March 29, 2017
March 28, 2017
March 27, 2017
March 26, 2017
One of the great things about living in the Bay State is the wide range of ethnic neighborhoods to be found from Boston outwards. A recent discovery: the Portuguese community in Hudson. Hailing not only from Portugal but also from Brazil and the Azores, the welcoming folks in this small town serve up their culture, their cuisine, their language to anyone who wants to appreciate them. Like me. So when some colleagues offered a lunch to mark my leaving “the corporation,” I suggested a Brazilian buffet nearby. Heidi and Stan seemed game, so off we went. It was simple and satisfying: fried plantains, saucy beans, savory rice dishes, unidentifiable meat stews. But best of all may have been our stop at Silva’s Bakery on the same block where we purchased some amazing rolls (crusty outside, moist crumb inside) and a dazzling assortment of pastéis with fillings that included bean, orange, almond and the flaky, black-topped, egg-rich-custard delight we’d loved so much in Lisbon, the pastel de nata. (As you can see, I bought two of those.) Good thing I snapped this photo relatively quickly, because these beauties disappeared very soon afterwards.
March 25, 2017
There are so many reasons I love Tucson, none more than the heady mix of sacred and profane that blends so easily into the everyday life of this university town just an hour north of the Mexican border. For example, this video store that I pass every morning along my Congress Street running route. I have never seen anyone go in or out in all my years of watching. It sits across a lazy intersection from a heavily barred drive-thru liquor store, scene of occasional “situations.” In spite of a casual facelift, it still looks like the gas station it once was. Diego Rivera would smile, I think, at the miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe mural along its western wall (complete with a small milagro-filled commemorative shrine.) Then there’s that big VIDEOS boldly emblazoned mid-apparition as if to proclaim modern technology’s own miracle available on demand, right here, right now. In this dry land of rattlers and other serpents, even the snakey green garden hose seems biblically right at home. Oh, sure, the Arizona sun has taken its toll on the mural, fading it with each passing year since it was painted, until its now-pastel hues might seem more at home in Miami Beach than in the Southwest Sunbelt. No matter. The miracle remains.
March 24, 2017
I sometimes wonder why I love to travel alone. Yes, I enjoy the pleasure of a friend’s company at mealtimes and for occasional shared excursions, but the more foreign and exotic my destination, the more I treasure time spent solo. Maybe it’s because I like to immerse myself in the everyday life of the place I’m visiting in a way that tends to make companions impatient -- lingering in Montreal or Mexico supermarkets to see packaging in a foreign language, stopping by the Las Vegas or Miami Beach public libraries, sitting in a Lisbon or Segovia park to see how locals pass their idle time. In Turkey, I became fascinated by Muslim people’s behavior in mosques. Some would be silent and reverent. Others, especially those with young children, would refreshingly treat the vast interior as if it were their living room or the public square. Still more interesting to me were the outwardly secular (uniformed policemen, suited businessmen, et al.) entering and revealing their sacred selves in a personal, devotional way. For me, solo travel also erases the slate, allows me to be whoever I choose to be. No one knows me. One of my favorite memories is of a young man’s stopping me on Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi one evening to inquire (in Turkish) the time. When I showed him my watch, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were Turkish.” I wasn’t sorry at all.
March 23, 2017
March 22, 2017
March 21, 2017
March 20, 2017
March 19, 2017
Is there anything better than Italian home cooking? No. I still remember the first time I went to my friend Nick’s family’s house for dinner when I was in high school. (I had grown up in an Irish-American home, not known for its fine dining.) When Nick’s mother brought the lasagna to the table, I thought I was in heaven. And then to find out that it was only the first course, that there would be more? Lord, take me now! (It was on a follow-up visit that I offered to serve Nick’s mother some pasta, I doled out a ladylike portion, and she replied, “Jesus Christ! Could you spare it?”) A few years ago, when I learned that my friend Paul’s Sicilian mother made a traditional pasta dish with garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs (symbolizing the carpenter-saint’s sawdust) for Saint Joseph’s Day, I hinted heavily that I would love to try it. The following March 19, Paul was selfishly on vacation in Florida (priorities!), but this year, 2010, he was home and I was kindly invited. What a great night! Paul’s family was a treat, his mother a hoot! And the food! In addition to the pasta c'a muddica, there was a resplendent antipasto spread, stuffed artichokes, frittatas, sausages, Italian bread...and for dessert, zeppole di San Giuseppe (big cream-puff-like pastries with three kinds of filling: whipped cream, pastry cream and ricotta with chocolate chips.) I am always ready at a moment's notice to join the festivities. [UPDATE 3/19/17: Guess where I'll be having dinner in a few hours?]
