Rate Your Home Stay- Part II

For those unable to access the original, this is the Washington Post article that inspired me. In fact, as I read it for the umpteenth time it still had me howling. ((No need to read the entire thing to get the idea.) Thanks WaPo and all the contributors on this rather, um, unique Memorial Day.

Not as it seems

Kerry Parrish, Garner, N.C.

Atmosphere is trendy and up to date, but the thermostat updates daily to 85 degrees as if no one is supposed to be here. A 3-foot squatter keeps eating all the complimentary continental breakfast before anyone else has a chance, and the coffee ran out two days into our stay. On a positive note, the very relaxed resort attire is appreciated, though as indicated by the squatter, I was unaware this was a clothing- optional resort upon check-in.

Stuck in a circus with a toddler ringmaster

Austin Graff, Washington, D.C.

It’s a circus and the doors lock from the outside. Once inside, you’re never leaving. You’re at the mercy of a toddler who’s barely out of diapers. Advertisements promising “fine dining” and “relaxing massages” are false replaced with half-eaten chicken nuggets and any stillness interrupted 1,134 times a day. Docking a star for false advertising. Wake-up call is at 5:30 a.m., and there’s no slow start to the day. The ringmaster whips you into shape from the moment you wake up, forcing you to enter a world of mind tricks. One minute you’re in a jungle hunting down “biting tigers.” The next you’re driving to Javier’s birthday party. Within minutes, you’re at the swimming pool learning how to swim. Forget stopping by the concierge’s desk. These games last the entire day, until the ringmaster kicks and screams into bed by evening. Only then does the house come with chilled wine, chocolate and all the Netflix you can numb your exhausted brain with. Sleep a few hours and you’re back at the circus. The ringmaster never rests. Adding a star since the ringmaster is cute.

Great place; terrible birds

Natalie Compton, Washington, D.C.

Super charming! Drawback: There’s a gang of birds that gathers for some sort of bird a cappella practice every morning around 5:30 a.m. No earplugs provided on the side table for guests. I’ve resorted to sleeping next to headphones so I can pop them in and blare music when the birds start screaming at dawn. Really have to crank up my volume because these birds are WAILING. 5 stars for the stay. You can’t blame the place for the birds shrieking through the neighborhood. If you stay here pack earplugs!

Called the health department

Tyson Anderson, Salt Lake City

The continental breakfast was ok. It was a little sparse on selection but they did have French toast. The problem with this place was that I noticed some of the guests at the breakfast bar were in their bath robes. HOW UNSANITARY. I reported this to the hotel manager but she didn’t seem too concerned. I’ll be submitting a report to the local health department.

Mediocre B&B

Kat Brooks, Falls Church, Va.

Comfortable accommodations in a quiet neighborhood. Food is decent if you like home-cooked meals at odd hours. Housekeeping really needs to step up their game, though. The place is a mess. Staff seems distracted by their tiny manager. He’s cute, but he cries a lot and frequently falls asleep on the job. Gave an extra star for the dogs. Both are certified good boys.

Quiet, natural getaway

Leah Debber, Gorman, Calif.

Quaint little retreat set against the beautiful mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. Early spring is the best time to visit as everything is in bloom. Loads of wildlife to watch and if you have any questions, an on-site environmental scientist is there to answer them. Limited WiFi availability, but you get enough reception to survive. You will have to gather your own fresh water once a week though, which seems strange for a hotel. There’s also all-you-can-eat fried rice and a cat that you can walk on a leash. All in all, 4/5 stars, would recommend.

Shelter from the storm

Lisa Dorenfest, Mexico

Whether you are circumnavigating the globe or sheltering in placesailing vessel Amandla has it all. A fully equipped kitchen with two freezers and a fridge, propane stove, full stores, and watermaker allow the Italian chef/skipper to keep the one-person crew well-fed and hydrated. Eco-friendly, the vessel is powered by the wind and sun, allowing its two occupants to minimize their carbon footprint.

Amandla currently offers a 360-degree view of Marina Palmira, but will soon be surrounded by jaw-dropping vistas in the Sea of Cortez during the upcoming hurricane season. The electronic library is filled with books, magazines, movies and training courses to expand your mind. If you prefer board games, many are available, but you will have to let the skipper win occasionally to keep up morale. In port, build endurance by walking around the empty marina docks, cycling to grocery stores or dancing in place while singing out loud. On passage, the sea provides a natural gym: trimming sails and keeping balance while living at a 15-degree angle builds upper body strength and abdominals. And a meditative sense of calm can always be found at sea or at anchor.

This property is fully booked for the foreseeable future.

A unique experience

Julie Holzhauer, Naperville, Ill.

The rooms are spacious and seem, at first glance, to be clean enough. I don’t think they’d pass any kind of white glove test, though. The staff are horrendous. Three of them spend a good amount of time fighting with each other (loudly), one wants to sit on my lap all the time, and another just lays on the couch all day. The only functional staff member is only available from 5 to 10 p.m. I had to cook my own meals (though the refrigerator and pantry were stocked with fresh options), and often had to clean up not only my own dishes, but also those of several staff members. What keeps this from being lower than 3 stars, however, is the fact that the staff are all fairly forthcoming with both hugs and laughter.

Nirvana no more

Kathleen Lominack, Greenville, S.C.

