A Day in Milan with Neff at EuroCucina 2018

Last week, I took a little break from my everyday life. I packed a tote bag full of old New Yorker issues, some eye drops and a snack, snuck out of the house before anyone was awake, got in a cab and went to the airport. Then I flew to...Milan.

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I was in Milan for the Salone del Mobile, the largest furniture trade fair in the entire world, and specifically to visit the EuroCucina - an exhibition hall full of kitchen companies showcasing their latest developments (mostly technological developments, though I couldn't help ogling a lush Dolce & Gabbana run of Smeg refrigerators or a 6-burner turquoise lacquered La Cornue stove situation, you know, for your run-of-the-mill country estate).

My host was Neff, the kitchen company that I've done some work with in the past. At their stand, a cozier, homier one than most of the others, which were outfitted to look far more cutting edge and futuristic, fresh fruits and vegetables were part of the display, as were big sacks of dry goods and gorgeously hued piles of spices and herbs. Sonia Peronaci, an Italian blogger who founded the country's largest cooking website, Giallo Zafferano (which my mom uses on the regular), held down the fort there with a slew of cooking demos.

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I had the pleasure of joining Sonia for a demo and we cooked side-by-side, making pork belly and salmon that was then devoured in about 27 seconds flat by the gathering crowd. Before the food was gobbled up, though, it was plated on a series of gorgeous handmade plates by Reiko Kaneko.

Kaneko is a Central Saint Martins trained ceramicist whom Neff commissioned to make a series of plates inspired by the "science of gastrophysics." Kaneko worked together with Professor Charles Spence, an expert in multisensory perception, specifically sensory perception of food, to create the three plates. One is for starters, one for mains and one is a dessert vessel. Their colors, textures and shapes elevate the various flavor profiles of the foods they are meant to showcase.

So, for example, the starter plate, oblong and unevenly ridged, enhances the flavor of salty, savory food, specifically seafood. The plate for mains is slightly more bowl-like, with a lacquered surface and higher sides, is meant to enhance the flavor of spicy foods. The round dessert bowl in soft pink increases the perception of sweetness and fruitiness in desserts, especially those made with berries.

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After my demo was complete, I got to have lunch at one of the fair's staff cafeterias, hidden up on the top of the building. Since we were in Italy, the cafeteria food was - no surprise - pretty amazing. Think tiny meatballs in tomato sauce, delicious boiled broccoli (I know!), possibly the best white lasagna I've ever had. Even the tangerine I pilfered from the fruit bowl for later was perfect. Oh, Italy!

I took a nice, long wander of the Salone, marveled at the supreme elegance of the men and women all around me, then made my way back to the airport and, later still, my delicious boys asleep in their beds. What a day!

This post was sponsored by Neff.


A Quick Trip to New York

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I went on a very quick trip to New York three weekends ago. It was freezing cold and beautiful on the first few days, with icy blue skies and blinding sunshine. I've now been in Berlin for almost as long as I lived in New York, which feels very odd indeed, especially because this time I stayed on the Upper West Side, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to the city. It has changed so much and yet I still recognized the oddest little things, like the cornices on a particular building, the way Zabar's smells, that one lamp store on 79th Street... But now the old neighborhood also has fancy new condo buildings, a Barneys, for crying out loud, and Citarella sells yogurt for 6 dollars a jar. And I still miss H&H.

Sigh.

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Sometimes I really miss New York's fabulousness, like with this amazing older couple's outfit game on this random 6 train ride.

Anyway! I thought I'd do one of those very old-school blog roundups of the best places I went to while I was in town, just in case one of you is planning a trip soon and is wondering where to go. It has gotten difficult to have even one bad meal in New York, which is both thrilling and a little intimidating when planning a trip. My friends and I didn't plan a single meal in advance, so we were a little restricted to the places where we could get reservations at relatively normal dining hours. I didn't end up getting to try as many new places as I'd hoped. (Paowalla, abcv, and Le Coucou come to mind...) Still, it was a pretty delicious weekend. The places that really stood out were:

  1. Irving Farm Coffee Roasters is a city-wide chain in the meantime, but there was one around the corner from where we stayed and it was a very nice place to get a cup of coffee or tea in the early morning, plus they have both cooked breakfasts and good pastries (like croissants from Bien Cuit), and a nice selection of simple but hearty lunch options. Whoever is "curating" their array of baked goods knows her/his stuff. And despite the fact that it has locations all over the city, it felt very local and cozy.

