Give Him Chicken Soup

(click on pictures to enlarge)

1442883508091Fidz’s pain continues and nobody can figure out what’s causing it though the latest diagnosis is that its a nerve pain. When the pain is out of control, he has no appetite and doesn’t even want to think about food. What I’ve found to be a real boon when he can’t eat is chicken soup.

soupsoupsoup1443659443808Almost every mother, Jewish or otherwise, advocates chicken soup when you’re sick and for most of us it’s a great comfort food. Fidz being Italian, likes chicken broth with either egg pasta or rice and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. Sometimes, he likes an egg stirred in so that it separates and cooks in the hot broth. This is called stracciatella which comes from the word straccia meaning little shred.

Obviously, chicken soup is nutritious but some years ago, an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal ‘Chest’ showed that it reduces inflammation as well as congestion in the respiratory tract, so it really is good for a cold! The bones release calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and trace minerals, all of which are good for your bones. The glucosamine and chondroitin released from the tendons are good for your joints. The gelatin is apparently good for your digestive tract. This together with the fact that you’re getting liquid into your system and preventing dehydration makes chicken broth a super food not only for a sick person but for all of us.

1444091394665Needless to say, I make a large pot of broth and freeze it in small containers so it’s always available when we need it. I make it with raw chicken carcasses (which are cheaply available from many butchers), onion, a couple of carrots, one or two sticks of celery, bayleaf, peppercorns and parsley. All are put in a large pot, filled with water and simmered for about 3 hours. The foam which gathers on top must be skimmed off as soon as it forms. The same can be done with beef bones. In Italy, stewing beef on the bone or tongue is often used and the meat eaten with olive oil and capers after the broth is done. This is called lesso and is popular in northern Italy. My niece’s mother-in-law who is Jewish says that the best chicken broth comes from using a whole Kosher chicken and of course the chicken can be eaten hot or cold afterwards. She even told me where to get Kosher chicken so this is going to be my next attempt in the broth department.

Posted in Food, Living, Toronto | 2 Comments

When The Wind Goes Out of Your Sails

(click on pictures to enlarge)

DSCN2146Some of my previous posts have mentioned Fidz being unwell. The truth is that he has Stage 4 lung cancer. My friend Janet remarked that it would be interesting to hear more about our experiences dealing with this and since it’s what occupies my mind almost all the time, why not? So here goes…………

How It Started. Non-specific lower back pains and an ultrasound showed a growth on the adrenal gland (a little gland that sits on top of the kidney). Nobody particularly worried at this point and the recommendation was to have it removed so Fidz went into hospital for surgery.

The Bad News. A routine pre-surgery X-ray showed a small tumour in the lung. An adrenal biopsy showed that the cells had a lung marker. Hence the diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer which is incurable, there is no Stage 5! Recently, new targeted therapies have been developed for some types of lung cancer but not the type that Fidz has.The prognosis is poor (statistically 1 year, but every cancer and every person is different so we can still hope).

The Good News. The lung tumour is small and either growing very slowly or not at all and Fidz has no cough or shortness of breath. There’s no spread to the bones or the brain. A round of radiation treatments has shrunk the adrenal tumour.

The Unfortunate News. Fidz has had a gallstone for many years with no problem. And when does it choose to trouble him but now! He was in hospital for a few days with an inflamed gallbladder (very painful) but rather than removing it, they treated him with intravenous antibiotics. He still has abdominal pain but nobody seems to know why. Finally, he’s getting a CT scan to check what’s going on in the abdomen. It’s worse not to know than to know the worst.

 1442108075601Our days are defined by treatments, endless hospital appointments and sitting in waiting rooms. He’s had a round of radiation to the lung tumour since this worked well on the adrenal tumour but of course they’re both still there and the fact of them spreading to another site or starting to grow again is a constant worry. Since the cancer is incurable, trying to maintain quality of life is the main objective so his oncologist has not yet proposed chemotherapy. However, with the abdominal pains, Fidz’s quality of life has been compromised and pain killers offer marginal relief. He never knows how he’s going to feel when he wakes up so we can rarely make advance plans. Luckily, our family and friends are understanding so cancelling dinner plans and outings at the last minute is graciously accepted.

DSCN2162Its not all doom and gloom however. We’ve had great dinners and get-togethers with family and friends. We love the strolls along the waterfront where there have been lots of free concerts over the summer. Even just sitting and watching the boats and people go by is entertaining. One of the highlights of my summer was ziplining. It was a free trial offered during the PanAm games. A 400 ft line which seems quite long but sadly only took about 15 seconds. It was like flying and felt glorious. That’s me up there on the right in the photo with my nephew who I dragged along to keep me company. And so it goes, we live in the present and enjoy what we can. I think of my mother when in her 90s. If asked how she was, she would say “Oh, I just take each day as it comes”. She would be pleased that we’re now doing the same.



