Tag Archives: Travel

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.

Eight movies in four days? Yep. (With apologies to Vicki Balint)

Flying to London is easy: the British Air flight leaves Phoenix in the evening. You get your dinner, you watch a movie, you go to sleep. You wake up a few hours later and you’re almost there.

The 10-hour trip  home, however, is not the same story. You leave about 2:30pm. You eat “lunch” at what is about 4:30 England time. You watch a movie. You watch a movie. You watch a movie. I actually watched four movies during my recent flight home. I’ve been so jetlagged all this week (and home alone because my husband stayed to visit friends in Scotland) that I’ve watched four more movies in the odd hours when I should have been sleeping.

When I saw Vicki Balint’s blog post on “Three movies in one weekend? Yep…” my competitive streak came out. So here you go, in the order I viewed them. The chick flick theme will become painfully clear — I was trying really hard to avoid movies I thought my husband would eventually want to watch with me.

ghosts-of-girlfriends-pastNumber 1: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” starring Matthew McConaughy, Jennifer Garner and Michael Douglas. I know! Totally fluffy, uninspired redo of the overdone Scrooge theme. But I find it fun to watch McConaughy and Garner in almost anything they do. Maybe it’s the dimples.

knowing-the-movieNumber 2:Knowing.” Nicholas Cage stars in this sci-fi flick that starts out strong, with spooky but somewhere-in-the-realm-of-acceptable plausibility and then has you shaking your head in disbelief. I’m a sucker for stories about the supernatural, so I was all over this one until the end, when all I could think was, “Are you kidding me?!”

love-in-the-time-of-choleraNumber 3: “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Got about halfway through this one before I gave up out of sheer boredom. Poorly scripted, poorly acted, lots of gratuitous nudity, some really stomach-curdling “mama’s boy” scenes and no great insights (which is what I was seeking in the first place) about that period of history.

is-anybody-thereNumber 4:Is Anybody There?” starring Michael Caine. I will confess that this was the last one I watched on the flight home and I did nod off a couple of times (it was about 2am London time when I got to this movie). But I will rent it and watch it again. It’s a lovely story about an aging magician whose senility forces him into an elder care home operated by a compassionate mom, her conflicted husband and an initially resentful young son. Honest and endearing with no sugar coating.

daughter-from-danangNumber 5: Daughter from Danang.” Oh, my gosh. This one will rip your heart out. I found it by accident through the prompts on my Netflix account and it was waiting for me in the mail when I got home. It’s a PBS “American Experience” documentary about one of the Vietnam children airlifted out of the country and brought to the U.S., where she was adopted by a single mom in a conservative southern state who named her “Heidi” and told her to “never tell anyone where you were born.” That’s just a tiny piece of what is a compelling, painfully honest story that reunites Heidi (birth name “Hiep”) with her birth mom 22 years after the Vietnam War — to very surprising and unsettling results.

miracle-at-st-anaNumber 6:Miracle at St. Ana.” I tried twice to watch this one. I’m a huge fan of WWII stories and a strong want-to-believer of miracles. So maybe my expectations were too high. The visuals were stunning (and sometimes shocking) but I found the story rambling, disjointed, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying.

seven-poundsNumber 7:Seven Pounds,” starring Will Smith. I really wanted to see this one when it came out in theaters but never did. I think Will Smith is incredibly talented (and easy on the eyes) and the trailers for this film really piqued my curiosity. The extreme-self-sacrifice theme is a little hard to swallow and I’m sure my husband would have been rolling his eyes (or leaving the room to watch sports on the other TV) if he’d been watching it with me. But I loved the chemistry between the main characters (Ben/Tim) and Emily and I was definitely wiping my eyes at the end.

nights-in-rodantheNumber 8:Nights in Rodanthe,” starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Okay, okay. Totally implausible premise, completely schmaltzy love story but a good lesson, nevertheless, that it’s never too late to find your passion. Hopefully you don’t have to break up your marriage to get there. And I really think they should have edited out the last scene and ended at the horses.