Some while ago I posted a tweet on a Byzantine history book I was reading. Immediately Judith Works reacted. A conversation began and we started to follow each other. Judith is a woman from Portland, Oregon, who decided to go to Rome and start all over again. She ended up at the FAO, but perhaps that is a thing she certainly wants to comment on herself. She wrote a book “Coins in the fountain” When in Rome Judith still throws coins in the Trevi fountain. A way to keep returning. I immediately started to research and found a lot of adventures. I invited Judith to participate in “gesprekken en gerechten” (baptized talk and table by my friend Frances Mayes) Let’s see if we can conceive a dish for Judith from the answers she gives to my virtual questions. Needless to say that this willl be a dish full of travel and with a Roman hint.
Who is Judith? Tell me some more
Life was routine until I decided to earn a law degree. Then a chance meeting led me to run away to the Roman Circus (Maximus) – actually to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization next door – where I worked as an attorney in the Human Resource department. After four years my husband and I returned to the U.S. But we missed La Dolce Vita: the sweet life with wonderful food and wine and the endless history that Italy offers. The gods smiled and another opportunity came along: six more years in Rome, this time working for the UN World Food Programme. Now retired and living near Seattle I wrote a memoir about our many happy and sometimes fraught experiences. It’s titled Coins in the Fountain, in memory of the many times I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to wish for yet another return to Rome.
How did your attraction for Rome and Italy start?
It started in a very round-about way. I always wanted to travel but had done little except Mexico and one trip to Europe during my first marriage. When the ferry from Dover docked at Hook of Holland I knew from the first moment I put foot on the Continent I wanted to see more. New marriage brought a man who agreed. And, a miracle and several years later, an opportunity came. A friend had returned from Rome and told me about working for the United Nations there. I applied and was selected. If he had said Paris, London, Amsterdam or Oslo it would have been the same. But once in Rome and getting over the shock of becoming an expatriate (or innocent abroad I should say) I knew Italy was as close to perfection as you can find.
You wrote a book, “Coins in the Fountain” Can you tell something about it?
Here’s the “book blurb”
Pasta! Vino! Hill Towns! Coins in the Fountain will transport you to Italy where you can find out what it’s really like to live the expatriate life. It’s all here in the story of a couple who said “NO!” to middle age boredom and made a dash from a small-town in Oregon to cosmopolitan Rome when the author went to work for the United Nations. In between actually working there were Italian weddings to attend, music to be heard, a close-up with the Pope, travel with the wine club and country weekends in Umbria where the Etruscans still seemed to be lurking about. A brush with the Italian medical system, an auto accident with the military police, a fall in the subway, interactions with an excitable landlord and helping pick grapes at harvest time all became part of their daily adventures. And of course there were many new friends like the countess with her butt-reducing machine and the count who served as a model for statues of naked horsemen.
Unexpectedly taking up early retirement, the author’s husband met strange vegetables in his valiant efforts to learn to cook Italian-style. When not struggling in the kitchen he played golf on a course where the rough featured snakes and unexploded bombs and crewed on a sailboat that came close to disaster on the way to Greece.
Part memoir, part travelogue to off-beat sites in Rome and elsewhere, you will be amused and intrigued with the stories of food, friends and adventures. You, too, will want to run away to join the Circus (the Circus Maximus, that is). And before you depart Rome, you will never forget to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return to beautiful Rome and enchanting Italy.
You worked at the FAO, what did you experience over there?
My work was very interesting and challenging because it was the first time I had been in a true international environment with colleagues coming from every corner of the world. Many were in working in the field in difficult situations trying to provide aid while coping with war and natural disasters. My own job was more bureaucratic with work on pension, pay, credit union and medical issues including medical evacuations or even on occasion a staffmember’s death.
What is your favorite type of agriculture?
