Year of Grace, Day 15. Elan Amaro Gayo

Coffee – what would mornings be without it? Or cakes too?  I am thankful that coffee – good coffee – makes my mornings, and occasionally afternoons as well.

I didn’t take to coffee until I was a student in Tokyo and got introduced to kissaten culture. Kissaten, literally smoking and tea shop/s, were then at their heyday. There was such a proliferation of coffee shops that each made every effort to stand out: whether it was the choice of music (classical, jazz, folk) or the cakes and other light meals they served or the thickness of their doorstopper toast or the elegance of their cups. One thing was standard, and that was the high quality of their coffee. Coffee was starting to come in from all over the world through the trading companies, and coffee beans from Indonesia, Colombia, Guatemala, and even as far away as Yemen featured on the menu. The most expensive and sought after coffee was Blue Mountain from Jamaica. Even today, Japan buys in advance almost 2/3 of the entire Blue Mountain crop every year. And that’s the reason it’s quite difficult to source Blue Mountain elsewhere and makes it even more pricey. Once when the children were small, they saved up their allowance for months to get me Blue Mountain and a small coffee mill for my birthday. Bless them and I thank them profusely for their thoughtful present!

In Bonn, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Blue Mountain being sold anywhere, and I was content to buy organic Arabica from Chile or Guatemala from Tschibo. That was until I came upon a coffee roaster in Old Town (Altstadt). I had passed by Kaffee Kontor many times on the way to Eislabor, the artisanal ice cream shop on Maxstrasse. On the window display were the same Japanese siphon coffeemakers that were standard in the Tokyo coffeeshops of my youth. There was no sign outside, and I had always assumed it was a wholesaler. My curiosity got the better of me one day and I went in. It was like being transported to the early twentieth century. A huge coffee roasting machine dominated the room, and sacks of coffee lined the walls. A working antique cash register sat in front of a tall display case. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee was intense.

KAFFEEKONTOR SHOP

 

There were not too many coffees, a good sign. There were three Ethiopian coffees: Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Elan Amaro Gayo. There were also a few South American ones. I chose to go with the Ethiopian, as I’d never had the opportunity to taste any from the homeland of coffee, though I had read of Yirgacheffe. I am really thankful that I did. Elan Amaro Gayo is the one coffee I have had which has delivered on its promise. The label said: deep chocolatey quality, with blueberry and raspberry notes, sweetish. It has been my favourite ever since. Sometimes I alternate with Sidamo, which was awarded Coffee of the Year in 2013 by the German Coffee Roasters Guild. But what I appreciate most about Elan Amaro Gayo is that it is exported by a woman, the only female Ethiopian coffee exporter, and that 80% of her coffee is picked by women.

ELAN AMARO GAYO

From my fieldwork in Imugan, in Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, it was evident to me that women are among the specialist farmers in highland areas, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere, and they make the best coffee pickers as they are meticulous in picking only the truly ripe berries, which makes for the best coffee bean quality.

KAFFEEKONTOR CAPPUCINO

I am grateful to have the opportunity to drink this wonderful Ethiopian coffee, exported by a woman, picked by women, and roasted by a woman here in Bonn Old Town. To Christiane Hattingen, licensed coffee sommelière, I am additionally thankful for the small corner at the back of the roastery. There I sat one afternoon reading my Kateigaho, thankful to be transported back to Japan through this lovely magazine, and where I enjoyed exquisite cappuccino that came with a more-ish cube of pistachio white chocolate cream in a pistachio-glazed cup. I am so looking forward to Christiane’s coffee workshop next Sunday. As places are limited to 8, I am thankful that I was able to get in too.

Year of Grace, Day 14. The joy of blue and white

Another milestone reached: two weeks of my grace journal; three weeks in total of writing down my thanks each day. I am truly thankful that thus far I have sustained my goal of daily writing. This one-day, one-note format has worked rather well for me. I am grateful too that friends read and like what I write and share of my daily life and my interests, and their kind appreciation and delight encourage me and hearten me. I am additionally thankful that I can illustrate these daily posts with photographs I have taken in the past, and that I am able to take more when I need them, thanks to my trusty, faithful cameras for cooperating and reproducing, more often than not, what my eyes see and what I would like to share with others. One of them is so old, someone said it looked like an antique. All the more reason for me to treasure it :-).

