August 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment
If there ever was a title I thought would never appear on my blog, it might be this one. Being a California girl at heart and currently relocated to the East Coast, I don’t spend much time, really at all, traveling the Midwest. After a brutal experience in Cincinnati where I traveled for youth nationals my senior year of high school, which was a week of trying to make weight (I was a lightweight rower) amid the plethora of fast food chains littering the high-way, miles of restaurants of either side of me offering little in the way of appetizing food even when I was starving, I was ready to write off the entirety of Ohio. Enter my boyfriend who grew up in Cleveland, and a wedding that meant flying back, and I’m thinking a little differently about Ohio, though we didn’t have enough time for me to really experience the city’s culinary scene.
The first night was a charming backyard dinner, complete with charred pizza straight from the handmade, backyard brick oven, topped with homemade tomato sauce using tomatoes from the farm, and summer vegetables – eggplants, summer squash, artichokes. The meal was completed with Popeyes chicken and biscuits, by request of the Southern bride, and an armadillo cake for dessert, which we learned was something of a crazy tradition – a red velvet cake shaped like an armadillo, placed in a forest of icing and menorahs, a reference to the Jewish wedding which would take place the next day.
The next morning, we went out to the Washington Place Bistro and Inn for brunch, just the two of us. The monkey bread, slightly chewy with a crispy exterior that kept its crunch when drenched in caramel sauce, came on the house, and Dan enjoyed making monkey faces while I photographed it. Then, we ordered pierogi with stewed oxtail (which I ate not even realizing that oxtail is actually beef!) and two entrees, a salmon BLT on ciabatta served with fries embellished with cut herbs and malt vinegar aioli, and a pot roast hash with poached egg and toasted challah. We left stuffed, but I regret failing to finish the last five fries! Possibly the richest brunch I’ve ever had; I don’t remember a time we’ve have eaten out together and failed on the last couple of bites!
July 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
We had a couple of one-night stays when traveling from place to place in Morocco, despite our desire to pick a few places and explore them well instead of trying to maximize the number of cities and towns we hit. The day of our initial arrival in Morocco, we spent a night in Casablanca, which significant prior reading advised skipping altogether as the city itself is “nothing special” to the Western traveler.
I was actually quite glad we stayed. While the city was certainly larger and busier than the ones to follow, we learned quickly that the best way to cross a large boulevard is to dart out in front of moving vehicles. In the morning we walked from our hotel to the Hassan II Mosque, attempting to hug the waterfront along the way, a path that was thwarted by the police officer who stopped us, concerned that we might not want to be walking into the industrial fishing port. Once on our way again, the mosque was easy to discern amongst the other buildings in the area. The intricate, detailed tiling and high arches were enough to keep us entertained for quite awhile, even without the hour-and-a-half tour of the inside. What struck me most about Casablanca was the old medina, which again we had read was barely worth a visit. The medina in Casablanca is very much still in use, a huddle of alleyways packed with people selling produce – bundles of herbs and fresh watermelons – fried breads and other bites to eat. We wandered through virtually unnoticed as everyone went about their everyday lives. Keeping a eye on the paths we took, we eventually spilled out through a gate at the other side of the medina, almost exactly where we were aiming. Again, busier, dirtier, (I think my walk down one alley must have looked much like I was playing hopscotch) but I walked away from Morocco a week later feeling that if there was one place I would have liked to linger and chat about “daily life,” it would have been here.
One day stop number two! We arrived in Fes after a 5-hour bus ride from Chef chaouen, expecting a 7 hour train to Marrakech the next afternoon. It was the first place we encountered the young boys aggressively offering directions, and I owe part of our negative experience here to my getting easily upset over being followed and harassed by 13-year-olds. Still some good things did come out of our 16 hours in Fes, mostly on the food front. We had our best (and most expensive) tagine in a restaurant recommended by our riad – a selection of small-bowled Moroccan salads with bread, a chicken tagine with lemon and a kefta (lamb) with spicy tomato stew and egg, followed by thin sheets of deep fried pastry layered with condensed milk cream and a huge plate of sugar cookies and coconut balls that I just had to pack up for later. Below you can see the extensive breakfast spread put out for us at the riad the next morning with mint tea and coffee. In addition to the standard bread circles and the cut loaf of sweet anise bread, we were offered a plate of warm mille trous, a soft, spongy pancake that literally translates to “a thousand holes.”
