As I write this in August at my desk in Massachusetts, the Muslim world has recently finished honoring the holiest period of the year, Ramadan. This is the time that the faithful read daily from the Koran, fast from sunrise to sunset, are especially devout. And it’s also the time of iftar, the meal that nightly breaks the day’s fast and fortifies people to get them through the next stretch of daylight abstinence. Though the iftar may have had its humble beginnings as a few dates and some bread, it has in some circles become a lavish spread guaranteed to fill the eater for hours to come. Some restaurants expand their normal menus to include special dishes to mark the holy season. Others set up extra tables outside, sometimes under tents, to accommodate the Ramadan crowds. The meals often extend way past midnight, some almost until sunrise when the fast begins again. I wonder if these three waiters, who kindly agreed to be snapped at our farewell meal in Istanbul, have to deal with any especially spikey diners at the excellent Sofyali 9, people whose blood sugar may be low from hours of fasting, testing the limits of even the most gracious traditions of Middle Eastern hospitality.
August 15, 2017
August 14, 2017
August 13, 2017
Why is autumn my favorite season? The colors? (Too easy an answer.) The schoolteacher in me? (The opposite should be true, no?) I think it may have to do with so many wonderful memories of things happening in this crisp, precise, no-nonsense season. When I was in high school and college, autumn would be the time that we’d go into Manhattan most often, making our student films, buying cheap sweaters, attending recent openings on and off Broadway, tracking museums and galleries. The extremes of summer and winter far off, the rains of spring forgotten. Most of the photos I have from those years were taken in the fall. There just seems to be more energy after summer’s laziness. Oh, and the colors, too, like those seen here in our front yard in Gloucester.
August 12, 2017
My friends Donna and Emilia recently returned from Lisbon where they stayed in a small hotel over a bridal shop. Breakfast included. But they never had breakfast in their hotel, they told me, because each day they toddled on down to this wonderful cafe and bakery, the Casa Brasileira on the Rua Augusta, to try yet another of their seemingly endless assortment of confections. Look at those spikey, sugary things on the lower left up there. You can almost imagine how they’d collapse in a brittle surprise the minute you bit into them. I loved each of my own visits here, slowly learning the names of the pastries, many of them named for different saints, many solely named for their shapes or ingredients or both. Over on the right, can you pick out the “apple snails” and the “fruit rocks”?
August 11, 2017
I grew up in New Jersey. When we went to the beach, there was no greenery nearby. No lawns, no plants, nothing. Just lots of sand and bungalows with pebbles in place of lawns. So when I came to Massachusetts and visited Cape Cod, I was amazed at having woods within sight of the beach. Lawns and gardens, even densely grassy dunes. But that was nothing compared to what I found in Ireland. Look at how lush this landscape is a stone’s throw from the sea’s edge. And so green, I couldn’t stop laughing. I always find it comic when things are as they’re portrayed in cartoons or clichés. When an owl says, “Who,” for example. Or when, as I found here, Ireland turns out to be really green, the Emerald Isle really emerald.
August 10, 2017
I maintain a tradition whenever I visit Tucson. I must purchase something to take back to New England with me that is big, breakable and very difficult to pack. I usually have no problem identifying several items that qualify during each trip. For example, these stars, seen at the excellent Mexican restaurant, El Charro. I love them. And I couldn’t help myself from buying an excessively large one several years ago when Jay and I ventured just south of the border to Nogales, Mexico. So large in fact that we could not find a box to contain it for the trip home to the East Coast and had to cobble one together from several cartons on hand. Getting it on the plane was another story as it was too big to fall within the acceptable dimensions. And then transporting it from the Boston airport to my house, well, it was a challenge from start to finish. But now it hangs proudly on my front porch, a little out of place in the Boston suburbs, but a nice reminder of our Nogales visit. It sure would look perfect accompanied by a pair of similar stars like the illuminated lineup here at El Charro. Next time.
August 9, 2017
August 8, 2017
Recently, a new Turkish restaurant has opened not far from my home outside Boston. Called Istanbul’lu, its breakfast menu features an item poetically described as “A Plate of Turkish Mornings.” Mmmmm. How could you not order something that sounds so wonderful, so evocative? Early-morning running in Istanbul along the Sea of Marmara. Walking down the steep steps toward the Galata Bridge to buy some breakfast simit. Sitting at the wide-open cafe in Tunel Square on my first morning in the City of the World’s Desire. Or, to take a more literal route, this man, carrying his tray of baked goods through the Sahaflar Carsisi, a tiny, leaf-shaded square lined with used-book shops in a quiet neighborhood of Istanbul between the Grand Bazaar and the Beyazid Mosque. (It’s one of the oldest markets in the city, built on the same site as the ancient book and paper market of the Byzantines; since the 18th century it’s been a place where intellectuals have met and books have been sold. Still is.) Looks like he’s got plenty of açme, a flaky, egg-enriched pastry, as well as some other sweet items. He just strolled casually through the courtyard, stopping each time a customer wanted to buy something, and before long, to the delight of those around him, his plate of Turkish mornings was empty.
