At Easter time each year, Italian bakers make their once-a-year holiday specialties. And none is more special than the pascal lamb, molded of almond paste, filled with cake slices and a somewhat bitter citrus preserve known as confitura di cedro, then enhanced with a coating of icing/crushed-meringue (or something) “fleece” and dusted with powdered sugar. Here’s the naked lamb before enhancement, crafted by a really nice Italian baker we met named Giulio Nostro at his Pasticceria Margherita.
March 30, 2013
When my Mexican friend Marco was in a bar in Stockholm recently, he met a young man from Turkey. Marco asked his name and the Turk said, “Ramadan.” So Marco told him his own name was “Semana Santa.” When he told us the story, and that he had renamed himself “Holy Week,” Marco decided to make up liturgical names for Nick (Noche Buena / Christmas Eve) and me (Sábado de Gloria / Holy Saturday, which is today.)
March 29, 2013
Me, I’m not such a baseball fan. Not such an enthusiast of team sports in general, professional, college or otherwise. I like to run (alone, or maybe once every 10 years with my friend Paula) and swim (preferably with a lane to myself.) But even I couldn’t pass up this emerald vision of the UC Berkeley team practicing on a sunny November afternoon. Just look at that green. Granted, my interest is more aesthetic than athletic.
March 28, 2013
“First you take a leek,” as the old joke recipe goes. And here at one of my favorite markets in the world, you’ve got quite a choice. Look at how beautiful they are. Imagine the wonderful potato-leek soup you could make from these. Alas, whenever we are in Montréal, we never have access to a real kitchen, and so our trips to the marché are somewhat limited to visual enjoyment. But it is fun to see what’s on offer. And then to eat at one of our favorite restaurants in the evening, selecting choices from what we know is in season.
March 27, 2013
On my first visit to the Tucson home of my friends Simon and David, my hosts gave me the grand tour. Including a road trip to Tumacácori National Historical Park, about 45 minutes south of the city. There’s a new (1828) mission church that replaced an older (1691) mission church that had been established by the Jesuits at the site of an O’odham village, remnants of which are also part of the park’s preserve. But we were struck less with religious history and more by the stark desert colors and light...as evidenced here by Simon’s posing in a somewhat Georgia O’Keefe homage.
March 26, 2013
We’d taken the famed tram #28 up, up, up from downtown to the Graça neighborhood to a small family-owned restaurant, the Churrasco da Graça, that I’d heard about on Chowhound. It was terrific. We were the only tourists there, it seemed, and we ate as the Lisboetas eat: meat, meat and more meat. Of course, maybe that was because we ordered the mixed grill. Afterwards, when we stepped outside to the small park across the square, this was the panorama that greeted us below. Lisbon is such a beautiful city. By night, by day, any time.
March 25, 2013
When my friend Artie was stage managing Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney on Broadway, he told me that some colleagues were discussing the upcoming Jewish holidays. Miller walked by and they asked her, “Ann, do you have any plans for Passover?” She shook her head and replied, “I don’t do game shows.” Love it. Seen here, my friend Dali and I paying homage to the toe-tappin' MGM star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. Good yontif.
March 24, 2013
What is this mess, you might wonder. Where some see trash, others see art. Or something. This is actually the floor of a chic menswear shop that Andreas, Ernest, Klaus and I wandered into during our brief reunion in Zurich so many years ago. Ernest and Klaus down from Hamburg, me on a months-long trip to Italy (and a quick train ride north from Milan)...we all stayed in Andreas’ apartment, roughing it with sleeping bags, couches, etc. And who else but the Swiss, so recycle-forward, would take all these discarded wrappers, compress them into “tiles” and make them into flooring? I hope they were empty wrappers, because some of them look like ketchup portions.
March 23, 2013
I’m always amazed when I see fast-food joints thriving in places that already have such good food available at all times. I was living in Rome when the first McDonald’s opened there in the Piazza di Spagna. There was an uproar among a certain contingent who didn’t want Italian food sullied by these American polluters. But guess who won? Ditto, Paris, Barcelona. And in this neighborhood west of downtown Lisbon (whose name is Portuguese for Bethlehem), look who’s here! Fortunately you can refuse to follow the arrow to the right and cross the street instead, under the blue awning, to the rightly famous Pastéis de Belém and have an excellent coffee and a few pastéis de nata.
March 22, 2013
I was just reading this morning that Košice in Slovakia (as it is now) has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Really? I smiled when I remembered this sleepy steel town safely behind the Iron Curtain when I visited so many years ago. My friend Robert (striped shirt) and I were both teachers with the summer off, had obtained visas and headed east. In Košice, we stayed with Robert’s cousins (blue polo shirt, also red sweater vest) and were offered tumblers of vodka with our morning coffee. I have a vague memory of a drunken walk through a field late at night on our way to a town dance, of young girls wanting to hear what life in America was like. This is also the town where one of Robert’s cousins (not pictured here) was disbarred from his attorney’s job after running drunk and naked down the main street, not for the first time, either. The European Capital of Culture.
March 21, 2013
The beach in this town on Sicily’s northern coast was somewhat deserted this afternoon, in spite of the high temperatures. That didn’t stop me from putting on my bathing suit and jumping into the bath-water-warm sea. And it didn’t stop a group of teenage boys on their way home from school who dropped their books, took off their clothes and jumped right in as they probably do more days than not. Such freedom. Nick and I had stopped here on our trip to research his Great Italian Desserts book. And that night, I headed into town to check out why crowds had gathered. Hint: that screen in the distance on the left. Give up? Click here for the backstory.
March 20, 2013
Surprise! A few inches of snow were forecast for yesterday. Instead, we woke up to almost a foot of the stuff. If you’re a kid, the white stuff was “snowman snow.” If not, then just heavy, wet and inconvenient. Still, there is the promise of spring in the flowering Witch Hazel. Blooming in mid-February, it still retains its flowers mid-March in spite of the nasty winter weather all around it. Hey, it's March 20! If spring is here, can spring be far behind?
March 19, 2013
Each time I look back at my photos from the Portuguese capital, I’m always pleasantly reminded of what surprised us on our first visit: the precision and care taken with the sidewalks. Look at this praça we came across on our way to the central market. Just one of many we saw not only in Lisbon but also in the cities of Braga, Coimbra, Sintra. I’m told that similar stonework is to be found in Brazil, too. So beautiful.
March 18, 2013
Oh, I miss my friend Dali. Among her many, many admirable qualities, a knack for finding photo opportunities where only the slightest hint might present itself. We’d be walking along, she’d spot something (like this graffiti), put down her shopping bags and say, “Get out your camera and look blasé.” Patti was with us in Rome this trip, so I suspect she snapped the shot. For those of you who are wondering, there was very little anti-USA decoration like this in evidence. But there was always some. Almost 30 years later, there still is.
March 17, 2013
I have no idea what this is a photo of or where I took it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have two ideas. As it comes from a file I have, labeled “Misc. 1986,” and is accompanied by other photos from Lowell, MA, and Damariscotta, ME, I suspect that it’s from a national or state park site (listing allowed and disallowed activities.) Boating and fishing, yes. Swimming and hunting, no. I understand why I took the picture: I like the iconography, the faded colors, the gridded repetition of shapes. (In a nod to St. Patrick's Day, I love the XXX label on the bottle, lower right.) But who knows where or when?
March 16, 2013
Is this my favorite night of the year? The annual St. Joseph’s dinner at my friend Paul’s mother’s house? I look forward to it all year, biting my nails and hoping I’ll be invited back each year. Mrs. A. regales us with her incomparable stories, as well as her traditional pasta with breadcrumbs (to symbolize the carpenter-saint’s sawdust), several frittatas (potato, asparagus, etc.), sausages, you name it. Andrea and Dave bring a kaleidoscopic antipasto plate. Dan and Paul bring lots of laughs and lots of zeppole, the Sicilian holiday pastry, in many varieties. Tonight, if all goes as planned, we’ll be around this table again, laughing, eating. (And let’s hope somebody springs for real San Pelligrino tonight instead of last year’s Market Basket knockoff, the subject of much conversation and controversy. Kidding.)
