Tag Archives: Friends in Far Flung Places

Takk fyrir

Mostly, I wanted to tell you about the light.

About how, on my last day in London, it glistened on the River Thames, making everything seem sepia-toned. Making us all nostalgic for events even as they were happening.

Is there a term for that?

No matter.

I went back to the Tate Modern’s Rothko room, where I had spent so many hours so many months prior. A friend of mine commented on the quiet that surrounded us when we walked in, and I spoke of waiting there back in late October; of how I took solace from the hushed tones and subdued images. Being back was like revisiting a favorite book. The plot the same but my reading different, colored by the intervening time, because I had been.

It felt good to return and even to be leaving since it was on my own terms this time. Even so, it was far too soon. But, I was off.

When we arrived in Reykjavik, it past midnight and looked like it was barely dusk—midnight sun and all that.

Again it comes down to the light.

If I could write the way that J.M. Turner painted, I would conjure up images of clear skies and endless open vistas and tell of how the days seemed long in all the right ways; satisfying and tiring and filled with exploration.

Þingvellir National Park

Instead, I’m stuck with the same hackneyed phrases and a new found appreciation for Monet’s haystacks, which previously stuck me as pointless and, frankly, evidence of his failing eyesight. I think that, at last, I understand the appeal. When we were standing atop the first lookout point at Þingvellir National Park, my friend Mike commented on the radiance around us. It was, he said, the sort of thing that none of us would have taken notice of when we were younger.  So, it seems, we’ve all grown.

On that first night in the city, we four were determined to stay up to watch the rising sun. The hours passed until it was just me and Ben, the ice cubes slowly melting in our drinks, making the bouquet more and more fragrant. I thought then about how the last time we had done this was the weekend of his wedding, sitting beside a roaring fire in the Scottish Fall, the air charged with the excitement of things about to unfold. I thought, too, of how it took me being stuck in London to want to return so desperately.

We missed the sunrise by all of a quarter hour. In the end, it didn’t really matter; it had never really set.

osar

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There were things I forgot.

It’s hard to know what to say after being gone so long. Harder still with each day’s passing.

So I didn’t. And each day it became easier and easier to remain silent, until I thought that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t come back.

Instead, I traveled. I opened myself up to new things and new people or, at the very least, I tried. I made elaborate plans and followed through. I continued to cook, scouring the local market until the root vegetables gave way to the first ramps of the season, made into a fragrant pesto and stowed away for cooler days. I didn’t tell you about any of it.

A few days ago, looking for something to read, I stumbled upon a old favorite. The well worn pages had darkened around the edges, curing up at the corners. The book smelled like only old books can, as if, in a long stagnant room, someone has finally opened a window. I remembered taking the book from Long Island to London, Boston to Barcelona, but I couldn’t remember basic plot points. All I could recall was this quote—What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)—and the feeling of first reading it at sixteen, thinking it a worthy philosophy. At sixteen, when you’re focused on the thrill of the open road, it is. Sixteen years after that you realize that it’s not a philosophy at all, so much as an articulation fear.

Put more bluntly: there I was, leaning forward to avoid looking back.

And, then suddenly, I found myself on streets once so familiar in my small college town. Except that found isn’t quite the right word since it was of my own volition. There had been plans made and tickets bought. Sometimes, I think, we return to places we no longer belong to remind ourselves of reasons why we once did.

As I walked around my campus, I thought about leaving ten years earlier for the last time. Of my father’s offer to drive me around for one last look, as it might be the last time that I would be there, at least in a way that felt like it was home. I can’t remember now if I took him up on it, although I’m inclined to think that I said no. I can imagine myself, twenty-two and headstrong, determined to lean forward into the next thing, although I didn’t yet know what it was. Yet I remember the offer, all of these years later. Ultimately it’s the small kindnesses that add up, including the more recent few that have, at least indirectly lead me back here. Consider it a homecoming of sorts.

