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San Francisco

No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living. –William Saroyan

A while back I mentioned something about my trip to San Francisco.  Well I got back from that trip over a month ago now, but as cold, rainy weather stretches out before us here in NYC, I thought it would be nice to revisit the trip to keep my spirits up.

Four New Yorkers left New York with spirits wearied and worn ragged from the snow and ice that has defined this winter, however, the SF weather could not have been more compliant.  After a few days of sunshine and warmth on our skin, we left with a lightness in our beings.  Actually I’m not sure whether this change was due to the weather or the healthy doses of laughter that filled the spaces between our constant conversation.

When you see a dear friend after being apart—even if you have talked on the phone or emailed—the time during a visit seems to be measured not in minutes or hours but in laughter and chatter and hugs.  It seemed like we never stopped laughing!  Ceaselessly we went on about the sun, our surroundings, the sun, the food we ate, the coffee we drank (did I mention the sun?).  We made up for lost time and then some.

Also when visiting a dear friend, every minute is precious and so sleep is the first to go, sacrificed in the name of friendship.  Accordingly, we shook off our jet lag and tiredness and with enough caffeine it didn’t make a difference anyway.  I am so pleased to say that I had more fun than I had anticipated.  For me, the success of a vacation is measured just as much in the food I eat as it is in the sights I see.

If I want to transport myself right back to San Francisco, all I need to do is think about the nachos and burritos we ate in the Mission or the amazing latte and cookie I had in the Sunset (Heather’s neighborhood) at Double Trouble café.

I can’t think of the beach by her apartment without thinking also of Java Beach café and how much the iced coffee and bagels hit the spot.  Of course there was also the incredible brunch at Park Chow (blueberry pancakes) and the vegetable noodle soup and dumplings in Chinatown.

I’ll never think of Berkeley without thinking of the gorgeous Thai place where we had lunch, sitting in the sun on a deck over looking the busy student-filled streets.  We had Thai iced tea and pad Thai and then for dessert (!!!) stopped at a recently opened ice cream cookie sandwich place.

And of course, no visit to California is complete without a stop at In-N-Out!  This was my first time and on the advice of a friend I had a cheeseburger (yes, red meat!) animal style.  It was everything I hoped for.

But maybe the nicest food memory I have is the most simple—of making tea and toast in Heather’s kitchen every morning at breakfast.  The windows were wide open, letting in air that was heavy with moisture and an oceany smell, making the kitchen a comfortable place to enjoy toast with guava jam and Tillamook cheese and black tea sweetened with the honey Heather’s uncle makes.

Until spring comes to New York, I’ll be longing for the feelings I had when we all were walking around at dinner time most days, planning out our next meal. Picture this: Palm trees and murals and bright lights.  A hint of the ocean in the air. The certainty that good food and good drinks are just around the corner.  As the sun goes down, your skin feels sun-kissed and warm and lovely in contrast to the cooling air.  You don’t want the moment to end and so you squeeze every last bit of enjoyment you can from the sun, turning your face to the light and holding on tightly.

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“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” Cesare Pavese



“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” Jack Kerouac


 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain


 “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” Moorish Proverb


 “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” Freya Stark

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” William Least Heat Moon

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”  Clifton Fadiman

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” Mark Jenkins


“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” Bill Bryson


 

Here I am, back on solid ground and just starting to feel reacquainted with my New York life. There is a lot that has been said about traveling, much of it probably more eloquent than any words I can put together at 11 on a Monday night.  Those quotes and the few pictures (of many!) express a lot of the emotions I feel when thinking about the trip I took.

But how can I describe in words that feeling of sitting outside in a cafe in Amsterdam?  The heat of the sun shining on my face, the sounds of the nearby canal, the taste of the cappuccino I’m drinking….haven’t I experienced almost all of this before? But somehow it is not the same elsewhere.  Somehow it’s more magical, more special.

I kept a journal while we were going from place to place and I can tell you that there were two themes to all my entries. 

