The Drama Chef

Prose – Travel – Recipes

Basil Walnut Pesto

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She loved plants. Every time she was going to the market, she would come back with a small pot of green joy. In March it was tulips, in April small strawberry plants, in September chrysanthems. They weren’t all surviving for long, most lingered for a week or two and then faded away. Too much water, not enough water, too much sun in this corner of the house, not enough sun in the other room. I tried to explain her so many times that it was a waste of time, a waste of effort. She wouldn’t listen. Her small garden was taking up half of our living-room, we had to manouevre through the colourful pots and pick up dried flowers every hour of the day.

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Last week she came home with a fluffy pot of basil. She had tried to keep basil alive three times before and failed over and over again. I am going to cook him directly, she said in an apologetic voice. Pesto pasta for dinner?

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Walnuts and fresh basil leaves. Parmesan and olive oil. Pasta al dente. Extra parmesan on top. A leave or two for decoration. A walnut or two, for the show. The windows wide open, spring air heavy with singing birds. I’ll do the dishes I said, leaving her caressing the thorns of her small cactus. In the kitchen, a small plop of the basil was left in the pot. It still survives.

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Women’s Kumquat & Lemon Cake

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You live in the western world, in a highly privileged country of Central Europe. Economy is doing great, transportation is excellent, it is safe, it is pretty. You are a white, highly educated woman. You are employed. You have great carreer prospects, possibly a bright future ahead of you. But.

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Do you have a long-term relationship or are you one of these polygamic monsters? Or even worse, are you homosexual? Are you older than thirty and still unmarried? Oh poor thing, your boyfriend just won’t propose, will he? If you’ve been married for some time, why don’t you have children yet? If you have one child, why don’t you have another – don’t you know only children are lonely and miserable? Do you cook and prepare snacks for your familly? Don’t you know their health depends on you? Oh my God, you look so tired today, why aren’t you wearing make-up? When was the last time you got a manicure, you should not neglect your looks like that. Why do you care so much for your carreer, a woman’s destination is to have kids. Have you put on weight?

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If you are ambitious and hard-working, you are a bossy cold-hearted bitch. Women should be tender and sweet and understanding. You should always give up your wishes and dreams, you should not complain, you should not exagerate. Honey, that’s just not what good girls do. Yes, your male colleagues are much better paid than you for the same job. You should be thankful you even have a job, you should be thankful you can vote. So what if your boss made a sexistic comment on your clothes, what if one of your co-workers just won’t stop harassing you until you go out with him. A woman’s no can be a no, it is a maybe. Come on now, you know you want it, you wouldn’t wear these slutty clothes if you didn’t. You had it coming. Why are you screaming like that, are you a hysterical feminist? When was the last time you had sex, that should calm you down, that should shut you up! Shut up, shut up!

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How many of these lines have you heard yourself? How many of these things have you told other women, or have you thougth of? Take a moment to think today, take a moment to censor yourself and your words before you attack a woman next time. Take a moment to talk to the men and women in your life about sexism, discrimination, inequality, solidarity. Read and think and read again. Protect yourself, protect other women. Help and support and stand by each other. And let’s have some cake now, not to leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.

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Vienna!

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Beautiful buildings wherever you look. Palaces and mansions and theaters and more palaces. Art nouveau facades, statutes, big parks, old trams, openness. Welcome to Vienna.

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It’s windy and cold, so wrap up, we are going for a walk.

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It’s not the big sites, the most famous monuments, the most hip bars that make a city what it is. It is the small details that reveal the mentality and the temperament of people. Like the traffic lights. Beautiful, playful, full of care.

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Like the Christmas decorations. Shuttle lights wrapped around the naked trees, glittering in the dusk.

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And the small alleys. So close to the city center, but so calm and despised by the masses of tourists that were drowning Vienna during the holidays. Let your map down. Let your lists at the hotel, let your articles on what to do and things to see. Just for a day.

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Strawberry Coconut Parfaits

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This is Part III of Erica’s short story (Part I; Part II).

“Pass me the scones darling. Ted, don’t you hear me? The scones!” I gave her the white plate with the reindeer decorations with an awkward smile. “You don’t like them? I can make you something else” she said. I nodded no and started eating. The sooner this festive breakfast would come to an end, the better. Dad was not talking for a while now, avoiding eye contact with a generic soft smile on his lips. I was sure he wished he could be somewhere else too. I wondered where. Sally and Mom where talking gleefully, what will Santa bring this year, did you like the Cookies darling?

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Christmas. Our sad plastic tree on the corner, lit with electric lights, the ornaments scratched and outdated. Red candles on the table, stars on the napkins, glitter everywhere. Dressed in our nice clothes that didn’t fit properly anymore. Carrols on the radio. Boredom. Forced joy. Presents. Crowds in the malls. Red and golden and silver. Women with too much makeup. Men drinking too much and laughing too hard. Happy families. Kids with pink cheeks and santa bonnets. Give me a break.

