Eat here: Sora Margherita, Rome

Sora Margherita
Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30, Rome, Italy
https://www.soramargherita.com

 

Rome is an incredible city that’s basically a living museum, with good food and rude service. Sora Margherita is a brilliant example of both.

We found a bright yellow door tucked away in a little piazza, and a line at the door 30 minutes before opening time. We joined the queue and hoped they’d give us a seat despite not being Roman. 

I say Roman, not Italian, because many Romans feel they’re an entity unto themselves. They’re often pretty rude not just to visitors from other countries, but visitors from other parts of Italy, too. We had a big leg up on most other international visitors because I speak Italian, but if you think that earned us friendly service…

We were shoved into the tiny restaurant and taken to a table for 6, where we were each sandwiched in between two portly locals. We were handed menus, and left to our own devices for a while. When our waitress eventually came back, I had the audacity to ask what one of their pasta dishes had in it (there were no ingredients listed in the menu, it just had a bit of a vague name indicating it was a special of some sort). I couldn’t tell if she was more offended I dared speak to her in Italian as a foreigner or if I dared question the dish. My husband was mortified; I did my best not to laugh.

The pasta was worth it – a bowl of cacio e pepe, and a bowl of whatever the special was – turned out it was a perfect, plain tomato sauce, smothered in finely grated parmesan cheese, just like Nonna makes. Half a litre of house red washed it down nicely, and we were pretty full. But not our neighbours.

We were full from our deceptively big bowls of pasta, ready to pay and make our way out. But looking around, we realised that the locals don’t stuff around at lunch time. No shared entree and a bowl of pasta; by the time we were done, they’d already made their way through a salad, a warm entree, a good litre of wine, and were starting to tuck into their pasta dishes, while wondering aloud how long their next dishes would take to come out. And then there’d be coffee and dessert.

Sora Margherita is the ultimate Roman dining experience – homely feel, stereotypical cranky service, movie-setting piazza location, and really really good food.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery
16 Rue du Repos, Paris
http://www.pere-lachaise.com/

Starting to look a bit morbid here, with another post about cemeteries, aren’t I?! I guess that’s at least partly true; I’ve always had a bit of a weird fascination with death. But that aside, I still maintain that cemeteries are very overlooked sites to visit when you’re travelling. They can give you a pretty good sense of a place and its history (are there Catholic crosses on the tombs? Coptic crosses? A Star of David?), what types of hardships its residents have been through (are there a lot of dates of deaths around the time of a war or pandemic?), and they’re more often than not in some of the city’s more beautiful park-like settings. Case in point: Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.

It’s less than 10km from the Eiffel Tower, and you can get there easily enough on the no. 2 or no. 3 metro train lines. There’s no entry fee and you can walk around at your own pace, but it IS a big cemetery, so if you’d prefer to have someone show you around, there are plenty of companies that offer guided tours.

The grounds are open all year round, but visiting in autumn didn’t hurt as you can see by the perfect gold and red leaves throughout my photos. It’s become well-known as the final resting place of creative celebrities like Jim Morrison (photo below), Edith Piaff, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust.

Another popular grave is that of Abélard and Héloïse, which I read about in Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad:

“Yet who really knows the story of Abélard and Héloïse? Precious few people. The names are familiar to everybody, and that is about all. With infinite pains I have acquired a knowledge of that history… to show the public that they have been wasting a good deal of marketable sentiment very unnecessarily.”

Turns out a lot of people know them as a love story, a Romeo and Juliet type love story. The real story as told by Mark Twain? He seduced her, they ran away, had a child. They got married, but were soon torn apart by his meddling uncle. She entered a convent and heard nothing from her lover for a decade until a letter arrived. They wrote to each other for a while, but would only meet again in death, when, as per Héloïse’s last wish, they were buried together…

 

13 Cemeteries to Visit in New Orleans

I love New Orleans. And cliché or not, I love it for all the things it’s built its reputation on: good food, great music, and death. Visitors usually go for the first two, but many find themselves oddly drawn to the third in little ways – past life tarot readings, voodoo customs, and the city’s cemeteries, many of which are now now popular ‘tourist’ attractions. The people of the crescent city have developed unique rituals that are both deeply fascinating and incredibly beautiful around the celebration of life and death.

