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Italy’s Cinque Terre (Five Towns) was created by a series of rock folds that were pushed and raised together during the Tertiary period, roughly sixty-six million years ago, the era that marked the end of the dinosaurs. The towns: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola and Riomaggiore, sit on the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean.
After almost a week in Florence (another story), I went to Cinque Terre to join a watercolor workshop, specifically watercolor en plein air, which gave me new respect for Monet, Renoir and Sisley
toting their stuff around. Could have all that lugging have contributed to Van Gogh’s madness? Probably not but I could have used a caddy to help deal with my folding easel, collapsible stool, palette, water containers, spray bottle, sponge, brushes…
Our group, one of many workshops run by Il Chiostro, www.ilchiostro.com, was based at La Cabana, a hotel high on a cliff overlooking Monterosso, serviced by a (steep) path and frequent shuttle service to and from the town below. Not only was the setting lovely, it got us away from the town which gets crowded especially when cruise ships disgorge passengers. Ambitious hikers can trek from town to town; we visited several by train and traveled by ferry to Porto Venera, a town slightly south of Riomaggiore.
Houses in Cinque Terre are a glowing rainbow of color as they cling to the cliffs— perfect for painters. Besides masses of tourists and great gelato, each of the towns have lots of restaurants serving terrific pastas, bruscetta, foccia and seafood—anchovies in various guises are part of many offerings as are squid, mussels, cuttlefish, etc. My two fave dishes of the week were faggotini, pasta shaped like a purse with a filling of soft pecorino cheese
and pear and a pumpkin (rather like our acorn squash) risotto. More complex than they seem, I am unlikely to reproduce either.
In between bouts of painting there was plenty of free time to explore the area, shop, swim or just hang out enjoying the views often with a glass of wine in hand. Other than a five minute sprinkle one day the weather was warm and sunny.
Pesto appears everywhere in Cinque Terre, sometimes made with the addition of potatoes and green beans. This is a more streamlined version:
¼ cup pine nuts
1 or 2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
½ cup olive oil
¼ Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
Put pine nuts, basil, garlic, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are chopped but not totally mushy. (Purists do this with a mortar and pestle; be kind to yourself and don’t.)
With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil. Then add the cheese which some recipes direct you to incorporate after the pesto base is out of the food processor-why, I can’t imagine but suit yourself.
In Cinque Terre pesto is often served with trenetti; you can use linguine or almost any long pasta shape you prefer. I freeze extra pesto in ice cube trays and pop them out when wanted.
Serve with white wine (or sparkling water or whatever you like); the area’s whites are pale yellow and delicate. If you want to toast in a group, the easy Italian way is to touch one other glass (rather than scrambling to connect with everyone), while saying: Toccato uno, Toccato tutti meaning ‘touch one, touch all.’ If you said cheers I doubt if anyone would object. Just smile.
Drinking while painting could be fun although your artwork may suffer a tad. On the plus side, carrying a wine glass up hilly paths seeking the perfect point of view is a lot less taxing than toting an easel.
One of the cheeriest places in New York just now (and until December 10, 2023) is Madison Square Park where an exhibit of crochet runs up and down lampposts and twenty-foot tall specially planted telephone poles. The installation, My Neighbor’s Garden, is the work of artist Sheila Pepe who says she drew inspiration from community gardens and front yards in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn where she lives with her wife, artist Carrie Moyer.
Pepe created the 15,000 yards of crocheted colored shoelaces, paracord, rope and garden hose—ablaze in red, pink, purple and orange– with groups of friends and strangers. Some of the women came to help after seeing an Instagram post seeking crocheters. Pepe provided guidance on stitches and lengths. It appears that all the materials used are weather resistant.
Around the poles twining flowers and vegetable plants are climbing and expected to mesh with the crocheted fiber. Some sections are roundish panels of crochet that reminded me of the macramé phase in the sixties (although I never want to house a spider
plant again.) The whole thing is a riot of style and color, inspired by crocheting circles of long ago when women gathered to talk about issues of the day like women’s rights and abolition.
