Category Archives: grains

Sorrento to Sicily: A Different Kind of Coast

Mediterranean coastal waters of Calabria
I grew up in an area called the Central Coast, but traveling this leg of my recent trip to Italy showed me a coast with a very different personality. If my home coast in California was the quiet Woody Allen heroine, the Calabrian coast was a battle-scarred, blue-eyed Warrior PrincessWhat makes me think of a warrior princess? The colors are fierce, for one. Look at those blues!
Sorrento Bridge High Above the Trees
This bridge near Sorrento, though not ancient, reminded me of the Roman aqueducts (another warrior reference…) constructed to move water hundreds of miles- I guess for these builders it was a case of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ From Sorrento to Sicily, Mediterranean waters

As I bumped southward from the Naples train station to the toe of Italy’s boot, I was treated to breathtaking views, those vivid colors, and a special quality of light that comes out really well in some of the snapshots.

Light Traversing Sicily
The coast displayed its vivid colors on the sea side, and its homely, timeworn hill-towns facing it on the other. I wondered as I passed in the train what people did there for a living, and saw evidence of some agriculture, some tourism. It definitely felt very low-energy, content. Nothing like a newcomer, intent on a goal and working feverishly to attain it. No, the land I passed showed a quiet, sleepy face. Let sleeping dogs lie?

But then I arrived at one of my transfer points, Villa San Giovanni PortVilla San Giovanni, where I would have to hop off the train, find the port, search out the ferry or hydrofoil ticket offices, and decide how to get across to Sicily. For someone who is used to researching schedules, routes, and costs online, it was an exercise in letting go to have to uncover new information in real time and make a decision on the spot, but I managed not to burst into flames.

Before too long I was pulling out of the port in the hydrofoil, trying to take a picture through the I’m-sure-they’re-impossible-to-clean windows of this white stone monument above. No idea what it is. I’m taking the view that it’s to look after the souls who have perished in the maws of Scylla or Charybdis, purported to have been real-life  obstacles near here for ancient sailors.
Of course, once I got off the hydrofoil on the Sicily side, it was another round of: find the bus station, compare bus companies that go where you want on timing and pricing, decide, and jump on! I had time to dash into a quick cafeteria-style Messina mom-and-pop for some bread and a sugary treat, but that was it- and away we went!
 Windy Sicily Road
We scaled heights. (See that speck of asphalt down there? Yeah, that’s the road we were just on- yowza!)
The bus ride took between 2 and 3 hours, and it was more distant from the shore than the train had been, so I couldn’t see the water past the other side of the highway, the cypress screen, and some buildings, but the journey was painless enough, until we approached my destination- Taormina– and started CLIMBING. Then it became positively edge-of-your-seat. Apologies at this glimpse I offer: it was hard to get photos because you never knew what would be around another corner, and we were twisting up and up and up enough for us to be in a Dr. Suess tree by the end.
At long last, we emptied into Taormina’s town centre. I beheld this place, a cute little shop selling pizza and other dainties made with savory bread and tomatoes. It was a hard sell.

Sooooooooo satisfying… and I’m glad I got something to eat right away, since what happened next put my devil-may-care attitude about planning to the test! Stay tuned for that, in my next installment on Sicily.

And side note, if and when I try making these in my kitchen, I will be going straight to the authority on Sicilian food for a recipe. Happy eating!

What is your association with “coasts”? Do you prefer quiet or warrior-princess ‘bold’ in your landscape retreats? Let us know what floats your boat in the comments!

Comfort Friend and Comfort Food at Hudson Lounge

I love getting visitors here in the District of Columbia. I get to be a tour guide, a hostess, a Resident Foodie (we need badges, no?)… well, usually I get to play these roles, but this summer I had a different kind of guest. One who had already lived here, already had favorite places, and was on a mission. Kind of like me! Hi, Rooske!

So no tour guiding. But there was lots of talking over life plans and adventures, and figuring out the work projects we want to do.

I did get to put on my Resident Foodie hat, though, since restaurants change in DC so quickly, and being out of the country for a year will definitely provide you with a panoply of new places to try. It so happened that Hudson Lounge, which was new when she was living here, had never made it on her top list to try. Enter my Groupon.