  2. I'm lucky enough to have an agent who takes me to lunch at abc Kitchen every time I'm in town, but if I didn't, I would still make time to have some kind of meal here - it's just such a nice place and the food is great - organic, local, etc, but especially just very well made. It's ground zero for things like roasted butternut squash on toast, roasted beets with yogurt, and carrot and avocado salad. Funnily enough, though the menu is pretty big, I only ever end up ordering some variation on the same five things. This time around, we ordered one crab toast appetizer to share...and then ordered another one about 15 minutes later because it was just so good. Their house-made non-alcoholic drinks are noteworthy and also their general attention to detail. To wit: The host (I think?) must have overheard my agent wishing me a belated birthday when we saw each other, because after our lunch was over, they brought out a mini cupcake for me with a candle in it. Such a little thing, but SO NICE. (The restaurant is located inside the insane and cavernous abc home store, which makes for fun aspirational browsing either before or after lunch.)

  3. Prune. Prune! Need I say anything at all about this place? (Fun trivia fact - it's the subject of my third post on this creaky old thing!) I'm actually kind of surprised that we ended up here, but one of my girlfriends had a hankering for it and we were lucky enough to get a reservation at a normal hour, so that's where we went. It was, unsurprisingly, excellent in every way. There was gorgeous sparkling Cabernet, radishes with delicious cultured butter and crunchy salt, meltingly rich lamb sweetbreads, mussel stew in which every. single. mussel was sweet and perfect. For my vegetarian friend, they made a special off-menu selection of their vegetable sides and some items from the appetizers. And for dessert, though I wasn't even hungry any more!, there was a crème brûlée that should be taught in cooking school. Aces from start to finish.

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  4. A craving for dim sum led us to Dim Sum VIP on Mott Street, which was tiny and crowded, but a fantastic find (we were lucky enough to snag a table at peak lunch hour without a wait). It's too small for dim sum carts and they do everything to order, so you just look at the menu, then fill out an order sheet that's on your table. The food comes out fresh and piping hot, in rapid-fire succession - turnip cakes, red oil wontons, bean curd skin rolls (two orders!), shrimp rice rolls and an enormous plate of sautéed gai lan. Still thinking about those gorgeous greens.

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  5. Hipster ramen has become almost a cliché (almost?), and if you have never been to Momofuku before, that's where you should have some, but Ippudo is pretty great, too, and much bigger and warmer and more comfortable. We had the nicest server, the cucumber appetizer is icy-cold and crunchy and savory and wonderful, and the spicy karaka ramen sustained us nearly the whole day.

  6. My favorite find of the trip was the Thai restaurant Fish Cheeks on Bond Street. I had read about it in the New Yorker and filed it away in my mind, then we stumbled upon while out walking one day and ending up going in and reserving a table for the next evening. It's a fun, boisterous, colorful place and the food is wonderful. Unlike many Thai restaurants that have enormous menus, this place has a pretty small selection, but it's very well-considered and offers a great balance of family-style dishes. The best appetizers we tried were the fiery zabb wings and the cooling, wonderful yum sum-o salad. We liked the crab curry and the seafood pad cha, but the main dish that ended up truly shining was...the crab fried rice, believe it or not. It looked sort of pale and quiet next to the bombastic other mains, but it was excellent, really beautifully flavored and lovely.

June in Sicily

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Next month, Rachel and I will be teaching a week-long food writing class at a little piece of paradise on earth, the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily. It's the first time the school has held a food writing class and to say that we are honored and excited to be hosting it is the understatement of the century.

For a week, we will be using the grounds of the school, Case Vecchie, as the gathering point for the class. We'll read and write and workshop together. We'll make little trips to a local cheesemaker, to Agrigento and Polizzi Generosa, and to the estate's vineyard. We'll cook together, learning from the school's owner Fabrizia Lanza, the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza. And we'll use all these little excursions and experiences as inspiration for writing assignments.

