18.7.11

reassurance.

December in London. Rustling trees, sweeping gray skies.
Warm golden light spilling from the windows around me.
The wind was strong, cutting through my coat.
My leggings had holes in the knees.
Leaves scuttled past me and the sky darkened as time slunk into early evening.
And I was feeling pensive, uncertain. It happens.
And suddenly, I looked up, and there this was. 
I can't help but find signs in things, whether it's a playing card pressed into the sidewalk,
seeing an animal out of context, or, well, an entire building telling me
not to worry.
Thank you, Tate Modern.
Everything is going to be alright. 

17.7.11

greek lamb with grilled tomato and halloumi cheese

I wake up from my nap, and I'm in Greece.
What a strange feeling.
After 6 months in Israel, Lisa came to meet me and after a couple weeks of travel,
we flew to Kos. The plan is to hop around some of the Dodecanese islands for 10 days
or so, and then fly back to Montpellier. We spent last night at the Ben Gurion 
airport in Tel Aviv and arrived in Kos bedraggled, struggly messes.
It's also raining. Didn't expect that. 
It took us at least an hour to find our hostel. Once arrived, we immediately
collapsed onto our beds and, now, a few hours later,
we're awake and ready to explore Kos.
The air is damp and cool from the rain and it gives Kos Town a
 raw, clean beauty.
Still, I hope the sun shines brighter tomorrow.
 We wander a bit, following our noses until we find a little restaurant
on some random side street. I order lamb, Lisa has moussaka and we
split a plate of dolmades in an egg lemon sauce.
We order tap water but the waiter says we'd better not, 
and gives us bottled water on the house.
The lamb comes with fries, creamy tzakiki and rice.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never tasted lamb like this.
It's...sweet. But savory. Tender and nuanced with flavor.
I am positively bowled over.
So is Lisa:
Now THAT is a happy face.
Yeah. I like Greece.

Greek lamb with tomatoes, cheese and tzaziki
Halloumi cheese is hard to find, and a bit expensive, but it
is entirely worth it. It's a cheese from Cyprus that has a uniquely
firm texture, which lends it to grilling, frying, baking, etc. I also love
the flavor- salty,  but not as strong as feta. I suppose
you could use mozzarella, but it just wouldn't be the same!

Ingredients
For the lamb:
4 lamb shoulder blade chops
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/2 lemon
Olive oil
A handful of fresh oregano, chopped
A sprig of rosemary, stripped
A bit of salt and pepper, to taste.

For the cheese and tomatoes:
1 ripe tomato, sliced thickly
1 block of halloumi cheese, sliced thickly
Olive oil
Fresh oregano to garnish

For the tzaziki:
1 cup Greek yogourt
A handful of dill, chopped
One smallish cucumber, chopped 
Fresh mint, optional 

Preparation
First, deal with the lamb. Combine all ingredients in a large container and rub all over the chops with your hands. If there are any little openings, be sure to get some garlic in there! Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

On a big piece of aluminum foil, arrange your cheese and tomato slices. Drizzle over some nice olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh oregano. 
 Then, make a parcel with the edges of the foil. It should look a bit like a longish tent.

Fire up your grill! I would add the cheese and tomato parcel first. Cook the lamb chops about 4 minutes on each side, or however you like it. 

While everything is grilling, combine your tzaziki ingredients. It's really about taste, so take a nibble and see if you want more dill, or some salt.
Such an easy meal and it's so pleasing. Be sure to serve with lots of lemon wedges.

I used to eat lamb shoulder steak ALL THE TIME in college because it was so cheap and delicious! This was when I was dreaming of/planning to go to France and I always made them in my little apartment kitchen with walnut oil, rosemary and garlic. 
And for some reason, I always tend to eat this with zucchini.
Καλή όρεξη! 

14.7.11

bastille day in montpellier

morning: a giant macaron, tarte citron and caramel ice cream cake
for another big day on july 14th; lisa's birthday!
also: those little yellow things are NOT tomatoes. they are actually
tiny apricots. we bought a big sack of them without actually
asking, tasting, or looking for a sign telling us what they were
because, well, they looked like tomatoes. 
nope. apricots. tart, squishy, actually quite addictive apricots.
you can never have too many flags...

 potluck picnic on the esplanade just outside of the place de la comédie
our landlords, french "parents", and dear friends jean-marie and claire
with anna and me. they made a gorgeous birthday dinner for lisa!
olives, champagne, cauliflower soup (pictured below), a
fruit and salmon salad with indian spices, and a cake that
absolutely took my breath away...

the birthday girl with her cake of ladyfingers, peaches and cream.
happy birthday to my dear friend lisa, and happy bastille day to
all of my lovely french friends! (and francophiles everywhere...)
bonne fête!

12.7.11

strawberry rhubarb shortcake

This July 4th, I went to my friend Anna's lakehouse in Maine.
It's a good place. 

