Meals in Cuba. I had been warned not to expect much in terms of variety and quality, so my expectations were set low. But I needn’t have worried. The food was just right. Because we traveled in a group to most meals, the service was buffet or family-style platters. Always a mojito was proffered. Rice and beans, salads (which my friend Lisa labeled Soviet because of the ever present shredded cabbage,) plantains, yuca, fruit. And usually roast pork, baked chicken, ground beef with spices. On the occasions where we got to choose our own entrees, as here at a waterside outdoor paladar in southern Cuba (which, by popular demand, we visited twice), there was usually fish, shrimp and lobster, too. Dessert was often ice cream, sometimes gussied up. (My favorite: Copa Lolita -- a scoop of vanilla ice cream AND a slice of flan, laced with chocolate sauce.) Only in the fancier places in Havana was the service individual and more self-consciously “presented.” No matter where we ate, I was never disappointed.
June 20, 2018
Before I visit a new place, I usually make a study of the regional cuisine. And then I make a list of must-try items. Navajas, broiled razor clams, were on my Barcelona list and I found them in many tapas places, especially in the Barceloneta neighborhood. None surpassed these at the excellent Bar Jai-Ca where Jay and I kept ordering plate after plate of fried (anchovies and calamari), broiled (these navajas) and boiled (octopus) seafood, putting together a memorable lunch, one of many here in the Catalan capital. It’s hard to go wrong with enough garlic and butter. But when a place such as this goes so very right, you remember it.
June 19, 2018
Here at the open-air, somewhat makeshift fish “restaurant” along the Golden Horn, it seems that everyone is wearing a coat or jacket. Yes, this October afternoon was a bit chilly, but nothing stops determined diners when hamsi are in season. Those elusive Black Sea fresh anchovies, cleaned and gutted, lightly dusted with fine cornmeal, fried. A plate of them (along with a small salad of arugula) makes for a mighty fine lunch. Worth a bit of a breeze. What you can’t see here are the many cats who saunter nonchalantly among the tables, waiting for any reward that might come their way. They know their audience; we saw many diners whisk a few tidbits (or, in one case, an entire mackerel fish frame) to these petitioning kitties. And if they don’t score, they have only to travel a few yards to the Karaköy fish market next door, the source of our own fresh hamsi meal.
June 18, 2018
One of the great pleasures of travel for me is being able to guide friends who are first-time visitors to places I love. Bringing Jay to Istanbul and Rome. Typing out lists of places to eat and shop for friends en route to Paris. When my friend Andy was about to go to Rome for the first time, what a treat it was for me to “revisit” the Eternal Città as I went through maps, business cards from each ristorante, guiding him to my beloved Pizzeria da Pasquale in the Via dei Prefetti (home of the city’s best potato pizza), etc. But maybe the silliest and the most fun (for him and for me) was the Tosca Tour. Act I: the church of Sant Andrea della Valle. Act II: the Palazzo Farnese. Act III: the Castel Sant’ Angelo. All within walking distance of one another. And all wonderful visuals to accompany the sublime Puccini that plays in your head as you stroll along.
June 17, 2018
When Hurricane Bob blew through New England in August of 1991, Nick and I were in Provincetown, MA, “Hurricane Central.” The weather was wild, the leaves blown off all the trees and shrubs and pureed against walls all over town. (Lilac bushes, suddenly bare and experiencing the same amount of sunlight as in the spring, were fooled into blooming again!) We lost power, but had a gas stove, so Nick decided to try to approximate the pan pizza we both loved at Boston’s Galeria Umberto. Success! I’ve been making what I call “Nick’s Ptown Pizza” ever since. For the real deal, check out Nick’s How to Bake. For my quick take: Start two tablespoons of dry active yeast in two cups of hot water to which you’ve added a teaspoon of sugar. When it’s bubbly, add two tablespoons of olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, about six-seven cups of flour and mix and knead (by hand or KitchenAid mixer, dough hook) until you have a silky, workable dough. Cut it in half, store under plastic wrap or in Tupperware and let the two halves rise to double in size. Then push and pull each into an oiled jellyroll pan until they remain in place. Topping for each pizza: One-half of a 28-ounce can of Pastene crushed tomatoes (“chunky style”), three tablespoons grated Romano, some oregano, a little salt, a few red pepper flakes, four ounces shredded mozzarella. Put the pans on two shelves of a preheated 425-degree oven for 30 minutes, alternating them (top to bottom, front to back) on the shelves halfway through. Cool on racks. Do all that and you’ll have what you see here.