Today I continue with the blue theme of yesterday. It is not only in the garden that I have the pleasure and the joy of seeing blue. Indoors as well there are a number of things that I use in daily life that are blue or, more accurately, blue and white. For these few simple things, I am truly thankful. I suppose I developed this predilection during my time in Japan, where the range of blue and white tableware is infinitely vast.

Here in Bonn I have found, thankfully, similar blue and white stoneware. They remind me very much of the traditional, not so refined table and kitchen ware that I had grown to love. These simple wares are utilitarian, and so whatever shape and adornment they have are not too elaborate. But the brushwork of blue on the grey or beige glazed bodies often displays the same exuberance that is found in Japanese mingei (folkcraft). I love that these utilitarian wares have an unstudied and unconscious character. They are unabashedly functional and that is what I love about them.

I have a simple, country-style blue and white pitcher, called a Bempel, traditionally used for serving apple wine in Bavaria. I used this yesterday for the first time as a vase with an arrangement of a sunflower and some flowering grasses. The vertical motif on this looks so much like Japanese script: hiragana ‘no’ (の) and the ideograph for life ( 生). I also find the “tail” casually brushed at the foot of the handle and the other brush strokes appealing.

The sunflower and grasses came in an autumnal bouquet from a dear friend:  for flowers and friends that gladden my heart, I am truly thankful. And for the joy of having something blue and white, something simple, honest and useful, and made by a craftsperson’s hands — something that reflects the joy and exuberance of its crafting, I am ever exceedingly grateful.

Year of Grace, Day 13. The colour blue

I.  Love.  Blue.  Blue — in all its tones and gradations — is my favourite colour. And when mixed with green — another favourite — I love it even more. It is only natural that blue flowers count among my favourites too. True blue flowers are rare apparently. Yellow and red are the most common flower colours due to their pollinators: yellow for bees, red for birds, especially hummingbirds. I wonder then how blue flowers are pollinated; by the wind, perhaps? Even those flowers that we see as blue actually have a bit of red in them. Earlier this year, scientists found that rare blue petunias get their colour from a malfunction in their plant cells’ molecular pump, resulting in increased pH and decreased acidity (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-roses-redwhy-petunias-blue.html). With this new insight, plant developers may come up with many, many more blue flowers and they will perhaps no longer be a rarity. No matter, naturally blue flowers will always have pride of place in my garden and in my heart.

Today I am thankful that my eyes, despite myopia since childhood, can perceive and enjoy this wonderful colour, and many other marvellous colours besides. Asters are at their most glorious at this time of year, and they range from pale blue to deep purplish blue and reddish purple. I love them and am grateful to them, as one of the flowers that my mother loved was a dainty flowered, blueish-mauve Estrella, or aster.

A blue flower that loved the conditions in my garden in the UK is monkshood, Aconitum napellus. It is also known as aconite or wolfsbane, having been used to poison wolves in earlier times. It is well known as a poisonous flower, but certain species are used in very dilute dosages as a sedative in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (see note below).

The one blue flower that truly delights me not only for its colour but its name is Love in a Mist, Nigella damascena. Once in the garden, if allowed to seed, you have it with you forever. It is another carefree plant for naturalistic planting. The tiny black seeds of a relative, Nigella sativa, are much used to decorate and flavour Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.

And last but not the least of my favourite blues: hydrangeas. I have two large bushes which I got as small plants two years ago and now, when in bloom, they are taller than me. These plants are also carefree. Except for the occasional nibble from slugs or snails, which I ignore and don’t treat with slug bait, not even a slug bar (beer), I am thankful for these splendid and reliable plants that bloom from late spring until late autumn. I keep most of the spent flowers on the bushes, and only prune them off in the spring when new growth begins. The flowers protect the bush against the worst of the winter cold and frosts. The flowers turn the most spectacular tones of red – from pink to purple – and green also sneaks its way in. Some of the flowers I make into autumn wreaths to brighten up the front door and house during winter.