There was this quote, too, from another volume nestled next to On the Road: perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. (James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room)

It will hardly come as a surprise that I’ve long forgotten the plot of that book as well. But, the binding is cracked to open to that very page—page 121 of the Laurel edition, printed in 1956, in case you were wondering. It’s in danger of falling out, getting closer still with each reading.

I’ll be here. Maybe haltingly, at first. You’ll have to be a little patient with me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on.

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Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

I’m traveling again.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Right now, I’m doing exactly what I do before any trip: anything but packing.

And, it occurs to me that I still haven’t told you about San Francisco. It’s feels so long ago that it hardly seems to matter. Except, of course, it was refreshing and relaxing and all of those things that I had hoped it would be, and I want to hold on to those experiences. Or, try my best to do so. A recurring theme here, or so it seems.

At the very least, I have photographs.

P4230052

And, stories of course. This seems to be the important thing.

This where I tell you that my favorite moment in San Francisco didn’t actually happen in San Francisco.

And once again, it involves food. Are you sensing a pattern here?

In my defense, I’ll simply say this: when it comes to voraciousness, I’m in good company.

So, when one of my companions mentioned that we were eating next door to Ad Hoc and did I know there was a shed in the back called Addendum that served Thomas Keller’s famous fried chicken, and what if we just snuck away from our lunch table for a moment to get some of it? I jumped at the chance. Put another way, we left our first lunch, to get the second. Gluttonous, yes, but isn’t that the point?

Maybe it’s simply about taking the time to savor things. A drawn out meal (or, two on that day). Or a walk through the middle of a city with only the faintest idea of a schedule or direction and hoping you don’t end up in the bad part of town. Or, even if you do, getting the perfect shot before you get out of there as quickly as you can.

Tonight, it’s about packing slowly and attempting to enjoy the process. Or, not. In this case, there may be an element of cognitive dissonance as I stare at my yet-to-be-filled out suitcase and my yet-to-be-folded piles of clothing.

But, excuses and procrastinations aside, I’ll soon finish packing. And, in a few days time, I’ll meet one of my closets friends in the middle of London Heathrow airport, and we’ll board the plane taking us to his wedding destination together. And, all of those unaccountably hard days between when I got back from San Francisco until this moment will hardly seem to matter, at least for a time.

And, I’ll think this is the part where things get good.

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And, just like that.

I’m back!

mex choc cake

Please forgive my absence. To put it in perspective, it took me two days to finish this article. It’s short, I know. I have no excuse, other than that I got too busy. I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

For what it’s worth, it once took me over a month to finish an article from The New Yorker on procrastination.

This will seem all the more appropriate when I tell you that I began to write this post back in February, when I was recapping one of the many dinners that I had hosted.

It was months ago, and, had I gotten around to writing this when I originally planned, I would have regaled you with stories of wandering around midtown Manhattan with some colleagues trying to find a place to buy lottery tickets. It was one of the largest jackpots in New York history, or at least that’s what the news was saying.

Did we think we would win? Probably not, although it should be noted that there’s something to be said to surrendering one’s self to any sort of possibility, however far fetched. Even I got caught up in the frenzy. A first for me—when I was younger, I was always the killjoy at the bodega, opting out of lottery tickets in favor of violets.

I know, I sound like a bit of a killjoy here, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty. The short list includes:

  • Camper of the year (Twice. I’m still flummoxed by that one)

  • several bottles of wine

  • $100 from FreshDirect

  • Another $100 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • a book about women’s lives.

There was an award associated with the last one, although I’m fairly certain that, as with the rest of the cases mentioned above, luck played a great part. Well, luck and having some not so busy moments at various jobs when I could fill out surveys.

Still, winning seems to be missing the point. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that not everything can be a victory. Not every cake can be a celebratory one, with craters of butter cream and fondant (although once it cools down again, I may have a new dinner party project). When it came to the lottery, I didn’t stand a chance.