June 16, 2018
One of the many things I love about Jay is that he gets weepy. (He tells me that he always has. Well, so do I. And so did my father. All pluses, I think.) Can you tell from this picture at his alma mater, Amherst College? It was the first time he’d been back since graduating in 1966, and he told me he got all sentimental thinking back about his time there. We were in town to hear Portuguese fadista Mariza perform at UMass. We’d already checked into our Priceline-secured motel room in nearby Northampton and were strolling about the campus, the town. That evening’s concert was sensational. A local Portuguese marching band paraded through the theatre lobby, and a local bakery handed out pastèis de nata, my introduction to this heavenly pastry. Could Mariza, the music and the pastèis have prompted the decision to make our first trip to Portugal nine months later? And then again the following year? Of course. And now, whenever we think of Lisbon, “our city,” we both get a little misty.
June 15, 2018
Some people know how to pose. And how to choose the right socks to go with their shirt. Hell, even Betty (left) looks just right here. Simon and David and I were on a hike along the David Yetman Trail through the Tucson Mountains and came across this abandoned stone house up in the hills. (As it happens, the site is within spitting distance of land that Jay and I would buy some dozen years later.) The “Bowen House” was built in the 1930s by an editor for the Arizona Star but was abandoned when the owners went “back East.” Inhabited by various young groups of squatters during the 1960s, it soon became known as the “Hippie House,” and it was during that time that fire destroyed the roof. In 1983, the entire 2,000-acre Bowen homestead became part of Tucson Mountain Park. When I showed this photo to Simon again recently, his only reaction was to ask, “Jesus, what hair color was I using back then?”
June 14, 2018
Karadeniz Mısır Ekmeği, the famed cornbread from the Black Sea (Karadeniz) region. Not at all cakey like our own Southern style cornbread, mısır ekmeği is a heavy, hardly risen, somewhat challenging loaf, dense and quickly satisfying. When we ventured into a bread bakery in a far-flung Bodrum neighborhood to ask directions, I noticed a tray of this regional specialty still warm from the oven. (What was it doing here, so far from the Black Sea?) We got our directions, our bread, and a lovely conversation with the Black-Sea-native baker who wanted to know the name of this bread in English. The following morning at breakfast on board the Wind Surf, we asked our favorite attendant Ony if he could persuade someone in the kitchen to slice the round loaf for us. He did, and when he returned it, we asked him if he’d like to try a piece. He smiled shyly and confessed, “I already did.”
June 13, 2018
Nick and I had been traveling throughout Italy for weeks, compiling the research that would result in his Great Italian Desserts book. We joked about our Sicilian visits to numerous pastry chefs, all of whom seemed to offer marzipan-based sweets filled with preserves made from a native citrus fruit. Whenever we told one that we’d earlier been to see so-and-so in such-and-such a town, he would invariably say, “Yes, but here in our shop we have something special.” Followed by the inevitable “pasta di mandorle con confitura di cedro.” Always. Until we met this man, Corrado Costanza. Yes, he had some of the predictable pasta di mandorle sweets (though in remarkable shapes and presentations.) But the thing I remember most is his gelato. I recall trying two flavors: rose and jasmine. Also a quince-paste dessert that made the glands in my throat quiver like a tuning fork. Such a nice man, frowning, offering his heart.
June 12, 2018
One of the many great gifts for me of working at the most respected name in sound was the opportunity to partner with Mike. He is the most talented and most inventive designer I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Here we are in Boston’s South Station, inspecting the installation of dozens of huge banners we’d made to herald the arrival of the Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones, known only to those of us on the payroll back then as QC2s. (Our print production pal Alan accompanied us that day and took this photo.) So what if Mike never quite mastered the art of the “jumping picture.” Just being able to get the entire product name (and the word NEW, and the Bose logo, etc.) elegantly onto most of the materials we produced was a Herculean feat worth admiring.
