Grapefruit

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I love grapefruit. Friends claim I have a tendency toward hyperbole, and perhaps it’s true, but this really is my favorite taste in the whole world. Perhaps it is the memory of eating a grapefruit every morning for breakfast with a small serrated spoon, tilting my head back and drinking the juice from its soft shell until my arms were covered in sticky sweet juice. Perhaps it is the memory of spending those mornings with my father who always said, “I’ll get it started for you, and then you have to finish the rest,” as he sawed two perfect slices out of their skin. Perhaps it is that I collected those grapefruits from our own trees in our backyard in Florida, each a richer ruby on the inside because their outsides were mottled and dark, things of rough beauty, far from the supermarket trade. Perhaps it is because the bitter juice is laced with a fine sweetness that feels like balance.

Pink Grapefruit Dressing

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My friend and honorary sous chef, Cristine, claims she cannot cook. I know this to be untrue because she’s made for me a delicious pastel de papa, and has–I am sure of it–other South American secrets up her sleeve. In time, she will teach me. For now, we make dressing.

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 ruby red grapefruit, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons riesling (or white wine) vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley or other herbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, grapefruit juice, vinegar, basil, fresh herbs and salt and whisk until emulsified. Add the pepper to taste.

Clams

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The thing about dating an Italian is that you will always eat well. The standards for food–at home, in restaurants, on the road, anywhere, really–are raised to the very highest. These are a people who talk obsessively about food while cooking it, eating it, digesting it. They talk about what they’re going to make, they talk about it while they’re making it, they talk about it when they bring it into the party, they talk about it after it’s all gone. And mostly they’re just complaining. Complaining that the food isn’t as good as it is back home. The substandard water has ruined the pasta. They couldn’t get the exact brand of burrata they were searching for. The sauce doesn’t taste like their mother’s. Yet throughout this litany, they are also really, really enjoying their food. They are complimenting the cook, complimenting themselves, praising the smells, praising the textures, praising the animals that became their meal. In the middle of all of this are no fewer than twenty-five references to Berlusconi. And then it’s onto coffee. Italian. Only. It’s a race to the finish, the whole experience, with hardly an opportunity to get a word in edgewise–breathless, breathtaking, and always fun.

The first meal an Italian ever made me was the simplest one: spaghetti with clams. I was curious to know what else one did with a clam exactly. I never ate clams growing up, despite being a near-native Floridian. Our kitchen, I suppose, was more of an ode to our midwestern roots. I never even remember eating fish at home. So clams were somewhat of a novelty, usually just the pièce de resistance of the rich velvety chowders we used to order in restaurants. Continue reading

Cucumber

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I never understood the beauty of a cucumber until I spent two weeks traveling through the tropical climes of the Costa Rican rainforest. We hiked for six to seven hours each day. Only five if we were very lucky and the rain cooperated. IMG_3281.JPG

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We lived for a single ray of sunshine.

IMG_3330.JPGMy sister and I shared the physical and emotional weight of the experience together, covered in mud, soaked by a steady rain, and at times carrying up to five liters of water in our packs in the more isolated areas. We spent much of the time bearing the emotional burden in a communal silence of mutual understanding. Continue reading

Eggs

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This dish was born from another dish that I made with my Peruvian friend Cristine called Pastel de Papa, a Peruvian gratin of sorts made with aniseed. I used the leftovers as the base for this breakfast the next morning. I’ve adapted the recipe below so you can make it without going to the lengths of first making the pastel, but I will include the recipe for the pastel in a separate post as well in case you want to try it.

Oven-Baked Eggs

  • 2 potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • 4 slices queso fresco
  • 2 slices edam cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 onion
  • 3 slices day old French bread
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • handful basil, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees while preparing your ingredients.

For the croutons

Slide the bread into rough cubes. Heat the butter and the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir to keep from burning. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the croutons, stirring regularly to keep them from burning. Cook 5 minutes or until the bread is evenly golden. Set aside to cool.

For the onions

In a separate pan, caramelize the onion over low heat, adding a pinch of salt, and the oregano. Stir occasionally until golden brown.

For the potatoes

Place the oven-safe pan, layer the potatoes with the edam cheese and queso fresco and the aniseed, top with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and follow steps below.

For the final dish

To the potatoes, add the croutons, then layer with the onions. Add the sliced basil, and top with two eggs and salt. Return pan to the oven and cook for 6 minutes or until the eggs are done.