Arriving at Chez Lominack in the late evening, I was less than thrilled to see that the highly touted cocktail hour had been wrecked by a band of angry Lilliputians, apparently belonging to the owners. Not only was the valet nowhere to be found, the owners seemed to have drunk all the cocktails themselves, leaving nothing for the guests. Can’t say that I blame them, though.

The Lilliputians seemed restless and on the verge of a revolt; definitely not the peaceful retreat we had envisioned. Nevertheless, we decided to stay the night since it was getting late. However, we were abruptly awakened at 5:47 a.m. with a finger to the eyeball asking US to fix breakfast for a few of the staff members! I couldn’t believe the nerve of these folks; self-absorbed and totally clueless that WE were the guests!! Additionally, the lobby was overrun with toys, including several pointy Legos, which happened to also be strategically placed on the floor as we were getting out of bed — ouch!! Chez Lominack leaves much to be desired in the way of rest and relaxation and makes one yearn for the comforts of the Four Seasons.

Great view. Lackluster amenities.

Brad Japhe, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

When we checked into our Hawaiian bungalow at the beginning of March the staff couldn’t have been friendlier. The bed was made, the linens fresh, there was plenty of toilet paper. But by the 2nd or 3rd week of the stay we noticed something was off. Amenities became sparse (good luck finding paper towels around here); room service now consists primarily of ramen — although there oddly seems to be a newfound glut of freshly baked bread. The only daily turndown is on the television volume during Trump’s daily briefings. And the laundry service is nothing to brag about, either. Though this isn’t a tremendous drawback if you elect to wear the same pair of sweatpants for weeks on end — or, so I was told by another guest. Our private butler, Alexa, is always there whenever you call her. However, I find her disembodiment to be staggeringly inconvenient. Also, at times I get this creepy sense that she’s *always* listening to our conversations.

Now onto the bad parts. Waterside accommodations ought to be relaxing. Yet I find the incessant shore-pounding of the waves to be wholly redundant. It’s like, “Okay, we get it already! Splash, splash!” Even more disheartening: On our lanai, the ethereal hues of the setting sun — ranging from lavender and fuchsia to burnt amber and sometimes even Navajo sandstone — are partially obscured by these inconsiderate palm trees, swaying obliviously in the evening breeze. The whole scene feels like it’s just pressuring me to learn the ukulele.

Who could put a price on this experience?

Debbie Esposito, Harbor Springs, Mich.

Day 30 at this B&B: The food is good; SpaghettiOs are a specialty and guest favorite. The guests provide entertainment with bickering and fighting over TV shows. There is suspense: Who will have to go to the grocery store next and risk death? There are daily activities: cleaning, laundry and giving the cats their pills. You never know when you’ll lose a finger or get cat scratch fever; such adventure. One of the guests insists that we all do a tabata workout daily — really what could be more fun? But most importantly, every morning we get up to catch a glimpse of the sun — but it is just snow. It’s everywhere. It never ends. Every f***ing day.

Wildlife viewing, up close and personal

Sandra Russo, Gainesville, Fla.

I no longer have to go to Africa to observe wildlife sleeping. Do you have any idea how much your own dogs and cats sleep all day long and in what places and positions? Gone are the days of watching lions sleep in

Kruger, tracking lilac breasted rollers or searching for wild dog pups. Instead, I have my own pride (four cats), flock (three birds) and gang (three dogs) to watch. They make wonderful coworkers, although the level of fur and hair has risen dramatically since housekeeping has been suspended.

Snootiness-free vacay

Dean Kaiser, Blacksburg, Va.

For years we have saved and paid for vacations that might be just a bit beyond our budget, where we could be certain that everyone else there was judging us. We have discovered that home was underrated. We do have a great view of the Blue Ridge, we got the old hot tub bubbling, we are decent cooks, and we can hike out our back yard. Most importantly, the dog is highly nonjudgmental. We try to ignore daily taunting from the cat. Dog, please bring us more wine. Good boy!

Homey vibe and home-cooked food

Stefanie Samara, Gainesville, Fla.

While boasting of amazing views of bird life, this home is unfortunately decorated in a style which can only be described as “hand-me-down,” with a Sears catalogue dining table from the 1940s and bookcases salvaged from a chain store’s closing sale in the 1980s. Despite the decorative flaws, the accommodations are homey and welcoming, with a lived-in vibe that helps you relax. While the other resident works from home, feel free to enjoy the super-fast WiFi, sunbathe naked in the backyard, or indulge in the hundreds of books and movies. The highlight of any visit to this location is the food — whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can be assured of the finest lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian cuisine available, sourced from local farmers and vendors through a strict no-contact protocol. Lovers of sci-fi fantasy and cheeses will revel in this home’s offerings. One quirk, which may be off-putting for some particular visitors, is the toilet paper with no center tube, which sits on the bathroom counter between uses. Serious bathroom aficionados may want to bring your own rolls.

Highly rated boutique hotel that doesn’t measure up

David Smutny, Arlington, Va.

Great first impressions, but ultimately disappointing. The hotel is small, boutiquey and charming, in that shabby-chic way that only terribly expensive hotels can pull off. I think we were the only guests! We’d heard Tom and Gisele might be coming but never saw them. The concierge, “Bella,” greeted us. She was short, gray and well-groomed. Her English was nonexistent, but we love trying foreign languages when we travel!