To read more about Case Vecchie and its magical pull, please read Rachel's posts here and here (and here is David's). She was there last summer for the school's 25th anniversary celebration - which I was forced to miss because Hugo got sick - and soaked it all up so beautifully. The more I read about it, the more I have come to believe that Case Vecchie is one of the world's special places. You may visit only once, but it moves and even changes you in such a way that you spend the rest of your life remembering the smell and feel of it, the way the light falls at dusk, the sounds of the birds and the wind.

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The fee for the class is €2,500 per person, which we know feels steep, but it includes full room and board for the week as well as all the excursions, plus an intimate learning experience from Rachel and me. And, if you fly into Palermo (as I will be), you can tack a day or two on in that splendid city and eat gelato-stuffed brioche for breakfast (#yolo!).

The itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: Monday, June 15
Arrive in late afternoon or early evening, for a welcome dinner and introductory discussion over Sicilian aperitifs at Case Vecchie.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 16
Morning writing lesson followed by lunch at Case Vecchie

In the afternoon we will visit local shepherd and cheesemaker Filippo Privitera, where we will watch traditional ricotta production and sample both freshly produced cheeses and the family’s aged cheeses.

Cook together for dinner at Case Vecchie. Post-dinner gathering and reading.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 17
A morning trip to Agrigento’s ancient “Valley of the Temples” where we will write and picnic under the blossoming citrus groves.

Afternoon writing lesson and free time for writing, resting, or exploring around Case Vecchie, followed by cooking lesson and dinner.

Day 4: Thursday, June 18
Morning writing lesson and communal lunch at Case Vecchie.

Afternoon free time for resting, writing, and exploring the vineyards.

Evening visit to the Case Grandi winery for a tasting workshop, where we will sample a variety of Tasca d’Almerita wines and learn a little about the language of wine. Dinner at Case Grandi.

Day 5: Friday, June 19
Morning writing lesson and communal lunch at Case Vecchie.

That afternoon, we’ll drive to the beautiful hillside village of Polizzi Generosa, with a chance to write in the scenic piazza, sample the local specialties, and visit one of the most ancient pottery producers in the area, before returning through the twilight hills for a farewell dinner at Case Vecchie, followed by a chance to share our work and reflect on the week.

Day 6: Saturday, June 20
Departure after breakfast.

There are still a few spots left, so please contact the school (itinerary and class information here, contact info here) if you are interested in attending. And if you have any questions about the class, feel free to contact me or Rachel.

We are counting the days!

Photos from rachel eats


How to Make Crostata

How to Make Crostata

Hello from the rolling Montefeltro hills! The verdict so far is that things are blissfully as they always are here: lazy, sunny, delicious, mosquito-filled.

We have not done much since getting here. Which is sort of the whole point, of course. There have been a few dinners with friends, an excursion to the beach or two, and there has been beer with lunch and dinner almost every day so far (we are nothing if not livin'-on-the-edgers).

Also, there has been a lot of crostata. Crostata is the very first thing I ever learned to bake. For a long while, it was the only thing I ever baked. It is, to explain, a jam-filled tart of sorts, except the dough is sort of cakey as well as crusty. It is eaten for breakfast and for dessert. It can be filled with any jam you like, though we are partial to sour ones like plum or sour cherry. A grade-schooler can master it and it requires nothing besides a countertop and a baking pan. I make one every couple of days since that's about how long they last.

In the grand tradition of Italian desserts, crostata is a little dry and almost aggressively simple. I would urge you to resist attempts to fancy it up.

I suppose it will be the first thing I teach Hugo how to bake one day. He is showing more and more interest in what I get up to in the kitchen these days. I plop him on the counter next to me and he watches as I knead pizza dough or helps measure oats when it's time for oatmeal. For now, though, he's content just eating crostata. And I'm happy to still be the one tasked with making it.