Posted in Living, Toronto | 1 Comment

The 2015 PanAm Games in Toronto

(click on photos to enlarge)

Nathan Phillips Square

Nathan Phillips Square

Toronto was a hive of activity for the last two weeks of July as it hosted the PanAm Games. The US won the most medals at 265 with Canada a close second at 217. Not surprising as these are the two richest countries participating with likely more funding for training than South American countries.

1438540798670The only event I managed to get to was beach volleyball which was a lot of fun to watch. A special sand stadium seating 5,000 spectators had been built on what was once a parking lot. Quite a feat as 3,000 metric tons of sand were used. And not just any old beach sand, it has to have specific size, shape, lack of ability to compact and so on, meeting the requirements of the International Volleyball Federation in Switzerland. So, in this case, it was granite sand from Huntsville, Ontario which was washed, sized and specially prepared for a volleyball court. Who would have thought? Too bad the stadium is only temporary after all that work. 1438542349101I had only ever seen beach volleyball on the beach where bikini-clad women are the norm. Apparently, the sport  demanded that women wear bikinis until 2012 when T-shirts were finally permitted. All the women at the PanAm games were still wearing bikinis while the men wore shorts and T-shirts. I couldn’t help thinking that it must hurt more to fall on bare skin never mind being exposed to the blazing sun. Anyhow, the spectators were in good spirits cheering wildly and generally enjoying themselves. Some had dressed up for the occasion.

1438540890473As luck would have it, the sailing events took place on the lake so we were able to watch them through our window. The Textile Museum had an exhibit featuring artwork from all 41 PanAm countries transposed onto sails. Each evening, 11 boats sailed across the lake in a flotilla. It was beautiful to watch though it would have been nice to see the work up close as well.

Lila Downs

Lila Downs

Every evening during the games, there were free concerts at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s City Hall. For me the highlight was Lila Downs, a Mexican singer with a wonderful voice who featured on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Frida’ about the life of the artist Frida Kahlo. She was lively and most entertaining and we would have paid to see her.

There were lots of fireworks every night and of course the final one at the closing ceremony which was held at the Dome stadium next to the CN tower.

PanAm Closing Ceremony Fireworks

PanAm Closing Ceremony Fireworks

Short but spectacular, the fireworks were placed such that they looked as if they were bursting out of the tower. A fitting end to the games!

Posted in Living, Toronto | Leave a comment

Room With a View

(click on pctures to enlarge)

1436707615893Since we are spending an extended time in Toronto while Fidz is unwell, we decided to rent an apartment for the summer. We were lucky to find one on the lakefront. We have a wonderful view from our window as you can see above, and its a most pleasant place to watch the ferries and boats on the water. We face east so we don’t see the sunsets and I have rarely been awake early enough to see a sunrise in my entire life so I doubt that I will start now but maybe that would be worth the effort one of these days.

14367264218251436726715781Toronto’s Harbourfront is a busy place in the summer with music and dance performances, street artists, and people generally milling about enjoying the warm weather. On Canada day, July 1st, it was heartening to see the ethnic mix that makes up Toronto. There was a great sense of enjoyment across generations. Performers on stilts entertained the crowds and then walked around handing out candy to the children.

1436726973814As you can imagine, this is the season for water sports and it’s possible to rent out sail boats, canoes and kayaks. The islands across from the harbour are a popular destination and luckily, there are several ferries which go back and forth all day for the less adventurous. I’m planning a trip in the next few days.

1436726799049Food and beer are plentiful in addition to the restaurants which line the water. Ethnic vendors each have their own cuisine on offer. I have not yet indulged but one of these days, I’m going to get a few Asian snacks and wash them down with a few beers. Sadly, the only thing that’s missing is a good gelato but I guess I will have to go back to Rome for that!

Posted in Living, Toronto | Leave a comment

F Words

(click on pictures to enlarge)
1436706700819No it’s not the F word that normally springs to mind though it has come to my mind frequently in recent times! I’m thinking of F for family and friends. With Fidz being ill, the past few weeks have been difficult for us and I really don’t know how we would have managed without the support of family and friends. From bringing us food, to driving us around, to just being there when we need them, they’ve all made time to help out. We take it for granted that our family will help us out in times of need, but to have friends doing the same is truly a gift.