Unfortunately, the service deteriorated quickly. Our room has not been made up in days, despite hanging the little thingy on the doorknob without fail. The hotel’s highly rated restaurant is good, but they take the idea of “charming cooking classes” too far. Fun, yes, but every meal?!? I wanted to shout “That Michelin star won’t award itself!” We never saw the chef, despite repeatedly asking for him to stop by, and the concierge stared hard at us every meal. Thankfully, the hotel bar is open 24 hours!

Virtual magic no substitute for real magic

Elizabeth MacGregor, Vienna, Va.

I booked three nights at a Walt Disney World resort to take part in the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon this weekend. In the end, the experience did NOT live up to my expectations.

I was looking forward to staying at one of the newest and most luxurious Disney properties. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered my lodgings would be nothing more than a suburban tract home. On the upside, it was quiet and parking was free, but on the downside, things were not as fresh or new as I had hoped. The theming was a little hard to discern; though I searched, I could not find any hidden Mickeys. The cast members were my own husband and son. The landscaping was not bad, but the property lacked swimming pools and spas.

On another note, the half marathon course left a lot to be desired. It repeated a loop — in my own neighborhood — over and over. There were no fireworks, no on-course entertainment, no character greetings, no finisher’s medal or swag — there wasn’t even a start or finish line!

In sum, the magic was severely lacking for this running “vacation.”

The next time you are forced to self-isolate, check out this little gem

Jeanne Costello, Laguna Woods, Calif.

After arriving about 30 days ago, we are still impressed with the cleanliness and overall hospitality of Casa Costello.

High Points: Happy Hour. Great selection of wines and other libations out on the patio starting promptly at 5:00 … unless it’s any day ending in “Y.” Then it’s 4 … or 3 …

Things to Work On: Housekeeping. Spotty — not really sure what the schedule is, as some days the bed is made and dishes are done promptly. Other days, not so much.

Food: Not the same since the chef from Sardi’s left

Noise Level: Generally quiet, with the exception of the long-earred neighbor with the tail who barges in every morning at 5:40 demanding to be fed. Apparently, he still has somewhere to go every day?

Overall: An inviting, relaxing and welcoming environment in which to spend days on end. Thank goodness, because I’ve lost count.

“Just like home” theme goes too far!

Julie Vick, Boulder, Colo.

The hotel lobby was overrun with children and was playing a constant loop of “Baby Shark.” When I politely inquired about a babysitter, the hotel staff member laughed in my face and then asked me to figure out how to fix the broken printer. When I fixed it and handed them the Pokémon math worksheets, they told me I’d need to cook my own dinner. I would have given this place 1 star if it weren’t for the charming hotel dog, but they’ve taken the “just like home” theme a little too far!

I was told there would be zombies

Jon Chase, Washington, D.C.

Let me just start off with this: I try really hard to maintain a positive outlook in most situations, but this apocalypse sucks. Day 1 of lockdown, I was feeling great. I had all the necessities: non-perishables, alcohol and three Army standard-issue Bowie knives. I didn’t need to stock up on toilet paper because I took a note from our European cousins and invested in a bidet. But since then, it’s been one disappointment after another.

Forget everything you’ve ever been told about the end of the world, because so far it’s been downright miserable. There’s no zombies, no warrior tribes, no hunger games, just “90 Day Fiancé” marathons and $4 wine from Trader Joe’s. I bought these Bowie knives for nothing. In summary, this stay-at-home experience has not lived up to my expectations AT ALL. I would ask to speak to the manager, but I have a feeling that the people in charge have no idea what’s going on, and if they do they’re kind of just figuring this out the same way I am; one episode of “90 Day Fiancé” at a time.

Desperate in McLean

Rayne Guilford, McLean, Va.

So let’s just say — DIY is overrated. This place requires a LOT of you, ok? The cooking and meal prep — it’s on YOU! There are nice suburban views, and you can sit by the open windows and sniff the air like a dog, because you can’t leave much. You can look out and see the families scootering up the street, walking the pets, vectors all. The one thing they have at this place, and thank God, is a lot of alcohol, because let me tell you, you need it. You are REQUIRED to put on a brave face for the others, be kind, compassionate and even-tempered when it is actually killing you. So make the cocktails, break out the Scrabble and open a good book — maybe Sartre’s “No Exit.” Put on a good album, Eagles, maybe. “Hotel California.” And settle in for a long, long stay.

Livable

Frances Watthanaya, Phutthaisong, Thailand

Communal kitchen turned fish slaughterhouse. Shared bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. There’s a 10 p.m. curfew and free early morning wake up call from professional fighters.

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Rate Your Home Stay

Full disclosure: this originated as an article in the Washington Post which my older daughter sent me. This is my riff:

Sophisticated Urban Setting

I would expect a larger staff at this city apartment that boasts a uniformed doorman, garbage pickup at the back door and spacious surroundings. However, there is only one somewhat harried housekeeper and a cat that “helps” by frequently dumping the bathroom wastebasket on the floor. On the plus side, there is plenty of alcohol and an ice maker. Meals are good if a little erratic; dinner may pull out all the stops or consist only of popcorn—everything served informally to say the least.