June 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Ever since seeing photos of Chef chaouen, a small Moroccan town in the Rif mountains outside of Tangier, I’ve had my heart set on going. Until the logistics of getting there looked complicated and I began to think maybe it was too much hassle, maybe this is one of those moments in life where it’s better to be flexible, do what makes sense instead of what you’re longing for, accept that the world will not end if you don’t get your way today. So as I started backing down, saying we could skip Chef chaouen in favor of the coastal Essaouira, which is much, much closer to Marrakech, Dan staunchly insisted there was no way we were skipping the once place I really wanted to go.
And so, that’s how we found ourselves dumped in a parking lot at the bottom of a hill, after a 7-hour bus ride from Casablanca, confident that we knew how to find our hotel from there, but really, not even beginning to understand the road that lead up to the medina. We walked that road up, and then back down, several times before finally finding the way (with a little help).
Once entering the medina, we were hit with an onslaught of blue, at once expected but in such a vibrant, calming hue that the entire town seemed lost in a permanent shade of cheer. Blue staircases melted into the walls of buildings, doors open jumping out in a different hue of blue. Once we stumbled upon a pot of dried paint, the same color as the rest of the medina – just add water and repaint the nearby staircase! I was in awe every time I emerged from the hotel.
The hotel, Casa Perleta, was probably the favorite of the trip. Chef chaouen had quite a large Spanish denomination, a vestige of its part in Spanish Morocco, and my French was virtually useless here. The Casa was run by a very helpful Spanish family and was, itself, lost in the blue hue. On the rooftop terrace overlooking the rest of the medina and the surrounding hills, we enjoyed bread with goat cheese, dates, olives, and a sugary-liquid orange marmalade, alongside coffee, Moroccan mint tea, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Breakfast began with a ring of fried bread each, I still wish I knew what they were called!
June 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The call to prayer begins at 4:30 a.m., a sudden awakening from exhausted sleep by a vaguely monotone voice over the loudspeaker, originating from the mosque rising above the roofs of the old medina, just a couple of buildings over. It lasts about ten minutes, in which we lay, in the darkness of our room, in silence, waiting it out before sinking back into sleep. Outside, shopkeepers might already be making their way to their daily posts, a small cafe selling miniature honeyed almond confections, or maybe a fresh-squeezed orange juice stand in the market square, Djemaa El Fna. By 8 a.m., we’re slinking out of our room at the top floor of the Riad Marrakiss, down two staircases to a pot of coffee and some bread with jam.
The breakfast might not have been as plentiful as those at our previous Riad’s (a small hotel in the old medina, ranging from a family home to a boutique hotel) but we made up for it with a lunch of those pretty almond confections, and one peanut-dense square of honeyed pastry. Our days in Morocco tended to follow my wandering pastry-nose and Dan’s unspoken quests for coffee, happily skipping over palace tours in favor of our stomachs.
More often than not, we were stopped by a dead-end alleyway, a young boy persistently offering directions (in exchange for money, of course, though this was less aggressively prevalent than in Fes), or the seemingly random operating hours of some of the more sought-after attractions. Occasionally, we fell into tourist traps; occasionally, into alleys dead-ending in the laborers’ district, where the air filled with the smell of polish and men bent over metal works.
Happily, our initial cab driver to the gates of the medina upon arrival in Marrakech was one of the more talkative, advising a trip to the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden in the Nouvelle Ville (otherwise known as the French district), partly a memorial dedicated to the designer Yves Saint-Laurent. Once entering the garden gates, the pressing noise of the city faded, the harking, bargaining of the vendors and the wizz of motorbikes replaced by plentiful displays of cacti, lily ponds, and bamboo forests. While many of the plants weren’t native to the region, many even brought over from South America, the calm and beauty of the garden was a welcome respite.