And, when it comes to cake, lately I prefer this one. It’s a workhorse of a cake, by which I mean that there’s really no occasion for which it’s not suited. It’s versatile enough that you can eat it for breakfast. But, with the right company, and a scoop of just the rice kind of ice cream, it makes any dinner special. Just the thing as my days become more manic. Turns out, I’m not busy so much as overly ambitious. Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to focus some of that ambition to this corner of the internet.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8″ round cake pan.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Then, add the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chipotle, baking soda, and salt into your creamed sugar mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour batter into your pan, and bake it for approximately 50 minutes. When your cake is fully cooked a tester placed in the center will come out clean. Cook the cake for 10-15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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What’s happening right now…

.is that I am thinking about beginning to think about packing.

I am not making much progress otherwise.

On Thursday morning, I’ll board a plane and head back to San Francisco. I’m going here:

Or some place near as similar at any rate. I haven’t planned much. That’s the whole point.

You won’t hear from me in the mean, but at least this the time the excuse is one marked by exploration, excitement, and any number of effusive other words beginning with the letter e. I won’t be gone long, really. Barely enough time for it to count. By Tuesday morning, I’ll be back in New York. Wednesday: back to a day filled with meetings. Still, it’s something. My hope is that getting away will still be just the thing. And, when I return, I’ll be refreshed, ready to share more recipes with you and tackle those long delayed projects. The very real ones, like cleaning out inboxes and closets and the metaphorical ones. And, my hope is that, maybe, just maybe, I’ll find that still space before leaning forward into the next crazy venture beneath the skies*.

My hope is that you’ll be here when I get back to writing regularly soon enough.

*ten points for you if you know the reference.

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How we danced

I’m writing this all down before I forget.

I didn’t take many photos this past weekend. Or, none that were food related, anyway. Or of myself or my friends who were in town for that matter. For the most part, I was too busy simply enjoying the rightinfrontofme.

Instead took photos like this one:

Spotted on a quiet street in Brooklyn, which lead to a debate of who actually wrote it. (I’ll spare you the suspense: it was Alexander Hamilton.)

And this:

Look closely and you can see Jane’s Carousel in the distance. It’s a venue so secure in its own permanence that it has a plinth announcing “Since 2011″—I laughed when I first saw it, but on second thought, I like the brashness of it, the implied staying power. Something from another time, made modern by the architecture.

Naturally, the kids waiting in line don’t think about these things. They’re just happy for the chance to ride one of the hand carved horses. Or, if they’re really lucky, to get a chance to share one of the chariots with a friend. I thought about doing just that.

Then, surrounded by the children and their parents, I got bashful.

I’d like to say that’s unlike me, although that might be a stretch. It’s of no consequence. I knew that had I asked, my friend Ben would have done so—after all, in the first weeks of our friendship we had tangoed across the floors of the Tate Modern. It was closing time soon, so the docent let us be. I’d like to think that he also felt the Rothko room needed a little less red and a little more life in it.

At the present moment, there were places to go and sites undiscovered as of yet.

Including Cindy Sherman (the exhibit and the artist. Or, at least some of us thought).

And, then it was time for us to say goodbye. That’s the thing about having dear friends or family in different cities, you’re often saying goodbye or attempting to share experiences from afar.

It’s easy, if you have someone to show you the way.

In this case, while we can’t share meals, we can share recipes. This, then, is a variation on Ben’s Thai Green Curry.

brookyln bridge

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Eggplant

1 bunch cilantro
2 limes, zested and juice
1 small knob fresh Galangal (appox. 1 TBS), peeled
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 sprigs scallions—the white part should be roughly chopped and the green parts should be chiffonaded and set aside
5 garlic cloves, peeled roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
5-6 bird’s dried eye chilies
2 TBS peanut oil
12 ounces coconut milk
6 ounces water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 eggplant, roughly diced
fish sauce (approx 2 tsps)
soy sauce

garnish: scallions

Using a food processor, combine the cilantro, Galangal, garlic, dried bird’s eye chilies, onions, white portion of the scallions, and lemongrass stalks and pulse until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Add water if you are having difficulty getting into combine.

