After my mother died, I decided to take my father on a trip to Ireland, a place he’d always wanted to visit. We found his own mother’s birthplace, drove 1,000 miles in 10 days, had some good times, got on each other’s nerves. Then, after laughing for days about how green the whole place was, we suddenly found this moonscape smack dab in the middle of the country. Rocks, ledges and only the occasional bush for miles and miles. No houses, no people, just stone. And some 90 megalithic tombs, a Celtic high cross and a number of ring forts, all of them stark and awesome (original meaning.) The “holy” nature of this barren landscape did not, however, dampen my enthusiasm to engage in yet one more jumping picture.
August 14, 2018
Sissy Spacek in a cinema moment from some lost film about Appalachia? No. It’s my Grandma Leonard, two of her sons and a neighbor in a suburban New Jersey backyard shortly after the Leonard Family move from Brooklyn. I was touched and surprised when I came across this photo in a pile of others recently. My father, front and center, is so young and mischievous looking. And he so much resembles my brother Brien when he was a kid. My uncle Joe, on the right, is unmistakable. But it’s my grandmother, whom I never saw out of doors much less as a young woman, that touches me the deepest. Look at how happy, how proud she looks. Look at how her left hand graces her son Joe’s shoulder. (No touching, please, we’re Leonards!) So unlike the older, um, shall we say “introspective” woman I knew, someone I never saw smiling. I’m so glad I found this photo and shared it with my Cousin Bobby, Uncle Joe’s son, who had his own thoughtful response to it.
August 13, 2018
In this neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, the ceramic artist José Fuster has not only covered every available surface of his home with mosaic tile, but he’s persuaded his neighbors for blocks around to do the same. Consequently, entering these few square blocks is like being on some loco, psychedelic moonscape. (This shot was taken directly across the street from the mad Casa Fuster.) I must admit that my initial interest in visiting Jaimanitas was sparked by learning that Fidel lives there, too. Could we maybe take a peek at Casa Castro? No chance. Not only is his heavily guarded compound surrounded by a pine forest and electrified barbed-wire fences, but all of the streets nearby are one-way away from his home. (No word on whether his fortress’ walls are enhanced with mosaic tile.)
August 12, 2018
“That time of year thou may’st in me behold...” Well, Shakespeare was talking about getting older, a subject forbidden chez moi. But I’m speaking about late August, that time of year for ratatouille. Tomatoes are ripe, peppers full, eggplant heavy on the vine, ditto the zucchini (green and golden varieties.) OK, I bought the onions. But the basil is mine, so there. Every year at this time, I go through many, many cookbooks, searching for clues on how to make this year’s batch. Many authors (including Elizabeth David) include eggplant, peppers and onions, and then the recipes vary. Thyme instead of basil, some advise. Leave out the garlic...never! I decided to roast the eggplant, yellow peppers and squashes. Then mixed them in with the onions and mucho garlic stewed in extra-virgin olive oil. Salted, simmered, then the chiffonade (love saying that) of basil and some oregano. I let it cool down, then refrigerated it. Served hot, room temp, cold, all good. Better the next day, even better the day after that. Another reason to look forward to cooking (and eating) as August gives way to September.
August 11, 2018
Abundance. Tomatoes and more tomatoes. An embarrassment of riches. By the time Labor Day comes around, it sometimes seems as if I’d prefer never to see another tomato. Especially cherry tomatoes. This past year, I put them in several batches of ratatouille, salads galore, a few vegetable curries. I made gazpacho and salmorejo. And an eggplant and tomato gratin. Yes, I know that some people peel, seed and core their bumper crop and freeze them in Zip-loc bags. But for me, it’s the freshness, the ephemeral goodness that is the appeal. In January, as I pass by the pale waxy imposters in the grocery store, I’ll be wishing I had these bowls full again. Instead, I’ll just look at this picture and count the months until summer yields again. (Alas, 2012’s weather and late summer blight have resulted in four cherry tomatoes, total. Thank goodness for friends.)
August 10, 2018
Some come to Assisi in pilgrimage to honor San Francesco. Some to visit the tomb of Santa Chiara (St. Clare, the patron saint, as it happens, of television.) Some for the frescoes of Giotto, Duccio and Simone Martini. Nick, Miriam and I came to check out the bakeries and pastry shops as research for his Great Italian Desserts book. An interesting selection of old and new in this shop that remains happily in memory: pine-nut cookies, panforte, shortbreads, almond cookies, meringues, cream-filled puff-pastry delights. I remember the young man whose shop this was as being extremely nice and hospitable, and somewhat amazed that Americans would be as interested in his business and craft as we were. As a courtesy, of course, we purchased a great number of items and were professionally bound to eat every last one.
August 9, 2018
Two of my greatest pals, alas, both gone now. This was during a break in our taping of Vincent Price’s introductions to the PBS series, Mystery! He and Dali decided to camp it up (for a change!) and posed for this very soigné photo in the Mystery!/Masterpiece Theatre office. Back when you could still smoke there. Not that any rule would have stopped either of them. Dali is wearing her BBC jacket with her Union Jack pin, always an Anglophile. Once, when she wanted to visit a British boyfriend in London and had no vacation time left, she enlisted her friends to “cover” for her whenever her boss would ask where she was. “Oh, you just missed her.” “Oh, she said she was going across the street to the edit room.” “She was here working past midnight last night and said she’d probably be a bit late coming in today.” And so on. It worked. She was gone for an entire week and had a great time! Naughty. But nice. And you can tell Vincent thinks so, too.