That evening found us amidst a cluster of locals in one of the narrow streets leading away from El Fna, stumbling over a sandwich order in front of a plastic case filled with ground meat and unidentifiable animals brains. After a highly confused conversation, in which we attempted to order something we had yet to identify, we had in our hands a circle of bread, much like the ones we were served for breakfast, stuffed with spiced ground meat, a fried egg, onion, and sauce piquante. Not bad for a second dinner.
In the evenings, I often went without a camera, feeling liberated without a need to be constantly checking that yes, my purse was still there. So there are no pictures of that dinner, or of the large huddle of women scooping soup into bowls at a low, dark table, street-side, or of the masses of young men beckoning you to their respective restaurant table in the square, an onslaught of aggressive noise, deals that never seemed to be followed up on, and some humorous expressions (“See you later, alligator”) delivered in Australian accents.
I will always be surprised at how quickly one can go from noise to silence in Marrakech. As we slipped back into our Riad in the evening, the city seemed to stop at the door and, in the calm, we overlooked the hundreds of roofs surrounding us in the hazy evening light from the rooftop terrace.
March 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Today I took a “me” day. I slept in, didn’t set an alarm for once. I bought a pair of red jeans off the sale rack, which I spectacularly managed to squeeze into seeing as they were two sizes smaller than I generally buy. I also bought a lovable tribal print sweater — it pays to be “hipster” in Princeton because no one else is, so everything that would be flying off racks in San Francisco is $20 off here. I had a cranberry orange scone (my favorite) and latte at Small World Coffee and people-watched instead of hiding behind my laptop, writing my thesis. I walked down to the Whole Earth Center and stocked up on local Fuji apples, kale salad with almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds, and organic peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I wore sweatpants and no makeup, and realized people don’t really look at you any differently. Simply walking around a bit was uplifting — after the snowfall two nights ago, spring appears to have finally arrived; the sun was out, the snow melting, and I could have done without the jacket.
When I got home, I started looking up the top organic and biochemistry grad schools (not for me obviously!) and started mapping out a summer road trip down the West Coast. I tried to tack on the Grand Canyon to the end of the trip (figuring I should give it another shot after my adolescent disinterest consisting of about a five minute look into the canyon before I’d had enough) which added an extra eight hours of driving. For some reason, I find thinking about travel incredibly calming; it’s like a realization that walls were made for falling down. Even more, thinking about driving along the ocean brings me to my happy place, where things are hippie, spontaneous, wandering, and bohemian without effort, because you know, even being boho these days seems to require quite a bit of planning. The images here are ones I took in Big Sur, California on a family trip. I can’t wait to go back. These brown butter rhubarb bars are from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and are chewy like a macaroon without the coconut, crackly on the top with a brownie without the chocolate, and stuffed with stringy, sweetened rhubarb, which is finally back in season. Never having been a huge rhubarb fan myself, I always did enjoy eating the raw stalks, dipped luxuriously in white sugar, from my grandparents’ backyard. I handwrote the recipe for these bars on little cards for a couple of people, but alas the actual book is in my room in San Francisco so no recipe today.
That all said, there are parts of the very concrete future to be very excited about. I’ll be calling Boston home next year, and am incredibly delighted to share my new adventures surrounding food justice in the coming months.
January 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I was going to talk about whole-wheat everything bagels, and croissants the size of my head from the local bakery, and glasses of red wine every night, but somewhere along the way I got lost in all of the snow and didn’t want to come back out. There’s just so much of it, and it’s everywhere, clouding all my pictures in a foggy white haze, and I sort of want to jump in a huge pile of it, like the kid we passed one night on the street who dove into a snow bank, first time he had ever seen snow.