June 11, 2018
Jay and I live in Gloucester and love our home overlooking the harbor. Still, ever since a friend told us that we couldn’t fully appreciate the fishing town until we saw it from a boat, we’ve been jonesin’ to do just that. So when Groupon offered 50% off a harbor cruise on the schooner Thomas E. Lannon, we jumped. And we’re glad we did. Yes, it was wonderful to see the “other” perspective on our town, the side we never see from our perch above Rocky Neck and Smith’s Cove. There’s the paint factory. And the lighthouse. And, look, there’s our house up there on the cliff. The day was warm and windless, but that didn’t matter. It was nice just lolling about in the outer harbor, the sea beyond. We didn’t even mind the other passengers. Much.
June 10, 2018
Look at this beauty in my friend James’s garden. It reminds me of a similar cabbage, one that was the subject of the first watercolor I ever did in a class taught by Bill Stewart in Soho some 40 years ago. I took the class with my friend Mira who drove from NJ into NYC each Tuesday night to Bill’s loft on Prince Street in what was then a very dicey part of town. I felt very bohemian. (Bob Wilson, a Texan pal of Bill’s, sat in on the class from time to time and was pretty down to earth before he became famous as Robert Wilson.) I remember Bill’s encouraging me not to be too literal, to use colors more imaginatively. Consequently my talent-free painting was a wash of purples and pinks and blues, mixed in with the greens. I’m sure there was some red in there, too. Framed proudly if inexpertly, it hung in my parents’ hallway for years and may still even be there today. It wasn’t nearly as beautiful as this one, the real thing.
June 9, 2018
Oh, my. Who would ever have thought, back in the days when Nick and I used to go there, that the fetid Stonewall Inn would ever have become historic and respectable? Years before the “Stonewall riots” during the summer of 1969, we’d timidly enter this obviously mob-run place, clearing the front-door inspection and bouncer. (There was no picture window back then.) Once inside, it was a little creepy. Tin foil covering the ceilings of the two rooms, people hanging around, music. (The Supremes were big.) Every once in awhile there would be a police raid. The overhead lights would suddenly come on. The bartenders would quickly take the cash drawers out of the registers and disappear through a back door. And the patrons would slowly leave the establishment through the front door, police cars idling outside. The few times this happened when we were there, we just walked out without any hassle. Not so in late June, 1969. And, as a result of those well-documented few days and their aftermath, things have changed mightily. So while it’s nice to see that the place is still there, I have no desire to step inside now. Seems more like a museum piece or a theme park now than an edgy bar. Happy Pride Day to all my Boston friends today.
June 8, 2018
One of the many novelties to be witnessed in this evocative city is the change of pace from one street to the next. Especially in the French Quarter. One minute you’re on Bourbon Street, passing chock-a-block honky-tonk bars with Hurricane-toting drunken tourists spilling onto the pavement. The next moment, you find yourself in front of a residence with some serene and dreamlike decorative touches. Look at this cast-iron cornstalk fence, for example, found, not so surprisingly, in front of the Cornstalk Hotel on Royal Street. Legend holds that an early owner of this early 1800s home installed the fence so that his young bride would be less homesick for the cornfields of her native Iowa. Pumpkins form the base of the fence, and there’s even a butterfly that seems to have recently alighted on the front gate. But would you expect anything less from a city whose streetcars (now buses) carry names like Desire?
June 7, 2018
On our first visit to Barcelona 15 years earlier, Jay had made a disapproving face when I ordered “do’ con leche” as I’d heard the locals do. (He’s a scientist and preferred the more precise “dos cafés con leche.”) So I was happy this afternoon on our most recent trip to the Catalan capital when we stopped into our favorite cafe, the Bar del Pi, for our favorite coffee and Jay ordered as the Catalans do. And here they are, all do’ of them, backed up by some lovely trays of olives, steamed artichokes and stuffed red peppers, items from that day’s tapas offerings.
June 6, 2018
I thought I knew what baklava was. Then I visited Turkey. In addition to the standard baklava “diamonds” of layered filo dough, butter, nuts and sweet syrup, I found dozens of other varieties that dazzled both eye and palette. Some sweetened with honey, some with sugar syrup. Rolls of pale green filo filled with ground pistachios then cut sushi-style to create thick disks of delight. Nests of shredded dough encircling hazelnut centers. Even chocolate baklava, somewhat less sweet than you would imagine. Regional varieties whose recipes are guarded and treasured. And some that are only produced for certain religious holidays. Here, acem gülü, open turnovers of filo with a dense filling of pistachios. So little time.