One, the people.  Traveling makes you vulnerable and no matter how prepared you are, you will still find yourself in need of help at some point (or many points!) during your trip.  Allowing yourself to be open to the beautiful kindness of strangers (even if you can barely understand one another) has got to be hands down the the most important, and rewarding, skill to cultivate.  The vibrant cast of characters we met along the way is what I will cherish most about the experience.  From the older Romanian man who hung out in my and Heather’s train cabin having a very one-sided but lovely conversation in Romanian with us, to the Peace Corps volunteer who let us shower at her apartment because we didn’t have a shower at our room in the orphanage, to the fun French, German, Spanish, British people we had dinner with at various guest houses and hostels, to the children and nurses at the orphanage who touched my heart, and the countless kind hearted souls who gave us directions in all different languages, the trip would have been half as wonderful if it weren’t for the generosity of so many human beings!

Two, FOOD!  Though Heather and I had a rough few days food-wise while at the orphanage (we had no kitchen and had to eat in odd Romanian restaurants), overall I’ve never eaten better in my life.  The trip reignited my love for mamaliga–the Romanian staple of corn mush (kind of like polenta), German pretzels (and bread, and beer, and chocolate), and English tea.  Heather and I got to sample real, home cooked Romanian food when we stayed at a guesthouse in the mountains.  We even got to see the farm where lots of the food was produced (and perhaps a cousin to one of the animals we were eating, but I won’t go into details!).  In a few of the hostels, Heather and I got to cook together and enjoy all the comforts of a home kitchen.

So there it is–no matter where you go, the two most important things in life truly are people and food. 

One last thing I wanted to note, I’ve been quite busy lately getting back into the swing of things ( I’d really like to get back into posting on a regular basis) so I missed the opportunity to say……..happy first anniversary to the blog!  I can’t believe it’s been a year.  I’ve really enjoyed this project of mine, regardless of who continues to follow loyally, I love reflecting back on the fun things I’ve done and I think it’s special to document so that I have it for the future.  And, just in time for the 1 year mark, last week our CSA delivery from the week prior was still hanging around, starting to wilt away in the fridge.  Thinking back to about a year ago, I remembered making a yummy “everything but the kitchen sink” type of soup.  I decided to make it again and then saw that indeed, it was almost a year to the day that I made this soup!

Thanks for taking this blog journey with me, I love having you along for the ride.

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Book Club Roundup

I just spent a long weekend in Boston where I lived for a year.  It was really a fantastic little get away from New York.  I love this city, but sometimes it gets to you and even going to visit another city can be a relief.  I sort of decided that you can have a somewhat better quality of life in Boston, but New York is a more interesting city to live in.  So for now I guess I’m choosing the interesting one 🙂

During my visit, I stayed with a friend from my JVC year and I got to visit with other friends and see the (now very grown up) kids I used to work with at the after school program.  I also had lots of reading time on my four hour plus bus rides back and forth between cities.  I realize that I haven’t mentioned my book club in a while….for some reason most of my postings here have been about cooking.  I wanted to do a quick review of a few books I’ve read over the past few months.  Just something brief to whet your appetite–if you are interested in them, I suggest you pick them up (or you could always ask me to to borrow them!!).

 The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I can’t say enough about this book!  If you haven’t read this yet, go out and get it!!  This book is told from the perspective of three women living in Mississippi during the 60s.  Two of the main characters  are black maids that practically raise the children of the local white families and the other main character is a young white woman who is anxious to find out the truth about what happened to the maid who raised her.  There is much more to this book than just that basic description–race relations from several perspectives, all kinds of female friendships, struggles, successes, sadness.  I loved the plot and the characters–both developed in such a thoughtful way and I came to feel that knew the places and people intimately.  Often I don’t care for either the plot or the character development but here, Stockett definitely didn’t let me down!

In Other Rooms Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

This is an interesting book of short stories that take place in Pakistan.  I have to say that I didn’t truly love this book but it did hold my interest and some of the stories stayed with me a bit.  This may have been the first book I ever read by a Pakistani author and I was pleased to read something from a new voice.  I think I learned a bit about the complexity of life there–especially given that all most Americans know about Pakistan is in relation to terrorism.  It was really nice to get a sense of the people who live there.  I think this would be a good summer read since you can just read a little bit at a time, a chapter here and there.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

This book has been around for a while (published in 1997) and I saw the movie a few years ago.  I had wanted to read it since I saw the movie way back when but I was motivated to suggest it to my book club after visiting Carin back in February.  It is one of her favorite books and the actual mountain has had a pretty significant impact on her life…..it’s the place where her soon to be husband proposed to her (how much more romantic can you get?!).