IMG_20150328_085935There was an interesting article in the New Yorker last October which talked about the work of Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and psychologist. He came up with a number called the Dunbar number, actually a series of numbers for one’s circle of friends. According to this, we have 150 friends on average (a range of a 100 for some to 200 for the more social). These would be everyone who might be invited to a large party or celebration. Then the number drops by a third to 50 who would be friends we would invite to dinner from time to time or see occasionally. Then another third down, is a circle of 15 who you would see more regularly and turn to for sympathy and support. Finally, the most intimate Dunbar number is 5, which would be your best friends, the ones you confide in and which might include certain family members. With the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter, people are beginning to challenge Dunbar’s number as virtual friends can number in the hundreds. However, Dunbar has also found that there are physiological responses like release of endorphins in real interactions involving laughter and touch, which obviously don’t occur in virtual interactions, or at least not to the same degree. There is also the concern that if we spend too much time talking to friends on social media, there might not be enough time to spend with friends in person.

For me, nothing beats talking, or doing an activity with a real person as opposed to sharing something with them on the internet. Besides, internet friends can’t hug you or bring you soup when you’re sick!  So on that note, thank you and a big hug to all our friends and family for helping us out in these difficult times.

Posted in Living, Toronto | Leave a comment


(Click on pictures to enlarge) 

Rome, April 2015

Rome, April 2015

Some of you may have wondered why I haven’t posted anything in a long time. The truth of the matter is that Fidz is not well and I did I not feel like writing. There’s also the notion that people only want to read about things that are interesting and positive which is probably true. However, everybody’s life has periods of darkness so why do we feel constrained to keep sadness and worry to ourselves? Okay, I’m not about to pour out my worries on this page but in any case, I decided to continue with this blog even if my posts maybe somewhat erratic and not always joyful.

'My Wisteria', Toronto, 2015

‘My Wisteria’, Toronto, 2015

We’re back in Toronto where spring is about a month or more behind what it was in Rome. When we left Rome, a month ago, all the spring flowering trees were in full bloom and the fragrance of jasmine filled the air. I love spring and now, I have the pleasure of seeing the same in Toronto with the scent of lilac filling the air and flowers bursting forth after a long and cold winter. One of my sources of pride is this wisteria on the left. I planted it when it was about 2 feet tall around 10 years ago. Now, it has covered over a pergola and is laden with blossoms. Truly a beautiful sight.

1432488451611Illness and worry are stressful and I have been feeling anxious and drained of energy for the past few weeks so on Friday, when a friend invited me to join her at a meditation session, I decided to go. It was run by a group called ‘True Peace Toronto’ who follow the tradition of Thich Nhat Thanh, a Vietnamese monk who advocates the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. The philosophy is that to be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We started with just focussing on our breathing, letting our thoughts come and go and always returning to the present moment. I am familiar with this form of meditation and I immediately found it calming. Then a few people spoke about whatever it was they wanted to say. One woman commented that through her practice of meditation, she was coming to enjoy, and be grateful for, the small things in life like a sunny day, or a good cup of coffee, or a smile. How true this is, no matter how difficult things are, one can always find something to appreciate and be grateful for, even if only for a few minutes.

Posted in Living, Toronto | Leave a comment

The Italian Healthcare System

(click on pictures to enlarge)

1428853231351Living in a foreign country, one doesn’t become familiar with the healthcare system unless the need arises. Unfortunately, the need arose and I’ve found more about healthcare in Italy in the past month than I really wanted to know.

1428853577252Italy ranks 2nd after France in the WHO 2000 ranking of healthcare systems in the world. Canada incidentally ranks 30th, the US 37th and the UK 18th. I haven’t actually read the report so I’m not quite sure what it’s based on and it is somewhat out of date I’m sure. In Italy, healthcare is provided to all citizens and residents through a mixed public/private system. Emergency care is free to all including tourists I believe. However, there’s wide regional variation in th quality of care. Hospitals in the north are generally highly efficient while those in the south tend to be less so. Rome falls somewhere inbetween. Here, there are very good, modern, ‘state of the art’ hospitals like the one on the left and then there are others which date back to the Xth century like the one above, but which have been renovated, rebuilt or had new buildings added over the years.

