Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best of...

Here is a present for all my readers.  Below you'll find a list of services that make my life easier while living abroad. 
On top of most Expats' list is staying connected with loved ones back home.**

Vonage is a phone service that works over the internet.  Before leaving the U.S. we transferred our U.S. number to Vonage, so we were able to keep the phone number all our friends and family already knew.  The number has been traveling with us to many countries throughout a few continents.  Check Vonage's World Plan, that allows you to call over 60 countries around the world in addition to calls State side.

Free way to video chat or call home.  The only problem, your contacts have to have the software installed in their computers or cellphones and they have to be online to receive your calls, which can be challenging when you're talking about older folks.  You can also buy Skype credit and call any phone number around the world.  Some friends also use MagicJack.

Not every cable provider has TV shows and movies in English, so we bought an Apple TV which worked wonderfully during our last post in Latin America.  It's great for downloading kids' shows and cartoons in English, at least it makes their life easier when you first arrive and feel immersed in a strange culture.  A few comforts from home won't hurt.  You will need to make an apple id and link your credit card to your account.  Then you just buy or rent movies and tv shows for a few dollars and enjoy american television wherever you are.  Netflix is another option but it doesn't work in every country.

Everyone loves Amazon, and it ships internationally

Excellent source for all beauty, toiletries and pharmacy needs.  I have enjoyed their quick service for years.

Snapfish is great for sending Holiday Greeting cards every year.  I have always ordered the cards through them but this year I went a step further and had them deliver the cards directly to my loved ones.  Great service every year!

Apple's itunes has excellent language instruction podcasts.  Once you download itunes into your computer you will be able to access all of the Podcasts.  Whichever language you'll need to deal with, there is a podcast that will teach you in easy 5 minute sessions, words of the day, survival phrases or even advance lessons,,,,for FREE! I've been subscribed to Italianpod101 since I learned I was coming to Rome.  Great video podcast for building vocabulary.

Alright, those were the tips of the day.  Arrivederci!

** image source:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Old, New and Borrowed Traditions

"It is useful to study different traditions in order to be free of attachment to any one way of expressing what is beyond expression. (x)” Ravi Ravindra, The Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

During my life as an #expat I have worked hard to keep my family traditions alive, mainly for the sake
of my children.  Many of our traditions are culinary.  When I first got married, my mother in-law gave me a crash course on the dishes dear to her heart in order for her baby, my husband, to continue enjoying the family recipes.  I spent my first #Christmas as a married woman in her kitchen as  she taught me how to make her Anisette cookies.  I just finished making this year's batch, Merry Christmas Irma, I hope you saw the boys struggle making your cookies, you made it look so easy!

During our life overseas, I have celebrated foreign holidays and traditions that now have become my own.  There is no Christmas without a "Pan de Jamon", a Venezuelan Christmas bread stuffed with ham, bacon raisins and olives.  Many times I have also gathered with friends to celebrate Chinese New Year.  One of my expats friends never has her act together in order to mail #Christmas cards, so she always sends Happy Chinese New Year's cards in lieu of the Christmas ones.   Carnavales, celebrated in February in many Southamerican countries, was an easy one to adopt since it always meant traveling to the beach and enjoying the warm weather.

New Tradition: La Befana brings sweets to the children on January 6th.
On our first weekend in Italy we went to Piazza Navona, a buzzling square downtown #Rome that has forever been home of the most important Christmas market in the city.  We were puzzled to see as part of the Christmas decorations sold in the square, a witch, which for us was synonymous of #Halloween.  Come to find out, it was not a witch but the #Befana, an old lady that brings sweets to the children on January 6th and places them in their stockings.  If the children are naughty she brings coal; in the old days she really brought coal, but nowadays she brings coals made out of sugar.  Either way, it didn't take long for my children to demand we adopt the Befana tradition and there I was, buying candy like any other Italian mom, to stuff their stockings on the 6th.

For all the old, new and borrowed traditions, my favorite one will always be Christmas. This year the welcome drink for my guests (as my family is far away) will be a #Peruvian #PiscoSour and believe me, it's much better than a Margarita.  The recipe is as easy as 3, 2, 1.  Here it goes:

Peruvian Pisco Sour:

3 parts of Pisco (peruvian aguardiente)*
2 parts of simple syrup
1 part of lime juice

Mix ingredients in the blender with enough ice to double the volume of the liquid in the blender.
Crush the ice in the blender for a few seconds.  Add one egg white (yeah yeah yeah, organic, free range, bla bla bla) and blend on high for one minute.  This will give it a pretty foam to which you can add a few Angostura Bitters drops. One glass will put you in a very festive mood, enjoy!

*Italian grappa can be used instead of Pisco.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This post is a short one, just to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, may the birth of Jesus bring joy to all, but specially to those in need.  Have a wonderful Holiday Season and thank you for reading me!

Warm Regards,

Gaby Around the World

P.S. For for more of my photographs of this wonderful city and more, please visit

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Pancakes, Real Food!!

