Category Archives: Travel

Travel time

I am off on a couple weeks of work travel… I have a backlog of things to post and hopefully will work my way through them at the various hotels. For tonight, I’m headed to London, please think Smooth-Travel thoughts in my direction!

(The Temporary Waterloo Bridge, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 1938)

Oregon trip: Dad’s birthday dinner

This is a short one–a simple delicious meal, and only a couple pics. But first, flip on over (in a new window!) to Germi’s great Domino garden blog, where she featured Mom’s garden the other day! In honor of Mom’s star turn, here is a photo of Mom (artfully turned away from the camera) in her kitchen:


The kitchen isn’t huge but it’s an efficient layout. They re-did the counters, added a new little window (not shown here) and replaced the appliances earlier this year, and Mom is very fond of her new CaesarStone counters. She says you could spill wine on them and leave it overnight—though she would never, because she’s incredibly tidy—and it wouldn’t leave a mark! We are starting to think about our kitchen renovation, and I’m going to check out CaesarStone myself sometime soon. I liked the feel of it at home.

Ahem. Anyway, Dad doesn’t get as much play on the blog as Mom does, even though he’s an avid blog-reader and big food lover! Maybe this winter he can write a guest post about his famous cassoulet, which he makes about once a year over the course of several days. His birthday was the day I was leaving, and my flight was in the evening so we had a very early dinner to celebrate before we headed to the airport.

For dinner we had more beans from the garden, again prepared with Mom’s homemade lemon confit:


Plus lovely New York steaks with grilled onions and roasted potatoes. Happy Birthday, Dad!


Yum! It was a lovely night out on the deck, and it was brutal to eat a little too quickly and leave, especially since I was in for a red-eye flight in a middle seat. Would you want to stop sitting here with your delightful parents and a glass of wine?

To be fair, the short flight to SF was comfortable and featured a truly stunning sunset. And then I was able to spend 45 minutes in the airport with my Maid of Honor and her fiancé, who were on their way TO Eugene. That was where the fun ended, though, because the red-eye was 100% full, and I was indeed squished between two big guys the entire way.

Here’s that amazing sunset, though–I think what looks like the ocean is actual a sea of clouds. We were just outside Eugene at that point.



Oregon trip: Mirza

Mirza. Mirza is a wonderful, wonderful thing, very much one of my Top Five foods. It is awful-looking, a brownish mush of eggplant, tomato and egg, but the smoky, garlicky flavor is divine. My Mom’s friend Linda (another wonderful cook) is married to a Persian man and learned to cook all sorts of wonderful food from her Mother-in-Law. We have been eating mirza since I was a kid, and I crave it at random intervals. Sadly Mom refuses to make unless it is eggplant and tomato season. Ah, seasonality.

We made it as part of our Tapas dinner, though, and I think it was one of the best batches we ever made! I forgot to take pictures until most of the way through, so bear with me.

First, take your eggplant, a nice big one or two small ones, and grill it whole over lowish heat until it the sides collapse if you poke them (carefully) with your finger. Do not puncture the skin! Once the eggplant is all charred and soft, put it in a covered bowl or something to sit and think about what it’s done while you prep everything else. Seed and chop three or four nice ripe roma tomatoes, and mince a LOT of garlic, 6-8 cloves at least. Then gingerly peel the eggplant, making sure you catch all the nice juices in the bowl, and chop up the flesh. Leave all the seeds and stuff. Sauté the garlic in a good amount of olive oil until it is soft, then add in the eggplant and cook until you break it down a bit and it isn’t in chunks. Add in the tomato and cook until soft. In a glass, scramble up one egg. Next, make a hole in the middle:


And pour the egg into it. Scramble it a bit:



And then stir it through the eggplant mixture and get it all nicely cooked so there aren’t bits of raw white:


Not too pretty, eh? But oooooh man. Usually we eat it piping hot with hot pita triangles, but this time we had it with grilled bread (brushed with oil and rubbed with garlic before grilling) and that was even better. Everything was smoky and garlicky and fantastic.


I made it again the other night, to make sure I remembered the steps (I actually had to call mom to check how many tomatoes) and it wasn’t quite as good. We have a gas grill, while Mom and Dad use real-wood charcoal. Can’t beat the flavor, but mine was still pretty good and it got better the next day.