I am thankful to be able to delight in the sight of these blue flowers. To be able to grow some of them and enjoy them throughout their peak of bloom is such a blessing, and for all these I am grateful.

Most of all, I am thankful for nature’s biodiversity and bounty, and for the Supreme Creator, who has gifted us with all these flowers in their infinitely marvellous forms, all in just the one colour, my favourite – blue.

__________

N.B. Please note that this is not an endorsement to self-medicate with aconite, sometimes promoted unscrupulously as herbal Valium. Many poisonous plants are the bases for historical and modern medicines. The dose makes the poison, as Paracelsus once said: “Alle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht es, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.” All things are poison[ous] and nothing is without poison, only the dose makes it so, that a thing is not poison. Thus, even the most innocuous of foods — such as water, when too much of it is ingested in too short a time — can be harmful to the body.

Year of Grace, Day 12. Gardening Successes

I started to like gardening only in my thirties. As a child, I took the plants in the garden for granted. When I was asked to water them, I had no idea that it was the roots that needed the water and directed the hose towards the leaves. Once they looked thoroughly wet and glistening with moisture, I figured I was done. It’s a good thing I was only assigned to do this occasionally, or the plants might not have survived.

I’m grateful that over the years, my gardening successes have been considerably more than my failures. I have learned that if I leave cuttings in water, in time they develop roots and I can then pot them or plant them in the ground. One horticulture lecturer told me that these water roots are different from normal roots, and that the only proper way to propagate certain plants is by sticking cuttings into soil. I haven’t checked whether there is a scientific basis for true roots and pseudo-roots, but there is a clematis that I have grown from water roots. It looks no different from any other normal clematis. It has even managed to produce buds and I am looking forward to seeing it bloom before the frosts set in.

Another minor success is a taro that I have grown from a corm I bought from the Asian food shop. It took quite a while till it put forth leaves but miraculously and thankfully, my taro plant has been with me now for over a year. I haven’t harvested any of the baby corms but once the plant goes into winter mode, I probably will. I said miraculously because no matter how long I have been gardening, the miracle of a living plant coming from seemingly inert seeds or a corm or tuber or cutting, is still a marvel to me, every single time that it happens. I am thankful to be able to witness life coming into being in this way.

It is this continuing wonder that keeps me gardening. And for the rewards of flowers, some of them not only ornamental but also edible. I am grateful that I have the space and the time to garden. Not to mention the strength. I am conscious of the fact that physical exertion is going to be ever more demanding as I age. One of my friends has said that I am happiest in a garden. That I am. It would never have occurred to me as a teenager that in my sixties I would be enjoying the same activities as my mother. Amazing!

Year of Grace, Day 11. Bel Canto

Three new books — what treasure! And by authors I’ve never read before. There is nothing like holding a new book in my hands and anticipating what a pleasurable time I will have reading. I’ve just been loaned these books by a very dear friend, the same one who brought me rose-petal sweets the other day. I am ever so grateful she is a bookworm like me. The temptation to guzzle through them is, shall we say, overwhelming. But I behave myself. I usually read for enjoyment just before I go to sleep, a few pages at a time. This way I get to slowly savour the story as it unfolds. I love to string out the pleasure of a writer’s way of telling a story.

As I write this, a jay – a European jay which, unlike North American jays, has quite subdued colouring of taupe and beige and black and white, but with a startling streak of bright blue underwing – has just landed on a yew branch outside. Before I could get my camera, it flew away just as quickly as it landed. The photos I’ve included are from this spring, just as the elderflower was in bloom in the backgarden, as you can see. On a nearby branch, a male blackbird (the female is brown; why is it that male birds get the stunning plumage?) has just scoffed a red yew berry. I am oh so thankful to have these yew trees positioned at precisely the right place for bird viewing, and at certain times, red squirrel viewing too.

My current reading treasures are Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Peter Tremayne’s Absolution by Murder, and Velma Wallis’s Two Old Women. I have a feeling I’ve read Two Old Women before, but good books always bear re-reading, much as one can listen to music that one loves again and again. To my ears there are melodies embedded in certain authors’ ways with words. There are books that I return to from time to time, longing to read them once more, to hear those soothing wordsongs.

