This photo was taken on the night before the photo shoot for the cover of Nick’s Great Italian Desserts. The shoot was in Boston, so Nick came up a day early, brought some of his desserts with him, made some additional ones in my Cambridge kitchen. How could we not take advantage of this photo op? Nick and I have known each other 50 years this fall. Today is his birthday. (It is also the birthday of Truman Capote, Johnny Mathis, Deborah Kerr and Angie Dickinson, all of whom he has resembled at one time or another.) He is older than I am. And always will be. Tee-hee. Happy birthday.
September 29, 2012
A note arrived in the mail. Handwritten. From a Watertown address. At first I thought, oh, no...it’s one of those “neighbor” letters asking for a donation to a cause. But I was wrong. “Dear Sandy,” it began. “You were my high school English teacher @ Summit High in the late ‘70s. I was delighted to stumble across your blog today.” Ann! One of my favorites when I was a teacher (all teachers have them, no matter what they say.) Turns out she’s lived in my town for some 30 years. “I’d love to buy you lunch @ Red Lentil if you’re around.” I was. And she did. What a pleasure connecting again...as if no time at all had passed. Amazing how many of our adult interests are so aligned. Even more amazing, however -- How could she possibly be the age she told me when I’m not even that age?
September 28, 2012
It’s sometimes good to remember that not all tourists are from outside the country. Take this souvenir shop in Amalfi, for example. I love the various personalized items that are on offer here. And how the names are SO Italian. (It reminds me of a similar store closer to home in Boston, filled with keyrings and license plates emblazoned with American names, the T section photographed by my Thai American friend Tong who humorously pointed out “Tong would be here.”) I remember a shop in Los Angeles that had the widest assortment of names I’d ever seen, some leaning toward Latino, some toward African American, some just plain gringo. Meanwhile, it’s nice to be reminded that Tiziano is a living current name in Italy (my friend Antonio’s son claims it) and not just the nome of the 16th-century Venetian painter. It’s also nice to see that “Sandro would be here.”
September 27, 2012
I always wind up at the library. No matter where I go. In Las Vegas, others swarmed The Strip and its casinos. I went to the library (to send email via their computers) and met some amiable homeless people who use the men’s room as their personal bathing center. In Miami Beach, same thing. Montreal’s National Library, in addition to its other treasures, has wonderful rotating exhibits. (Two that remain happily in memory: an insect exposition that seemed to have lost some of its itinerant inhabitants; and a history of illustrations of “Little Red Riding Hood” that indicated the path to be followed from display to display by wolf footprints painted on the floor.) Rome’s libraries are raucous social centers where no one pays much attention to the “no talking” rule. Istanbul’s are solemn affairs. Here in Rhodes, however, I was stumped. I knew it was the library, and I could figure out the opening hours (sort of), but that was it.
September 26, 2012
I’ve written here before about my fascination with cemeteries. Everywhere I go -- Istanbul to Cuba, Paris to Mexico to New Orleans -- I wind up in a graveyard. Here’s one I forgot about until I recently came across this photo. In the holiest of Istanbul’s neighborhoods, this simple plot is jam-packed with memorials. And because Islamic art eschews any sort of representation of the natural (or supernatural) world (never in mosques, sometimes in tapestries or memorials), there are no realistic bas-reliefs of flowers, no angels. Instead, beautiful calligraphy, suggestive decorations (fantasies on shells, feathers) and elaborate geometric designs more than suffice.
September 25, 2012
I had been to Italy a number of times already. But this time offered a perspective completely different from any of the previous trips. My friend Nick was gearing up to do the research for his Great Italian Desserts and asked me to be his “production assistant,” so to speak. He grew up speaking Italian. I had more practical experience traveling in Italy. Done! He took notes. I took photos. And what a great way to see the country this time -- through the kitchens of its restaurants and pastry shops. We were welcomed behind the scenes by the warmest people throughout Italy, people who seemed genuinely interested in sharing their traditions and professional secrets. Seen here, Giulio Nostro of the Pasticceria Margherita shows us how he shapes a rolled-out almond-paste dough, fitting it into a mold to prepare the traditional Easter lamb cake in southern Italy.