How to Make Crostata

A few notes on the recipe:

1. I've given you both metric and US measurements, but I haven't tested it with the US ones yet.

2. If you have access to Italian "00" flour, you can use that instead of all-purpose. If you don't, no sweat.

3. The baking powder here in Italy is conveniently flavored with vanilla. If you happen to have access to Pane Degli Angeli baking powder, you need half a packet. If not, use 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) of regular baking powder and then add either a spoonful of vanilla sugar or of vanilla paste/extract.

4. The eggs here are smaller than in the US, so I've noted "medium" eggs. If you can't find those, you can use large but you may need to use a bit more flour as you go.

5. The butter must be very soft to be able to be quickly incorporated by hand into the dough. Let it sit out overnight before making the crostata.

6. My favorite jams in crostata are sour ones. Sour cherry, plum and apricot are all great choices. But you should feel free to choose whatever jam you like. You can even divide the crostata in half and fill it two different jams for variety. As for other fillings, there is such a thing as Nutella crostata, just FYI.

Crostata
Makes one 9-inch tart

200 grams / 1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
50 grams / scant 1/4 cup sugar
8 grams / 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract if not using Pane Degli Angeli baking powder
2 medium eggs, room temperature
50 grams / 3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
About 1/2 jar sour cherry or plum jam

1. Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Dump the flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt, sugar and baking powder into the well, making sure to sift out any lumps in the latter. Add the grated lemon peel and vanilla flavoring, if using. 

2. Crack the two eggs into the well and, using your finger, stir them gently to break up and start incorporating into the dry ingredients. Then add the very soft butter and continue to stir until a rough dough starts to come together. Knead gently until it is smooth and uniform. Try not to overwork or add too much additional flour, but don't overthink things either; this is not pie crust.

3. Pull off a quarter of the dough and set aside. Pat the remaining dough evenly into a 9-inch pan and make sure to push the edges of the dough about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan to create a crust.

4. Spoon the jam into the crust and spread out evenly. Pinch off small pieces of the remaining ball of dough and roll them out into strips of varying length that you lay on top of the jam to create a lattice top.

5. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tart is browned and the jam is bubbling. Let cool on a rack for an hour before turning out of the pan. Keeps for several days at room temperature.


The Happy Cows of Ireland

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A few months ago, I was invited by Kerrygold to go to Ireland with a group of bloggers. Our proposed itinerary was to spend a day at the Ballymaloe Litfest and to visit a family dairy farm that is part of the cooperative that supplies Kerrygold with milk. It only took me about 15 seconds to reply with YES ME YES YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU YES YES YES, throwing any pretence of cool nonchalance I might have had to the wind.

After that, all that was left to do was to impatiently await our departure and to aggravate the kind people in my life by asking them repeatedly if they knew that I was going to Ireland in May to see some cows. Ireland in May! To see cows! IRELAND! ME! COWS! I could not contain myself. And yet despite all that excitement and enthusiasm, the trip still managed to be better than I hoped.

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The Ballymaloe Litfest, only in its second year, was held on the grounds of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, an impossibly beautiful place filled with wisteria-clad country houses, rustic old barns, beautifully lush green lawns and friendly Irish people. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi were there,  as were Sandor Katz, David Tanis, Christopher Hirsheimer, Diana Kennedy and many luminaries of the Irish and English food world. There were delicious things to eat and the weather was splendid and I loved that the festival organizers made the entrance fee affordable so that many local families could come and spread out on the grounds with their (stunningly beautiful) children.

The absolute highlight of my day at the festival was attending a talk with René Redzepi of Noma. He was witty and humble and fun, full of good stories about his start in the cooking world (after flunking out of school at 15, he followed his best friend to cooking school on a whim) and about the formative time he spent each year with his father's family in a poor Macedonian village. We could have all listened to him talk for hours and it felt like such a gift to have been given insight into the mind behind the legendary restaurant. There were many, many other events at the festival that I wished I'd been able to attend, but who knows, there's always next year.