I went fishing for the first time! It was fun. I did not
catch anything, but as you can see, Anna certainly did.
July Fourth cocktails: Watermelon, strawberry, blackberry, pineapple
juice, ice, vodka and Malibu.
 The best lobster I've ever had...
And, a surprise visit with my other friend, Dora! 
It's so funny. I met Anna in Israel, and I met Dora in Italy.
And here they both are now in Maine, living a half hour
from each other.
I love when faraway worlds collide.  
Fireworks over the lake...
There are dozens of pink rhubarb plants in the 
lush wooded area by the lakehouse.
I picked some and brought them home with me.
Anna also bestowed me with loads of bags filled
with frozen blueberries and chopped rhubard.
It's fantastic, and perfect for baking. So...
expect quite a few rhubarb or
blueberry filled baked goods in the near
future...
Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcake
I think I will always eat this instead of strawberry shortcake from now on. 
I love rhubarb... 
The recipe for the biscuits comes from the best cookbook ever; The Gourmet Cookbook. 
You may notice that the biscuit recipe has no butter in it. This actually
means that it is technically NOT shortcake, since the "short" implies 
that it's made with butter. However, these cream biscuits are 
absolutely delightful, a breeze to make, and still produces
a great "shortcake" so I have no problem with that. I mean,
when has Ruth Reichl ever led me astray? 

Ingredients
For the cream biscuits:
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream 

And the rest..
6 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
1/4 cup sugar, plus a pinch or two more
1/2 of a lemon
10 strawberries, hulled and quartered
About a cup or so of heavy cream
A splash of vanilla extract, or, even better, the scrapings of one vanilla bean...mmm

Preparation
First, begin the biscuits. Preheat your oven to 425f/220c.  Butter a baking sheet.
Sift your flour, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl.  Slowly add your cream and gently work together just until you've formed  soft dough. The trick with these biscuits is to work the dough as little as possible, otherwise the texture will be completely off and you'll be disappointed. 
Get your dough into a ball. Again, use the lightest touch possible.
Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough six times. Yes, six. 
Using your fingertips, spread the dough so it's about 1/2 inch thick. 
Lightly flour the rim on a glass and use that to cut rounds from the dough. When you've run out of space, gather the dough again and repeat. You should have about 8 biscuits. 
Brush the tops with some cream and pop into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. 
Transfer to a cooling rack and move on to your topping!
In a medium saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar, rhubarb, and the juice from a wedge or two of lemon. Keep over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally, until liquidy and jamlike. Remove from heat and let cool.
In another bowl, crush your strawberries with a fork. Add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sugar. Then, stir in your rhubarb. Let sit for a bit.
Finally, in a large bowl, combine cream, a pinch of sugar, and vanilla. Get either an electric mixer (heaps easier) or a whisk, and whip it up! 

To serve, cut a biscuit in half, and top with your fruit and cream. Replace top like a sandwich. 
 

7.7.11

kibbutz watermelon cocktails

A hot Friday evening on kibbutz....
Tomorrow is our first day off in six days. Shabbat. Our
Friday evenings vary. Sometimes after the big communal
dinner, we simply melt back into our rooms and 
sit around, chatting, writing ideas for a 
scavenger hunt or volunteer game of "assassin".
Other nights, there's a driver, and we can go "out".
A member will drive a van to take volunteers
to one of the other kibbutzim, so we can go to their pub.
We don't have a pub on Fridays. Ours is Thursday and Saturday, but with
Saturday being our only morning off, we like to go to pub
on Fridays. On these nights, we congregate outside and
drink sweet, strong drinks of fruit nectar, and vodka that could remove your nail polish.
 At midnight, anyone who thinks they can make it out
(keep in mind, we've been awake since 6 am) goes to meet the kibbutz van.
On this particular night, we have not planned ahead. 
There will be a driver, and we have vodka, but no
juice to drink it with. Belinda, Dana and I lay around Belinda's
room, enjoying the air-conditioning, unsure what we'll do.
Jessie comes over and we learn that
one of the kibbutzim in the area is having a 
big party tonight- their pub is outdoors, and tonight is
the first night it's open.
All we have is a bottle of hair-raising vodka, a small watermelon, and 
some lemon. Fabulous. We work away, experimenting, tasting, making
a sticky mess, but we know it'll be worth it. 
We use knives  to mash the watermelon
into drinkable sized bits. We vigorously blend our
drink using a fork. Finally, when it tastes the way
we want, we rim our cups with sugar. 
"Que rico!", Dana breathes.
I take a sip. Heavenly.  We bring our drinks outside,
and soon enough, everybody wants watermelon cocktails.
We are more than happy to share. We sit in circles on the grass.
 Guitars and nargila come out, the stars turn, and we wait
for midnight.
 Watermelon Cocktails
This isn't really a recipe, of course. Just a drink idea for you to toy with this summer.
Ingredients
1 small watermelon
Sugar
2 lemons
Ice
Cold water
Vodka 
Preparation
Well, I am going to do this with a blender. But the story above proves that you certainly don't need a blender to make this drink. It will require you to hack away at the watermelon and use a fork to mix it and will take about six times as long as it would with a blender, but it works!
Anyway.
Halve, then quarter your watermelon and remove rinds. If you see any black seeds along your way, of course pop them out. Cut the pieces into chunks and throw into a blender with a handful of sugar. Blend.
Take one of your lemons and squeeze the entire thing in. Add a bit of cold water and mix.
Pour in your vodka. Give it a couple pulses, and taste. If it needs more of anything, add it! 
For the sugar rim:
Pour some sugar onto a small plate.
Cut the other lemon into wedges. Put a slit through the middle of each wedge and put one on the rim of a cup. Swirl it around the edge so the whole mouth of the glass is lemony, and then remove the wedge and turn the cup upside-down onto the sugar plate. Replace the wedge, and repeat with the rest.
Serve over ice.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