“There is hardship in everything except eating pancakes.” Charles H. Spurgeon

For our first assignment #overseas we were allowed to ship a certain amount of consumables.  This fact alone convinced me we were going to a real hardship post, a place where you could not even find the essentials.  I shipped cereal boxes, #pancake mix, can after can of olive oil, I basically bought half of Costco....

After a few weeks all my edible #consumables were stale, as high humidity was also a characteristic of this place.  This was a blessing in disguise because it steered me away from processed foods and forced me to cook from scratch.  If you wanted pizza without a curry topping, you had to make it yourself.  If you wanted NY #bagels...  My husband gave me a book called "The Best Bagels Are Made at Home", hint hint.

Of course you were able to find eggs, milk, flour, and fruits and vegetables were plentiful in the jungle-like weather of Southeast Asia.  So, I made my own pizza, my own bagels, and of course pancakes from scratch.  I never again worried about shipping consumables, I just consume what is available and enjoy the discovery that comes with going local.


 2 cups of flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk *
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter **
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 bananas cut into small pieces
2/3 cup walnuts

Mix dry ingredients.  Separately, mix wet ingredients.  Wisk dry into wet.  Mix well, let it rest for 15 minutes.  Make #pancakes on a frying pan or griddle.  If you want to keep the pancakes warm, put the platter where you'll serve them in the oven with the temperature on the lowest setting.  Place the pancakes that are ready in the platter and back in the oven until all your pancakes are ready for the table.  Beware, they are delicious!

Breakfast this morning!
*I never found buttermilk outside the U.S. so I just substitute with yogurt or milk with a few drops of lemon or lime (after 5 minutes it thickens enough to be used as buttermilk).  Both options are probably healthier.

** If you want to cut back on the butter, substitute it with apple sauce.  Tip learned from a health conscious Mexican friend.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things to Do in Bologna. Recipe: Torta Barozzi style...

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”  Charles M. Schulz

We recently traveled to #Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region.  Back home, we learned about the bountifulness of the region listening to chef Mario Batalli, who highlighted the importance of Emilia-Romagna as a pillar of Italian food.  And why exactly is that?  Because in this region you find the birth places of #BalsamicVinegar, #Parmesan cheese (the King of all cheeses), Spaghetti Bolognese (which in Bologna is called Tagliatelle al Ragu), #Mortadella....

Apparently, all yummy food comes from Emilia-Romagna, and as seekers of yummy food, we took a long weekend to explore and eat our way through food heaven.

Years ago we had taken a tour with Italian Days Food Experience (Ranked #1 in Tripadvisor for activities in Bologna).  If you are a foodie, I highly recommend it.  This time, we contacted Alessandro from Italian Days Food Experience, and he recommended a stay at the B&B "Corte D'Aibo".  This country side B&B is just what we were looking for, peaceful, relaxing but with a five star restaurant and it's own wine production line.  Many of the ingredients used in their kitchen come from their land.  Needless to say, it's a true farm to table experience.

Breakfast there was simple but delicious.  In #Italy, #breakfast consists mostly of a sweet treat and coffee.  They had more than that, but we fell in love with a chocolate/coffee/almond cake that was out of this world.  Yours truly, was able to get the recipe from the kitchen manager.  After researching a bit about the recipe, I learned that it has been around since 1887, and it's been patented, hence the Torta Barozzi STYLE, and not just Torta Barozzi, as I don't have the money to fight a law suit ;).  Here it goes:

Torta Barozzi Style (gluten free!)

100 grams of sugar
100 grams of butter, softened
100 grams of baking dark chocolate, melted
100 grams of toasted ground almonds
1 tablespoon of ground coffee
1 expresso coffee (a shot)
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites, beaten

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boil.  In a bowl, mix the sugar and the egg yolk until you get a creamy consistency, then add the ground coffee, the shot of expresso and the melted chocolate/butter mixture.  In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until they form peaks.  Incorporate the other ingredients gently, mixing from bottom to the top.   Add the toasted ground almonds.

Put batter in a rectangular pan lined with wax paper.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in a 360º F oven or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I can't wait to try it at home!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Home Base

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” Louisa May Alcott

Defining #home is a hard task for me.  I've had so many! Somehow, I've felt home in every single one of my assignments.  If you ask me where home is, right now it's #Rome, where I hand my hat and my heart every night.  But home can also be where my mom is....or where I own a house.

I was OK with my vague and complicated definition of home until my kids started to grow older.  I once asked my three year old where was he from and he responded: "China".  Of course, we were living living in China at the time.  I gave him a second chance to answer my question and he responded he was English.  Not quite the right answer.  I told him, he spoke English but that he was American.  At that point we realized it was probably wise to spend some time back in the U.S., so we moved back for a couple of years, bought a house and set our own home base.

Ever since we established our #homebase, it has been easier to answer to people when asked where home is for us.  Frankly, it's been easier to answer that question to ourselves  A friend of mine who grew up as a TCK (third culture kid) told me she considers herself Spaniard even though she doesn't hold a Spanish passport, because it is there where her parents bough a house to where they would go back year after year, for the summer breaks and holidays.  

