Prickly pears!


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Painted Mtn blooming cactus

Lovely, isn’t it? At our house we it call Paddle Cactus. Its true scientific name is Opuntia englemannii, but if it’s your friend you may call it Englemann’s Prickly Pear. It blooms in the spring and by August it has formed fat fruits which some deem delicious.


photo courtesy of

How to get from what you see above to something you might want to put in your mouth was the purpose of a delightful morning program recently at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Intrepid friend E and I went to learn and taste. The first thing to know is that there are Opuntia and there are Opuntia. There are 181 species in the genus, including the ubiquitous cholla cactus which looks nothing like its cousin above. The variety with round fat paddles is Englemann’s. There is a similar variety with elongated paddles and the appropriate and charming moniker of cow’s tongue cactus (it’s another englemannii, but with the variation subname ‘linguiformis’).

The harvesting problems are evident in the photo above. The paddles are equipped with daggers, and the fruit has nasty little hairy spikes that like nothing better than to insinuate themselves into your fingers or tongue and drive you mad. They are called glochids, and they can be a misery.

Luckily there are ways to deal with them, as we learned from our instructor at BTA. The first step in your prickly pear adventure is to pick a bunch of desert broom, a stiff brushy plant that is everywhere in the desert, frequently and courteously to be found right in the middle of the cactus whose fruit you wish to harvest. 
dusting tool, desert broom


Before picking the fruit, vigorously brush each globe with the desert broom. This will remove a great many of the glochids.  Then, using tongs, carefully twist the fruit off the cactus and drop it in a bucket.


Once you have a full bucket find a nice gravelly or rough patch of ground. Be careful to choose a place where you will not later be walking barefoot (don’t do this in your garage!). Empty your bucket of fruit and rake it back and forth, around and through the gravel. This will pull off almost all any remaining glochids. Now you’re ready to make use of your fruit.

cooking tee shirt

Eric and Terri of Tall Order Catering in Phoenix, along with several helpers, taught us how to peel the fruit  for use in various recipes, as well as how to make juice for jelly, sangria or margaritas. They also peeled the paddles of the prickly pear and used them in various recipes. The name for this veg in Spanish is ‘nopales.’ In the picture below Eric and Terri are demonstrating that the juice of the prickly pear does not stain.

removing spines

Eric is also demonstrating that you can shave the spines off the nopales with a sharp kitchen knife.

During the program Eric described how he had made the dishes that were so temptingly on display for us to look at, and afterwards, to eat. The internet is full of recipes, so if you care to try any of this yourself, you can begin your search here. Here are some of Eric’s delicious preparations:

paddle salsa

Nopales salad



chow line

Nopales in the foreground, sangria in the background


Salad ingredients for the salad above: strawberries, prickly pear fruit, cilantro, nopales, red onion


The easiest way to extract juice from the prickly pear is to use a juicer. My cohort E just happens to have one, so after the program we went foraging to put the methods we had learned to practical use. A few cactus fruits make quite a bit of juice – it is a gorgeous color, as you can see. One thing we quickly learned is that the round Englemann’s makes a much tastier juice than the cow’s tongue.

here comes the juice

lovely bottle of juice

The juice has some very beneficial side effects – Mayo Clinic explains: “Prickly pear cactus, also called nopales, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.” Not all of these benefits have yet been proven.

What does it taste like? The closest I can come to explaining is to say the juice tastes both red and green, a bit like a fruit, a bit like a vegetable. It is a pleasant flavor. The paddles taste rather like green beans.

As you can see from the pictures of Eric’s food above, there is no end to the ways the paddles and fruits of the prickly pear can be enjoyed. Have some fun and experiment.  I decided to make jelly with my share of the juice E and I made. After an afternoon in the kitchen I had 10 jars of over-sweet soup. I followed the directions for failed jelly and ended up with 9 jars of over-sweet soup. It all went down the drain. But I’m not discouraged – there will be more prickly pears next year, and I shall try again. Meanwhile, the paddles are always available at Food City.

Next time you encounter a prickly pear cactus, look beyond the daggers and spines and see all the good free food waiting for you!

Basil Hummus


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Above you see the Basil That Will Not Quit. We bought this remarkable plant a couple of months ago at Trader Joe’s, thinking that it would behave like all our previous basil pets. We used to broadcast seeds in the old wash-tubs-turned-planters outside our house in Rapallo. The plants flourished in the high summer heat, then the leaves would begin to get tougher and have a slightly bitter flavor, and then the plant would bolt. Not this plant. This basil keeps growing taller and taller (almost 2 feet in the photo). We whack it back to make pesto and it just says, Fine, watch this! and grows a foot in two days. (Speedy removed a lot of it just before I took this photo.) It would be nice to take full credit for the plant’s vigor and health, but it came with its own vigor, and only the daily watering by caring neighbors (thank you Linda and Laura) kept it alive while we were gone for two weeks.

