait, is there something falling on the car?  Is it raining?”

“No, it’s ash from Etna.  Wow, the whole road is covered.  It’s not gravel… it’s a 1/2 inch of ash!  And it’s still falling!”

We got off the highway, noticing with a slight sense of anxiety that the highway entrance was now closed indefinitely.  We turned onto smaller mountain roads as we began to climb the mountain toward the winery.

My friend Laura texted me to say that their GPS indicated they would be 15 minutes late… sorry!  (No problem… so would we.  As usual.  Everywhere.)

We continued to follow Google Maps on my phone as it wound up the mountain.  The GPS led us to turn off onto smaller and steeper roads, which is a serious issue when they are covered in loose, gravelly ash.  A couple of times our car’s tires whined, scrabbling for purchase on the slippery roads, and then lurched forward, fishtailing slightly before getting a grip.  We exchanged sweaty glances and ignored our increasingly fussy kids in the back seat.

After a couple of stressful wrong turns, we finally followed our GPS around a tight turn and up a narrow gravel road.  At this point we dead-ended at a farm, made a wrong turn, came back to the farm, and stared at the road the GPS was telling us to take.  I got out and walked down the road to confirm our suspicions.  No, we were correct.  The “road” was a farm lane that petered out into a straggly vegetable patch.  From somewhere nearby we heard a farmer singing as he worked in his garden.

We were officially completely lost.

At that moment we heard a car coming up the road behind us, tires digging furiously in the loose gravel and ash.  We got out of our car to watch as a large, black, American car squeezed around the rock wall and then slowly pulled up in front of us.  Our friends got out.

“So I guess this isn’t the winery?


I’m going to skip ahead — past the hilarious laughter, past the cheerful Italian man who came upon us then and guided us back to the main road in his car, past the realization that the directions on the winery website were actually correct, past the absurd and second wrong turn that led us up steep gravelly roads that we eventually had to all back our cars down, past the enormous and almost anguished sense of relief we felt as we parked our cars and ran into the winery, ever-so-grateful for that basket of bread and full glasses of dark red wine.

And then there we were, sitting peacefully around a large farmhouse table, eating and drinking and relaxing together the way you assume you always will when you move to Italy.  Roads and GPS units excepted.



For 20 euro for each adult, we were served a full meal of antipasti, sausages, soups, espresso, and dessert, and we also were given five bottles of wine to taste and take home and as much bread, olive oil, and balsamic as we could eat.


Three of the five wonderful wines that we sampled.


Very typical Sicilian food: grilled eggplant and sausages sprinkled with crushed pistachios.


Alyssa and Jake… who read this blog before they got to Sicily and now get to see themselves on it!  What what!


Eggs from local free-range hens.  Apparently the eggs went very well with the last, strongest wine!


My sweet friend Laura and her new fan, Miss Lena-Making-Silly-Faces.


Growing big and handsome on Italian bread and olive oil.


After the meal we headed outside for awhile to walk off the wine and take in the view.  The patio outside the winery was covered in crunchy, ever-so-lightweight ash, some of the chunks as big as our palms.


We could step right into the vineyards themselves and walk around.  Clusters of grapes still clung to the branches, and the leaves were turning red and gold in the cold autumnal air.  becca-garber-gambino-winery-19

The main building of the winery is brand new and beautiful, and the owners are digging a wine cellar now that will be visible through the plexiglass floor of the main tasting room.


Tasting the season’s leftovers!


We attempted a family picture in the vineyard, and this one makes me laugh.  So typical of Gil these days!


But this one turned out pretty well.  To our new friends: thanks so much for braving the mountain right after it erupted (talk about induction into the Sicilian Driving Club) and for making crazy memories in Italy with us!  We’re so glad you’re here.

6 :: in agriturismo, Italy, Mt Etna

Making Room on Thanksgiving


The first time we saw our future home in Sicily, we fell completely in love with the gigantic farmhouse table and benches in the dining room.  The landlords told us that the table came with the house, and I immediately began to dream of filling the table with friends and family.  I love to put people around that table!

We’ve made some new friends recently, and I thought they might be feeling far from family for their first big holiday in Sicily.  We sent out an email, arranged a potluck, and all converged in our home on Thanksgiving.  Alyssa brought spinach and artichoke dip, an apple pie, salted caramel brownies, and hot rolls; Laura made her mom’s famous broccoli and sweet potato casseroles; and Brigitta brought cider and mulling spices, two pumpkin pies, and the Charlie Brown Christmas DVD for Lena to borrow!  I took care of the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, and mashed potatoes, and also made a new favorite for us: pear and ginger bruschetta with goat cheese. Everyone contributed wine.  And we feasted!


One thing I love about hosting is the chance to bring out all the dishes that otherwise only see occasional use in our house, like our beautiful glass wine decanter and the Polish pottery my mom gave us as a wedding gift.  I also lit four colorful Shabbat candles that Elliott and I bought in Israel; we visited there during Elliott’s yearlong assignment in Egypt soon after we got married.  It felt extravagant and joyful to burn four of them at once in a candelabra in the middle of our Thanksgiving feast.


Before the meal, between dinner and dessert, and after we were too stuffed to eat one more bite, we gathered around our fireplace with glasses of wine or mugs of mulled cider.  Gil and Lena played relatively happily around us, and we carried on adult conversation over their little blond heads.  I felt relaxed as a hostess because of the many hands there that were so eager to help with everything: serving, clearing, packing up leftovers, playing with children, and even washing the dishes.  (Thank you, Laura, for spearheading that… I wanted to kiss your feet later when I realized how tired I was and how much you’d helped me!)

The highlight of the evening came when everyone was talking in the kitchen, and suddenly someone said, “Oh wow… Etna’s erupting!”  We all looked out the window and were treated to the best eruption so far this fall.  (In the photo below, you can just see the glow of the eruption above the clouds.)  She erupted for hours, and we were treated to a spectacular view out of our kitchen window.  Quite a fun dollop of whipped cream on the proverbial pumpkin pie!


Thank you, friends, for braving the tiny Italian streets to share Thanksgiving with us.  We’re so thankful for these growing friendships with you!  Can’t wait for many games of Settlers of Catan and hikes up Etna in the future.

As we head into the holidays, I want to continue to “make room” in our home, lives, and hearts for others, to be attuned to their needs just as much as my own.  I read this quote again from one of my favorite books, and I hope that such simplicity of focus and love is evident in my heart throughout this Christmas season:

[S]implification is not just about taking things away.
It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart.


For those of you who might be interested, here’s the recipe for the pear and ginger bruschetta.  It was a hit, and I’ll be making it again soon!

Pear-Ginger-Goat Cheese Bruschetta

adapted from Style Me Pretty’s Thanksgiving 2012 Guide


  • 1 long French baguette
  • 4 large pears
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped raisins
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 oz goat cheese
  • Parsley


  1. Preheat the oven to 350* F (180* C).  Slice the baguette in 1/2″-thick slices.  Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, 5 minutes per side, or until crisp and slightly brown around the edges.  Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
  2. Core and peel the pears and then cut them into a 1/2″ dice.
  3. Put the pears, ginger, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, and salt into a medium non-stick pan.  Cook for 25-30 min, stirring occasionally.  Stir frequently in the last 10 minutes as the sugar caramelizes and the mixture begins to darken and thicken.
  4. Spread a tsp of goat cheese on each slice of baguette.  Spoon the pear chutney on top of each slice.  Top with a parsley garnish if desired.
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11 :: in friends, holidays, hospitality, in my kitchen, Mt Etna

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