5.7.11

sandwich inspiration

amsterdam, december 2007.
an afternoon wandering found us in a perfect cafe with 
orange walls, window seats, sandwiches and soup.

pesto and mozerella toastie with tomato
 burger with roasted red peppers, probably cheese.
runny goat cheese with honey
by the way, these were all eaten with

2.7.11

Cena in Contrada

The evening air is fragrant with early summer. 
Anna and I arrived a few hours ago and almost immediately met up with Nicco, a friend of Lisa's. Our decision to come to Siena was so last minute that we didn't realize the Palio was only days away. We are only passing through, a short day before continuing on to Bologna.
Nicco meets us for a drink and invites us to join him at a dinner festival held for his contrada, dell'Onda.  Ah, one of my favorite things about Italy is the food festivals. Evenings of long tables and endless food and wine that fades into a party for the whole community under one blanket of stars.  This one is especially exciting, brimming with pre-Palio excitment and pride. The sun is just beginning to set as we drink wine in a courtyard, meeting lots of friendly, happy people and watching the moon rise. A full moon is rising. Splendid. Nicco buys us olive ascolane; hearty fried, green olives stuffed with meat, spilling out of a crisp paper cone. 
After our aperitivo hour ends, the gate opens and we are led down to dinner. We walk down a twisting staircase that overlooks the tables. It's spectacular. All above and around us are beautiful buildings, blue and white flags for the contrada. People are filling the area quickly, carefree, giving bacetti and hugs, finding their seats. 
 Once sat, our wine glasses are once again refilled and soon enough we're served. The boys all share their dishes with each other (and us) so everybody can try everything. Dishes get passed around, wine is flowing. People  eat, sing, laugh and dance. 
The boys suggested we get the steak and tortellini with pesto, so we split the both of them. The tortellini and is smaller and  and has a firmer, chewier bite than any I've seen before. And pesto...I can never turn down pesto. Especially in warm weather.
"Where will you go next?", asks one of the boys.
"Bologna!"
"You must eat tortellini in Bologna, where it was created. Even better than here!"
Everyone gives us advice on places to go in Italy and tries to persuade us to stay for the Palio. More food is passed around. Pasta, grilled pork chops. People are dancing, floating from table to table to visit with friends. 
Hours later, we journey back to the piazza with our new friends. We go for a digestivo and drink Sambuca and then espresso to finish everything off. Eventually, we say goodnight, goodbye and thank you. The boys assure that we are always welcome back, and we of course welcome them to visit us wherever either of us end up. Then, we walk back to where we pitched our tent that afternoon. It's gotten chilly and late.
Tomorrow we will explore Siena and, in the evening, take a bus to Bologna to meet Dora. Big day. 
"All night, those boys bought entire rounds of drinks or food for each other, us... just naturally. It's just what they do. They were all so generous," Anna says.
It's true. This night in Siena was fantastic, and what stood out most of all was the generosity. Before we arrived, and we called Lisa from the train, she immediately assured us we would be in good hands with Nicco and his friends. She was right.  They naturally take care of their guests, and each other. I love Italy. I love the people. I feel like every day somebody reaches out to me in a random act of kindness, whether it is a boy who works at the local market to our farm,  seeing us in Perugia, buying us lunch and showing us the city, a young mom calling her brother in Bari to help us organize a hostel...while giving us a lift there, or tonight, these gregarious boys who gave us such a special night.
I climb into the tent, curl up on my squeaky blow-up water raft and drift to sleep...

 Walnut Pesto

Ingredients
A good bunch of basil
A handful of walnuts, toasted
1 large clove of garlic
Walnut oil
A handful of grated parmesan cheese, optional
Salt and pepper, if you'd like 

Preparation
Get out your blender....
First, blitz up your walnuts and garlic. Add all your basil and blend. Then, slowly pour in walnut oil. When it has reached it's desired consistency, you can scoop it out and stir in some cheese, if you'd like. Season to taste.
And then you of course have the choice of serving it over tortellini. 
This may not be a complicated or fancy recipe but I love it and can not imagine summer without it. 

buon appetito!