Continue reading “13 Cemeteries to Visit in New Orleans”

RUOK? Mental health in the year of COVID-19

RUOK? Day is a cause close to my heart (this post I wrote a few years ago is still one of the most viewed on my blog), and this year it’s going to be more important than ever. I never struggle to ask if people are doing ok, but I still struggle to answer honestly when I’m asked. If I knew my friends were struggling with mental illness, having thoughts about ending their own lives, having a hard time coping day to day with even the most mundane tasks like doing their grocery shopping or hanging up the laundry, I’d do whatever I could to help. But for some reason, I don’t feel deserving of the same help and support in return. That’s how depression and anxiety get you; they make you feel you are not worthy.

Compounding my silence even more now is the fact that I now have a son; if I spoke out about just how badly I’m struggling, people might think I’m a bad mother. Then I catastrophise: what if people don’t trust me with him? What if they think I don’t love him? What if someone tries to take him away from me? I should just keep quiet, because no good can come from me being honest about the deep dark hole I find myself in from time to time. Postnatal depression and anxiety is horrific. So is regular depression and anxiety. And eating disorders. And personality and mood disorders. All mental illness is a terrible thing. It robs you of your sense of self, your passions and hobbies, your relationships, your will to get up and make the most of the day; sometimes it even robs you of your life.

So today, let’s not just do the token RUOK? sms to everyone, and let’s not send the token “yeah, doing great!” in response. If you are having a hard time, that’s ok. Let’s normalise the fact that mental illness is a real and dangerous thing. Let’s not sweep it under the rug. Let’s stop telling people to just try and stay positive, or that we’re all in the same COVID-19 boat, just because these dark feelings are uncomfortable and difficult to talk about. Imagine if that was the last thing you said to someone you loved before they took their own life. Let’s try to just be empathetic and kind today. If you don’t know what to say, a simple “I’m really sorry you’re going through this, I love you and I’m here for you” can go a very long way. And if you’re having a hard time right now and struggling with the isolation and loneliness inherent in both mental illness and COVID-19, here are some things that might help both you and the people around you…

 

Send some love out into the world to the ones you know who maybe aren’t doing OK:

1. Send postcards to your friends.
Postcards aren’t just for when you’re on holidays, and think about how awesome it feels to check the mail and find something other than bills in there! This isn’t a sponsored post, but I really love Red Bubble for fun postcards – there is literally something for everyone on there, and writing a postcard is a lot more manageable that writing a full letter when you’re struggling to know what to say.

2. Write a letter to a stranger.
If you find yourself with a bit more time and mental energy, think about joining in on the Connected AU Letterbox Project. It’s easy for most of us to just send a text or have a family Zoom session, but there are a lot of Australians who either don’t have the access or ability to use technology to keep connected. This project is a way for those of us with an extra 10 minutes to remind those Aussies that they’re not alone. Writing a letter too hard? Maybe send a copy of your favourite recipe, a drawing, or some photos you’ve taken.

3. Send a regular weekly or fortnightly or even monthly “check in” text to friends you know might be having a hard time.
You know the friends I’m talking about. The one with kids at home who’s struggling to keep them entertained. The one working in a higher risk environment. The one who owns a small business and doesn’t know if it will survive this. The one with family overseas or with elderly parents they can’t see. And it doesn’t need to be an essay. You can literally just sent a text that says “hey, just checking in to see how you’re doing :)” Sometimes all we need is to know someone is thinking of us.

4. Cook up a bit of extra food when you make dinner, or an extra big batch of cookies…
… and drop it off to a neighbour. If you’ve read any of my blog before, you’ll have noticed that I love exploring the ways that food connects us, and right now, that connection might save someone. Even a little plate of choc chip cookies and a kind note on your neighbour’s front doopstep might make the world of difference.

5. If you have loved ones further away, send food anyway!
We live in the time of UberEats and MenuLog – there are also a HEAP of amazing small hospitality businesses who are cooking up delicious meals and delivering them. If you suspect a friend is really struggling to keep up, having one less meal to cook can be a huge help, so if you’re in the financial position to help by sending them dinner one night, that can be something quick and easy you can do for them!

Do something for yourself when you’re the one feeling not so OK:

1. Turn off the news and turn on some mindless TV for a mental break.
First up, take a breather. I know how tempting it is to stay tuned for every update. I also know how bad it is to read nothing but pandemic updates all day, every day. Sometimes even reading a good book can be too mentally taxing right now, sometimes you just need to watch something on TV that requires no thinking – now’s the time to get addicted to Top Chef, Making It, The Amazing Race and Bluey. And that’s ok – you don’t have to be productive all the time!