The other day as Speedy was having his afternoon bob-and-read in our community pool he began to think about what he could do with all this basil. Smart Phone to the rescue! Huffington Post offered 34 Basil Recipes, some of which sounded interesting, some ghastly (basil ice cream? Well, maybe I shouldn’t condemn it til we’ve tried it). Way down at #23 was Edamame Basil Hummus.

“Hummus!” said Speedy, “what an interesting idea.” As soon as we got home he put together his own take on Basil Hummus:

basil hummus

It’s one of those recipes where you’re going to have to find your own way with measurements – do what feels right to you, what gives you the consistency you prefer.

Put in a food processor:
A LOT of basil
Olive oil, about 1/4 cup to a can of beans
1 can of canellinni beans, drained
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whiz it all up and then sit down with your favorite dipping tool and enjoy. We used crusts of old dried bread and some stale tortilla chips. It was so good we couldn’t stop eating it, so then we put it on the gorgeous pork roast Speedy had done to golden perfection the BBQ. I imagine it would also be wonderful with crudites.  Or you may want to just sit down with a spoon and pretend it’s soup. It’s that good.

I’m baaaaack

A reader whose opinions I respect wrote recently to encourage me to continue this blog. “But I’m just back in the U.S., most of my readers know all about life here,” I replied. He went on to say that every part of the U.S. holds interest for others who don’t know it well, and he’s right. For a girl from the East, Arizona is in many ways a mysterious entity. The base culture is American, but the overlay is about as different from former homes Massachusetts and Connecticut as can be.

Arizona was a wild place until not so long ago – wild in nature (which it still is in most of the State) and wild in its population, which it still is in some instances (yes, you can carry a weapon openly without a permit – now that might be a good subject for a post). There is a lot of interest to see and learn about here. It’s a State where history is so fresh it seems like the present. There are even other countries within the State –  The Navajo Nation,  The Tohono O’odham Nation, for instance. As well, it is a State of great natural beauty (home of the Grand Canyon, after all), spicy Mexican-influenced food, and a political point of view slightly right of right.  As old as Italy is, that’s how new Arizona is – it makes for striking contrasts.

It will be a such a pleasure to get to know our newly permanent home better through the eyes of this blog. I hope that having been an expatriate for a number of years will give me a slightly-but-not-quite foreigner’s perception of what we see.  And I hope you’ll stick around for the ride, pardner – you’re mighty welcome.

Learning to say goodbye…



This old blog has been pretty quiet lately, but for a good reason. Speedy and I are selling our house here in Rapallo and moving back full-time to the States.

It’s hard to say goodbye. We’ve been here about 14 years, 4 of them as full-time residents. Rapallo feels as much like home as Arizona (both feel a little other-worldly, to tell you the truth).

House from Rosa's

We leave behind a house into which we’ve poured our hearts and souls. We leave behind the gardens which were non-existent when we started, but which now produce oranges, cherries, apricots, pomegranates, grapes, plums and persimmons, in addition to basil, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, more basil, and any veggies we feel like growing. Sometimes there’s even a good olive crop.

grapes our garden

But a house is just stones, stucco and paint, and a garden is just dirt and plants. Either can be replaced in another location. What can’t be replaced is the friendships we’ve made over so many years. From our first visit in nearby Camogli, when we met a friend of a friend, to a meeting just a few days ago, people have been welcoming, kind and – always! – helpful. The community here helps one another when necessary in ways that are humbling and heartwarming. We’ve been befriended by people from all over Europe, from Asia, from America, some through introductions, some simply by chance.

We’ve had adventures in Rapallo and beyond, many described in the pages of this blog. We’ve entertained under the wisteria which, just last year began to provide the shade we planned for.


We’ve had guests visit from near and far, some old friends, some family, and some new friends too.

View from the guest room

View from the guest room

Speedy has cooked fantastic meals in the kitchen, on the outdoor BBQ and, beginning a couple of years ago, in the tandoor that he built himself.

There are so many stories I could tell you! Some of them I have, but many not. And now I won’t. Most likely this will be the last post from Expatriate in Rapallo, but I hope you’ll return for a visit now and then when you want a dose of beautiful Italy, or want to rustle up one of Speedy’s amazing dishes.