Oregon trip: “Tapas” dinner on the patio

Mom and I discussed a bunch of favorite foods to try to figure out what to cook for my second-to-last night home, and we realized that we could just make a bunch of appetizer type things and skip the main course altogether. Delightful!

First, a glamour shot of the Sungold cherry tomatoes I keep talking about, and which we ate by the bucket full all week:

Now. The menu for the evening:
-White beans with sausage, red onion and tomato
-Mirza (Persian eggplant dip and one of my all-time favorite foods)
-Grilled baby artichokes
-Prosciutto-wrapped grilled figs
-Grilled bread

OK, now I’m starving thinking about it.

I’ll follow up with a mirza post since it needs its own entry. It is simple but divine. And my mom made the white beans while I wasn’t paying attention, so I’d just be guessing if I made up instructions for that (though it was very tasty). But the grilled artichokes I carefully paid attention to, and the grilled figs are so beyond simple and SO delicious….

Artichokes. My mom buys bags of baby artichokes from Trader Joe’s because her friendly Farmer’s Market artichoke man has stopped showing up. I think we started with four pounds. That sounds insane, but we wanted leftovers and as you’ll see you throw away (compost, in our case) a LOT of trimmings.

Sadly I forgot to take photos until I was trimming the last few, so I don’t have a whole one to show here. But pretend you have seen the whole baby artichoke.

Trim it down to the tender leaves, cut the top third off, leaving the bases of the leaves, then use a paring knife to clean the bottom and stem, then cut each one in half (place in a bowl of cold water with the juice of a lemon while you keep trimming the rest:

This takes quite a while. Once you’ve done all trillion of them, admire the giant tub of leaves and trimming that your compost heap is about to enjoy, and marvel at the tiny bowl of water and artichokes that you are left with:

Despite the lemon juice in the water, the artichokes may have discolored a little along the cut edges (you’re helping slow that down by putting them in water)–do not panic. Put them in a big pan with a couple whole cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed, cover them with water (or close to cover), and bring to a simmer. Cook until they are tender but not too soft:

It’s like magic! The discoloration is gone! Eat one out of the strainer to celebrate. Now coat them in olive oil:

Grill in a grill pan to prevent losing them into the fire. They’re already cooked, so you’re just adding that nice charred look and flavor. Salt and pepper. I like to hit them with a squeeze of lemon juice when they’re done. Now you can start sneaking them out of the bowl while you continue getting dinner on. (Leftovers should be added to pizza, or pasta, or sandwiches, or eaten cold out of the fridge.)


Ok, the other fun grilled thing that night–I posted one photo already, but this is an appetizer my mom has been making for years, and it could not be easier.


[If you’re using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for a couple hours before assembly!]
A note on figs: They have to be ripe ripe ripe for this to be as amazing as it can be. We had lovely ripe figs, and actually some were just ripe while others were *really* ripe:

I have to say, though, I could barely tell them apart when they were cooked. That slightly sketchy-looking one might have been a tad more tender; it was certainly way juicier raw!
Cut slices of prosciutto in half the long way, so you have two strips from each slice. Wind one strip around each halved fig, and string a couple on each skewer. Brush with olive oil and grill.


Devour while moaning incoherently.

Oregon trip: Tomato Salad food porn

[Oops, one more entry before those artichokes…]

We took a trip up to Portland while I was home for a family birthday celebration—my Dad, cousin and grandmother are also August birthdays, along with me and my brother (who wasn’t there). Once again I was a surprise attendee, which was fun. My mom made amazingly gorgeous tomato salads in two flavors.

1. Greek: Heirloom and cherry tomatoes, feta, kalamata olives, red pepper, red onion, basil, cucumber, dressing.
ts ts

2. Plain, for the keep-it-simple crowd: Heirloom and cherry tomatoes, feta, basil, dressing.
ts2 ts2

I just thought they were so beautiful–like platters of jewels. I hate the heat, but I do dearly love summer for the vegetables… And Oregon is a lovely place to spend it. Here are the views from the car…

…on the way to Portland:

…and on the way home:

Oregon trip: Sausage and peppers

My dad was returning from a 10-day camping/fishing trip with a conference in the middle, and we didn’t know what time he’d get home. Mom and I made a fun grilled meal that would hold up or reheat well once he did arrive. (He didn’t know I was coming home! It was really fun to open the door for him.)