I was definitely not disappointed–although perhaps some fellow book clubbers were 🙂  The book is a challenging one, that is for sure.  Don’t start digging into this if you are looking for an easy chick-lit, beach read! This is much more a work of great literature than a best seller trendy paperback (not that there is anything wrong with those books, they have their place!!).  Despite the challenge, I loved this book.  I think the minor difficulty is worth it!!  If you enjoy nature and a love story that is not mushy, this could be your book.  Essentially, the story is a sort of re-imagined Odyssey that is set in Tennessee during the Civil War.  Ada and Inman met briefly before the war began and both struggle during the war.  Inman is a wounded soldier who ultimately decides to take his chances, leave the hospital,  and head back to home (by Cold Mountain). Ada is struggling to learn how to take care of herself and her farm after her father’s death, having been coddled and sheltered by him all her life.  Each chapter is a window into either Ada or Inman’s life as we learn of both their pasts and their presents.  Mixed into all of this, Frazier provides his reader with beautiful descriptions about the life of the local people, the countryside, nature, and animals of the rural South.  I could write so much more–I have many dog earred passages that I was very moved by–but I’ll leave it to you to discover the full pleasures of this novel.

And now, book club is on to American Taliban by Pearl Abraham.  I won’t say too much since I need to save it for the book club meeting next week, but this was a really interesting read.  It’s a pretty intense book and a lot happens very quickly in it.  In a nutshell, it’s an imagining of the John Walker Lindh story.  The main character is a different John but one who is a very young American who gets wrapped up in Muslim life and eventually gets involved with the Taliban when he travels to Pakistan to study Arabic.  I also think this one is a good summer read–easy to read and moves very quickly.

Hopefully these can help you figure out your summer reading list.  Any suggestions for me for my new book club book?  Happy reading!!

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“Life is partly what we make it and partly it is made by the friends we choose.”

I had a fabulous time in Cincinnati.  Although the last leg consisted of canceled flights, plane de-icing, and taking a train instead of a plane at one point, I refuse to let the craziness of the journey home color the wonderful extended weekend I had.  What a joy to spend time with Carin, Chris, her parents, and their animals.  It was a nice mix of relaxing and sightseeing and of course, there was plenty of eating!!  Remember when I said I rarely eat meat? That went right out the window, especially since I had to try the famous Skyline chili.  Oh and of course trying it meant eating it on top of a mini-hot dog.  I can’t remember the last time I had one of those, but laden with meaty chili and cheese, it tasted pretty good!  Here I am, eating a “Coney” (after coney island I believe).

 
I decided to make chili tonight not only to honor Cincinnati, but because while I was there, Carin gave me her friend Kate’s fabulous recipe for vegetarian chili which Kate made while I was visiting St. Louis a few years back.  I’ve honestly had that chili in the back of my head since then.  There are just countless recipes for chili–I’ve made oodles of different versions over time but I’ve never truly loved a recipe.  I think this particular recipe will become my go to chili recipe because it is so unique.  Also, I made some cornbread that I’ve been wanting to try from 101 cookbooks called “Firecraker Cornbread” which I have eaten before but never made.
Both recipes are fairly straightforward.  Follow the above link to find Heidi Swanson’s cornbread.  I followed it as is, except I didn’t have buttermilk on hand (who ever does??!!) so I substituted plain yogurt.  You’ll just fall in love with it–yes, Jiffy mix is super easy, but this bread isn’t all that difficult and the taste is worth it!  
 
 
And here is Kate’s recipe…..you need to play around with the spices a lot since it’s not exact.  The spice amounts listed here are a starting point–play around with it and add more as you go and according to what your tastes are.  OH! and also there is a secret to the recipe–beer.  Today all I had in the fridge was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat (which actually tastes nice) but you can use whatever you like.
(Yes that is basil from my Mom’s garden, bottled with love)
Kate’s Great Chili:
  
3 celery stalks
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper   
2 medium onions
a bunch of garlic
First chop up everything and saute them in a little oil in the bottom of a big soup pot.  When they look like they’re getting soft, add the following to the pot:
2 16 oz. cans of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
2 16oz. cans of white (great northern) beans, drained and rinsed
2 32 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp. chili powder
dash cayenne pepper
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
2 bay leaves
1/4 c cider vinegar
 
 Let this mixture simmer with the lid on for about an hour and a half, then add a can or bottle of beer, and simmer for half an hour more.  Throw in some whole cashews just before you serve it, as well as some cheddar cheese.
Enjoy!!

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