Mountain AraratWhile living abroad in various foreign climes, I do lunch with friends, just like I would do at home. Have something nice to eat, do some chatting and philosophizing, admire each other’s nail polish, that sort of thing. So here’s a simple tale of one such event, lunch with my friends in a small restaurant in the center of Yerevan, the capital of beautiful, far-away Armenia in the Caucasus Mountains.

Photo: Mount Ararat of Noah’s Ark fame, located in eastern Turkey, looming over the city of Yerevan.

Sharing Sorrows

Because I have the good luck of living near the center of Yerevan, I am able to hoof it almost everywhere important, like shops and restaurants and markets.

When I arrive at the restaurant I find we are six around the table and much agonizing is going on.

My Dutch friend Annette has landlord problems. She’s steaming with outrage. The man’s teenage son used her computer while she and her family were away on vacation. He downloaded games and generously left them there for others to use.

The word privacy does not exist in the Armenian language, I’ve been told. To be grasped, the concept must be described and explained. Which doesn’t mean it’s understood by landlords, who often will wander in and out as if they still live in their rented properties and you are merely their live-in guests. I heard a story from another expat friend who came home from leave earlier than expected and found a big party going on in her house.

Anoush, an Armenian friend, is having problems with a co-worker. “She has a unique mentality,” she tells us. “All the time she causes artificial difficulties and hardships.”

We commiserate, agreeing that people with unique mentalities can be a pain in the neck, and artificial difficulties and hardships are a waste of energy and not conducive to peace in the office. Armenians have a magnificent ability to learn English without ever leaving their country. Their verbal dexterity is fantastic and I’m all a-wonder every time I listen to them speak. (I’m even more in awe now that I live in France and find myself hopelessly pathetic in my ability to learn decent French.)

Lunch in Armenia

Lara is distraught too. An awful thing happened to her! Lara is an Armenian who grew up in both Syria and Lebanon before settling with her businessman husband in the new, no-longer-Soviet, Armenia some years ago. She’s in her fifties and bubbles with joie de vivre. She’s loud, smokes with abandon, has wildly curly red hair, wears flashy clothes and uses make-up copiously and creatively. She’s a flamboyant sort, you might say, with the gift of gab as her crowning glory. My Dutch mother would not approve of her, but we all love her.

Lara’s life is a hectic one, with a constant stream of visitors – relatives and friends from all over the world coming to stay, business people to entertain, and so on. Her house is small, her capacity for putting up guests is limited. We hear her many stories of all the cooking she does, and how people just stay and stay and stay . . .

And today she has a truly harrowing tale. Words gush like a waterfall from her mouth. We won’t believe what has happened to her! She waves her hands, she rolls her eyes, her bosom heaves in memory of the perils she’s about to relate to us. We hang on her every word.

Armenian Apricot VodkaTwo days ago, Lara, her husband and two of his business partners went to a night club for a civilized postprandial drink, as they often do.

They discussed the fact that their little house was full of guests and two more cousins were coming over from Syria and where, oh where, were they going to put them? They knew the owner of the night club, who somehow became part of the conversation and he told them that the little hotel upstairs belonged with the club and why not rent a room there? Lara, all ears, wanted to know the price and said she’d come back the next day to have a look at the rooms.

“We’ll give you a discount,” the owner told Lara. Well, why not. She and her husband and their visitors often come for a drink at his place. Next day Lara went back to the hotel with two of her sponging male relatives in tow to help her check out the rooms to see if they were suitable for housing her guest-overflow.

The owner was not present, so a hotel employee took the threesome upstairs, showed them into a room, then left and closed the door. Lara and her two male house guests were left by themselves in the room.

It was then that enlightenment struck and all the bulbs were red. She realized that the hotel people assumed she was a working girl looking for a place to ply her trade.

“I cried!” Lara wails now. “To think that, at my age, they thought I was a prostitute!”

That was lunch.

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Have you ever had a memorable lunch-with-the-girls/guys experience? Or do you remember a fun incident while you were out with your friends? Please share!

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Lots of bare bottoms everywhere. Sometimes the back is more interesting than the front

There is lots of wonderful decadence in Italy, from bare-bottom statues to scrumptious food. If you were hoping for a tale about hot decadence of a carnal variety, you’ll be disappointed, but if you are a foodie and a chocoholic, good. This one is for you.

Although I’ve been to Italy half a dozen times or so, I’d never been there during the winter months and so never came across the cioccolata calda, hot chocolate, which is pure, well, decadence. It is not related to what in the US or my native Holland you might call “hot chocolate,” so read on:

One cool February afternoon in Rome (a couple of years ago) I spooned empty this mug while sitting on a little terrace warmed by gas heaters in Via della Carozze near the Spanish Steps. I thought I had died and gone to chocolate heaven. (Fortunately dinner wasn’t until 9, Italian style.)

Italian hot chocolate

I said spooned, because it is too thick to drink. It was fabulous, it was yummie delicious, it was out of this world.

And yes, I have a recipe! It works beautifully and tastes just the way I had it in Rome. I use 72 – 75% dark chocolate. The better the chocolate the better the hot chocolate will be (imagine that), so don’t try this with some cheap stuff.

Italian hot chocolate

As I write this, I am not in Italy, I am in the South of France. It is January. Hard as this may be to believe, it is cold and the wind is howling around the house. Not any kind of wind, mind you, but a really, really nasty wind that goes by the name of Tramontane, and it offers up air straight from the North Pole and if you don’t believe it, click on the link and all will be revealed to you. Clearly, on a day like this, what would be better than a cup of Italian cioccolata calda? So here’s the recipe:

ITALIAN CIOCCOLATA CALDA

1 ½ cups (3.5 dl) whole milk (or part heavy cream)
2 Tbsp (30 g) sugar
3.5 oz (100 g) good quality dark chocolate, 70% or higher, broken into pieces
2 tsp (10 ml) cornstarch (cornflour)

Take about 4 Tablespoons of the milk and set it aside. In a medium saucepan, over low heat, slowly heat the rest of the milk and the sugar.

When the sugar is dissolved and the milk is hot, but not boiling, add the chopped chocolate and stir until it is melted.

Mix the cornstarch with the reserved milk and add it to the chocolate mixture in the pan. Stir until the mixture thickens.

Pour into mugs or cups and serve immediately.

This makes 2 large or 4 small servings.

You can serve whipped cream (the real deal!) on the side or on top for added decadence. Also nice is a sprinkling of cinnamon.

This is a basic recipe and from here you can get creative by adding some coffee liqueur, or any other liqueur, some vanilla flavoring, etc

I’ve seen cioccolata calda served in very small cups, and even thicker than this recipe, but I’ve not tasted or tried that version.

The original recipe came from bell’alimento.

Now go try this and tell me how you like it!

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What kind of decadent food do you enjoy?

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