At the farmer’s market, Mom had picked up multicolored Italian peppers, like bell peppers but long and pointy and sweeter.

We cut them into strips, cut up a bunch of onions, and embarked on a grilling adventure. Neither of us usually does the grilling, and in fact my dad is a total master of the chimney starter, coal management, etc. We had a little bit of trouble getting the coals going but eventually figured it out.


Mom also roasted a pan of chioggia beets so I could see how easy it is to do. It really is simple. She made a marinade of (I think) orange juice, thyme, oil, salt and pepper (Mom, what else was in there?), roasted the beets until tender (at what temp!?), let them cool enough that she could put on latex gloves and peel them, then sliced them and dressed them with vinaigrette. (Clearly I didn’t pay as close of attention to the technique as I should have…) We ate them for the rest of the week, with everything. And chioggias are SO pretty with their pale pink circles…


It was very summery, especially after we added a handful of the Sungolds from the garden, dressed in a light vinaigrette with some basil.



By the way, in case you weren’t already jealous of how my parents eat ALL THE TIME, check out what greeted me when I came downstairs to eat some lunch. My mom had said she’d toast some bread for me.
Panini! With perfect hatch marks and fresh tomatoes! (Um, there were a lot of ripe tomatoes. We ate them at almost every meal. And they’re like candy, so you never get sick of them.) Double-Mmm.

Next up: A pseudo-Tapas meal, with grilled artichokes (for Germi!)

High Summer in the Great Northwest

So I spent almost a week visiting my parents in Oregon… First of all, people who haven’t been there tend to think of the entire Pacific Northwest as a rainy, foggy bog. I’m from Eugene, which is smack in the middle of the Willamette Valley (pinot noir country), and we are actually protected from Seattle-style weather by the coast range. The winter is wet, sure, but I think it’s the same number of grey days as we get out here on the East Coast, but without the sleet and ice. And in the summer…Oh, the summer. Normal summers are almost completely dry, June through October hot and sunny with no humidity. Usually it’s in the 80s during the day (at the height of summer, though there are heat waves) and then drops to the 50s at night. Without humidity there aren’t bugs unless you’re near a river or swamp. At my parents’ house, that means we can eat on the patio and not swat a single mosquito away.

Here is a view of the Valley as I flew into Eugene:


I took a series of photos of the Cascade foothills (the Coburg Hills) dropping abruptly into the valley, posted at Flickr.

I had gotten up at 4:15 for a 6:50 flight, then ended up bumped to an 8 something flight, then my flight from Denver was delayed because the computer on the plane couldn’t tell that the door was closed. So I got in about 4 hours late, and was quite low-energy. My mom had rented Mostly Martha, the wonderful german film that was remade as No Reservations, and we made nice big salads with tuna for dinner to eat while watching it.

Kalamata olives, Sungold cherry tomatoes from the garden, red onion, red pepper, basil from the garden, feta.

All mixed together, with the tuna (the wonderful spanish kind from an oval red and yellow tin, packed in olive oil):

Bad photo of my salad (left) and my mom’s (right)–she doesn’t snack between meals!

BTW, I haven’t seen No Reservations, but Mostly Martha was really, really good. Very quiet and low-key, but all excellent actors and a really beautiful food movie.

Proustian moment

The sense of smell is so amazing and strange. I’m sitting in a chilly corporate apartment in midtown Manhattan, facing a bare wall and an aggressively contemporary lamp. But a foot and a half to my left is half a brioche, left over from breakfast, and every so often a whiff of it hits me. The smell makes me feel like I’m in France, with the crazy host family I stayed with when I was 13. I can see the heavily padded silk walls of the living room, and the corner you turned to go into the bright, narrow kitchen of their townhouse. I need to figure out what it is in certain pastries, combined with butter, that smells like France.