August 7, 2017
Agosto, capa r’virn’. Or so said my friend Nick’s grandmother in her Grottaminarda dialect every year at this time, announcing, “August is the beginning of winter.” I love this and have since the first time I heard it. Maybe because I like autumn the best of all the seasons, a time to sharpen pencils and head “back to school” or off to some foreign land once all the students are back in their classrooms and the temperature is more forgiving. One September, on my first solo trip to Italy, Nick’s Grottaminarda relatives welcomed me to their small town east of Naples, a wonderful friendly place. Here are Nick’s cousins Michele, Pupetta and Zia Letizia (whom Nick’s season-savvy grandmother with her flair for nicknames referred to as “crooked ass.”) I remember walking to the store with Pupetta to buy the fresh pasta for her ciambotella (sauté a red pepper, a green pepper, a hot pepper, a vinegar pepper.) The other dish she made that remains happily in memory is sartù, a loose sort of scrambled frittata with eggs and potatoes. Mmmm. Hearty and substantial fare, perfect for those blustery days of August. (Happy birthday to my baby brother, Brien. How does it feel to finally have a winter birthday like all the rest of our family?)
August 6, 2017
I just can't keep away from Fonda. This time, a midsummer meal of guacamole made to order (muy picante tonight, served with hand-pressed tortillas, chips and pasilla de Oaxaca salsa), ensalada de sandia, taquitos de carne asada (marinated skirt steak with onions, cilantro and chile de arbol salsa), and, my entree, a wonderful pescado de guajillo -- a pan-seared filet of red snapper over guajillo-passion fruit sauce, served with potatoes, asparagus, roasted red peppers and red onion (apologies for the inexpert and somewhat ghoulishly misleading flash photograph of this terrific dish.) Excellent company (friends Nick, Robin, and chef/owner Roberto), a terrific space (packed with discriminating locals) and, as always, superior food. No wonder it’s one of my favorite restaurants in the world and I try never to visit New York without at least one dinner here.
August 5, 2017
August 4, 2017
August 3, 2017
Even more Mexican food! Here, some great tacos from recipes by el mejor chef mexicano Roberto Santibañez (of Fonda and Rosa Mexicano fame.) Roberto consults worldwide, offering his expertise in Mexican food of superior quality. Among the dishes he’s guided establishments in preparing: excellent tacos with an assortment of fillings (carnitas michoacan, chorizo con papas, pollo asado, pescado, camarón and more), all simply prepared from the freshest ingredients and laced with your choice of salsa (mild, medium, hot, very hot.) We recently had these tacos al pastor (adobo-marinated pork with onions, cilantro, pineapple and hot chipotle salsa. Mighty fine.) Roberto’s enviable knack is to take classics you think you may know, and then surprise you by showing how much better they can be when lovingly and skillfully prepared from only the best components. No skimping. No cutting corners. Sublime.
August 2, 2017
More Mexican Food! And a return to our favorite restaurante mexicano, bar none, Fonda. And what could be better to counter the Brooklyn heat than this refreshing ensalada de sandia? Cubes of chilled watermelon, chunks of peeled and seeded cucumbers, just the right amount of slightly salty queso fresco, all laced with a lime juice-olive oil dressing, then sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and a pinch of chives. Just the thing to start us off on another wonderful dinner at Roberto Santibañez’s jewel of a restaurant in Park Slope. So simple, so satisfying. (See more of Roberto’s offerings in his new book, Truly Mexican.)
August 1, 2017
"August is the beginning of winter," said my friend Nick's Italian grandmother. Maybe so in her Neapolitan hilltown, but not in the American Southwest. Seen here, the Café Poca Cosa, hands down, my favorite restaurant in Tucson. Simon and David brought me here for the first time many years ago when super-hospitable Suzana Davila was operating her upscale Mexican eatery out of its original Broadway location. Funky, colorful, loud, red. It was the first time I’d had Mexican food that wasn’t Tex-Mex, that was nuanced and sophisticated and un poco formal. I loved it. Now in its Pennington Street space, it’s a bit more stylish and chic, but just as wonderful and exciting. And, best of all, it still features the “Plato Poca Cosa,” which I have always ordered. Why? It’s the chef’s choice of three samplings from the evening’s entrees, allowing a tasting across the menu. Here, on a recent visit, I was served (clockwise from bottom) Carne Asada Adobo de Morita, Pollo Pipian Amarillo and Pastel de Elote Champiñones. artfully separated by slices of vegetables and presented with their signature mountain of salad and fruit. A bowl of beans, a bowl of rice, a basket of tortillas. All this and the evening’s charming and delightful host, Norbert, to boot. Cielo.