I truly enjoyed reading Bel Canto. It didn’t engage me right away, I have to admit. But since I was reading myself to sleep and not to be so taken by it that I wouldn’t, I continued reading. About a third into the book, I found my interest truly engaged. It was a pleasure to be introduced to the magic of opera singing, to its effect on receptive ears. It also helps that some of the protagonists are Japanese. One very dear friend is a huge opera fan and shares a house with a soprano. Now I have begun to understand a little of her deep fascination. I have been to very few operas, and although I cannot fail to be moved when I hear Un Bel di Vedremo and Nessun Dorma, I am close to totally ignorant of this great art. I do love classical music though, and this book has made me want to learn more about opera to understand them and learn to enjoy them as well. The author has kindly pointed out some good reference works. I don’t wish to spoil your reading, but I have to say that the ending was totally unexpected. I am grateful to have my curiosity awakened and also thankful that there is an opera house in Bonn. The first time I went, it was an ultra-modern production of Don Giovanni that didn’t move me. I shall be more selective next time, and with Ann Patchett’s recommended Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera by Fred Plotkin, I hope to be able to do so.

Imagine: a whole new world of art to be discovered! I am thankful, very thankful, to be given the chance.

Year of Grace, Day 10. Okuyama-san

There are people whom you know for only a short while, and yet the time spent with them seems so much longer. Looking back you feel that they had been a major part of your life. Their influence on you, on your outlook and interests and way of thinking, has been immense, and totally and surprisingly disproportionate to the time you’d been friends.

Okuyama-san is one such friend — Okuyama Shunzo — to give him his full name. ‘Shunzo” is written with the ideographs for the season “spring” and “three.” I never got to ask whether he was born in the third spring of his parent’s marriage.

SHUNZO SNOW BESSO

Okuyama san and his log cabin, as he called it.

I have so much to thank Okuyama-san for: actually he deserves an entire book all to himself. Without him, I would never have had one of the defining experiences of my life, that of living within a Japanese traditional community. I would even venture to say that it is one of the highlights of my life.

It was he who made us pay a visit to the family who took care of the samurai house that we had wished to rent, but had been turned down. The reason: we were gaijin, foreigners. We did not think a visit would make a difference, but he insisted. I shall arrange it, he said.

Okuyama-san belonged to a clan of politicians and landowners in that part of the Snow Country. With the end of the war and land reform implemented by the American Occupation, the clan’s landholdings were vastly reduced. By trade he was a printer, and through the orders for invitations, flyers, and notices his shop received, he got wind of all that was happening. He knew everything and everybody: he had, as the Japanese expression goes, a broad face — kao ga hiroi.

There were not many suitable places to let in Yuzawa at the time. The only other one was also a former samurai dwelling located in the dense shade of Japanese cedars. It was picturesquely lovely, but awfully dark and cold. And in deep winter, colder still. The other rental places were mainly 4.5-mat or 6-mat affairs, barely enough for one to live in (room space is measured in the number of straw mats of standard size, one being reckoned sufficient for one person to sleep on). We agreed to the meeting, more to please Okuyama-san than any hope on our part.

The afternoon came and we were introduced to the family. We bowed in the old-fashioned manner no longer practised in daily life in metropolitan Tokyo: head low to the tatami — the thick straw mats laid inside a traditional Japanese house. We slid off the cushions upon giving our names and sat in seiza, formal style with feet tucked under the body. The head of the family was the former headmaster of the local high school. It was his wife whose physician granduncle had owned the samurai house. We talked about our studies and research, we drank the green tea offered and enjoyed the rice cakes that came with it. And after the pleasant and polite meeting, we left, intending to book tickets for Tokyo the next day.

That evening, Okuyama-san telephoned excitedly to say the house was ours. How could that be? What happened to change their minds? “It was the way you spoke polite Japanese and the way you behaved in the traditional Japanese manner,” he said. “They had no idea you were not like other gaijin.”