Each morning a gym mat is laid out in the living room and two additional guests lead us—virtually– through a vigorous workout—never mind if it’s been a late night. It appears I have to put the mat away as otherwise it’s there all day. I am also expected to do my own laundry. Watching television either for the news or Netflix is a sometime thing as one of the sets often doesn’t function causing the concierge to yell a lot of four-letter words. The concierge/cook/housekeeper offered helpful information on local cultural events including several nearby museums but noted they were closed.

Other than that, this is a quiet, pleasant space although far from spotless. It’s helpful that they charge by the week as I have lost track of time and am not sure if my stay has been months or years.

Here is the original: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2020/05/15/your-quarantine-experience-reviewed-like-hotel/

I confess that I have read this at least three times, each time laughing uncontrollably behind my mask.

Mostly provided by crafty pal in Washington, DC

I can also say with no hint of exaggeration that I now have an intimate knowledge of every blade of grass in Central Park, since the only other places I can go are grocery or drug stores. Just heard Staples is open—as exciting as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (well, not quite.)  I also have a new, deep relationship with Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour and Governor Cuomo.

The country is “opening up” but not for us here at the epicenter. No matter how many online courses or virtual museum tours there are one day blurs into the next with no real end in sight.  Meanwhile, I’m thankful for the internet, my family and friends and pretty much anything that distracts me for an hour or a day.

This is a recent distraction:

Really Good Broccoli (Not an Oxymoron)

Heat oven to 400o

Cut off florets and slice into thin pieces. I use some stem pieces but that’s a personal pref.

In a bowl toss cut florets with olive oil, coarse salt, fresh pepper and—the magic ingredient—about 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. The amount of these depends on the amount of broccoli—for a cup of veg use a few Tbls of oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar.)

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper or not. (This makes cleanup faster but maybe you like washing up.)

Toss into oven for about 12 minutes—check. Ideally the edges are a little brown and crispy. If not, cook for a few minutes more.

And that’s it.

To drink…anyone for a Hemlock cocktail?  It’s starting to sound like an interesting choice.

 

 

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Food, Noise, New York

Bonnie or Clyde?

It’s hard to summon humor when people are sick and dying and I’m sure my experiences don’t differ widely from anyone else’s. But, fish gotta’ swim….

Didn’t think it possible but, since shelter-in-place began I focus on food more than ever.  Kitchen items like a lemon zester, unused lo these twenty years, suddenly become indespensible. Conversations with friends can sound like they’ve been lifted from an updated 50s radio commercial: “You put cumin in that?” Once I valued brains; now I seek solace in measuring cups.  

I don’t order in much, although I feel I should to fuel what remains of restaurants. Sometimes I shop via Amazon– when a package arrives I  behave like a five-year-old on Christmas morning, ripping gleefully through the annoying tape to reveal something thrilling like light bulbs.

If I could find this I’d order immediately

I’m grateful for Google and YouTube, sources for how to do anything whether it’s a new lentil recipe, the

Sea lion on left

difference between seals and sea lions, cutting my own hair. The downside is that information-givers feel the need to begin with long intros and lead-ins: “Hi, I’m so-and-so and we’re all at home with the quarantine, right? So I thought I’d just jump on today because people from all over have been reaching out….” you get the idea.

As to noise, New York is weirdly quiet except at 7 PM when we shout from windows while beating on pots and pans to signal appreciation for our brave responders. It’s very cathartic and thrilling in a peculiar way.

Not so thrilling are people who don’t wear masks (looking at you West Wing.) Even the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park has Alice sporting a mask.

What do you miss most about life as it was?  I miss travel, restaurants, and just plain humanity. I miss New York’s energy and the unending, interesting things to do and see, many free. I almost miss crowded sidewalks.

Back to food and  Panzanella Salad. It was wonderful even with the awful tomatoes available–in summer it will be even better.

Panzanella Salad (serves roughly 6—depends on what else is served with it)

8 ounces crusty sourdough bread, preferably stale, cut in rough cubes

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (i.e., Kosher salt or any coarse salt)

Dressing:

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus extra for garnish

2 large clove garlic (I used one put through a garlic press)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Salad:

3 pounds tomatoes (cherry, grape tomatoes, plum, whatever) cut into pieces

2 small cucumbers, thinly sliced into rounds

16 ounces fresh mozzarella in small pieces (I had none so omitted)

2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh basil (also omitted but good if it’s handy)

4 tablespoons (total) thinly sliced Kalamata olives and/or capers (no need to slice capers)

Croutons: Preheat the oven to 425 degree.  (To speed clean up line cookie sheet with parchment or foil.)  Put bread cubes on the baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the salt, and toss until thoroughly combined. Bake until deeply golden, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Dressing: In a bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Whisk until combined.

To mellow onions, cut into small pieces, stir into the  dressing and refrigerate (or not) while finishing.

The recipe suggests you layer it. I simply put it in a bowl and topped it with the picked onions, olives and capers. If you have time let salad marinate for twenty minutes to an hour; if not, just eat it. It’s good the next day although the croutons won’t be crisp.

And to drink: whatever you want ranging from rosé to club soda. Bang on those pot lids. Listen to Yo Yo Ma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDZ4gNRKdoc Send good vibes to Dr. Faucci.