March 15, 2013
Nothing beats a gossipy, catch-up lunch with a friend, a former work colleague. Monica and I met for Indian buffet (natch) and for an hour or so, the dish outpaced the dishes. It was great fun seeing my good-hearted, animal-loving, musically talented pal again. And the primary colors here were too good to pass by without a stop for an op.
March 14, 2013
I admit it. In thinking about our next vacation, aiming toward the Spanish Mediterranean coast, Lisbon, Morocco, the Canaries...my mouth started watering anticipating our return to Bonjardim, a favorite Lisbon restaurant. I’m sure their menu is extensive, but it doesn’t matter. We always order the same thing: roast chicken, fried potatoes, salad. THE best roast chicken I’ve ever tasted. No wonder they’re known for it. Occupying two buildings across from each other on the tiny Travessa de Santo Antão, the place is always packed. Tourists, of course. But muito locals, too. Always a good sign.
March 13, 2013
Fabada Asturiana, the fabled bean and meat stew of northern Spain. We’d loved it at a Madrid restaurant a few nights earlier. And I guess we’re not the only ones, because look! Here in a Madrid supermarket -- all the ingredients you need to make it, conveniently packaged for one-stop shopping. The big, meaty alubias (beans), essential to the dish, can be more expensive per pound than steak if you use the traditional fabes de la Granja. Certainly they are the most expensive component of this package of beans, bacon, chorizo and blood sausage. Once again, desafortunadamente, we were without a kitchen and unable to cook up our own fabada.
March 12, 2013
I love cemeteries. Whenever I visit a new place -- Alamos, Mexico; New Orleans; Havana; Lucca, Italy, or here in Paris -- I usually wind up in one. (Wait, that didn’t sound right.) And I’ve noticed that American burial grounds are the tamest, just like the British ones. Perhaps the British tendency toward understatement or our Puritan roots prevent us from the emotional outpouring seen in more Romantic or Latin resting places. In Havana, tons of weeping marble. And this mournful soul in the Cimitière du Montparnasse suggests sorrow and condolences so much more than the simple headstones I see all over New England.
March 11, 2013
Kids. Sneaking, misbehaving, having fun. In this case, schoolkids “hitching a ride” on the streetcar, the famous #28 that traverses all of Lisbon’s most scenic neighborhoods, providing a sightseeing experience for tourists and (consequently) a crowded hassle sometimes for the locals. Unless you happen to be this daredevil, hanging on to the outside on his way home from school, avoiding the fare, having fun. Careful.
March 10, 2013
Local color. I’ve just recently read and reviewed Desire: Tales of New Orleans, a collection of short stories all of which are set in one way or another in the Crescent City. Pre-Katrina. What I find amazing about this fabled town is how evocative even a casual reference to some minor landmark can be. A tiled floor in the Croissant d’Or bakery and cafe. The tiny A&P grocery store on Royal Street. Coffee with chicory just about anywhere. The book, enjoyable but slight. The memories, intense and wonderful.
March 9, 2013
Who looks more comfortable in this photo? Me or Jay? Correct. Perhaps his stiffness is the result of my touching him in broad daylight. Or his general discomfort in front of the camera? Or that fact that we were climbing the path up, up, up to the Bom Jesus do Monte shrine in Braga, the most religious city in Portugal? We rarely get a photo of the two of us together, so when the opportunity arose, I placed the camera on a wall, adjusted the finicky self-timer and, well, smiled.