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On Sunday, the sky thick with clouds and rain, we piled into a little bus and drove up the southern coast of Ireland, near Waterford, to visit a dairy farmer whose land sits at the very edge of the coast. We walked down a winding path lined with gorse and other low shrubs until we got to a pasture, the grass thick and velvety and a bright, vivid green. We opened the wooden gate and walked into the pasture with his herd, a group of about 65 Friesian cows. In one direction was the open sea and a blurry horizon, in the other, the craggy cliffs of the coast. The wind whipped the grass and some cows watched us quietly and inquisitively, while others munched away at the grass or sat quietly chewing their cud. These were clearly happy cows.

We stood there for a long time. I can't speak for the others, but something about the ocean and the presence of the animals and the whipping wind moved me. It felt so majestic and mysterious, like I was standing on the edge of the world. I had one of those moments I've written about before, as if someone had pulled back the curtain on some deep and beautiful secret that we go through life looking for. Something about being out in the rugged wildness of nature triggers that feeling, I guess. But when it came time to go back to the farmer's house for tea and sandwiches, I didn't want to go. I'd only just gotten there and the thought that I'd probably never again see this part of the world, our wild and beautiful world, made my heart ache a little. What lucky cows, and people, to get to live there. Lucky me, too, that I got to see it for a little while.


Back at the house, the farmer's wife put out a spread of sandwiches and cakes and cookies to put most Manhattan board meetings to shame. There was an enormous metal tea pot filled with strong, hot tea and we sat and warmed our bones while the farmer told us a little bit about dairy farming in Ireland and what makes Irish butter and cheese so special.

The dairy farms that belong to the Irish Dairy Board (the farmers' cooperative behind the Kerrygold brand) are all family farms that have been handed down over the generations and hardly any of the farms has a herd that exceeds 65 cows. The mild Irish climate means that the cows can live and graze outside 300 days out of the year and when they do eat feed, it's made up of locally grown barley, non-GMO soy and citrus. Backed by stringent EU laws, Irish milk is hormone and antibiotic-free - if a cow happens to get sick (with mastitis, for example) and needs to be treated with antibiotics, her milk is removed from the system and her medication is reported to the government until she's well again. Because of their way of life, grass-fed Irish dairy cows live longer than industrial dairy cows, about five years instead of three, and they don't suffer from the ailments that we know industrial cows suffer from. They're also not high-yield dairy cows. This system translates to high-quality milk products for the consumer, fair prices for the dairy farmers and a good life for the cows.

Just last week, a story about the torturous existence of turkeys raised industrially in Germany made the rounds here. At a time when so many of us know more and more about the deplorable state of the animals kept for our dietary needs (and whims), it was refreshing to see that a different way exists.

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The rest of the day was spent on the road and I didn't get back home until very late, but I couldn't stop thinking about that moment with the herd of happy, quiet cows out in the great green pasture on those craggy Irish cliffs. I'm so very grateful I got to experience that moment. I know I'll never forget it or the kind and lovely family who brought us there and let us in on their world.

Disclosure: My trip was organized and paid for by Kerrygold, but all my thoughts, opinions and, indeed, the decision to write about the trip, are my own.


Three Days in Rome

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We flew to Italy last week for a little spring break.

We dyed eggs for Hugo's first egg hunt, which was a roaring success until he ate one chocolate egg too many and turned into a (screaming, sugar-crazed) pumpkin. We played ball, which led to Hugo's first word in Italian ("palla!"), and watched the cat eat breakfast (and lunch and dinner) and ate our weight in sweet, delicious vegetables. From zucchini to Swiss chard to artichokes to peas and fava beans, everything tasted like it had been picked that very morning.

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And then Max and I got up at dawn one morning and went to Rome for three days on our own, which was long overdue and much-needed and blissful in every sense of the word.

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We stayed at the Hotel Anahi, a little gem just off of Piazza del Popolo. Despite the location and our room on the first floor, it was wonderfully quiet at night and so cozy and sweet. I know Rome relatively well - my mother grew up there and lived there for three years while I was in college - but Max had never been before, so we decided to keep to a relatively small area for our visit, nothing further than what we could reach on foot.