That unbelievable outcome was pure irrepressible Okuyama-san: trying, ever so charmingly, never aggressively, to find a way in, even when at first refused. Perhaps it was his engaging way of speaking the local dialect – zuzuben — as Snow Country natives called it. Perhaps it was his gentle and mild, unassuming yet dignified manner. Perhaps because as an influential member of the community, he served in a sense as our backer, our guarantor, a significant role in Japanese culture, particularly in that rural society.

It was a brilliant lesson in how to turn a no into a yes. For that, among many other things besides throughout that time we lived in that town, I am truly grateful to have known Okuyama-san as a friend and as a mentor.

Year of Grace, Day 9. Thankfulness is happiness

Thankfulness is happiness, and happiness is thankfulness. Why? How so? It was not until I started writing down my daily thank-yous that I noticed that the things that make me glad, the things that make me happy, just happen to be the things that I am thankful for.

The shy-flowering morning glory among the bamboo

The shy-flowering morning glory among the bamboo

I am thankful that the morning glory among the bamboo has had another bloom. I find it interesting that I am more excited about the flowers from this plant that has been such a shy flowerer than those on the morning glories that have been more generous with their blooms.

Yesterday evening, a very dear friend surprised me most pleasantly by dropping by. She had brought with her some Iranian delicacies made of rose petals. I anticipate having one of these rose-perfumed sweets with my morning coffee or perhaps my afternoon tea. Just the thought of the scent of roses is enough to fill me with joy. I am grateful for my thoughtful friend and her welcome surprise visit, and as well for her lovely gift.

The sun cooperated with gardening work yesterday afternoon, and I am thankful that I was able to clear the stinging nettle. Some of them at least. A kind colleague had come to carry out tree pruning and for this I am indeed most grateful. The cornelian cherry has had its trunk released of wild vines. The laburnum is now looking smarter without its dead branches. The amelanchier too has been given a badly needed trim. This back corner has been dark and airless, the trees choked by the wild clematis (also known as Old Man’s Beard ) and ivy. I am so happy and thankful to have had this area cleared, and it seems to me that the trees and bushes there, looking ever so much happier now that they are not so encumbered, also join me in a collective outpouring of relief and of thanks.

For me, yesterday has been filled with instances of happiness and kindness and thoughtfulness, and of beauty too. For all of these, I am grateful. For me, happiness is thankfulness, and thankfulness is happiness indeed.

Year of Grace, Day 8. Autumn is a turban squash

When the first turban squash makes its appearance in supermarkets, for me it is clearly autumn. This tough-shelled squash with its unusual, comical shape and often rough patches never fails to cheer me. Called Bischopsmütze (Bishop’s mitre), it belongs with pumpkins to the large group of “winter” squashes.  So called because they store well and keep over the winter, unlike the soft-skinned summer squashes such as zucchini. In addition to making me smile whenever I see them, they make me think of making soup: thick, substantial, warming soups. And squash soup makes me think of my Japanese ‘mother’, Hiroko, who made it with milk and nutmeg, and my daughter, who adores it, especially when made with caramelised onions and tomatoes, perked up with the heat of a red chilli, the way M makes it.

TURBAN SQUASH WHOLE G_9636

For me, there is no better complement to squash than prawns or shrimps. Yesterday being Monday, the fishmongers were closed, and I thought of trying to find dried shrimps or powdered shrimps in the Asian food shop in Old Town Bonn (Altstadt).

This part of Bonn has become truly multicultural. Just behind the new City Hall is a Moroccan food shop where I get harissa. Next door to it is a proper fishmonger where I buy wonderful whole squid intact with tentacles and ink sacs as well as gilt-head bream. I have never been a fan of hot peppery food or sauces, but I have become fond of this particular type of harissa: it is not too hot and it has a clean, clear flavour of red chillies, lemon juice, salt, and oil. Nothing else. There is also an African food shop that carries dried fish, plantains, and yams, next door to a zumba and capoeira studio. Just around the corner has to be one of the best artisanal ice cream makers in Bonn — Eislabor (‘Ice Cream Laboratory’). They make a small range of ice creams and sorbets, with no additions, just natural ingredients, sugar, and cream or water. No nuts or any other additions to mask the silky smoothness of their iced wares. The flavour of their fruit ice creams is pure delightful fruit! And their chocolate sorbet is so intense and creamy, it is hard to believe it is not made with cream. It is vastly superior to their chocolate ice cream.