Remove pan from the oven and add freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.

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Tahini

Today I battled the Boqueria, our most famous market, and came home with literal armfuls of herbs. Mint, dill, basil, parsley. More than I know what to do with. I also came home so hungry I could barely unpack my groceries. I made this salad in about 10 minutes flat. I call it my emergency salad.

Couscous Salad

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Serves 2

For the salad

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup pecans, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 bunch mint, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water

Add the olive oil to a small pot and heat over medium. Add the couscous and stir until coated. Heat until the couscous on the bottom is toasted. Add 1 cup water, turn off the heat and cover. Let sit 3 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Put the couscous in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, including the dressing, and mix well.

For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon
  • black pepper, optional

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, cumin and salt. Add the juice of the lemon. Whisk again. Add the zest of the lemon at the end. Add more salt to taste, if needed, and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

Cardamom

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The air was heavy with a scent of something unidentifiable, arid and subtly spiced. The taxi wound its way through the small hills until the land flattened out and desert sand stretched out on both sides of the road. The palette of entire landscape was muted, as though a thin veil of smoke had settled over everything. It was a two-hour ride to Petra from the border, an easy trip despite the vast emptiness around us.

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Camels ranged in the distance, and when we came across two that crossed the road in a ragged lope, our driver pulled over quickly and insisted we take as many photos as possible. We stopped at an overlook and stood at the edge of a deep ravine, buffeted by strong gusts of wind, the strata of the pale coral rock stretching out below us, a testament of time passing.

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We said no to the repeated offers of our taxi driver to take us far into the desert, to see the red sands of Wadi Rum, made famous by the movie Lawrence of Arabia. We figured that we would have barely enough time for the trip to Petra before we had to return to the Israeli border in time to cross before closing. After an hour of persistent negotiations, our driver finally fell silent and drove us without further protest to the gates of Petra, stopping only once more–more for himself than for us it seemed–to admire a flock of sheep on the side of the road.

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We arrived back in the late afternoon to find our taxi driver in a fuss about how late we were. It was hard to find a horse to carry us out we explained. We had to walk instead. He was nonplussed by our excuses, clearly concerned about making the trip back in time. After a while in the car, he calmed down, seeming to settle into the rhythmic monotony of the drive. We passed through several towns and then several roadside stands as civilization started to fade into the distance.

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Suddenly, the driver whipped the car off the road, pulling up shortly in front of a small crumbling white building that looked like a small shop. “I invite you to a coffee,” he said. I said no, used to buffeting his propositions and a little confused by the strange offer. My friend also said no. She doesn’t drink coffee. He insisted twice more until I finally gave in, feeling too American, imagining I was being rude in a culture that likely valued hospitality over personal desire. In a moment, he returned to the car with a small silver tray, bearing two glass cups, filled with a coffee so dark and rich, it looked almost black. I smiled, grateful for his kindness. I was hit in the same moment with the scent of something so strange and wonderful, I was momentarily spellbound. The coffee smelled as though it was laced with spices and tasted of the bright lemony notes of cardamom. It was thick and rich and unlike anything I had ever tasted before. It was then that I realized that this is the moment that defines traveling. The kind of moment that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, that can never be repeated. A singular sensory experience bound up in place and time. I went home and tried to recreate that coffee again and again based on a quickly fading memory. This is closest I came.

 Cardamom Coffee

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I use a small Italian coffee pot, or macchinetta as they call it in Italy. The most common Italian brand is Bialetti, and they are easy to find in any kitchen store. They are simple to use and make a consistently good pot of strong espresso. Although my Italian friends inevitably choose Lavazza, I always use Illy espresso because I prefer the taste over Lavazza. It carries a more nutty and chocolatey flavor as opposed to the brighter more acidic notes of Lavazza. Given that I am no expert on these matters, I’ll leave it to you to choose your brand. The only thing we will both insist on is using best water you can find.

serves 2

  • Illy coffee
  • 5 cardamom pods

Crush the cardamom pods in a mortar. Fill the coffee basket with coffee to the top and add the cardamom pods, tamping it down so as to not leave air gaps but not too tightly. Fill the bottom chamber with water until just below the screw. Close tightly and heat over a medium flame. Watch the pot closely. As soon as the coffee finishes brewing, remove from the heat to avoid burning it.

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