March 18, 2017
March 17, 2017
My father nursed my mother through a debilitating illness at the end of her long life. And after she died, I waited six months and then asked him if he’d like to take a trip to Ireland. He’d never been out of the country (except for his WWII posts in Japan and New Guinea) and I thought he might want to visit his own mother’s birthplace and some of the locations he’d been singing about for years (ex. Galway Bay.) He did. So I made the arrangements and off we went. Driving south from Dublin and then up the west coast, we approached the famed Cliffs of Moher, at which point my father announced a fear of heights (“I’m afraid I’ll jump off”) and a desire to return to our B&B. He had a point; the cliffs are some 700 feet high and only the flimsiest of cordons is there to prevent you from falling straight down to the Atlantic Ocean below. Delivering my father to the B&B, I soon returned to the cliffs where I encountered this fearless brother and sister, fresh from church and their First Holy Communion. Almost 25 years have passed. I wonder who they grew up to be. And if they still go to Communion. [I post this same photo every Saint Patrick's Day, I love it so much.]
March 16, 2017
March 15, 2017
March 14, 2017
Sharpen your pencils. There’s something about the onset of autumn that always makes me feel good. Maybe it’s the former schoolteacher in me, the tendency toward organization and a tightening of the laziness brought on by summer’s heat and humidity. Even in this medieval Tuscan hilltown I was drawn toward the local schoolbus, appropriately sized for this tiny walled hamlet not far from Siena, still relatively uncrowded when I visited some 30 years ago. I remember a man selling bottles of homemade Vernaccia wine from his open garage. I wonder what changes three more decades of tourism have wrought. I love and am amused by the fact that San Gim is sometimes called “the Manhattan of Italy” because of its 14 towers, though these famed structures were mostly built in the 12th century rather than the 20th. Originally founded by Etruscans and later named after a bishop who defended the town from Attila’s Huns, the town has a rich history and has now been recognized as an official UNESCO World Heritage site. I suspect that the schoolbus and its inhabitants haven’t changed too much as a result of this distinction.
March 13, 2017
March 12, 2017
Do you like kids? Meet Lulu. She and her brother Yuk-Yuk are two baby goats that we met recently when our friends Charlene and Steve adopted them to keep their older goat Pepi company. (After Pepi’s female companion had passed away, he cried for two months until these youngin’s appeared.) Jay was too reserved to hold the little critters, but I wasn’t, and Steve snapped this photo. As I was cradling her, Lulu dug her face into the the crook of my sleeve and at one point began to nibble tentatively on my shirt pocket. I loved it. This was the first day they’d been separated from their mother and they were a bit mouthy, but I’m told that they have since settled in and calmed down, and that the three goats now sometimes even nap together. Charlene and Steve live on a steep piece of rocky land in this Gloucester neighborhood that gives onto the Annisquam River, and they began raising goats not for the milk, not to make cheese, but as a way to keep the invading brush from overgrowing their property. It seems to be working.
March 11, 2017
Paris. City of Lights. City of Eating. Before I’d set off on this winter trip, I did my homework and had made a list of various recommended cheese shops to visit. The hallowed Barthélémy (Catherine Deneuve shops here) at 51 Rue de Grenelle was a small gem, its bounty displayed to suggest a haughty superiority that carries over into its customer service. (When I asked a saleswoman in French if she could help me, her reply was “Perhaps.” She slowly warmed and made some recommendations, all of which I later enjoyed in my hotel room along with some bread from nearby Poilâne.) But the real sampler’s delight is La Fromagerie 31 at 64 Rue de Seine. There in a small cafe attached to the shop, Nick and I were able to taste platters prepared for each of us, a total of 14 excellent cheeses...in addition to our special order of a Vacherin. We were asked first if we liked blue cheeses. Yes. When the plates arrived, we were kindly guided to start at the top and work our way around clockwise, the cheeses increasing in pungency. Comté, Reblochon, Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Livarot, wonders all. (La Fromagerie 31 offers sampling plates of five, seven or nine cheeses.) A little soup, a little salad, bread, cheese -- our perfect lunch as a rare Parisian snow began to fall.