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Land of the Mayans

This is such a difficult period I’ve put off writing. However, in the spirit of thinking about happier times …

I went to Merida, Mexico for a solo week returning March 5th, right before the world as we know it ended. En route, about thirty minutes from Cancun, (where I was to get a bus to Merida), suddenly the flight crew appeared in oxygen masks. We were told nothing except that there was “a smell like nail polish up front.” Perhaps the co-captain felt the need for a different color?  Regardless, the plane turned back and deposited us in Ft. Lauderdale to await a new carrier. The net net is that I arrived at my Merida destination, the Villa Tievoli, at 4:30 AM to find one of my hosts standing on the street awaiting me.

That was the first of many signs that I’d picked a winner, (thanks, Booking.com.) This B&B is right in the historic Centro but away from the noise and bustle. A beautifully renovated old house, it has a lovely garden-and pool, three large, comfortable guest rooms each with a big bathroom complete with gigantic shower, and serves terrific breakfasts.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 145024869.jpg
Breakfast on dishes from Patrick’s huge collection

Tievoli is owned and run by Patrick and his husband Wendel, two of the most helpful hosts ever.

Merida (population just over one million) is a lovely colonial city with lots of restaurants, museums, markets, parks, colonial mansions now repurposed for organizations and free concerts, dance performance and other diversions every evening, many in the Plaza Grande, about a ten minute walk from Tievoli.

With Patrick’s help I worked out three day trips: one to Uxmal where I’d been in the 70s, but remembered little; one to Celestun where the flocks of pink flamingos were stunning

as was a very large, nasty-looking crocodile on view as my boat navigated into the mangrove swamps and one to a hacienda. The hacienda highlight was intended to be learning how sisal –known locally as henequen or “green gold” as it comes from a type of agave plant– was made in colonial times.

Sisal before it’s spun into rope

The demo was very interesting but for me the high spot was swimming in the property’s cenote.  Geology interlude: a ceneote is a natural pit resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes water underneath. There are about 6000 all over the Yucatan, many connected by underground rivers.

This cenote had a small opening to the sky, wooden stairs leading down to the water and was a Goldilocks temperature—neither too hot nor too cold. I stayed in for a long time “chatting “with seven women from Verona and only the thought of a Margarita brought me out.

A cenote very like the one I swam in

Besides a lot of truly fabulous Mexican food, Merida is big and sophisticated enough to have restaurants of all kinds. I went twice to Oliva, an Italian restaurant that could stand up against almost any Italian restaurant I’ve ever been to. One night I had the the pasta D’avillo with five huge grilled shrimp on top; the night before I left I ate TDF pork-filled tortellini. Oliva has a great wine list as well. More on other adventures anon.

Meanwhile, my recipe for guacamole. It’s a total cheat and not like what’s served in Mexico where it shows up at many food spots (almost always with other dips and fresh, housemade tortilla chips) but not at high end restaurants.

Mari’s Manhattan Guac

1 ripe avocado (the flesh should give when you push it)

About ½ cup of salsa from a jar. (The amount depends on the size of your avocado and assumes you can get to the grocery store wearing your latex gloves. Your call as the salsa’s level of spice. In Mexico guacamole usually isn’t spicy.)

Juice of ¼ lemon

2 Tbls. Chili powder (more if you prefer. Taste and see.)

Take avocado out of shell and mash. (I like guac that has small lumps in it but that’s personal.) Add other ingredients. Some folks add onion and/or cilantro but not me. Put the end result in an appropriately sized bowl. If you want to hold it for later, cover tightly with plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

Serve with tortilla chips (bought unless you insist on making your own, in which case send some my way) or slather on good bread for a version of avocado toast which makes an excellent breakfast or lunch.

Assuming it‘s not breakfast drink Negro Modelo, , the beer of your choice or whatever beverage strikes your fancy.  Thus far I haven’t heard my hero, Dr. Fauci, say that alcohol kills the virus but who knows? In this world of social distance we won’t clink glasses. A small, hopeful olé.

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Happy Losar

Inside the Rubin Museum

Losar, the Himalayan New Year, was celebrated at the Rubin Museum of Art on Sunday, February 16, with lots of excited kids and their families. The holiday, which takes place on different dates in different Buddhist countries (Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pakistan), goes on for fifteen days although most of the celebration is on the first three.

This year’s zodiac animal is technically the rat but the Rubin morphed it into the mouse, probably a little friendlier for kids. The element associated with the year is metal, “element” being a concept that seemed challenging to most of the little ones.

I volunteered for the day and was assigned to the Metal Mouse area where kids got tinfoil, wire and help when needed to make their own mice. Here is my mouse, hardly a thing of beauty but mine own. Some of the mice made by both kids and volunteers were fabulous.

My mouse

The kids were adorable but not so all the parents—I witnessed helicopter parenting up close as some moms and dads insisted on doing the whole project themselves to “get it right.” (To be fair, others dropped their progeny off –these kids did just fine.)

The day included singing, dancing, other art projects including a butter sculpture demo and making something similar, mouse mask-making and a scavenger hunt. On a break I visited the top floor to see the current exhibit, Measure Your Existence, that includes an area where you are invited to take paper and pencil and write to someone in your past expressing gratitude, regret or what you will and leaving the letter unsigned to be read by other visitors. (Or sign it and the Rubin will mail it.)