2. Use technology work for you instead of against you.
If you’re going to have a mindless scroll, mindlessly scroll through stuff that isn’t going to make you feel worse! Here are a few Instagram favourites to make you smile and support your mental wellbeing:
@selfcareisforeveryone
@charliemackesy
@wawawiwacomics
@theblurtfoundation
@thehappynewspaper

3. Create something.
There’s a good reason art therapy is used in the treatment of many mental illnesses. You don’t need to be good at creative pursuits to benefit from them – write a few lines a day in a journal. Draw your breakfast every morning. Listen to your favourite music while you’re doing the laundry. If you’re a bit more ambitious, try a new creative hobby – lino printing, water colour painting, hand sewing, knitting, learning a language or a musical instrument… it can be a very cathartic experience, not to mention a really nice distraction from the sadness to create something beautiful.

4. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
A friend posted something on Instagram the other day that got me really good – it was along the lines of comparison being not only the thief of joy, but the thief of grief, too. If you’re having a hard time, that’s ok. You don’t have to buck up and get over it; you’re allowed to feel sad and hurt. You also don’t have to buy into all of your painful thoughts and feelings – this is where mindfulness comes in. There is obviously a LOT of information out there on mindfulness which I’m sure you can easily Google, but one of the easiest ways you can start is to just notice your thoughts and feelings, and to let them pass without judging them.

For example, if you’re feeling anxious, instead of getting really worked up about it and catastrophising, you might just say to yourself “hmm.. I’m noticing that I’m feeling a bit anxious right now. That’s making my stomach feel really tight and uncomfortable. I’m going to take a few slow breaths and count to 5 on each inhale and 5 on each exhale, and focus just on that counting instead of the anxiety, just for 30 seconds.” After you’re done with that breathing and counting, you might decide you don’t want to go back to the anxious feeling, or you might decide you want to poke around and work out why you’re feeling that way. Either way, it’s good to take a quick step back before these feelings get really overwhelming.

5. Reach out for help.
You don’t have to seek out help in person. It doesn’t need to be with family or friends if you’re not comfortable confiding in them yet. It doesn’t need to be a super formal thing. We live in the technology age, and that makes help more accessible than ever, so use that to your advantage.

Beyond Blue
Phone support service: 1800 512 348
Web chat support service: https://cmwssonline.beyondblue.org.au/#/chat/start
Online community forum: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/staying-well/coping-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak

Lifeline 
Phone support service: 13 11 14
Web chat support service from 7pm – midnight: https://www.lifeline.org.au/crisis-chat/
SMS support service from 6pm – midnight: 0477 13 11 14

SANE
Phone support service: 1800 18 7263
Web chat support service from Monday to Friday 10am – 10pm: https://www.sane.org/services/help-centre#
Online community forum: https://saneforums.org/?_ga=2.9719285.116053902.1597979668-381352914.1597979668

More options for support can be found at https://mhaustralia.org/need-help

Cook this: Weet-Bix Slice

Fun facts about Weet-Bix:

1. Australian children use them to learn the points of a compass. Never Eat Soggy Weet-Bix. How does anyone else learn that??

2. They’re basically just little bricks of shredded wheat. I think most countries have their own version. They are not very exciting on their own.

3. I flat out refused to eat them for breakfast as a kid (see point 1 – I don’t like soggy cereal) unless dad smeared them with Nutella or strawberry jam and I ate them like crackers. Very dry, flavourless crackers. The only other exception was mum’s Weet-Bix slice.

4. Mum makes a few bloody good versions of a Weet-Bix slice – this is the one I like best.

Ingredients:
– 3 Weet-Bix, crushed
– 1 cup desiccated coconut
– 1 cup self-raising flour
– finely grated zest of half a lemon
– 1/2 cup castor sugar
– 180g butter, melted
– 1 tsp vanilla extract

– 1 cup icing sugar
– juice of 1 lemon
– other half of the lemon’s zest

 

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C and line a 12 inch square tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Combine the crushed Weet-Bix, coconut, flour, lemon zest and sugar in a large bowl.

3. Pour in the butter and vanilla, mix to combine.

4. Get the mixture into the tin and press it down firmly with your hands. Bake 15 minutes or until set. When it comes out of the oven, leave it in the tin while you make the icing.

5. Combine the icing sugar, lemon juice and zest, mix it up and add more icing sugar if it’s too runny/more lemon juice if too dry.

6. After the slice has had a chance to cool for 5 minutes, pour the icing on top and spread it over evenly. Let the slice cool completely in the tin, the take it out, slice into squares and enjoy!