Mucver. Disappointingly translated as “zucchini pancakes” on most English-language menus, no wonder people sometimes tend to steer away from ordering them. They don’t know what they’re missing. Yes, there’s shredded or chopped zucchini in them, but also usually walnuts, some feta-like cheese, Turkish spices, flour, all fried up and served with a garlicky yogurt sauce. I’ve had them many times in Turkey (where they are served room temperature, lukewarm or hot) and on even more occasions here in the USA. The best restaurant version I’ve found is at Saray in Brighton, MA, where three CD-sized flat patties come completely covered with a wonderful yogurty sauce. The best homemade mucver I’ve ever had, hands down, were prepared by my friend Lisa and generously shared with me. Recipes abound on the internet. Here’s a fine one. (The mucver shown above are from a misguided Cambridge, MA, “Turkish fusion” restaurant that has, not surprisingly, since gone out of business.)
July 21, 2018
Meet my good friend Paul. One day at work, we all started to trade stories about how we learned (spoiler alert!) that there was no Santa Claus. Paul won. He said that his parents always had a party on Christmas Eve. He was little and had to go to bed. But he was so excited about Santa Claus arriving that night that he kept calling for his mother to come to his bedside. “I hear the reindeer on the roof. I think Santa Claus is here.” As his mother’s patience grew thinner because she wanted to return to her guests, Paul’s excitement escalated. So much so that he threw up. That was it for Mom. She looked him straight in the eye and announced, “There is no goddam Santa Claus! I’M SANTA CLAUS!” I love his mother, love that she invites me to her excellent St. Joseph’s Day dinner each year. And each year, without fail, we laugh about how she disabused her young son of his cherished Christmas belief.
July 20, 2018
Meet Faruk, the custodian and general Mr. Nice Guy of the Galata Residence Apartments in Istanbul. When Nick and I stayed here in 2007, we’d see Faruk every day -- tidying up the accommodations, replacing light bulbs, keeping an eye out for Nick’s wayward luggage that somehow went its own way between New York and Istanbul. (It showed up a day late.) Faruk helped me practice my (minimal) Turkish, too, and told me I was no longer a tourist, I was a native. Well, maybe. When Jay and I arrived back at the Galata Residence in 2011 (after our booked car service failed to materialize at the airport and we wound up depending upon the kindness of strangers), our driver pulled up, Faruk appeared, saw me...and a series of smiles, welcomes and hugs ensued. How nice to be remembered. And how nice that when we left, Faruk easily carried ALL our luggage down a perilous long flight of outside steps from the hotel to the waterside where our ship was waiting. A wonderful, kind, genuine man.
July 19, 2018
Biscotti X. (Pronounced “beece-KO-tea EEEKS.”) When I traveled back to Italy to help Nick with research for his Great Italian Desserts book, I had already been to that beautiful country four times. This time, however, a new perspective: seeing Italy from the kitchens of its bakeries, restaurants and pastry shops. We were warmly welcomed by chefs and pastry masters throughout the country, watching and photographing as they showed how they created their signature products. These X-cookies, made in the Sicilian tradition (almond paste “dough” wrapped around a citron jam, rolled out into a long “snake,” cut into two-inch lengths, then severed one-third of the way on each end, the ends then spread to form the X) were a simple standout, shown to us by Giulio Nostro of the Pasticceria Margherita, one of the nicest men in the world. Marks the spot and hits the spot, this cookie.
July 18, 2018
Look at those beautiful limes, those abundant oranges. Here in Havana’s central market, there were a limited number of items (no potatoes, for example, a rationed staple) but plenty of the items that were there. Tomatoes, bananas, plantains, various melons, pineapples, coconuts, yams, onions, cabbages...not surprisingly the very ingredients that we’d see in our meals throughout the country. The market is not the only place people were offering produce though. Once we left the city, we’d see people selling from the side of the road, from the backs of their cars or wagons. And some people buy at the central market here, then re-sell in other parts of Havana. As I was walking through a non-touristed, residential neighborhood (where I was later warned it was dangerous for a solo gringo to be...oh, well), I met a man who was hawking a few items from a pushcart, among them, beets. I asked him what the name of this vegetable was in Spanish. Remolachas, he said. Then I told him, “En inglés, se llaman BEETS.” He started to laugh and asked, “Beets?” Then he thought for a moment...and continued to laugh.
July 17, 2018
Some colors that seem so natural in warm-weather places just don’t fly in, say, New England. No matter how hard we try to make them fit in. Look at this magnificent tangerine stairwell with lemon trim here in a fancy Havana restaurant. Bright, vivid, citrus-flavored colors work so easily here. Just as they do in Tucson, in parts of Italy. As I type this, I’m in a small room of my house in Massachusetts that’s painted in Ralph Lauren’s “Driver’s Cap.” Kind of this burnt tangerine with some terra cotta, some grey to bring it down a few notches. The outside of my house, stucco, is painted in “Goldenrod” because I wanted to remember the Roman ochre walls in autumn sunlight. Especially when I was climbing my hill after a long walk home from work in winter. But I have to admit, I’m compensating. I’m forcing things. Foreign-speaking colors like this really need year-round warmth, light clothing and the ease that comes from both.
July 16, 2018
If you’ve got a good thing, go with it. Then go further. Witness the variety of offerings here, all fashioned of marzipan. Because Sicily abounds in almond trees -- and in craftsmen -- there seems no end to the shapes, sizes and colors used to mold these local treats. I wish I liked marzipan. I don’t. But etiquette required at least a polite sampling of the wares by each of the pastry chefs Nick and I visited on our research trip for his Great Italian Desserts book. After a week or so of Sicilian explorations, my heart would begin to sink as each new maestro would ask us where we had been previously. When we’d tell him, he’d proudly announce, “They know nothing there. Here we have a wonderful specialty...” and then he’d produce a big tray of -- you guessed it. Though I have to admit, those peas in the pod are mighty cute. (Wait. Are these papier maché? We saw a lot of those throughout Sicily, too.)