Archive for June, 2009

I’m in New York this week, an exercise in living in the moment because the moment that I start to look into the future when I am thrust back into the Dante-inspired heat of South Carolina, I begin to fret and wallow.  Fret and wallow actually sounds like a catchy blog name or perhaps a good title for an autobio.  Or a sixties dance craze.  I digress.

Last night I met up with two of my gorgeous bridesmaids** for drinks and dinner in Noho at an organic eatery called Quartino Bottega Organica.   The name is a bit of a mouthful and they are cash only – I thought in NY everyone just waved their iPhones over bar codes to pay by now – but the wines by the glass are actually by the “quartino,” in a little milk-bottle-ish carafe, which means the “glass” of wine is more like the epic portions I pour at home than the frugal (read: stingy) pours at most wine bars.

The ladies and I began with a bottle of organic prosecco which J commented, rightfully, was like sparkling apple cider, “in a good way.”  She had to add the “good way” because despite the warm, tiny, hole-in-the-wall, trattoria atmosphere, the staff seemed a bit surly and detached.   (Was it something I said?)  But that hardly mattered after quite a few glasses of champagne and five minutes with my delightfully jaded New York lady friends.  You might notice an uncharacteristic lack of photos for this entry, a result of the fact that I, in true only child style, talked basically non-stop the entire night.   It was clear that I totally hogged the conversation when I was the last to finish my entree and wine.  This never happens. 

The food at Quartino is organic and pescatarian and the pasta is all whole wheat.  When J read that on the menu she may as well have said “what you talkin’ ’bout Willis?”  I was dubious as well, but it was very good if self-consciously good for you.  I ordered the Fettucine Quartino which was whole wheat pasta with avocado and cherry tomatoes, otherwise known as guacamole.  It was really tasty but left me questioning whether this is what I really want in an eat-out establishment.  I left feeling healthy and good about myself but when I’m dropping $50+ on a meal what I really want to feel is like a happy little piggie.    See, in my new world, where eating out is becoming a rare, rare luxury, like a ride to work on the back of a unicorn type luxury, I’m thinking that in the future I may have to forgo my whole foods morality and “splurge” for some white flour.   I sincerely admire the ethos of this place – organic, fresh, simple ingredients – and it’s done well.  But despite my admiration I found myself a little disappointed when I order something I could so easily have made at home, even though it was delicious.

The thing that never disappoints, however, are my girlfriends.  What a treat.

**For the record, my bridesmaids were all gorgeous, professional actresses with amazing figures and personalities to match.  I must have been crazy  an amazingly secure bride to surround myself with them on my “special day.”


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I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather the past couple of days, ever since I unzipped a can of anchovies.  My grandfather, Boppy I called him, had a thing for canned fish.  One of my earliest memories is sharing a can of sardines on saltines with him.  Mmmm, salty! I believe he had high blood pressure.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Boppy had a chair in our house (he lived with us) – a chair that no one sat in but him and that he sat in all day long.  Beside his chair he would keep a jar of marinated hot peppers that he would fish out throughout the day and eat like they were candy.  Then there were the sardines and his nostalgia for bacala.  When it came to dinner he was always up for a little takeout from our local Italian place, Pizza, Pasta and Things (“Things?” Why was I not more frightened by this?) and his favorite order was a plate of speghetti with what he would call with relish, envisioning it on a plate in front of him, “a nice, sausage.”

Boppy’s mom was Swedish and his father German – allegedly. Boppy himself was so dark-skinned that I actually believed that he was black until I was about six, despite our family’s otherwise pasty appearance.  When I traveled to Italy there seemed to be a Boppy on each corner.  Those old guys downing caffè corretto looked so much like him.  I believe more and more in a Sicilian mailman who not only gave Boppy his DNA but perhaps stopped by every day with the mail to imprint his Italian tastes on my grandpa as a child.  I lived in Ballard, WA for years, surrounded by Scandinavians.  None of them looked like Boppy, and none of them ate like him.