Another exhibit is what at first looked like an ostrich egg but turned out to be a sort of egg-shaped form of wound string the exact length of the Indian-Pakistan border. Still another work incorporated a video of an artist who punched a time clock once every hour 24/7 for 365 days. The description explains that he “had to rearrange his life around this one gesture.” No kidding. (Existence runs through August 10 so, if you want to see it you have ample time.)

The artist punching a time clock every hour

The Rubin is an elegant, usually quiet space occupying the building where Barney’s was originally (7th Avenue and 17th Street.) On Sunday it was far from quiet but everyone appeared to be having a great time. At lunch time volunteers were served that Himalayan fave, pizza, dashing from the main museum to the education center down the block minus coats.

For a more Losar-like eating experience, make Tibetan Sweet Rice or Dresil’, a dish that’s popular in many Buddhist countries on special occasions.

Tibetan Sweet Rice

2 cups basmati rice, uncooked

Water (for cooking rice)

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup unsalted cashew nuts, whole or halves

1 cup raisins 1/4 cup dried apricots (or other dried fruit)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Cook the rice as specified and with recommended amount of water as directed on package.

When rice is done and still hot, stir in the butter, cashews, raisins, apricots (and any other dried fruit being used), and sugar. Traditionally, Dresil is served with a bit of dri (a Tibetan sweet, creamy butter from female yaks). As there probably isn’t a yak in your area, let alone a female,  just switch this up for regular sweet butter

From what I’ve read some eat this as a kind of rice pudding dessert. Others serve it as a side dish with spicy chicken wings or another spicy dish. Tibetans drink a special kind of beer at the start of Losar. You could do the same with the beer of your choice, water or whatever you feel contributes to a festive New Year’s celebration. May you have a splendid Year of the Rat.

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Anatevka on Fifth Avenue

Main Sanctuary at Temple Emanu-El

Last Friday night I went to services at Temple Emanu-El, drawn because a much more observant friend told me that the cast of the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof would be performing.

Indeed they did and indeed they were wonderful. They sang Matchmaker, Sunrise, Sunset and Do You Love Me? Since I’m intimately familiar with the show and words to every song, following was easy. This is a link to highlights from the Yiddish performance directed by Joel Grey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7yryjpzUv8

Cast of YIddish Fiddler

What surprised me was how easy it was to follow the service. Emanu-El has always been ultra-Reform, in fact, when I was a kid, Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s didn’t happen there –my recollection is that boys and girls were confirmed. It was a pretty starchy place. Nevertheless, when I married the first time, my mother arranged for the then-Senior Rabbi, Nate Perilman, to perform the ceremony. (I never knew why she did this as religion wasn’t important to her but maybe she was accommodating my husband’s grandmother who more observant; John’s Nana was also delighted that I wore a veil!) Rabbi Perilman performed two more weddings the same afternoon so we always joked about him roller skating along Fifth Avenue to get to all his gigs.

Regardless, the Friday night service was fabulous. The cantor and a woman from the choir (chorus?) have truly gorgeous voices and, at one point, held hands to dance a few steps together, something I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen at many other synagogues. The senior rabbi from Temple Israel also presided and the warm relationship between the leaders was evident. I hadn’t anticipated such harmonious music as every other Jewish service I’ve been to has included far more somber music all in a minor key. This music was positively bubbling, perhaps the underlying note of today’s Emanu-El.

Afterwards, friends and I had dinner at the nearby Serafina’s. My pizza was terrific but the overall experience wasn’t great: overcooked pasta, long wait times and excuses like “the kitchen is very busy.” Isn’t it supposed to be busy on a Friday night at dinnertime?

However, Fiddler and Emanu-El did their thing to the nth degree and for that I’m thankful. Although I probably won’t attend every Friday night, if and when I return I know it will be a wonderful experience. Since the place was packed the usual post-service food was curtailed. Instead, outside the front doors, packages containing a mini-challah and package of grape juice were passed out

This recipe for noodle kugel is the one Jewish recipe I’ve ever made, as I recollect, as part of a long-ago family seder. This recipe comes from that doyenne of Jewish cooking, LOL,  Martha Stewart. 

Noodle Kugel–Martha’s way

Noodle Pudding Martha Stewart

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for dish

Kosher salt

12 oz wide egg noodles

8 oz cream cheese at room temperature

1 and ½ cups sour cream

1 and ½ cups cottage cheese

1 and ½ cups milk

1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, milk, sugar, and eggs until smooth. Toss mixture with noodles, coating evenly. Season with salt. Transfer noodle mixture to prepared dish; dot with butter. Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes.

Of course you could pass the grape juice. A nice Merlot or Malbec would be good (or even better.) L’chaim!

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Go Go Verrocchio!

Inspired by the Times article on the exhibition in D.C., (link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/arts/design/verrocchio-review-national-gallery-leonardo.html ) I went, throwing in a catch-up with a Washington-based friend as a bonus.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni in 1435, the artist took the name Verrocchio in tribute to his master, a goldsmith. He emerged as a brilliant painter, sculptor (in bronze, terra cotta, marble) and goldsmith, fortunate to have the patronage of the Medicis. (Nothing like the deepest pockets around!) Other greats including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Leonardo worked in his studio, as explained in the exhibition which points out which works, largely paintings, were probably partly made via “assistant” hands.