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First snow in Vaud

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“How old is she?” “83 or 84, I can’t really remember anymore.” “And she lives alone up there, all alone?” “For more than 20 years now, right after the divorce with her second husband. She rented out her flat in Lausanne, she gave away most of her clothes and furniture, took 2 suitcases, 2 trains and there she was, at the village of her childhood summers.” The train is sliding around the vineyards that are soaked in rain; yellow leaves still linger on the vines. Not for much longer now. Dreamy châteux now and then, below dark cloudy skies.

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The smell of coffee, the silence of the wagon on an early Saturday morning. Old passengers reading through trashy free-press, paper bags of croissants, the smell of capucinnos dusted with cocoa powder. Swiss train life. The fabric of the seats a bit worn out by the bodies of passengers, hundrends and hundrends every month. We change to another train, they check our tickets again, greeting in French and German, just in case, changing to English if you don’t reply, move or smile. We go through colourful forests, stip hills, bridges, small chalets. Autumn postcards, wherever you look.

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She is waiting for us at the train station. Glasses, woolen scarf and matching bonnet, heavy brown coat, winter boots lined with fur. Unchanged and steady, the woman I used to thread as a kid. She gives her hand to Paul first, bonjour, echantée monsieur, all the kind words she has been performing all her life. She looks at me with an examining eye, scanning my clothes, my hair, my posture. In the end she smiles and hugs me, a short hug, a little tight and tender-to my surprise. Age must be softening her up. We walk to the chalet following a path at the banks of the small river I used to splash in as a kid. She doesn’t talk much, she’s walking ahead, Paul is glancing at me, I smile and make faces to him. We arrive.

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Chanterelles Sausage Risotto

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I used to walk every day during the lunch break. After eating out of my tupper, in front of my computer screen, trying to avoid the boring discussions with colleagues in the cafeteria and the standard gossiping about each other’s lifes. I’d put on my coat, button it up carefully, brush my hair a bit, refresh my lipstick and walk out of the dark concrete building.

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I’d walk aimlessly by the river’s banks, staring at the fallen autumn leaves, at kids being forcefed by nanies and grammas, or surprisingly young mothers. Sometimes, I’d have a coffee sitting outside, enjoying the rare and much-welcomed rays of sun at an otherwise foggy November, almost purring like a cat. Almost.

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At the good days, I’d walk until the farmers’ market, at the town’s centre. Piles of vegetables and fruits, local cheese production, flowers. Sparrows flying allover, stealing cheese whenever they got the chance, at the rage of the sellers. Most of the times I’d just have a look, not buying anything I’d have to bring back to office. But every autumn, the fresh mushroom picked up from the region’s misty forests would win me over. Colours and textures. My favourite were the chanterelles, elegant golden wavy umbrellas. It was impossible to resist them. I’d hide them in the depths of my bag, along with pieces of notes, used tickets and old chewing gum.

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Spinalonga

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“The good old times, they say. When people were dinning under candle light, marrying once for ever after, had no mobile phones or computers. The good old times, when they had no antibiotics, vaccines, access to education, information. But I guess that’s not such a romantic thought now, is it?” he said, looking at Spinalonga approaching us, as the small ship was happily sailing, full of tourists. The tiny island floated on the zephyr sea of Crete. Small houses in the colour of sand, surrounded by a high wall. A fortress on the highest point, some pine trees too, breaking the monotony of the golden colour of dust. It looked like an abandoned resort, charming, quiet, exclusive. Difficult to grasp that it used to be the exile island of the damned.

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Peach Lavender Vlaai

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I am walking at a narrow plastered alley, on a cold Monday morning. The air is crisp and the skies are pale blue. I have half an hour until my meeting, so I choose to wander around aimlessly, looking at doorsteps, windows and rooftops. A small bakery looks really busy, people going in and out, holding big bags. I stop at their window. Piles of cookies, bread of all sorts, cakes and croissants and mini pizzas. But most of all, pies! Fruit and cream and custard pies of all sizes and decorations. Small explanatory signs in Dutch: Vlaai.

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Rijstevlaai, Kruimelvlaai, Kersenvlaai. Vlaai, vlaai, vlaai. What is this???

I go in the bakery. I come out holding a box with 3 different Vlaai pieces. I sit on a bench at the church park nearby. It’s the beginning of a new chapter in my life: The Dutch Vlaai!

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Coconut Cookies!

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Oh, coconut. This post is a love song, a desperate ode, a passion poem. To coconut, my long-lasting love. Its fluffy, white, exotic, playful beauty. And to the ultimate coconut cookies. 4 ingredients, that let coconut’s glory shine on. These are so good that I can’t even write a short story to go with them. Fluffy, airy, not overly sweet, with a crunchy crust. Coconut perfection. Enjoy!