June 5, 2018
My first visit to Italy, thanks largely to the urging of my late friend Dali. She’d lived in Rome for awhile, her marriage broke up there, she found an Italian boyfriend. In short, she was the ideal guide. Born Dorothy to an Italian mother and Irish father in a comfortable suburb of Boston, she never, as far as I could tell, followed any conventional path. An art student (hence her choice to spell “Dolly” as she did) who went from answering ZOOMmail at Boston’s public television station to producing segments for PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!, she was the reason I’d moved to Boston in the first place, leaving a predictable teaching job in New Jersey for “the glamour industry” of television. Dali never looked more Italian than when we were in Italy, as here in the Piazza della Rotunda just steps from the Pantheon. I often feel like she’s guiding me still.
June 4, 2018
An odd thing happens sometimes when I go out to dinner with Nick. The restaurant’s pastry chef either knows him or recognizes him and sends out lots of desserts. I can remember eating at Rialto in Cambridge, MA, one evening after Nick had been part of a presentation there earlier in the day. At dessert time, a large assortment of sweets was delivered to our table, and the pastry chef could be seen over in the corner, sneaking a peek to see which ones might meet with favor. I’m not complaining. Here at Fonda, a different situation. Because Chef Roberto Santibañez is a friend, he’ll often ask for Nick’s opinion about the way certain desserts have turned out. (Often they’re Nick’s recipes to begin with.) I am always grateful to share the benefits. This time, in addition to the tres leches cake (which you can just see a part of, lower left), there are two brownies with a caramel sauce and cinnamon-laced whipped cream. And it looks like maybe a bread pudding (which I am bound by law to order whenever I see it on any menu) and a chocolate-dotted cookie. Mmmmmm. The same again, please.
June 3, 2018
Years ago, at an early-morning flea market in Rowley, MA, I was introduced to a mad thing named Bob Driscoll. Shortly afterwards, I bought a huge framed print of the Sacred Heart from him, which I later de-acquisitioned when Simon and I wired it to a tree at the entrance to a nearby Christian college. (It remained in place for weeks, I hope because officials may have been afraid that their superiors could have authorized it.) Now Bob has set up shop just down the hill from us on East Main Street in the basement of the Beacon Marine building. This is dangerous for me. I regularly toddle down on a Saturday, just looking, and return with (at least) one of his $20 vintage handknit sweaters or $15 linen shirts or $30 Harris Tweed blazers. Bob and David are always welcoming, always quietly eager to point out their latest finds (like these tabletops from a defunct Mexican restaurant) and always very tight-lipped when I ask, “Where do you find this stuff?” I’ve already sent many people their way, all of them emerging from the store heavily laden. Open all year. Go.
June 2, 2018
Finger food. That’s what we ask our guests to bring to our annual Labor Day Saturday party each year. No plates. No utensils. Just stacks of napkins. Basta. (Note to Beth: Cheesecake with fruit topping is no longer considered a finger food. Neither is soup.) To prime the savory table, I decided to try my first tortilla española, the famed potato and onion omelette we found in tapas joints and restaurants all over Spain. First, I sliced six medium Yukon gold potatoes in half, the halves into 1/8 inch slices. Fried them in olive oil and, with a slotted spoon, put them into a bowl. Then I minced and fried two onions and a shallot (from my friend James’s garden) and added them to the potatoes. Then came some chopped rosemary leaves, S&P and, once the bowl contents were cool enough, eight beaten eggs. Heated more oil in a sauté pan, poured in the mixture and let the bottom cook over medium heat. Then, once it was set, I finished cooking the top under the broiler until the whole thing felt firm. Loosen the edges. Flip onto a plate! And here it is, about to be cut into small squares, each skewered with a toothpick or set on a small piece of Jay’s homemade bread.