Verrocchio’s David in the National Gallery
Avocados for guac at Oyamel

Before the exhibit, (at the National Gallery, free like most DC museums), we saw a half-hour film about it, narrated by Glen Close, that greatly enriched my enjoyment. Then upstairs to the real thing which displays works gathered from all over– a treat to see them in one space. The exhibition closes January 12 so hustle if it interests you.

Among the non-Renaissance delights of the DC visit was a three pm meal at an exuberant Mexican restaurant, quite a contrast to the more subdued exhibit. Under the leadership of Chef Jose Andres, an advocate for immigration reform, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana served up great margaritas, tacos (one of mine was goat) and a bean dish that was TDF.

To complete the cultural immersion, before the Verrocchio, we hit the Freer Gallery to see the Hokusai show, a tribute to the great Japanese master that displays works ranging from large screens to small drawings.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

It was a splendid trifecta of food and art, so terrific that I was torn as to an appropriate recipe. Italian wins. This is my standard lasagne recipe, made at least once a year, usually for Christmas Eve. It comes from that wizard of simplicity, Peg Bracken who gave us the wonderful I Hate to Cook Book.

LASAGNE

2 Tbls. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion chopped

1 lb. ground beef

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 #2 can tomatoes

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp ground pepper

½ tsp oregano

8 oz lasagna noodles

½ lb mozzarella, sliced thin

¾ pound ricotta cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil. Add the ground beef  tomato sauce, tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano and simmer 20 minutes. (Break up meat as it cooks.) While sauce simmers, cook noodles in boiling salted water (read package for time) and drain well. Butter casserole. First layer is noodles, then cheese (some ricotta, some mozzarella, some Parmesan) then meat sauce. Make two more layers in the same order, ending with a layer of sauce and Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 375 for 20 minutes.

OR freeze unbaked, covered with foil. Remember to defrost 24 hours before you plan to serve. Once defrosted, put in 350 or so oven until hot through. Toast Verrocchio, immigration reform, free museums or what you will. Happy New Year!

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Not the Shores of Gitche Gumee

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just mounted two gigantic paintings in the Great Hall. Part an attempt to signal diversity, part a marketing ploy and part interesting works of art, the pictures are by Kent Monkman, a Cree from Canada with the help of those in his “workshop.”

The opening event took place in the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers auditorium, packed to the gunnels. The audience (a mix of VIPs in elegant outfits and regular folks in warm clothes) listened to remarks by Max Hollein, the Met’s Director; Phyllis Yaffe, the outgoing Consul General of Canada in New York, and curator Randall Griffey.  Slides of Monkton’s two pictures were on the screen.

Kent Monkton

The evening began with five Indigenous People presenting a musical tribute to honor a New York friend who had died. We were asked to stand and think warmly about those we knew who had passed on. When I thought of my adored late husband I got a strong sense of him rolling his eyes at the music which was heavy on drum bashing and repeated wailing.

Afterwards came Monkman in the guise of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (whose name, we are told, plays on “mischief” and “egotistical.”) He/ she was clad in a teepee-shaped dark pink garment with the tent open at knee-level to reveal legs ending in very high heels. She/he also wore diamond bracelets over dark pink gloves, long dark hair, very long eyelashes and an upward-pointing feather headdress and read a sort of invocation-cum-admonition full of double-entendres. In the pictures, Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People, Miss Chief is the central figure in both, naked except for some drapery and Christian Laboutin high heels.  The paintings are laden with very identifiable references to European and North American paintings and sculptures in the Met’s collections. Here is a link to the review by Holland Carter in the 12/20/ 19 New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/arts/design/kent-monkman-metropolitan-museum.html Even more fun, this link takes you to a talk by Kent Monkman partly as Miss Chief: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/great-hall-commission-kent-monkman?utm_source=qr&utm_campaign=gallery&fbclid=IwAR17RRBLiVBJ9hwHrC4FWBDpLPwPZiqSITpx2d82XAZH0qlPZT5yX9eRSeY#content

From my POV, the whole has a little bit of the Emperor’s New Clothes mixed in. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea and well-executed. I’d love to take a tour beginning and ending with Monkton’s pictures in the Great Hall that includes viewing the works referenced which I bet the Met has planned.

Here is a recipe for the drink should you be so inclined:

Winter Aperol Spritz

3 ounces Aperol

3 ounces prosecco

1 ounce cranberry juice

2 ounces club soda

1 orange rind twist

1 sprig of rosemary

Combine the aperol, prosecco and cranberry in a glass with ice. Add the orange twist and rosemary sprig. Salute Canada, the Met, indigenous peoples or whatever takes your fancy. Do not play the spirit music. Cheers!

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Many Cultures (and Many Pounds)

I bet I gained 5 pounds+ in Sicily. Of course I walked a lot: through old cites and wonderful markets; I swam in the glorious Mediterranean; I hiked the north side of Mt. Aetna (although even the die hard hikers among us thought this hike was “challenging” what with the five-foot drops and the loose scree underfoot.

I learned to make panelle, the classic Sicilian chickpea fritters (although they won’t be on my table anytime soon as I don’t fry); swam in the glorious Mediterranean (followed by a five course lunch on the boat); visited a very old chocolatier in Modena, first donning what looked like what the cap and smock worn before a surgical procedure); got briefly lost in Palermo (I can get lost anywhere and this is a user-friendly city) and more.