On Christmas Day, my family took off for a week in the Rockies, to the sleepy little town of Fernie, British Columbia. The food wasn’t much to write home about —though I quite enjoyed those everything bagels — but the snow, oh the snow. The tops of the peaks were so white you could barely see the bumps and riffs underneath you, leaving you to put all your trust in the skis and your legs. Perfect six-point flakes came down almost daily, catching on my scarf and gloves while I rode the chairlift up, minuscule icy beauties. But the real treat was the last day, when we put away our skis in favor of snowshoeing and took off alongside the cross-country trails. We stumbled upon icy ponds; fallen, burnt out trees; layers on layers of snow mounds, which seemed to mimic ocean waves; narrow, winding creeks, which skiers had attempted to cross. We had to stop every five feet or so to take a picture, for my brother to carve another happy face in the snow, or hit a snow-covered branch with his makeshift walking stick, only to have fluffy snow descend on the person unfortunate enough to be walking directly behind him.
On the cross-country trails, locals were out getting an afternoon exercise, most being chased by a dog or two. Some people stopped to chat, but the real beauty was in the silence of the woods. No thrills, no adrenaline rush, just cold fingers and untouched snow.
December 28, 2012 § Leave a Comment
There’s something about San Francisco and name recognition that when you put the name of a certain café or restaurant before an item of food, you instantaneously know it’s good. Tartine is one of those places, always with a line tailing out the door, always full of the smells of fresh baked croissants and scones, and bread, if you’re very, very lucky. So when an old friend suggested we make Tartine’s lemon bars together, I was definitely on board. We used the pine nuts suggested for the crust. We surprised the man down the street from whom we bought the pine nuts with a plate of still-warm bars. We mixed it up with his family’ breakfast of apple pancakes, a whole hidden apple slice enrobed in soft, fluffy batter; a run out for a pour-over Blue Bottle coffee; a break for Vietnamese sandwiches. It was good to catch up and remember times past. He even reminded me of a pear and almond cake which I made for our prom dinner — I had completely forgotten, but he still had the recipe, and remembered being impressed by the spring-form pan. I only remember the pan of black-and-white cheesecake brownies we devoured in the limo on the way to the after-party.
As I was sitting on the bed the other night, having another freak-out about my post-graduation future, my mother reminded me that sometimes I need to try harder to live in the present. So I’ve compiled another list of little things that make me happy, something I’ve found helpful when the big picture starts to seem overwhelming.
Watching the World Junior Hockey Championships, filling the void created by the NHL lockout.
Lemon sugar cookies, the same ones we’ve made every holiday season since I can remember, devoured this year before I could even photograph them. The stained pages of the Christmas Cookie Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks properly my own, now lacking a binding.
Taking pictures of snow on Boxing Day, with absolutely no one on the road and only a scattering of people on the sidewalks.
Everything bagels from the local bagel and coffee shop, actually covered in seeds instead of just lightly dusted.
The burn in my legs, the powder, the trees turned to icicles, and the pure whiteness that is the peaks of the Fernie Ski Resort in the fog.
Sending out my mother’s hand-printed holiday cards to friends far, far away.
Opening wrapped presents, that I um picked out and tried on a month ago. Gray cashmere sweaters and striped silk wraps from Thailand.
Being in the middle of nowhere, until I’m sick of being in the middle of nowhere. By the way, Hi! I’m in Fernie, British Columbia!
August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
I continue to be awed by the incredible hospitality I received in the second half of my trip in France. Sitting on the long flight to Boston, after a whirlwind of a week in Auvergne, I’m coming back to the U.S. with a renewed faith in people, people who go out of their way, above and beyond anything I would ever have dreamed of asking for, to help. It’s one thing to sit down at a table, have an espresso, and talk to a stranger about what makes the food in their region special. It’s quite another to have said stranger invite you to stay for the week, show you the ins and outs of market shopping, butchering, the regional specialties — brioches aux pralines, brioche de tome (a sweet bread, in which some of the butter is replaced with country cheese, a medieval kitchen development when butter was scarce), gooey, caramelized potatoes and cheese, with crispy edges —, and volunteer to drive you everywhere.