I do not know how to crochet and barely how to knit although I had a period of knitting enthusiasm and made a sweater from my granddaughter that she first wore as a dress—four or five years later if finally fit as a sweater. I know I had a fling with macramé—who didn’t—but happily no relics of that have survived.
If anyone knows of a recipe involving crochet please let me know. Meanwhile, cucumbers grow on vines (although Pepe’s installation doesn’t include this veggie as far as I know) so here is a recipe for Cucumber Salad.
1 pound seedless cucumbers, thinly sliced (Food Network, from whence this came, suggests slicing with a mandolin. Not so fast. Just slice as thinly as possible unless you like the idea of a possible wound.
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
Put cucumbers, sugar and salt in bowl; leave to marinate for five minutes. Stir in vinegar and onion. Refrigerate five minutes before serving.
If you’d like to celebrate Ms. Pepe, get out that crochet hook or knitting needles and start a new project. Feel free to send it to me when it’s finished.
After a terrific ten days in northern Portugal with GrapeHops, a wine-food-and-fun-focused group, I took a train south to Lisbon. An elegant, beautiful city, Lisbon is also (relatively) inexpensive and packed with friendly people, many of whom speak English. (My Portuguese consists of ‘obregado,” i.e., thank you, polite but not especially helpful in conversation.)
As I had only three-plus days, I began with a free walking tour led by Sara, an exuberant Guru guide, who led us climbing a zillion steps up to the Alfama area.
At the top there is a great view of the harbor with one or two humongous cruise ships in port. Along the way we stopped to sample ginjinha, a local drink served in tiny cups (or in a chocolate cup should you be inclined.) Our vendor was one of the local women who (reportedly) brews her own version which tastes a bit like cherry cough medicine.
My first night’s dinner was at Monte Mar Lisboa, right on the Tagus River, with boats sailing past. It’s a lovely, albeit full of Americans, seafood restaurant with excellent service and was a perfect night to eat outdoors. I Ubered there and took the metro back to my adorable hotel, Nicola Rossio, very close to the metro stop.
The Museu Nacional Do Azulejo (Tile Museum) is housed in a convent founded in 1509. The building is wonderful and the history of tile in Portugal from the late 15th century to now is fascinating. If you go to Lisbon don’t skip this.
The famed Gulbenkian Museum is also excellent but, if you have to choose, I’d go for the tiles—more unusual and relevant to the area. But I had my cake and ate it, as in visiting both.
I squeezed in a day trip to Sintra via train, When I arrived I somehow got ‘adopted’ by a delightful family with whom I shared a driver up to the Pena Castle. They elected to wait a longish while for tickets to walk around the upper level outside; I bailed and went off to the Moorish Castle with its ancient food storage silos, battlements, towers and—thank heaven, a café as it was about three PM and starvation was setting in. At the Castle I reunited with my ‘family’ who were going on to another attraction. Instead, our driver dropped me in town where I strolled around, admired the winding, cobblestoned streets, ate a superb pastry and caught a train back to Lisbon.
During my time with GrapeHops, in Guimares, a medieval city in the north, one of the items served (among many other) at lunch was Huevos Rotos or “broken eggs.” It’s delicious and why not? Eggs, superior Iberian ham, what we would call excellent homemade potato chips … what’s not to like? I don’t recall the specific wine (or wines) that we drank with this lunch but am sure they were plentiful, appropriate and delicious.
Huevos Rotos (adapted for American palates, sorry purists.)
This looks like it serves about 4 depending on what else you eat with it.
White port and tonic is a great summer drink, very popular in Portugal. If you elect to try this, aim for a good quality port and keep it in the fridge. Drink this or a good white wine (Portuguese if you can get your hands on one).
By which I refer to college commencement, inspired by my granddaughter’s receiving her MA in Education this past weekend. Eight strong we trooped to Geneva, NY, where Hobart William Smith is located, to be with her.