The same friends who recommended the hotel also told us about a lovely bar to stop in for breakfast - Caffè Canova Tadolini on via del Babuino. The slant-roofed little building used to be Canova's studio and is filled with busts and other sculptures and now houses a bar (and restaurant) serving very good coffee and a wonderful plain cornetto - faintly scented with orange and yeasty-crisp.

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We had three good lunches - at Sora Margherita in the ghetto, which was good but more touristy and expensive than I remembered (which, to be fair, was at least 15 years ago, when it was just one little room with five tables), at the Antica Birreria Peroni near the Trevi fountain, which is where my mother and her colleagues used to eat for lunch all the time, and at Enoteca Corsi, which was new to me, but has clearly been there forever and was filled with Romans.

Our dinners weren't as successful due to lack of advance planning, but it was hard to care. Rome is Just So Beautiful. It's almost too much to take. The weather was spectacular and we walked around with our mouths open in wonder most of the time.

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And the surprise (to me) highlight of the trip? Visiting the Colosseum. I had never been inside before and was a little nonplussed when Max insisted on it. All those lines! All those tourists! But I'm so glad he did - we spent over three hours inside, agog at the whole thing - the architecture, the historical details, the sheer size, all of it. Humans, man. History, man! Amazing. (We did an audio tour, which was fine, but if we could do it again, I'd shell out the cash for a guided tour to access also the lower- and uppermost levels. In case you're planning a trip to Rome anytime soon...)


The Days of Our Lives

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Last night, I stood by the gate with my mother and took this picture in one direction. Then I turned around in the other and took this one:

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Lest you think that with time and repetition, the beauty here at our house in Italy stops having an effect on me, let me assure you: It leaves me speechless every time. Every time.

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And getting to see Hugo crawl through the grass, finding snails and dry leaves and little sticks and chamomile blossoms and beetles and fallen cherries to pull into his chubby, dimpled hands and hold aloft triumphantly, right here where I used to crawl myself, is better than words can say.

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I suppose these days I'm at a loss for words in more ways than one.

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When I was in high school, a classmate of mine named Rhonda looked at me coolly one day and told me she didn't like people who were always so damn happy (her words, not mine). It didn't come across as an insult, really. It was just a blunt observation. I remember looking back at her and wondering how to respond.

Years later, towards the end of my time in New York, when things in my life were going up in flames and I felt like I couldn't see even one foot in front of me for all the pain and confusion and sadness fogging my vision, I thought a lot about Rhonda and that comment she made that day. And about the girl she'd been talking to. I was so unhappy, had been so unhappy for so long, that I couldn't even remember what it felt like to be happy. How strange, I used to think, that someone used to see all that happiness in me.

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Last night, after the baby was asleep and my mother had gone to the movies with her friends and my aunt was inside with the newspaper, I picked my way around the house at dusk, stopping to photograph every stunning sight I could see, like I have a million times before. The sun was very low in the sky and the churchbells up the hill were ringing. I could hear a tractor in the distance finishing its rounds and the grass pricked at the edges of my feet, but not unpleasantly. I thought about all the years I'd been coming here, since I was a baby Hugo's age. The house looked so different then, lying in ruins when my grandfather bought it, the land neglected completely. Over the years, my grandfather planted fruit and nut trees, rose bushes, creeping vines and jasmine, plate-sized dahlias and rosemary hedges. Our friends made a roof, my grandfather built a shed.

I was a child here and then an adolescent, a teenager who came home late under the speckled canopy of the Milky Way, a college graduate with little time to spare for this lovely place, and then, one day, a very sad young woman who was trying her darndest to figure out her life and how to be happy, and failing completely and miserably.

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Now, my days are filled with things like meeting Hugo's needs - hunger, thirst, a diaper change, a cuddle, three cuddles, a bump to be soothed, more hunger, another cuddle - reading an entire book in stolen moments throughout the day, planning time for a sunset cocktail with my husband on the grass, sitting at the dinner table and talking with my mother and aunt long after dinner is finished, and there is so much goodness here, so much to feel blessed by and lucky to have, that sometimes I find myself literally screwing up my face with the effort of finding the right words to describe it all.

