January 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
After rescheduling our getaway weekend due to the snowstorm last weekend, we finally made the drive down the Cape to the Old Manse Inn in Brewster. Just off of Route 6, the Old Manse Inn is a charming white 19th century house from the outside, with a bit of a kitschy antique interior with some nautical touches, notably model boats and some historical pirate information on the second floor. The Inn had recently changed hands, and for much of the weekend, we were the only guests, given that January is very much the middle of the offseason. The innkeepers Brian and Charlie did everything they could to make our stay enjoyable, from calling ahead to restaurants, to giving us a tour of the entire house and grounds, and providing us with a complimentary bottle of wine.
It was a quiet sort of weekend, and I had the feeling of having the entire Cape to ourselves. Traffic was easy, the beaches mostly empty, the wind forceful and assertive. Many of the shops were closed for the season, especially in more touristy towns such as Provincetown, where we sat by the window of one of the only taverns still open with frosty mugs of Cape Cod beer and plates of fish and chips. A rainy Saturday afternoon drove us back to the Inn for some reading (I’ve started Alice Munro’s Dear Life) and napping before dinner. After a glass of sherry in the inn’s living room, we headed to the Rock Harbor Grill for a dinner of wild mushroom pizza, lobster-stuffed cod over a bed of mashed potatoes and green beans, and fresh mozzarella with baby heirloom tomatoes (not so seasonal but that’s alright). We skipped dessert that night but I did go back to the Cottage Street Bakery for a second chocolate croissant the next morning, perfectly flakey, with the inside chew that I love. Sunday, we sat on the wooden steps leading to the Marconi beach, eating sandwiches from the bakery on slightly sweet squash bread before heading down for a walk along the water. The waves crashed on the shore but the intense wind had a way of pulling the very tops of the waves back, created a delightful misty puff coming up from the water’s surface every time a large wave surged.
We stopped in Sandwich on the way back to Boston for dinner at the tavern in the Dan’l Webster Inn with my grandparents. It was un repas correct, as my former co-workers liked to say in France — I had a nicely wok fired Atlantic salmon with a crisp exterior. Then we piled ourselves back in the car to start the drive back to the city. Back to the grind it is. But a three-day weekend to look forward to next week!
May 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m sitting in the backyard of my house in San Francisco, trying unsuccessfully to find a patch of sunlight streaming through the branches of the fir tree overhead, in which to dry my lemon-juice soaked hair. I’m commencing my summer rituals — which yes, include naturally lightening my hair — a bit early this year, and they could not be more welcome. If you’ve noticed the blog becoming a bit of a recluse compared to what it once was, it’s not that I haven’t been doing things, it’s just that every time I sit down to write about them, my mind is predictably elsewhere in the pits of fragile worries. But right now, there’s a loaf of coconut bread, studded with unsweetened coconut curls, a healthy swig of vanilla, stirred with browned butter, in the oven, the sun is out, and I’m wrapping up a weekend spent at home with barbequed scallops, pumpkin tofu curry over brown rice, and a walk on the beach in the late afternoon. But the best part of the weekend has been sleeping in my own bed, sitting at my desk by the window eating leftovers and planning summer travels — Portugal! Morocco! — with my parents’ seventies music drifting up from the basement and my little brother studying for the SAT subject tests at the dining room table.
Not surprisingly, as the end comes to what my mother calls my R&R weekend, I’m finally being able to sit down and write about something that isn’t required. To say it’s been a difficult month would be an understatement; I initially thought the stress would begin to fade when I finally handed my thesis over to the printers, but it just kept coming. Some days, it felt as if I was drowning in my own head, then my body took over and with it came a week of sickness and infections. But somehow, it all seemed to melt away this weekend — it’s a pretty magical feeling when peace finally comes, when you can just sit down, look out the window, with a couple of slices of warm bread — er, cake — and finally feel a bit more complete again.
And write. Even though I don’t know what to talk about really. Only that it felt good to be back in the kitchen, felt good to open the oven and feel successful, and that I’ll be very sorry to leave tonight. But while just sitting in peace is pretty great, that peace can follow you anywhere, it just sometimes doesn’t come as easily.
Word is I’m in the market for a place in Boston with a window-full kitchen.
July 25, 2012 § 1 Comment
I took off from Athens for a couple of days for a real vacation — a tour of several Greek islands. And somewhere between piling my clothes into my backpack for what feels like — and is probably close to be being — the hundredth time, conquering the scorching heat in rickety buses, where the driver yells at you to get on board without answering your question about the destination of said bus, with sweat pouring down your face, and dipping my toes in the water, as the sun finally starts to set, things started looking up.
I think I forgot that it is summer. That I am in a foreign country, where everything I look at is brand-new to my eyes. That this is the time for exploring, for pushing myself, for doing me and for doing the incredible amount of things waiting to be experienced around me. Volcanoes. Black-sand beaches. Ferry rides watching the clear, vibrant blue ocean drift past. Dancing on tables. Souvlaki — pita stuffed with meat shavings (traditionally lamb) vegetables, tzatziki sauce and a smattering of French fries — at five in the morning. And while I may be experiencing Greece mostly as a tourist, I am rounding up some awesome Australian friends. So guess what continent we’re exploring next?
Meanwhile, I’ve been stepping back and actually enjoying time to myself again. Time just sitting still and taking it all in — except I rarely actually sit still. After a day of lazing around poolside, with a walk along the harbor and an ocean-side skype sesh with the boyfriend, I finally deemed the temperature low enough to attempt a run. Boy, was I wrong. But run I did, up every damn desert hill on the island. Beet-red, panting and pouring buckets of sweat, I finally made it back to the hotel, where a dip in the Mediterranean and a watermelon slice twice the size of my head were exactly what my body ordered.