Some of us stayed in Seneca Falls, where the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848. The Women’s Rights National Historic Park Visitors’ Center is a good start to visiting the area. The Center houses a number of exhibits including a timeline of women’s history events; panels that lift up to reveal truths about women’s lives and a section on women and work that could use a little updating.
Next door is the Wesleyan Chapel that at various times served as laundromat, opera house, movie theater, and a mechanic shop. The present restored iteration is where The Declaration of Rights, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was presented in 1848 by a large group of women and some male supporters including Frederick Douglas. Apparently the actual document is missing. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/find-the-sentiments
We moved onto the National Women’s Hall of Fame, built in what was once a mill that produced socks. Only the first floor is complete although three more are planned and partly in the works. Some played a card game of matching the faces of famous women past and present, some wove yarn into a sort of timeline, some eyed the bench that Susan B. Anthony may have once sat on.
Luckily, by Sunday, when commencement took place the weather was sunny if a tad on the chilly side. Besides the pleasure of seeing our graduate get her diploma (last year she was felled by Covid so didn’t get to walk), we loved the bagpipers who serenaded the procession in and out. The ceremony was a little long but enjoyed by attendants human and canine.
This is a family in the Napoleonic tradition in that it marches on its stomach so food played a sizeable role. Saturday night we ate at Sackett’s Table, so farm-to-table that the food practically walks in unaided. Meat-centric but with plenty of options for non-carnivores, you can also buy meat and other foods to take home. I had never seen a tomahawk steak
before and was knocked out –had it been swung at my head I would have been. Even the booze is locally sourced.
Sunday after graduation we had a large, late lunch at the spacious, contemporary Quincy Exchange in Corning to make the trip for those driving back to NYC an hour shorter (which sadly, it failed to do because of hideous traffic.) Quincy, self-described as an American Bistro, has an innovative menu and an airy feel.
Since I’m dealing with food, I must mention Banister’s Bed & Breakfast in Seneca Falls where some of us stayed. Built in 1860, four of the last five owners were lawyers, hence the name. Breakfast is lavish, exemplified by the Watermelon Pizza, one course during our Saturday morning repast.
To make it, cut a piece of watermelon into a wedge. Top with a thin layer of cream cheese in lieu of mozzarella and assemble fruit artfully on top. Delicious, pretty and zero work.
A chorus of Pomp and Circumstance please.
After a lovely dim sum lunch with my cousin at Jin Fong, (the new iteration which I wish were as large as the old version wrecked by Covid), I went to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) at 215 Centre Street.
A more highly designed version of MOCA has been developed by sculptor and architect Maya Lin although it’s unclear whether when or if it will materialize be due to budgetary issues. While the current museum isn’t as glamorous as the proposed new one purports to be, it does its job admirably, showcasing interesting material devoted to Chinese American history.
In the entrance two young men in costume were learning the Chinese dragon dance, coached by an older guy who was clearly an expert. Moving past, I went through the exhibit, In a Single Step, which deals with the many layers of the Chinese American experience in the U.S.
I knew that the Chinese were, (and still are), treated badly as expressed by this old poster. I did not know that a ball of opium was as big as a basketball. One section of the exhibit presents examples of “yellowface” in mainstream culture while showing how Chinese Americans have survived in economically marginalized environments.
The area devoted to Chinese food is both poignant and funny, exemplified by a magazine ad that manages to put down China’s superb cuisine and dredge up the social mores of the sixties. I remembered a radio jingle “La Choy makes Chinese food … swing American” and cringed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbgiV1jYIrY
Another food-related exhibit Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America opened under MOCA’s umbrella at 33-33 39th Avenue, Flushing, NY, explores how Chinese food is interpreted through personal stories of 33 Chinese and Asian American chefs. (Sounds worth seeing.)
If visiting MOCA interests you it’s currently open only Saturdays with other days by appointment.
No way on this earth will either you or I produce a genuine Chinese meal. However, I’ve made sesame noodles many times (and would make them more often if I had the will power to keep peanut butter around.)