The funny thing is, it wasn't so hard finding words when I was in pain. In fact, it was all I could do some days. Despair was my midwife. But to capture in writing that warm, round feeling of everything being right, of being filled up with happiness, is much harder. Every phrase I choose seems overblown and clichéd and ridiculous. People will roll their eyes, I think. Also, it's bad luck.

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So instead, I knock wood, I spit three times, I do what I must. But then I say to myself, hold tight when you feel your heart brimming over, when you can barely breathe for all the glory coursing through you as you look into that flaming sun and smell the wild mint underfoot and feel the microscopic hairs on a bee's wings as they touch the skin on your arm for just a moment. You are lucky, you are blessed, you are loved. You have everything you could ever want. Maybe one day in the future you will look back at these days and wonder how you were ever this happy. Maybe. Probably.

But for now, it is everything.


Strolling the Barnes Farmer's Market

Eggs at Barnes

Saturday morning, while everyone else in the house was still asleep, Betsy, her daughter Isla and I got dressed and headed out to the market. Betsy and her husband Ian moved to Barnes last year. It looks like the quintessential, peaceful English village with a pond and fuzzy ducklings and everything, but it's a district of London, so it takes no time at all to be in the middle of things if you want to be. Later, when the others had woken up, we left the kids at home with their dad and headed out to go shoe and window shopping on the King's Road. But first, Betsy wanted to show me Barnes. It was a beautiful day, sunny and windswept and clear. The kind of day that made you think there could be no city more beautiful than London.

Baby greens at Barnes farmer's market

Now, if there's something I like more than visiting grocery stores in foreign countries, it's going to farmer's markets in foreign countries. The Barnes farmer's market is pretty small as markets go, but it's a total gem. These baby greens reminded me of that stand selling microgreens at the Union Square green market in New York, just by the entrance to the subway.

Beef at the Barnes farmer's market

This butcher's stand was incredible. Check out the size of that piece of beef waiting to be cut into rib-eye steaks! It always seems to me that the English are big on meat-eating, and it's no wonder with such lovely institutions as the Sunday roast lunch and good-looking beef peppering their markets.

First rhubarb at Barnes market

But don't worry, there was plenty of produce too. Fat, pink stalks of rhubarb and a sign promising fresh asparagus in a week, plus local apples and juice.

Pork pies at Barnes market

Meat pies always sound like they'll be so delicious, straight out of the pages of an Enid Blyton book or the Chronicles of Narnia or something. Betsy advised us to stay away ("suet!", she whispered ominously), but I'll keep daydreaming about eating them piping hot while sitting at the top of a magical English tree.

Preparing eggs at Barnes market

Luckily, right next to the butcher's stand, three apron-clad folks were cooking breakfast sandwiches on a hot griddle. There were two kinds of bacon, spitting sausages and thick slices of blood pudding, all made from local pigs. Everything smelled so good. You could ask for your eggs to have a hard yolk or soft (my choice) and choose from a white or wholemeal roll. Plus, there were fried onions to fill out the rest of the sandwich and a long assortment of different condiments: English mustard, chili jam, a finely chopped pickle and more.

Egg sandwich at Barnes farmer's market

We finished the rest of our market stroll munching on the warm, delicious sandwiches and then, on the way home, passed by the pond again so that Isla could jump in some muddy puddles with her little pink wellies and we could throw crumbs to the ducks. When we got home, the rest of the house was up and ready to go.


American Grocery Store Souvenirs

American grocery souvenirs

Hugo and I flew to Boston last week to visit my father and stepmother. Hugo got spoiled with limitless attention and eager playmates and I got to leave the house without him, driving around suburban Boston, seeing a few friends, getting to eat a delightful tuna sandwich undisturbed in the car in a drugstore parking lot for lunch, browsing said drugstore afterwards for as long as I wanted all by my blissful self, and feeling like I could hear myself think again. Oh, it was a good vacation, alright.

On the way back to Berlin, I stuffed the suitcase with board books for the baby, a few new shirts for me for spring (elusive spring) and, of course, precious treasures from the grocery store. This time around, I had enough baking powder, vanilla extract and brown sugar waiting back in Berlin, so I got to focus on some new acquisitions.