March 10, 2017
Jay’s parents vacationed in Maine for years before finally building a summer home there on McCurda Pond when he was in graduate school. And that’s where I first met them. I knew that Jay’s father was a cartoonist (he penned the strip Tiger), but I didn’t know that his mother had worked at Vogue (he casually mentioned this to my great excitement as we approached the house) as a photographer’s assistant. When I asked his mother if I might’ve known any of the photographers she’d assisted, she calmly said, “Probably. Cecil Beaton?” (His stylish mother never quite adjusted to Maine after her New Jersey upbringing, claiming that the local poultry man spoke in such a way that she couldn’t tell if he was saying “roaster” or “rooster.”) Over the several occasions we visited them, a routine developed: buying blueberry pies from Dot’s roadside stand, driving to Round Pond for lobsters, sometimes heading to Pemaquid Point to see the lighthouse and climb on the rocks, beaten by the rough Maine sea. On this trip, the fog was so thick we didn’t risk a climb. But we were treated to a misty, evocative early-afternoon scene that suggests some of the wildness early settlers encountered here before “summer people” arrived “from away.”
March 9, 2017
March 8, 2017
On the Dallas-to-Tucson flight, I was seated next to an arguing couple who kept at it for almost two hours. When we landed, she finally said, “Let’s go get a hot dog.” Oh, no! I thought I was the only gringo who’d heard about Sonoran hot dogs, the latest local fast-food rage. Within moments, my beloved friend David (himself a vegan!) had kindly whisked me off to El Güero Canelo for a sampling. (Actually, I ordered a Sammy Dog, distinguished, according to the posted menu, by “two winers.”) Hot dogs estilo sonora: a frankfurter, wrapped in bacon, topped with beans, salsa, mustard and mayo, cradled in a football-shaped soft roll. Pretty darned good. So good, in fact, that I ventured into South Tucson the next day on my way back from Mexico to try the fare at BK Carne Asada y Hot Dogs. You can see what I ordered (good thing I speak a little Spanish): two hot dogs estilo sonora, with all the fixin’s...one I topped with chopped black olives and the other with avocado mayo. Grilled pimientos on the side, por favor. I’d ordered a Diet Coke, but how could I say no when asked, “¿Pepsi está bien?”
March 7, 2017
Come with me to the you-know-where. Eschewing the guided tour organized by the cruise line (in spite of many warnings that Tangier was not a place to wander alone), off we wandered. And it was great. Or at least I thought it was. Jay, who had previously been a-scared of even going to sophisticated Istanbul, blanched when our cruise itinerary changed and suddenly included this Moroccan port. Still, he was a good sport and, I think, trusted that maybe I knew what I was doing. What I was doing was getting lost in the medina, the old Arab section of the city, criss-crossed by dark alleyways and twisty passages that led to nowhere but dead ends. Trying (mostly) successfully to bypass aggressive beggars and “guides” of all ages, we arrived (miraculously) in the fabled Kasbah at the top. And a bit later on our way down again, we found ourselves in a small enclosed square, a woman filling her water jug at a pump in its center. Five paths led from the square and I pointed to one and, hoping she spoke Morocco’s second language, asked, “Fermé?” She pointed to all five in succession and said, “Fermé. Fermé. Fermé. Fermé. Non fermé.” We took the obvious choice and continued without any further snags.