Enjoying some baseball during our vacation back home.
I have been going back to my home base in Virginia at least once a year.  We visit with friends, eat at our neighborhood restaurants and shop at our local Whole Foods.  It has grounded us.  We know this #expat life comes with an expiration date, and eventually we will go back home.  It's good to have a home to go back to.

I know #repatriation is not easy (I've been reading about it) but that is material for another whole post.  Until then, Arrivederci!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Get Out to See the Sights

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” Marc Riboud

In my article "The Most Stressful Times", I mentioned that in order to take a break from the stressful part of having moved to a new city (finding a house, hooking up your internet, trying to figure out traffic patterns...) you should take a day off and go see the sights.  Every city has something magical, something that will amaze you.  So get out and let yourself be surprised by your new surroundings.  I did that yesterday and here are some shots of what I encountered...

Sea Nymph, Fountain of Neptune, Piazza Navona, Rome.
Campo De' Fiori, open market in the center of Rome.

If these steps could tell you stories....

National Archives, Rome

And of course food, who can resist to italian food?  Not me!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Recipe Thief - Making Connections Through Food

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” Michael Pollan

Pizza Romana by the Slice, Pizza Al Taglio
I must confess, I didn’t know how to #cook when I got married.  My husband on the other hand is a great cook and his passion for food is contagious.  He’s the grandson of #Italian immigrants and food and cooking are just part of his DNA.

When you are miles away from your country, your own kitchen may be the only source for the food to which you are accustomed.  Trying to find ingredients can prove to be a very challenging task.  Do not become demoralized, try to play with substitutions (you may come up with a great twist on your favorite recipe) and don’t be afraid to ask around, someone in your circle may know where to find what you’re missing.

One of the great aspects of being part of an #International community is learning from each other.  Cooking is a great way to connect with people.   Throughout the years I not only learned how to cook, I also collected recipes from friends around the world.  I put them all in a little binder that I carry with me in my suitcase when I move, for fear of loosing all those pieces of my life.  Almost all my recipes start with a friend’s name: Kelly’s Artichoke Dip, Marilia’s Brazilian Cheese Bread, Kim’s Pita Bread, Martha’s Cuban beans.  Some recipes were happily shared, in order to get others I had to use every persuasive argument I know (I just couldn’t bear the thought of not eating a particular dish once I moved away). And every time I make one of those recipes I think of my friends and the time we spent together in this adventure called Expat living.

Love my international friends for all they have to teach me!
 Do you like to cook?  Why not host a cooking class?  Start small, with only a few friends.  You can even start a cooking club.  The last page of my binder is the recipe for Sushi Rolls (maki), obtained at a #cooking class taught by one of my #Japanese friends, an excellent cook and a great teacher.

Eating with friends is appreciated in all cultures; some traditions are more ritualistic others more relaxed.  Food is also a great way to learn more about your host country. Give it a try!  Or how they say here in Italy: MANGIA, MANGIA!!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Word About the Holidays (specially the ones away from home)

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukkah' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukkah!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!” Dave Barry

As a family we've made the conscious or maybe not so conscious decision of staying put for the holidays.  So, wherever we called home for a period of time, we just made the Holidays work for us.

Thanksgiving 2013, dinner prepared for last minute guests.  Not bad at all.
I have a big extended family and growing up we always gathered in my home to celebrate Christmas.  My husband too comes from a large family and Holidays were a time to get together and celebrate.  When we got married and moved away from our families the first end of the year approached and we faced the grand dilemma: What should we do for the Holidays this year?  I had bought a fake 5 feet tall tree just in case I wouldn't find anything in the mainly Buddhist country where we had been sent.  I was glad a bought that tree because it was used to celebrate our first Christmas as expats.

That first Christmas we spent it with other singles and childless couples.  After dinner we played Charades and had a good time.  It did feel more like a cocktail party than a Holiday party.  I wasn't really pleased, but that's what happened.

After we had kids maintaining our traditions became more important.  We bought a better tree and started getting together with other families with children.  Christmas became more of what I remember growing up.  The difference was that we didn't have blood ties, we were an expat family.

Once you move away from home, you will meet others that are in the same situation.  They will relate to what you are going through.  Very strong friendships are formed and spending the Holidays with your Expat Extended Family can be a wonderful thing.  If you add to that the avoidance of having to deal with the family issues all families have, it can be a very attractive option.  If there's nothing planned, invite people to your home. They are going to be so glad to be invited they won't care if the plates don't match.  Believe me, the holiday cheer will spread.

Our not so perfect 2012 Xmas tree.
If you are moving just before the holidays, make sure you pack in your suitcase the items that will make your new place more holiday-ready.  I went to Target and bought some foam holiday signs (yes, you always have to watch the weight of your suitcases).  I also packed scissors, scotch tape and wrapping paper.  I shipped holiday candy and presents for my children ahead of time.

There's been times when we've had Chinese food for Thanksgiving, but as long as there was pumpkin pie, we were thankful for being healthy, having a loving family and for experiencing life overseas.  Have a wonderful Holiday Season!  Peace Out.

Have you spent a holiday away from home?  Do you have any tips on how to make them better for your kids?