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Balos of Crete

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“Watch out!” The warning came too late. I was already sliding down the hill, the sharp small rocks cutting in my flesh, desperately trying to hold on to the small plants on the sides of the path. Looking like a bug that flipped by accident and was sliding on its back, helpless. After 5 meters or so, I finally stopped, my white shorts all red from the dust, my skin scratched and sore, my hands bleeding. “I told you not to wear flip-flops” was all she said, passing beside me, not offering a helping hand or a word of compassion. Ahhhhh, mother!

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At the very west point of Crete, on the very last day of our vacation. Balos. A magical natural reserve, leading to a beautiful lagoon.

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Summer of expats

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The moment I enter the plane, I feel free. It’s like the heavy burden of all the winters of my life is lifted from my shoulders. The gray clouds that darken my head evaporate, the fog that covers my emotions disappears, my dormant blood starts pumping in my veins again. My skin becomes crisp and joyful, my eyes regain their sparkle, my voice gets louder, my hands move in big rounds again while I speak. Motion and life return to me, the civilised neutral mask I wear at work, while going to take the train or doing the grocery shopping, breaks into a million dark pieces and falls on the floor like dust. I’m me again, as I left me back home last summer, I am picking it up from there, as if another year hasn’t passed, as if it was just a gray, brief moment that is gone forever.

Summer people. Sand. Wind. Sea. Blue. The waves and the salt, the dry yellow crisp grass, the smell of pine trees in the sun, music floating in the air. Barefoot again. On the burning sand, on the grass, on the hot concrete, on the wet stones. Sun cream. Ice cubes in café-frapé. Beer bottles with slices of lemon stuck up their necks. Octopus. Burned shoulders shinning on white hard hotel sheets. Flip-flops that will barely survive this summer and will blister your toes. Small boats flying over blue, blue waves. Blue. Again and again and again. The first day I go swimming after a whole long year, I run and jump in the sea, I kiss the water, I drink a bit too. It burns my throat, my eyes tear, I am home, I am home.

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Swimming in Bern

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I come out of the train in Bern, the warm air hits my face. People run around me holding groceries and suitcases, pushing kid’s strollers or eating a sandwich on the way to their train. It’s been unaturally warm in Switzerland on the last days of August; most people look fed up with the heat. I love it.

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Feta Phyllo Pie (tiropita)

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Her hands are white. The sound of fingers rubbing flour makes all the hair on your skin rise, in a wave. This is the worst feeling you’ve ever had, in your uneventful life of five years. “Come help me, so that you can learn how to make a pita to your kids one day”, she says every time. “Your mother never wanted to learn, that’s why she buys all these horrible things from the bakery”, follows after. Sometimes not, if mama and her didn’t have an argument that week.

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Vejer de la Frontera

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A high green hill, covered with small white houses. The road going up is narrow and full of turns. It got even narrower when we got at the village, the car’s side mirrors almost touching the houses’ walls. Houses which were painted white, forming a labyrinth. Gardens full of flower pots, blasting with colour, hidden behind blue and green doors. Palm trees at the main square, a mosaic fountain decorated with frogs. Arabic coffee and pastries.

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Troglodytes in Purullena

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“Stop!!!” she screamed at me. I almost got off my lane, the car’s wheel turned sharply when I jumped in the driver’s seat. “What the hell?!” “Stop, stop, please!” There was an exit from the motorway in 100 meters, I flashed and pulled over. I stopped the car, my heart still pounding. “I saw something in the valley, it looked like Petra, please, let’s go and have a look” she said in a soft voice, her eyes not meeting mine. It wasn’t the first time she almost got us killed by shouting “stop!” out of the blue. Sometimes it was a village, sometimes a bridge, sometimes a beach. This road trip in Andalusia was turning out to be more dangerous than I’d have thought. This time it was a troglodytes’ neighbourhood, some miles away from Purullena.

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Erica’s Lemon Pancakes

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part I is here: Erica’s Strawberry-Vanilla Jam

She was working as a translator. Grew up in France, then moved to Spain, then Germany, now Scotland. Never met her father, her mother here and there, they don’t talk anymore. Her teeth didn’t show when she smiled. She had 7 beauty spots on her right shoulder and 3 on her left palm. She hated dogs and loved lemon pancakes.

She talked to me. She really talked to me like if I was an adult, for the first time in my life. She gave me books and CDs, she chose the movies we watched. I was holding her hand in the dark, she was grabbing my ass in the elevator. It was too good to last.

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In all colours memoriam

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All men are equal, but some men are more equal than others.

I reach for his hand, I hold it tight in mine. He turns to me and smiles, the same old smile full of tenderness. I want to carress his cheeck, I want to kiss his lips. But I don’t. Holding his hand is enough. Smiling to him is enough. Let’s not push this.