Let me start by saying it was exhausting. My days started with a run at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast, taken together — large bowls of black tea, recently brought back from China, leftover fruit tarts and brioches from dessert the night before, jams from the region in interesting flavors such as thyme and foin (the dried plants that well-fed cows eat during the winter), a yogurt with a swirl of honey, and fresh apricots and oranges, bought from a local farmer who still owns land in Portugal. Then the driving and interviews commenced. Market visits. Creamery visits. Trips into the volcano parks to talk cheese and cows. My stack of relevant documents grew a mile higher. I have two-hour long interview clips that will need to be transcribed, translated, cut-down. I have tired legs and a full stomach, from lunches and dinners, plates full of tomatoes, basil from the terrace garden, thinly-cut hams, crusty bread, small piles of yellow lentils and wine that seems in endless supply. Two months into my research, on my last day of interviewing, this girl who always preferred desserts above all else, finally discovered the wonders of a perfect cheese plate.
My days ended around 11 or 12 p.m. with the final class of wine and slice of tart — either apricot with sweetened ricotta or small yellow plums, cooked down until their skins are blackened. Rustic, country tarts with little flare but the bold taste of fruit bought that day at the market. I curled up in bed every night, dead to the world, wanting to stay asleep forever. But the help I received in Auvergne, arriving just when I was thinking that this week, like my time in Maroilles, would be a complete bust, was more than I ever could have imagined. And the discovery that, in the modern world where we seem to be taught to be wary and suspicious of anyone appearing overly nice or helpful, hospitality and generosity still exists is perhaps the best outcome of all my research.
And it is not only true in Auvergne. Whether it’s the old Italian woman who comes downstairs to help you turn your car around in her driveway, the Greek boys who hand you free bunches of grapes and let you taste the entire line of olives (saying all the while that California is the home of the beautiful), or the numerous people who sat down, called probably half of the contacts in their phones, so that I would never be alone, without people to interview and people to just help, it’s nice to know that there are people out there eager to take care of you when you’re feeling lost.
And there’s nothing weird about that. There’s no need to run and hide when someone offers help. Sure ill-intentioned people do exist out there, but going out on a limb and just trusting is not such a terrible thing after all. And there you go, all my research findings, all summed up in a sentence. Well maybe not all of them, but the rest you’ll get in April, when I hand this thesis in!
July 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I have a little attic room in a two-star hotel in the Loire valley. I’m staying right by the train station in Tours and my little window looks out directly on the other little window across the street. The room is about big enough for the double bed, the TV (on which I am watching numerous Olympic events and discovering new sports, all through the slant of French commentators) and me sitting on the floor. The rain putters down outside and it is cool enough to store my yogurt on the windowsill. I am happy to be back in France.
The sidewalk heading out of town along the Loire quickly becomes a spacious bike bath, descending right onto the riverbed, in the trees and bushes that line the water. A gentle drizzle cools the air and a couple of heavy gray clouds hang overhead. The water is peaceful, flattened by the rain, and reflects the clouds above. On the other side of the river, an aging stone castle emerges majestically between the trees and clouds. One might say that the landscape is grim, but it has never been more welcomed. I have not felt this energetic in quite awhile. A couple of miles in, I am focused, determined to push harder, rather than eager for the run to be over and to collapse under a fan for the rest of my lifetime.
After the madness that was walking around in Athens, the sleepiness of Tours is a calm respite, though I am ever frustrated because I always seem to be hungry at times when restaurants are generally closed. So I wander the narrow streets, looking at one menu or another, aimless due to the reality that I cannot actually dine at any of these places, and finally score two small loaves of bread at a nearby bakery — one green olive, one peppered with dark chocolate, so much so that you might call it a loaf of dark chocolate with bread. And maybe, one loaf was finished on the rainy walk back to the hotel.