March 20, 2018

Banner Hill, Gloucester, MA. March, 2011

The first sign of spring? For some it’s the lengthening amount of daylight. Or the spikes of the daffodils poking up from the sections of garden that get the most sun. Or the appearance of relatively local asparagus in the market. But for us, it’s the return of the ducks to the ponds in our front yard. We have a vernal pond that fills with winter’s snow and rain and is still, this brutal winter (2011), frozen and inhospitable. But a low-lying section of our lawn collects melting snow and other precipitation and provides what we call the “wrong pond” for the returning flocks. This year we’ve seen more than ever before. A good sign. Can this mean winter is really, unbelievably on its way out? Jay, Scottish and economical, wonders if there is any way we can catch and eat the ducks. A bad sign.

March 19, 2018

Stoneham, MA. March 19, 2011

Every year when St. Joseph’s Day comes around, I start jonesin’ for my friend Paul’s mother’s home cooking. The Sicilian spitfire sets a mean holiday table, complete with fritattas, sausages, antipasto, zeppole di San Giuseppe and, yes!, Pasta con Muddica. This traditional pasta with garlic (raw), a little sugar, optional anchovies, parsley and breadcrumbs (meant to symbolize the sawdust of the carpenter saint) is a much welcome once-a-year starch picnic. And no one serves it up with as much enthusiasm or generosity as Mrs. A. (Just as appetizing are her childhood stories about past family celebrations at which she would dress as the Blessed Virgin and participate in living-room pageants. Though last year we got diverted into more modern "spiritual" tales of a ghost who currently inhabits her home.) Grazie mille, Mrs. A, for including me at your family table for the third year in a row. I feel blessed.

March 18, 2018

Miel, Boston Restaurant Week. March, 2011

Twice each year, restaurants in major US cities like Boston offer up bargain-price meals to entice new diners to try their fare. Two- and three-course lunches and dinners for $15.11 to $33.11. I’d often read the list of participating restos and their menus but never actually participated. Until now. A three-course dinner at otherwise pricey Miel, a “Brasserie Provençal” within Boston’s Intercontinental Hotel. From the menu (complete with its quirky repetition, spelling and punctuation): Pistou Soup with Traditional Provençal Vegetables and Basil Soup; Pan Seared Salmon with Crisp Camargue Rice Cake and Lobster Nage with Tarragon; Pear Tarte tatin with salted caramel ice cream (pictured). The food was fine (though some menu choices had -- surprise! -- “For an Additional $8” surcharges), the room a little fancified, the hostess ill-suited for a hospitality position, the server un peu insincere (because we were discounted diners?) The Algerian bus boy, the most genuine person we encountered, should be promoted. Fortunately the enjoyable company made up for any shortfalls. Was it worth $33.11 plus tax and tip? Yes. Would we go back? Probably not. I’ve since heard that during Restaurant Week, you get what you pay for. Sounds about right.

March 17, 2018

Near Caherconnell, Ireland. May, 1992

Can you tell this is Ireland? A crumbling castle indicating glory long past. All that green with artfully pinpointed floral moments? And an Irish citizen jumping there right in the middle. Actually I used my Irish passport when I took my father on this trip through the Old Country, helping him to adjust after my mother had died. It was not easy. My father has his ways. As do I. But we drove a thousand miles in those 10 days, stopping wherever we wanted. On our way to The Burren (the Irish national park, not the Somerville, MA, pub), this castle beckoned. We stopped, jumped, moved on.

March 16, 2018

Lisbon. October, 2009

Pears. That most satisfying and elusive of fruits. In America, it seems, you tend to get them rock hard or disappointingly mealy. Period. So each time we travel to Europe, where produce is respected for its ripeness and its flavor, Jay and I make sure to search them out. Above, some beauties at the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon. I still remember my first European pear, purchased as I was stocking up in Agrigento on the day before an Italian national strike. Memorable also were the pears from the market in Santiago de Compostela. And, most recently, in a salad at Da Gildo in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood: thinly sliced pear, topped with a small handful of arugula, crowned with generous shavings of Parmesan, all laced with some mighty fine olive oil. Basta. When I complimented the owner, she smiled understandingly and said, “Molto semplice.” On Thanksgiving weekend 2011, I was telling my wonderful neighbor Susan about this salad and she soon brought me four of the most delicious pears I’ve ever had. (She’d received a Harry & David dozen as a gift.) She generously suggested, “Now you can make that salad at home.” Thank you, Susan, we did.

March 15, 2018

Ischia, Italy. October, 2011

I took an early morning tender to the port from our boat docked offshore (seen center) so I could have a solo run along the beach road, into the island’s center. I was not disappointed. Closed-up seaside resorts, lovely public parks, off-season hotels, restaurants abandoned until late spring, perfectly deserted streets just waiting for the inquisitive runner. I met some Italian ladies from Taranto, also on vacation, just sitting on a bench, warming in the sun. And by the time I headed back to the boat to shower and then return to town with Jay, I already felt at home on the volcanic island. (Maybe because Ischia has been, since 1984, a twin city to Cambridge, MA, though at present the relationship, like the volcano, is inactive.) I opted not to visit the Museum of Torture, but wish I could have seen the many thermal baths that dot the island. Or the one-time homes of Ibsen, Auden and Capote. Even the film locations for Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. Next time.

March 14, 2018

Lactuca, Barcelona. November, 2010

Sometimes you just want a salad. Especially after you’ve been enjoying a series of savory regional specialties on a food-rich vacation. When I was 20 years old and returning home after a full summer in London, all I wanted was fresh vegetables. And our recent trip to Barcelona prompted a similar reaction: seafood and ham tapas were all great. But when we happily and accidentally stumbled upon this salad bar in the Eixample neighborhood, we were overjoyed. All you can eat (buffet libre) from a wonderful array of greens, beans and all the accompaniments you’d expect. There’s also a selection of two or three hot entrees (pizza, pasta, paella). And a dessert bar with cake and self-serve ice cream. All for 8.95 euros at weekday lunch time (10.95 Euros at noches, fines de semana y festivos.) Drinks (except water, tea, coffee) extra. Lactuca (Catalan for lettuce) is a limited chain with a few outlets in Barcelona, developed to appeal to the growing number of resident and visiting vegetarians. It’s a good place to know about, because sometimes you just want a salad.