The toughest part is when I haven’t seen him for a while. Waiting at the airport arrivals, twisting my umbrella in my hands. He comes out, I wanna jump and kiss him, I wanna hug him tight, I wanna tell him how much I love him, how I missed him. I bite my lips hard, I bleed. We shake hands speechless instead. In the tram, my shoulder trembles when I touch his.

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The rock of Gibraltar

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Let me take you somewhere you have never been before. Up on a rock which stands next to the sea, green and magnificent. No, we are not alone here and we’re just uninvited guests. That’s their home and we’re intruding, so be kind and quiet. But beware, for they like to harass you when you least expect it, jump on your back, pull your hair and steal your jacket or your camera. This is the rock of Gibraltar, their rock, and they’ll do what they want.

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Fake Paella Mixta

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She knew it. A real paella is cooked on fire, in the special pan, with bomba rice, with fish and shrimp that was fished early the same morning, with ripe tomatoes cut straight from the garden. Served by the sea. She knew the real paella, she had eaten the real paella. Yes, by the sea, the salt still on her skin after swimming, the sun shining hard on a cloudless sky whose light made her eyes tear. The sea she was dreaming of in the long, gray, rainy days of northern summers, that were summers only in name. At their best, they were more of a Mediterranean spring: it was glorious, but it wasn’t summer!

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The Seas & Dunes of Tarifa

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The smell of the sea. The Atlantic on the one side, the Mediterranean sea on the other. Surfers, flowers, dunes, dolphins, whales. Helicopters flying over the sea at night, scanning the dark waters with bright lights. Deserted tapa bars. Fishermen. Palm trees. Welcome to Tarifa.

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Erica’s Strawberry Vanilla Jam

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“T’es beau”. I turned my head and looked at her. Around 30-35, long, messy hair, flowery dress, leather boots. “T’es beau” she repeated, staring at me straight in the eye. My heart started racing in my chest, I was just standing there, looking at her, unable to smile or move or speak. She reached in her pocket, took out a cigarette, put it to her lips, lit it. Staring at me. No words. “A demain” she said after an eternity; she turned and walked away moving her hips dancingly.

I could not think of anything else for the whole day at school. I messed up the math test. My friends lips were moving, I didn’t hear a world. Nausea and stomach cramps. Flashes coming and going. My palms were sweating, my heart kept pounding when I tried to imagine how she smelled. What was her name? Marie, Héloïse, Anne?

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Double Potato Fritters for One

IMG_3384He used to send her flowers at work. Every Monday morning a bouquet would arrive, no card. Sometimes they were lilies, sometimes daisies or lilacs. Never roses. She remembered a small bouquet of red tulips, on her birthday. And a basket of sunflowers after their first holiday together. She would keep them in her office for the week, in the same crystal vase an old client has brought her. Until the next Monday, when the new ones would arrive. Week by week, bouquet by bouquet, months were passing, and the cleaning man was smiling every Friday night at the sight of the new flowers, slowly fading at the corner of her desk.

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Under Swiss skies

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“You know, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t quit my job. The pregnancy came as a surprise, and I wanted to keep her, but I shouldn’t have quit”. Pause. She is smoking, staring at the lake. The beer is getting warm on the table, birds are singing in the background, the sun reflects on the lake. I am sitting next to her, I am staring at her profile, at her eyes that are restlessly moving, barely ever meeting mine. Our shoulders meet, it’s the first time our bodies touch for so long; she did not move, I did not either. The very first time I feel her warmth.

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Coconut Chocolate Bread

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He said he would come by around 10. They had their first group assignment at the University, he was sitting across her at the tutorial room. The rest of the students knew each other, groups formed quickly. At the end it was only her and him left, the newcomers, the foreigners. She was blushing, she could feel her cheecks changing colour, her voice was trembling slightly. Yes, sure they could work together. Hi, Lydia. Nice to meet you, I ‘m Boris. Firm handshake, hers was always weak and sweaty. On Saturday morning. No, the library was too crowded. He had two flatmates, it was always noisy in his home. Her place? Kate was going away for the weekend, she would be alone. Sure. Can I have your number, just in case I don’t find it? She had to look her number up in her mobile, she could never memorise it. Made him laugh. See you on Saturday then.

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Mushroom & Moscato Risotto

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Lila was hangovered. Her headache was banging in her head like a bullet, bouncing from one corner to the other. Her feet were hurting; the new heels have been less comfortable than promised by the sales girls. They were nice heels, expensive heels, but they were made for girls that would go from their apartment down to a car -or at least a taxi- waiting on their doorstep, then to an expensive restaurant, sitting comfortably on a red velvet stylish chair, high back and golden details on the wood. A dance or two, nothing difficult. Then back in the car, then at the building’s entrance, a good-bye kiss or two, or maybe you wanna come upstairs for a last drink?

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