Thank you for reading and commenting on Expatriate. Your presence has kept my eyes open and my mind interested. It wouldn’t have been any fun without you.

I have an idea for a new blog – but not quite yet, as we’re very busy trying to move.

And busier still learning to say goodbye…

More Hikin’ Dogs



In a recent visit to Lost Dutchman State Park I was able to add three new subjects to the Hikin’ Dogs photo album.

First we met 11-year old Lulu, who was visiting with her Mama from Wyoming. Together they have explored large areas of the Superstitions over the years:


Next we met Cupcake, age and hometown unknown. In spite of having just finished a walk, she looked ready to go on another long hike:
Shortcake-001Last we met the shy and beguiling Nava. She and her people had just taken a quick jaunt up to the Flatiron. They started at 11 and we met them at 2:30. That is a hike that would take me all day, even if I had a friend to help carry the load:nava-001If you haven’t visited the album, do check out the other beautiful Hikin’ Dogs I’ve met over the years. To see identification and captions you can click the down carat on the right side and select ‘slide show.’

Why I Golf


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Speedy took up golf in about 1999 when a knee injury prematurely ended his tennis career. After several years of diletanttish play he became rather more serious when we moved to Italy. The course in Rapallo is beautiful, and Speedy made some lovely friends there. He became even more serious in his pursuit of good play when he finished all the hard physical work of redoing our home. In no time at all golf became his ‘work,’ a job to which he dedicated 5 days every week, a schedule to which he still adheres, both in Italy and here in Arizona.

What’s a poor Expatriate to do? The term ‘golf widow’ suddenly had a compelling resonance for me. The obvious solution was to take up the game myself, thereby giving myself an opportunity to share in my husband’s passion AND to have some quality time with him every week.

Here is what I quickly learned.  Golf is a tremendously difficult game. It’s no big deal to learn the basics, but to be able to apply them with any consistency is nigh on impossible. In addition, once one becomes interested in improving, the old brain kicks in and plays one trick after another. It’s just plain hard. Or, as the sage said, “It’s a cruel game.”

I also learned that it’s a game I’ll never feel passionate about; it’s difficult for me to stay engaged with something that offers such paltry rewards compared to the time and effort demanded. I’m not a good golfer, and never will be; Speedy says I could be good if I were willing to practice every day. Oh well.

However, here is what I love about golf: golf courses. Once a scoffer, I used to think that golf courses were a tremendous waste of resources, both of land and of money. But you know, you won’t find many better places to walk than a well-maintained golf course. And walk we do. For a while at our old golf course we would split a golf cart, each walking 9 holes; but now, both here and in Italy, we walk all 18 holes. There are frequently lovely views and, if there’s water present, as there almost always is, there will be an interesting variety of animals and birds.

Here, in no particular order, is an album of photos of wildlife and vistas snapped between and around tees and greens. While it may be true that ‘golf is a good walk spoiled,’ it remains true that it is a Good Walk. While I’m an ambivalent golfer, I am passionate about the walking.

First, let’s set the scene. Here’s the view down the 7th fairway in Rapallo with the remnants of a 16th century monastery on the other side of the green:

Giammi hits from the sand at #7; valle Christi

Painted Mountain in Mesa has a forest of palm trees:

sunset over painted mountain golf courseOver Thanksgiving we visited friends in Utah. How can anyone concentrate on a golf game when these are the views the course offers?

view from Provo golf course-001view on provo golf courseLake Utah and mountains-001I didn’t even try to play that day.

Now for some fauna:

Rabbits at Painted Mountain

Rabbits at Painted Mountain


Peach faced lovebirds at Painted Mountain

Mama duck with her babies, Rapallo

Mama duck with her babies, Rapallo

A muskrat (?) in Utah

A muskrat (?) in Utah

Geese overhead in Utah

Geese overhead in Utah

Remember when geese used to migrate? Now they just hang around the golf courses year-round, which makes for interesting footing if your ball lands near the water.

Goose and mallard, Mountain Brook

Goose and mallard, Mountain Brook

This white goose has been protecting the male mallard with a broken wing for several weeks now. They are inseparable.

True love, mallard style, Mountain Brook

True love

Speaking of inseparable, it’s getting to be that time of year. Is there any place on earth where mallards don’t thrive?