September 24, 2012
It seems a shame to have this photo in black and white (though it does look very Beat, no?) Especially with the colorful surroundings both on the walls and on the plates here at Roberto Santibañez’ Manhattan outlet of his successful Brooklyn restaurante. This was my first time dining at Fonda’s new location and it was superb. (I’d visited the as-yet-unopened space on the February night before leaving for Cuba, but that was just to visit our friends, to wish them well on their new venture...and for Nick, seen here, to work some “new home” secret ceremony with a broom, a handful of salt, some other talismanic elements.) This August meal featured duck zarape, ensalada de sandia, grilled striped bass, two kinds of beans (red and black), rice, avocado cheesecake, mmmmm. At a nearby table was return diner Rachael Ray, who, whatever else she may be, knows a good restaurant when she finds one.
September 23, 2012
Look at what my friend Peter made. For years he’s been concentrating on making artist’s books, experimenting with photo transfers, teaching. A work of his that hangs in Jay’s house features Xeroxes of items and shapes on brown paper bags, run through a waxer, then sewn together. The overall effect is tribal, suggestive of animal skins, patterns. When he pointed to the image on one panel and said, “That’s my favorite piece of metal,” I knew he was seriously into “things.” In fact, he’s been collecting items for all of the 25-plus years I’ve known him. I attended a recent show of his that included old type trays, each small section holding its own found object -- including a badge to access Silver Beach, NJ, that I gave him years ago. And this work, wherein he alters the gallery’s windows by filling the small panes with translucent strips to have them appear stained. Onward, Peter!
September 22, 2012
Autumn is my favorite season. And one signal that this treasured time of year is approaching: the annual appearance of sweet autumn clematis, aka Clematis paniculata. Years ago, when I admired how it was blooming all around town, I asked my gardening neighbor Alice to tell me about it. She did, and added, “I’m just pulling out some volunteers from my garden. Would you like them?” Yes, please. And here they are, a few years later, robust and thriving, (surviving even the overzealous pruning efforts of neighbors in back.) I love how it lushly drifts, cascading over whatever it encounters: trellises, fences, hedges, even the chainlink fencing around a local tennis court. A tangled and embroidered blanket, taken out and aired once a year. So beautiful.
September 21, 2012
When Nick, Miriam and I drove into Florence, we decided to park our fully-packed car in a guarded lot. (The attendant, when Nick asked him to pay special attention to the car, said he would guard it with una pistola.) Then on we went to Pasticceria Robiglio, where Signore R gave us a tour of his wares (some seen here in the shop’s front window) and sent us on our way with a zuccotto (a confection of ice-cream-filled cake shaped like a pumpkin.) So when we arrived at Trattoria 4 Leoni (a place I’d remembered from an earlier visit) for lunch, the staff refrigerated our zuccotto and, after some half-hearted protesting, enjoyed it with us for dessert. No one touched the car, by the way, and we headed off to nearby Lucca to reconnect with friends and to spend the night.
September 20, 2012
This is my friend Chris, one of the nicest people I know and an extraordinary and tireless mobilizer for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender social justice and equality. So there. When he was nine years old, he started an organization to save the Amazon rainforest and collected money door-to-door in his central Massachusetts hometown, raising enough to buy and preserve an acre. Five years later, he came out to his family and friends and has been an advocate and community leader ever since. When he was 15, he started a campaign to expel military recruiters from his high school based on the school district’s non-discrimination policy. You get the picture. (This picture was taken in the middle of the lake where Chris grew up on the occasion of a recent summer get-together.) Tonight, he’s being honored by Boston’s History Project as the 2012 “emerging activist whose impact on the local GLBT communities deserves recognition.” I’ll say. (You can read more about Chris and the reasons why he richly deserves such recognition here.)
September 19, 2012
Right this way for the evening’s passagiata. In Cefalù, you’ll find it along the Via Giuseppe Mazzini and Via Umberto I. More than just a late afternoon stroll, it’s an Italian ritual with its own codes of behavior and protocol. In any Italian town, even here in Sicily, s-l-o-w-l-y walk along the main pedestrian streets anywhere between 4pm and 6pm, passing neighbors, tourists, friends and enemies. The first time you pass someone you know, a big hello. The second time, a nod of acknowledgment. The third, no action required. Then there’s the sound. If you are new to Italy, it may startle you at first hearing. What can that riotous commotion be? Just paisans out for some conversation, some socializing, maybe some window shopping. Peak decibel level: 5pm. I love the passagiata and try to experience it as often as I can whenever I’m in Italy.