My parents always told me that I called him that because everyone called him Copper since he was on the local police force in Rye, NY.  I couldn’t pronounce that so it became Bopper, then Boppy.  But the Italian Babbo is awfully close to Boppy and means Daddy, or sometimes, Granddaddy.  And his wife I called Nonny and no one knows why.  The Italian for Grandmother is nonna.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I come from a family of undercover Italians.  Which must be the reason that I can’t seem to control myself around pasta, parmesan or vino nobile.  I may not have my grandfather’s inexplicable Mediteranean complexion, but I do have his iron stomach.  I’m about to go and have lunch where I will feast on his favorite lunch order.  Every time in my life that my mom asked him what he wanted for lunch he replied the same way: “A sangwich.” I don’t know why he prounounced sandwich with a “g,” but it drove my mother crazy.   Perhaps it was some risidual Italian accent?

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Whenever I travel, I vow that I am going to bring back some vacation behavior and incorporate it into my everyday life. The attempts usually fall by the wayside; somehow it’s hard to fit in those two hour lunches followed by two hour naps. The things that have wormed their way into life at home have usually been alcoholic, like the crisp, tart rhubarby splendor of the Aperol Spritz.

Our trip to Greece, however, produced a keeper.  At our breakfast buffets I invariably found myself digging into a heaping mound of greek yogurt and honey.  I have never been a yogurt fan, but am happy to find that it’s the vapid, liquidy texture of traditional yogurt that I dislike, not the taste.  Greek yogurt is thicker and more substantial and, thankfully, is trendy right now.  There are several brands on the market.  I can even find Oikos in the Publix.

It’s especially good over cantaloupe with a little honey drizzled on top, an idea I got from the June issue of Everyday Food, who suggested it as a dessert.  I love having dessert for breakfast!  If my sad, withered mint plant out on our sad, withered patio ever perks up I might add a little fresh mint to my breakfast, but I just don’t think the 100+ weather is going to do anything to sweeten up my spearmint.

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The War on Terroir


Michelle Obama celebrated the first crop from the White House Garden this week with kids from Bancroft Elementary School.  The kids helped harvest the veggies, had to sit through a speech or two, and then got to chow down on the food they helped grow. 

As a gesture, this garden seems innocuous, even cozy, but by advocating wholesome food (it still seems crazy that it needs so many advocates), Michelle Obama has, inadvertently or purposefully, stepped into a major political issue, and she  has Big Agriculture on guard.

Check out this great clip from The Daily Show – Little Crop of Horrors.  In it Jeffrey Stier, associate director of The American Council for Science and Health, tells Samantha Bee (my heroine)  that the Obamas are “organic limousine liberals” who are irresponsible in promoting local, organic food.  “Not everyone can afford that. That’s a serious public health concern…People are going to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Cancer rates will go up. Obesity rates will go up. I think if we decide to eat only locally grown food we’re going to have a lot of starvation.”  He goes on to suggest that if she really wanted to make a difference that the first family “wanted to send a responsible message they would use pesticides, teaching kids to be more efficient and get more produce from their land.” 

As someone who considers herself a food advocate (Imagine how surprised I was to learn that I want the poor to die of cancer, obesity and starvation and that I have a limo!), I’m actually excited at the stink that Big Agriculture is making over the White House Garden because it means that they are worried.   The WH Garden, the opening of Food Inc. across the country, the momentum the sustainable movement is picking up across the country must have guys like Stier peeing themselves.  

It’s easy to see the tactics Agri-Business plans to use in the fight to keep us eating what they want us to.  Luckily, we’ve seen all of the tactics before: 1) Fakey Science, just like the Tobacco Companies.  Pesticides aren’t bad for you and here are the “scientists” that we’ve hired to say we’re right! 2) Anyone who disagrees with them will be labeled an arugula eating, brie scooping, latte drinking elitist.  This has been a favorite GOP attack for years, but clearly all of the presidential elections were just warm ups for the Sustainable Food Fight.  Why else would they pick on delicious, peppery arugula and yummy lattes?  3) FEAR.  Don’t you know that pesticides keep you safe?  Organic farming is dangerous.  We’re trying to protect you, so do what we say.  Straight out of the handbook for The War on Terror.

