Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

‘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.

Montenegro vacation 280

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.

Montenegro vacation 135

Advertisements

Waiting Games

September 15, 2009

The week before any prolonged absence is always excruciatingly drawn out. Good news, on the one hand, for procrastinators like me who keep checklists largely unaccounted for until the frenzied hours just before their suggested airline check-in time. On the flipside, there’s only so much a girl can do to occupy the stretch of time between preparation and departure before being caught in a sort of limbo, the empty blur between anticipation and the practical present. At the moment, I’m staring blankly at a small pile accumulating near the doorway to my room – two swimsuits, a pair of sneakers, passport and travel-sized shampoo bottles – all of which destined to be  crammed into a suitcase with the rest of my month-long supply closet; but with a whole four days still left to go, I can’t fully commit to compartmentalizing workweek from vacation just yet.

It’s the same kitchen conundrum, as well: buying groceries for one is tricky enough, and just how far leftovers will push chemical boundaries over a two-week hiatus is not an experiment I’m willing to test. But girl cannot live on dry cereal alone.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to initiate a little contest called ‘let’s see how long christie can subsist with only a handful of ingredients pilfered from the pantry cabinet.’

The challenge: produce FIVE genuine weeknight meals without a single grocery store stopover. I’m not promising culinary genius here, people – entries will be judged on nutrition and stomach-filling quotient. Points for creativity are all bonus.

The players: 2 cans diced tomatoes, 1 lb whole-wheat rotini pasta, 2 orange bell peppers, 1/5 yellow onion (seriously?), 1 can kidney beans, 6 [undersized] red potatoes, 1 frozen wheat pizza crust, 1 lb ground turkey, 1 package frozen spinach (okay, not from the cabinet, but the ONLY frozen food item in this list). Spice cabinet condiments are all within bounds.

Let the games begin.

Let the countdown begin…

September 9, 2009

So it’s September already, which is both thrilling and overwhelming at once.

On a very big plus, my birthday is just 15 short days from today. Contrary to the dismal association of time passing and spinsterhood feared by mothers everywhere, I’ve decided to celebrate the arrival of September 24 with the unabashed self-assurance that 27 sounds very lovely and sophisticated, elegant yet youthful – and not at all sophomoric like the number 26. Something about the balance of syllables, maybe, that makes the age sound much more refined, don’t you think  – or is it just me? I was twenty-six. I am now twenty-seven. TWENTY-seven. Twenty-SEVEN.

If twenty-seven had a favorite drink, it would be a pomegranate cosmopolitan. The Great Gatsby would top the list of books twenty-seven has read. Twenty-seven’s wardrobe would be effortlessly chic and never crumpled haphazardly in the corners of her closet. The personal day planner of twenty-seven would include art exhibit openings and jazz ensemble performances, wine bar rendezvous and park blanket journaling. Twenty-seven would always contribute intelligent and well-timed observances to polite conversation and would garner praise for her business savvy from the corner office. Twenty-seven would never dribble cappuccino down the front of her new blouse.

No wonder I am very much looking forward to this new year ahead! (Note to self: must first purchase day planner. Also borrow copy of The Great Gatsby.)

To this is the fantastic addition that I will be observing said auspicious occasion in the charming coastal village of Petrovac, Montenegro – preferably while lounging on the coast of the Adriatic Sea or swallowing fiery gulpfuls of Serbian rakia in time to pulsating discoteque Euro-trance. Vacation! Ten whole days of reconnecting family roots, afternoon strolls on the cobblestone sea wall, visits to mountaintop monasteries, balmy evenings on the terrace… and away-from-it-all bliss in a foreign country totally unreachable by landline or email.

Petrovac2

Zdravo, Petrovac!

Fortunately, EG will be coming along on the hiatus. Soon-to-come epicurean adventures include turkish coffee fortune-telling, curing cheese in olive oil, the art of Serbian rakia distilling and more – recipes and rich family anecdotes included, of course. The grego-girl guide to eastern europe premiers sometime around Sept. 21 (after I’ve survived the 15-hour travel ordeal).