At the other end of Altstadt, near Rosental, are a Turkish food shop and an Asian food shop. Over the six years I have lived in Bonn, I had only shopped at Jin Long near the entrance to the City Hall at Budapesterstrasse. I am thankful, really thankful to have found this other one as they have a more diverse  selection. Yesterday as I said I was looking for dried shrimps. I didn’t find those or perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place, but I found frozen, delicate-looking, white prawns instead. I find gigantic prawns tough and prefer the medium-sized ones. I also discovered frozen jackfruit! And of all things – champuy! The hard, sour, salty ones. I haven’t had those in ages! I also found blachan or trasi, fermented fish paste in block form, which I then used to flavour the squash soup. Its aroma in the soup reminded me of the fermented anchovy sauce (bugguong in Ilocano, bagoong in Tagalog) that is de rigueur in Ilocano dishes and I was reminded of my mother’s pinakbet, a slowly braised Ilocano dish of aubergines, bitter melon, and other vegetables in anchovy sauce, ginger, and tomatoes, which is akin in consistency to Mallorcan tumbet or the homely French dish, ratatouille.

I am truly grateful to have found what I was in search of and to discover new food ingredients as well. The squash soup, graced with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) found at the Turkish shop, made a lovely supper. I think I overdid it slightly with the prawns which I cooked a la plancha. I adore seafood and although I can eat a lot of it, last night’s pile of prawns was a tad piggish. 🙂  I am more than thankful that the squash soup did turn out well and went very well with prawns, as I had imagined. One other thing I am grateful for: I understood 100% what was being announced as a schedule change at the tram stop. That has never happened before.

Year of Grace, Day 7. Rain

Today marks the seventh day of my gratefulness journal — my year of grace — and the second week since I began writing down three things to be grateful for everyday. I had no other goal save for writing down my thoughts. Previous to this writing exercise, my thoughts of thanks and on thankfulness have remained just where they came from. I have found that the act of writing has created some sort of effect. There is something about seeing my thoughts in tangible form. The word made flesh, to borrow an expression from the holy ancients. Perhaps this is one aspect of the power of the pen; in this case the keyboard. Thoughts given substance and a framework have given my often random thoughts a sort of order. And order out of chaos is one aspect of creativity, and if we read the Holy Book, then an aspect of Divine Creation as well. Seeing my thoughts take shape from day to day as I write them down, without any planning on what to write, has calmed me down, has created a space of stillness within and a clearer perspective as well.

Yesterday I had planned on tending to the garden. I have seedlings that need to be transferred to the ground. But the weather had other plans. It rained most of the day. Although I could not carry out what I had planned, I am truly grateful for the steady, gentle rain, because some plants have been showing signs of needing watering lately. I have also moved some lavender plants that had not been happy living with what is known here as “coca-cola bush,” though I prefer the old English name “Lad’s Love” for Artemisia abrotanum var. maritima. The lavender and new plantings of sage also need watering to settle them in during their early days. The garden hose does not reach all the way to where these plants are, and I have been carrying a heavy watering can up a slope, making several trips to water them. I am thankful and overjoyed not to have had to do this yesterday.

Confined indoors by the rain, I was grateful to have been able to do a spot of baking. There was a pot of plums that I’ve been boiling down, the plums had come from the garden of a dear friend and were sufficiently sweet not to need too much additional sugar. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, since March this year I’ve cut down on wheat and refined sugar, as well as refined seed oils, as recommended by Perfect Health Diet authors Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet. I created my own recipe for plum and marzipan muffins using ground almonds and buckwheat instead of wheat flour, and used a fruit spread made from boiled down pears, apples, and dates for the sugar. The ready-prepared marzipan is already sweet (and unfortunately has refined sugar, but I won’t quibble) so that in total I used only 2 tablespoons of the fruit spread. I am always apprehensive when I substitute ingredients in baking recipes: baking is applied chemistry and the correct proportions matter a great deal in the outcome.  I am sooo grateful that my experiment turned out fine and tasted great as well.