March 8, 2013
What had our hotel been before it was a hotel? An embassy? A private residence? Whatever. Located in a chic residential area just north of the old Bourbon section of Madrid near the Prado, we were placed here by luck, taking our chances with Priceline and being nicely rewarded for doing so. Basically a business hotel, the Nh Abascal was within (healthy) walking distance of everywhere in the city that we wanted to go. And also steps away from a metro stop in case we got lazy. And look at this beautiful staircase that delighted me and gave pause to my height-fearful companion.
March 7, 2013
Oh, those wacky French. Who else would issue a diplôme to someone to commend his efforts in defending the true l’œuf mayonnaise? Sure, I like those hard-boiled eggs (somehow the French do them better than we do) cloaked in a rich egg-and-oil-based mayonnaise sauce. Seems the Association de Sauvegarde de l’Œuf Mayonnaise bestows a “best of” prize for this dish each year to a Parisian restaurateur. Nick, Miriam and I saw this framed honor as we lunched at M. Camdeborde’s excellent ASOM-prize-winning bistro, Le Comptoir, on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve as snow gently fell on those outside waiting for a table. We had pied de cochon, if memory serves.
March 6, 2013
Both Jay and I like to pick up something practical while on vacation. That way, whenever we use it, we remember where we got it and (most times) smile. This trip, I picked up vast quantities of smoked pimentón de La Vera, both hot and sweet varieties, for Nick and for me. A little of this Spanish paprika goes a long way. And Jay? As he did in Montréal, he wanted to pick up some valve oil for his trumpet. A grand music store’s facade on Las Ramblas remained shut tight for the duration of our visit (and even longer than that, according to neighbors), but he finally found some in a small and kind of creepy store near the city’s music conservatory. This store (of the unmistakable name recognition) for which we had high hopes, only carried sheet music. Still, I love the use of the single dot to indicate the accent on música.
March 5, 2013
Show-off. On a stroll through this rainforest community in northwest Cuba, we came upon this strutting and posing peacock. So used to tourists, it was completely unflustered and seemed quite willing to strike an attitude for any number of photographers. No whore this one, however, as he not once fanned his tail, no matter how much the public demanded.
March 4, 2013
How French do these women look? Hélène (left) with her snazzy collar added to elevate her simple black dress. And Sabine (right) in her deep green raw silk double-breasted suit. Chic glasses. Chic hair. The occasion? A New Year’s Eve party at the Paris home of pastry chef Dorie and her husband. Three or four folding tables assembled and set. A Moroccan chef in the kitchen preparing couscous. A trip to the Pont des Arts at midnight to watch the fireworks. A return to Dorie’s for dessert afterwards. It’s the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent and one that remains happily in memory.
March 3, 2013
It happens every time. Whenever I see a word that I remember from my language lessons, I get all excited. I’d been studying Spanish through the Pimsleur Language Series, CDs that I’d borrowed from my town library. Thirty minutes a day since January 1, 2008. So when Jay and I were strolling down the main street in this lazy Spanish town filled with beautiful sights, he couldn’t understand why I’d want to take a picture such as this one. Well, um, isn’t it obvious? It’s because I knew that tintoreria meant “dry cleaners.”
March 2, 2013
Occupy. Barcelona-style. The Catalan capitol has always had its share of free-thinkers, unbeholding to the status quo, the bottom line. Musicians, architects, painters, writers, ordinary people. Rule-breakers like Picasso, Dalí, Gaudí. This year’s ballot contained a referendum on whether thriving Catalonia should split from the rest of non-thriving Spain, for example. So I wasn’t surprised to come across this demonstration outside one of the region’s largest and most powerful banks, Catalunya Caixa. And I wasn’t surprised, either, to see so many of the protesters’ banners in English.
March 1, 2013
Ah, parks. The refuge of the weary traveler. Like this one in the central Portugal university town of Coimbra. After a morning run through the fog along the river, a filling breakfast at our hotel, we’d had a lazy Sunday morning stroll in this nearby park. And though this photo would seem to indicate otherwise, we were not alone. Families gathered after church. Solitary individuals reading the paper. Others who knew what we did -- that a quiet park is just as important a destination sometimes as, well, as almost anywhere.