A blue heron and an egret are resident at Mountain Brook and can be found fishing in the course ponds every day.

great blue flies away great blue fishing white egret and duck

Sometimes your scribe is just not quite quick enough trying to catch an action shot:

egret leaves


Coots at Mountain Brook


Widgeons at Mountain Brook


cormorants and widgeons

Cormorants dry their wings pondside at Mountain Brook

hawk on a wire

Hawk on a Mountain Brook wire – hunting for rabbits?

Large gold carp

Large gold carp at Mountain Brook

Deer come to the course 'meadows' in the early evening

Deer come to the course ‘meadows’ in the early evening

Perhaps the rarest sighting of all occurred this very evening – I saw reindeer. No, I really did! And I was able to get a photo of them.





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The Barnhardt Trail winds about six miles through Arizona’s Mazatzal wilderness section of Tonto National Park. Starting at 4,200 feet elevation, it gains over 1,900 feet. If one were actually to complete the hike, which Hikin’ Buddy and I did not on our most recent foray, you would be higher than Denver. Which is one reason HB and I never complete this hike: the air is noticeably thinner and one of us becomes breathless rather easily.

HB and I love to tackle this trail – for us it is a bit of a challenge (well, for one of us anyway, the one who is not HB). It’s a haul to get there – about an hour and half north of where we live. But the drive up SR 87 from Mesa is gorgeous, the road undulating between rocky outcroppings and mesas. The driving distance means that Expatriate has to get up a lot earlier than her accustomed hour of rising – but it is well worth the sacrifice, for the scenery on the drive, for the company and for the hike. The greatest challenge of the day turns out to be trying to stay awake while HB nobly drives us home after our exertions.

Sections of the trail are flattish, but by and large it is up all the way.

Elly on path

Complex and colorful, manzanita grows along the trail.

manzanita root


Red rocks rise on the southern side of the trail. Every now and then a section of cliff collapses, leaving a river of red stones… easier to cross than a river of water, but giving one an uneasy feeling of possible danger.

rocksrock slide-001rock slide-002

Someone who looks like Frankenstein in Stone stands guard over the wilderness.


We ate our picnic on the rocky out-cropping that is sunlit in the photo. Yes! The one that is way up there.


On a smaller scale there is much to see underfoot, a variety of shapes, materials and colors that is endlessly interesting.

greens on red

I keep thinking I want to understand geology, and even once attempted an online course on the subject. It told me much more than ‘what is this rock’, and it turns out I am little more than a ‘what is this rock’ person. I would love to tell you what this formation is, I’m sure it has a name. HB and I have dubbed it the M Rocks (me) and/or the W Rocks (HB). Whichever, if you ever doubted the incredible forces that the earth exerts, these rocks will make you a believer.

upper M rocks-001 Upper M rocksBarnhardt is relatively remote and not heavily trafficked.  We were surprised to encounter two other hiking groups, as it’s the first time we’ve ever seen anyone else on this particular trail. And we were even more surprised that both groups were accompanied by Hikin’ Dogs. Meet Herbie:


and Ballo:

Ballo-001 After our hike we had a second picnic in a field. Mallow is blooming early this year:


A challenging trail, a good friend, a picnic, fine weather and a pair of Hikin’ Dogs. It doesn’t get any better.

When this grew up…


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weird bug-005

weird bug on orange tree

When this grew up it became this:

Photo copyright Jim P. Brock, 2008

Photo copyright Jim P. Brock, 2008

or perhaps it looked more like this:

Photo copyright Carol Adams

Photo copyright Carol Adams

If you’d like to read about Giant Swallowtails, click here. If you’d like an article on their increase in New England, click here. If you’re wondering why I’m telling you this, it’s because this caterpillar dined on our grapefruit tree for several days before disappearing, no doubt to begin his metamorphose. It looks like he’s covered with fungus, doesn’t it? But that’s just His Special Look.

Many thanks to Trish and Hilary for the identification.

Back in the States and It’s All About Voting



We returned to the U.S. yesterday, and everyone is all abuzz about voting. (Easy, comfortable trip, thank you for asking.) As an Italian citizen Speedy can vote in Italy, but I cannot. Here I can, and I’m planning to. There’s nothing like not being eligible to do something that makes you appreciate it when you can.

There are some interesting initiatives on our Arizona ballot, one that pretty much says that the Federal Government can make mandates, but if we don’t wanna, we won’t. The battle between States rights and Federalism – always spirited and interesting.

Anyway, WordPress, who gives me this blog space free (thank you WordPress!) has put together a tool to help voters, which, if you’re interested you can access here:

It says,”I Voted.” I haven’t yet, but by Tuesday afternoon that will be true. And I hope it will be true for you, too; I hope you won’t have to stand in a long line.


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