Tag Archives: Europe

Writing about food

grandpa-typewriter

I still have Grandpa Art’s typewriter.

My grandfather kept a small manual typewriter with him when he traveled so he could keep in touch with family and friends. He hunted and pecked his way through many long, detailed letters describing the places he visited, the people he met and the meals he ate as he and my grandmother spent their retirement years roaming around the U.S. in an Airstream trailer holding most of their worldly possessions.

I never understood why he spent so much time describing the food, much of which he enjoyed at low-budget buffets (Luby’s was a favorite).

I finally get it.

From the moment Dan and I started our long-dreamed-of sabbatical, I kept my own copious notes about what we were eating. Sometimes I’d even snap a picture.

At first I thought this was just a new iteration of my naturally compulsive side. Without the burden of overwhelming “to do” lists for work and home, my brain needed something to grab onto as I eased into a more relaxed state of being.

It wasn’t until we hit our fifth country and eighth city in 18 days that I realized why I needed to remember the food: It triggers the memories of everything else.

Pretzel, Salzburg

Pretzels on the patio cafe at Panorama Restaurant at the Salzburg Fortress in Austria.

When I remember the food, I remember the feelings. The giddy sense of freedom as we enjoyed pretzels and beer on the patio of a restaurant with breathtaking views of the Alps. The sheer joy of shared discovery when we stumbled upon a restaurant with an innovative menu and a quiet outdoor table sheltered from the noisy city street by a natural wall of shrubbery. Feeling that the whole town was celebrating with us as we emerged from a special-occasion dinner within the tunnel wall of an ancient stone city to find that an evening street fair had erupted while we were eating.

Even the less magical meals — the night we ate hamburgers at the hotel because we were simply exhausted, the disappointing minestrone soup — carry memories I cherish for the lessons they taught me. Extraordinary days usually just happen; it is the serendipitous nature of an unexpected experience that makes these moments so special. Ordinary days have their own, quieter purpose: a chance to rest from the constant stimulation of newness. Time to process and be grateful.

For two months, Dan and I explored walled cities and majestic churches. We saw expansive bridges and imposing castles, swollen rivers and lush farmlands. We absorbed heartbreaking stories at a number of historical sites. And we rarely ate a meal in the same place twice.

Now that we have returned home, people often ask me, “What was your favorite place?” “What was tour favorite meal?”

Every place. Every meal.

Yoghurt with creuseli

Yoghurt me cruesli at Staalmeesters in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Grilled mackerel

Mackerel grilled over an open flame at the Fränkisches Bierfest (Franconian Beer Festival) held in the moat of the castle in Nürnberg, Germany.

World Cup sandwich

A World Cup-inspired sandwich at the train station in Nürnberg, Germany.

Pizza vegetariana

Pizza Vegetariana at Pizzeria il Fondaccio in Castellina in Chianti, Italy.

Vegetable au gratin with pecorino

Vegetable au gratin with pecorino at La Bottega di Giovannino, Radda in Chianti, Italy.

IMG_0033

Cappuccino at Hotel Milano in Verona, Italy.

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Sabbatical

tuscany-lavendarYesterday my husband and I ended a 23-day dash around Europe. Today we begin a quieter four weeks in the Tuscan countryside, nine kilometers north of Siena, Italy.

So where to begin? We committed to this sabbatical two years ago. Preparations for it were exhausting, expensive and often overwhelming. Dan and I both have demanding work lives and tasks that had to be taught and delegated to others. We have a home, a cat, bills that must still be paid and concerns about aging parents.

Our plan was probably too ambitious. But here we are. Thanks to the generous and insightful planning of earlier partners at Dan’s law firm who recognized the value of regenerative time, we are on sabbatical: two months of time to travel, think, read, write, experience, enjoy and celebrate.

I have been taking hundreds of pictures and furiously scribbling notes in the Italian leather travel journal my sons David and Andy gave to me for Mother’s Day this year. (“They know their mother well,” my husband said when it arrived in the mail.) Any time we had a few hours on a train, I’d pull out my laptop and pound the keyboard. I didn’t want to forget a thing–not one meal, not one scenic vista, not one exciting revelation.

Now it is time to process: to absorb, reflect upon, appreciate and enjoy again the experiences of the past few weeks. And to gently step into the new adventures this beautiful Italian countryside has to offer.

Before we went to bed last night, Dan and I were relaxing in an upstairs room the first of our guests (my cousin’s daughter Andrea, 23, and her friend Lauryn, 21) immediately dubbed “the wi-fi room.” Dan was catching up on some reading and I was emailing family members when a huge wasp flew in through one of the screen-less windows.

It couldn’t figure out how to escape. It would buzz angrily, then pause for a bit of rest. It kept setting its sights too high–aiming for the ceiling instead of recalibrating its flight back toward any of several large open windows.

So many obvious escapes. So little satisfaction from pounding relentlessly into a hard brick ceiling and ancient wood beams.

There was nothing Dan or I could do. We didn’t want to risk getting stung by trying to ease the wasp toward an opening. Eventually we went to bed, closing our bedroom door against the sound of its frustration.

This morning, as I tiptoed down the red-tiled stairway to the kitchen, I found the wasp, dead, on one of the steps. It had exhausted itself.

I made some coffee and enjoyed my breakfast — hazelnut biscotti, a ripe banana, some sunflower and pumpkin seeds. A gentle breeze and the whispers of tall, swaying pines just outside the kitchen door drew me to the patio, where I discovered a giant patch of lavender. Dozens of bees buzzed happily around it, doing work they know in a place they love. Just enough work.