Wheee, back from a mini-vacation: We went to our friend Ann’s parents’ lake house in Maine for Memorial Day weekend, and basically did nothing for three days. There was kayaking and a bit of walking around, and a couple plunges in the not-as-icy-as-expected lake, but for the most part we drank wine, sat on the dock, drank coffee, sat on the dock, played silly games…



Anyway, I will be updating more soon…

Argentina Travelogue: Mendoza, part two

(Yet another long delay. I’ll try to wrap this up in the next week.)

The evening after our wine tasting day we simply could not face walking into town for dinner at a restaurant. That morning, we had asked Maria Gracia, the owner (and matriarch), if we could have dinner at the hotel. It turns out they had stopped having asados since no one ever asked for them, but we were invited to join the family for dinner at the main house.


The contractor who is working on the guest houses had gone fishing at the reservoir that morning and caught the trout (right Dad?) that we ate. Maria Gracia served mashed avocados (with lemon, salt and pepper) and bread to start, then we had an eggplant parmesan prepared by Maria Gracia’s mother, Rosa (with heavily rolled R, followed by a dramatic pause and: “di Napoli”). That was delicious—the eggplant was more bitter than I’m used to eating in the US, but the dish was served room temperature and all the flavors had mingled nicely. The eggplant wasn’t fried, just sliced and layered with tomatoes and cheese, then baked.

The trout had been cleaned and then stuffed with grated carrots, fresh oregano and tomatoes and baked. It was a good combination, especially with the incredibly delicate fish. I had a bit of trouble with the de-boning (I got one side off perfectly, then spent the rest of the night picking bones from the other side out of my mouth), proof that I have got to practice eating whole fish more often.

Maria Gracia’s birthday was earlier that week, and friends who own a bakery had given her three fancy Alfajors, which are the national cookie of Argentina, from what I could tell. They’re more like cakes, with two dry cookie layers filled with dulce de leche and then frosted with chocolate or meringue. We cut each one up into little pieces so everyone could try each flavor. (The cat tried to grab one, but we rescued it. The cake, not the cat.)

At the table were Ben and I, Maria Gracia and her husband Alberto, their son Gabriel, and Rosa. We sampled several wines from the vineyard where Gabriel works (he is in college studying viticulture), Alta Vista. The rosé was a nice end to the meal. We ate and talked for about three hours, in Spanish, English, French and a little Italian. Alberto is a scientist and Maria Gracia was an art history professor, and the conversation covered lots of ground. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, tied with our experience hanging out in the Andes with Gustavo.

…..Gustavo. The next day, Gustavo picked us up, this time in casual wear. We drove up into the Andes, a couple hours west of where we were staying (the foothills are within half an hour; we were driving nearly to Chile). We took a two-kilometer hike from the highway past the ranger station and up to a lake that has a great view of Mount Aconcagua, the highest point in the Americas. By far the best part was when we got to the viewing area and Gustavo opened up the box he’d been lugging up the path. Out came a bottle of wine and two glasses, along with some crackers to snack on.

Gustavo polishes up the glasses:

What an incredible interlude, slightly light-headed from the altitude and the wine and the sun, gazing at the mountain. Gustavo took this photo of us, with me looking incredibly Lushy–it makes me think of the Valley of the Dolls or something, with the sweater and glasses and glass of wine, so inappropriate in that setting:


Sigh. I’m not very outdoorsy. I got a fierce sunburn that day.

The mountain, through the perfect looking glass:

Aw, it’s not even as remotely food related as all the wine talk, but here’s a picture of us with Gustavo, who is an incredible guy and tons of fun:


For lunch we kept driving west, up to a hostel/restaurant/shop built up over the highway:
Gustavo told us it was simple food, the type of thing most people eat at home. Sure enough, there was a buffet of stewed beans and meats, rice, rice and beans, and rice and lentils, as well as a salad bar. I had a delicious chicken milanese, salad, mashed potatoes, rice, rice and lentils and salad. (With a side of carbs, please!)

I asked Gustavo how to cook the rice so it’s as flavorful as mine was. Here’s his recipe:
-Put corn oil in the pan, heat it up, and add rice. Cook for 10 minutes.
-Cover with water and add a bouillon cube. [I guess I could sub in chicken stock for those two.]
-Cook, uncovered, until almost done. Remove from heat and cover until dried out.

That night we were exhausted again, so we ended up walking to the corner store and assembling a rather make-shift picnic, ham sandwiches and chips and cookies: