Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Le Erbe D'Estate

Gabriel is an avid hiker. Now, when I say "avid" you might imagine hiking for 5-6 hours every once in a while, well you need to change your definition of avid in order to really get Gabriel. He spent his summers in the mountains of Greece and the rest of the year in the mountains of Switzerland. Hiking. For days.

The greatest irony of my romantic life revolves aroung hiking. One of my most painful breakups was with (from?) a very outdoorsy guy and after months of depression and loss, my first thought that the breakup wasn't really all that terrible was, "Hey, I never have to go hiking again!" I've always considered myself a very urban person. Growing up in Chicago means there's either the City (with things to do) or corn fields (with nothing to do) and I mean days' worth of corn fields. So when Gabriel invited me on our first hike, I was a little hesitant. As we were still in the "polite" phase of the relationship, I figured I'd tolerate marching around in the middle of nowhere for this guy I really liked.

But then something happened! Much to my surprise, it wasn't boring! You see in Europe (the first hike was indeed in Greece) you can't go very far without finding a village; the vast tracts of wilderness (or corn fields) just aren't there to the same degree as in the Midwest. And there's food everywhere! We walked along a mountain path and Gabriel taught me to distinguish the wild oregano growing all over the place! Throughout the rest of that year, I made dishes with my hand-picked, wild oregano and was so satisfied by the whole thing that I couldn't wait for the next summer. Above you see bay leaves on the left, oregano in the middle and (bought, not collected) garlic all drying for our culinary pleasure.

Now, every year we collect our supply of oregano on hikes to Milopotamos and Propan, and when I take the path to the swimming rock, I grab some stalks of wild bay leaves. But this year our Italian guests made a discovery all their own. It seems that the country house sits in the middle of a gigantic mentuccia romana patch! What's mentuccia romana, you ask? It's an herb that has a light minty flavor and is used in all sorts of fish dishes (see here for one from Gigliola). It's also what we Greeks and Greek-inspired folks have called "false oregano" for years! I don't think Greeks (at least in Pelion) use this at all (any Greeks out there who can tell me different, please do!) but Italians (the ones I know at least) go nuts over the stuff so we were eating all kinds of mentuccia romana dishes this summer.

P.S. Gabriel was surfing the internet last night and found what vlita (see previous post) is in English. It's a type of amaranth (and there are many edible varieties of amaranth). We think it's "Mediterranean Amaranth or Amaranthus graecizans L. but it could also be Amaranthus lividus or maybe Amaranthus hybridus.


Blogger Lea said...

Wow!! That sounds like so much fun! I've never been much of a hiker myself either... but like you... hiking has bad experiences attached... in Florida, hiking means being scratched by many-a-stinging plant, bitten by giant and most likely poisonous bugs, maybe a brief chase from a wild boar (mean buggers those), stomping to scare off the poisonous snakes, and about an hour of picking the ticks out of eachothers hair afterwards. you think I kid!

And trust me, if you had eaten my families biscuits and gravy before this hike.. the LAST thing you would have been doing it hiking! You would have bee unconscious somewhere while your body focused all its energy digesting! ;-)

9:21 PM  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Thanks for posting this Susan. I have to confess the last hike I went on was when I was a girl guide, many,many years ago. I don't like hikes for the same reasons you didn't (too boring), but hey, if I had things to do along the way and villages to pass through, you could make a convert out of me!

A very enjoyable post, thank you!

3:27 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Lea, Giant bugs, wild boars and snakes... what's the problem, they sound delicious (a la Bourdain)!

Lotus, Maybe girl guide troops are meant to stamp out any outdoor interest. My troop excursions were so boring! My giant, frosted haired, 2-inch long fingernailed Elvis fanatic of a troop leader actually made fun of a girl for picking and saving flowers on a hike. (I thought she was wierd too but still...)

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you've ever written a post mainly focused on your husband and his hobbies, I haven't read it. Gabriel sounds like ONE COOL DUDE. Now if he hunted and fished you would never go hungry for the rest of your life.

Dario and I are just getting back into hiking again, but are certainly nowhere near the capabilities of your husband. Really enjoyed this post.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this awesome and awe inspiring. I love hiking or walking with a mission but the best I can do in Dallas is a short trip to the grocery. I can pick rosemary from my front or back yard. But wow the things you are finding along the way, not to mention Gabriel!!!

8:18 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Rowena, Last weekend, we hiked around Lak Como with some friends. It was a lot of fun! I'd like to keep it up, maybe once a month until it gets too cold. If you and Dario want to join us say, in October, let me know. It'd be great to meet you!

Hi Tanna, Is Big Bend national preserve near you? I have an old college friend who went on a week-long no-impact hiking excursion there and she raved about the natural beauty.

10:17 AM  

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