Serves 4-6 ( seams skimpy for six —maybe double recipe for that number)
8 ounces Chinese egg noodles (or your preferred kind of noodle)
2 large carrots, grated
1 cucumber, grated
Half of a small red cabbage, finely chopped
1/2 cup thinly-sliced scallions
Toppings: chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, lime wedges
Sesame Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2–3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder, ground ginger, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Taste and add extra soy sauce, if needed. If sauce seems too thick (it should be thin enough to drizzle), whisk in a tablespoon or two of water.
Cook the noodles al dente according to package instructions. Drain, then rinse with cold water in a colander until noodles are chilled.
Add noodles, carrots, cucumber, cabbage, scallions and sesame peanut sauce to the bowl. Toss until evenly combined.
Serve with passed garnishes.
Who needs take out?
Less expensive and far less hassle than flying, take a bus or subway to Manhattan’s West 116th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard for a taste of West Africa. Visit the Malcolm Shabazz African market, a semi-enclosed area where vendors from African countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Mali and Kenya gather to sell their wares. The market, in business since 1994, is a riot of color, on tables and clothing racks; in tiny ‘shops’, and on the fabulous-looking, incredibly charming, vendors.
Look for bolts of African cloth, clothing for all sizes including kids, jewelry, baskets, African Black soap (reputedly great for the skin), shea butter, musical instruments and all kinds of decorative objects. I resisted the tempting clothes but succumbed to an irresistible bowl.
The market was founded by the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque after the street vendors were ‘removed’ from 125th Street. Shabazz himself is a sad story: the grandson of civil rights activists Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, he was murdered in Mexico in 2013, aged twenty- eight. Prior to that he was arrested for many crimes, one of which was starting the fire that killed his grandmother, Betty.
You could also drop into the family-owned Urban Garden Center, 1640 Park Avenue, open every day, or take a peek at the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, a Sunni Muslim mosque, at 102 West 116th.
Mango Salsa from Peggy T.
1 mango, not too ripe
1 medium red onion
1 red pepper
1 fresh jalapeño
1 bunch scallions
4-5 fresh squeezed limes
(3 garlic cloves) (not for me)
Peel mango and slice parallel to remove the seed. Cut mango, onion, pepper, jalepeno and scallions into small dice and combine. Squeeze lime juice over all, sprinkle with 1 tsp. Salt and taste. Correct if necessary. Swoon.
Amy Ruth’s serves lemonade, coffee, tea, water, wine and beer. Iced tea, often served sweetened in the south, is a standard accompaniment to soul food. Pick your poison.
Not only am I poor at spotting celebrities, I’m also rotten at recognizing people I know. My excuse used to be poor vision but, in truth, think I’m simply face- blind.
Years ago I was with my mother in a fancy store, carrying a large box. Getting off the elevator, box at the forefront, I would have rammed into another woman if my mother hadn’t yanked me back in time.
Years ago I was with my mother in a fancy store, carrying a large box. Getting off the elevator, box at the forefront, I would have rammed into another woman if my mother hadn’t yanked me back in time.
“That’s Jackie Kennedy,” she hissed. “You missed her by inches.”
“Once I nodded to a man on the street thinking we had met at a dinner party. Later I realized the man was Elliot Gould, not a new acquaintance. (Five told stars for being polite minus five deleted due to lack of common sense.)
Then there was the time I tussled for a taxi with a woman who finally shrugged and let me take the cab. The driver informed me I had been wrestling with Sigourney Weaver.
My inability to recognize faces was made even worse when COVID was rampant and faces were masked. At least that was a bit of an excuse!
On the subject of celebrities, the following is said to have been what Jennifer Aniston ate for lunch every day
during her ten years on the set of Friends. I was introduced to this recipe by a recent houseguest who makes a large amount early in the week to use as a base for other meals. You could add chicken, tuna, croutons, turkey (or regular ) bacon broccoli, chopped peppers, other cooked veg or potato hunks—as you can see, the permutations are endless.