In Michelle Obama’s speech in the garden this week she rattled off some terrifying statistics of her own, hers backed up by real science.  1/3 of kids are overweight or obese.  That number goes up in Hispanic and African American populations.  This generation of kids is estimated to be the first in generations with a lifespan shorter than their parents as a result of obesity related illnesses.  

She also talked about how eating has changed since she was a little girl, echoing one of the taglines from Food Inc. – What we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the last 10,000 – and how her own view of nutrition changed when she became a parent and had to figure out a way to get her kids to eat healthily and try new things.  How’d she do it?

“If it tastes good, you’ll eat it, right? …Well, I’ve learned that if it’s fresh and grown locally, it’s probably going to taste better. That’s what I learned.”

Them’s fighting words. 

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Last weekend my husband and I drove to Charleston to make use of our eight combined years of higher education in theatre by seeing a show in The Spoleto Festival, Don John, by Kneehigh Theatre out of Cornwall, UK.  The show, an adaptation of the Don Juan story, was most successful in that it produced two simultaneous feelings: 1) Wow, that guy John is like, some sort of Super Villain.  He’s, like, pure evil! and 2) I think I dated that guy.

But, of course, as is more and more the case in my life, the theatre was really just an excuse to eat after the show.  Or, rather, before and after the show.  We made sure to get on the road early and get tickets for the matinee so that we would be practically forced to eat out twice in delicious Charleston.

We parked at the Visitors Center on Meeting Street as we always do since it’s only $10 for the whole day, you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket, and because it’s slightly distant location means we will always have a chance to walk off dinner before driving back to Cola.  The parking garage has the added advantage of being just a couple of blocks away from Charleston’s Saturday Farmer’s Market.  Did Freud ever write anything about Farmer’s Market envy?  Our Columbia market is small and only twice a month and although the accompanying State Plate breakfast is wonderful, the Caw Caw Creek pork devine, the bread from Heather’s Artisan Bakery a dream, I couldn’t help but be a little envious of the sheer scale of the Charleston market.  

A small sliver of the delicious pie that is the Charleston Farmer's Market

A small sliver of the delicious pie that is the Charleston Farmer's Market

Then it was onto lunch at The Cru Cafe.  The restaurant is in an unassuming row house, down a quiet street and we were lucky to get a table on the back porch.  (You should be warned that the place is really close to the barns for the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriage tours that you see all over Charleston.  The upside of this is an atmospheric clip clopping of hooves.  The downside is the occasional waft of a certain…shall we say, farmy aroma.)  We debated whether or not to get a glass of crisp white wine, but in the heat we decided that we’d be better off with iced tea.  (If we’d been seated inside in the airconditioning we may have ordered a whole bottle and the play would have been a lot more enjoyable!)

I truly believe that Southerners' blood is made of 1% hemoglobin and 99% Sweet Tea.  I am a Yankee by birth and so I was pleased to find that Cru Cafe's Mint Julep Iced Tea was made with unsweetened iced tea and is 100% refreshing.

I truly believe that Southerners' blood is made of 1% hemoglobin and 99% Sweet Tea. I am a Yankee by birth and so I was pleased to find that Cru Cafe's Mint Julep Iced Tea was made with unsweetened iced tea and is 100% refreshing.

I was feeling dainty (i.e. I had already planned a dinner involving duck fat by reading online menus.) so I had the Local Field Greens Salad with some grilled shrimp.  It was perfectly dressed and sprinkled with blue cheese and bacon, but the real shout out is to those shrimp.  I always forget how good grilled shrimp are, how we really shouldn’t eat them any other way, and these grilled shrimp were even better than your average grilled shrimp.  I was really happy to be living in shrimp country (always looking for the silver lining to life in SC) until we walked past Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on our way to the theatre.  I find their logo of a realistic shrimp cannibalistically selling its brethren disturbing – and so would Captain Dan!

My delicious salad with grilled shrimp.

My delicious salad with grilled shrimp.