Family doctors are assigned based on the area in which one lives. If a family doctor requests a particular test, one can go to a public facility, pay a fee and go on a short waiting list. One can also go to a private facility, make a small co-payment, and have the test done immediately. A test can be done even if it hasn’t been requested by a family or other doctor but the payment in this case will be in full. A visit to a specialist can be done through the public system with a possible waiting time and sometimes a fee which can be claimed back depending on one’s income bracket, or privately for a much higher fee. If hospitalization is involved, one can use the public system which is free, or opt for a private hospital which is quite expensive. Usually, the same doctors work in both systems so there is no difference in medical expertise. From what we’ve seen so far, the doctors here are highly trained and very capable. However, there’s a big difference in waiting time for tests and in the level of patient comfort. Where in a private hospital, everything is well-coordinated and geared towards the optimum well-being of patients, public hospitals can vary considerably in this regard. Some are no doubt highly efficient. Others can be disorganized with lack of communication between the different departments and a shortage of good nursing care.

1428853853760I wouldn’t want to be sick and in need of medical care in any country but from what I’ve seen, there are worse countries to be sick in than Italy. One thing I found amusing was a cafe/bar in one of the hospitals we were in. Notice the bottles of champagne on the shelf in the picture on the right. I guess one might either be celebrating a cure or drowning one’s sorrows. Hopefully, friends and family of the patients and not the medical staff!


Posted in Italy, Living, Rome | Leave a comment

Auguri di Buona Pasqua

(click on pictures to enlarge)



Easter or Pasqua is a big festival in Italy. It marks the end of Lent which consists of 40 days of prayer, fasting and abstinence. Not that too many lay people take that seriously but the celebration of the end of Lent is a given. It occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox and also celebrates the arrival of spring.

1428183333970Food as always plays a big part and eggs are a big feature with different regions having their own specialties. The eggs are a symbol of fertility, life and renewal. The Easter bread above, Casiatello, comes from Naples. It has bits of cheese and prosciutto through it and the shape symbolizes the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus when he was crucified. Only in Italy! Pizza Pasquale is another light bread with bits of cheese and prosciutto that one only sees at Easter. Colomba (dove) is a very light cake in the shape of a dove with candied peel within and almonds on top. Specialty shops have different types some with chocolate or exotic fruitsall beautifully wrapped to be given as Easter presents. Lamb is traditional on Easter Sunday and here in Rome, it is usually abbachio which is cooked with a garlic and anchovy paste. Lunch features dishes with eggs or lamb. I’m looking forward to seeing what will be served tomorrow for lunch at a Roman friend’s house.

Via Crucis at the Colosseum

Via Crucis at the Colosseum

Anyhow, before getting to the Easter Sunday celebration which commemorates the resurrection of Christ, there’s Good Friday which marks his crucifixion. Many churches have a Via Crucis, a procession re-enacting the Stations of the Cross. The biggest one in Rome is presided over by the Pope. It starts at the Colosseum at 9.15pm and goes to the Palatine hill a short distance away. It’s not a procession as such, since there are thousands of pilgrims and only the people involved in the carrying of the cross can actually make their way along the path. I went to it last night and though I couldn’t see much from where I was, it was quite a sight to see so many people gathered in prayer in front of the Colosseum with the full moon rising above and the Pope on a covered podium with a giant cross behind him lit with flaming torches.

1428183447071And then of course there are the Easter eggs. I have never seen people buying so many Easter eggs as they do here and apparently everyone buys an egg for their dearest and closest. I myself prefer the little mini-eggs but I’m told that the larger ones contain a surprise inside which varies dependig on how high-end the egg is. The largest egg on the left was Eur 88 and though I would love to know what’s inside, I won’t be buying one! So, on that note, Happy Easter to all my readers and I hope you all get an Easter egg tomorrow.



Posted in Food, Italy, Rome | Leave a comment

Rome’s 21st Marathon

(click on pictures to enlarge)

1427660496722It’s a bit late to be talking about the marathon as it happened a week ago on Sunday March 22nd but it was interesting and I thought that those of my readers who are runners might like to know more about it.

Photo from 'Corriere della Sera'

Photo from ‘Corriere della Sera’

The weather was a little on the cool side for Rome which the runners likely welcomed, and the day started out with rain. For some reason, Rome combines the marathon with a 5k run/walk for anyone who is interested, and this starts about 15 minutes after the marathon begins. This year, the there were about 19,000 marathon runners and 80,000 or so participants in the 5k run. As you can see from the picture on the left, the rain did not deter the less serious runners.

1427660338298The route is spectacular and takes in most of the historic sites. It starts at the Foro Romano close to the Colosseum, and passes the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo and St. Peter’s Basilica to mention a few. A lot of the route goes through narrow cobbled streets so making headway with the crowds involved, is a challenge and it can be hard on the feet. It didn’t slow down the first person to finish, Ethopian runner, Ngewo Abebe Degefa who did it in 2h 12′.