I was able to share my new creation with friends who had invited me for dinner, once again because of the rain. We had planned on going for a walk in the afternoon, but the rain changed our plans. Instead my friend suggested if I didn’t have other plans, that I join them instead for their evening meal. I was grateful to be among convivial company with lovingly created food, among them Saltimbocca Romana with fresh sage leaves from their garden. I was happy too to see their grandchild looking so charming and beautiful and beginning to talk. He even learned to say my name. And we had the plum muffins as additional dessert.

REFLECTIONS WATERLILY POPPELSDORFWEIR

The rain had stopped as I walked to my friends’ house and I passed these waterlilies by the weir that runs through the Bonn Botanic Garden.

I am thankful that the rain made my day!

Year of Grace, Day 6. Simple food

One of my favourite foods is spaghetti with a seafood sauce, and although Bonn has many fine Italian restaurants, it was not until this year that I finally found love at first bite (sorry, I just couldn’t resist). Tuscolo is more noted for its pizza, but it’s their spaghetti al frutti di mare that I  look forward to and always order. It was so good the first time I had it that for the first time in my life, I surprised myself by finishing it all. And the helpings here are enormous. What I love about Tuscolo is that I can rely on them to make this dish unfailingly satisfying each time. The taste is not always the same, probably because they have different cooks, but it is unwaveringly superb. The seafood is absolutely fresh and the sauce, made from fresh tomatoes, light enough not to overpower the prawns and squid. The squid includes the tentacles as well, so squeamish diners might be put off. But I relish squid, tentacles and all. Just a mere suspicion of rosemary, a few sprigs of rucola, a sprinkling of parsley and garlic, plus the enticing smoky scent of grilled prawns on al dente pasta. Simple and honest perfection. And yet, in all these six years of searching for the definitive seafood pasta in Bonn, it is only recently that I have come across it.

Spaghetti al frutti di mare at Tuscolos, Bonn Zentrum

Spaghetti al frutti di mare at Tuscolo, Bonn Zentrum

It isn’t really that complicated to make, and were I to make it, this is the way that I would want my seafood sauce to taste like, though without the rosemary. It is not an herb that I would have thought of including with seafood, but the one or two almost imperceptible snippets of it do give just the right kind of lift in Tuscolo’s sauce.  I do appreciate being surprised by what seem to me as improbable combinations. It surprises me how such a simple dish as pasta partnered with a good seafood sauce has eluded many Italian restaurants here. I found that most often the tomato or cream sauce they use is a stock sauce that they use for everything, and a stodgy one at that. I am really thankful to have found one perfect pasta dish at last! Long may Tuscolo continue to excel in making one of my favourite dishes.

While I am quite adventurous where food is concerned, what satisfies me most is honest food — made from fresh ingredients, simply prepared, and cheerfully and graciously served. Yesterday, Tuscolo delivered as expected, and the waiter was charming and not at all obsequious, speaking mostly in Italian. “Prego, signora!” he said as soon as he presented the menu. Although Saturday is their busiest day, he never lost his smile or good humour. I am also thankful that I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes, a lady brought my rosé wine and then, even before I’d had two sips, my steaming pasta, cautioning me that the plate was extremely hot. It was most delectable and went very well with the Italian rosé. When the waiter came to take away the plates, I didn’t even have to ask; he seemed to have read my mind: “Espresso, signorina?”(I wonder what made him change from the initial ‘signora.’) It was the perfect meal for a lovely, warm not-quite-autumn day. I thank everyone who’s had a hand in making my wonderful meal: from the fishermen to the farmers and vintners, the olive oil and balsamico producers, bakers (there was wonderfully chewy bread for sopping up the wonderful sauce, greedy me 🙂 ), the cooks, and last but not least, the lady server and my engaging Italian waiter.

I am enormously grateful that a simple, well-prepared meal can bring me such a feeling of well-being and contentment. And I didn’t have to  wash the dishes :-). Thank goodness for that!