Namely, steel-cut oats, dried Blenheim apricots, Better Than Bouillon vegetable base (Max is so addicted he sometimes threatens to eat it straight from the jar with a spoon), dukkah, because it looked interesting and because I think Heidi once said it tasted delicious, and two kinds of chile powder (ancho and chipotle).

How about you, fellow ex-pats? What do you buy when you're home for a visit? I don't just mean Americans far away from home - but ex-pats in general. What foodstuffs do you miss the most, whether you're Italian or German or Indonesian? What's the weirdest thing you've ever toted home again? What is the one thing everyone in your life knows to bring you when they come to visit?

If I had had more room in the suitcase, I would have also crammed in a bag of pecans, one of those big jugs of Grade B maple syrup, a package or two of Zip-Loc bags (yes, really), a box of Triscuits and one huge super-sized carton of Cheerios. Sigh.


Dispatch from Italy: Pork Chops

I realize that upon reading Dispatch from Italy you might be expecting something, let's say, more sophisticated than pork chops. Whenever I hear the word dispatch, I think of George Orwell in the 1920's being all down and outy, for some reason. But this is where I am for the next two weeks, decamped at my mother's house with Hugo for a vacation of sorts where other people cook me lunch and soothe the baby and let me take forty thousand photographs of this view which never grows old:

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Here's some lavender to set the scene for you:

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This morning I picked figs, all hot and soft in the summer sun. This afternoon we'll go to town to run some errands and eat gelato, as it is my goal to work my way through the flavors in the case of the gelateria before we leave. (Yesterday: peach and watermelon. Today: chocolate and pistachio.) And at lunch today, Maurizio, my mother's cousin, made pork chops so good that I must must must tell you about them. I've never seen pork chops cooked this way before and I've never eaten pork chops this good, so I have to share. Isn't this what blogs were invented for?

(Is this the right moment to say that I'm really not a meat person? I mean, I'm really not. Give me a bowl of boiled green beans with olive oil and vinegar over a steak any day. But put Maurizio in a kitchen with a stack of meat and a hot pan and and suddenly I'm tearing into pork chops like some prehistoric cavewoman.)

The first thing you need to do is gather your ingredients. Watch out, it's not a long list:

Good-quality pork chops, one per person (if I had to guess, around 1/2 an inch thick)
Coarse sea salt (do not use fine, no matter what)
A lemon and that is it.

Crazy, right? 

Now take a heavy frying pan and put it over medium-high heat. (I'll bet a cast-iron pan would be best, but Maurizio used a nonstick one.) Coat one side of each pork chop evenly with one or two teaspoons of coarse salt. That's PER CHOP, people. They should look like this:

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Lay the pork chops, unsalted side down, in the hot pan. There's no oil or anything to coat the pan. Let the chops fry until, Maurizio says, the salt on top starts to go clear, meaning they've absorbed the liquid from the meat (this takes a little less than ten minutes). Your kitchen will smell like browning pork fat, which is indescribably delicious. Flip the chops to the salted side. The browned side should look like this:

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Now fry this side for just a few minutes, until the salt sticks to the pan. Remove the chops to the serving plates and, using a spoon, scrape off the coarse salt and discard. Flip the chop again, so that the nicely browned side is facing up. After all, your eyes are eating, too, as the Germans would say.

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Serve everyone their pork chop and then, at the table, squeeze a good amount of lemon juice over each one and tuck in: 

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I find it difficult not to tear into the hot, salty chop with my bare hands, but I do my best to restrain myself and use a fork and knife because just because I can eat figs straight off of trees right now doesn't mean I've turned into a total animal, you know? The chop is all juicy and wonderful and the lemon juice cuts through the richness of the pork and wouldn't you know, I even eat the bit of fat edging the meat because it's so darn good.

(Ha! I just realized Hugo's pacifier is lying next to my plate there. Poor Hugo, no pork chops for him.)

Next up for Dispatch from Italy, if I can get my mother to cooperate: pickled eggplant. Yes? Yes! And an update on which gelato flavors I've worked through. I know you're all on the edge of your seats. Now go forth and fry chops!