And then, I also wanted to share the site that I’ve been working for in Athens, and also in Barcelona — Culinary Backstreets. It just launched yesterday, and you’ll see my photos popping up here and there in the next few weeks. Here are some from a delicious lunch at Melilotos in Athens. I got to go into the kitchen here one night to take photos — lots of fire action for a traditional chicken pasta dish. When we returned in the afternoon, it was too hot to attempt eating pasta, but the veggie options were not scarce.
Beet salad with balls of creamy herbed goat cheese.
The best citrusy tabouleh I have ever had, served with a row of freshly fried, salty sardines.
Deep-fried tomatoes and cheese.
Zucchini very thinly sliced and flash fried. Crispy, crackly, and served with tzatziki yogurt for dipping.
I still dream about that bittersweet chocolate pie with buttery biscuit crust and may have to make a quick stop before heading to the airport.
May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
The fluffy tops of the white clouds outside my window are gently dusted in pale, yellow light. Soon, the light will fade and the sky will transform into a dusty blue, underneath a strip of hazy orange — the sunset — and dots of human lights will begin to emerge underneath us. Crammed into an airplane seat, next to a guy who continuously asks to have his plastic cup — with straw — refilled and flinches every time I move, I’m suffering from a raging sunburn, pouring through summer magazines packed with riffs on tacos with mango-avocado salsa, and struggling to hold back to tears watching Channing Tatum recover his marriage with a girl who’s permanently lost her memory. The Newark airport was swimming with activity and aggressively impatient people today, likely due to the 100-person long lines at every point of the check-in-security-boarding process. Luckily I have a Priority Access card to flash around the minute a line forms, and have made great use of UPS’ shipping abilities for all my extra clothes (please don’t inquire after the number of boxes). Then, once we were finally boarded, we sat for two hours because our pilot was missing in action.
We spent my last day at Princeton on the Jersey Shore, at Pleasant Point. We didn’t make much use of the roller coasters, but we played an aggressive game of beach soccer and got rough-hosed by the chilly waves, which suck you under the surface for a couple of terrifying, brain-freezing seconds. As the day got windy, we sat in the sand playing cards and eating a pizza the size of a large beach ball. Fleeing the wind, we piled back into the cars and joined Jersey traffic on the way home.
The next day, I woke up on the other coast, to my brother getting ready for school, to the birds chirping in the backyard, to the sun shining through the skylights in the kitchen. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, with fresh tomatoes and guacamole on a tortilla, true California breakfast. With a side of milky black tea and my mom’s snickerdoodle cookies.
August 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
When I stumbled into the kitchen this morning at 6:15, early enough for a long run before the sun started beating down hard at 8 a.m., I was surprised to find nonna already awake, with a couple of whole fish in her hands by the stove. She didn’t seem surprised at all to see me though, as she seems keenly aware of all movements in her apartment, just steps from the Mediterranean Sea. I made a gesture to indicate “running” and she replied “caffe?” without skipping a beat. Si grazie.
The caffe is dark and smooth, pressing a jolt of energy into just a small tip of the pot. She heats the water over the flame of gas stove and then pours me perhaps the equivalent of three espresso shots. Sugar is provided, just for me, though I even admit it is unneeded and often opt for just a small splash of milk. Ten minutes later, I am running up the hill to the Mausoleum, and back down around the Aragonese-Angevine Castle, through the old town and along the wharf side of the peninsula. Along the way, stray cats scamper down alleys that are just a flight of stairs, an older woman with a shaggy dog more than half her size gestures at me to stop and curiously asks a question, which I do not understand and for which I have no answer. Along the water, middle-aged men gather near the edges of the parking lots, tanned and pruned from the sun. One or two people take a caffe at the nearby bars, but for the most part the town of Gaeta is barely awake, lazily tossing and turning in the rising heat.
Back home now, nonna sets out the rest of the crostata, filled with strawberry jam, that she made a few days earlier, and a bowl of fresh fruit — green figs, stringy and sweet, small, ripe pears the size of a baby’s fist, and huge, fuzzy peaches. She teaches me how to cut off the top of a fig and peel back the skin, and starts peeling all the other fruits…the peaches, the plums, the pears all become skinless in seconds in her unwavering hands. On the stovetop, brilliant red tomatoes is already roasting with garlic and basil for the lunch she will set on the table at one.
Nonna refuses help with everything but setting the table, you have to fight her to be able to clear it. Her movements in the kitchen, if slow, are deliberate. As she speaks no English, she and I get along mostly with gestures, or her granddaughters translating, though the early morning provides the time to practice the few thoughts I can string together in Italian, pertaining to how long I expect to be gone running that morning. In the afternoons she stays at home when we walk the two minutes to the beach. Long lines of pre-paid umbrellas line the white sand, and the turquoise water is filled with jumping children and guys playing water volleyball, who stop and stare. The girls laugh because they know what the guys are saying, and it usually goes something like “look, she has blond hair!”
We come home, sticky and sandy, skin crusted with salt, in the early afternoon. Lunch is a long, drawn out affair: grilled strips of eggplant folded over melted fresh mozzarella and topped with slow roasted cherry tomatoes from the garden, spaghetti with calamari and tomato sauce. The cheese as a rule, is set out on clean plates only after the rest of the table has been cleared, and then comes huge (and mandatory) slices of watermelon, which are the size of a massive, egg-shaped pumpkin. When, at long last, the table is empty, we are sent back to the beach before dinner.