Salad Jennifer Aniston
1 cup quinoa, uncooked (or use bulgur wheat)
2 cups water (or chicken broth)
1 cup cucumber, chopped (I omitted)
1/2 cup parsley, chopped (use mini-chop if you have one)
1/2 cup mint, chopped (also omitted as I don’t like mint in my salad)
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped (buy them already shelled)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, (aka garbanzos), drained and rinsed
About 5-6 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
(Purists combine the lemon juice with olive oil making more of a dressing. I found lemon juice alone fine)
Cook the quinoa or bulgur according to package directions. Let it sit about fifteen minutes; fluff with a fork.
Put all the other ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. When the fifteen minutes are up combine the two. Voila.
To keep the celeb theme going you could accompany the salad with a drink like an Arnold Palmer, (half iced tea; half lemonade); a Shirley Temple, (ginger ale with splash of grenadine and a maraschino cherry if you have these old-timey items) or a Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice laced with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, black pepper, celery salt and lemon juice, the whole garnished with a celery stick. Or stick to H20, bubbly or not. I may not recognize faces but acknowledge all these beverages.
While you eat enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame.
Oaxaca is both a state that encompasses several beach areas and the city that is the state’s capital. I spent the last two weeks of February in the city of Oaxaca, (technically Oaxaca de Juárez, population just over 300,000.) The place is filled with color and music, wonderful food, museums and art galleries. Although I’ve been to this delightful city several times before, this was my first time going to Xochimilco (“Sosheemilco”) and Jalatlaco (“Halalatco”), two of the oldest neighborhoods or barrios. Both are pretty easy walks from the central area.
Xochimilto is marked by the arches of the San Felipe Aqueduct, built during the mid eighteenth century when it began bringing water to the city.
This ended in 1940; today tankers marked Aqua Purificado (clean water) are periodically hooked up to cisterns in homes, hotels and restaurants to provide water that’s safe to drink. (In two weeks of eating, we enjoyed all kinds of food including salads and neither of us got sick. However, no one—even a local– drinks water from the tap.)
With Rodolpho, a Guru Guide, (read free walking tour guide, tip generously at the end), we explored the barrio, i.e., a neighborhood. This barrio has old-world cobbled streets and many textile workshops including one where we watched a man weaving a bedspread on a big loom. It takes great strength as the loom is heavy.
The aqueduct arches are more than just historic; entrances to homes are built under them; per Rodolpho, some of the living spaces are pretty grand.
Jatlalaco, originally a Zapotec village, also has cobbled streets, many with walls bursting with street art. Between the wall murals and the paper cutouts hung overhead the whole area is wildly colorful. There are many coffee shops, cafes, and small boutiques selling art, clothing and other goodies including ice cream. Oaxacans, (and other Mexicans), take their ice cream seriously whether it’s helados, much like American ice cream, or nieves which means snow and is something like our sorbet but icier.
We ate esquitos from a street vendor –it can be served as a sort of Mexican corn salad — and is a snap to make using corn cut off the cob or defrosted corn kernels (of which the Oaxacans would not approve.)
Elotes as Salad for six or so
2 Tbls neutral oil (veg or safflower or canola)
6 cups fresh corn kernels (from 6 to 7 ears fresh corn)
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (I don’t like cilantro so I omit this)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
1 cup Cotija cheese (I use feta which is pretty similar)
Ancho chile powder (or chipotle or cayenne), for sprinkling
In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add corn, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is nicely charred and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 2 minutes. (This helps the corn pick up more char and smoky flavor.)
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, crema, cilantro and lime juice; season with salt and pepper. Reserve ¼ cup sauce in a small bowl for drizzling.
Add seared corn to the large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer to a large serving platter, spreading corn mixture in an even layer. Drizzle with the reserved sauce, and sprinkle generously with cheese and chile powder.
Wear something colorful. Serve with margaritas or beer. Laugh at this photo of me eating elotes walking along the street. Ole!