September 18, 2012
When my friend Nick invited me to a dinner party in NYC last month, I didn’t have to think twice about accepting. Bolt Bus cheapo ticket. And the chance to meet up again with this lovely duo -- Lisa and Pam (aka LouLou and Coco.) Saving graces on our group tour to Cuba last February. We met them in JFK airport before heading south and knew right away that they would be our best amigas on the trip. And they were. Their apartments (down the hall from one another) in the West Village are beautiful, spare, filled with just the right art. (I mean look at that pristine kitchen, those delicately arranged refreshment plates.) It’s so nice when you meet someone, click immediately and know that you will be friends always. Even nicer when it happens twice. ¡Hola, chicas!
September 17, 2012
Cativi. Naughty boys. We were strolling by this school on what must have been a break in classes, and one of these little devils started to make dirty hand signs to us and the other pedestrians. Horns. Sort of a milder Italian version of the finger. All of this kid’s friends were giggling and highly amused...until a neighborly grandmother type stopped and yelled at them. Appropriately chastised, they withdrew from the window. And the old woman broke her seriousness, smiled a “That’s that” face at us and moved on with her groceries.
September 16, 2012
Meet my friend Marjori, seen here with her friend Marge at our Boat Parade Party earlier this month. The big pink smile is no accident. “She radiates kindness,” said my pal Patti when she met her. I agree. And wisdom. A dedicated yoga enthusiast, Marjori has an amazing way of putting even the most troubling thoughts into perspective with suggestions like, “If you don’t know how to respond in a situation, why not try kindness?” This was Marjori’s first time at our annual party, and when I asked Jay afterwards if he'd liked meeting her, he said, “I love her! She’s a real take-charge type.” High praise from our resident physicist.
September 15, 2012
A recently spotted bumper sticker on a neighbor’s truck momentarily irked some of the East Coast staff here at SLS. It showed the current papal coat of arms and the words: “TRUTH. Don’t mess with it!” Some of the items that quickly crossed our minds: humility, arrogance, who’s claiming to know the truth, who’s zoomin’ who? (The sticker has since been peeled off the truck, leading us to believe that the vehicle had been purchased used and came with said unwanted embellishment.) Meanwhile, this locally spotted van is much more in keeping with how we like to mix religion and daily life. (We knew he was a carpenter but didn’t know he’d branched out.) Don’t mess with it!
September 14, 2012
Even back in my drinking days, the thing that most impressed me about the champagne caves in the Taittinger winery, was the beautiful geometry of the quietly fermenting wine within these bottles’ alternating bottoms and corks. Robert and I had taken a train from Paris to this capital of the champagne region and joined a free tour that ended with sips and, bien sûr, sales. (This was way before the fabled wine-house was purchased by congolmerates Starwood Hotels in 2005 and Crédit Agricole in 2006, way before it had a website.) I remember we bought a bottle and brought it back to our ultra-cheap Paris hotel. No refrigerator? No problem. We just put it into a sink of cold water. Besides, we emptied the bottle pretty quickly if memory serves.
September 13, 2012
Money. It’s so interesting to me what happens to my thoughts about money when it’s no longer American money I’m dealing with. Changing to Turkish lira (YTL), as I did here at Istanbul's oldest book market, it’s almost as if I have play money, Monopoly money. When I crossed the Iron Curtain to visit Czechoslovakia in 1972, I encountered hard currency’s double standard for the first time. I was required to change so many US dollars for each day of my visit at government rates; but once inside the country, people were often asking me to change my dollars at a much more lucrative black-market standard. I’ve been in Italy when the lira-dollar exchange rate was great. But now with the euro, it’s not so great. In Cuba, there are two currencies, both called pesos and both indicated with the $ sign -- one for residents, one for tourists. Alas, no American bank-based business is available in Cuba. No using USA credit cards. And no relying on the current saving grace of tourists seeking good and easy exchanges elsewhere in the world -- the ATM.