The centre of the city more or less grinds to a halt as neither buses nor cars can traverse the city. I’m ashamed to say that we forgot about the marathon until after lunch. We had to walk to the finish line since there were no buses and we got there for the end of the race, 6 hours after the start. There were still people going past the finish line but they definitely weren’t the cream of the crop though I guess 42 km in 6 hours is still an achievement. Maybe I’ll do the 5k next time around, I know I could do that in 6 hours!

Posted in Italy, Living, Rome | Leave a comment

Lasagna Al Ragu’ Bolognese

(click on pictures to enlarge)

1426964042805A couple of weeks ago, I went to a concert with a friend after which we went for dinner. The restaurant was one where I had eaten before, and where the food is generally quite good. We both ordered lasagna but to my disappointment, it was awful. When I related this to Fidz later, he said “You should know better than to order lasagna in Rome, they don’t know how to make it properly here”. Fidz is from Emilia-Romagna where lasagna originally comes from. The meat sauce or ragu’, as it is called, hails from Bologna. Hence the description ‘ragu’ al Bolognese’ and the derivation of the Italian-American Spaghetti Bolognese, though in Emilia, this ragu’ would not be served with spaghetti but with fettucine or pappardelle.

1426964597226Anyhow, I wanted to invite one of the women in my choir over for lunch. She’s very kind and insists on dropping me home after practice even though she lives around the corner from where we meet and has to cross the city to bring me home. I couldn’t think of what to make. My friend is a Roman nonna (grandmother) and likely a very good cook and I wanted to ‘fare una bella figura’ (make a good impression). I decided to make lasagna as I make the traditional Emilian one using a recipe by Marcella Hazan who came from there, and even Fidz agrees that it’s good.  It turned out well and everyone enjoyed it so I was quite pleased with myself! And what have the flowers above got to do with anything? My friend brought them over as a present (she wanted to fare una bella figura as well!) and even though my lasagna tasted good, the flowers looked a lot better so I couldn’t resist showing them.



Simple to make but needs to simmer for 3 hours so I make three or four times the amount and freeze it

3/4 lb (300g) minced beef

2 tabspns olive oil and 2 tabspn butter

1 small onion,  1 small carrot, 1 stick of celery all very finely chopped to give about 2 tabspns of each

1/2 cup milk (110 mL), whole milk is best,

1 cup white wine (225 mL)

2 cups canned whole tomatoes

1 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp nutmeg

1426963957078Melt the butter and oil on a low heat. Add the finely chopped onion, saute for a couple of minutes and then add the carrot and celery. Saute gently for a few minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the beef and salt and saute until the meat browns. Add the wine, increase heat to medium and cook until the wine evaporates. Add the milk and nutmeg, reduce the heat and cook until the milk is evaporated. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 3 hours or more if you have the time.

Bechamel Sauce

The quantity depends on the size of your pan. I use a 12″x 9″ (30cm x 22cm) pan.

4 cups milk

4 tabspns butter

4 tabspns flour

1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp nutmeg

1426965167619Heat the milk to just under boiling point and set aside. Melt the butter on a low heat, add the flour and cook until golden. Add a little milk and mix to a smooth paste (I find it easier to get a smooth sauce if I remove the pan from the heat). Continue adding the milk and mixing well until all the milk has been added. Return to the heat, add salt and stir continuously until the sauce thickens and just starts to bubble.  Remove from the heat, add the nutmeg and cover with a lid to prevent a skin from forming. Best to use it immediately.


I buy readymade fresh pasta but if you can’t find this, I’ve also used the dried variety which does not require boiling before assembling the lasagne and it works fine. You will need enough for 4 layers.

Parmesan cheese

1426967486516Freshly grated parmesan is best. If you do a lot of Italian cooking, it’s well worth investing in a micrograter as nothing else gives you fluffy, light parmesan. You will need enough to sprinkle lightly over each layer.

The grater is also great for lemon or orange zest!

Assembling the lasagne

1426964901681Spread a thin layer of bechamel on the bottom of the pan and cover with pasta.

1426964235402Then add a layer of meat, a layer of bechamel, followed by a sprinkling of parmesan. Make 2 more layers in this way. Marcella mixes the bechamel with the meat sauce but I haven’t tried it that way yet.

1426964316731Finish with a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel and a sprinkling of parmesan. Bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Raise the temperature to 200C and bake for another 10 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 – 15′ before serving.

Posted in Food, Recipes, Rome | Leave a comment