June 1, 2018
No, this was not taken in a botanical garden. Instead, just a random snapshot during a hike taken on land that Jay and I bought near Gates Pass in Tucson. Yellow-blossomed prickly pear cactus, a nice round barrel cactus and that vibrant red flowering cholla. The colors are always a revelation in this place. But no more than they were during that spring visit when the desert was in full bloom. Simon and David are always so generous and hospitable, always willing to take a drive out to this land and walk it with me. Will we ever build here as was our original intention? It would mean, of course, having to clear a section of the land of native plants like these. (As it happens, we didn't have the energy to build; we sold to someone who, after several years, still hasn't built, either.)
May 31, 2018
Enter this small, crumbling courtyard during the day and you’re likely to meet a variety of neighborhood types hanging out, chatting. And because they’re Cubans, they kindly included me in their conversations. One young man told me he had a magazine that featured this staircase I’d just photographed. Did I want to see it? A woman who unofficially sits guard all day told me she thought my Spanish was good. (At least that’s what I think she said.) A man wanted to know about my life in the Estados Unidos. Return at night, and you’ll be able to eat at the famed paladar La Guarida on the top floor, often called the best restaurant in Cuba, frequented by such luminaries as Sean Penn and Queen Sofia of Spain. And, if you adjust your standards accordingly, by such luminaries as my friends Patti and Jeannie and I. We didn’t only come for the fine food, but because La Guarida occupies the apartment in which the excellent Cuban movie Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. See it.
May 30, 2018
Is it my love of collage that draws me to to the torn-poster walls I see all over Europe? Or is it the other way around? Madrid, Naples, Istanbul, and here in Lisbon, surfaces all over the place blossom with ripped layers of color and text, suggesting far more interesting and sometimes surprising moments than the original events or products advertised. I’ve always been fascinated by the Cubist collages of Picasso and Braque, the later collages and assemblages of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. Maybe someday these multi-layered walls will be remembered for the beauty and fascination they offered.
May 29, 2018
The Pantheon is my favorite building in the whole wide world. I love the rotunda (still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome), its oculus open to the sky (letting in a moving circle of sunlight or rain), originally intended as a ventilating escape for the smoke from animal sacrifices below. Commissioned by consul Marcus Agrippa circa 27 BC as a temple to all the ancient Roman gods, it was rebuilt in 126 AD by the emperor Hadrian to pretty much its present structure. I love that back in the 1980s, I would pass by on my Roman wanderings, step inside and be the only person within its cavernous interior. (Not the case during my most recent visit; there are now guard rails to shepherd the tourist crowds in and out in an orderly fashion.) It still functions as a church (which it has been since the 7th century); there are several altars, the tombs of Raphael and Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I and his queen Margherita (of pizza fame.) Regular recorded announcements in several languages urge the noisy throngs to remain silent in this “sacred place.” No such luck.
May 28, 2018
Every year I walk down the hill to watch my town’s Memorial Day parade go by, and every year I get weepy, trying to deal with conflicted feelings that well up. I love the slightly out-of-synch twirlers and cub scouts and other young marchers who are having a good time tossing candy to kids watching from the curb. I remember wonderful parades from my Springfield, NJ, childhood, marching as a cub scout, racing at the route’s end to the local Dairy Queen that was giving out free sundaes to all. (“Maple walnut, please.”) The sound of a brass marching band always gets me going. But then, the adults and their politics get in the way of my nostalgic reverie. I grew up in the 1960s after all. Fortunately, I’m quickly shaken out of my troubled thinking by my irritation over a glad-handing local politician or, worse, bagpipes! The 2011 standouts: a passing 1959 two-tone DeSoto FireFlite (fins!) and this float of mothers and kids representing a local autism research group. I can get behind both of those with no problem.
May 27, 2018
How do they know? How are they able to pop exactly on Memorial Day each year, even when the date changes to accommodate the shifting last Monday of May? But somehow they do. Our Gloucester garden has a section of bright poppies that bud mid-May and then wait patiently, gathering steam and purpose, until they explode to our great delight. The earlier-appearing artificial lapel-sized ones sold to aid veterans’ causes are simply a tease, a reminder of the outside riot to come. And then...wow! They never fail to disappoint. Long a symbol of sleep (because of the association with opium poppies) and death (because of their blood-red color), these connotations were well known to the Wicked Witch of the West. Another association with the poppy (one not lost on Glinda) is the promise of resurrection after death. Especially benevolent at the end of May when a long Massachusetts winter is (in most but not all cases) finally over.