September 12, 2012
Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve recently been to Cuba, most times their eyes light up and they say, “Oh, I really want to go.” Well...go. Granted it’s not easy. Or cheap. At the moment, even with the slight loosening of US travel restrictions to the Pearl of the Antilles, the State Department still only allows Americans to travel if they meet very strict requirements (cultural groups, doctors, religious leaders, etc.) Of course, not everyone goes there legally. In fact, hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans travel to Cuba each year through Canada, Mexico and other stopovers. Cuban officials don’t stamp your passport, I’m told, only the visa, which they then keep as you leave the country. (I travelled legally with the Center for Cuban Studies in NYC.) Meanwhile, for those yanquis still jonesing for a Cuban sojourn, let me recommend Tom Miller’s excellent Trading with the Enemy. It’s the closest account I’ve found to match my own experiences there.
September 11, 2012
I love produce markets. Especially at this time of year. Each of our trips to Montreal has been in autumn, markets brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables. (OK, so asparagus is a spring vegetable. It’s spring somewhere.) Our trips to Lisbon, Barcelona, Istanbul are often in October, too, so we get to see what’s available there. Sadly, of course, we rarely have cooking facilities, but that hasn’t stopped us from having a breakfast of fresh figs with thick yogurt in Istanbul, unbeatable pears in Agrigento, Santiago de Compostela and Málaga. Next month: our first visit to Croatia and Montenegro. Wonder what’s in store.
September 10, 2012
Nick and I were staying in nearby Siracusa, so we hopped into our rented Fiat Panda and headed to the golden, baroque town of Noto. Baroque because the town, leveled by an earthquake in 1693, was rebuilt in the prevailing style. And golden because it seems that all the buildings are made from the local ochre-colored stone. (Declared a "masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque," Noto was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002.) And, just to show that they were back in business, the builders make everything HUGE. Look at Nick, dwarfed there on those steps. It’s a good thing he’s wearing red or you might have missed him. After a visit with acclaimed local pastry chef Corrado Costanza, we found a small trattoria for lunch. And when we ordered a salad to start, the owners sent their teenage son out to buy the requisite greens. A good meal. A good trip.
September 9, 2012
A lovely platter of ham, prepared by Nick, carved by Cara, and served to the dozen or so guests at Nick’s Christmas table. And then served again to Nick and me at each meal for the next several days. I’m not complaining. I’d taken the bus from Boston to Manhattan early that morning to spend a few days with my friend. Little did we know that later that night, a record-breaking blizzard would hit New York and keep us pretty much apartment-bound for the duration of my visit. The city came to a standstill. Return buses were cancelled. The New York Times called Manhattan “the new Buffalo.” And I affirm my strong belief that if you’ve got to be stranded, better to be stranded with a chef. We had ham and eggs, ham and cheese sandwiches, ham and vegetables, ham and ham. We still laugh about “that ham.” And, truth be told, I suspect Nick still has some of it in his freezer.
September 8, 2012
Who is this smiling glasses-free child? All dressed up in a jacket (!) and school tie (St. James School.) Hair all combed and plastered down with a mucilaginous tonic called O’Dell’s Hair Trainer, the noxious aroma of which remains uncomfortably in memory. (It would dry and solidify hair into something you could bend at right angles.) Second grade? I don’t remember smiling very much back then. But, of course, whenever a camera was present, well.... My teacher was Mrs. Marino, a very kind (if excitable) woman who provided a certain degree of stability and warmth when I needed both. No wonder then that some 56 years later I still remember her.
September 7, 2012
Honest food. That’s pretty much what I look for both home and away. At home, I’m much more likely to find it at the wealth of ethnic restaurants that abound in Boston and Cambridge. And away, well, I try to avoid the tourist restaurants and look for the places where the natives eat. In Cuba, that’s somewhat difficult. Especially for an American. To travel legally in Cuba, I pretty much had to stick with my sanctioned tour group, eating planned meals at scheduled stops and attractions. Not to worry. Here in the middle of a rainforest northwest of Havana, we were served platters of baked chicken, roast pork, yuca and -- surprise! -- beans and rice. Always some salad. Always some bread. Always good. (And always a mojito, whether we wanted it or not.) Honest food.