Heat a heavy bottomed pot over a high flame. Add in the peanut oil and allow to heat, approximately 1 minute. Add in the cilantro paste and heat approximately 5-10 minutes, until the paste become aromatic. Reduce the heat to medium low, and add in the coconut milk and water. Stir and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add in the chicken and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and allow to simmer 10 minutes. Add in the eggplant, mix together and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until the eggplant has become soft.

Season to taste using fish sauce (approx. 2 tsps, depending on how salty you like your curry) and soy sauce. Garnish with the green part of the scallions and serve with white rice.

Serves 4 as a main dish

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I cannot make it cohere*

If you were to go through the archives, I suspect I would find easily ten different posts all about how my intentions were good and the follow-though, well, lacking.

I can’t help myself.

February didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts for various reasons, including, but not limited to being seriously sick, and who wants to hear about that? Two weeks ago, I got into work only to turn around two hours later—just enough time to get everything in order so that I could work from my apartment. I was back in the office the next day out of necessity, and the long days that followed didn’t help much either. I made power points and pretty things, I wrote pitches. But, each time that I started to write something here, it didn’t quite gel.

The thing is, things are busy, and they’re not likely to change any time soon. I’m searching for a connection here. Maybe it’s my need to present things in a cohesive narrative. What can I say? I’ve been busy. Here are some recipes?

That hardly seems inspiring.

I’ve been cooking a lot—over the weekend, a friend came over for a long over due catch-up. Dinner consisted of red wine, salted caramel ice cream and home made hot fudge. Before then, there was a dinner party for another friend’s birthday. I didn’t get pictures there, although, let’s be honest, my photography skills still need some work. I want to tell you about all of these things. And, the stew that’s currently bubbling away on the stove as I get ready to tackle a shortened work-week.

I’ll get to them in due time. Just bear with me.

Until then, I’ve been busy. Here are some recipes.

Chicken Tacos
Half recipe of Roasted Tomato-Chile de arbol salsa (recipe follows)
1 roasting chicken, 5-6 lbs
1 TBS kosher salt
1 TBS freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and pat the chicken dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes at 450 degrees, then lower the heat to 350 and roast for another hour, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes.

Once the chicken has cooled slightly, remove the skin and, using two forks or your hands, pull the meat from the bones. Save the carcass for stock.

Combine the pulled chicken with the roasted tomato salsa. Serve with salsa cruda (recipe follows), guacamole

Roasted Tomato Salsa
Recipe courtesy of Simple Food, Big Flavor

4 plum tomatoes
3-6 chiles de arbol (vary to suit your taste)
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your broiler.

Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and cook them, about 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are charred. Set the tomatoes aside to cool. Once the tomatoes have cooled, slip off the skins and remove the cores. Place the tomatoes and all of the juice into a large bowl and roughly chop them.

While the tomatoes are cooling, in a separate dry skillet, heat the chiles de arbol, toasting them until they begin to smoke, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Add olive oil, onion, and garlic to the pan, setting it over medium heat and stirring until the onion is soft. This should take approximately 7 minutes. Add the chiles, tomatoes, and water, bringing it to a simmer. Cook for 12 minutes, then let it cool.

When the mixture is room temperature, add it to a blender, along with the cilantro, salt, and pepper. Puree it until the mixture is smooth. Then, run it through a fine mesh strainer so that it is smooth. Serve it at room temperature.

Salsa Cruda
Use this recipe as a guideline, altering ingredients to your taste

1 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cilantro, minced

Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit 30 minutes prior to serving, allowing all flavors to meld.

*with apologies to Ezra Pound

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