March 6, 2017
March 5, 2017
When is a foam coffee cup not a foam coffee cup? Maybe when artist Tara Donovan takes thousands of them and, without altering them in any way, places them together in such a formation on the ceiling of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art that they suggest a threatening storm cloud. Visiting her show was part of our stay-at-home vacation that autumn, one of the several local events we took time to appreciate as perhaps only out-of-towners normally do. On the chilly morning following our “chef’s whim” tasting dinner at Craigie Street Bistrot (sauteed coxcombs, anyone?), we walked to Harvard Square, Red-Lined it to South Station, then hopped the Silver Line to the ICA, our first time there. The harbor-hugging building itself is pretty spectacular, and it was fun to run into director Jill Medvedow, an old pal from a “previous life,” but Donovan’s show was the magical highlight. The sculptress takes mass numbers of single ordinary objects -- pins, toothpicks, plastic drinking cups, paper plates, plastic straws, tape, mylar strips -- and arranges them into huge self-standing cubes or spheres or hazy walls or floor “landscapes” that make you stop and look and wonder.
March 4, 2017
“This is Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.” When Nick asked me to come along as production assistant on his trek through Italy to research his Great Italian Desserts cookbook, of course I said si. I’d been to Italy three times before and knew some of the ropes -- the ins and outs of train travel, hotel bookings, maps, and several dozen of the thousands of Italian bureaucracies. I was working in public broadcasting at the time, and it was Jay who actually suggested I call up NPR to get in touch with Rome correspondent Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia graciously agreed to meet me for coffee and we hit it off immediately. She told me about press protocol at the Vatican (no one is allowed to ask the Pope a question directly; you can only speak through one of his supernumeraries, etc.), about how she’d hidden all her jewelry and cash in her car when she went to interview the head of a gypsy clan outside Rome, and about some tips on her favorite restaurants in the city. When she and her husband came to Cambridge, MA, as fellows at the Kennedy School of Government not long afterward, they attended a little book party I threw for Great Italian Desserts. Sylvia brought a visiting Italian friend, and Nick took one look at her, then drew me aside to whisper, “She’s wearing REAL Chanel.”
March 3, 2017
March 2, 2017
My friend Monica tells me she loves that I take pictures of the food when I travel. Well...yeah. Though the fact that she mentions it reminds me that not everyone does this. Sadly. (If you need some encouragement, aside from a lovely visual record of memorable meals, consider this incentive: The manager may think you’re a food reporter and be kinder to you, filling your water glass with greater frequency.) My lunch this day was at Momofuku, the always excellent noodle bar on 1st Avenue at E. 10th Street. I enjoyed (and photographed) their acclaimed steamed pork buns (an oval of light dough wrapped over pork belly with hoisin sauce and cucumber slices) and the Momofuku ramen (a perfect bowl of thin wheat noodles in broth with sliced fish cake, shredded pork, some greens, more pork belly, sheets of dried seaweed and a lightly poached egg.) Just what I needed. Then, heading back to the West Side along 10th Street, I finally stopped for some ice cream at Sundaes and Cones (between 3rd and 4th Avenues), a place whose curious and inventive flavors I’ve long admired -- green tea, corn, taro, mango, red bean...in addition to their takes on basic flavors you’d expect in an ice cream shop. My selection: sesame. Made from toasted black sesame seeds, this rich, flecked, gray treat was a terrific way to end an extraordinary meal.
March 1, 2017
Why does the food in Istanbul taste so very, very good? Hint: fresh local ingredients, seen in all their abundant splendor at outdoor markets like this one. Local, ripe fruit. Honey. Vegetables to please even the pickiest Turkish chef. And greens? At Doğa Balik, a wonderful rooftop fish restaurant that we found in Cihangir (and ate at during a spectacular passing thunderstorm one night), their meze offerings include more than a dozen kinds of greens, prepared to show off the special distinctions of each. Those greens could easily have come from this woman at the Kadiköy market. Growing, gathering, cleaning, packing and transporting them by hand, she comes to the city from her country home twice a week with just about every kind of roughage imaginable, from exotic lettuces to omega-rich purslanes and everything in between. Plus some scallions, some figs, some tiny unripe pears for pickling -- this lady has a devoted following who will only buy their greens from her. Stewed, mixed with yogurt or eaten raw, many of her garden treasures haven’t yet found their way into the American food consciousness. But if history is any indication, they will.