September 6, 2012
Bread pudding. Lemon. With a meringue topping. This was my favorite thing that my mother would make when I was a child. I miss it. I miss her. And I wish she had given me the recipe that I asked for countless times. Finding it mysteriously on the day of her funeral, I tried to make it a few times, always with unsatisfactory results. Fortunately my good friend Nick is a pastry chef and he was able to “refine” the recipe so that even a child could make it, as they say. (In fact, he’s including it in his latest book, Nick Malgieri’s Bread, out next month from Kyle Books.) Here’s my recent take on Nick’s take on my mother’s recipe (which, as it turns out, she must have found in an early Joy of Cooking.) Lemony, tart and sweet, it still brings back childhood memories and big smiles.
September 5, 2012
In addition to pals my own age, I have a number of friends in their 20s and 30s. And one of the pleasures of their company is to observe how they approach social situations differently from my contemporaries. For example, some seem to be more casual about RSVPs, some about thank-you notes. An age/cultural thing? But what amuses me most is their seeming dependence on hand-held devices -- iPhones, iPods, iPads, etc. At our La Noche de San Juan event earlier this summer, six of the nine amigos in attendance were all on their smartphones at one point. With each other, I wondered? Here are Kevin and Rich at our Boat Party this past weekend. Fireworks were blossoming overhead; the boys were captivated by something on their iPad. WTF? When I questioned Kevin afterward, he said, “I was watching the fireworks on YouTube.” Was he kidding? These days, I never know.
September 4, 2012
As I write this, I’m currently reading Tom Miller’s excellent book, Trading with the Enemy. A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba. Unlike so many other books about the fascinating island, it does not mouth the party line, doled out by publicists and government spokespeople (both American and Cuban.) Instead, Miller traversed the island, meeting the people, living and speaking with them personally and reporting what he learned. Among the many details that resonate so strongly with me, his take on Cuban Spanish, which, he says, “has no vowels and no consonants.” You laugh. My first experience with Cuban Spanish was with the prostitute-neighbor in Almodóvar’s Volver. The letter S vanishes. Vamos becomes vamo, and so on. Add to that a rapid-fire method of speaking and ¡Ay, caramba! On several occasions I asked my new Cuban friends there to “speak to me as if I were a baby.” It worked. Sometimes. (Printed Spanish in Cuba, as in the understandable warning above, follows normal rules. Mercifully.)
September 3, 2012
Wouldn’t you like to hang out in a bar with such an appealing name? This little hole in the wall (literally) off the beaten path in the pilgrim town of Santiago de Compostela was deserted by day, packed to the rafters by night, patrons smoking and singing until the wee hours. Some Spanish bars allow smoking, some not. This one does and proudly announces its status on the door: In this place one can smoke. I wonder if bar owners have to choose which status they want to obtain. And do they decide by their own personal philosophies or by a supposition based on the clientele they want to attract?
September 2, 2012
My parents used to call me from their New Jersey home every Sunday morning. Just to check in. One Sunday, toward the end of my mother’s life, I wasn’t at home for her call. And I had forgotten that my outgoing answering machine message was my own impression of Maya Angelou reciting William Waring Cuney’s poem, “No Images.” My mother’s understanding of even the most basic technology (like an answering machine) was, to be generous, almost non-existent. So when she heard my performance (“...If she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river,” etc.), she didn’t know what to make of it, and unbeknownst to her, her astonishment was recorded as a message on my machine: “It’s not Sandy,” you hear her say. “It’s some colored woman talking about palm trees.” As things turned out, that was the last time she would hear my voice. And the last time I would hear hers.
September 1, 2012
The Bose-os! Look at all my Bose-based friends, assembled here at our annual end-of-summer party in Gloucester. There’s Eileen, front and center, just one of our colleagues who’s moved to Arizona (Ted, upper far right, is the other) and won’t be joining us this year, alas. The occasion: Gloucester’s Schooner Festival, every year on Labor Day weekend, the Saturday night of which features a Boat Parade -- G’ster boat owners dress up their craft in costumes, festoon them with lights and zig-zag them through the harbor. Fireworks follow. We’re never sure who (or how many) friends will show up. Somewhere between 15 and 50, the guest list changing every year, but always providing lots of love, lots of laughs.