The menu has the mouthwatering descriptions, but I’ll give it the personal touch here. Above is what I had as an appetizer: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with currants and pine nuts. For the past year or so, I’ve been diving into any version of roasted brussels sprouts at restaurants, since I tried it at Potenza— but Potenza has closed! I just found out last week. It’s sad, and it’s probably because they never put the sprouts back on the menu…

But I digress. These were very good, but not with the flash fried crispiness of other places. Rooske had a cauliflower soup, which was nice, but didn’t make me do cartwheels. And that’s really what life is about, right? Doing things that make your heart do cartwheels?

Next were the entrees: Caramelized Cauliflower Risotto (above) and Fried Chicken (below). The risotto, while rich and creamy, really was over-the-top with the amount of cheese. Very heavy. I no doubt would have erred in the other direction making it at home, since I don’t like the tedious grating of pecorino or parmesan.

What had really beckoned me to try this place though, was the report of its fried chicken- duly noted as being from Murray Farms, a group of Pennsylvania farms. Instead of being wearied by all the name-dropping on the menu, I rather like when restaurants note the purveyors of their ingredients. It shows that they have formed a relationship with a producer that they’re proud of owning up to. Hooray for transparency in the food industry, I say! Did it live up to my view of transparency begetting good product?

Fitting leftovers into containers…

Nice crispy skin, and succulent meat, even as leftovers (contained curiously at right) reheated in the oven, was the answer to that question. And of course there were leftovers- duh! That’s what the civilized person does when confronted with American-sized portions but wants to sample the diversity of the menu!

That diversity, of course, Rooske and I both agreed,  involved sampling dessert. And speaking of American-sized portions, Hudson offers a Half Pound Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie. Half a pound. Of cookie. We shared a half and put the rest in the container to take home. Also good later.

 Was it really necessary to top the cookie with powdered sugar? I think not.

As I post this, it seems like a while ago that Rooske was here and we were having those conversation, but they continue in different form, and always bring me comfort on my journey with extra inspiration for the road. I hope I can do the same for others in my life… Feel free to test me. :)

 

Glazed Oxtail Meets Amazing Brown Rice Bowl


As with the beans, so with the oxtail…

Who makes anything with oxtail these days? Wizened Italian grandmothers, that’s who. Am I aspiring to be a wizened Italian grandmother?
No.

But again, there’s that yearning to live ‘close to the ground,’ if you know what I mean. If you can’t be in harmony with nature due to your society’s dependence on oil, then at least you can understand better how to be grateful for what you have. Enter the oxtail, sturdy, hearty, hard-to-get-at-unless-you-take-the-time protein.

Simply Recipes (such a great site, btw) put up this recipe for Glazed Oxtails a few weeks ago, coincidentally right after I had taken the leap at the farmers market to purchase some oxtail joints. Ding! That would be the universe calling.

It took a while, edging around other plans, but I finally made it this week, staying amazingly faithful to Elise’s recipe (for me), which included very helpful pictures at all steps along the way.

One of the ways I did depart from her recipe was volume: being a one-person household, I didn’t want to either buy or store the 4 pounds of meat, so I bought one vacuum-packed bundle, coming in at 1.3 lbs. I halved most of the other ingredients, which was fine (except then the boiling-off took forever…).

However, after a time, it too was done. But ya can’t just eat meat.

Then this eye candy from Vanessa Barrington showed up in my Twitter feed, and I had my idea: Glazed Oxtail meets Amazing Brown Rice Bowl. Done!

I went the easy way for the rice bowl part, already feeling virtuous from the multi-step, multi-hour process that the oxtail required. Brown rice from Trader Joe’s went into the micro, spring onions (from the farmers market- it IS spring!) got chopped into the pan with a dollop each of lemonaise and tahini. I added a swish of olive oil to coat, then half of the rice until warmed through, then half of the oxtail (which I had prewarmed to deliquify the gelatin).

In went the rest of the rice (for 3 cups total). I topped a serving for my dinner with the greens of the two spring onions and a splinkling of dashi for crunch and salt.

If you’re interested in the proportions, that was ~.75 lbs oxtail to begin, and  3 cups brown rice (for 2 servings, one dinner and one work lunch!). As you can see, it made for a dish that was suffused with good beef flavor and stock without being dominated by the protein itself. Just what I was aiming for at this point in my eating life.

Now if only I can do that for some of the other aims in my working life…