I love the beauty of orchards, when apples, peaches, oranges and lemons decorate the trees; but most of all I love olive trees with their silver-grey leaves and bright black olives in the late fall. Unfortunately our climate does not allow them or citrus to be grown but we have lots of apple, pear, peach and apricot trees in the Pacific Northwest.
In Rome we had the pleasure of an olive tree on our terrace providing some shade for us and our orchids.
Which plant do you like the most and which one you dislike? I am very curious about that
We have an extensive garden surrounding our house here in the cool damp Northwest. My favorite plants are rhododendreons which flourish from later winter to early summer splashing color in everyone’s gardens including ours. Our current garden has invasive plants like creeping ivy and vicious blackberry vines – hate them.
I was still in Rome I’d have to say mimosa is my favorite which always heralded spring days and International Women’s Day.
You traveled a lot, mention 100 countries out of 200, what was your most striking moment?
A hard question to answer. In the end I’d have to say it was sitting on one of the towers at Ankor Wat, Cambodia shortly after the Pol Pot regime collapsed. I was there as part of a UN World Food Programme mission, evaluating food aid distribution for workers who were trying to clean up and restore the ruins. As I sat contemplating the past, presence and future the sun set in the west and a full moon rose over the horizon. It was so overwhelming that I slipped a story about it in my book when I wrote abut WFP.
What was the biggest difference for you to overcome when you moved to Rome?
There were many but perhaps moving from our private home with lot and garden to an apartment house where, with the exception of one other person, no one spoke English.
What is you attitude to Rome nowadays?
I do love eternal Rome. It always brings mixed feelings because of the challenges of some aspects like the bureaucracy. When I was there last spring I saw firsthand how hard the economic crisis had hit with many shops closed. I read Italian news regularly and the economy and political situation is always to the forefront. But still…how can you not get a tear in your eye when you gaze at the Trevi Fountain or sit in Piazza Navona sipping a prosecco.
Can you tell something about your voluntary work in art and literature?
I serve on the Board of Directors for the Edmonds Center for the Arts, our local performing arts center bringing everything from jazz to rock to classical music and dance. On the literary side I am on the board of our local writer’s conference called Write on the Sound (we’re on Puget Sound in the State of Washington). I’m President of our local Edmonds library support group, Friends of the Edmonds Library, and am a founding ”mother” of a new group called EPIC which is just beginning – so far we have writing classes and speakers, and will have a literary contest this spring.
On food, which food do you like and which you would never eat?
After ten years in Italy I like Italian food, especially pasta dishes. My husband, bless his heart, became the cook while Iwas working there and he does a great job. In the winter he whips up an excellent pasta carbonara – always a favorite that brings back many memories. Otherwise it depends on which country we’re in – had wonderful rijsttafel in Amsterdam and Bali; lamb and souvlaki in Athens; lovely small oysters in Brittany; stroganoff in St Petersburg and Cape Malay cuisine in Cape Town. But I admit cowardly skipping the fish maw on the breakfast table in Shanghai; stuck to dim sum and other items that looked familiar. I’ll soon be there again – maybe I’ll be more daring.
Being on the West Coast and having a large Asian population Seattle and the surrounding area has marvellous Thai, Chinese, Japanese. Vietnamese and Korean food.
I’m sure I’d eat just about anything if Iwas starving. Since I’m not I do not eat farm-raised salmon or anything that could be considered endangered. I don’t like the thought of eating horse or the donkey sausage hanging in a window in one of the towns in the Alban Hills outside Rome.
Which wines do you like?
For celebrations Champagne is never wrong; for sitting on our deck in the summer looking at cruise ships passing by on their way to Alaska I love a glass of prosecco. For warm winter meals there’s nothing like a Brunello or something else thick and red like Barolo. And for a glass before dinner a good malbec is nice. When traveling we try local wine and beer although sometimes the results are unusual like the Egyptian wine we jokingly called eau de Nil.
Can you tell me something about your “foodprint” A lot of waste we have in the Western world?