The top hat is only part of what scares me.

The top hat is only part of what scares me.












My husband almost ordered a Portabello Mushroom wrap.  Then I assumed the position of resident devil on his shoulder and convinced him to order Cocunut Fried Oyster Wrap with Chipolte Mayo.  I found that repeated bites of this decadent sandwich were the perfect compliment to my light salad.


Come on.

Come on.

 Cru Cafe on Urbanspoon

After the play, we had made reservations at La Fourchette at The Shop Tart’s suggestion.  (If you live in Cola and don’t check Anne Wolfe Postic’s blogs every single day, consider yourself flogged.)  The restaurant reminded us how easy it is to get restaurant ambiance right: candles on the tables, warm colors on the walls, simple art, good music.  Although the candles at La Fourchette gave clutzy us pause – they were tiny Grand Marnier bottles converted into gas candles with a completely open flame and a bit of charred wall next to our table to match – the rest of the place was spot on.  With Edith Piaf on the stereo, je ne regrette rien!

This place is seriously French and seems to have a great version of every iconic French dish you could crave.  We ordered some bubbly and a homemade duck pate to start, served with crusty little bread rounds and of course, cornichons!  I was so hungry and it was so tasty that I forgot to take a picture, so focused was a on the crumbly, chunky texture of the country style pate and the tart dijon.

For our entrees I ordered Moules Frites and the husband had a wonderful Shrimp and Scallop medley with asparagus and Tomatoes Provencal.  We had both been craving Tomatoes Provencal since watching Jacques Pepin describe what they should be like after tasting a bad batch on Top Chef.   His dinner was uncharacteristically light and summery.  He generously shared one of his buttery scallops – the texture was so delectably smooth they  were almost unrecognizable as seafood.  I had a heaping mound of moules, also tender and in a rich wine sauce that made us glad we had waited to dive into the bread basket.  We sopped up the briny puddles at the bottom of our bowls like maniacs, just barely holding onto any sense of decorum.



Now, a testament to how good the shrimp and scallops in their pistou-y sauce is that The Husband had to be reminded to dip into the Frites which were double fried in duck fat.  Let me say that again.  They were fried twice, at least once in duck fat.  They were also served with a classic aioli.  CIMG1451

La Fourchette on Urbanspoon

After such a fun and food filled weekend and can be depressing to return home, so this weekend we are consoling ourselves with liquor.  Cellar on Greene is having a huge 30+ wine tasting and sale this afternoon from 12-2pm and then tonight we are meeting friends at Goatfeathers where I will indulge in one of their perfect gin gimlets.

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These are everywhere in Greece.  I mean everywhere.  Even though I generally hate instant coffee, these frappes, with milk and sugar, were delicious.  It’s not just iced coffee.  Something happens to the texture of the drink when it’s shaken that makes it foamy and silky.  Anyway, it’s so good I’m definitely going to go buy some Nescafe Classic and give it a whirl at home.

I found this recipe at http://www.nescafe.com.  Duh!

Greek Frappé

Preparation Time: 2 minutes  
Serves: 1
2 tsp NESCAFÉ Classic  
2 tsp sugar 
Ice cubes

Pour 10-15ml of water in the shaker (preferably not chilled, but chilled will still do)

Add two tea-spoonfuls of NESCAFÉ Classic and one tea-spoonful of sugar, or more if desired.

Shake strongly until all the water becomes foam. Potential use of an electric hand mixer, instead of a shaker, will make a more nice, shiny and creamy foam.

Pour into a glass of 250ml, add 3-4 ice cubes and chilled water to fill the glass for black NESCAFÉ Frappé. For white NESCAFÉ Frappé, add 20-30ml chilled milk. Ideal serving temperature is 10 degrees Celsius.

Enjoy your NESCAFÉ Frappé!

The quantity of water in step 1 plays important role in creating qualitative foam. Very small quantity will not produce enough foam while large quantity will produce soapy foam.
If you desire different dosages of coffee and/or sugar, the exact quantity of water in step 1 should vary accordingly.
Milk should always be put after stirring otherwise the foam loses all its stability.