Frying panelle

So many civilizations came through Sicily: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Aragonese, Lombards, Spaniards, French, Albanians and English. Each left its mark in terms of culture, architecture and design and, of course, food. I had many wonderful experiences: two days at the Anna Lanza Cooking School where I had a beautiful, comfy room although some others did not;  visiting an herb farm near Noto where the owner’s wife hails from Brooklyn and served, among other things, deep fried sage leaves as part of our lunch (another item that won’t be featured on my menu but they were divine); wandering around Ragusa, a medieval town that has a Disneyfied air and is lit at night like a stage set; lunch at a wonderful pizzeria in Syracuse where the actual pizza was preceded by arancini (rice balls around a filling, typically a little meat and some peas) and seafood caponata and complemented by gallons of wine. Actually, everything was accompanied by lots of wine.

Ragusa at night

Home since late October, I’ve peeled off the pounds with a diet of kale and yogurt (well, not quite).

It was a terrific trip complete with beautiful weather except on the very last day in Taormina where it was pouring. Regardless, some of us donned slickers to see the Greek Theater which was entirely worth the rain. 

Greek theater in Taormina

Inspired by the food we had, once home I worked out a way to serve zucchini because my typical way of cooking it (sliced and sautéed along with yellow squash and onion) is boring.

Herewith, Zucchini a la Siciliana

This serves two.

One large zucchini cut in half lengthwise

Feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil (not in a league with what we downed on the trip- I’m told that you can forget about “EVO” and cold pressed and the like. Look for a date on the label. The most recent is the best.)

Ripe tomatoes (no longer happening here in the northeast)

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish. Rub the zucchini in it so all sides are coated. Cook at about 350 until zucchini are soft enough to handle. Scrape out the inner flesh, chop up and put in a bowl.

Add to this chopped tomatoes and the feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff this mixture into the zucchini halves.

Put them back in the oven (same pan) for another twenty minutes or so; the cheese should start to melt and the whole be on the soft side.

Zuchhini a la Siciliana

Serve with a Nero d’Avila wine, (it’s red) a Sicilian grape I’m betting my local liquor store doesn’t stock. Or, a white from the Aetna region, ditto. 

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Back to School

Visiting my granddaughter, a sophomore at Hobart William Smith in Geneva, NY, was great fun not counting getting to and from which required multiple forms of transportation—missing only travel by Conestoga wagon.  I started at 8 AM, (bus to Newark Airport, plane to Rochester, rental car to Geneva), and pulled into my lodgings, a place that made the Bates Motel look good, after 4 PM. Was it worth the effort?—100 percent.

We toured the lovely campus awash in green lawns and flowers ahead of the snow which will undoubtedly arrive in October. There were meals at several restaurants, one clearly a place for college kids only when taken there by someone else. Winds often whip smartly in from Seneca Lake but on Saturday all was calm and very warm. My student was occupado with masses of work so I spent the afternoon revisiting Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention in July, 1848.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home is right on the lake. A woman Park Service Ranger waved me inside the modest house where Stanton raised her seven children, (all of whom had malaria and survived, something of a rarity in those days.) The only original materials left are the family piano and wallpaper in one room. The simple, airy house takes about a half hour to view.

Stanton and two of her brood

The National Women’s Hall of Fame was closed because new members (Sonia Sotomayor, Jane Fonda, Angela Davis and others) were being inducted at a ceremony elsewhere but tickets to this event were sold out. I had an unremarkable lunch, wandered through a shop of women-made goods and visited the Museum of Waterways and Industry housed in the Visitors Center. In early days, Seneca Falls was known for pump manufacturing along with building fire engines

Justice Sotomayor

After “brunch” with the student and a friend at the student dining center Sunday, it was time to get back in my adorable red Ford Fusion and start the return trip home. By then I’d mastered most of the car’s fancy electronics including how to dim the bright lights, helpfully explained by the Parks Department guide at the Stanton House. Glad I went; glad to return home.

Penn Yan, a town near Geneva, is the buckwheat capital of the U.S. So….

Buckwheat Crepes

Buckwheat Crepes

1¼ cups buckwheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
½ stick butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 cup water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in eggs, melted butter, milk, and water. Batter will be much more runny than pancake batter.

Heat 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet to medium-high. Apply a light coating of butter and ladle or pour about a quarter cup of batter into hot pan. Pour in an expanding circular pattern, then tilt pan to spread batter even more, so crepe is as thin as possible. Don’t worry, once browned they don’t tear easily. If pan is too hot or too cool and batter doesn’t start cooking immediately without burning, adjust heat accordingly.

After about a minute, use a non-stick spatula to loosen all around the rim of the crepe, then flip, using spatula and/or fingers. (It may take one or two sacrificial crepes, but you’ll get a rhythm. As the second side lightly browns (usually about another minute), slide crepe onto a plate.

Either serve immediately or stack with waxed paper or plastic wrap between each for heating and serving later. For filling: fresh fruits or jam, cheese and ham, eggs and spinach, Nutella, honey and yogurt, ice cream. I These are almost exactly like crepes served in Brittany—which is easier to get to than Geneva, NY. But minus the delightful granddaughter.

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