Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

‘Abroad’ Question of Taste

October 28, 2009

Okay, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to stop with the feature-length Montenegro narratives and get back to addressing the preeminent question that should be asked of any traveler-returned-home-at-last: So, how was the food?

Right? Because really, one of the best things about vacation – for me, at least – is that sum of moments spent savoring all manner of tongue-twisting specialties in a faraway scene that’s impossibly genuine and yet cinematic-surreal at once. You just can’t replicate that sense of place anywhere else. Proof: spend an afternoon under the shade of sprawling grape vines, flaking apart whole-grilled Mediterranean orada that’s basted in fresh-pressed olive oil – and then see if that frozen mahi in your freezer is ever quite the same (it’s not, by the way).

Perhaps even more significant to a wandering palate is the experience of travel nirvana: the personal-discovery high that occurs somewhere along the path of any globetrotting or cultural romp. Sometimes the feeling is subtle, reflective; others, so profound it can knock the breath right out of you. To a girl who experiences the world food-first, it was a simple forkful that reconciled a part of me that was, if not altogether lost, too often taken for granted. To this end, I’d like to make a sincere apology – ahem – to my tastebuds.

Okay, I know how bad this sounds. And I have to tell you I never thought I’d be in a place to make such an admission. I mean, it’s me. Nevertheless, the misdemeanor stands – enabled by a daily context of over-processed, hyper-sugary, crispy-fried, vitamin-enriched, triple-fortified. We add sodium to lunchmeat, corn syrup to whole wheat, periodic table elements to ice cream; God knows what manner of creation birthed Velveeta. Is it really any wonder that any of us are suffering from tastebud fatigue?

As Montenegrin tradition goes, there’s only one remedy – which is a good kick in the mouth (figuratively speaking, here, people).

Enter simple, fresh flavors that get back to basics and let each dish speak (or shout) for itself: Citrus! Olive! Basil! Thyme! And OMIGOSH is that real butter? No packaged posers, foreign additives or artificial con artists masquerading as anything remotely edible. And good lord, no 100-calorie-counts. Authenticity was never meant to have a shelf life.

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a typical evening table in Petrovac

What manner of eats are we talking about, you wonder? Among my personal favorites, for the epicurious:

  • Fresh, tart yogurt swirled with pomegranate seeds and honey
  • Dried figs strung together like sweet candied necklaces
  • Lamb shank roasted with rosemary and garlic
  • Peppery arugala tossed in olive oil and salt
  • Quick-fried sardines with squeeze of lemon (so long, french fries)

So yes – in a word, the food was fabulous. But more so, it brought back that sense of unspoiled delight so often disregarded for convenience and function. Eating is good, a truth that while generally acknowledged, may just be best unearthed in a warm, crowded kitchen with windows that open onto the sea.

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Waiting Games: Round 1

September 16, 2009

(Monday): Whole wheat pasta with spinach, turkey, tomato and red pepper flakes. Straightforward enough – brown ground turkey in pan with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper while rotini cooks. Set aside. Strain 1/4 can diced tomatoes and add to small nonstick pan with 1 cup cooked turkey, red pepper flakes and frozen spinach until warmed through. Top over cooked pasta and add olive oil and pasta water to moisten.

Round 1 – DONE.

Anyone care to make this interesting?

Culinary Therapy on a Friday Night In

August 8, 2009

It’s well past seven before I finally arrive home on most nights of the week – nearly a full twelve hours after the morning’s reluctant greeting to what will become a sequence of fundamental imperatives:

Coffee. Traffic. Power Up. Sit Down. Write. Call. Do. Now. Lunch? (No.) Rush. Wait. Approve. Deliver. Power Off. Workout? (Must.) Traffic. Home.

Most people I know view what follows as a mere part of this obligatory process: Wash. Chop. Boil. Cook. Serve. Shovel.

As for me (or any other everyday gourmet, for that matter), cooking is quite the opposite: unmediated, voluntary and spontaneous. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to retreat to the small space of our kitchen.  I am the chief executive here, the reigning corner office authority, subservient to no outside interest, deadline or contracts – and bare feet are the only stipulation on the code of attire. Though, perhaps even more significant is the power that comes in yielding sharp knives…

This Friday night warranted homemade pizza, super simple with ground turkey and a store-bought whole wheat crust at hand. Topped with orange and red peppers, onions and spinach, it’s the perfect weekday wind-down. Even better with a glass of chianti and flamenco guitar strumming softly in the background.

My kitchen is not ideal by any means, a U-shaped corner of cabinets and countertops that meet at a small but bright window looking out over the drive. It’s a crowded mismatch of cookware and tucked-away appliances, wrinkled dishtowels and scarred cutting boards, plastic lids with no partner – the obvious shared extension of four single twentysomethings and oddly comforting in its chaos. But by the time the pizza is ready, I’m relaxed and warm from the heat of the oven (maybe more so the wine) –  the perfect resolution to the compulsory and a welcome preface to the weekend.