I recently read that half of the world’s food is wasted, much of it in the third world due to lack of transportation, storage and efficient distribution methods. Here in the West we have our own problems, not of too little but of too much, especially of processed foods which we try to avoid. Our own family food footprint isn’t large as we buy in small quantities only being two of us. But, we do throw some out from time to time I’m sorry to say.
In the Netherlands we have a scholar Mrs Louise Fresco. She states in her latest book, that only local produced and organic food is not enough to feed the world in the long run. Do you agree?
I would like to disagree but, unfortunately, I think she is correct. How would it be possible to feed everyone with shrinking land available and inadequate water resources combined with an ever-increasing population? I can’t imagine feeding the population of Mumbai that way – they can’t get enough of any kind now. Another problem is that organic food is more expensive, at least here where I live.
Happily for us in Puget Sound we have an ample supply of organic food in most grocery stores and speciality stores. We buy most of our food from these sources, much of it coming from local farmers and ranchers, and from our Farmer’s Market in summer.
What else do you want to tell?
Since we “met” by you saying you were reading a book on Byzantine history I’d like to add that I am fascinated by mosiacs – from the ancient Romans to the modern like Gino Severini’s work in Cortona. Ravenna is one of my favorite spots in Italy along with Monreale near Palermo and of course Hagia Sophia and the Chora in Istanbul.
My blog: http://aLittleLightExercise.blogspot.com
is mostly travel essays but the title is based on an old novel set in Sicily where the author describes the monastic life: “The monks lived according to the motto ‘Good food and drink, not forgetting a little gentle exercise.’” It seemed to be an excellent receipe for living the good life.
My book can be found on Amazon with the link: http://www.amazon.com/Coins-In-The-Fountain-ebook/dp/B005M2RLAI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358548498&sr=8-1&keywords=coins+in+the+fountain
foto cover of Judith’s book (internet)
The Recipe for Judith
Kaleidoscopical is the word for the life and adventures of Judith. She traveled a lot. Did a lot of different things. She volunteers. Changed her life many times and in many directions. Wrote a wonderful book on living the good life in Roma. An above all she likes mosaïcs form all over the Mare Nostrum. For Judith I have a pasta dish, containing Dutch mussels, a dash of chili pepper, parsley, grapes, zest, curry and turmeric powder to give the penne some color and spice. Topped with a grilled langoustine. Of course there is wine. I would suggest a white one, made from the viognier grape varietal from the Languedoc in Southern France. Apricot flavours to match the spicy hints in this dish.
Ingredients 4 persons:2 lbs/ 1 kg Dutch mussels, cleaned, preferably from Zeeland
4 big langoustines
1 chili pepper in rings
1/2 container of small wild cherry tomatoes (red, ornage and yellow)
1 red onion in rings
1 package of penne rigate
1 red bell pepper
2 glasses of white wine
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 cup/ 250 g of seedles grapes in halves
1 tbs lemon zest
1 ts turmeric powder to color the penne
1/2 tbs curry powder
pepper and salt
Bring to the boil some water and cook the penne rigate according to the instructions on it’s package. Chop the red onion in rings, do the same with the chili pepper and garlic. Cut the red bell pepper in rings, halve the tomatoes, chop the parsley and put aside for later use. Grate some peel of the lemon, preferably an organic one.
Put some oil in a pan and gently fry the chili, onion, 1/2 tbs of curry powder and garlic. Add one glass of white wine and a glass of water. Add the mussels and bring to a boil. Cook for about 8 minutes and when the mussels are done, throw away the non openend ones. Put te mussels aside for later use. Grill the langoustines until ready. Put them under some aluminium foil. Pour some oil in another big pan and add the penne and 1 ts of turmeric powder.
Then add the mussels and bell pepper rings. Stir fry and add another glass of white wine. Leave to simmer for a short while. Season with some salt and pepper.
Put the dish on 4 big plates, garnish with the chopped parsley, halved grapes, halved tomatoes and some lemon zest. Put the grilled langoustines on top.