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In Greek: Ναύπλιο.  In English, Nafplio has a bit of an identity crisis.  Much like Hannakuh (Channakah?) it has been transliterated a bazillion different ways: Nafplio, Nafplion, Nauplion.  It doesn’t really matter, though, since no one seems to have heard of the place.  I had never heard of the place before researching our recent trip to the Peloponnese.  Which is a shame, because it a) rocks, b) is an easy drive from Athens and c) is a great home base for exploring some kickin’ ancient ruins like Ancient Mycenae and The Theater at Epidavros.


Nafplio is a lovely, seaside town with a harborfront lined with cafes, winding backstreets, and rock beaches an easy walk from town.  It was the original capital of Greece and was fought over for centuries by Venetians, Turks, Franks, Greeks, Venetians again.  Like so many beautiful places Nafplio was also a key military stronghold and the evidence is the fortified walls and fortresses overlooking the city.

Bourtzi Castle

Bourtzi Castle

We stayed in the Pension Marianna, which is no secret, the guidebook called it an icon.  But it was lovely, romantic and cheap. Not to mention that it is run by “The Friendly Atlos Brothers” as they signed their emails to me.  One of the brothers, Panos, even made all of the arrangements with the Greek-speaking airline officials for me to pick up my lost bags at the town bus station.  (We were worried because the clerk at Lost Baggage in Madrid copied down all of the information for the hotel wrong: name, address, everything but the telephone number.  When we arrived in Athens the airline told us not to worry.  “We are Greek,” the man at baggage said.  “We will find a way.”)

Our room at Pension Marianna, home of the Friendly Atlos Brothers.

Our room at Pension Marianna, home of the Friendly Atlos Brothers.

In the harbor, we kept walking past all of the chic cafes filled with tanned Europeans sipping their frappes, past the boardwalk that juts out into the marina, and were led to a pathway that would around the walls of the city, right on the water.   This is also the way to get to the pebble (or boulder) beaches in Nafplio.  It was so beautiful I started not to care that, because of the baggage debacle, I had been wearing the same clothes for three days.  Despite themselves, the knots in my shoulders started detangling and my uncharacteristically happy mood could not even be dampened by the numerous swastikas that were graffitied onto the cliffs.  (The presence of the swastikas in Greek graffiti is a mystery of culture we decided not to try and unravel on our 10 day vacation.)

We wandered back into town and noticed that everyone was still drinking coffee, as opposed to liquor, so we decided to wander a bit longer so as not to seem quite so alcoholic.  The Italians call Nafplio (yet another name!) Napoli di Romania and the piazza and general dolce di fare niente in Nafplio may have you thinking you took a wrong turn on the National Highway and somehow ended up in Italia.  This effect will be doubled if you stumble into The Antica Gelateria di Roma, as we did, where I was thrilled to try out my Italian and my husband was thrilled because they made gelato out of grappa.  It was actually more of a sorbet, but he attacked that cone with the precision and concentration of Eisenhower planning D-Day operations.  I think he was pleased.

After the ice cream and some more exploration through the streets filled with evil eyes and worry beads, we headed back to the harbor.  The tanned Europeans were still drinking coffee, but we sat our pasty selves down anyway and ordered two ouzos.  It was my first taste of ouzo and although I’m not sure it’s my drink (I never did like black jelly beans), it seemed the perfect thing to have while we were watching the sunset over Bourtzi Castle.  The Greeks also think it’s crazy to drink something alcoholic without eating so you’ll usually get a little plate of mezes like these little salami and cheese bites (or at least some potato chips) with your ouzo.


We sat there for a long time, watching the colors change in the sky and our plates and glasses empty.  I decided that I didn’t care if my bags showed up or not.  I could jumble together outfits from the clothes found in the souvenir shops.  I was picturing maybe a Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt with broomstick silk genie pants.  Luckily, thanks to Panos, my bags arrived the next day, I changed clothes, gorged myself on Greek yogurt and honey at breakfast and headed for the rest of vacation.


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